In pm's words
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February 18, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about blessings and woes...

Sermon from February 17, 2019

Text: Luke 6:17-26

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, the first thing I noticed with this text is that Jesus is speaking in a level place. As I pondered that and read around about it, it got me thinking. I and we continually talk about our God who has come down to be with us. Our God made known in Jesus who is the Christ isn’t sitting on some lofty throne overlooking creation. Jesus doesn’t place himself (especially in Luke’s Gospel) in situations where others have to ‘come to him.’ He goes down and walks with those to whom he is called to serve (everyone). When you think about where Jesus has intentionally positioned himself to preach this sermon, the message he shares becomes even more impactful and intentional.

All the people crowd around him and seek to be healed – and they are. The healing spirit within him and around him is so powerful that it seemed to just leap out of him as people gathered around. Jesus isn’t even asking or expecting the people to come before him in an orderly line waiting to be healed by this man and prophet of God. No, Jesus is among the throngs of people pushing in and around.

In that moment and space is where Jesus speaks this sermon. It is in that level space on that plain that Jesus speaks about blessings and woes. And for me, where this sermon takes place as a whole new dimension on what Jesus might be getting at.

Jesus gives blessings to those who I am sure do not feel very blessed. And more likely have been told that they are not blessed by the community around them. How could they be blessed? They are poor, hungry, and in mourning? Who would feel blessed in those situations? Seriously.

If you heard that people were coming to seek help at Redeemer and I was turning them away with a simple word of, “Be blessed.” You’d probably think I was a big jerk. The news that comes out occasionally of ‘upstanding’ and faithful individuals who eat a gloriously abundant meal at a restaurant and leave a ‘tip’ of ‘Know your blessings are from God!’ can incite a rage deep within us. I know it does in me. I get so incredibly frustrated when I hear and read of those stories. Because, it isn’t right. We know it isn’t right.

However, I don’t think Jesus is doing that right here. He is indeed giving blessing to people who feel that they have no blessing and who have been told that they are not blessed. The blessing he shares with them is that God is never and has never been apart from them. That is God’s blessing – presence and closeness. A reminder that yes, even God is close to them.

But, if you look around today, people think so many things are blessings. Got to work on time today in spite of the gnarl of traffic because of an accident; #blessed. I was able to get the Grande coffee because I found $5 in my jacket pocket I forgot was there; #blessed. I survived a stressful week of working, so I rewarded myself with this scrumptious meal, delicious drink, and group of friends; #blessed.

I don’t think any of those moments are really blessings. Not in the way that Jesus would tell us. Those moments, though nice I suppose, are not blessings because they are pretty selfish. And most of the ‘blessings’ I see posted on social media seem to be in that way as well. Where blessings are more concerned about what’s good for ‘me’ than it is about God’s action and presence in my life and in the life of the world.

As Jesus speaks to those who are poor, hungry, and mourning – he is saying to them – God has not abandoned you. God listens to you. God is working and inviting you and others into a life that will lift you up and bring others down to a level place. A level plane where there is abundance, and fullness, and community.

Where entry into that space and life isn’t determined by what you ‘have’ or who you know or where you ‘started’ from. But, that plane space is a place of radical welcome, forgiveness, abundance, community, mercy, acceptance, and love. A place that is open to all, especially the ones that have been told that they don’t have a blessing from God.

That is a blessing worth hearing and sharing. But, Jesus doesn’t stop there. What he continues to say is that part that makes me – makes us – uneasy.

Woe to those who are rich, have their fill, and laugh now.

If we are being honest with ourselves, we are more likely to find ourselves in that group than in the other. Simply by the fact that we have food on our tables, we have jobs, and we have the freedom to celebrate and gather at most times.

Now, none of those things are bad. I want that to be clear. Having things and time and food isn’t bad at all. It isn’t.

But, when we look back at those things, the ones ‘thought’ to be blessings in our lives, we can begin to see why Jesus throws woes upon those in similar situations and mindsets.

Woe to the one who is so concerned of themselves in spite of the needs literally around them. Accidents can happen (and usually do) because we are more concerned with ourselves than we are with others. Where we rush to ‘get there first’ or are preoccupied with ourselves that we don’t notice the ones around us, or we don’t care. We cut off, we swerve, we make sure that we are ‘cared’ for before others. In those moments – accidents happen. Sometimes tragically.

Woe to the one who finds forgotten abundance and uses it to upsize the things they have. What would it look like if when those moments happen in our lives where we find money we’d forgotten about and instead of thinking, ‘wow, I can get THIS now!’ we instead looked at it in a way that said, ‘I’m truly thankful for what I have, where can I share this with others who might need it more than me?’ That’s a tough one for sure, and one that I fail at more often than not in my life.

That final #blessing I mentioned before is one we find ourselves in a lot. And those things are OK, but what about living into the life of faith caring for those in deliberate, meaningful, and impactful ways that help those who don’t have that luxury and freedom? Using that ‘free time’ to volunteer, to help, to serve – perhaps reading at a school, gathering folks to care for creation, standing up for and speaking in support of those who are tossed to the side in life and culture?

Where in our lives – as those with abundance, food, and time – can we be in that level plane and space? Where instead of looking down in pity (or even up in envy) we look around us and see God at work in the lives of those beside us? Where we see God moving us to care and love and serve with and for those around us. Where we are pulled and pushed by the Spirit to share what we have in abundance with those who might need a little more. So that they too can live fully and share in the abundance that God has for all of creation.

All in all, as we come to that level plane as a faithful community, we look around, recognize, and remember that our God is the one who has come down to the level plane to be with us. That that blessing of God – of God’s literal presence – is shared with all. And that blessing does not come to us as a result of good fortune, nor is it withheld from us because of misfortune.

We remember that out of love and care and desire to draw all unto himself, Christ walks with us in the level plane so that we all might know God, and so that we all might know where God wants us to be and how God is calling us to live.

That in that blessing, we work and strive in our lives to see that level plane lived out for all. Where we give of ourselves, our abundance and more so that others might share in and know that they too are a part and welcomed into that level place.

That is the true blessing. The blessing of God’s presence that moves us to live life on the level plane with each person around us. Amen.

February 4, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one of great expectation...

Sermon from February 3, 2019

Text: Luke 4:21-30


Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, last Sunday we talked a little about the WWJD movement – what would Jesus do. We heard that Jesus very plainly states who he is and what he would do as he read from Isaiah 61:1

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

That’s what Jesus would do for he stated that this prophecy was fulfilled in the people’s hearing that day – and Jesus still does all of that today.

But, this Sunday we hear and read the second part of that story and it takes a drastic turn. You might say, that another thing that Jesus would do, would be to say things that make the people that watched him grow up want to hurl him over a cliff.

The people (perhaps even rightly) get really upset with Jesus because of what he says. They’ve heard all about the things that he’s done outside their community – the community that helped raise him. They’ve heard the stories from around Galilee and Capernaum and I think they are a bit excited about what he could do here in his hometown. Perhaps even giving them the benefit of the doubt – a hometown discount you might say. I mean, is not this Joseph’s boy?

Whenever I read this part of Luke’s gospel, I always think of my friends and others who have small businesses or work in ‘cool’ places. They always tell me stories about others who want ‘free’ stuff from them. Oh, you started a business making quilts and patterns? Think you can make me one on the side? Oh, you opened up a salon? Maybe I can drop by and you give me a new style *wink*. You’re working for a video game company, perhaps you can throw me a few games from time to time. I mean, we did grow up together, we’ve been through some things you know!

Now, everyone gets perks from time to time, heck the reason I’m so in love with video games is that one of my friends gives me stuff from Gamestop; it’s a lot of fun.

However, I make a point not to expect or ask for free stuff from my friends, and I’m more than happy to compensate them fairly for their work. I’ve heard from a lot of folks with small businesses that one of the biggest frustrations from running your own business are those who expect a ‘deal’ because they know you. Many people do not understand the time and commitment needed to create or develop that ‘thing’ they want.

I get the feeling this morning, that Jesus might be hearing a bit of that from the community he grew up in. If he did that stuff for people he didn’t know, imagine what he can do here? We deserve this. We’re his friends, we’ve known him for a long time, we know stuff about him. He’ll surely cut us a deal, give us his undivided attention and his best work and since he knows us, we might not have to ‘do’ what the others probably did. We’re a step above them, right?

Now, of course the text doesn’t say that, but you can imagine it right? It’s possibly why Jesus quotes the ol’ saying that a prophet isn’t ever accepted in his hometown.

One, they ‘know’ who that person was and two, they expect a lot.

So, Jesus dives into a story after hearing the murmurings and loud whispers of what ‘his’ community expects of him.

There were a lot of widows in Israel during Elijah’s time, but where did he go? Not to them – but instead he went to the widow at Zarephath in Sidon. Far away from them. There were many who were sick with leprosy in Israel, but none of them were cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.

Jesus boldly states to the community that he grew up in – it is not all about you. It really never has been. God’s goodness and grace is extended far beyond what even you consider ‘wide.’ Jesus’ ministry and life are not to be simply contained among a select and exclusive few. His call and life are to reach to even more individuals, to help bring God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love to those many would never expect.

And when you tell someone they aren’t your ‘focus’ right now or that they have work somewhere else that needs to be attended to or that you can’t give them that ‘thing’ for free – what can happen? People lose their mind.

I cannot believe she would treat me that way! How dare she not give me a free photo shoot, we’ve known each other forever! How inconsiderate that they can’t bake my wedding cake – I invited them to the wedding for crying out loud! What do you mean you can’t slide me some food across the counter? Man, we go way back!

Jesus says some not ‘great’ things to the people, he definitely seemed to push up against (and possibly over) that edge pretty firmly and the people are driven into a rage. A rage so hot that they drive him to the cliffside and are preparing to toss him over.

That got me thinking. In spite of that rage – Jesus still loved them. In spite of that anger, Jesus still proclaimed to the God’s good news of life, mercy, acceptance, and forgiveness. In spite of this moment, Jesus’ ministry continues.

Jesus was and continues to live into the most misplaced text in all of scripture – First Corinthians 13. Many weddings include this text, even though it isn’t about the love between spouses at all. Blame our terribly limited English language that only has one word for ‘love.’

St. Paul is telling the church in Corinth about God’s love for them. And sure, we are to model that love and live into that love for others, but truthfully, we will fail more often than not.

But, Jesus in our gospel lesson today and throughout the gospels themselves lives into and practices this sort of love that is patient and kind, not envious or boastful, doesn’t insist on its own way, not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice in wrongdoings. But, rejoices in the truth – always. It endures all things.

Of course, this isn’t a love that sweeps bad things under the carpet, but it is a sort of love that endures in spite of those terrible things we do. It is a love that continually reaches out to us to show us a better way even when that way drives people raging with anger – anger enough to kill you – anger enough to succeed in ending your life. As Jesus’ will be ended because of that anger – an anger directly related to how he lived, what he said, and who he spoke to and interacted with.

And you know what? Jesus calls us into that service and love as well. He really does. Jesus calls us into a life of faith that reaches out to those outside the typical ‘communities’ we surround ourselves with. Jesus’ call pushes us to the edge and the fringe of life and culture to proclaim God’s love to all. Sometimes – a lot of times – perhaps even most times – that proclamation, service, and life will step on toes; lots of them.

That those in traditional seats of power will be angry at you because of the words you speak and the life you share. All because you’re following the model of the one who went before us and who draws us all – all of creation – into himself to show that love for the world.

And as you do that? When you might not think you have the words, the strength, the ability? God is with you just as God was with Jeremiah, dipping into your life – being poured into you in baptism, being fed into your very being through this meal, wrapping Godself around you as you read scripture, and serve with others, and live into the promises and faith that God has in you. For even though you might not think you possess the gifts and skills to do what you feel called to do, God is there with you to guide you along the way.

Guiding you and calling you to live into the sort of love that God has for you – that love that endures through all things. And we will still fail and fall short in living into that love, but we remember that God is able to love us perfectly, completely, and fully. That in spite of our failings and sin and sidetracks – we are loved so that we can continue to live into that love for each person around us. No matter who they are. No matter where they come from. No matter how they speak, or dress, or act. No matter if they want to hurl you over a cliff because you proclaim the message of Jesus that extends to those that many wouldn’t expect.

God calls us to endure in that love and God’s love endures for us through all of it – even when we cannot. Amen.

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February 1, 2019, 8:00 AM

February 2019 Newsletter Article

Grace and peace to you this day!

January has flown by hasn’t it? Hopefully (prayerfully) the weather will do two things this month, be warmer and dryer. Let’s have that water in places that really and truly need it.

This month, we get to celebrate God’s goodness and abundance on February 24 at 5pm. We will worship together as we give thanks to God for the abundance given to us last year with the financial gift offered to the congregation by Legrand Amick, Jr. in honor of God and in memory of his parents Dot and Carl. This will be a wonderful time to celebrate God’s goodness, acknowledge those who have worked so hard this past year in faithfully receiving and using this gift, lifting up those whose ministries have already been greatly impacted, and praying about what the future and the future ministries that will unfold because of this opportunity.

I think it is going to be a great time!

This gift doesn’t change who we are, but I feel that it allows us to pursue opportunities that we never would’ve been able to think about before. This abundance from God allows us to dive deeper into what we already do, and to continually give thanks for what God has already done, continues to do, and will do in the life of The Lutheran Church of The Redeemer. It is a wonderful cause for us to celebrate.

Even as we celebrate this gift, we still celebrate the good work and ministry that this congregation and community of faith have always done and continue to live into. Things like the prayer card group, and the knitters. The folks that gather at White Oak every month. Those who visit the homebound. The ones who volunteer at Manna House. The folks who offer their time and skill to tell stories and lead classes during Sunday School for people of all ages here in this place. The little things that go unnoticed in our community as people offer prayer, food, help, and time to those within and outside this small part of God’s kingdom to those in need.

Redeemer is a place that continually reaches out, digs deep, and lives into what God calls us to do as part of the faithful. I’ve seen that at work so many times throughout my (almost) four years here as your pastor. To say I’m humbled and proud of y’all is an understatement.

Thanks for being you. Thanks for living, striving in, and walking this odd and wondrous call as God’s people to the world. Amen.

January 28, 2019, 12:00 AM

the one where Jesus says what he'll do...

Sermon from January 27, 2019

Text: Luke 4:14-21, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, there have been so many interpretations of who Jesus is and was and continues to be. There are some who think of him solely as a really good guy, some as a radical disturber of order, some as a simple messianic Jew. In line with our desire to ‘know’ Jesus more fully, the idea of the WWJD movement began. But, if you didn’t know, that phrase and terminology has been around since the late 1800s. It was emphasized in a novel by Charles Sheldon in 1896.

In the last few years, the interpretation of ‘What would Jesus do’ has gone through some pretty interesting leaps. It seems every loud voice, political individual, and more wants to tell you what Jesus would do, and what they think Jesus would do just so happens to align with what they want to do. This can be a bit sticky and lead to some pretty incredible things (and incredible in the ways that I don’t believe are good).

As we have talked and read and learned from Jesus and what he says in our scriptures, we typically see a man who speaks in ways that require deep thought and concentration because what he says is told in parables. Radical parables that make us think about the world and our preconceptions of the world and how we live in it, but at times confusing parables none the less. It isn’t very often that we get to read from Jesus’ lips something that is clear, concise, and straight to the point.

What we read today that Jesus speaks is not confusing. It is pretty clear. He reads from the scroll of Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1 to be exact) and then he sits down and matter-of-factly states, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus essentially says, ‘Isaiah is talking about me. That and this is who I am.’

This year we are going to be going through a Visioning process to discern who we are as The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. What our passions are, what our calling is, how we get to live out our faith and service to those around us. We get to discern – together – what makes Redeemer, Redeemer.

As we prepared for the leadup of this visioning process folks on council and in leadership here asked me what, ‘I thought’ about it. And, I’m excited about it. Mostly because it will help us identify who we are by what we are.

We – especially in organizations and communities – have a bad habit of telling people who we are by what we are not. In fact, if someone asked you, “Oh, what’s a Lutheran?” There is a very good chance that a typical response would be, “Well, it’s sort of like being Catholic, but not quite.”

Not that identifying as a Catholic is bad – it certainly isn’t – but, there is so much more to being who we are than just telling people who we are not. It would be as if people asked Jesus, ‘who are you?’ and his response would be, “well, I’m kind of like Moses, but not really like Moses.”

But, in this moment – Jesus’ beginning of his ministry – he states that who he is – what is fulfilled in him – is the one who brings good news to the poor, proclaims release to those who are captive, recovers the sight of the blind, and lets the oppressed go free.

That’s who Jesus is. And as we read throughout Luke’s Gospel, he lives into those words; fully and completely. Lifting up those who others have cast aside because they aren’t wealthy, or aren’t like others, or are pushed down and to the side by the majority. Jesus stands with those people. And in turn welcomes us all to see one another as full and complete in the sight of God. Calling those who have an abundance – wealth, life, food, and more – to care for those who are without so they too can live fully and whole. Then they too can share God’s love with those around them as well.

Jesus brings all to equal level – which means some are brought up, and others (in the eyes of the world) are brought down. Where no one is ‘more important’ than the other.

We see that explained more fully in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as he explains to that community of faith that we are all one body in Christ. We can’t all be one thing, we can’t shun one aspect of the community away, just as a body cannot be a single entity or cast and cut off one part. When one part of our body hurts, the rest of our body knows it. Paul calls us to live into our community of faith in the same way. When one part of the community is hurting, the rest know it and provide care to that one.

And our community is not just limited to those gathered within these walls, but our community includes all those who are loved and chosen by God – everyone. All people. We listen, we care, we serve with and for, we act to bring about and share God’s love and mercy with them all.

We work in conjunction and unison with one another to bring about God’s glory, love, mercy, and forgiveness to the world. We see that evident in the story of God’s people as told in Nehemiah as they fall down in worship as God’s book is read, and after that moment they are sent to share what they have with those who have nothing and to rejoice in God’s goodness shown to them and the world.

So, what would Jesus do? How do we live into what Jesus would do?

This part of Luke’s gospel gives a pretty good and clear insight to who Jesus is and what Jesus would do.

Bring good news to the poor. Proclaim release to the captives. Recover the sight of the blind. Let the oppressed go free.

That is fulfilled in Jesus.

Jesus calls us into that ministry as well through his life, death, and resurrection. As we discern this coming year on who and what we are as a people and community of faith, let us see how we too can live into and participate in Jesus’ ministry as we bring good news, release those who are captive, recover the sight of the blind, and let the oppressed go free.

That’s what Jesus said he would do, let’s join in with Jesus and bring God’s glory to forefront of our community and world. Amen.

January 21, 2019, 12:00 AM

the one about the water at Cana...

Sermon from January 20, 2019

Text: John 2:1-11


Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ. Will y’all pray with me? May the word of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, last week we remembered and celebrated the baptism of our Lord Jesus. In conjunction with that celebration we also remembered our own baptisms. Between our services last week I was blessed and honored to talk with some of our youngest members about what baptism is. The physical parts of it.

Water, oil, touch, holding, praying, speaking.

As I talked, I invited the kids to put their hands in the font and play with the water. Just so you know. If you give a kid permission to play in water, they’re going to do it. So, about 6 pairs of hands dived and splashed around. And the thing that happened in that water reminded me a bit – well a lot actually – about our gospel reading and the sign Jesus performs that we read about today.

You see, when they put their hands in the water it umm… how should I say this nicely… turned pretty gross. It got dirty. All the crumbs from eating, the saliva from having fingers in mouths, the stuff from runny noses – it all went in there. It was enough to make anyone go, “Eww…”

It got me thinking about baptism and the life of faith. For water never stays truly clean in a setting like that. Water that sits there for human use – in almost any way – is going to get murky because it is being interacted with. It’s why we take so much care with making sure that the water we drink and play in is clean. Dirty water is never fun.

So, that image of the dirty baptismal water got me thinking when I read this story again about Jesus’ sign of water turning into wine at the wedding in Cana.

Now, when I’ve thought about those stone jars before – the ones used for ritual cleaning. I think I’ve always thought of them like a big ol’ Gatorade jug at a football game or a big tea urn at a restaurant. You know, a large holder of liquid, but with a little spicket at the bottom. Something that you can start and stop the flow of water, and the water that is used ‘first’ is the water that is closest to the opening. Make sense, right? That’s how we’d do it today.

But, then, I had to remember. This story didn’t occur today. So, there’s a very good chance that there was no ‘spout’ at the bottom of the massive stone jugs that the servants filled with water. More than likely there was just a big opening at the top. Easy to pour in water, really easy to wash your hands and arms.

And that got me thinking again.  When using water that way to wash your hands and arms; that water is not going to stay clean. It’s going to get murky, filled with dirt, oil, and who knows what else. It’s not going to look pretty at all.

So, Jesus tells the disciples to take those stone jars used for cleaning and fill it to the brim. Ok…

Now, ladle some water out of those jars and give it to the head steward… Uhh…wait…ok?

Imagine Jesus today doing something similar. He tells some workers to fill up the big water tanks on trucks that say, “NOT POTABLE WATER.” Which in English is a pretty universal sign of – DO NOT DRINK. Fill that container up, now get some water out of it and give it to the wedding director.

Wait? What? Are you sure? Really? Is that really what you/he wants us to do?

I thought about that potential reaction and the baptismal font of kids happily splashing in the water and realized that Jesus requires two huge things in most if not all of his miraculous signs.

Trust and other people are involved.

Think about it. The signs that Jesus uses to point to his and God’s glory require a lot of trust.

We’ve run out of wine. Alright, ladle some of that murky water and give it to the head steward.

We don’t have any food. Alright, let’s use this boy’s personal lunch that he’s willing to share to feed these more than 5000 people.

I can’t see. Alright, let me spit into the ground and make mud and rub it on your eyes.

My brother has died and has been dead for four days. Alright, roll that stone away.

In each of those future signs to who and what Jesus is – there was a pause – whether stated clearly or implied – about whether or not one should go along with the preposterous request.

Yet, each person trusted in who Jesus was and what he was saying and went through with what he asked. All were witness to God’s glory shone in and through him and those signs.

Today, we live in a pretty skeptical society. We question what people tell us, we question what news reports we receive, we question the stories that we hear. A lot of time – it is good to bring a healthy dose of skepticism with us. It can protect us, keep us from being misled, prevent us from being taken advantage of. You should definitely be skeptical of that supposed royal descendent who wants to give you their fortune if only you’d give them a ‘measly’ sum of thousands of dollars.

But, that skepticism can also keep us from living into the life that Jesus calls us into and the Holy Spirit guides and leads us through. Living into the life that Jesus calls us into requires a lot of faith and trust. Believing in the goodness of others, trusting in God’s goodness through others, trusting that God is at work even in the midst of struggle, having faith that what God says about you is true – that you are loved and full of worth, living life in a way that seems counter to what the world loudly shouts about, not holding on to stereotypes that keeps people at an arm’s length away.

When we are able to live into the trust – even amidst our own skepticism – we at times can be witness to God’s immense glory and love. Where new relationships develop, where our devotion and love are strengthened in others, where we can see God’s work at hand in others and even through ourselves.

Some might squirm at the idea of kids ‘splashing’ in the baptismal font, but perhaps that is God’s way of working into those kid’s life to bring about joy, love, and understanding of the sacraments and God’s love for them. Helping them to trust in God’s promise poured into and onto them in their baptism, so that they can continue to live into the life that God has created them for and share that love with all those around them. All knowing that this life of faith can have fun and joy in it. All because they were able to splash in the waters of baptism.

That other part of Jesus’ sign is pretty important too. Jesus brings others into his ministry and life. As others trust him, he gives them action to live into. Get this water and give it. Roll away that stone. Go and wash the mud I just placed in your eyes. Pass this food out to those around you.

Jesus continually lives into and cultivates a new community. A community of trust and action. Calling each of us today to do the same. Trusting in God’s work in and through our hands for the life of the world. Our Lord invites us to be a part of a community of action, drawing others together so that we can all live out that trust and faith in the world.

At the end of each of those signs and miraculous deeds – Jesus’ light and life is shown to the world and those present. Each of those signs result in an over-abundance of God’s love.

An immense and overflowing amount of the best wine the head steward ever had.

New life out of death in Lazarus walking out of the tomb.

Full stomachs from mere scraps for thousands of people.

Having sight restored to those who were blind.

What would it look like to trust into what God is calling us into today? Where might God be leading you that you’ve approached with skepticism? Where can we invite others and be a part of a more full and rich community of faith here at Redeemer in the life of Newberry? Where might God be leading us through all this for future ministry and service in the world?

You know what – the prospect of future ministry and God’s glory typically looks ridiculous when you first begin. It might look like dirty water in a bowl, but we have trust and faith that even in that water – perhaps especially in that water – God is at work and able to do marvelous things. We join with others as we form a more full, rich, and diverse community together; living into God’s trust, faith, and call to bring love, mercy, forgiveness, and joy to a world in desperate need to hear it.

That’s what Jesus’ signs point to. We still get to live into that mystery and abundance today. Amen!

January 14, 2019, 12:00 AM

the one about what God says to us...

Sermon from January 13, 2019

Text: Isaiah 43: 1-7 and Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, as we move into this second week of 2019 there still seems be a general sense of angst, malaise, and anxiety within our world – especially here in the United States. We are still in the midst of a partial government shutdown where countless individuals are being affected. This is something that affects federal workers, veterans, and those depending on the limited support of things like food stamps to help make ends meet so that their families might be able to eat.

Now, of course there are differing opinions on how this shutdown can be ended, and there is a good chance that my opinion and yours are vastly different. But, I’m not here to talk about that this morning. What I do want is to dive into is our text from Isaiah.

You see, the people of Israel during the time that this part of Isaiah was written weren’t in a good spot either. For them, things were shutdown too. They were exiled, sent far off from their homeland. Not able to worship and live into the ways that they had for generations.

Thankfully, that time was soon to come to an end, but they didn’t know that at this point. For as the saying goes, the darkest hour is just before the dawn. Isaiah shares this promise of God with his people as they continue in their exile from all that they’ve known.

Here God speaks the words that are some of the most repeated throughout scripture and includes one phrase that only appears here.

God again says, “Do not fear.” Do not fear and all its variations are the most repeated phrase from God throughout all of scripture.

Do not fear. Why? Because you have been redeemed. You have been called. You are mine.

When times get tough – God will be with you. When things become overwhelming – God will be with you. When it doesn’t seem like you can go any further – God will be with you.

God will be with you, because God is the one who has created you and God is your God.

That is the promise that God makes with the people of Israel, God’s chosen faithful.

God speaks this promise of hope to a people who feel that all is lost. Enough time has passed that it appears that hope is gone for this people sent away from their homes, barred entry from their place of comfort and safety. Yet, here comes God speaking through the prophet Isaiah – one of the great prophets – and gives this promise again.

This promise of hope, restoration, and redemption.

But, I do find this promise of hope to be a bit different than how we’d want it to be.

When we call for God’s redeeming power, for God’s protection, for God’s hope to rest in us, I think what we really want is for all the bad stuff in our life to be ended.

We want there to be no more trouble, no more pain, no more heartache. We want there to be no more angst, no more anger, no more fighting among all. We want it to be perfect because of God’s redemption, power, and protection.

We want God to remove ‘us’ – whether we think of that as solely as ourselves as individuals or as the people we ‘agree’ with – from that which brings us pain or frustration.

I think we truly want that to happen. And why wouldn’t we? It sure would make this all a lot easier to live through if we just prayed, had ‘enough’ faith, and God swooped in, plucked us from that which causes discomfort and sets us up in a perfect little place full of comfort and tranquility.

But, that’s not what God promises. Not even close.

God tells the people of Israel – God tells each of us – when things get difficult, and they will, I will be there. When things become overwhelming, I will be there. When all hope appears gone, remember I will be there with you.

I imagine that is what God is speaking to us as a people right now – those for whom this shutdown doesn’t affect in intimate ways (but, boy do we like to think it is) and those for whom life seems absolutely bleak during this time, especially for those who are furloughed or working without pay. I imagine this is what God is saying to those who find themselves at our border as well – those who have traveled long distances to escape tragedy, pain, and fear and have come to take asylum in a place where they can start over.

God speaks to them – and to us – I am here.

So, what does that have to do with baptism? Since this is the celebration of the baptism of our Lord.

We as a people of faith – as Christians who follow the one born to the world as messiah – as God come down to be with us – see that redemption in our baptism. That place and action where God cleanses us, calls us by name, and claims each of us as one of God’s own.

I think we like to believe that baptism will make everything just peachy and fine. Once we’re baptized everything will be wonderful and bright! I see that way of belief being lived out in some other traditions of the church. Mostly because when things don’t go that way, folks feel compelled to ‘do it again’ because it must not have ‘taken’ the first time.

I’ve talked with numerous people throughout my ministry who tell me of the multiple times they’ve been baptized because those previous times ‘didn’t stick.’ Or who desire to be re-baptized because life just isn’t ‘good’ at the moment.

That just isn’t what I feel baptism ‘does’ for us.

That isn’t even what baptism was for Jesus. He didn’t get washed and didn’t have to deal with danger anymore. In fact, you might say that baptism thrust Jesus into danger because it is in those waters that he began to live fully into God’s call for him as messiah. It is in baptism where all the ‘trouble’ begins. God’s glorious trouble of radical love, inclusion, grace, forgiveness, and welcome.

Baptism does not remove us from danger. It does not make evil flee from us. It doesn’t even magically make us incredibly perfect and sinless people. It just doesn’t.

But, what baptism does do for us is claim us into God’s family. In baptism – because of what Jesus has done and continues to do in his death and resurrection we are grafted into the family and promise of God’s own people. Because of baptism, we are indeed cleansed of our sin where God looks upon us with love, grace, and mercy. It is in baptism that we are claimed by the one who created us all.

In our baptism – through Jesus’ love, sacrifice, and victory on the cross and in the tomb – we too are covered in this promise that Isaiah speaks to the people of Israel.

We too have faith and promise that God is with us always. That God is with us as we walk through the waters; that God is with us when things become overwhelming; that God is with us when we walk through the flames.

In baptism we remember that God is with us, BECAUSE of the thing that God says here in Isaiah that appears no where else in all of scripture – at least not literally said.

It is here that God tells the people – I love you.

Yes, God has lived out that love countless times throughout all of scripture and our combined history as people of faith. But it is here that God specifically says to us – I love you.

God loves you. God loves you through baptism. And in that love, God promises to be with you. Always. God has made that promise and there is nothing you’ve done to earn it, there is nothing you can do to remove it, and there is nothing you can do to ‘increase’ it.

That mark, that promise, that love, is always there. Fully, completely, and thoroughly.

We celebrate that promise of God that is extended to us through baptism, where we are indeed called and claimed into the people and family of God because of what Christ has done for the world.

In baptism, we are joined together with the one who is with us; the one who has come down to be with all of creation. In this great community of life and love, we get to live into our baptismal calls of hope, justice, and righteousness. For even though our government is still ‘partially shutdown’ it does not shut us down to live into the love and care that God calls of us to live out for all people around us.

Baptism – it won’t always be easy. It won’t remove us from danger or trouble. In fact, it may just push us to be at ‘odds’ with those who cannot see or feel God’s radical love and grace through Jesus Christ. But, we remember the promise that God has for us; that same promise that God gave to the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah.

God is with us. God is with you. Always. No matter what. Amen.

January 7, 2019, 12:00 AM

the one about the magi...

Sermon from January 6, 2019

Text: Matthew 2: 1-12

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ! Will y'all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen!

Good morning and welcome to this the Epiphany of our Lord. This is the day we celebrate the wise men or magi from far off follow a star and come to pay homage, respect, and worship the one who was born as messiah and King of the Jews. They came to worship the one who they discerned from gazing into the night sky, following a star to the little town of Bethlehem within the tiny state of Benjamin.

Let’s look at these wise men and see what God is teaching us through them, and what we can learn even still today. If you hadn't figured it out yet, these aren't Jewish men. We don't even know how many of them there are (for scripture doesn’t tell us – no matter how many stories we hear and song we sing that depict three). However, there are a few things we do know about them.

There are more than one. They are 'wise' or as some translations call them 'magi.' Though, we have wondrous hymns (one of my favorites) talking of "We Three Kings" - they aren't really described as kings in any way. Even though they aren't described as 'kings' within the text, we do know that they were incredibly wealthy, or at the very least represent incredibly wealthy places.

The gifts they offered Jesus are extravagant. They would’ve been extravagant for anyone born of royalty, let alone someone born to a poor carpenter and his wife. Each of these gifts were rare, traded frequently, and lustfully sought. Myrrh was known at times to be EQUAL in its weight to that of gold. There were times when myrrh was even more rare it surpassed that high value. These were not run-of-the-mill ever day gifts. They didn’t stop at the local Dollar Store or Wal-Mart as they entered town to get a quick gift. They were gifts befit of someone truly grand. Hopefully you noticed that these gifts were not given to the only person who is named a ‘king’ in this reading. These extravagant gifts were not given to King Herod.

These wise men were also, well... very intelligent. You might even call them 'scientists' of their day. They used their gifts of searching through the night sky to see signs of anything. Through their own skills and rituals, they were witness to something different - a star different from the others - and the light of this star led them to the City of David to see the 'King of the Jews' born under that star. 

So, it was these men, offering lavish gifts, following a star in the night, from distant lands, who came to Jerusalem to tell King Herod and all the scribes that their messiah had been born. That is something you’d would think the scribes would already know being that they were 'in the know' within their own faith life. They studied scripture in order to ‘figure’ out what God is up to in the world.

Yet, that's not how God is typically made known in the world. God usually shows up in places and through means we least expect.

The story of Jesus birth is full of these different ways. This treasured story about how God was born into the world as a child within a poor family, wrapped in cloth, resting in a feeding trough. His first visitors were not people of 'stature,' but instead dirty shepherds grazing their sheep in the field during the middle of the night.

This morning we continue that thread line where God's light - shown through a star in the sky - calls and leads men from the east (some scholars say Persia, but no one really knows) on a trek to pay homage and worship this young king of kings. It is through these men - outside the realm of Judaism - who tell the political and religious authorities of God's own people that God was among them as messiah. When you take a step back and really think about it, it is all sorts of ridiculous. This isn’t how we’d tell the story of this momentous moment.

So, what does this mean for us today in the 21st century? I think if we really look at this text we can be a little surprised that God worked through the gifts and rituals of another faith to reach out and embrace all people under Christ the king of kings. Did you ever think about that? Remember, these men from far off are not Jewish. We can assume that they are of a different faith altogether. Yet, they come to worship the one born in Bethlehem.

I truly find it comforting that God does work in this way. Yet, in a way it is also somewhat frightening too. I stand here and preach the gospel hoping and praying that people hear my words, see God working through this community of faith, and come to the one who accepts all under the cross out of love, forgiveness, and mercy.

Yet, we see in this beautiful story that it isn't words, liturgy, or sacrament that lead these men to the Christ child. Instead they come to 'see Jesus' and God's action in their lives through other means. In this story it is through their collective gifts of discerning the movement of the stars.

Today, it could look like someone feeling a rumble in their stomach – so they come to this place because they hear that there is free food offered every time we worship, it could be an individual's flight of fancy to 'pick up' the Bible because they just like to read, it even could be someone who comes to worship to 'seek the one born under the star of wonder' because of an experience totally outside what we'd consider 'normal’ or ‘routine.’

I've shared this story before, but I think it is worth mentioning again. When I was in seminary, I was blessed with an opportunity to travel to Mexico for about 3 weeks. Living, eating, studying, and fellowshipping with those of a context completely foreign to my own. We learned of the life that these people lived - the poor, desolate life that many live through day in and day out in Mexico City (and elsewhere). We were able to see holy sites that were both Christian, native, and an interesting mix of both. We were also able to learn and study under profound descendants of the native and ancient Aztecs. As we studied and learned, one individual told us of a wonderful story of his people's life. 

When the "Christians" came and sought to 'save' these different people and bring them to Christ, they read and taught them the Bible and all its wonderful stories of God's action within the life and history of the world. But, one of the more outspoken and faith-filled 'converts' came to those chief priests and stated, "Father, I want you to know that you did not bring us God. For the entirety of the history of my people, we have always worshipped God. We have seen and felt God's action in our lives as we farmed, as we loved, as we built, as we looked at the world around us. No, you haven't 'brought' or 'given' us God. What you have given us, is God's name - Jesus. Thank-you for that."

I loved that story, and even years after hearing it, it still sticks with me.  Especially in light of this Day of Epiphany and throughout the season of Epiphany. Where a light came to those far outside the realm and supposed 'reach' of God's people and led them to this child, this King of Kings. Where upon seeing this child - well after his birth - fell down in exceedingly great joy and worshipped him. Showering him with gifts of riches - greater than that given to 'kings' of their day. Gifts not even given to the ‘actual king’ in this story.

God reaches out to each of us, God calls each of us - those of us sitting in these pews this morning and even those not currently with us - and draws us all to this one born as messiah. For, God announced the birth of the messiah to shepherds through an angel on Christmas, to wise men via a star on epiphany, and to the political and religious authorities of God's own chosen people through foreign visitors.

From a manger, where a child lies wrapped in bands of cloth, God's reach, God's embrace in Christ Jesus gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Jesus eats with outcasts and sinners. Jesus touches people who are sick and people who live with disabilities. Jesus even calls the dead back to life. Ultimately Jesus draws all people to himself as he is lifted upon the cross. In Christ Jesus, no one is beyond God's grace.

God calls all of us to Christ. God uses means and ways that we couldn't possibly imagine leading us to Christ. God uses ways that many of us would consider non-traditional and possibly even weird. Yet, God's desire to embrace all people and God's own work to share the gospel is far greater than our collective understanding. It is more 'mystery' than formula. 

Where is God shedding the light of Epiphany within our own lives? Possibly, even using YOU in ways that you couldn't imagine to bring the light of Christ into others' lives? Perhaps even using others to share God’s light with you in ways you wouldn’t expect.

Use the gifts you have been blessed with - the gifts of music, teaching, driving, collecting, caring, even staring at the wonder of the stars - to see God's action in your life. See that God is at work through you and in all the wonders that make you – you. Use your gifts to shower and point and proclaim God's work in Christ Jesus - the king of Kings, the LIGHT of Epiphany that shines on all and leads all of us to the Cross of Christ. 


January 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

January 2019 Newsletter Article

Grace and peace to each of you this wonderful New Year of 2019!

2018 brought an exciting and generous time for Redeemer. A wonderful unexpected gift. The ability to use that gift to help so many different organizations immediately, helping our own congregation directly (and significantly), and also being set up for mission in the world for years to come.

But, even without that 2018 was a pretty fun year for Redeemer. We worshipped, we celebrated, we lamented, we cried, we wondered, we saw God at work in some amazing places.

As I think about where God led our community of faith in 2018, I cannot help, but think where God will lead us in 2019. To become a bit more focused in that area, our congregation will be going through a visioning process in 2019.

This will be an opportunity for us as The Lutheran Church of The Redeemer to discover and discern what it means to be disciples at Redeemer - for the community and world. I’ve said before that more often than not, whenever someone asks ‘who you are’ – whether that be who you are as an individual or as a community – we tend to define ourselves by what we are not. Which isn’t a great way (or complete) way to identify who you/we are. Going through this visioning process will – I believe – allow us to firmly define who we are and empower each of us to share that with those around us.

I’m hopeful and full of prayer that each of us here at Redeemer will dive deeply into this opportunity to see where God is indeed leading us as a congregation and people of faith. Plus, I think it’ll be a lot of fun!

So, this coming year of 2019 is a year of ‘identity’ for us. We should always know who and whose we are – for we are God’s. Created out of love and life for the world. Redeemed by the one who came down in love. Guided by the Holy Spirit to be at work in the world. This process will help us see how we live out that identity and where we can more fully live into those moments of faith, ministry, and service.

I’m looking forward to 2019 and I hope we can build off the momentum of where 2018 has thrust us. Keep in prayer for the ways that God continually invites and calls us into all moments and opportunities of faith, service, and ministry.

December 25, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about that journey...

Sermon from Christmas Eve, 2018

Text: Luke 2:1-20


What joy it is to be with you all this, the most awe inspiring of nights!  I am so happy that each of you are here to celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ here at The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Whether you’re new here, been here for a while, or visiting I am delighted that you are here this night.  Will y’all pray with me?

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

As many of y’all know, I’m a huge nerd. It’s why we have our monthly faith study called Nerd Word – where I and others get to bridge our geeky passions with our questions and stories of faith. It’s a lot of fun – y’all should check it out too. Plus, there’s food.

So, in that realm, this evening I wanted to share with all of you one of the best quotes I’ve heard in a while. And it just so happens to come from the latest season of Doctor Who.

As the doctor says goodbye again to another weary band of travelers that have been helped, she leaves them with these words.

“None of us knows for sure what’s out there. That’s why we keep looking. Keep your faith. Travel hopefully. The universe will surprise you; constantly.”

I heard that and could not help but think how much that resonates with us – those who follow and look to the one who has come to be with us.

There are many questions that we ask ourselves during this time of year, because we don’t know what’s out there. Did we get all the gifts we intended to get? When will our family get here? Can we even make it through the holidays with our families this year? What should I get so-and-so for Christmas? Is there truly light present in the darkness? And, of course the question many children ask, “Do we have to go to church… we were just here yesterday!?” 

We can also ask ourselves another question… How will we get to Bethlehem?  Where do we go to see what has been given to us by God on this day?

As we heard from Luke’s Gospel this evening, Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem as part of a family going about their everyday life. 

Or look at the shepherds as well, who come to Bethlehem by way of a dramatic, heavenly revelation.

The one common thread through all these paths is that no matter what path they took, that path has lead each of them to the same place. These paths lead to Bethlehem, the city of David, where a child sleeps, who is the messiah, the Christ for the entire world, the Word incarnate!

And how did you, my brothers and sisters, come here tonight? We have all traveled down different roads as we continue to seek and look to come to where we are now to celebrate this birth in Bethlehem.

You may be a member here at Redeemer and you came to celebrate the birth of our Lord because it is a part of your everyday life of faith. Or maybe, you are a single parent, seeking a way to relax and to hear the comforting words of the Gospel. Maybe, you are lonely or depressed and you’re seeking to hear the word of the One who does indeed love you and care for you and to hear about how that is manifested. Maybe you’re even curious as to this rumor of a baby named Jesus and who he is? Maybe you’re seeking something and you don’t really know what it might be at this point, but it has lead you here; to this place. Maybe you’ve seen enough trouble and heartbreak over the past few weeks and you need to hear words of hope, hymns of promise, and taste the body and blood of the one who has come to be with us.

No matter how you’ve come to this place, it has led you here, to the story of Bethlehem to behold the promise of God; to see this child, the Lord of Lords, the King of kings. You have come to Jesus. You have come to God. By whatever road we take, the story invites us all to Bethlehem. You’ve traveled here, just like Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, full of hope. Not sure what you’d find, but traveled hopefully for what God has done, is doing, and is about to accomplish.

What do we witness in Bethlehem?

God has pulled back the heavens and comes physically to the created world… as a child… as a baby. Think about that for a minute, let it sink in. And not only that, but God was born into a poor peasant family, a family that if looked upon by others would not be lifted up. Instead, they’d probably be scoffed at with others’ noses held high. Our Lord, born to a young girl, pregnant and soon to be married to a man who is not her baby’s daddy. Yeah, this isn’t what the world is looking for.

In all the ways that God could come to be with us, God chooses a way that is so… surprising. God chooses a way that I can almost assure you that we would not choose. One would expect God to come with all the pomp and pageantry into the world as the messiah befitting a marvelous king or emperor.

In fact, that is what most of Israel thought would happen (and truthfully, it is probably what most would want and expect today as well). Most thought that God would come as a strong, powerful, or cosmic figure who would lay waste to all the enemies of Israel. They never imagined that the messiah would come into the world as someone as weak, helpless, and dependent as an infant. 

God has typically been made known in ways that draw attention pretty startingly. The stories of fire, wind, and voice have been shared for generations about how God is made known and ‘shows up’ in the world. From what the nation of Israel had experienced, coming into the world as the Word incarnate as a child is NOT what anyone expected. But it IS how God came, and through this child, the one they called Jesus, God brings salvation and peace to the entire world.

Here, God surprises the world and begins life amongst us, fully flesh and blood. Coming into this world as any old human would. Being born, taking those first breaths just as any of us would have.

Here, God surprises the world and has promised to live life as one of God’s own creation. God begins to show how far that proclaimed love can go.

Here, at this beginning, God surprises the world and will show through Jesus what love really is. Being present with us through all of life – birth and eventually death.

Here – in Bethlehem where the bread of life is born; we are surprised. Constantly.

Our roads lead to this place and this moment. No matter how you got here, this is the place you find yourself right now.

And you know what? We don’t know what to expect as we come to this place.

Mary and Joseph have been told what this child means, and whose this child is. But, did they know for sure what that would look like? Maybe, but like most new parents I doubt it. We don’t know – for sure – what’s out there for us.

Those shepherds after they heard the angel’s message – did they know what they would find? Perhaps, but I’m not so sure. They’ve been told, but do they know truly what to look for? We all have our ideas of what this – this faith, this life, this hope – will look like, but we still have no idea what it’s really like.

But, as we search and gather together, we do so by keeping our faith. We travel together in hope for what God has given to us and what God continues to call us towards.

And as we travel full of hope – together – we are constantly surprised by what and how and where God is at work in the world.

Where God is made known in the unexpected, the outside-the-norm. God is made known in ways that throw us for loops.

So, I think the Doctor is right.

None of us knows for sure what is out there, but we keep looking and our God shows us the way. Our God shares life and love with us – with the entire world. And it begins this night.

Keep your faith. Know that God is indeed at work; still doing this new and wondrous thing.

Travel together; hopefully. We journey as sisters and brothers finding where God is – here in this Word, here in this meal, here in this place, here within each other. We travel full of hope because God has promised to be with us through all of this. And it begins tonight, in this wondrous and unexpected way in Bethlehem.

And as we travel, we are surprised by God. Constantly.

It is a journey full of hope, full of love, full of life.

We may not know what to expect, but we do this – this life of faith – together as a community, as followers of Christ, as sisters and brothers.

Unexpectedly and surprisingly, God has come to be with us. This night. This moment. We celebrate that love of God come down to be with us. We celebrate, and we share. We gift this love to others because we have already received it.

Know this love – this surprising love of God come down to be with us.

Keep your faith, travel hopefully, God will surprise you. Constantly. Amen.

December 24, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about mary and elizabeth...

Sermon from December 23, 2018

Text: Luke 1:39-45

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen!

So, we are so tantalizingly close to celebrating the birth of our Lord. Most – if not all – preparations (that we know of) are covered. Cards sent out, presents purchased, gifts wrapped. Now we just wait a few more days.

In the life of the church, things are getting prepared as well. As you see here in the worship space, we’ve been adding just a little bit more each week as we move close and closer to the day of our Lord’s Nativity and birth. Trees, decorations, flowers, handbell tables.

There have been preparations with bulletins, and liturgy, and music, and volunteers, and more.

We are in the midst of preparation. And for the most part – for the most part – things are going OK. We know what lays before us. Sure, some things can get out of whack a bit, but we’ll handle it – like the phones not working right now. We can be calm.

I think about the calmness that Mary must not have really been feeling in our gospel lesson this morning. She’s been visited by an angel, she’s been told she is carrying a child. Not only that, but this kid is going to be kind of a big deal for the world.

Teenage pregnancy is stressful enough today; what with the looks and the whispers that people always give towards a young pregnant woman in our world. Adding on top the risk of potentially not being insured – or insurance potentially not covering the pregnancy, or not covering it in a way that the cost would be manageable. And that goes for anyone, let alone a young woman with possibly no income. And even seeing that stress lived out, I still cannot imagine what it could’ve been like back in Mary’s time.

Imagine for a moment all the things that Mary would be worried about. Yes, she boldly listens to the angel and accepts her role as the bearer of God’s child for the world, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bit of fear, apprehension, and worry on her part.

She isn’t married. She’s young. She lives in a culture that not only looks down upon a young girl in her situation, but she could be killed for bringing this sort of shame not only to her family, but especially because she could bring shame to the one she is engaged to marry.

Lay on top of that – the angel has said who this child will be for the world.

That’s a lot of pressure.

As a commentator wrote this week, there is space – perhaps even a pregnant pause – between verse 38 and where our text this morning begins at verse 39. A lot can be fit in that space.

For you see, Mary leaves in haste to go visit her cousin Elizabeth. She needs to talk to someone and she possibly doesn’t feel like she’ll get it from those around her. And can you blame her? Who would believe this girl that God had gifted her this child? What would her friends say? Her parents? Her community? Her Joseph…?

I imagine that she is scared and full of panic. Hopefully her cousin will be able to comfort her and offer her support. Imagine what that journey could’ve been like for Mary? Imagine what the journey is currently like for those within our world, community, and country today. Those who seek help, support, and comfort when thrust into this potential at such a young age.

Mary finally arrives at the doorstep of Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s home. She crosses the threshold, and everything seems to change. As she enters the home, she is not greeted with side-eyes, shade, and disapproving sighs. No, she is greeted with love, joy, and praise.

Elizabeth welcomes her young cousin with praise and adoration. She knows what’s going on. She herself has received the remarkable blessing of pregnancy from God in her age. She knows already that Mary is pregnant and how special her child will be for the world. She welcomes Mary with praise and blessing.

Blessed are you Mary. Blessed is the child you carry! You are blessed cousin! She welcomes Mary to come, to rest.

I imagine that there was a massive and relieved hug and sigh from both of these women.

It is in this moment, that Mary bursts into song. Adding her own rendition to the words that the community of God has lifted up through the generations. Those words of hope. Those words of salvation. Those words of remembrance. Those words of God’s love bestowed upon creation.

Mary’s song erupts from her very being after she is loved and welcomed by her cousin. After she receives support and praise from another.

Her song doesn’t begin when the Angel tells her of her current situation and future. Her song doesn’t crescendo on the road like a Disney princess in a travel montage.

No, Mary’s song of hope for Israel and the people of God breaks forth after she is welcomed in love and support.

Mary begins to sing after she finds help, refuge, and support.

I wonder what life would be like for those young women in our world today who are carrying children before society thinks they should if they were greeted as warmly as Elizabeth greets Mary. Opening homes, hearts, and love with support, refuge, and love.

What would the church look like, what would the community of faith look like, if we looked upon each person we see as a potential bearer of God’s light and life?

How would we view the world, how would we live in this world, if we greeted all we met – no matter who they were, where they came from, or what situation they were in – with grace, care, and love.

As we move closer and closer to the celebration of our Lord’s birth, we remember the strength of Mary and Elizabeth. The strength of these women to find comfort in one another and the strength to believe each other in their stories and truths.

These women – both of them – provide us a model and guide in how to welcome and seek help and guidance.

These women can and should teach this community of faith and the entire Church universal of what it means to welcome the one before us – no matter their situation, origin, or story.

As we approach Christmas Eve – the story of an unwed mother giving birth, what does it look like to – how do we live into – welcome the one before us in love, grace, and hope?

How do we welcome and love as God welcomes and loves each of us? Offering love, refuge, food, drink, and life.

Let us all welcome like Elizabeth. Let us all seek help like Mary. Let us all see God present in the midst of the stories before us and in the lives of the people around us. Amen.

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