In pm's words
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January 2, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one where we ask God to restore us...

Sermon from Wednesday December 21, 2016

Text: Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19

Grace and peace to y’all this evening for as we gather for our final Advent Holden Evening Prayer service this year. 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!

It won’t be the first time that I admit that this is just the beginning of a long week and the beginning of the end to a long year. As I prepared this small message for us this evening, I kept being pulled to one of our readings from this past Sunday. That reading was the 80th Psalm, and we don’t typically hear the psalms enough, but I’m continually amazed at how timely the psalms are for us today, even thousands of years after they were written down and collected.

The word that stands out to me in that Psalm is restore. And not just any ol’ restoration, but restore us. The psalmist is calling out to God to restore the people of Israel. To return us to where we were.

I marvel at my father-in-law’s ability to restore old items. Whether it be an old wooden swing that hangs on the porch of their home in Lexington (which the girls love), the old wagon he restored (which the girls love as well), and even his childhood high chair – which though we loved the thought, it was restored so well that the girls would ‘shoot’ right out of it if they moved just a tiny bit. That one we let him keep.

I marvel at it because of the time, skill, and patience that goes into those projects. They are things that I don’t think I’d be able to do, mostly because I don’t have the time, the skill, or the patience. I still love, enjoy, and appreciate the work that he is able to do. To not only bring life back to an old object, but to bring new life into the lives of his granddaughters, and to those who visit his home.

As I read this psalm and reflect upon it during this season of Advent, I wonder and ponder if that original psalmist understood what it might mean to ‘restore us, O Lord.’ Did that writer understand – do we understand – the time and love that would go into that sort of project.

Much like our ‘how-to’ shows and YouTube videos, we like to think that a restoration project is a simple wave of a hand and it’s done. Is that what the psalmist thought? Simply restore us Lord! Get it done! We won’t turn away again!

Is that what we expect as we wait during this season of Advent for the coming of our Lord’s birth? That it just be simple, quick, and easy?

Restoration is a long and loving process. The more intricate an object is, the more time is needed and original parts have to be found, created, and used to complete the project.

Restore us, O God.

We live into the call and cry of the psalmist in asking for God to restore us. Restore us during this season of Advent – so that we might know you more fully and deeply. Restore us in our life – so that we might cling to you in times of struggle and proclaim you in times of great joy. Restore us in worship, prayer, and devotion – so that we might see you at work always in our lives, where we don’t take your action for granted.

Restore us, O God.

I like to think that God hears that cry and prayer and God’s response is something like, “Well, alright – but, it ain’t going to be quick or cheap.” The restoration that God seeks is complete and thorough, not just bringing us back to the time we remember to be good, but restoring us into the image that God has created us for.

Restoring us to be those creations that see, feel, know, and speak of God’s grace and love within our lives. Being ones that look to God and seek God first always. Restoring us to see the one who has given us life.

Taking the time, energy, and patience to work through that sort of love upon us. Restoring us through Word and Sacrament. Restoring us through prayer and service. Restoring us through worship and thanksgiving. Through wine and bread, water and spirit.

We look with hope to the celebration of the beginning of that great restoration. We wait in expectation for the Word to dwell with us, for God to be present among us. Come down to point us towards the one who restores.

We wait. In hope.

Restore us, O God.


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January 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about the 'little' miracles...

Sermon from December 18, 2016

Text: Matthew 1: 18-25

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior who is to come – 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, when you think of miracles what comes to your mind? I believe that most of us probably skew towards the miracles and signs we see lifted up in scripture – the parting of the sea, the bread that fills the widow and her son, water to wine, walking on water, feeding thousands. I think I am like most people where when I think of a miracle, I think of some large and extraordinary example of goodness – something that no one thought before was possible.

It makes sense since when we hear of miracles we think of those big ones from our holy scriptures, so naturally we assume that miracles today must be like those of ages past.

So, for modern day miracles we think of extraordinary turnabouts in medical diagnosis. Someone has cancer and now they don’t. Someone was declared dead on the table, yet mysteriously revived much later than ever thought possible. Scientists invent a thruster that requires no propellant and they still don’t know how it works, but at least acknowledge that it does. The Cubs somehow didn’t find a way to lose the World Series.

Of course, because we believe that miracles must be so extravagant, extraordinary, and crazy we come up with those ‘sarcastic miracles’ as well. “Daddy – my nose doesn’t hurt since I took that medicine.” It’s a miracle!

For whatever reason, we are conditioned to believe that miracles are truly, truly rare and that only a true miracle is one that is so crazy that it couldn’t otherwise be taken seriously. That isn’t to say that those moments aren’t miracles, but if anything, our gospel lesson this morning at least points out that miracles aren’t just the big events and moments.

Now, if I asked you where the miracle is in this small snippet of Matthew’s gospel, where do you think most people would say it turned up? Probably the whole vision that Joseph had right? It’s a miracle that an angel speaks to Joseph in a dream to allay his fears and doubts concerning his soon-to-be wife.

She holds a ‘miracle’ in her belly, the child is the son of God.

For the most part you’re right – this is a miraculous story. Receiving visions from an angel of the Lord would be pretty high up on my ‘miracle’ list too.

But, there is a subtle moment here in this part of Joseph’s story that is definitely miraculous, and it does involve his dream.

It’s Joseph’s response. Upon receiving this message within his dream, he decided to go against what he had already resolved to do. He followed through in taking Mary as his wife. He approached it – presumably – with no fear. Living into what the messenger had told him.

To me, that’s miraculous. Incredibly miraculous. Something I would never have thought possible.

You’re probably thinking – but, come on pastor. Joseph was a good guy, of course he’d do that.

To be honest, I don’t know.

During this time, it is hard for us to understand the magnitude of what it meant for Mary to be pregnant before her marriage. There were rules against that and their punishments weren’t taken lightly. The way that those punishments were lived out were in order to protect the ‘image’ of the man.

Joseph was being the ‘good guy’ by trying to dismiss Mary quietly. To take her back to her family, end the contract of marriage, and move on. “Unwilling to expose her to public disgrace” is – I think – a nice way of saying he didn’t want her to be stoned to death – which is very likely the outcome that would’ve happened if he followed through with the customs of the day.

Parading and shaming her out in public because of what she apparently had done.

So, Joseph’s a good guy because he didn’t want to subject Mary to that.

The miracle is that Joseph lived into what people knew him as – righteous.

As I’ve mentioned before, being ‘good’ and being ‘righteous’ aren’t necessarily one in the same. Being good is dismissing someone quietly so as not to bring too much shame upon her and upon you. That’s good, but it isn’t righteous.

Being righteous is living a life that takes on the ‘shame’ of Mary’s child – that is not his. Adopting that child and being that child’s father. Righteousness is living in that life while those around you mock, remark, and scorn you for what you’ve done. Wading through the potentially countless conversations of, “Why are you doing this – you don’t have to do this – look what she’s done to you – look what she’s putting you through – why didn’t you take care of that?” Putting up with the remarks of, “Nice of Joseph to do that, but I certainly wouldn’t have stood for it.”

That’s the miracle. Joseph listened to what the angel said to him and lived into it. No matter the cost. Joseph said yes.

What makes this miracle so astounding in our scripture is that what Joseph does is pretty much totally opposite as to what other male faith figures have done. When Moses was approached by God? I’m a nobody. Isaiah? I’m not smart enough. Jonah? Runs literally the other way.

I typically lift up Mary’s desire to live into what she has been set apart for, but even she is astounded by God’s desire and ability to use her as such an important and holy role. She never doubts her own ability to do this, but still ponders how it can be possible.

Joseph is unlike any of those. The angel speaks – Do not be afraid. Joseph awakes and lives into his unspoken, “Ok, God.”

That is a miracle.

So, maybe – just maybe – miracles aren’t always those bombastic, crazy, out from left field moments in our lives. Maybe miracles aren’t just living through cancer after being given a terminal diagnosis. Maybe miracles aren’t always having to be in the right place at the right time.

Maybe miracles are living into what God calls us to do. Maybe miracles are turning to God – in those small, yet powerful ways – despite what the world around us shouts. Maybe miracles are living into those moments where we might even speak up like Mary and say, “How can this be – this can’t happen…” Speaking those words and having faith in God when the response is, “We’ll see.”

Maybe miracles are saying the small and quiet ‘yes’ to God’s call even when it makes cultural and political sense to say, ‘no.’

This Advent season – even the entirety of our lives of faith – are full of those kinds of miracles. When we begin to see those? We can’t stop noticing them in our lives.


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December 12, 2016, 7:44 AM

the one to go and tell...

Sermon from December 11, 2016

Text: Matthew 11: 2-11

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Savior who is to come, 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.

So, we are just past the middle of this Advent season, still waiting in expectant hope and celebration. Anyone who has ever heard or seen a young child (or really has ever heard or seen a human) knows what happens the closer you get to something. Those days are not full of – “OH man, it’s going to be so great when this comes or we get to where we are going.”

No, if it were only that simple.

Instead, the closer we get to something the more our brain likes to seep in that doubt of ‘what if…’ and ‘is it ever going to arrive…’

It is about this time as we get to this third week of Advent that the kids I know – not just my own – begin to wonder if that future celebration will ever come, if it will ever come. Add a few gloomy and cold days and that overbearing sense of ‘dread’ becomes that much more present and heavy in our lives.

In our gospel this morning, we again listen in on what is going on in a prominent figure of our faith’s life – John the Baptizer. Last week (and 8 chapters ago in Matthew’s gospel) John was standing at the banks of the Jordan River crying out to all who gathered around him, “Repent! Be baptized! You’re forgiven! Re-turn towards God!”

John’s message is powerful, full of faith and life, and he is confident and even daring in that proclamation. He calls out the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to hear him in that sureness of the message he announces.

Yet, as we read this morning, his tone has changed. He no longer walks and speaks with that strong confidence. Has his faith wavered in the word he proclaimed to the people? Perhaps. You couldn’t blame him either. Last week he was standing in the water of the Jordan. We read this morning that he is locked up behind bars because of that message he proclaimed.

The question he asks Jesus is one that I think everyone has asked, prayed about, and pondered on – Are you the one? Or should we wait for another.

God’s kingdom is at hand, both in John’s time and in ours.

Yet, when we proclaim that we are on the ‘winning’ side we think that means that everything will go smoothly. Everyone will listen – how could they not, right? People will be able to see what I see. People from far and wide will gather in love, relationship. In the repentance of sins – and knowing that God already loves you – all will be able live into this freedom as people around the world are cared for, no matter who they are, where they come from, how they speak, and more.

You’d think that would be an easy message to get behind.

Yet, for John – for us – it doesn’t work out that way.

He’s been placed in jail for the message he preaches. The freedom he empowers people with through God’s word. He proclaims forgiveness of sin. A message that he believes is one that people want and need to hear. A message that he thought all would be open towards.

Yet, he is thrown in jail.

It’s no wonder he sends a message to Jesus asking, “Are you really the one?”

Even Jesus’ response is not one that is full of certainty, for Jesus doesn’t say, “Yes. Don’t worry.”

No, Jesus responds with, “You go and tell John what you see and hear. Go tell him what’s happening out in the world now.”

When I was in college I was a communications major with an emphasis in broadcast journalism. There was this thing about people that we learned and you kind of have to ‘hone’ in on.

You see, people like bad news. They do. We do. The worse it is, the more our curiosity is piqued. Especially if it centers on a subject that you don’t agree with. Or pertains to a person who is well known. We thrive on that bad news.

So, naturally the news industry fills their pages, both physical and virtual, with all sorts of dreadful news. Guess where destruction just happened? Did you hear which celebrity is having an affair? Look where in-fighting is taking place now!

We eat that sort of news up.

But, it messes us up without our knowing. As we are presented with all this awful stuff, we begin to think that is how the world always and really is. The sheer amount of that type of news drowns out everything else. A potentially beautiful day is destroyed when we hear, “statistically speaking fatal car accidents happen within 10 miles of where you live.” Or, sure your relationship is going great now, but look what happened to that couple over there – do you see the signs? Your children love to play outside, but you’ve got to watch them with a vigilant eye because I read a story where someone just walked and picked a kid up and took them from their own yard.

Now, this isn’t to say that bad things don’t happen. This isn’t to say that we should ignore that sort of news; that we shouldn’t be concerned with the underside of the world we live in.

But, when we are on the cusp of something so great – and I believe that in Kairos – God’s time – we are on the cusp of the kingdom of God – we can forget to see what’s going on around the world that is so good. So, faithful. So, beautiful.

25 foster children from young toddlers to teenagers have been ‘adopted’ by this community of faith so that they will have an amazing Christmas morning.

Over 1200 children around the world will receive toys and clothes from the donations collected here at Redeemer.

So many chicks, honey bee farms, goats, sheep, pigs and more have been donated through each of you to help communities and families in need.

I like to think that if Jesus answered that question today as directly as he did to John, his response would include those things about Redeemer, but would also include –

Go and tell about the man who gives free haircuts to people going to job interviews, tell him of the story of a Muslim own restaurant giving free meals on Christmas to the homeless and elderly because – no one eats alone on that day, how about the Palestinian firefighters who are helping contain wildfires in Israel, don’t forget to mention this new technology that is helping a woman and others with Parkinson’s to steady their hands so they can write their own names again, or let’s not overlook how so many people gathered around those at Standing Rock to help peacefully protest encroachment onto their sacred and sovereign lands. Tell him and others where God is at work because God is at work.

When we get so close, so very close, to that which is good for us and for the world, we get discouraged and distracted from God’s presence in our life. Terrible stuff is happening in this world, we should know about it – fully and completely – so that we can proclaim God’s word against it and through it. But, we also remember that God is at work in the rich and deep goodness of the world as well.

The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the ‘dead’ are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

Jesus is right. That is happening – God is at work. The messiah has come. We continue to wait in that celebration for just a few more weeks. Amen.

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December 8, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one where God failed marketing 101 - Thank God.

Mid-Week Advent Sermon from December 7, 2016

Text: Matthew 3: 1-12

Grace and peace to y’all this evening. Welcome to the second of our Wednesday Evening Advent Services. I continue to pray that these intentional breaks within our week allow you to better focus and open yourselves to God’s presence in your life as we wait in expectant hope during this season.

Whenever I think of Advent – and the wait leading into Christmas – I have to be honest, there’s a pretty important figure within our faith that I usually zip right past. It’s not that this individual is ‘bad’ or not ‘relevant.’ Far from it, in fact his is a voice that we at times most desperately need to hear.

I wonder at times if the reason why I at times ‘skip’ past him is because God didn’t take a marketing 101 course in college. This person is of course – John the Baptist.

Let’s take a look at our gospel from this past Sunday. Would someone please read Matthew 3: 1-12.

Now, from a marketing standpoint, God got it all wrong. All so very wrong. I took communications and marketing classes at Newberry and while I wouldn’t say I’m an ‘expert’ (far from it), I do at least know the ‘basics.’

First – you make your message easily discoverable. Today that’s pretty easy. You’ve got blanket ad campaigns that target radio, print (though not as much as before), TV, web, and social media realms. If you want someone to really hear your pitch – you go to where they are – in all the places they are.

God kind of messed that up. When we are introduced to John the Baptist we find out that he’s ‘outside’ where most people are. People have to go to him to hear his words. Sure, others I’m certain came because of word-of-mouth, but I hazard a guess that they came when their friends said, “Hey – come listen to this dude… he’s kind of nutty.”

That leads right into that second ‘no-no.’ The actual look of your messenger. If you want people to listen or at least be initially intrigued, you present them with an attractive and clean medium to present your product through. You get the best-looking men and women you can find to hawk your product. Straight teeth, good hair, fit body, nice clothes, broad smile. I’m sure God could’ve found someone that didn’t have disheveled hair, presumably ill-fitting and ‘tacky’ clothing, and whose diet consisted of bugs and wild honey.

This is the guy that is shouting your message?

Oh, I almost forgot – the way you present your views is another thing. We read that the Baptist here is shouting his – God’s – message. Sure, the message might be good – but, who here has ever been that convicted by a street preacher? Seriously? Yelling at me usually isn’t going to get me to actually listen to you, it’s just going to make move that much quicker past you. Now, if you get a voice like Morgan Freeman’s? There’s a voice I can listen to all day. Perhaps even a Scarlett Johannsen? Yep, I might not care at all about what you’re trying to push on me, but if it’s the voice of Black Widow? You can guarantee that you’ve got my attention.

From a marketing perspective, there is so much that God got wrong in using John the Baptist. He proclaims his message from outside the place where his audience is located, he presents himself in a way that most people – then and now – would scoff and raise their nose at, and his delivery isn’t the most subtle.

We live in a world, and always have, where people are ‘tricked’ into a product or message. Their wares are packaged behind a slick presentation, through beautiful people, and offered in soothing, sexy, emotional or other shiny ways. All to make you feel better. To feel empowered. To move you.

But, you know what – most times the ad is remembered, but the product is lost. Have y’all seen those Matthew McConaughey ads? I still barely know what they are advertising, but I remember them because they are so odd and beautifully shot.

We have so many ads that bombard us every day – especially during this time of year. They get us to feel ‘less’ than of ourselves in order that we might buy into their services and products. Yet, most of those ads are completely forgotten within days and months, only to be ‘remembered’ over by the next flashy ad.

Yet, for as much as God may have gotten wrong about John the Baptist in the marketing department. One thing can’t be overlooked. It’s a message we still hear today.

And that message? Prepare. God’s coming. Repent. Turn towards God.

It’s a message that still speaks to us, especially during this season of Advent.

A message that comes from an odd individual and from a place outside the comfort of everyday life. That message is spoken through words of care and grace about a God who comes to be in relationship with the entire world. A God who cares so much that he came to be one of us to know what life was like and to lead us to new life through death and resurrection.

Hear the message of Advent. Share the message of Advent. Live out the message of Advent.

God is coming to be with us. God comes to us and we celebrate that during Advent. God’s avenues, mediums, and individuals surprise us relentlessly. They make us squirm and think. They stretch us to places we didn’t think possible.

Perhaps we don’t need a slick messenger, but a hearty message itself. Amen.

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December 5, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one where God turns it upside down

Sermon from December 4, 2016

Text: Isaiah 11: 1-10

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior to Come who is Jesus 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!

Whenever I hear this particular part of Isaiah I always think of Dr. Venkman from the original Ghostbusters movie – ‘human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!’ Of course, Bill Murray’s character in that film was adding on to the ‘trouble and terribleness’ of ‘biblical proportions’ that his friends were outlying to the mayor of New York City about what was and could possibly happen soon.

I think we like to believe that is what the ‘end times’ will be like. It makes sense right? Blow it all up and start over? Literally wipe the slate clean. We’ve seen so much devastation the past few weeks in our little corner of the country because of wildfires. We are in shock with the amount of devastation that has been wreaked across places that we know so well.

For Thanksgiving, my family and I went to Brevard, NC with Erin’s parents. Just far enough away from those fires to be safe, but close enough to feel the effects. The sight and smell of smoke and ash was everywhere. It was surreal. When I think back on it – yeah, I can see that ‘coming time’ to be sort of like that.

Yet, during the season of Advent we are continually reminded that what God has in store is different than what has ever and will ever be done. The end will indeed be surreal and crazy. We might not be able to comprehend it, but not because of the utter chaos and destruction. Instead, it will be the world flipped over.

When all seems lost, a shoot will rise. From the stump – the cut down and dead – life will spring forth. That life and that light will be the messiah according to Isaiah’s words, vision, and prophesy.

And that messiah will not be like who you think it would be. An individual who will be anointed with and will rest in God’s spirit. When we think of ‘anointing’ during our current time, we like to think of it solely as ‘protection.’ When we talk about someone being ‘anointed and directed by God’ we usually mean that they’ve been kept safe in their life and possibly that they’re pretty successful.

As we read this part of Isaiah, we discover that those are not the ‘outcomes’ of this one having the spirit of God resting upon him.

In fact, the things that this one will do probably won’t bring about safety and any sort of worldly success. I’m sure Isaiah was thinking – this guy – whoever he is; is going to be pushed out and set off somewhere because it doesn’t seem like he’ll ‘fit in’ with the rest of the world.

He’ll judge not by sight or hearing, but with righteousness, equity, and faithfulness.

That’s not something I see going on in the world today. Those are things that scare us. Dealing, working, and dare I say judging someone in those regards brings fear and unknown into our hearts.

Because righteousness isn’t fair – it’s right and just. Fair is giving everyone equal share, treating folks the same – no matter what. Righteousness is giving of what you have so that others are lifted up. Righteousness is letting others speak while you listen. Righteousness is offering up yourself so that another might live more fully.

The one that Isaiah foretells will do that.

As Christians, we look to that Isaiah text and see immediately the one who we wait for in celebration and wait for in expectant hope.

Advent is a weird season. It’s short in length, but powerful in its message. For during Advent we wait for two things – we wait in anticipation for the celebration of that first ‘Advent’ that first time that God came to be with us in the Word made flesh – the incarnation.

We wait for that joyous celebration where we get to cry out to the world – GOD’S HERE! GOD HAS COME! SEE WHAT THE LORD HAS DONE! We wait and proclaim and we celebrate that day. Throughout Advent we are bursting at the seams to shout in joyous chorus about what God has done. It’s what makes Advent so difficult to ‘get’ through at times. We want to already be there – especially in a year like this one. We want to be celebrating something in joy.

But, Advent has a second ‘waiting’ period as well. And that I think is the part of Isaiah’s vision that hasn’t come about yet – but, is still a work in progress. For during Advent, not only do we await the celebration of that first Advent, but we wait in expectant hope for the second Advent as well – the time when the Lord returns.

That’s the one that we get scared of – because we don’t know what it’ll be like or when it’ll come. Yet, Isaiah this morning is full of crazy, outlandish, and dare I say joyous and comforting visions.

Imagine a world where the wolf lies with the lamb? The lion shall eat straw like the ox? Letting your young children stick their hand in a pit of poisonous snakes and not be worried.

Seriously – can y’all imagine that? I can’t. That seems so foolish. So, crazy. So far out there. So, unimaginable. So far and distant from the world we live in.

The biggest surprise of all in that whole vision is that stuck in the middle of these outlandish and foolish visions of the world is that line, “And a little child will lead them.”

Not only will the world literally flip over, but the one to show us the way is a child? Not someone with experience. Not someone with years of learning. Not someone with strength in the most literal of sense. Not someone with extensive knowledge of the operations and machinations of the world, but a child.

I think what stresses many, including myself, about this vision of God’s kingdom that Isaiah proclaims is that we just aren’t there. In fact, it feels like we are so very far from that vision. We continue to hear and see destruction – destruction of the natural world – and humanity’s willingness to be a part of it. Destruction of one another. It still feels like we have been and will live in a world where a lion won’t eat straw, but will devour the ox.

And yet, speaking about that destruction that the wildfires caused in North Carolina – something I heard on the radio this week brought me even a little bit of hope in that. A hope that I think we can look to especially in this season of Advent.

There was an interview with a local fire chief who stated that he was ‘amazed’ that the fire mostly consumed the underbrush, but the trees – those trees that he so lovingly gazed upon his entire life were still there. Still strong. Still alive.

A shoot shall rise out from the stump. Hope remains.

Advent. It surprises us all the time. Whenever things seem most lost and gone – that’s when God shoots forth.

Advent is a season of hope, waiting for and having faith in that expectant hope. Amen.

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December 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

December 2016 Newsletter

Grace and peace y’all!

It’s December! Wow! We’ve been doing this pastor and people thing for a little over a year and a half. Time sure does fly doesn’t it?

I really do love this time of year. I think I like it for reasons that are a bit different than what everybody else enjoys during this time as we approach the end of the year.

Sure, I enjoy the music, the lights, the cooler weather. I enjoy the movies (Elf is still my favorite movie from this time of year) and I even enjoy that jolly ol’ fat guy too. I love the aspect of spending time with friends and family, giving of ourselves to help those in need, having our hearts grow to bursting to care for those around us. Sometimes you just can’t help, but be caught up in all of this.

However, as much as I enjoy this time of year and what it leads to, it’s not all that stuff I listed that really stokes the flames of my soul. What I love about this time of year is that we are in the season of Advent. A time where amid the hustle and bustle of the world around us, we get to pause. In the midst of the world screaming at us (since October mind you) that Christmas is coming and we better be ready; we get to wait.

Now, anyone who has children, works with children, or has seen a child knows that ‘waiting’ is not one of our strong suits as creations of God. We don’t like to wait. We live in an age where we are instantly gratified in all sorts of ways. We can immediately download, stream, or acquire an item at the push of a button. We now have the ability to literally print objects we need (or don’t need). It’s a good time to be alive.

But, in Advent the message we hear is to wait. To be patient. Though, I think we misinterpret what God is telling us in how we are supposed to wait. It isn’t so much that we ‘wait’ like we tell our children or our parents told us – wait, be quiet, don’t move. No, that isn’t what God means by being patient during this season.

Patience means preparation. Patience means slowing down. Patience means living in joy for what is to come, what has come, and what is here in the birth of Christ our Lord.

So, as I wait, I don’t just sit on my hands and wait in anticipation. I’m invited – we are invited – into service and a life lived in faith for those around us – now more than ever.

Yes, Advent is my favorite time of the year because God tells me – tells us – slow down, I’m coming to see you. Be prepared. It’s going to be awesome.

December 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one about the waiting room

Mid-Week Advent Sermon - Nov. 30, 2016

Text: Isaiah 2: 1-5

Grace and peace to you this evening as we begin our Advent Wednesday Evening Services. During this Advent, we will look at a different text from our readings from the previous Sunday. Allowing us to take a greater pause with further contemplation in how God continues to speak to us during this time and place.

At this time during the middle of the week we get to take an intentional break during the busyness of our lives. Our hectic schedules, our need to be ‘caught up’ in our purchasing, our cards, our traditions, and more. During Advent this year, we purposefully seat ourselves in the waiting room.

In many ways, that is what Advent is; a waiting room. A place in which we reside as we wait for the good news to come. Sitting in the waiting room – most times – isn’t all that fun. Especially as we are racked with anxiety and worry about what is going on beyond those doors. Perhaps a friend is in labor, a spouse is in surgery, a child is testing or interviewing. Being in the waiting room doesn’t ease our worries and burdens.

Yet, the surprise of the waiting room is that God is there present with us. Calling to us and inviting us to see God at work in new and marvelous ways. Ways we wouldn’t expect, ways that we don’t anticipate, ways that we thought God wouldn’t possibly be involved or interested in.

This evening, we hear of that first surprise as it is told to us through the words of Isaiah.

As Christians, we look at this text and are surprised by the fact that God apparently dwells in this lofty place atop a mountain. Insert all your own thoughts about the ‘wise man’ on the mountain.

Yet, we remember that the first surprise that we encounter during this season of Advent – as we wait in expectant hope – is that God has come down from the mountain on high. God has come to dwell with us in the Word made flesh; in Christ our Lord.

As Christians, we envision that stream not going to a mountain, but to Christ himself. And when we get there, we are surprised again.

When I talk to people and they ask, “pastor, what will it be like to be in front of God on that day? To sit at the table prepared by Jesus?”

My response is that someone will probably ask Jesus, “Which one of us was right?”

I imagine that Jesus’ response will be surprising, I like to think that Jesus’ answer would be something along the lines of, “Some of you were a little right, some of you were a little wrong – but, you’re all here now and that’s what matters.”

We come to Jesus and the thing we do – according to Isaiah’s vision – is that we sit and learn. We learn the ways of God. We learn new things. We learn old things. To me, that’s pretty surprising.

Especially in light of what that ‘learning’ teaches us through this vision. Weapons of war beaten down into tools for the community. No longer will we rise up against one another, and we won’t learn war anymore.

Most of all, we come to learn from God.

Learning is an interesting activity. Learning is a practice where we may be forced to acknowledge that the answers we know might be wrong. That’s scary. That’s unnerving.

The surprise of Advent is that it’s true. The answers we know just might be and are wrong. You talk to anyone during the time before Jesus’ birth about who and what the messiah would be like and I imagine that they’d all agree that whoever the messiah would be, that person wouldn’t be a baby born to country parents out of wedlock.

We’ve been taught from the earliest of times that if someone wrongs you – especially on such large scales that deal with nations and armies – you retaliate. We see retaliation as the best and most effective course to take.

Yet, Isaiah tells of a vision where weapons of war – swords and spears – are beaten down into plowshares and pruning hooks. Today, what might those weapons of war – guns, bombs, tanks, and planes – be ‘beaten down’ into? What sorts of tools of community and life might we be visioning for today; that God might bring about in the ending of war? What does that kingdom of God look like for us? We may – we might – have an inkling of what it could look like, but God’s vision is perhaps even greater than what we could ever imagine.

This advent season – and every Advent – we hear of these end times. Times envisioned by Isaiah, by John, by Jesus, and others and we always approach them with fear and trepidation. It’s understandable because of the language that is used and the ‘unknown’ that comes along with it.

Yet, during Advent that sense of dread is replaced by hope. And that, my sisters and brothers is probably the biggest surprise. That the ‘end’ that is to come is one of hope and presence. We get to come sit and learn at the feet of our Lord. Learning war no more.

Learning something else. Something different. Learning God’s ways so that we might walk in that path with and towards Jesus.

This is the season of Advent. This season full of surprise – let us walk in the light of the Lord. Amen.

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November 28, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one to begin a new year...

Sermon from Nov. 27, 2016

Text - Matthew 24: 36-44

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior to Come who is Jesus 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!

So, we come to this new church year, and if you’ve been paying attention these last few weeks to the Gospel readings we’ve had – the message hasn’t changed much from Our Lord. Signs, signs of signs, and more pointing to a day that will come and is coming. There will be hard times, times will not be fun, and so much more.

These last few weeks we’ve heard quite a few ‘apocalyptic’ messages from our Lord.

But, there’s something I’ve always noticed about what Jesus calls for us during these times leading up to that time of the Advent – second coming – that we don’t know when it will occur.

If you listen to a lot of the folks around the world today who profess to ‘know’ that hour, or foresee it’s coming in the signs of the world – their advice and warning is – you better get right with Jesus. You better proclaim to know him. You better shout to the world and those around you that you mean it – or else!

Sound about right?

Yet, as we look at what Jesus says in our Gospel reading this morning – we do get a dire message, but what we should be doing leading up to this coming time is not quite the same as what we hear out in the world.

After Jesus’ warnings he tells a small parable about two men in the field and two women grinding grain. One is taken, one is left. Yet, those individuals weren’t doing anything special they were doing their work. Continuing in their labor of the world. One would assume that one from each of those pairs was continuing to follow into what Christ has proclaimed.

I noticed something as I read this text this year. Nowhere does Jesus say which person you’d want to be. Are we to prepare in some way to be the person ‘taken’ or the person ‘left?’ It’s like Jesus has been intentionally ambiguous here.

We live in a world where the dominant message is – you don’t want to be left behind – yet Jesus’ message in this particular part of Matthew’s gospel seems to lean towards not wanting to be taken. Those during Noah’s age were taken by the waters of the flood. A thief comes in the night not to keep things ‘safe,’ but to take what doesn’t belong to them.

Maybe we want to be the ones left? It seems it would match with the intent of Jesus’ words here? Kinda throws a wrench in that whole fictional series, Left Behind, right?

However, no matter where you align yourself in that conversation – whether you want to be ‘taken’ or ‘left,’ I don’t believe that Jesus wants that to be the dominant conversation. If that is the focus of our discussions, we’ve lost the whole point to what Jesus is getting at.

As I hear this message that Jesus proclaims to and for us this morning, one word stands out to me – Stay alert, be prepared, watch (depending on your own translation the words and phrases will vary slightly, but their meaning remains virtually the same).

And, yet I think we still miss-hear what Jesus is trying to tell us. When we hear ‘stay alert’ or ‘watch’ I think we feel we need to be like a sentry. Someone who looks out from the guard posts so that they can see the ‘bad’ coming to warn everyone else. Don’t get me wrong – that is a good job to have. It helps keep us safe – everyone safe – from the ‘evil’ to come. But, when we hear that that is all we should do – we lose sight of the actual life that Jesus has called us into.

Yet, in the few verses we hear this morning and the season of the church year we newly venture into this morning – I believe that action takes on a slightly different meaning. It isn’t so much that we ‘stand guard’ and ‘watch vigilantly’ only straining our eyes into the distance – and also making sure that others around us do as we do.

I don’t think that’s what Jesus means.

We are to ‘stay alert’ and ‘be prepared,’ but that requires and expects more than just standing around and shouting that ‘the end is coming!’ In fact, I’d hazard a guess that it doesn’t mean that at all, but instead it means living into the faithful witness that Jesus calls us into.

Living into that life where others and all are loved and cared for. Bearing witness to the grace and radical welcome of inviting those different than us into our lives. Seeking to hear others so that our own voice, our own life, our own community as a whole can be that much more full.

We come boldly into the season of Advent and we hear this message from Jesus that is of warning and is full of gloom and doom. Within that message we don’t get the ‘full’ story. In fact, the only thing we know for certain is that we won’t know when that time – this coming Advent – will come about.

In the knowledge of ‘not knowing’ we are to be prepared, to stay alert, and to watch.

My hope and prayer for us at this time and always is that we do heed this warning from Jesus. Live into the life that we have been called into. That we live into this new and renewed life that we have been gifted by God through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus – the Word of God.

Bearing witness through our words and our actions.

Caring for those around us, loving all – especially the ones we don’t agree with, the ones we don’t like, and the ones who seek harm. Living into the foolishness of the cross for the sake of the life of the world.

My hope and prayer for all of us – is that we remember that Christ dwells with us in the midst of the struggles of our lives and our world. God does not abandon us. We may not know when that day or hour will come. We may certainly not enjoy that time when it is here – whenever that may be. But, we remember and have faith that God is continually with us.

We began our worship this morning – and will begin each Sunday during Advent – singing O Come, o come Emmanuel.

Emmanuel – God with us.

That is the message that we cry out as we enter this Advent season. God is coming. God has come. God is with us. Share that message. Be prepared for that Advent.

In Christ, through Christ, because of Christ – Emmanuel – God with us. Now and always. Let us remember that promise and presence as we live into this life. Amen.

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November 21, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one where Jesus remembers...

Sermon from Nov. 20, 2016 - Christ the King Sunday

Text: Luke 23: 33-43

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? 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!

Well, we’ve come to the end of another church year. Next week we dive head first into Advent as we prepare our hearts and minds for the journey to come. The journey that reminds us of the expectant hope that is in God made incarnate – of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.

But, before we walk that path to expectant hope, we sit at the crest of one church year to the next and read this story. We read the story that is the penultimate story that makes the birth of Jesus important. We read and hear these words from Luke, as Jesus is nailed to a tree – a cross of wood – between two criminals.

Jesus is surrounded by those who mock, scorn, ridicule, and cast heavy doses of sarcastic comments against him. We hear those around Jesus hurl insults at him saying, “If he is who he says he is, surely he can save himself!” or, “If you are the Christ – save yourself and us!”

Before all these sayings, Jesus prays to God, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

This is the story that ends our church year as we move forward into the next.

It has always made me wonder how strong and full of faith someone must be to forgive another in the midst of being in utter pain at the hands of those being forgiven. Think about that for a moment. Jesus is nailed to the cross and hoisted up above those gathering around him. Those throwing jabs, insults, and more upon him and he says, “forgive them.” Imagine how hard that would be to say to those causing harm and hardship directly to you in the midst of them actually doing it. As each fleeting breath escapes his body, Jesus has to push himself up to utter these words. That’s incredible. That’s powerful.

This sort of strength comes not just from Jesus as well. It also comes to us from the other criminal on the cross next to him. The first criminal is one that I think many of us would probably act like. Given the situation and the last breaths we would be savoring, I think most of us would try to lift ourselves up to say, “If you are who say you are – save yourself and us!”

To me, it is exceptional that the other criminal on the cross uses his apparent last breaths to speak up for Jesus. And it isn’t just a few words, but deep and powerful thoughts.

That’s some faith. Faith that begins here in this story. Here in this story where we find Jesus on the cross praying for those around him and a criminal whose only request is, “Remember me…”

This is our king. This is Christ the King Sunday. A day that others would think would be full of pomp and circumstance. Crazy ribbons, blaring trumpets, impassioned speeches of grandeur, and so much more. When I think of the arrival of ‘kings’ I remember my favorite Disney movie, Aladdin where pretending to be royalty Aladdin comes marching into the town of Agrabah on the back of an elephant surrounded by troupes of dancers, trumpeters, acrobats, herds of animals, balloons, festivities, and more. That is the celebration of a king that we hope for.

Yet, here – on Christ the King Sunday we don’t get that. Our king, the world’s king, the King of Kings, is shown on a cross, nailed, and in the process of dying. Ridiculed and insulted. And yet, he prays for those around him and the important and powerful response he gives to the one who says, “Remember me…”

I think that that is incredibly powerful. To know that even at the end of his earthly life – before he is to be the first fruits of the resurrection, Jesus is in prayer and is listening to someone in need. Not in prayer for himself, not in prayer that the pain might go away, not even in prayer that those causing him harm and pain might ‘meet their doom’ (you know we’ve prayed that one from time to time). No, Jesus is in prayer – praying for those who wish to do him harm. Here is Jesus living into what he has asked his disciples to do, namely to forgive those who sin against them and pray for those who persecute them. Wow.

Jesus again is leading by example.

This week as I and other pastors gathered to talk about and prepare for this Sunday, one of my colleagues mentioned that you know who a king is by what they do. It’s why we have the phrase, “It’s good to be the king.” We know who a king is by what he does (and gets to do).

And, it is with that in mind that I think of what it means for us to have Christ as our king. What does Christ do that tells us what and who a king is.

I love the exchange between Jesus and the criminals to his left and right. I love it because of Jesus’ response to the one who asks, “Jesus, remember me.”

Jesus’ answer can be summed up in two simple yet powerful words.

I will.

I will remember you. You will be remembered. I will always remember you.

I think that is incredibly important to hear during this day. For today we have many who say that Jesus will ‘remember’ you only if you believe in him (in a particular way) – that you say it out loud. This other criminal doesn’t say, “I believe in you.” Or “I know you.” He simply states, “remember me.”

On this Christ the King Sunday we remember a king who is different from all other kings, we celebrate the King of Kings who cares about those around him. We have faith in the King who prays for those – even those who speak ill of him and cause harm and pain against him and against those who believe in him. We have a king who remembers.

The one on the cross who dies to show the world the victory of God over sin and death so that the created ones of God might be victors over it too turns to those around him and says, “I will remember you. I do remember you. You are mine.”

So, even when we’re in the midst of our own perils and deaths. Living through our own pains and hardships, when we cry out in prayer to God and say, “Remember me Lord… remember me.” God responds to us and says, “I do remember you. Know that now. Know that I remember you.”

Know that God remembers us all, and in that remembrance, we have faith in what God has done for each of us – for the entire world – in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Where in that remembrance, Jesus has pulled us all with him so we too are gifted that new life that comes in Christ our King.

A part of all our calls as servants of Christ is that we are sent to proclaim that remembrance. We are sent into the world to care for those in need. Coming alongside those around us to offer care, support, and prayer. Where in the midst of all of that service when people say, “thank-you” and then ask, “why?” we can say with utter confidence – Because God cares and Christ remembers.

Where we – especially at this time of year on the cusp of Advent – turn to those around us and offer care and service because it is what Christ calls us to do. Where we continue to gather from our abundance to help those in need – whether it is filling a shoe box, purchasing a gift for someone we don’t know, or giving an animal to a family and community in need in the world. We do this, not just because it is ‘good’ to do this (because it is). We do this, not because it ‘makes us feel good’ (and it does). But, we do this because we proclaim that Christ remembers us all, and we get to live out that remembrance.

We remember that as we celebrate Christ the King – we celebrate a King who prays and who remembers. We celebrate and have faith in a king who just doesn’t pray and remember for just those who act or believe in a certain way. Where Jesus remembers all of us. In that remembrance, we go out and proclaim that message to those around us.

Christ the King Sunday – the day we celebrate the King the world doesn’t deserve, but desperately needs. Christ prays and remembers. To each of us. For each of us. All of us. You. Me. Even the ones who speak so harshly against him and others. Christ prays, Christ remembers.

It’s good to have that King. Amen!

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November 14, 2016, 7:40 AM

the one about opportunity...

Sermon from November 13, 2016

Texts: Psalm 98, Luke 21: 5-19

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, amen!

Wow, what a bunch of lessons to read after an election of great magnitude in this country, right? What words to hear from Jesus’ lips this morning about the ‘signs’ to come. Earthquakes, wars, famines, and more. None of this sounds good. Jesus is speaking about an apocalypse that is to come.

First, I want to make something absolutely clear – this was the assigned text for this day. I didn’t pick it. It comes up at this time every three years. But, I think it is a needed text for us to hear.

For many, they say that the end times are here because Mr. Donald Trump has been elected. Yet, on the opposite side many would have said the apocalypse would be at hand if Senator Hillary Clinton was elected. We place so much into those we elect that we forget that this little text is trotted out whenever someone we personally don’t agree with is lifted-up by others.

Look what Jesus is saying about Obama! Or Bush! Or Kennedy! Or Nixon! Or Lincoln!

We do this every time. And we survive. Things incrementally change for the better. We stand up when things go ways that we cannot. We continue and always pray for God’s guidance amidst the roaring sea.

And that my brothers and sisters is what I wanted to focus on this morning. I think the one text today that would get over-shadowed amidst all these other ‘fun’ choices would be our Psalm, particularly verses 7 and 8.

Let’s look at those verses again…

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy…

I don’t know about y’all, but have you ever seen or heard a sea roar? Have you been a part of a river that ‘clapped’ its hands? For us as creations of God – those aren’t fun times. It was just over a year ago, that this area and closer to Columbia experienced those ‘clapping’ floods. The waters clapping and slapping up against homes, businesses, and over the tops of cars. Seas roar and rivers clap when things are stirred up. When we feel like we are being figuratively and literally tossed from side-to-side.

Yet, in that moment we know that God is present. God is present in the churning, in the tumult, in the stirring. God is present in the waves and God is present at our side. God is present within us.

God is here.

The thing that I’ve heard the most from all those who voted – is that they didn’t feel good about it. Whether they held their noses to vote or not – we can all look out among the country and world say, “Things aren’t really that great.”

There’s a lot of hurt. There’s a lot of worry. There’s a lot of angst. There’s a lot of anger.

Some of it is greatly justified. Some of it is the unwillingness to move – in either direction – because of stubbornness. There are those who incite and participate in violence which brings more cause and worry.

Yet, no candidate is going to bring peace. No candidate is going to solve all our ills. No candidate is going to be able to live into all of his or her promises. No candidate is going to ‘solve’ this all.

But, God is.

God working amongst and in us will. God continues to surround us, calling us to rejoice in the words of Psalm 98. Calling us to remember that what’s on the other side of the churning and stirring is what is at hand and what we look forward to.

Within the scary words of Jesus that we hear this morning, we are called to do something.

One of the things that I’ve heard and read during these past few days is those who say, “Y’all just pray. Just pray that God is in control. That God’s got this.”

And, on face value I truly love that. We should be praying. We really should. Praying that God is in control – not in a feeble ‘boy, I sure hope so.’ But, praying in the ‘I know that God is in control – even if I can’t always see it.” Praying in such a way where we acknowledge that God just might not be working in the ways that we hope. But, that God is truly in the midst of this. Because in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus God has declared that God is present with us.

But, on a broader view, what I get so worried about as a pastor and a leader of a faith community is that many will just pray, but won’t be moved to act. Where we don’t acknowledge God’s action and grace in us and moving through us to bring about God’s Word to the world in such a desperate need to hear it.

After Jesus outlines the ‘terribleness’ that is to come, Jesus turns to his disciples and to us and says this, ‘you will be given an opportunity to testify.’ Jesus’ words will be in you; Jesus’ words will spill forth from your mouth. Your faith will lead you in action and words.

So, how is it that we testify to the gospel of Christ? How do we testify – how do we make witness – to the words, deeds, and faith of Christ who leads us?

We continue to love. We continue to share. We continue to proclaim. We continue to point. We continue to invite.

As we quickly approach the Advent season – that season of expectant hope in the coming of God into the world – we get to live into that testimony.

We get to put together boxes full of fun, love, and needed items for children through Operation Christmas Child. Today, we heard from Lynn Cary about a new ministry we get to participate in – helping those in need throughout the world to help better care and support their families and communities through the ELCA Good Gifts Fair. Soon we will begin the Angel Tree Ministry in our community of Newberry to help bring a bit of joy to some of the most in need near us.

And yet, there are still more opportunities to testify and live out this life of faith through love, care, and grace that are not just confined to this specific time as we approach the coming season. We provide food and time to the Manna House – who is always in need of loving donations through our abundance of food. We help in donating to Interfaith Community Services to provide needed financial assistance to some of the most underprivileged and unnoticed members of our community. We provide skills, funds, and more to places like the Free Medical Clinic so that those who cannot afford medical care are provided and cared for.

Then there are those ministries that are sometimes overlooked, yet continually provide those moments of warmth and grace – our knitters who make beautiful prayer shawls and caps for newborns, our card care ministry that sends notes of love to those who cannot be here throughout the week and to those who are going through difficult times, our bereavement meals team who help a family not have to worry about food during their most desperate hour, our Sunday school teachers who provide guidance and love to those forming in their faith, and so much more.

Then there are those ministries that we don’t even know about, but we feel a call and a pull to say something – anything – to provide care to those who need it most. Especially to those who feel so threatened and fear for their future now. There are those opportunities within our community – that are not attached specifically to this community of faith – where we too get to live into and live out our faith in caring for others.

No candidate is going to stop that. No candidate is going prevent us from living into the faith that we know, the gospel that we proclaim, and the life that Jesus calls us into.

That life of faith that we are given an opportunity to live out and in which we get to live into through our testimony is what provides me hope. It provides me hope in a world and in a country that is so divided.

I know that God breaks down all those walls. I know the Christ crosses those lines in bringing people together. I know that the Holy Spirit guides our actions and words to be with one another.


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