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Monday, January 30 2012
I came across a list this past week entitled “24 Things About To Become Extinct In America.”
It is an interesting list, and some of the things the list mentions – things that are going extinct – are things like the Yellow Pages, newspaper classified ads, movie rental stores, phone landlines, VCRs, Ham radio, answering machines, incandescent light bulbs, cameras that use film, personal checks and drive-in theaters. I guess like the buggy whip of a hundred years ago, these things are seeing the end of their usefulness to us – as they are being replaced by newer technologies, and things that just work better and easier.
Now we can take issue with whether the demise of some of these items is good or bad. But there are a couple of items on the list that I did not mention – like the hand-written letter, the honey bee, and the Ash tree – whose extinction – should they happen – well – will not be so good. But like some of those other things – when things are no longer needed – then perhaps they should go the way of the buggy whip.
Now I really do want to talk to you today about Jesus today. More to the point – I want to talk to you about Jesus as an agent of change – that there are just some things in life that Jesus would like to see become extinct. And for our purposes today – let’s call it “the Jesus Effect.”
In today’s Gospel reading we meet Jesus in the town of Capernaum. Capernaum was a small fishing village on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. The remains of this town are still there, and you can see it if you ever have the opportunity to visit Israel. You can visit the ruins of what many believe to be Peter’s house there – and just a few hundred feet away – you can visit the ruins of a synagogue that was built anywhere from 200 to 400 years after the time of Jesus – but most likely it sits on the site of the synagogue where we find Jesus teaching in today’s Gospel reading from Mark.
So here’s the story. As Jesus is teaching – we read that suddenly – a man with an unclean spirit comes into the synagogue. Now quite frankly, Bible scholars today question just what the Gospel writers – like Mark in today’s reading – just what they mean when they mention unclean spirits. People in those days believed in demonic possession, and some today suggest that this was just a way for people of that day to describe certain physical or mental or emotional illnesses that they just didn’t understand.
Now as far as I know – I have never witnessed or experienced what some might call actual demonic possession – in other words – situations where people are actually possessed by a demon. Certainly not the kind that the movies show us anyway. If you’re old enough to remember the movie, “The Exorcist” then you know what I mean. But on the other hand, I cannot say that demonic possession does not exist in the world simply because I have never witnessed it. I have read about it, but that’s about it.
But what I find interesting in today’s account of the encounter that Jesus has with this man who has an unclean spirit – is that Jesus holds a conversation with the man – but it is not the man who is speaking – but the demon who possesses him who speaks. Listen!
"What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him."
Interesting isn’t it? This reading is still right at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel – Chapter 1. Before any human being – including any of the disciples – before anyone other than the voice of God the Father at the baptism of Jesus identifies who Jesus is – and remember that at the baptism of Jesus the Father calls Jesus “My beloved Son,” – but before anyone else identifies who Jesus is – it is the demons who recognize Jesus as the “Holy One of God.”
Now, no matter what the man’s situation may have been – whatever it was it was not good – but the effect on the man in this encounter with Jesus – is that he is changed. The demon is cast out. The man is healed, and made whole again.
And once again we are told something of who Jesus is. This episode in the life of Jesus reveals to us something of who Jesus is. Number one, the unclean spirit identifies for us that Jesus is the Holy One of God. And number two, we learn – and this is so important – we learn that the powers of darkness cannot stand up to Jesus. So #1, we learn that Jesus is the Holy One of God, and #2, we learn that the powers of darkness cannot stand up to Jesus.
I offer this to you as an example of what I want to call the Jesus effect. You might even say that what we’re talking about here is that Jesus is an agent of extinction. In other words, it was time for this unclean spirit to be gone – to become extinct.
So what does this mean for us? Well, wouldn’t it be wonderful for us – and the people we live with – the people we love and who love us – wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could make certain behaviors and attitudes become extinct? Quite frankly – we do wrestle with the powers of darkness in our lives. Call them demons – unclean spirits – OR call them destructive habits – lousy attitudes – you know… stinkin’ thinkin’ – or a self-centered, me first way of living. In other words – sin – and remember that the definition of sin is the self turned in on the self.
Folks – whatever it is – you put a name on your own demon – but whatever it is, there’s not a one of us here today who doesn’t need to have an encounter with Jesus – the Holy One of God – not a one who isn’t in need of the Jesus effect. This is especially true for those of us who are caught in the grip of an evil that we just are powerless to overcome by ourselves.
Look again at our Gospel reading. Look again at how the people react to what Jesus has done. “What is this? A new teaching and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
The key word here is authority. No one else has ever lived who spoke with the authority with which Christ spoke. There has never been another like him. And since this is true – since Jesus is the Holy One of God – and if his teachings are the foundation upon which we build our lives – shouldn’t that fact be reflected in how we live?
Let me share with you a story. “A certain Army man had been a heavy drinker for 35 years. For all those years he had been angry – angry at everyone and everything. Finally, he encountered Christ and his whole life changed.
“He was speaking once before a group of medical people. He told them of his personality change, how he was now sober as he once had been drunk; considerate as he once had been severe; concerned for others as once he had been selfish and self-serving.
“A psychiatrist, who believed that personalities are so firmly set in early life that no one can change, protested to the Colonel that at his age a person could not have such a radical transformation.
“‘Well,’ replied the Colonel, ‘that may be true. But I am under new management – I answer to another authority – the highest and truest there is.”
So who’s authority are you under today? Your own? Your own authority? If so, then how’s that working for you?
Folks – what are your best demons? And believe me, I’m not here to beat up on anyone today. But what are your best demons? We all have them – including myself. Some sin – something that needs to become extinct – and which only Jesus can handle for us. What is it? Anger? Bitterness? Strife? Envy? A complaining spirit? A critical nature? What is it that has a hold on you and you really want to get rid of it? To name it – or them – for what it is or what they are and how they bring suffering – either to you or someone you love – is half the battle. Putting a name on your demon is half the battle. So put a name on it. And then turn it over to Jesus. Ask him to take it away – to teach you how to replace it with something that builds up rather than this thing that tears down. The thing that needs to become extinct.
Because I’m here to tell you today that Christ's teaching – and Christ’s authority – have the power to transform us. Just ask the demon-possessed man. Ask the Apostle Paul. Ask Martin Luther, or any man or woman who names the name of Christ.
True change comes when you and I address our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Surrendering our hearts and lives to Him. Not always easy, I know. But it starts when we name the demon. It continues when we turn it over to Jesus. And then turn our attention to our relationship with God. Worship. Prayer. Scripture reading. Being connected in fellowship with other Christians. These are the tools we have that draw us closer to God.
But ultimately it comes down to trusting Christ to be the change agent we need. To do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And when you see transformation in your life – and others see that change in you – then you will know that you have been touched by Jesus. Then you will know that you have been touched by the Jesus Effect.
The Scriptures tell us this eternal truth. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If God is for you, then who – or what – can be against you? And since God is for you – then that must mean that God is with you. It’s the Jesus Effect. And that – my friends – that changes everything.
Monday, January 23 2012
Do you know what many claim to be the second largest national holiday after the celebration of Independence Day on July 4th is? You would think – or perhaps even hope – that it would be Thanksgiving, right? Well, you might be right, but most people now believe that the second most popular American holiday is Super Bowl Sunday. Now you can take issue with that, I’m not going to argue the point.
However, some of you die-hard football fans may “remember the 1989 MVP of Super Bowl 23 – Jerry Rice. There is an interesting story about him. He was the longtime star for the San Francisco 49ers, considered one of the greatest receivers in the history of football. He played for the 49ers for 15 years, from 1985 to 2000. He is a famous athlete and you would think he came from some legendary college team but he didn't. He played for Mississippi Valley State University, in Itta Bena, Mississippi, a virtual unknown.
“He was once asked, ‘Why did you attend a small, obscure university like Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Mississippi?’ Rice responded, ‘Out of all the big-time schools (such as UCLA) to recruit me, MVSU was the only school to come to my house and give me a personal visit.’
“The big-time schools recruited through cards, letters, and advertisements, but only one came to meet him and showed Rice personal attention. It makes a difference in this world to meet people eye to eye and invite them to be a part.”
May I suggest to you that’s exactly what’s happening in our Gospel reading today? Jesus is calling men and women to come and follow him. And in today’s reading we learn that he is recruiting fishermen to be his disciples. I have read – I don’t know how many times – that these were plain, ordinary fishermen. Plain and ordinary. Sometimes I think those words are a bit overused, but I’ve also got to say that I think those are still good words to use to describe these first disciples of Jesus. In other words – these are just hard working, regular folks. And the point here that I want to make is that they are no different really from you and me.
So here’s Jesus. Walking down the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He sees Simon – whom Jesus would later rename Peter – and his brother Andrew casting it says, casting a fishing net into the sea. This is how they made their living. Jesus approaches them and says to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And what do they do? They drop their nets and start walking with him down the beach.
Just a short ways down the shore, they run into James and John, their father Zebedee, as well as some hired hands. And Jesus says to James and John, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And they left their nets and their father –walked away from the family business – and along with Simon and Andrew – they also followed Jesus.
Now, I am about to tell you more than I probably know. There is no evidence for what I am about to say, but I want to suggest that this is probably not the first encounter Jesus has with these four fishermen. The Scriptures don’t always tell us the whole story behind every episode we read about. But it does not make sense to me to consider that this is the first encounter Jesus has with these four men. Think about it. If someone just walked up to you and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” would you follow that person? Probably not. In fact, you might even think he was a little bit loony.
I want to believe that Simon, Andrew, James and John have most likely been among those who have been listening to – and maybe even spending time with Jesus one on one, or eating a meal together. Playing cards, I don’t know.
The thing that I want to suggest – and it is only a suggestion – but I would like to suggest that practically speaking – this is not the first encounter that Jesus has with these men. I mean, if that were me, I would like some time to think it about it. Or talk it over with someone. That’s how most of us make our decisions right? We think it over. We talk it over with a trusted friend or loved one.
So I don’t know if that’s the case here. But in any event – here’s the first thing I want you to see. No matter what might have preceded this walk down the beach – these men are ready. They are ready to leave behind their ordinary, work-a-day lives, and begin what will truly become an adventure – as they drop everything to come and follow Jesus. I’m also convinced that they have no idea what they’re getting into. But somehow they have determined for themselves that this is the right thing to do. So that’s the first thing I want you to see. That they were ready, and they knew that this was the right thing to do.
The second thing I want you to see is the approach that Jesus uses. It is up close and personal. A one on one invitation. Now that’s not to say that churches shouldn’t advertise. We have a website – as almost all churches do nowadays – to let people know where we are – who we are – and what we have to offer. We send cards and letters to our guests to thank them for worshipping with us. But cards and letters and websites can do only so much. Advertising can be expensive, and I’m not sure just how effective it is.
But the up close stuff – the personal stuff – the warm smile – the handshake – the personal touch. Will you agree with me that that is what makes a difference? Now, I just want to remind you that that’s your job. If you agree with me that the up close and personal contact makes a difference – then it is your job to be that person with the smile – with the handshake – when you see someone here that you’ve never seen before. Okay? Just reminding you.
Remember last week? I shared with you that sometimes, all it takes is to start a conversation. And I shared with you some stories from my own life where I was a part of conversations with complete strangers. Again, I don’t know if those conversations had any impact on the people I had those conversation with, but they had an impact on me. When it comes to sharing our faith, sometimes all we need to do is just start a conversation, because you never know what the results of that conversation might become.
It’s obvious to me that when Jesus calls these four fishermen to come and follow him – and because this episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples was important enough for it to be written down – that it has been written down for our benefit. We need to see in this that we are called to come and follow Jesus. By hearing this story – we should also be hearing that we are called to be disciples of Jesus.
Now the benefits of being a disciple are out of this world, right? You know that, right? The benefits of following Jesus include eternal life with God forever. This is a gift – given to us as a gift of God’s grace – in other words God’s undeserved love and favor. And because of that grace – received by faith – we have the forgiveness of our sins. And forgiveness is ours, all because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those are the benefits of being disciples of Jesus Christ. And that includes being part of a loving, supportive and affirming congregation of other believers. And that is what this church is. That is what all of you are.
But – the call to come and follow is not just about these benefits that I just mentioned – these promises of God. But it is our job – I like the word calling – it is our calling to reach others for the sake of Jesus Christ. The word the church uses to describe this work is “Evangelism.” And as your pastor – it is my great desire to see to it that everything that we do here has an evangelistic purpose. Starting with worship, and everything else – Sunday School – youth ministries – Bible studies – fellowship groups – caring ministry teams – everything we do is designed to build up the body of Christ – in other words, to build up those who are already disciples in this place – and as an evangelistic outreach to those who are curious and searching – anyone who needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.
And I believe it all starts when we are up close and personal with the good news of Jesus Christ. And like Jesus, it starts with a personal touch. We need to meet people where they are. We need to learn to speak their language. Sometimes churchy language can be confusing and a real turn off. And I know, we use churchy language. Words like grace – God’s undeserved love and favor. Words like Kyrie, and liturgy, and benediction, salvation and atonement – justification and sanctification. These are all good words, but how many of us really know what they mean? Sometimes our use of these words gets in the way of the message.
But we need to meet people where they are, and to learn to speak a language that they understand. For instance, I don’t know where I first heard this. It may have been in a marketing class when I was in grad school at Clarkson University. But many years ago, Chevrolet had a car they called the Nova. Remember the Nova? It was a successful selling car here in the United States, so GM decided to market the Nova to other countries. Now, in Latin American countries, the Nova was a flop. It didn’t sell. And that’s when the marketers at GM learned that in Spanish, the word Nova means, “No go.” The Chevy No Go.
If we are to be disciples who are fishers of people, we need to learn the art of just starting a conversation. Of being up close and personal. And speaking a language that folks will understand when we are sharing our faith. And that means taking an interest in them – understanding their jobs – their families – their hobbies – their sports interests – whatever it is. Being up close and personal means that first we listen to where they’re at – and then loving – not arguing – but loving them into the Kingdom.
Now, it isn’t necessary that you drop your nets to share your faith with others. In my case – I stopped being a computer programmer in order to enter the ordained ministry. But it isn’t necessary for you to change your career to follow Jesus. Then again, it might be – but you’re going to find that you can minister to and reach out to others right where you are.
Let me close with these words by a woman named Linda A. Jacobus, who asks, “What are some of the tips we need to remember as we fish for people?”
1. Go where the fish are. Be with people on their own turf.
2. Be real, be vulnerable, and be honest. [Don’t say things about Christianity or your faith that aren’t true. Be real, be vulnerable, be honest.]
3. Be creative. We don’t have to do things the same old way.
4. Be spiritual, but not "churchy". [I think we all have an image of just what she means about not being churchy, am I right? SO don’t be churchy.]
5. Be patient [Sometimes it may take a long time, years or even decades, but be patient with that person you want to share the Good News with.]
6. Be ready for surprises!
7. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. [I know we’re Lutherans – and we don’t like to talk about our faith – but we CAN learn to step out of our comfort zones – and share our faith with others.]
8. Be on the lookout for where God is at work. [In other words, look for opportunities. Wait for those moments when the Holy Spirit has prepared that other person’s heart and mind to listen to what it is that you want to share with them.]
9. Be praying. [This is probably the most important step. Pray. And don’t stop praying for the people you are sharing the Good News with.]
It’s all about being up close and personal. Like Jesus, it starts with a personal touch. We need to meet people where they are. We need to learn to speak their language. And if not us, who? If not now, when?
Tuesday, January 17 2012
A number of years ago, my beloved wife Nancy with whom I am well-pleased and I went over to Grover’s on Transit Road. We heard a lot about the big, juicy hamburgers they serve there, and decided we would try it for ourselves. Now if you’ve ever been to Grover’s, you know it is not a very big place. You get there, they put your name on a chalk board, and you wait.
So there we were, standing outside waiting our turn for a table, when we started up a conversation with the couple that was behind us. I would say that this couple was probably a good 10 to 15 years older than we were, and we enjoyed our conversation with them.
When finally we were seated, we were seated at a table for four near the front door. So we looked at this other couple and said, “Why don’t you join us,” which they did.
We talked about church of course, because when people ask either Nancy or me what we do for a living, the conversation always turns to church or religion when people find out that we are pastors. So I invited them to Zion, and they politely said that they might just do that, but also let us know that they were Catholics worshipping at Our Lady of Peace. Which is fine. I don’t care where people go as long as they go.
In the course of the conversation we learned that at one time they lived in Niagara Falls. And I said, “Really! I grew up in Niagara Falls. Where in Niagara Falls did you live?”
And they said, “99th Street.”
And I said, “Really! I grew up on 98th Street. When did you live on 99th Street?” And they said it was in the early 70’s.
And I said, “No way! When you lived on 99th Street – I was your paperboy.” And it was only then that I realized that they looked familiar, but you know, after 30 years of not seeing someone, both I and they looked, well, older.
But here’s the best part. At the end of the meal, when our checks arrived, they took our check, and paid for our meal, because, as the man said, “When you were our paperboy, we didn’t have enough money to give you a tip. So you let me pay for this.”
How about that! I got my last tip as a paper boy some 30 odd years after I delivered my last paper. Let me tell you, you never can tell what might happen when you just start a conversation.
Let me tell you another story. This happened, again, just a couple of years ago at a little restaurant called The Springs, just down the road from our church camp at Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center, which we all know as LCLC. It was a Friday night. The next day I would be riding my bike around Lake Chautauqua in the annual Ride Around the Lake fundraiser for LCLC.
I was by myself, and seated next to me at another table was a couple from out of state. And they started up a conversation with me. Now here’s the thing. I’ve gotta say that I really wasn’t interested in talking. We introverts are just that way sometimes. But they got to asking me about what to do and see around the lake, and I told them what I knew, even though I wasn’t from the area, and my knowledge of the area beyond the Chautauqua Institute was limited.
And then they wanted to know what I was doing at the lake. And of course I had to tell then. I had to tell that I was a pastor – and that I was riding my bike around the lake the next day as a fund raiser for the church camp just up the road. And again, the conversation touched on church and religion.
Finally, when I finished my meal, and as I got up to leave, the woman turns to her husband and says, “Harry. Give the man $20 for his ride.” I think her husband pretended not to hear her, and she repeated, “Harry. Harry give the man a twenty for his ride!” And I thanked them, profusely. And I think it was that $20 that makes me remember that conversation. Because, quite frankly, I tried to politely ignore them at first. I know! Hard to believe. But that’s just the way I was feeling that evening.
But even more important to me than the $20 bill they gave me for the Ride Around the Lake, was the lesson I learned about the importance of being ready to talk to anyone at anytime – especially if it becomes an opportunity to share your faith. You never can tell what might happen when you just start a conversation.
Now I could tell you about conversations I’ve had with people on airplanes. I must say I always cringe when my seat partner asks me what I do for a living. I’m tempted to tell them I’m in sales. Which I am. I’m a “Good News” salesman. I have good news to share and to give away.
But let me tell you about another conversation that I had with a couple that Nancy and I met several years ago at Ralph Wilson Stadium. It was a preseason game. Someone from Nancy’s church had given her the tickets. And I think I know why. Quite frankly, the game was boring as all get out. But sitting in the seats directly in front of us was a 30ish couple with three young children.
So we started ignoring the game, and struck up a conversation with them. And of course, they got around to asking, “So what do you do for a living?” After our normal hesitation we said, “We’re both Lutheran pastors.”
And they said, “Oh, we’re Lutheran too! We belong to St. John’s on Main Street. But we live in Elma now, and we haven’t been to church in awhile because it’s too far to drive.”
Now you’ve got to understand that the town of Elma is near and dear to our hearts. Nancy’s first call was at St. John’s Lutheran in Elma, and so we started talking to them about Elma, and more importantly, inviting them to pay a visit to St. John’s in Elma.
Now I don’t know if that young family ever did visit that little Lutheran church in Elma. I don’t know if any of the three conversations I have just shared with you made any impact on the people with whom Nancy and I held those conversations. I would like to think that they did. The simple fact that I remember them says that they had an impact on me.
The point is that as followers of Jesus Christ, we never know when an opportunity to share our faith might come up. And all we need to do is to just start a conversation. Or, engage in conversation if someone starts up a conversation with us.
That’s pretty much what’s happening in our Gospel reading today. Jesus approaches a man named Philip, he starts a conversation, and somewhere in that conversation Jesus offers an invitation to Philip to “Come, follow me.” Philip in turn starts a conversation with a man by the name of Nathaniel. He tells Nathaniel that they have found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. When Nathaniel asks if anything good can come out of Nazareth, Philip tells him, “Come and see.”
And come and see they both did. They watched as Jesus made a difference. They watched as Jesus touched hearts and changed lives. They saw transformation in others just as they experienced transformation in their own lives. So when Philip asked Nathanael to come and see, he knew Jesus would make a difference. Philip simply started a conversation that ended with, “Come and see.” “Just come and see, that's all I ask.”
This room is filled with believers. But sometimes I think we are just a little too comfortable, or shy or reluctant to go outside of our comfort zones, or perhaps even afraid what people might think if we just start a conversation where we talk about our faith. Sometimes I think we just get a little too comfortable.
I like the story of the two robins sitting in a tree. "I'm really hungry," said the first one. "Me too," said the second one. "Let's fly down and find some lunch." They flew to the ground and found a nice plot of plowed ground full of worms. They ate and ate and ate and ate 'til they could eat no more.
"I'm so full I don't think I can fly back up to the tree," said the one. "Me either." said the second. "Let's just lay here and – bask – in the warm sun." "O.K.," said the first robin. They plopped down, basking in the sun. No sooner had they fallen asleep than a big fat cat snuck up and gobbled them up. As he sat washing his face after his meal, the cat thought, "I love baskin' robins."
I’m sorry. I just had to share that. But there is a message there. We have a choice to make. Will we be people who have eaten so much of God's good food that we sit and bask? Or, will we invite others. Will we go out of our way to say to people, "Come and see?" That's all I ask, just start a conversation. Just invite people. You don’t have to argue with them. No one was ever to my knowledge argued into the Kingdom anyway. Just go and ask someone to come and see. Invite them here to worship. Invite them to a Bible study, or Sunday school. Alpha. Great program, Alpha.
No matter where your heart is today, whether you’re a believer, or whether you’re here today with a bit of skepticism, on the edge between faith and doubt. Doesn’t matter. Somebody invited you here. I believe you are here because someone at sometime in some place invited you to come – to come and see – to come and see and to hear what Jesus has to say to you today. And that’s good. That’s a good thing. Others of you have done the inviting – asking people to come and see, and they have. This church is a growing, vibrant, thriving church because so many of you have talked to others – or invited others to come and see what’s going on – to come and see what the Lord is doing here at Zion Lutheran Church. And that’s a wonderful thing!
Folks – wouldn't it be wonderful if "Come and See" became a natural part of our vocabulary? Our life? Our relationships? I know it isn’t always easy – it isn’t always easy to just start a conversation. But who knows where that conversation will go? Folks – we ARE in sales. We have good news to share and to give away – the life-changing, good news message of Jesus Christ to share.
Think about it. Do you know anybody who has enough good news?
Monday, January 09 2012
Mark 1: 4-11
We live in a crazy world. Wouldn’t you agree? We live in a crazy world. Now maybe I pay too much attention to the news – both in what I see on TV and what I read in the newspaper – but it seems like there’s never a shortage of things to worry about.
Like the headline this week that said, “U.S – Iran Tensions rise; Oil Prices Spike.” So we worry about Iran. We worry about higher gas prices. Again.
A week ago folks were concerned about what a new leader of North Korea is going to mean for that area of the world.
There is always the constant reminder of the threat from terrorism.
The Republicans and the Democrats can’t seem to work together in Washington these days. We’re still looking at massive federal deficits.
And then there’s the economy. The employment situation is still pretty bad. Even though the economy appears to be slowly getting better, businesses are slow to hire new workers. These are just some of the things making headline news.
We live in a crazy world. And it’s not just what we see and hear in the news. Some things simply make us mad – or simply frustrated. Like not being able to watch Sabre’s games on TV. Or the Bills didn’t make it to the playoffs. Again.
But sometimes it’s our personal lives. Sometimes our personal lives can be crazy too. It could be a relationship. Or a job – or not having a job. Maybe there’s not enough money left over at the end of the month. Or someone you’re close to has a drug or an alcohol problem. Or maybe it’s a sump pump that doesn’t work – or the house needs a new roof. I don’t know. But oh, don’t you look for a little relief from some of the craziness every now and then? I know I do.
And just when it seems like things just might be a bit overwhelming – perhaps you’ve even run out of hope – into the world comes good news! Folks – I’m here to remind you once again that God has invaded our world.
Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated a life-changing – world-changing event. More than 1,200 people were here to celebrate that event. I’m talking of course about Christmas. God invaded our world through the birth of Jesus.
The Gospel writer John tells us that “The Word became flesh –and when John uses the word “Word” he’s talking about Jesus – The Word became flesh and lived among us.” The meaning of the Greek word for “lived among us” is actually “Set up his tent.” God – in the person of His Son Jesus Christ – came into the world and set up His tent among us.
Know what that tells me? Even though we live in a crazy world – it is a God invaded world. God has invaded our crazy world. When the world gets crazy – and it does and it will – we can remind ourselves – as Martin Luther used to do when things got crazy for him – “I am a child of God. I am baptized.” We can say the same thing. Because we are baptized, God gives us the power to keep on going.
We are currently in the season of the church year that we call Epiphany. It is called the season of light. Of revelation. A season that points to Jesus to tell us something about who He is.
– So, again, as the Gospel writer John tells us, Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwells among us – who sets up His tent – among us.
– Today we learn something else about Jesus. We hear that Jesus is baptized by John. Baptized in water – as we were once baptized in water. And it is the Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit – who descends upon Jesus – in the form of a dove. You see, the human Jesus needed power to keep on going. As Jesus begins his public ministry – Jesus needs power to keep on going. It is the Holy Spirit that gives Jesus the power to keep on going.
And do you remember John the Baptizer’s words? “I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Well – doesn’t that tell you that when we are baptized we too receive the power of the Holy Spirit? Of course it does. It is the power of the Holy Spirit within each of us that is the power that keeps us going. Just as Jesus had the power of the Holy Spirit to keep on going – we have the power of the Holy Spirit to keep us going too.
Now granted, we might not always feel the power of the Spirit. We might not always feel the presence of Christ. But thank God our faith does not rest on our feelings. Let me say that one more time. Thank God our faith does not rest on our feelings. Our faith rests on the promises of God.
Let me give you just this one baptismal promise from God’s holy Word.
Galatians 3:26-27. “You are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
There are times when we might not feel the presence of Christ in our lives, but the Word of God promises us that – through our baptism – we have been clothed with Christ – we have put on Christ. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is here.
So never think of yourself as a loser. Don’t ever think of yourself as a failure. Don’t ever think of yourself as inferior or inadequate. You’re not. Don’t let the craziness of this world or of your own personal life keep you down. God gives you the power not only to make it in this crazy world – but to overcome – to overcome and to rise above – the crazy things that go on your life and in this world. God gives you the power to overcome and to rise above.
Let me share with you a story. Wilma was born in a shack in the backwoods of Tennessee. Her parents were very poor. She was prematurely born, and weighed only four and a half pounds. At age four she had double pneumonia and scarlet fever that left her with a partly paralyzed left leg. She had to wear a steel brace.
But Wilma had a mother who constantly told her that she could do whatever she wanted to do with her life, that all she needed to do was have faith and persistence and courage and a never-give-up spirit. So at the age of nine, Wilma did away with the brace. In four more years, she finally developed a rhythmic stride that enabled her to run. At 13 she entered her first race and came in dead last.
But Wilma kept running. And one day she started winning. Finally she made it to the 1960 Olympics to run the 100-meter race against the unbeaten, world record holder, Yetta Mynie from Germany. Wilma won. She won again in the 200-meter. Finally came the 400-meter relay. She was the anchor – the last runner on the U.S. team, and her competitor was – you guessed it – Yetta Mynie. Just as the baton was handed to Wilma she dropped it, giving Yetta the lead. Yet, somehow Wilma caught up and won!
We know her today as Wilma Rudolph, the little girl with the steel brace and a paralyzed leg [who] became the fastest female runner in the world. And as Paul Harvey used to say, now you know the rest of the story.
And yet, you and I know that Wilma Rudolph’s accomplishments didn’t come from the outside. They came from within. On the outside she had every reason to give up. To quit. But there was something within her that gave her the drive – gave her the power – to overcome.
You and I have the power to overcome. No matter how crazy the world gets – no matter how challenging our lives become – we have the presence of Jesus Christ – and we have the power of the Holy Spirit – within us.
How can I say that? Because I have been baptized. Because you have been baptized. And that means something much more than we just happen to be nice people – as true as that may be.
No. We are more than just nice people. We have the power that keeps us going. Folks let me remind you. You have the power of the Holy Spirit in you. And if you will let Him, that power will get you through and help you rise above all the craziness that you will ever experience in your life. That doesn’t mean life will always be easy. It doesn’t mean challenges will never be there. But through the person, and the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit, you have the power to overcome and to rise above.
You have been baptized. And today I want you to affirm that baptism. I invite you to affirm your faith in Jesus Christ – I want you to claim your rightful place in this world as a beloved son – as a beloved daughter of God.
God has invaded our world. Jesus Christ – present with us. The Holy Spirit – at work in us. And that, my friends, is the power that keeps us going.
Tuesday, January 03 2012
For those of you who make New Year’s resolutions – and if attending worship on a weekly basis is one of them – well then congratulations! So far it seems you’ve been able to keep that resolution.
I don’t know what any of you are hoping for – or perhaps wishing for – in this New Year. Maybe it’s like the guy who went to a wishing well. And on a piece of paper he wrote, “Dear wishing well. My personal wish in 2012 is for a big fat bank account and a slim body. Please don’t mix these two up like you did last year.”
I don’t think I’m far off base when I say that some of us – maybe more than just a few – may be wishing for a better 2012 than the year 2011 was. Every year at this time – I think there are many of us who hope for a better new year than the one just past.
On the other hand – I know that for many of you 2011 was indeed a good year. And it is certainly my hope – as I am sure it is all of yours – that 2012 will be a good year. But I’m not making any guarantees! But we certainly can be hope filled – because one of the hallmarks for those of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ – is that we are people of hope. And hope always looks forward, never back.
A man once had a conversation with a successful friend of his, and he asked his friend about how he achieved his considerable financial success in life. The man’s answer was, “Never look back.” The man was a little surprised. He thought his friend would point to his hard work – his good decisions – his good fortune – or even God’s help. But his friend said, “Never look back.”
When asked to say more, the friend’s answer was in essence, “Don’t let the past, whatever it is, hold you. It is over. It can be good. It can be so-so. It can be awful. But whatever it is – good or bad or so-so – move on in life. Look forward.”
No matter what kind of year you have had in 2011, may I suggest to you that you move on. Don’t look back. Learn from the past, yes. There is great wisdom in learning from the experiences of the past. After all, who wants to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, right? And I know some of us do, because, I know, I do too.
So as disciples of Jesus Christ, as we enter into 2012, one of the things I hope you are doing – is this. Learn from the past. But don’t live in the past. Don’t look back. But as people of hope – let me encourage you to look forward to this new year with hope.
Perhaps one of the things that will help is to know that you are blessed. That’s one of the things God wants you to see. That you are loved and blessed. All of our Scripture readings today remind us of the blessings that are ours in Jesus Christ.
The reading from the Book of Numbers is the well-known blessing that we call the Aaronic blessing – so-called because it is a blessing given by the High Priest Aaron – the brother of Moses. You know it. “May the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor – and grant you His peace.” You know it. You’ve heard it. It is a both a blessing and a promise.
Our reading from the book of Galatians is also a blessing. It is a blessing because it reminds you that you are part of God’s family. The language used here is that of adoption. We are adopted – each one of us – adopted into God’s family. And thus we are children of God – brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s a blessing if ever I heard one!
The Gospel lesson for today is about blessings. Mary and Joseph take the 8-day old Jesus to the temple for presentation. There we read of a man named Simeon and a woman named Anna. Simeon gives thanks to God, and then he blesses Mary and Joseph and Jesus. Anna gives thanks to God, and points the people around her to Jesus as the one who will bring salvation.
Blessings – whether in the Bible or in our own lives – are powerful events. A blessing in Scripture is the giving of oneself to another. Let me repeat that. A blessing in Scripture is the giving of oneself to another.
May I suggest to you today that we are Simeon. We are Anna. We have come here today to ask for and to receive blessings from God our Father as we begin a new year. Now I don’t know what those blessings are going to look like. But whatever those blessings are – let me remind you that we are blessed in order that we might be a blessing. If you want to be blessed – then be ready to be a blessing to others also. Because whatever our blessings are – it is from those blessings that we bless others.
If you have been blessed with a kindness – then be a Simeon – be an Anna who blesses others with kindness.
If you have been blessed with wealth – then be a Simon – be an Anna – show yourself to be a person of generosity, and share those blessings with those who are in need.
If you have been blessed with loving friends and family – then be a Simeon – be an Anna – and be the best member of your family you can be – be the best friend you can be to someone else who needs a friend.
A blessing is the giving of oneself to another. As we give ourselves to the Lord and to the work of the lord, we are an Anna – we are a Simeon.
And let me tell you that when you live a blessed life that shares the blessings God gives you today, then God is blessed. Jesus is blessed. And this much I can guarantee – you in turn will be blessed again!
May I also suggest to you that your blessings begin when you spend time with God. Ten minutes a day. That’s all it takes. First thing in the morning, or the last thing you do before you go to bed. Or sometime in between. Doesn’t matter. Ten minutes with God. Read a few verses or a whole chapter from God’s Word. Maybe a devotional book can supplement your time spent in God’s Word. We have several to choose from out in the kiosk in the hallway. I’ve also placed some on the table in the gathering area. And then devote the remaining minutes to prayer.
I know. Ten minutes. Sounds like a lot of time. But you may just find that you need 15 or 20 minutes. Whatever it takes. Whatever works for you.
Don’t know what to pray for? Pray for the people on our prayer list. Pray for your unsaved or un-churched friends, family members and neighbors. Pray for me as I pastor the wonderful people in this wonderful church. Pray that the Lord will continue to give me strength and courage, wisdom and vision for the future. And energy. I find as I get older I don’t have the energy I used to have. I don’t know what’s up with that!
And pray for yourself. Pray for wisdom for yourself to do God’s will. Ask God to guide your life. To help you to grow in grace and faith. To teach you what it means to become more and more like Christ.
As you do, I guarantee you your life will be transformed. You might even become the kind of person the other people want to be around. Why? Because you become easier to live with. That’s what Christ-likeness looks like. Why, we might even learn to love more, and criticize less. Wouldn’t that be a blessing? To be a person who encourages others instead of putting them down. Giving of oneself – yourself – to others.
This is what blessings look like. And I guarantee you, that as you recognize and give thanks to God for your blessings – you can’t help being a blessing to others. And you will make a difference in someone else’s life.
Anna and Simeon spent much time in the temple. Spending time with God. Blessings begin there. Ten minutes with God. Every day. That’s all it takes.
Now I can't stand up here and promise you that 2012 will be your best year ever. But as we stand on the threshold of a new year, I can offer you a blessing. God’s blessing. Everyone here today is invited to come forward in a few minutes for a blessing – whether as a family or as an individual – or as a group of friends. Asking the Lord’s blessings as we begin a new year. It’s a wonderful thing to do.
So may the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor. And grant you His peace. Amen