“Being Salt”

Sermon – 02-09-20 -Epiphany V – Cycle A
Scripture: Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20
Sermon Title: “Being Salt!”

The article in the Reading Eagle served as excellent coverage for our endeavor to do what we perceive to be God’s will in freeing ourselves from the burden and cost of maintaining a building that served generations in the past but is not a serving us well in 2020.

So we are very grateful to the Reading Eagle for taking the time and spectacular space to aid us in this goal that most of us agree is a necessary step in serving God well in Berks County.

If I had reminded myself strongly enough that, most times, subjects and the press come to stories from different angles, I would have been more proactive in telling the story from a “salt and light” angle (Matthew 5:13-20).

As was shared in the sermon on February 2, we are a mission-minded and mission-acting congregation, not a maintenance congregation. To keep ourselves from falling into a maintenance-minded congregation, we need to shed the money-eating and time-eating building. Some aspects of this move genuinely pain us and slide us into grief mode. But, to be the salt and light that we are challenged to be, we need our energy and financial resources to be used as Jesus is commanding. Else we will perish.

We have a great relationship reservoir that is flowing and not stagnant. May God help us to increase the energy and the vitality in our loving relationships with each other and, most importantly, a vibrant relationship with God – Father, Son Jesus, and Holy Spirit.

You came today so that we can share this salt and light idea from Matthew. The gospel is a living bunch of words. Let’s receive them.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”

I say, “Let us not lose our saltiness!” How can we keep it? It will not keep itself. The Holy Spirit is the way. Jesus is the way. The father is the way. We cannot keep the salt by ourselves.

Think of the salt as what the world notices – like in the Super Bowl, in politics. Are we going to let the Super Bowl and politics steal all of the salt? Because few of us live in a monastery or in a cloister or in catacombs, the world catches our attention because we work in it, we watch it on TV and in movies of one variety or another. We even have friends who have the kind of salt that leads them away from God. Because we are not alert, we fall into the groove of their salt and find ourselves not analyzing the difference between church salt and world salt. We find ourselves knee-deep in the muck of social media.

How can we know what is God’s salt and what is the world’s salt? We need to ask God? We need to listen to God? We need to watch which works – God’s salt or the world’s salt.

What does salt do? Is it good or is it bad? We are told it causes high blood pressure. On the other hand, we are told that we need enough iodine for our thyroids and salt is a good source of iodine if iodine has been added to our cooking and table salt. Wow! But, Jesus says, we need to be salt if we want to be his followers, if we want to catch the attention of the people in the world who are waiting to hear that we have the light. We do have the light that overcomes darkness!

Without salt and light, our lives are flat and dark. We may be dazzled by the Super Bowl entertainment, by movies that are not approved by Jesus. We seek salt and light just as the world seeks salt and light. But, the world’s salt will do us no good – it only increases our blood pressure and leaves our minds crippled! The world’s light only lasts for a split moment in time and then goes dark and life goes flat.

Politics is exciting until we realize that we are being led by people who are not following Jesus. It is mind-boggling to read and listen and follow candidates in search of one who is worthy to follow and support. Have you found one who does not use foul language, the one who does not put another down, the one who is advocating a balance of realism and idealism? Please tell me. I have not yet found that person in this herd of candidates. I want to find that person. After all, there is a verse somewhere in the Bible that says God chooses the leaders of the world. “How can that be,” I say! I need to search for the context of that statement. By whom was it spoken? Did God direct that statement? What was happening around that statement? “Wisdom,” I cry out. “Come to us. Find us.”

I picture a sive – you know the kind we use in the kitchen to press the matter to be separated for different uses. I see all the world’s wisdom, all the world’s salt, all the world’s attractions in a sive mixed with God-salt, God-wisdom. It is all there. All the grains of salt, all the brightness, in one big sive. We want to separate the usable wisdom from the unusable wisdom. We want to see what is pure enough to pass through the holes in the sive. That is the goodness; that is the holy salt and the holy light. Pure!

Then, what do we do with this pure salt and light, this wisdom. I know! We find beautiful jars with lids that we make as tight as possible. We certainly consider this salt and light and wisdom to be precious. We shall not lose a pinch or a beam or a morsel! Absolutely, treat it as the holy of holies. Sure! Preserve it like pickles.

Oh help us, God! From our Hebrew reading for today: “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.” I can perceive God to continue, “Unscrew those lids. May the salt and the light and the wisdom escape from those jars and flow into the streets and the by-ways as a river. May this river heal the physically and the mentally and the spiritually sick. May the river reach out its arms and hand clothing to the unclothed children of God. May the river assuage the thirst of the thirsty and fill the souls yearning for the word of God.”

God continues in Isaiah 58, “Then you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”

I say, “Congregation of Zion UCC in Womelsdorf, are we ready to be the salt and light that God is waiting for us to be?” Amen

“The Church in Mission Mode; Not Maintenance Mode”

Sermon – 02-02-20 – Epiphany IV – Cycle A
Scripture: Micah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12
Sermon Title: “The Church in Mission Mode; Not Maintenance Mode”

When we went Christmas caroling to one of our members this past December, she said something like “What is going to happen to our church?” I held my breath because I did not know where this conversation was going to take us because of our selling our building. But not to worry. In a flash, Mildred had her two hands together as we do for the song, “We Are the Church.”

First, the closed church with two fingers being the steeple. Then the thumbs move apart opening the door and the fingers become the people.

“The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple,
the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.
I am the church, You are the church! We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!

In our case, it is what is in our steeple that is part of the mission of the church. We are serving the community by chiming the time with the beautiful carillon. Then, whoever chose the particular CD’s of hymns to play had really good taste, in my opinion. But then again, the words are missing. If the community is going to get the message beyond the quality music of the bells, we need to add the words. How does that happen?

Oh dear. It would be great if the people walked through our doors and could hear and see the words inside the building. Of course, you walked through the doors and you are part of the words. You sing them, we pray them, you are very attentive listeners to the sermon. But the walls are thick stone. Maybe you know if people walking on the sidewalk past our church can hear us praising God with all our might. Probably the organ can be heard outside the walls, but again the organ does not breathe words, just beautiful music.

Inside the walls we feel safe to cry and laugh. How are the people on the sidewalk going to know there is a safe place to cry inside if we don’t tell them. Thanks to Cory who welcomes “sidewalkers.” That’s great! Some of you have taken Zion UCC pens and given them to people who do not come to church. You may be discouraged because noone has accepted your invitation to this point. Maybe we need to be praying harder that our pens are speaking for us. However, some of you have had success. The first time we plant the seed. Then later we water and bring sunshine. Finally, the seed blossoms and bears fruit. Let us not be discouraged if our fruit-bearing plant feels led to another church! We are all part of one kingdom in Christ.

One day recently, I was sharing lunch in a restaurant with one of you, and the waitress came to our table and said, “Oh, you’re a pastor!” I told her where I am a pastor and casually invited her to come to church. The waitress then revealed that her son had just died of an overdose several months ago and there was something else in her life that was eating at her soul. She said, “I really need to come to church.” I invited her to come to talk to me if that would help her. She seemed so grateful for the invitation. I gave her our church card with my telephone numbers and email address. How did she know that I was a pastor? At first, I was puzzled. Then I realized that it was my collar that told her.

How can people know who we are if we don’t show it? Hence, the T-Shirts. Do you remember what the T-Shirt says? It says that we are spreading the love of Jesus around the world. Zion UCC has people around the world. We pray for our service people, we pray for Sierra doing her college education in Jordan. She is learning to think and converse in Arabic. We pray for protection mostly. Might we pray that they would feel Jesus so present with them that it shows.

We are in the process of taking inventory in our building. What will we find? I think we will find that we are collecting food for our local food pantry, collecting items for veterans who are struggling. We will find pictures of the many, many warm hats, scarves, and gloves that we collect each winter. We may find some sign that we filled many, many clean-up buckets for people who survived natural or human-made disasters. We collected clothing for local families who lost everything except themselves. We have an on-going collection for David in Africa. Some of you do Meals-On-Wheels. You probably are part of other big things of which I am not aware.

We can honestly declare ourselves a “mission” church. We are thinking of other people and not just ourselves. We are thinking of their material needs. Because of these activities, we CAN call ourselves a “mission-mode” church instead of a “maintenance-mode” church.

BUT, I wonder if we could do more about the “soul needs” of people inside and outside our walls. Could we be more aligned with – WAIT! – wait a minute – hear ye, hear ye, four of us participate in the after-school club at Conrad Weiser West Elementary. This is not just fun time although we have fun and we increase self-confidence and kindness with these students. We actually are welcome to teach Jesus! Imagine, we can tell Bible stories and how they make a difference in our lives. These weeks leading to Easter, we will be sharing the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus. Few of these children go to Sunday School or Church. This is new to them.

Guess what! I am being too boastful. Matthew 5 says we shall be meek, we shall not want praise, we shall not blare trumpets. We are only part of this Conrad Weiser Ministerium group which brings Jesus to the cafeteria for six or seven weeks at a time. We work together. Probably we are people from seven churches working together. We do not worship the same style on Sundays but we know how to bring the good news as a unit to these young people who absorb the good news like sponges. These 20 or so young people see us as a unified bunch of teachers and assistants.

How about our own spiritual growth? If we come to church on Sunday, that is good. That may bring us closer to the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit may wander into our souls. But could we gather more – especially in small groups – so we could come to know each other better. So we can know how God lives in other persons’ lives. So we can be open to receive the blessings that sharing joys and pains can bring. Our pew companions have lives. How does Jesus keep them going? Could our own stories of how Jesus effects our joys and pains be helpful to someone else? Could we become increasingly like the brothers and sisters in Christ that we are.

Today we are witnesses to yet another nudge from God. God sent our special friends to us and each one of them wants to sing. Instead of expecting new people to fit our mold, we asked God to show us how we could adapt to our friends’ God-given talents and gifts. We are a “mission-mode” congregation! Let us not become stagnant into a “maintenance-mode” flock of sheep. Keep us alive, oh God! What else can we do together to become even more alive in Christ? Do tell me when an idea comes to you. It could be God speaking! Amen

“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

“Naming”

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.”