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“Chosen for What?”

Sermon – 01-19-20 – Epiphany II – Cycle A
Scriptures: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
Sermon Title: “Chosen for What?”

John the Baptist, a wilderness dweller – chosen to prepare the way for this new person named Jesus and then baptize this holy Son of God

Peter, a fisherman – chosen to become a disciple of this Jesus and then chosen to become the rock of the Christian church with the bonus of being given the keys to heaven

Andrew, Peter’s brother – chosen to bring Peter to Jesus

Moses, Jeremiah, Amos, Noah, Jonah – all chosen for specific tasks at specific times in specific places in the kingdom of God on earth

About us? Several were chosen to be beauticians, several were chosen to be car mechanics, some were chosen to be leaders in companies, some were chosen to be loving parents to specific children, nurses, musicians, computer whizzes, realtors in the real estate world. Some were chosen to understand mysteries, others to know how to use the mysteries, to communicate knowledge and systems, to track details, to teach, to preach, to pick up pieces when humans disagree and fall apart, doctors, carers of children, actors, plumbers, farmers, government workers from the lowest to the highest. Did she just say “lowest?”

The most humble positions may be the mightiest, may be the most important. It depends on the persons in those positions. Also, not everyone starts in the work or position for which God planned and chose for that person. It takes trial and error, sometimes, to find ourselves in the “right” job; the job that feels comfortable, the job in which we can make a difference, the job for which we have been talented by our Maker.

The question is: Are we making a difference for the kingdom as we do our jobs?

In our Hebrew lesson today, Isaiah tells of a fictitious character named Israel. God chose this female character and said to her, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Wow! A light for the nations. Big task!

Now I am taking us on a strange journey. I grew up in a Mennonite congregation where we were taught to think every last person on earth could accept Jesus as his or her Savior and be headed for heaven. It was our job to inform every last person on earth about this Savior named Jesus. Well, eventually, this Mennonite girl went to seminary – way past the girl stage of life. In church history, we came to the idea that only certain people are chosen by God to be saved. Imagine! I could not believe that not everyone on earth had the opportunity – the chance – to be saved.

As the weeks went on we studied slightly different beliefs, each one getting a tiny bit less obnoxious. Finally, we came to the group of believers who believed that each person born had an equal opportunity to become “saved.”

Some believers believe that being “saved” happens in a specific moment. This happens and when it happens it is a life-changing event. Some believers believe that being saved is a gradual experience and not necessarily one specific moment. Baptism is a symbol of accepting Jesus as our Savior. The protestant denomination called Baptists generally baptize individually when a person feels ready. Other protestant faiths have classes to give instruction and then baptize. Some denominations, including Roman Catholic, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, baptize as a free gift to a baby or child and then have classes and then the Rite of Confirmation for these same grown-up babies to say, “Yes, I believe and I want to claim my baptism for my life.” However, adults are also very welcome to request baptism in this kind of denomination.

We can see that there are different ways to come into the family of God, to be wrapped in his presence, to experience the love and acceptance, the forgiveness that transforms our souls. But, to think that some people can’t come into this fold is harsh exclusiveness. There is a place for everyone around the table of grace. Everyone is “chosen.”

Before Jesus came to walk on earth, people were expected to bring animals to the altar of our Lord in order to be accepted into the fold or to be re-instated after sinning. This was not a fluffly, sweet, living animal like a lamb. This was butchering at the altar – blood. Sometimes burnt animal flesh. You know how we, today, confess our sins – otherwise known as shortcomings – each Sunday without butchering anything.

Why has this custom changed? Jesus is the reason! Remember Good Friday. Jesus became our sacrificial lamb on the cross. Jesus is the Lamb. Jesus is the Lamb of God! That is why we can come here on a Sunday morning and say we fell short this week. Maybe something light, maybe something heavy. That is why, in the privacy of aloneness, we can fall on our knees and confess to God that we failed ourselves and God miserably. The Lamb of God takes away our sin. It is already done, it is happening now, and it covers the future. The Lamb of God died on the cross once for our reconciliation with God to happen over and over; not just for ourselves but for all people who ever lived and ever will live.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him, shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

I believe that every person on earth is free to believe. There are no restrictions. Each person is chosen to make the choice – to believe or not to believe, to accept or not accept this great invitation into the full circle of God’s grace and love.

How will people believe in something they have not heard? That is why our closing hymn is “O Zion, Haste, Thy Mission High Fulfilling.” Watch for the words, “. . . to tell to all the world that God is light.” Remember the words that God gave to our fictitious Israel person, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Is this touching my heart? Is it touching your heart? How shall we respond? Amen


Sermon – 01-12-20 – Epiphany I – The Baptism of Christ – Cycle A
Scriptures: Isaiah 42:1-9; “new things” verses; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17
Sermon Title: “Naming”

Baptism – naming a person. In Jesus’ baptism the voice of the Father said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Claiming, identifying, shaping. The Father is claiming this 30-year-old person as his Son. We use capital “S” because this is the Holy Son, part of the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit.

So now we have one name other than Jesus. It is Son. As time went on, Jesus did not stand still. He earned many other names by what he did and who he is. The name “Lord” is used for all three persons of the Trinity. It makes reading the Bible tricky. When we read “Lord,” is it referring to the Father or to the Son or to the Holy Spirit? The correct answer is all three!

Then there are the names Master, Counselor, Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, Teacher, Preacher, Healer, Redeemer, Savior. The ultimate name as it applies to us – Savior! Did you ever wonder why sometimes Jesus is called Son of God but also Son of Man? My answer to that is because he was born to a human, he is called Son of Man. Because the Holy Spirit is involved in the birth, Jesus is referred to as the Son of God. Jesus is really the Son person of God come to earth in human form. God wanted us to know more about himself so he sent this baby to be a human so we could learn more about God by reading and hearing about this “God on earth” named Jesus. At the time of Jesus’ birth, this was a new thing! Two Thousand and some years later, it is not a new thing, historically.

A loaf of bread is fresh when it is new. It is a new thing. As time moves along, this same loaf becomes either stale or moldy, depending on what was done with it. It rarely stays fresh, not even in the freezer. Our Christian life could be compared to this loaf of bread. Our Christian life can become dry, or even more unpleasant, as time goes on even if we are faithful to God and even if we remain faithful with our commitments to the church and to God. Contrary to the loaf of bread, God does not need to be discarded and started from scratch even if we had the power to do that.

God is the same forever and ever and ever! However, our practices and ways of doing things can become stale or smelly. That is, they don’t work very well anymore. It could be better. That is when we need to do a self-evaluation. Am I taking God for granted? Do I thank God for the same thing over and over which is not a bad thing? However, we could be adding some spice to our relationship with God. We could be asking God to show us new ways of prayer, new ways of being alive in Christ. We could be “moving aroma” with the love of Jesus Christ. People could sense that something has found us that is more alive than the ordinary social life.

This new thing is not replacing the foundation. A new look and feel about Christ in our lives could transform our lives! The very neatest idea of all is that we have status, we have a name that explains who we are in God. Just as Jesus was declared as Son by the Father, we are claimed by the Father as sons and daughters – lower case s and d because we are not part of the Trinity. We just benefit from the Trinity. We are saved for eternity. We are in relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ now and forever! These are our names: sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, children all of the heavenly Trinity. How very blessed are we! Let’s all call ourselves blessed! Sh! Amen

“Let Us Follow the Light!”

Sermon – 01-05-20 – 2nd Sunday After Christmas
Scriptures: Jeremiah 31:7-14; various verses about “light”; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-18
Sermon Title: “Let Us Follow The Light!”

In the beginning is God – not a single being – but a three-person God. Always and forever, God is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This is the Christian faith.

It is believed that these three persons, who form God, enjoy each other tremendously. They do not want to keep this joy and fellowship to themselves. They desire to share it. But with whom? Yes, with people, with us!

So they create the world for us. First comes the light separated from the darkness. First is the light! The light is powerful. Darkness is jealous! Darkness tries to pull us into despair. Who wins in our own lives: light or darkness? Think about ourselves and our families. In which realm do we live most of the time? Many of us are natured or have chosen to live in the light. A few of us find ourselves grumbling and complaining and feeling helpless. We are in the darkness realm. Does it feel good to be in the darkness realm? Have we tried to move into the realm of light? Do we know what God is holding for us there? Let us look to each other to be models of walking in the light!

We as a church family are a living being. We thrive if we stay in the realm of light. We will die if we slide into the realm of darkness.

Jesus is unseen in the time of new creation light eons of years ago. But, after his birth on earth, he is the light! The light that shines and glows and makes us feel alive. The Apostle John, in the book of John, names Jesus the “Word,” capital W. The Word is in the beginning with God. The Word is God. The Word is the light of God. The Word and the light bring life.

Life, vitality! Not overcome by darkness. Not overcome by fear and weakness. Instead the light gives courage, a we-can-do-it brand of courage. But only by God’s guidance and strength, patience and proceeding. So let’s “listen up!” As we embark on this path of being truthful to ourselves that money does not grow on trees and money only stretches so far, we are walking on the path of good stewardship. We want to continue to serve God.

You as a congregation have been very mission-minded and you continue to be a helping congregation. Last week we heard, when we talked about good memories, the good work generated from this congregation’s mission trips to states far from here. Mission big time!

Unless we want to actually wither on the vine, we need to keep mission foremost as a goal, not resting on the laurels of the past. Several mission projects have surfaced and are being pursued. We need God’s help to get them going. Attention came to us to prepare a spot in worship for “special needs” people. It is in the very beginning stages. Please pray that this perceived need, which has appeared, is workable . The vision is for us to form a fun, relaxed, intergenerational choir with as many of you who care to be involved with the uplifting of the folks whom God has placed, and will place, in our midst.

Concerning our finances and the “letting go” of the building, it is like a dark tunnel at the moment with a few cracks of light. However, placing our faith in our loving God, and acting on our faith, we will walk step-by-step carefully through the tunnel, singing with all our hearts until the cracks of light gradually become bands of light and then into the broad sunlight. Let us help each other through the tunnel. When one gets weary and depressed, another gives us courage to feel the light of Jesus in our souls. Dare I have the courage to ask you for an “Amen?”

“The Donkey Said It All”

Sermon – 12-24-19 – Christmas Eve
Scriptures: Isaiah 9:6-7; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-20
Sermon Title: “The Donkey Said It All”

“I,” said the Donkey, shaggy and brown.
I carried his mother up hill and down.
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town.
“I,” said the Donkey, shaggy and brown.

Yes, Sir Donkey, you were privileged. You became a holy donkey. You were carrying two holy people – one you could see, one you could not see. You may have thought you were only carrying a lovely young lady accompanied by her loved one on foot. Six feet that was. Four animal feet, two human feet. Were you tired? Did you stop and rest? Were you fed? Did your people need to carry your food or did they stop at the homes of kind people for your food and their food?

There are so many questions. That was a long walking trip. Was it dangerous? Did you sense that this was a special journey – not a run-of-the-mill trip? Sir Donkey asks, “What is a run-of-the-mill trip?” “Oh,” say I. “Well, like going to market or going to synagogue.”

Sir Donkey replies, “I knew in my bones that it was something special! It was exciting but I could tell that this woman and man were a bit apprehensive even though I realized that they loved each other much. The woman would say to the man, ‘I know you will love this baby, gentle Joseph.’ The man would say, ‘Mary, I know I will love this baby.’ They burst into singing sometimes. A beautiful sound. It made me feel so safe to be with them. It took away my tiredness and aching in my legs. I heard them say the name ‘Jesus’ over and over.”

“I did not know who this Jesus is or was or will be. But it felt like a blessed name. The stars were shining when we finally walked into Bethlehem heading for the inn with much longing. You know, food, a bed for my people and a stall of some sort for me with fresh hay would be really nice, I was thinking,” says Sir Donkey.

Sir Donkey continues,” Now we finally enter this town called Bethlehem during the nighttime, my man knocks on the door of the inn. My lady is starting to look quite uncomfortable and making soft noises. Finally, the innkeeper comes to the door and my lady and I can see that he is shaking his head. Oh, dear. This is unimaginable! No room in the inn! No room in the inn. Oh, my. Shall we find a stretch of grass and rest our weary bodies under the stars in the open air? I make my soft donkey sound actually ready to lie down where I was standing. But I cannot! No way! My lady is still sitting on me. Both of us are very uncomfortable and longing for reprieve from our aches.”

“Now we watch as the innkeeper points to a stable in the back of the inn. A stable? Oh yes, that would be for me. But I cannot go to my rest until my lady has found rest. But look! The inn keeper is walking toward the stable with my man. They motion for me to follow. So I get my weary legs in motion and slowly move from my spot. My lady is very still like she is holding her breath.

“Finally, my lady is helped off my back by my man. While that is happening, I notice the beautiful fragrance of fresh hay. I hear a stirring. Is that a cow over there? What else is here? I can hear the breathing. In their sleep, the animals can sense that something new is happening in their home. ‘Who left them in?’ they might be saying, I think. We are intruders. As soon as my lady slid off my back into the arms of my man, I gently follow my nose to the place where food is waiting for me.

“My lady and my man are not thinking about food. Something new is happening. Wow! A baby. An adorable baby. But wrap him quickly. Wrap him in the baby blanket which appears from a bag my man was carrying. The baby is a ‘him.’ My lady and my man keep whispering “Jesus, Sweet, Sweet Jesus.” The baby cries. My lady holds this precious baby close to her and the baby stops crying. Everyone – my lady, my man, my new baby, and myself – gently fall into a happy sleep.

“‘Oh, Jesus,’ I am saying with my soft donkey noises. ‘Oh Jesus. I love you. Yes, little baby in the manger, I love you.’ ‘Mary do you know that this baby boy will be your Savior? My lady, do you know that when you kiss this soft, cuddly baby that you are kissing the face of God? Do you know, my lady, that you are holy?”

“Do I know that in 33 short years, another donkey like myself will carry this grown baby into Jerusalem to be everyone’s Savior?” “Do you know,” says Sir Donkey, “that this baby boy brings with him enough love for everyone in this whole world. This baby brings free salvation to everyone who believes that he is the Son of God and can change our lives in amazing ways – gradually or suddenly.”

“Now,” says donkey, “watch for the shepherds and the angels, later watch for the wise men from the far East. It is God’s plan.”

Each year we wait and watch and feel washed with this renewed salvation. Each year we feel closer and closer to God as Father, and God as Son Jesus, and God as the Holy Spirit. May the Holy Spirit cleanse this space of all evil, each tiny little bit of evil that we don’t even know is here. May it be gone! “Gone,” Sir Donkey and I say. “Let the freshness of holiness sweep through among us and fill our hearts.” Amen

Love and Salvation: Hand in Hand

Sermon – 12-22-19 – Advent IV – Love – Cycle A
Scriptures: Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25
Sermon Title: “Love and Salvation: Hand in Hand”

How easy is it to buy love? to find love? to keep love? to give love? to create love?

“I love you,” says Darren as he kisses Danielle. “I love you, too,” says Danielle to Darren exchanging another kiss. Should Danielle be saying, “How long, Darren, will your love for me last?” And, should Darren be saying, “How much do you love me, Danielle?”

As you have probably discovered yourself in heartache and disappointment and a life temporarily shattered, love is very elusive. We can’t buy it even though we try, to the dismay of our bank account which screams silently at us. We can’t seem to earn it because even though we try hard to control ourselves and to please the other person, something goes awry.

How about the giving side? Even though we try to keep our love steady and dependable, there comes a time when things get in the way such as our mood, our circumstances like the boss scolding us, like our car stopping in the middle of traffic and not being willing to move, like our finances wearing a red flag, or someone comes along in our lives who appeals to us, who catches a tiny spark of longing that is in us and we are drawn by this new feeling and our promised and committed love becomes second place. Unfaithfulness it is called.

This does not work. It simply does not work! The cost for wandering love is huge. If we forget for a minute that our children will carry loveless or hurtful experiences into adulthood, we are selfish. The mood in one person in a family is like spreading wildfire. Our way of reacting to insignificant occurrences or our way of reacting to big traumatic happenings can be modified if we care. Watch for the difference! Changing our tone of voice to a milder tone can make all the difference. Our reaction when mud is brought in the house or when something spills can help our family or damage our family.

What about the workplace? Can one person actually change the atmosphere in an office, in a warehouse, in a nuclear energy plant? Can a teacher change the future personalities of 30 students? Can a cashier in the grocery store help 200 people to have a better day?

Sometimes when there is a choice between using rules, using a loud voice, putting people down or using a loving approach, we find that the loving approach works marvelously. It works! No matter if we don’t feel loving. We can choose to have the attitude and the words that work! I have seen over and over how teachers, parents, day care workers use the “do it or else” style of controlling behavior when the opposite approach of lifting the child to a higher self-image, a satisfied feeling works so much better.

What about God’s rules? Are they too old? Did he give them to us as punishment? You see, God gave us the ten commandments not to punish us but so that life works, so that life falls into a good place for us! Then we have the two great commandments which are like a condensed version of the ten: We shall love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. I always wonder why “body” is not included here. Our minds may be of one intent but our bodies betray us. But there is more! We shall love each other as much as we love ourselves. I really aim for Jesus’ version which is “we shall love each other as much as Jesus loves us.” Of course, that will never be attainable for humans, but it is a goal. Besides, how many of us really love ourselves. Oh wait! I get it now! We may not genuinely and thoroughly be happy with ourselves but our first reaction in a situation may be selfish, self-centered. That’s how we love ourselves. We think of ourselves first. Maybe you are different. You may have been born with a tendency to always think of the other person first. You do not need to work at this discipline. It is in your nature.

Unfortunately, I am not one of those natural caring people. Whatever you see in me, God helped me to acquire as I matured through the many years. I have a long way to go until there is only a trace of selfishness in me. It is constant practice to develop this kind of love. I pray for it in my daily prayer. Just when I think I have it, I am surprised by a situation and my impulses return to selfish. I will need to grow and grow into this kind of love, totally unselfish. Are any of you like myself? Let us unite in our growing. Let us support each other in this love business. Not the selfish “I love you so much” variety but God’s kind of love.

God’s love is so great that we have the whole gospel in this one verse – John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Before Jesus could die on the cross, he was born 33 years earlier. The way he came to earth caused a bit of a stir in the local community. Our Gospel lesson from Matthew 1:18-25 tells the story from Joseph’s perspective. Mary has been away. Here she comes returning from her visit with cousin Elizabeth. It apparently is obvious that a child is about to be born to Mary. Joseph sees her.

“Oh, my,” Joseph says to himself. This is a problem, not to mention how sad and hurt I am. I dearly love Mary but this is not my baby! He decides to be kind to Mary and not make a public display about the whole thing. Then this angel appears while Joseph is sleeping! “Joseph,” the angel says, “Do not fear. This child who will be born of Mary is from the Holy Spirit. This is to be a privilege for you, not a punishment or disappointment. It is an honor. Name this baby Jesus.” Such love! We have the lovely song we just sang: “Gentle Joseph, Joseph dear . . .”

Here is the connection between the baby Jesus story of Christmas and the dying on the cross story of Good Friday and the resurrection story of Easter. The angel said that naming the baby “Jesus” means he will save his people from their sins. A Savior! Salvation for us, we who are sinners simply because we are human and not divine. We hurt people accidentally or even on purpose. We say unkind things. Our selfish nature plows right in as a natural reaction. We can even use the word “evil” for some of our actions. We are hurtful! We cause a hurtful reaction in the other person. Let us, instead, embark on the love walk to the cross to pay our honor to the one who was the adorable baby and is now truly our Savior! “O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.”

“Joy: It’s a Matter of Vision”

Sermon – 12-15-19 – Advent III – Joy – Cycle A
Scriptures: Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 1:46b-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Sermon Title: “Joy: It’s a Matter of Vision”

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. Isaiah is announcing God’s declaration of joy as his people come home from captivity in Babylonia and they would be accompanied by nature having a field day of rejoicing.

You see, joy always existed. This I believe. Before God ever separated the waters from the land, there was joy. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit were full of joy – so much in fact that they needed to share it. So gradually there was light and land and sea, and plants, and creatures, and humans! Joy bouncing sometimes mildly and contemplative; sometimes in a wild frenzy when those ocean waves had to be coaxed to stay; something like asking a happy, healthy, galloping giraffe to calm down. The joy of the waves, the joy of the giraffe being excited with the feeling of freedom.

So you see, joy was already; and joy is now; and more joy is yet to happen. Not just to people and animals but to all of creation. The earth rejoicing? The Bible has many images of nature rejoicing. Trees clapping their hands! Mountains doing something, maybe dancing!

But . . . volcanoes erupting. Earthquakes cracking the earth! In recent days we had these two outbursts of nature at the same time in the same world. There is not much joy there! Rather pain, suffering, severe disruption of lives, death. Many of us have relatives in severe pain and dysfunction. Where is the joy? Is this judgment instead? John the Baptist expected this Jesus to judge when he arrived on the scene.

John the Baptist is thrown into prison – long story – sometime after he baptizes Jesus. He is waiting for news that Jesus is ranting and raving in judgment on the people. Is this not the real Messiah, the one he has baptized? Was it all a hoax? Has he baptized the wrong person?

John sends a messenger to Jesus to ask “Are you not the Messiah? How come you are not judging the sinners?” Jesus replies, “Go and tell John what I am doing instead of judging. You have seen me heal people; you have seen the lowly lifted and the hungry filled; you have seen how the poor receive good news. Go tell John; tell him that I am the long-awaited Messiah.”

Not only does Jesus send that message to John in prison, but Jesus praises John to the crowds. Yes, indeed, John was born to announce the coming of Jesus. He was born to baptize Jesus, sort of like making Jesus’ appearance and ministry on earth official and blessed by the Father who declared, “This is my beloved son. In him I am well pleased.”

Even though John does not appear to exude joy, there is joy bursting forth from this particular event. When John is in prison, there does not appear to be joy until Jesus says, “Look! There is healing, there is new life; I am lifting the downtrodden, I am seeing that the hungry are fed!” He may as well have been declaring, “Don’t miss this joy! This is why I came. I came to be a model. I came to show the way to the joy of the Lord.”

But it is very natural for us to be vocal about the seeming contradiction. “Wait Jesus!” Isn’t joy for all people or at least for all believers? Where is the joy in suffering? Where is the joy in cruel treatment of people and animals not to mention the earth?”

Could it be that God is asking us to take a look at all of this from a different angle? Are we the ones who are causing the earth to become dysfunctional? Are we the ones who look the other way as the prisons are bursting and joy is totally buried under the hard cement in the prison cell? Oh, Lord, is it impossible for humans to control joy? Don’t we have any influence with this essence, this phenomenon that can’t be captured and held so it won’t escape.

Ah, here we are. Joy must be something like love. If we try to capture it, we will stifle it. But I still don’t know why bad things happen to good people and there is supposed to be joy somehow. James, the brother of Jesus, and the supposed author of the book of James near the end of the New Testament, tells us that we need to be patient, that we need to wait.

Using Jesus as our model, while our loved ones are suffering; while we wait in hope; while people, we don’t even know but whom we pity, experience earthquakes and sudden eruptions of volcanoes Jesus commands us to minister to them, to provide for them, to pray for them from afar or close-up. Some of us are natured to physically care for ill loved ones; some of us are natured to pray and provide companionship; some of us are good with administration – taking care of legal matters and other paperwork. Are we to use our gifts with sour faces and grumpy manner? Here is where God is saying, “Do you feel this spark of joy just now? Do your words click with the mind of the other? Do you come with just the right gift? Do you bring water when water is needed? Do you help to remove water where water is not wanted?”

One day I met a person named Beth Anne who was missed when joy was distributed or so it seems. She complains about this and about that. There is not a drop of joy noticeable. One day a co-worker named Joyce just lets it slip. Joyce finds herself saying to Beth Anne, “Beth Anne, do you know there is something called joy in this world?” Beth Anne stops complaining and actually thinks about this question. She says, “How does joy look? Where or how can I get joy? Is it expensive? Is it a pill? If I start taking it, how long will it take to work?”

Joyce smiles with joy. “Great questions.” she says to Beth Anne. “It usually does not cost anything. It is free. You just need to use your eyes a bit differently.” My eyes,” said Beth Anne, “Like getting different glasses?” “You could say that or just wear your glasses backwards, like inside out, always looking at the other side of things, the good side. There is usually a good side to every situation. Sometimes it takes patience to find the good side. Or we just need to look from a different angle. Jesus can help us and will help us if we ask. Just swallow the complaining and see what happens. See if your feet will start dancing. See if the people around you just got nicer. See if your work gets easier. Then you will know that you have found the joy that is like the ripples in the brook; the sky that is a perfect blue with pretty clouds. Even when the electric goes off, or the copy machine is jammed, or the computer has been compromised, there will be a spark of joy if you look hard enough. When there is a traffic jam, you will notice things you never noticed when you are flying past; some pretty yards and houses, some awful houses; a business for which you have actually been seeking. Even if you are ill for years, there will be a spark of joy waiting for you to find. God will help. All joy is a gift from God. Let us give thanks, Beth Anne,” says Joyce!

Let us rejoice, congregation of Zion UCC in Womelsdorf! In these days of uncertainty, let us find the joy and share it” Let us welcome Emmanuel with joy!

“Thinking About the Second Coming While Celebrating the First Appearance”

Sermon – 12-01-19 – Advent I – Cycle A
Scriptures -Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-13; Matthew 24:36-44
Sermon Title – “Thinking About the Second Coming While Celebrating the First Appearance”

Waiting! Alice was standing in line on Black Friday for hours before the doors opened. Brad stood in line waiting for his marathon to start. Clinton stood in line waiting to vote in the last presidential election. Charles stood in line for everything, absolutely everything. He was in military service. Little Christopher was counting the days until Christmas. Angelina counted the days until her birthday.

Baby Louise didn’t know she was counting. She just felt that something was missing and that her mother and grandmother and brother were not happy. She could sense this until one day her daddy appeared. Yes, here was this man she really did not remember until he held her in his arms, close to himself. Then she knew goodness and joyful contentment. Happiness was all around her and her mother and grandmother and brother and the many relatives who poured through the door until the house was full, really full.

Was this young father home from across the ocean or was he home from across the state in a penitentiary or finally healed from a very bad accident? We don’t know. We do know that homecoming happened. What was hoped, finally happened. The missing person arrived into the waiting place.

Our Jesus was expected for centuries. Our Old Testament, the Hebrew part of the Bible, is full of references to this person who is expected. But when? Generations came and went before this hope became fulfillment. Students of the Bible may try to have us believe that these prophecies referred to prophets who came, did their job reluctantly but obediently, and then disappeared either by death or by being swooped into the skies. I stubbornly believe that these references may have included temporary people sent by God to do specific announcing and to become involved in frightening ways but ultimately these references to one who will come were vividly pointing to our Jesus.

When the century actually was right, this obscure baby in a manger in a stable in a little town called Bethlehem, came like a shadow in the moonlight. It is so important to believe that this future king was born to parents who had loving natures and who loved each other. God surely chose these parents who fell in love while they were neighbors and became the parents of the Savior of the world.

Is the world saved yet? More centuries are needed. More centuries of waiting. Just as God was working behind the scenes in the times when God’s people were Hebrew (also called Jewish), and God was working to arrange these two people to be the parents of our Savior, God is still working to arrange the nations and the people of the nations to be hospitable with each other until just the right time; the right time for this second coming of the son person of the Trinity to appear. Will it be in a stable? Do you think that our ubiquitous (meaning “being everywhere”) media people will sense this coming ahead of time? Will God even give a news advance to our sometimes too nosy newsgivers? Will it go viral on facebook?

Or, will the little boy who is quietly sitting at the edge of a stream fishing, be the first to see Jesus coming again? Or will Jesus come at midnight to quietly call those of his people who are ready – you know – with oil lamps filled with oil; the people who are waiting and watching with hope.

Where will we be? We may already be in heaven having died while we waited. Otherwise, where would we want Jesus to find us? Doing Black Friday shopping? Sitting with our computers or phones shopping on-line? At a carnival buying chances? Serving in a food pantry? Planting grain and vegetables? Volunteering in a nursing home? Mowing a neigbor’s lawn or shoveling snow? Sitting in a holy place just waiting? Sitting in a bar just drinking away the time while we wait? Being at home with our family, if we have a family? Making a fine meal and inviting people so we create a family?

How will the word spread? How will Jesus gather his people? Will he really only gather the people who have been in relationship with him? Or will he gather everyone in one big circle and everyone will feel loved and wanted? That is my hope.

Is that a foolish hope? Should I really deny all the judgment notices in Scripture? Then there is the comical story about a person who died and was surprised to see who was in heaven when she arrived there. I don’t know where my original copy is. I will try to say this well. When our person noticed the person who had pulled her pigtails unmercifully in grade school she said, “I never expected to see you here.” When she saw the person who cheated on tests in school and then was found guilty of stealing from the business where he worked, she said, “I never expected to see you here.” When she saw the fellow school board member who always argued against her, she said, “I never expected to see you here.” On it went. Then she noticed that everyone was silent but they looked astonished.. She said, “Why is everyone so quiet?” Everyone shouted together, “We never expected to see you here!”

My version is surely a variation of the original but the idea is the same. We judge each other whether we realize it or not. We forget that other people are doing the same to us. When it comes right down to the truth, none of us is worthy to be called to heaven. That is what is so very special about the Son and the Father. We do not need to be worthy! None of us would find ourselves in heaven if worthiness were taken into account.

Even though our own bodies and minds and souls might wallow in the darkness of complaining or talking about each other in a negative way or hoarding our money if we have money or hoarding our smiles by freezing our straight lips or declining to join a church group or a community group because we like to do our own thing, there is this little flame of light inside us. God put it there. The darkness of our daily living is no match for this flame of light. God’s light triumphs in the darkest corners. Nothing can escape that light. We can fear that light for what it may reveal or we can revel in that light because it is right and it brings assurance. It is not the fiery light of hell that may or may not be real. This light that Paul explains in his letter to the Romans is the light in which we may walk to end wars, to have swords beat into plowshares, to have spears turned into pruning hooks. We heard Isaiah saying, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! Do we need to wait until the second coming of Jesus to dwell and walk in this powerful yet peaceful light or can we bring this light into existence now by claiming the love of the Savior in our hearts and being watchful of our thoughts and actions?