Grace Coming Down

Sunday, August 5, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 6:24-35

 

The gospel readings for the next five weeks are from the sixth chapter of John, known as the Bread of Life discourse. This is a change from the gospel of Mark assigned for year B in the Church calendar. Why this sudden turn or shift in direction? It’s a question we encounter in our everyday lives. The twists and turns in our journey of life can be filled both with joyful surprises and unwelcome heartbreaks. And it’s those unwelcome heartbreaks that can leave us feeling empty and lost.

In our gospel reading today the crowds that have been following Jesus, followed him all the way into the desert where they found themselves feeling empty. Jesus was aware of this, and he turned to Philip and asked him, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip started to panic. He knew that not only could they never afford to feed that large of a crowd – over 5000 – (not counting women and children because they weren’t counted) but there were no markets anywhere nearby. Fear started to set in pretty quickly. The disciples believed that they didn’t have enough. All they could see was five loaves and two fish. This story echoed the story we read from 2 Kings where it looked like there was only a handful of food available to feed a large crowd of people.

Yet, Jesus, like the prophet Elisha before him was able to see beyond what was there. Jesus and Elisha knew that God is a God of abundance. God is a God who provides. God is a God who wants to feed the world. And God is able to do just that. The problem is that we humans so often see things out of a lens of scarcity instead of the eyes of faith. We see what is in front of us – the lack, the problem, challenges to face – and they are there – lots of them. But that’s not all there is. There is more. God is more. And God meets us in the midst of the storms. There is abundance just waiting to be tapped into.

In our readings today, God provided food – more than enough food – for everyone to eat, plus some. There were 12 baskets full of leftovers. God fed the people with what was already there. When they saw lack, Jesus saw more. It’s there; we just have to see with the eyes of faith, with the eyes of abundance and possibility instead of lack and scarcity.

God provides for all our needs. God is able to feed the world, and we are the instruments through which God will accomplish that. The children’s story, “Bagels From Benny” by Aubrey Davis illustrates how God feeds the world through ordinary people like you and me. Miracles like the loaves, and fish still happen, sometimes even through bagels. Look around there is an abundance of God’s grace in the ordinary right in front of you. Give thanks and see the abundance. Amen.

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Today This Scripture Has Been Fulfilled in Your Hearing

Sunday, February 3, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 4:21-30

 

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Our gospel reading from Luke last week ended here right after Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah. The scripture he read said, “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.” He then rolled the scroll back up, and said, the words we began with this morning, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” When Jesus first read these words from the prophet Isaiah, these words of hope and promise were familiar, and people like familiarity. But Jesus’ words quickly moved people from a place of comfort to a place of uncertainty and eventually rage. Instead of letting the Holy Spirit fill them through the hearing of God’s word, they allowed a spirit of anger to fill them. The same people who had just praised this home-town wonder for possessing such power, now tried to throw him off a cliff! You might wonder, how did that happen?

It happened because Jesus challenged the status quo. The people who heard Isaiah’s message of hope and promise felt good because they thought it was just for them. They had heard about the miracles he had performed elsewhere. And now that he was home, certainly he would help them. With the kind of power he now had Jesus would fulfill all their desires. Things were finally going to change; things were finally going to turn around. After all the years of oppression by enemies, praying “how long O Lord” they felt God was going to answer their prayers in the way they wanted. They had great expectations, great plans for Jesus to carry out!

But instead Jesus called them out on it. He knew they wanted him to “Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” Jesus disrupted their plans by pointing out God’s plans. He pointed out that God saved the widow at Zarephath in Sidon – enemy territory. And God healed the Syrian commander, Naaman, again the enemy. Jesus’ hometown crowd wanted a victory rally, not a reminder of how everyone who hurt them and didn’t deserve it was rewarded. They didn’t want to hear that God’s plan was for salvation for all people. God’s plans, God’s dreams were different than theirs. And hearing that Jesus was promoting new dreams and plans incited them to rage.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we act exactly the same. When someone tells us our dreams and plans have to change, it makes us angry.  Most people would rather drive others off a cliff – including Jesus – than really hear the truth and be open to change. And maybe we don’t literally try and kill someone like the crowd that day did with Jesus, but the anger spills out in the form of cruel words, or emails, or text messages. We act unkindly toward each other and refuse to hear each other. We don’t put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. And we may withhold forgiveness, affection, or even the sharing of our gifts of time, and talents, and money. We can look at this story and say, “Jesus was only trying to open their hearts and give them an even better dream than they had before, how could they try and kill him for that?” But we forget that Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.” (Matt. 25)

It’s easy to get angry when we’re challenged to look at things in a new way. It’s easier to shut people out and build walls than to try and find new ways of living together in community. We don’t always want to look at things from Jesus’ perspective because that may mean we have to give up something. But we’re missing the point. That’s what being a disciple of Jesus is all about. It means we are giving something up. We’re giving up our old life to follow Jesus. It means we’re giving up our dreams to be a part of God’s dream. It means giving up everything that separates us from God so that we can make room for the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. It means loving like Jesus calls us to love. And love as St. Paul writes is not merely an emotion, it is an action. It is a way of being. Love means speaking the truth even when it is hard like Jesus did. Love means standing up for the poor and the oppressed like Jesus did. Love means treating others with respect and dignity. Love means being to risk it all for the sake of God’s mission – just like Jesus. This takes courage, but Jesus showed us how to be courageous, and gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower us.

Jesus was incredibly brave to speak the truth and he asks us to do the same – to speak the truth in love, always in love. St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 13 that love “rejoices in the truth.” It rejoices in the truth because the truth sets us free. Yes, it can be hard to hear the truth. It can be painful to admit we’ve been wrong, which is why repentance is a word people try and avoid. But if we can be open to the truth it will transform us into the people that God created us to be. Repentance means turning around and that is what Jesus wants us to do, to turn around and see the truth and let it set us free.

Several years ago Pope Francis spoke to the US Congress about repentance, and maybe he needs to speak to them again. He spoke about caring for the poor and the oppressed. He spoke against those who want to hold on to money at the expense of others. He spoke words of truth like Jesus, and the people in Congress didn’t want to hear these things.. They didn’t want to hear about all the money they were spending on things that were not helping God or others, but helping themselves, and they still don’t. When the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, heard these words from Pope Francis it made the headlines because he cried. And even more than that, several days later he resigned as Speaker of the House. Now I don’t know John Boehner personally, but something unusual certainly happened as a result of Pope Francis’ address to the Congress. It was evident that the words of truth that Pope Francis spoke touched his heart and led him to look at his life differently. Speaking the truth in love has the power to do that. It’s not the love of power that changes people for the better, it’s the power of love.

Love is the essence of who God is. Love is the heart of what being a follower of Jesus is all about. Love is what being a church is all about, and when love for God and all that God has made is our focus, everything else becomes clear. Love is not just an emotion, but an action, a way of life that we are called to live. That kind of love is available to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, “Today the scriptures have been fulfilled in your hearing.” Are we willing hear this good news? Are we ready to let go of our plans and dreams, and be a part of God’s plans and dreams? God’s vision and dream for us, for our congregation, our community, and our world is far better than anything we could design on our own.

Let us pray, Holy Spirit, open our hearts; move through us, change us so that we may change the world, and bring your good news to all. Amen!

Anointed to Serve

Sunday, January 27, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 4:14-21

This third Sunday after the Epiphany, after the revelation of that first Christmas, we hear a powerful message. In Luke’s gospel, after Jesus’ baptism, he was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. There he stayed for 40 days and was tempted by Satan. Our account today immediately follows his return from the wilderness. Jesus was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and began teaching. People were quickly noticing him and talking about him with praise and admiration. Our story today is really a two-part story. This week – today – we’ll focus on part one. We will focus on Jesus’ decision to read from the prophet Isaiah. “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.” The people in the synagogue that day had heard these words before. They were words of promise and hope. But what did they really mean to them that day? And what do they really mean to us today? Are they simply words from a prophet centuries ago that don’t apply to us today?

It would be understandable to think that way. There are still so many poor in our community and our world. People are still captive physically and emotionally. Sickness and disease are still present. There’s so much oppression in our country and in the world. And yet the words of the prophet Isaiah say, he is anointed to bring good news and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus challenges us to look at these words through new eyes.

We may be going through difficult times, but the good news is that the Holy Spirit is active and present among us as well. Thousands of years ago, when crowds of people gathered to hear Jesus and were hungry, it seemed like there was not enough, but God is a God of abundance and fed over 10,000 with only five loaves and two fish. At the wedding at Cana, the wine ran out, but all was not lost. Jesus filled huge jars of water into an abundance of fine wine. And Jesus raised the dead, and the early disciples performed miracles, and these signs didn’t just stop thousands of years ago. They are still happening today through people that God has anointed with the Holy Spirit – people like you and me. There may be evil in the world, but the power of the Holy Spirit is more powerful. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He, Jesus the Messiah, was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and anointed to bring good news to the poor, and to set oppressed people free. And we, through our baptism, are united with Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit to do the same. The work of the Holy Spirit is an ongoing process that continues across generations, throughout the centuries, throughout time.

It continues through us, the Church, the body of Christ. And as St. Paul says, we must be a unified body. There are many parts. We all have unique God-given gifts, but together the Holy Spirit works through us to continue the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. And today as we will later participate in the congregation’s annual meeting, we will focus on God’s mission for this congregation. It is not our mission; it is God’s mission. A mission that began with Jesus, continued with 12 ordinary apostles, and grew into the Church today. It is not our church; it is Christ’s church. We aren’t called to dwell on the past, but to learn from it, and to take that information and focus on what God is doing today. Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He is challenging us to really listen to these words, these words of hope and promise, and see that through Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they are continuing to be fulfilled today. We, the people of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church are the ones who are called to bring good news to the poor through the ministries we do. We are called to help release captives and let the oppressed go free through the work of social justice. We are called to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

When we focus on Christ’s mission, we as the body of Christ can do amazing things through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives and moves through us. We may face challenges, but through creative thinking and wisdom given to us by the Spirit, God will move us in directions we never dreamed possible. And like the heavens and nature itself we will proclaim the glory of God not only through our words, but more importantly through the kind of lives we live. When we speak and act in love, and compassion, kindness, and mercy, we proclaim God’s glory. We are anointed for this work of the Spirit, and we are empowered to do it with confidence and joy.

I’d like to close with a poem from Howard Thurman entitled, “The Work of Christmas.”

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

This is the work we are called and anointed to do today. Amen.

What Happens Next?

Sunday, January 13, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 3:15-17, 21, 22

The celebration of a baptism is an exciting event. Family and friends gather together from near and far. Time is given as to whom the godparents or sponsors will be, special clothes are often worn, and a party of cake or other food often follows the service. Baptism is the most significant event in the life of a Christian, as we receive this most treasured gift of God. Luther called it a “most priceless treasure.” In the sacrament of baptism we are claimed as God’s beloved, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever. We are forever connected with God through Christ, and receive the gifts of forgiveness and grace. We are not forgiven in order to be God’s beloved, but we are forgiven because we are God’s beloved. After the baptism, the question is what happens next?

Unlike Matthew or Mark’s gospels, Luke’s focus is exactly that. He doesn’t give us a lot of details about the actual baptism, but rather what happens next. He says, “when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It was when Jesus was praying that the presence of the Holy Spirit was felt, and the voice of God was heard. The act of baptism was not the end, but rather the beginning. It was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and it is the beginning of our ministry as well.

After the service itself, after the cake and the food, after all the festivities, the real experience of baptism comes to light. Baptism is an entryway. It is the beginning of our journey with Christ, our journey of faith. Baptism is an ongoing process. It opens us up. It opens us up to see the Light of Christ, to hear the voice of God, and to feel the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is the light to guide us on our journey. Jesus knew that well, and we can follow his example. Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus prayed all the time. He prayed at his baptism, after working miracles, before choosing the twelve disciples, in the garden before his death, and even at his crucifixion.

How many times have we wondered what to do next? How often have we heard something and wondered who to ask for guidance? How frequently do we let challenges and change leave us feeling unbalanced? When Jesus faced challenges and important decisions he turned to prayer. Prayer and meditation are the spiritual disciplines that keep us connected to God, the source of all knowing. When we seek wisdom, prayer opens us up to be receptive to divine truth. When we seek reassurance, prayer reminds us of the promises of God. When we are lost, prayer leads us home to God who shows us the way. Prayer is not a last resort. Prayer, as Jesus modeled, is a way of life.

When Jesus was baptized, the first thing he did was pray. And prayer opened him up to hear the voice of God proclaim his as beloved. We need to hear this voice of assurance as well. Before we can go out in ministry, we too need to hear this blessed assurance. We cannot bless others, if we do not already know that we are blessed and beloved by God. In celebrating Jesus’ baptism, we celebrate our own. We are reminded to pray always so that we too can hear God’s voice on what to do next.

Each one of us, like Jesus, have been given divine work to do. We are called, like Jesus, to reveal God to the world through the lives we lead. We are called to care for one another, to care for the poor, the oppressed, the outcast, and to let them know that God has claimed them as beloved too. In our baptism, we promised to do these things. We promised to “proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.” Jesus’ ministry was not an easy one, and ours isn’t either. There will be times when we have to face difficult challenges. There will be times when we have to speak out against injustice when even those we love may turn their backs on us just like the disciples did with Jesus. But we are not alone. God made the promise to be with us always through our baptism. And when we need strength and assurance, God speaks to us through prayer.

We are also the answer to prayer. God speaks and works through us. God’s light is revealed through us. The Holy Spirit works through us to bring God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. As we journey through this season of Epiphany, let us pray for God to be revealed through us.

May our voices and our actions lead others to Christ, so that all may know the promise of God that they are beloved. Amen.

Our Guiding Star

Sunday, January 6, 2019 – Epiphany
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Matthew 2:1-12

Stars, and dreams, and kings, oh my! If this sounds like a line from the Wizard of Oz you’re right. I couldn’t help as I was reading Mathew’s text this week to see the similarities between these two stories. In the classic movie the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy sets off on a journey toward Oz to see the wizard who she thinks has all the answers. Her companions are the lion, the scarecrow and the tin man. The journey is a perilous one filled with danger along the way, but they make this journey anyway because they need to find the truth.

In Matthew’s gospel today, our three travelers are seeking truth as well. They are commonly referred to as the three kings, but in reality we don’t know that there were three of them – probably several – and they were not kings, but more like astrologers. In ancient times these astrologers made it their vocation to study the stars and astronomical events. It was a very precise science and because of the exact position of the stars and planets they could tell that something important was about to happen. So they set out on a journey – one that would prove quite dangerous for them as well. These wise ones were courageous.

Theirs was a dangerous journey because they were seeking a new king and that was a threat to Herod, the ruling king at the time. Herod was known for his murderous and evil ways and he would stop at nothing to end any competition. He told the wise men that he wanted them to report back to him when they found the infant Jesus so he could worship him too, but in reality he wanted to use their expertise to find the baby and kill him. Jealousy and fear are common evils in all of us. These emotions may not lead us to murder, but they can lead us to act in ways that are not life giving. They can lead one down a dangerous path into darkness. The only answer is to focus on the light of truth, and that true light is Jesus.

That is the light that the magi traveled to see. And so they followed the star. Now the text says the star was ahead of them. They saw its rising and then they traveled for quite a while, studying their maps and going in the direction they first saw the star. That meant that there were most likely many days that they traveled without seeing the star. They traveled by day and by night going in the direction, but with no person to guide their way. How did they know they were going in the right direction? How often do we ask ourselves the same question? How do we know if we are going in the right direction?

We study the Scriptures like the magi studied and interpreted their maps. We read God’s word carefully, discussing it with others and trying to interpret exactly what it is that God is saying to us. It’s not easy to understand God’s plan for us and often we have no idea. But like the magi, we follow the light. We follow the light of Christ and trust that He knows the answers. We pray, and listen for God’s response. And like the magi, when we find the Light, we are filled with joy.

Following the Light is a long journey for all of us. It’s filled with twists and turns and dangers along the way. There are people who, like Herod, will want to lead us astray, who will try and deceive us, but we must stay true to the course no matter how difficult it gets. The magi stayed to their course with their maps and stars. We have the Scripture and prayer. And like the magi, we have each other. We have each other to help keep us on the right path.

God spoke to the magi in a dream not to return the same way they came and they listened. By doing that, they were defying Herod and risking their lives if he caught them. But they trusted God and were courageous. God still speaks to us today. We need to be receptive to that, and we need to be willing to change course if that is what God asks of us. We must be willing to see Christ in unexpected places. That is what Epiphany is all about. It is the manifestation of Christ. He is revealed to us every day and we – like the magi – need to be open to see Him. Christ is revealed to us when we pray. He is revealed to us when we minister to one another. And He is most especially revealed to us in the bread and wine today that we receive today.

We, like the magi, are on a journey to seek the true King only we don’t need to travel far. Jesus comes to us whenever and wherever we are. That is the greatest gift of all. That is reason to celebrate and give thanks! May we, like these wise ones of long ago, follow Christ with courage and joy. Amen.

Words to Treasure

Sunday, December 30, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 2:41-52

Six days ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus, our Savior. On this sixth day of Christmas, have we, like Mary at the birth of Jesus, continued to treasure the angels’ words of God’s glory in our hearts?  The manger is empty. Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us – and we take him home with us wherever we go. Our gospel reading from Luke today does not follow the logical pattern. We expect after reading the story of Jesus’ birth, to read about the three wise men or magi that journeyed from far away to see the new born king. But that reading will take place next week from the gospel of Matthew when we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. This week, Luke quickly moves from Jesus’ birth, to his growing and maturing in strength and wisdom. We jump ahead to when Jesus is twelve years old, and he and his family are once again traveling. Only this time they are not traveling from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, but they are on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of the Passover. And while they are on their journey Mary and Joseph cannot find Jesus. For a time he is lost to them. They are filled with fear and anxiety as anyone would be if they lost their child for even a moment. But on finding Jesus in the temple teaching they are relieved, yet at the same time not fully understanding what all of his words meant. The original Greek translation is unclear as Jesus said it was necessary for him to be about his father’s things vs. his house. What is certain is that he was supposed to be where God was calling him to be, and do what God was calling him to do. Once again, Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.”

Mary did that a lot. From the time the angel Gabriel announced she would bear a son who would be the Savior, hearing the angels’ glorious news at the birth of Jesus, and hearing Jesus’ own words not just when he was in the temple at age 12, but throughout his life. Jesus was on a mission from God, a journey that began at his birth, continued throughout his life, and death, and resurrection. The work that God called Jesus to do was one amazing journey, that continues through us today.

We are all called by God to carry out specific things. Each one of us is unique, and God speaks through our unique voices, and works through our individual gifts. It is a journey that begins at our baptism and continues throughout our lives. Today, Mason Christopher Kenyon begins his journey of faith as he joins this journey of the Christian faith in the waters of Holy Baptism. He too, will do things and say things that will surprise his parents, but his Godparents, this community of faith, and Almighty God will be with him every step of the way. Through the waters of baptism, he has the assurance that he is forever joined with Christ who came as one of us at Christmas, but through his life, death, and resurrection remains with us always. This is a most wonderful gift to be treasured and pondered always in our hearts.

Today, Betty Suarez, Megan, Simon, and Virginia Applewhite will affirm their baptisms as they officially join our congregation. They have pondered the gifts they received at baptism, and throughout their journey of faith so far, and publicly join their voices with ours as they continue that journey of faith. Every time we affirm our baptism, every time we ponder the words of the angels, and the words of Jesus, we grow in wisdom. Every time we listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and do God’s will we grow in wisdom. Every time we take time to show compassion, and mercy, kindness and love, we grow in wisdom. And this holy wisdom guides us on our faith journey.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians read this morning is a reminder not just to the church in Corinth long ago when he wrote that letter, but to us today. He tells us “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility meekness, and patience.” He tells us to forgive just as God has forgiven us. He reminds us that part of love is to admonish one another in all wisdom. And finally, to sing and give thanks to God in whatever we do.

On this sixth day of Christmas when the rest of our culture has already started putting away all signs of Christmas, our Christmas celebration continues. Like Mary, let us take time to ponder all these wonders of Christmas in our hearts. We can contemplate on the words of Jesus who asked Mary and Joseph and asks us today, “Why are you searching for me?” He is Emmanuel, God with us. We don’t have to search for him. He is with us. In the waters of baptism, in the real presence of Holy Communion, in the love we share, and the peace he brings. Ponder these things in your heart, and give thanks. Amen.

Taking Jesus Home

Monday, December 24, 2018 – Christmas Eve
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 2:1-20

Where is the baby Jesus? If you look in the manger he’s not here. Where is he? That’s what millions of people ask every year as dozens of baby Jesus statues are stolen. A recent conversation about stolen Nativity Scenes prompted my search, and I was shocked when I Googled, “Stolen Baby Jesus” on my computer to find out just how often this happens. In fact just the other day the Times Union posted an article on a stolen baby Jesus in Bethlehem, PA. It was entitled “How to Keep Baby Jesus in the Manger? Bolts, Cameras, and Tethers.” Some places are even using GPS devices and “Jesus Cams” to keep track of the statues in case they are stolen.  Stealing baby Jesus seems to be a real problem. In fact, Netflix came out with a new animated movie last month entitled, Angela’s Christmas, where Angela herself steals the baby Jesus from the church to keep him warm, and I won’t give out any more information to spoil this great animated short movie.

One has to wonder why all this obsession with the baby Jesus? People steal him for all the wrong reasons to be sure, but one thing is certain – this Holy Child is important. He is the reason we gather here this evening. We gather to worship, to sing, to give thanks because God has broken into this world, not to steal, but to release us  – the whole world – from the chains that keep us from being free. That is the message of Christmas – that God loved the world so much – that God sent Jesus to bring us back from the grips of sin and death. We all have things that keep us chained down – grief, anxiety, worry, fear, prejudice, willfulness…. We all need this Savior.

That’s why in a recent article about the baby Jesus being stolen from his church, Pastor Busiek, from Emmanuel Baptist Church, said, “Hey, if they steal that one, we’ll keep putting it out.” He said, “I can’t think of a better way to get the message of Christmas out than for people to keep taking Jesus home.” That’s why our manger here this evening is empty. Christ is with us for us to carry with us. Wherever we go, Jesus has come not to remain here in a church building or on a front lawn, but with us. He is Emmanuel – God with us – and that means he is with us everywhere. When we receive the sacrament of Holy Communion tonight, we receive the real presence of Jesus, and he is with us. And we take him with us wherever we go.

There are so many people who need this Good News that the angels first announced.  “Unto you a child is born, a Savior.” This Savior is for everyone all over the world – young and old, rich and poor, those who worship weekly in churches, and those who don’t even know him. This Savior is for everyone. We don’t take him home – like Angela in the movie – to keep him warm, but he comes to keep us warm. He comes to melt any coldness in our hearts. He comes to melt away our hopelessness. He comes to melt away our fears. His divine love warms us to overflowing so that we can be a source of warmth and light to others. We all reveal Christ to each other.

Every time someone reaches out in love, Christ is revealed. Every time someone acts with kindness and compassion, Christ is revealed. Every time someone stands up against oppression and injustice, Christ is revealed. Christ cannot be chained down or tethered. Where is the baby Jesus? The manger is empty because he is with us. The cross is empty because he is with us. Christ is Emmanuel – God with us – everywhere. This is the gift of Christmas. This is the miracle that continues to happen every day. Christ comes to us each and every day. We do not need to steal Jesus. We do not need to steal grace. This gift is free. It is for everyone. Go tell it on the mountain, shout it from the roof tops. Jesus, the Christ, is born. Amen!

 

What Should We Do?

Sunday, December 16, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 3:7-18

Today, this third Sunday in Advent, is also known as Gaudete Sunday. It’s taken from the Latin word Gaudete, which means rejoice. Gaudete in Domino Semper – Rejoice in the Lord always- taken from our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:7). In years past the candles on the Advent Wreath were purple to signify repentance, but now they are blue to remind us this is a season of preparation and hope. The candle lit on this third Sunday in Advent is sometimes pink to represent joy that Christ is soon coming. This Sunday certainly is one of joy for our congregation as we welcome new members among us. The scripture readings today all talk about joy. Our first reading from the prophet Zephaniah says, “Rejoice, and exult with all your heart! Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing 18 as on a day of festival.” This is encouraging and hope-filled good news. In our gospel lesson today, another prophet, John the Baptist, also preaches good news to those who are being baptized, “You brood of vipers!” Wait a minute….all the other readings today talk about joy. Who chose this reading? Where is the good news here? Where is word of joy in this message? The crowds who came to John to be baptized were not expecting those words of invitation. And to those of you who are joining today by affirming your baptism, you may be feeling a bit stunned like those early crowds at John’s words. But let’s look a little closer at what John’s words mean, then and now.

His words certainly catch our attention, but that’s what they’re intended to do. John’s prophetic words are like a detour sign that grabs our attention that we need to change direction. There are things that keep us from experiencing the joy found in God’s presence. Our sinfulness, our greed, our worry, our fear, our …..fill in the blank. So many things can pull our attention away from the fact that God is in our midst. We can literally fall into a hole or a pit of bad behavior if we aren’t careful, and bring others with us. John’s prophetic words are meant to wake us up to repent, which means to change direction, and turn back to God who is in our midst. Those who came to be baptized asked John, “What do we do?” They heard him. They realized they had been going in the wrong direction, and they wanted to know what to do. John’s response was surprising. He didn’t tell them to change careers, but to change their perceptions. He didn’t tell the rich to become poor, but to share with those who were in need. He was challenging them to look at what they really needed. He didn’t tell the tax collectors to give up their jobs, but to be fair in what they collected from people. He didn’t tell the soldiers to stop being soldiers, but to stop threatening and falsely accusing people. In other words, live out your new baptismal calling right where you are.

God calls us all to reach out to others with God’s love wherever we are. We all have different jobs and different gifts that are necessary for building up the body of Christ. John’s message to repent is good news because when we change direction and turn to God who is in our midst, we have reason to rejoice.

We do that through remembering the gift of our baptism. For through those cleansing waters the guilt of our sins has been taken away. We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Through our baptism we have been united with Christ and the question that John the Baptist continues to ask today is, “what difference does that make in our lives? As children of God, disciples of Christ, does the life we live bear witness to Christ? Is it evident in our actions that we are followers of Christ? Do we bear fruits worthy of repentance?

That is the Good News that John reminds us of today. Our lives as Christians may not always be easy, but through our daily repentance – our daily turning back to God – they are lives that bear good fruit. What should we do? We are to turn around, turn back to God, and begin again. That is the gift of grace we received through the sacrament of baptism that we all affirm again today. Before you leave the sanctuary today I invite you to dip your hands in the baptismal font and pause and remember your baptism. Remember the promises that were made for you, that you made, and that God made. You are God’s beloved child and God loves you. Treasure those words, and carry them with confidence. When you receive God’s gift of grace in Holy Communion, treasure that gift today. Treasure Christ as you receive him.

Through these gifts of grace we receive God’s gift of forgiveness and the promise that God is with us always. We can begin anew each day. In doing this we find reason to rejoice even in the midst of troubling times. Happiness relies on our situation, but joy relies on something deeper. The joy found in God is what brings us true peace no matter what the circumstances. It is a peace that surpasses and transcends all understanding. What should we do? As we continue our Advent journey, let us journey in joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” Amen.