Pastor Michael

working in God's ministry

Following Without Question – Genesis 12:1-9

This morning we will continue with our sermon series, “Before There Was GPS”, where we are focusing on some of the people that God called to undertake some important and awesome journeys in the Bible, as well as the journeys themselves and what they entailed. This morning, we find ourselves tagging along with Abram and his family after God called him to travel to the land of Canaan and make it his home.

I’d like you to all take a moment to try something with me. I’m going to need you to use your imagination for this. And I don’t want anyone to say that they don’t have an imagination or a good imagination. I say that because I am almost positive that each and every one of you is imagining that you are somewhere much warmer right now. I mean, I like winter and snow, but I’m even imagining we are all worshiping together somewhere where the temperature is more than just a few degrees above or below freezing.

Okay, back on topic. I want you all to try and imagine the scenario that I am going to explain to you in a minute, and when I am done I want you to try to remember your first reactions to it. Don’t spend a great deal of time thinking through all of it. I just want you to focus on your first, kind of “gut reaction” if you will. Okay? Here we go. And you can close your eyes if you want, but by no means do you have to.

Imagine that you are sitting at home with your family. It can be your home, your parent’s home, your children’s home – just somewhere that you identify as home. You are surrounded by your family and loved ones. It doesn’t have to be any special kind of event, just hanging out and going about a normal day.

And then, someone else comes in. This person is someone who has authority over you. It could be an authority of the law, or a parental authority, but someone who you would feel compelled to not only listen to, but also do what they tell you to do. And this person tells you that you have to move. You have to take your children and your belongings and go to a whole new place that you have never been. A place where the people are very different than what you have known.

Okay so now by a show of hands, how many of you had the “gut reaction” or first thoughts of something along the lines of “no way”? Okay, what about “but what about blank”? Okay, how about, “Okay”? Did anyone in their first thoughts and reaction just think, okay, yes I will go and do that?

That would be hard right? To just pack up everything at a moment’s notice and move somewhere far away from your family and to a place where not only do you not know anyone, but the people where you are going are very different than those you know from their culture to their religion to their very ways of life. It would scary right? It would be a great challenge.

And yet, that is exactly what Abram did as we read in our Scripture reading for today. Verse one says, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” And then we skip ahead to verse four where we read, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”

And nowhere in-between verse one and four does it say anything about Abram questioning God, or even stopping and complaining about what God has called him to do. Now it is possible that Abram did question God or complain, but we don’t have a record of that so we cannot really be sure. All we do have here is God telling Abram to uproot everything to go somewhere new and Abram following these instructions.

Did you happen to catch his age at the end of verse four? Seventy-five years old. Who here who is even just seventy or older would be willing to move your family and everything you had to a faraway place right now if I told you that God said you should do it? I’m guessing you would probably question me and even call our District Superintendent or the Bishop.

Or what if your husband or wife, or your father or mother, came to you and said, “Hey everyone! Pack up everything you own, we are going to move to a new country where we don’t know anyone, or much about the people there. And we are doing this because of voice told me to.” You’d probably be pretty upset and even want to have them checked out by a doctor.

Now, it is important to note that our Scripture reading if taken from a much different time and context than we live in today. With the spread of information through the internet and telecommunication networks, there are very few places in the world that we do not know about or have the ability to learn about. A quick trip to the local library and you can learn more about a country, its people, its cultures, and more.

So how can we relate to this story in our lives today? How can we share in and engage with Abram and his family as they undertake this new challenge from God? We live in such a connected world that not only do people make these kinds of transitions every day, but they are made with relative ease compared to back then.

Let’s look at exactly what God was asking Abram to do, or at least on perspective of what God was asking Abram to do. God tells Abram to move him and his family to a foreign land. But he tells Abram, as we read in verses two and three, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So while God is telling Abram to make this great change in his life, and the lives of his family, God makes Abram several promises. First, he promises to make Abram a great nation, or make him prosperous and have a large family. God also promises to bless Abram, and to make Abram himself a blessing. He also promises to bless whoever blesses Abram and curse those who curse Abram. Finally, God promises that in Abram, all of the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Those are some pretty strong promises. I mean a promise from God to be blessed and to be made a great nation is itself pretty impressive. To be a great nation could mean more than just having a large family. It could mean to have great power and wealth and influence. Can you imagine God telling you personally that he would make you into a great nation?

But the next promises may be even more impressive than being made a great nation. Being made a great nation has implications for our time on earth that are more material and about power potentially. But the next promises conclude with Abram being a blessing and therefore all of the families of the earth being blessed through him. I’m not sure I can even wrap my head around that completely. All of the families of earth will be blessed through Abram. That’s pretty significant.

So back to today and all of us here right now. How does God call us? Or does God even call us? Do you think that God calls people still today to new and challenging journeys? Do you believe when someone tells you that they felt God, or even heard God, pushing them or calling them to do something? It’s hard isn’t it? With so many people using the idea of God communicating with them over the years to take advantage of others, it is easy to be skeptical.

But sometimes we need to put that skepticism aside and really try to listen to what God is telling us. God has called each of every one of us to work in God’s ministry. As United Methodists we understand our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But beyond that, God calls each of us to different paths and different journeys. And it’s important how we respond to those calls from God that really matters.

You see, God calls us to journeys that may make us uncomfortable and unsure. For instance, sharing our faith for example and be very uncomfortable. We don’t know if the other person will embrace or reject what we share and because our faith is so much of who we are, it can feel if we are being accepted or rejected.

God may call be calling you to reach out to a family member or friend whom you have not spoken with for a long time, maybe even because of a fight or conflict in the past. That kind of call can be uncomfortable and unsure to follow. We don’t know what the result will be or if the person will even speak to us. It would be easier to ignore these calls from God and just go along our merry way right?

But we can’t forget a very important part of our Scripture reading. Remember in verses two and three what God promised to Abram? “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Abram answered God’s call, without question from what we know, and uprooted everything he had and went to a foreign land. And God kept his promises. He made Abram into a great nation. He made his name great, just ask any follower of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Abram, or later Abraham, is at the beginning of each of these faith traditions. I’d say that’s a very successful way to make someone’s name great, wouldn’t you?

And there is more. If we go back to verses seven and eight we read, “Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord.”

So not only did Abram follow God’s call to him to undertake this great journey, but he also continued to worship and honor God throughout his journey. And I think that is something important to note. When God calls us to these different journeys and paths, it is important that we not only follow these calls, but that we also continue to worship and honor God throughout them.

God is always with us in these journeys. God never calls us to do something and then just sit back and watch. God is active in our lives, every second of every day. And I believe it is important that we acknowledge that and offer worship and honor to God as a sign of praise and thanksgiving. We can faithfully follow the calls that God puts forth to us knowing that God will not only be with us along these journeys and paths, but also that God keeps his promises.

As you leave here today and go about your week, I ask you to do this one thing. I ask you to take a few extra moments and listen for God calling you. God calls us all to different journeys and to take different paths. But God is always with us all and keeps all of his promises. Use that knowledge to strengthen your faith and answer God’s call to you in your life with an affirmative response. Amen.

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A Journey of Great Faith – Matthew 2:1-12

For the remainder of the month of January we will be exploring a sermon series I have titled, “Before There Was GPS…” This series will focus on some of the great journeys that we find in the Bible and those who undertook them. In each of the next three weeks we will learn more about the different ways that people have responded to God calling them to set out on these new adventures. This first week, we will be going back to the story that normally is focused on last week on Epiphany, the story of the Magi.

The seasons of Advent and Easter, along with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have always been some of my favorite times of the year. But it was not really until during my time in seminary though that I came to find myself very much drawn to Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany is such a great time because it is about journeys of faith, and through faith following the light of God. Epiphany highlights the journey of the Magi coming to visit the child born who would be a great ruler. I have often wondered what that journey was like…

The summer before I started seminary, I took a trip with Sarah and my in-laws, John and Peggy, to visit her grandparents living in Fort Myers, Florida. We flew from Chicago Midway Airport to Fort Myers, which is about a 13 hundred-mile trip. We flew business class with comfortable seating and 2 free drinks. The total time in the air was around about two and a half hours. There was no need for GPS or a map; we left the directions up to the pilots and the airplane’s instruments.

My wife and her parents had made this trip numerous times over the years, and we checked online for things in the area to go see and do while we were there. Her grandparents have lived there for many years now, and also knew the area very well. We knew that this trip had been made thousands of times before by thousands of people, and that almost everyone involved in our particular trip knew exactly where we were going and what we would find there.

We even knew the weather conditions in Florida before we left from Chicago. The only things we really didn’t know going into this journey was whether we would get patted down in the security check, and the exact model of rental car we would be getting. So I think it’s safe to say that this journey wasn’t quite like what the Magi experienced…

Well there was another time I took a long trip to Florida with my family that was very different than this one I just told you about. When I was around 6, my family took a vacation to Walt Disney World. We drove the 12 hundred miles from the Chicago suburbs to the theme park. We took our minivan and my parents alternated driving while my sisters and I tried to keep busy with toys and books.

The travel time to get there took about two days of almost straight driving with an overnight stay in Tennessee. We traveled through mostly well-populated areas on major highways with rest stops, gas stations, restaurants, police stations, etc. This was before portable GPS units, so my parents used a foldout map to navigate the whole way there.

Internet in the home was still many years away for most people, and none of us had ever been to the theme park or surrounding area before. We really only knew about the park from what we saw on TV or in brochures. The only other thing that my parents knew was that others had made this trip before and done so successfully. But they didn’t know if we would run into any construction or detours that might throw us off our planned path. There didn’t know just how well three young children would handle two straight days of being in the car on a long drive. So yeah, this journey probably wasn’t too close to the Magi’s either…

What about other trips to Walt Disney World when the park first opened in the early 1970s? Are those any closer to the journey of the Magi? When the park first opened there was only one theme park and only a few hotels. Everything else was swampland in the immediate area. While the invention of the 747 did help to lower the cost of flying, it was still probably used mostly by the financially well off.

And even in spite of the cost to get there and spend time there, the park still saw 50 million people in less than 5 years’ time. There were established paths to get there at this point, whether through the air or via the roads or railways. What people didn’t know was what exactly they would find when they got there. Partially because this idea of a giant theme park was still a growing concept despite the success of the California location, and partially because new attractions were being added all the time so the park was in a constant state of change. You really never knew what you might find there from year-to-year with a few exceptions. But even with the unknowns, this probably still is not really close to the Magi’s journey…

Well what about trips made by early settlers to the area we now know as Florida? Surely those journeys are closer to what the Magi experienced right? Early in our country’s history there were few roads and while the climate in Florida can be nice, the summers even then were difficult for people at that time without the luxury of air conditioning like we have now.

The area was inhabited by several native tribes who were not exactly thrilled with the idea of others coming in and taking their land, trying to witness to them about Christianity, and in some cases even enslaving them. So the area was rather hostile for quite some time. The early settlers faced many hardships and struggles, as the frontier was dangerous and challenging to explore. They traveled there by horse or wagons over rough terrain in some places.

They also had to rely on themselves for everything from food, to medicine, to clothing. Anything that could be purchased would have been expensive. The only things these people knew for sure was what was spread through word of mouth about the area and what it promised. The things they didn’t know were a long list including how the natives would receive them, if they would arrive safely, and ultimately what they would find there. This is starting to sound a little closer to what the Magi might have experienced, but still not quite there…

Okay so how about the early explorers who came to the Florida area? Was their journey more in line with that of the Magi? They traveled for months at sea with no guarantee of even getting to land at all, let alone the land they were trying to reach. They faced the dangers of the ocean without GPS or the Coast Guard. Although they did have star charts to help guide them, but that only helped if you had a competent person to read them.

What these people knew going into their journey made up a really short list. While several sailing crews had landed there over the years, not all of them made it back and even then anything they shared was reliant on their memory after months at sea and any agenda they may have been operating under.

The things they didn’t know were a bit larger in number. They really had no idea who or what they might find there, assuming they even found where there was. They also had no guarantee if they would even arrive at land at all. The ocean is nothing like solid ground, let alone a highway or designated flight path. So we are getting closer still, but not quite there compared to the Magi…

So let’s look at the journey of the Magi then. According to scholars they traveled from Persia, or what is now Iran, to Bethlehem. Depending on the exact starting and ending point, this trip could have been anywhere from 500 to over 1000 miles in length. Additionally, many scholars have said that if traveling by camel, it could have easily taken 3 weeks or more to make a journey of this length. But we should keep in mind that it is widely held that the Magi did not actually arrive until some 3 years after the birth of Christ.

Now I think it is safe that we can assume that the Magi were probably pretty organized and didn’t just drop everything and run at the first sign of the star. It was a popular belief in that day that new stars appeared when great rulers were born. And while the Magi did not have GPS or paper maps, they were well versed in star charts, so they had a way to get where they were going. It is very likely though that they had never been to where they were headed. And forget the Internet, word of mouth about a place was probably about as good as it was going to get for receiving information about their destination beforehand.

They possibly traveled through some well populated areas on established roads, but also would have gone through some low populated areas with the possibility of nowhere to rest, get food, or likely find safety. The only real things the Magi knew were that a new star had appeared signaling to them a great ruler had been born, and that they needed to go see this new ruler.

The things they didn’t know on the other hand were a rather significant list. They had no idea of what delays they could have. They didn’t know exactly where their journey would take them, or how long it would be. They had no real way of knowing how they would be received in a foreign land, and if they would be allowed to return safely home. I mean, they didn’t even know what this new supposed ruler even looked like!

So why on earth would someone even make such a trip? Why risk your time, your wealth, and even your life to go on such a journey? For the Magi, it was about faith. Not the faith that they were going to see the Savior of the world, but rather the faith that they needed to make this journey and that they would arrive there safely.

The Magi didn’t share faith in the God of the Jewish people, but they had had faith in their own beliefs and understanding of the world and universe to make this journey to find this “great ruler” who had been born. And even though they may not have seen the star as God’s light in the way that we do, they still had to have faith to follow that light.

The early explorers of Florida had to have faith too. They had to have faith that they would arrive safely and that their voyage would be worth the time in the new riches resources they would find. The early settlers of Florida had to have faith as well that they would find a new home, new land, and the opportunity to start anew.

The first visitors to Walt Disney World even need to have some faith. In their case it was most likely faith that the trip would be worth the cost and they weren’t just headed to some two-bit carnival in the swamp.

My parents had to have faith as well in our family vacation to Walt Disney World that not only would our travel be safe, but that they wouldn’t lose one of us in the crowds of people once there. And even I needed faith on my latest trip to Florida. In my case it was faith in the pilots and airline mechanics that we would take off and land safely. Although looking back, maybe I needed to have a more focused faith than just on those things.

Following God’s light requires faith, and not just back then for the Magi, but for us now today. When we follow God’s light we don’t always know where we are being led or what we may encounter along the way. It requires us to put our full trust in God and to let go of our desire for control. But what we must remember is that God has already gone ahead of us and that God is always with us on the journey. God never leaves our side or sets us out on our own. And it is because of all this that we must remember that the journey of following God’s light is never in vain. Amen.

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Angel With A Message Of Joy – Luke 2:8-20

Well so far this Advent season we have covered first a message of hope, then a message of peace, and now today we come to a message of joy. And each of these messages were delivered by an angel, whether named or unnamed. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments angels have been acting as God’s messengers to humanity, and this week’s story focuses on a very special message delivery. Our reading is about the delivery of this message of joy to the whole world.

Joy. It’s not a word we really use all that much in our world today is it? I mean outside of the products I mentioned in the children’s message like “Almond Joy” or “Joy Dishwashing Soap”, or singing the hymn “Joy To The World”, when was the last time you heard the word joy? And for that matter, when was the last time you heard someone use it to describe their feelings or state of mind? When was the last time you heard some say that they felt joyful or maybe that they were full of joy?

I am guessing it has been quite some time, if ever for some of you. The word joy is one that seems to have fallen by the wayside in our world’s word usage. Now, I am not a linguist or have any other training that might help me to determine how this happened or when it happened, but I have some guesses as to why it may have happened.

I think it might come down to the fact that we have forgotten what joy really is. We are so far removed from the time when this message was delivered that I am not sure we really know what joy means. And the most unfortunate part of that reality is that we are the kind of people that this message was not only delivered to, but maybe even intended more for. That is not to say that the message of Christ’s birth was only intended for some, as it is a worldwide message of joy. But let’s look back at our reading.

The passage says, “There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them…” Now I know many of you are pretty familiar with this story, but I did some double checking to make sure about something.

Did you notice who was absent from the story? Who was not visited by angels, at least as far as we know, and told of this joyful message? The chief priests, the Jewish elders, the religious leaders! None of them. The leaders of the Jewish people, the very people that Jesus was coming to save from their sins, their leaders were not visited by the angels.

No, instead the angels went and told the shepherds, the blue collar workers. The angels went and told the people whose lives would be most impacted by this message of joy. Now that is not to say that Jesus did not affect the lives of the chief priests and Jewish leaders. He quite definitely caused them a great deal of trouble and was going against some of their ways and rules.

But Jesus would have a much greater impact on the lives of the Jewish people, as well as the Gentiles. He would go out and heal the sick. He would make the blind see and the lame walk. He would feed the five thousand. He would teach the people about God and about God’s love and grace. He helped make God accessible to the average person. So in a way, it’s not that surprising that the angels might go to these “common folk” if you will, rather than to the religious leaders.

And if we look back in our Scriptures, we actually find shepherds playing big roles in God’s plans. In the Old Testament, we find that many of the greatest patriarchs of the Jewish people were shepherds. Both Moses and David in particular were called by God to lead His people and leave their jobs of keeping sheep. One might argue that when we take that history along with this particular instance that God seems to show that He had some favor for the innocent employment that is the shepherd.

And why not? Jesus is often referred to as a shepherd and his followers his lambs. We have hymns dedicated to this very concept. Shepherds were protectors. They were leaders. They helped to care for creatures who were not always very bright and were easy prey for predators. I think we could even make the comparison that God has been like a shepherd to humanity throughout time, especially for the Jewish people as they wandered the desert and worked their way towards the Promised Land.

And these shepherds did something amazing. They did not just take this message of joy and go back to their work. They did not just pretend that nothing had happened. They went out and searched for Jesus. And they found him! They shared with Mary and Joseph what the angels had told them. And then they left and went back to their jobs right? They just headed back to the fields and back to what they had been doing before the angels show up right?

No and that is something else that is so amazing! Verse twenty reads, “The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them.” So yes, they did go back but they went back praising God. They went back singing about what they had just seen. They were probably causing quite a raucous to be honest and others must have heard them. People probably stopped them along the way, asking them what was going on.

These shepherds, these common people, knew that this message they had just heard was something special. They knew it was not just for them. They knew that a message this amazing, one delivered by angels, was for everyone. This message was one that was meant to be shared. This message was one that would have an impact for all people. It was a message that would shake the very foundations of the world. It was a message of joy.

You know I tried very hard to think of what kind of message I could compare this to in today’s world that might be on par with this one. I tried to think of what thing I could hear that would instill in me and make rise up a feeling of joy so powerful and pure like the shepherds experienced. And I really could not come up with much. The closest thing I could think of was the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world.

And that is an amazing message. One I have often called not the Good News, but rather the Greatest News. But in a way, I am not sure it is even the same in some ways. Because while the Good News is about the completion of the ministry of Jesus Christ and the salvation that has been secured, this message of joy was about the beginning. It was a message of hope. A message of peace. It carried with it limitless anticipation and possibilities.

And in fact, I would argue that this message, if delivered in the same way today, would probably not have garnered the same response as it did then. Can you imagine you and some of your coworkers or friends are sitting out in a field doing some harvesting, or maybe sitting in your office spaces working, or whatever your workplace looks like. And then all of a sudden a choir of angels appears. I am guessing some people would still be scared like the shepherds probably were.

But how many people might grab for their smart phones and start taking pictures? And then posting those pictures online? Granted this message of joy might have gotten spread a bit faster, but would it have been received and accepted? How many people would brush it off as some special effects trick? Or a promo for some new movie or product? We are such a skeptical people these days…

And that is with some good reason. Over time we have uncovered many tricks and conspiracies and histories of falseness and deceit. But I wonder if because of all of that, if this message came to us today in the same way, would we be able to find the joy in it that the shepherds did? Would we be able to put aside our skepticism and see the truth and joy in the message the angels were bringing?

I am not sure we would, but I think there is still hope for us. As I mentioned before, we have the completion of this story already known to us in the Good News of Jesus Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. And if we cannot find some sense of joy in that message, then I am not sure we can find joy anywhere.

But we need to reclaim our joy. We need to remember what that message really meant. For Mary, it was the joy of a baby and a family. For the shepherds is was the joy of a savior. A savior for these people who had been waiting so very long, from the times of the prophets of the Old Testament, for the fulfillment of this great promise.

So how can we reclaim that joy? How can we make it real again for us and our world today? How can we experience the joy that was realized that night so long ago? Well what if we looked at what that joy was back then? Can we find joy in our own families? Can’t we find joy in the time we share together, the happy memories we have built up, the love that comes from family, no matter how that family is structured or composed?

Can we find joy like the shepherds did in celebrating the coming of our Savior, the one who will save us from our sins and from ourselves? Can’t we find joy in knowing that despite our own failings and the trappings of this world, we have been promised eternal life and salvation? Can’t we find joy in knowing that God loves us so much that He would send His only Son to save us and all creation?

And just like the shepherds, shouldn’t we share that joy? Shouldn’t we go running through the streets singing and praising God for this wondrous message of joy? Can you even picture that? Just imagine you and all of the people sitting here in this sanctuary going out on Christmas Eve, running around Hemlock or Shields or even Saginaw, singing and praising God.

I think that would be really, really amazing to not just watch, but to participate in. To let the pure joy of this Advent season run through every inch of our bodies and to go out and share it with the world. To do something radical and unexpected. You see I think people expect us as Christians to be in church, singing hymns, and praying, and reading Scripture. They expect us to be calm and maybe even a bit reserved.

But what if instead we shouted out with joy? What if we ran through the streets singing and praising God? I think we might turn some heads. I think we might surprise a lot of people. But I also think we might experience something pretty amazing ourselves. I think we might begin to feel some of that joy that the shepherds felt. I think we might be able to reclaim and relive that moment that the shepherds shared.

Now I know running through the streets is not for everyone. Especially late at night in the middle of winter. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do something else radical. And I am not claiming to know exactly what that might be or what it should look like. But in this Advent season of hope, and of peace, and of joy, we can listen to where God is calling us and then act. I hope you are able to find not only hope and peace this Advent season, but also experience the same joy that the shepherds did that fateful night. Amen.

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Angel With A Message Of Peace – Matthew 1:18-25

Peace…Is that a word that we really know? Do we really understand what the reality of peace really is? A news article in the New York Times from 2003 reported that over the past three thousand four hundred documented years, humans have only been entirely at peace for about two hundred and sixty-eight of them, or what calculates to about eight percent. If you add in the eleven years since then, during which I don’t think we could claim any additional years of worldwide peace, it comes closer to about seven and a half percent.

Those numbers are not only saddening and disheartening, but also incredibly disturbing. When I actually looked this information up I had to step away from my work and go and give AJ a hug to try to feel better. Less than eight percent of the last three thousand four hundred documented years of humanity have been years of worldwide peace. Some experts estimate that since nineteen forty-five, or about seventy years, there have only been 26 days of peace. In seventy years. Or what works out to about one tenth of a percent.

So what do we really know of peace? Many of you in this room were born into a time of war, or grew up in one. Many of you even served your country in a war or conflict or police action. And I can say I am very thankful to each and every person who served, in whatever capacity, to help keep our country free from tyranny and oppression. I am only sorry that as God’s creation, we have not been able to know an extended time of peace in our world.

American composer and playwright, Jonathan Larson, might be best known to many in my generation for his musical titled Rent. In one of the high energy numbers one of the lead characters makes the claim that “The opposite of war isn’t peace… It’s creation!” And while I never met Mr. Larson or spent any time in deep research of his beliefs, I have to wonder if he wasn’t on to something. If Mr. Larson was aware of the lack of peace in our world, as I suspect he was, I can see how his thinking might work.

It would make sense to say that the opposite of war is not peace, because even in times when there have not been large global wars, or even wars between different governments, there still has not been peace. There are the times before war when tension builds and things begin to deteriorate. Definitely not times of peace. Even after wars end, there is tension and fighting and not any form of true, worldwide peace. So since we cannot seem to achieve peace, maybe we can at least achieve some type of creation when war is not being waged. But we will come back to that idea.

So what does this have to do with a young woman and her fiancé thousands of years ago? Well, let’s take a look. As I mentioned last week, Mary and Joseph were living in a time of unrest and rioting too. King Herod has made some decisions that involved the temple and caused a great uproar amongst many of the people. So even in the time leading up to the birth of Jesus there was no peace to be had in the world.

And what about war and peace that occurs within a family? Let’s take a look at one of the characters of focus from our reading today, Joseph. When Joseph found out that Mary was already pregnant, the passage says “Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” That’s pretty impressive when you think about it. Joseph didn’t publicly shame her. He didn’t out her to the community and get her attacked and stoned.

And he could have. That would have been in line with the society of their day. Heck in today’s world, he probably would have dragged her on to the Maury Povich show and had a paternity test done. But that’s not what happened. As the passage read, Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to make a big scene and embarrass her or get her in trouble. It says something about Joseph’s character and that he at least seemed to have some compassion.

There is often a big focus in many faith traditions about the importance of God choosing Mary to be the mother of Jesus. But I have to wonder if there was not just a big of focus in that choice because of the character of Joseph. Think about for a minute. Even before the angel comes to Joseph, he is planning a peaceful and compassionate resolution to the situation. And then, once the angel comes to him, he accepts what is told to him and stays with Mary and cares for her. He keeps her safe. He provides for her. And what’s more, he does the same thing for Jesus. A child that he knows is not his own. A child that he devotes his time and energy to as if it was his own.

Now yes, you can make the argument that he only did that because the angel came and told him that the child was God’s son. But I have to think that if that was the case, he might not have put in the effort that we see. Even if what he was doing was out of fear, you have to think there would be some resentment or something. But that is not what we are told. In fact, there is very little we are told about Joseph.

But there are some things that we can assume. Jesus was educated, so Joseph must have been helping there either financially or actually teaching him. Joseph was a carpenter and back then, many children followed in the footsteps of their parents. So we can also assume that Joseph at some point taught Jesus something about carpentry, a useful skill set. From what we have here, it seems pretty clear that Joseph cared for Jesus as if he was his own child.

So back to that line from Mr. Larson, “The opposite of war isn’t peace… It’s creation!” Is that true? Can we really say that the opposite of war is creation, not peace? I’m not sure. I feel like I could argue it either way. But here is one thing I do believe. I think peace and creation can go hand-in-hand. That is not to say that war and creation do not. Many important innovations have been developed during wartime or as a result of a need during wartime.

But in the context of this passage, I feel there is a connection between peace and creation. According to the title of my sermon, I have called the message from this angel to Joseph a message of peace. And I believe it is if for no other reason than the message helped keep peace in Mary’s life by keeping Mary and Joseph together. But out of that message of peace came creation – the creation of a family. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus became a family through this message of peace.

And I strongly see this as a message of peace. The angel says to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Don’t be afraid. The child was not conceived in some torrid affair, but rather is the Son of God. Joseph does not have to worry that Mary was unfaithful. He does not have to question her commitment to him.

And this son will go on to do great things! He will save his people from their sins! He is going to make things right! Joseph could see what was happening out in his community the same way that Mary did. Riots. Fighting. Chaos. And here he is hearing about the great things that this child will do. Just like Mary might have assumed that Jesus would bring peace, so might Joseph have had that same hope and understanding.

So how does this work for us today? How do we use this message of peace in our world now? Well if we are being honest, the truth is that this message has been used probably more in war than in peace. How many “holy wars” have been fought? How many arguments and fights have come out of this message? We can look at the Crusades or even some of the conflicts in the Middle East as having some foundations in this message. So what are we to do?

Well, remember when I talked about peace and creation working together? I think that is the key. I think we need to look at this message of peace in ways that lead to some creation. Creation of love. Creation of acceptance. Creation of new ministries. Creation of outreach. Maybe we could use this message of peace to create new venues to touch the lives of other people. How awesome would that be?

Creating something founded in the peace of this message about God’s love for the world. Creating something that is built upon the grace of this message of peace. And while you can argue that in the end the Church itself was created out of this message of peace, I still think there is more we can do. Our God is the original creator. We can find inspiration in that work of creation in the love and dedication that God displayed through the savings acts of Jesus Christ.

But now, it’s our turn to create. It is our turn to find inspiration in this message of peace to create something new, something that will benefit others. And what we create can be anything. It could be something within ourselves that helps to reflect God’s love for all creation. It could be something like when we buy gifts for many of the families in need and that allows us to share the blessings that God bestows upon us. It could be almost anything!

The only requirements that I see that must be addressed or adhered to are that while finding inspiration in the message of peace, it must also ultimately encourage peace. The goal must be to help to bring about peace to the creation that God has sacrificed so much to be in relationship with. We can no longer allow this message of the coming Savior to be used for war, for deceit, for oppression, for suffering. It must be reclaimed for the peace and grace of God.

So what will you go out and create? Will you accept this challenge? And it is not my challenge. I know almost every week I stand up here and leave you with a challenge or request. But this one is not from me. This one comes from the highest power, the highest authority. God has called each and every Christian to go out and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

And there are lots of ways to do that. There is unlimited potential for creation based upon this message of peace. I pray that you take up this calling, accept what God has entrusted to you, and create. Create something beautiful. Create something of love. Create something that centers on this message of peace for the world. The season of Advent is one of many messages and unlimited possibilities. May God bless you, inspire you, and guide you to create in love in the name of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

 

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Angel With a Message of Hope – Luke 1:26-38

Riots. Fighting. Buildings set ablaze. Property destroyed. Chaos in the streets. The locals are furious with the decisions of their leadership and are lashing out in anger and rage. What a horrible image. But this image I have described is not actually the one that we have seen plastered all over the news in reference to the troubles in Ferguson, Missouri. No, this is actually the reality that existed under the rule of King Herod Archelaus, the same King Herod who was in power at the time of Jesus’ birth.

So just like today in the midst of the chaos and anger of a people, we might often feel like all we can do is hold out for one single thing: hope. Hope for peace. Hope for justice. Hope for love. In a time of such unrest, the people were desperate for a sign of hope, some message of hope. If only God would send some sign, some message of hope for the people. And God did just that…

In our Scripture reading this morning we begin with reading that God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee called Nazareth to give a message to a young girl about her future, and the future of the world. But before we get to that message, let us talk a bit more about this angel named Gabriel. What do we really know about Gabriel? Well here are seven “fun facts” about the angel Gabriel!

Fun fact number one, the angel Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the New Testament, as we just heard, he brings the good news of Jesus’ coming birth to Mary. However, that is not Gabriel’s first mention in the Bible. Delivering that message to Mary, that was not his first rodeo in the message delivering business. The first time we find a mention of Gabriel is in eighth chapter of the book of Daniel when God tells Gabriel to help explain a vision to the Daniel.

Fun fact number two, Gabriel stands in the presence of God which is a pretty big deal. We know this because that is how Gabriel describes himself to Zacharias when he tells him that he will have a son, later to be known as John the Baptist, in the Gospel of Luke. The Greek word for “stands” is paristánō, which translates to waiting before a superior. Interestingly, that is the same word used in other ancient texts to describe how Joshua served Moses and how David assisted King Saul.

Fun fact number three, Gabriel and Michael are the only two angels explicitly named in the Protestant Bible. That’s right, just those two are named. And Michael is described as a warrior archangel. Did you know that angels are mentioned over one hundred times in the Old Testament and around one hundred and sixty-five times in the New Testament? Yet only those two, Gabriel and Michael, are ever acknowledged with a name.

Fun fact number four, the Bible doesn’t ever specifically call Gabriel an archangel. So how did that idea come about? Well in the early Catholic and Orthodox traditions, The Book of Tobit explains that the angels who stand in the presence of God are considered archangels. And since we know from fun fact number two that Gabriel stands in the presence of God, we can see why traditionally Gabriel has been thought of as an archangel.

Fun fact number five, Gabriel is described as looking like a man. The name Gabriel is said to mean “man of God” or “strength of God.” Now the second time that Daniel encounters Gabriel in chapter nine, he describes Gabriel as a “man [. . .] seen in the vision previously.” But other than that, we don’t get any other details on what Gabriel looks like. While the Bible does describe some angels as having wings, not all are described that way…

Fun fact number six, Gabriel apparently scares people. For instance, when Daniel first meets Gabriel, he is frightened and falls down on his face. When Zacharias greets Gabriel, Gabriel tells him not to be afraid. Now when Mary meets Gabriel, his greeting to her is more celebratory, but he still follows up by telling her not to be afraid.

Fun fact number seven, Gabriel likes to tell people about Jesus coming. So I guess in a way maybe Gabriel is really the first evangelist… You see, Gabriel relays a prophecy concerning “Messiah the Prince” to Daniel. Now many scholars argue about if this is truly the foretelling of Jesus, but it is easy to see how it could be when put with what we have in the New Testament. Gabriel also tells Zacharias that his son, John the Baptist, will be a forerunner before the Lord. And then, most famously of course, Gabriel tells Mary that her son will be called “the Son of the Most High.”

So that’s Gabriel in a nutshell. But what about his message? What about this desire for some sign or message of hope for the world? Well, Gabriel does deliver that message. Except it is only given to a few people. From what we just talked about Daniel, Zacharias, and Mary were a pretty select group. But, it was still a message of hope for each of them and for the world.

For Daniel, he receives the message of hope for the future. Unfortunately for him, it is a rather distant future that he will not live to see on this earth. But it is still a message of hope for what will come and what will be for his people and for the world.

For Zacharias, the whole message from Gabriel is about hope. First Gabriel tells him that he is going to be a father after getting older and older and never having any children. And while Zacharias does not believe him at first, I have to think that a small part of Zacharias was hopeful that Gabriel’s words would come true. But then also Zacharias finds hope in that his son will be this “forerunner for the Lord.” That’s a pretty big deal.

For Mary, there is a great deal of hope in Gabriel’s message. First, she is told that she has found favor with God. This isn’t just a gold sticker from your grade school teacher for good work. She has found FAVOR with GOD! I don’t know about you, but if I heard an angel tell me that, I would be extremely hopeful about what they would say to me next. But there is more for Mary to find hope within Gabriel’s words.

Gabriel then tells Mary that she is going to become pregnant and will be carrying “the Son of the Most High.” That alone sounds pretty special, and I can only imagine the hopeful feelings this young girl must have been feeling. But Gabriel then continues to tell her, “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

I’ll bet you could have heard a pin drop after he said that. God will give him the throne that David once ruled on and he will reign forever. David was considered one of the greatest rulers EVER for the Jewish people. And if God was going to give her son David’s throne, well that has to mean that her son would be just as a great a ruler right?

That had to give Mary hope. She saw the condition of her community and her people. She saw the rioting, the anger, the murder, the violence. Her son was going to rule and it is not hard to imagine Mary envisioning his rule as one of peace and prosperity. Mary’s world was becoming full of hope. I mean this had to feel like winning the Mega Millions right?

But Mary does raise a very important question. She asks Gabriel, how this is going to happen since she is still a virgin and has never been with anyone. And even though she doesn’t say it, at least that we know of based on what is in our scriptures, she had to be wondering what was going to happen when her fiancé found out she was pregnant. Back then that kind of thing did not typically just end with breaking off the engagement. I mean that could happen, but it was more likely that she would have been publicly shamed, an outcast in society, or even stoned.

But Gabriel tells her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Now talk about a strong faith. I think if someone today heard this, most people would still be arguing over what would happen to them when their fiancé found out. But not Mary. Nope. Instead, she simply replies “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Mary must have had a faith stronger than anything to respond like that. Here she is being told that she is going to become pregnant before she is married, and not by her fiancé but rather by God. And she doesn’t complain about what might happen to her because of the rules and laws of her society. She doesn’t cry and worry about Joseph rejecting her. No. She just very simply accepts this situation. There had to be some serious hope in her that day. Hope for her people. Hope for her child. Hope for herself. This message was just filled with hope no matter what angle you look at it with.

And we can find hope in this message too. We can find the same hope that people for thousands of years who share the same beliefs in God and Jesus Christ have found. We can find hope in the idea that God loves our world enough to send His Son into it to save it. We can find hope in someone going against the popular views of society and caring for a child that is not really his own, because we know how this story plays out.

And just like the reality of the situations back then, our world is struggling right now. There is anger, there is hate, there is violence, there is injustice, and there is fear. Just like back then. In some two thousand years, the world is really not that much different in certain ways. People still fight. People still sin. People still do things that hurt others. But also just like these similarities, there is also another big one that we need to remember. And that is hope.

Just like Daniel, and Zacharias, and Mary, we know that there is hope. And if anything, we might know it even better than they did because we come into this story long after the events they were witness to. We know how the story continued on. We know what happened next. And we know what has happened since. We know about the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made to save us from sin and eternal death. We know about the salvation and eternal life found in God’s grace for all humanity and all creation.

But our hope is also much like theirs as well. All three were hoping for change, for a better tomorrow. And we are still holding onto that hope. Yes, we have the knowledge of what Jesus did and how that promises a better tomorrow at the end of life. But those three and all of us here today are still holding out hope for change and a better world now. And we can see that hope become a reality through Jesus as well.

Because in Jesus we have that template, that example of how to live, how to treat one another, and most importantly how to love. Remember Jesus gave us the two greatest commandments. Love the Lord your God with everything you have. And love your neighbor as you love yourself. If we can all follow that, then the future, tomorrow is full of endless possibilities and hopes.

It is my deepest and sincerest hope this Advent season that you are able to feel the same hope that Daniel, Zacharias, and Mary all felt so very long ago. An eternal hope placed in a loving God. An unending hope rooted in the promise of a new covenant. A hope full of the fire of the Holy Spirit that inspires you to share it with everyone you meet. May your Advent season be full of the hope of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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What To Do With The Leftovers? – Deuteronomy 24:19-21

This is the final week of our sermon series, Celebrate the Harvest, where we have looked at harvest and harvest celebrations as described in the Bible. The last two weeks we heard about rules or commands that God has given us in regards to these celebrations, specifically referencing the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles. This morning, we will look a little farther ahead in the book of Deuteronomy and see what else God has commanded of us.

So after a big party, what’s one of the worst things you have to deal with? I am sure some would say a hangover, but that’s not quite what I had in mind. Whenever my parents would have a big celebration at our home like when my sisters or I graduated high school or college, we always had a lot of people, a lot of food, and a lot of fun. But the next morning there was always one important thing to deal with. Clean up.

I don’t think I ever fully realized just how much work went into these events until I got to the cleanup part. From collecting the trash and recyclable items, to putting away chairs and tables, to straightening the place back up, cleanup was always the worst. I mean you wake up still tired from going to bed late and expending all the energy the day before. And then on top of that, you have all this work ahead of you when you’d probably rather just roll back over and go back to sleep.

But one of the best things about the aftermath of a big celebration is of course the leftovers! After Thanksgiving making turkey sandwiches! Reheating the mashed potatoes! I know some people make soup with the leftover meat and vegetables. And of course, any leftover desserts are always the best! We always had leftovers for days, whether it was Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter.

And it seemed in a way to make the holidays last that much longer. The memories and feelings from those times together with our loved ones, we also associate with the flavors and tastes that come with them. So that spoon full of mashed potatoes helps make the joy last a little bit longer. That fork full of turkey helps hold those loved ones here that much longer. It can be a really great way to extend the joys of our celebrations.

But what about back in the time of the ancient Israelites back in the Old Testament? What were they to do with the leftovers? They didn’t have Tupperware or Glad Plastic Wrap. There were no Maytag refrigerators. There were no deep freezers. And while they did have some preservation methods like using salt to preserve meats, it was nothing like what we have right now. So what were they to do?

Well, God did give them some insight in these matters. Let’s go back to our passage for today. It reads, “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.”

Now I grant that these instructions from God are speaking to the people before the festival when they are gathering the harvest, not afterwards when the festival has ended. But there is still a great deal of relevance. God is speaking to the Israelites about what they should do with the excess of their harvest. And in doing so, God is also telling them how they should treat the less fortunate.

God tells them that they should leave behind the excess for the alien, the orphan and the widow. Back in this time, aliens, or foreigners were not typically given the same rights or treated the same way as the local people. Can you even imagine that? What if when you went to the Upper Peninsula, you weren’t guaranteed the same rights and privileges as the locals? And I don’t mean like getting out of a speeding ticket. I mean like the rights that we are guaranteed under the Constitution of this country.

What if when you traveled out of state, you no longer had the right to drive your car? Or could not purchase goods and services? What if when you went on vacation in another part of our country you were treated like a second class citizen and even oppressed? But that is the reality that many “aliens” or foreigners faced back then.

And what about the orphans? Orphans having not parents had no inheritance. They had no property. They had nothing. These children were often left to their own devices and chances at survival. There was no Department of Family and Children Services. There were no places for them to go. They were on their own, just trying to scrape by and survive.

What about the widows? Almost the same problem as the orphans. In many areas women were not allowed to own property. So if their husband died and they did not have any sons that could take over the family and care for them, they were out of luck. In a patriarchal society like the Israelites lived in, women were often second class citizens to begin with. Take their husband away and now they were really in trouble.

So what does God tell the Israelites? God tells them when they are harvesting their grains or their olives or their grapes to leave some behind for these people. God is telling them to share with those less fortunate, those in need, from the abundance that God has blessed them with. God is telling the Israelites to show compassion for these people who society had turned their backs to.

They are even told in verse nineteen that there is another reason that God wants them to do this. It says in the second half of the verse to do this “so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings.” God is telling them to show compassion to these people, to help out these people, so that God will continue to bless the Israelites in their lives. God wants them to be good stewards of the blessings He has bestowed upon them. God wants them to bless others through the blessings that they have received.

And this message, this last rule of the harvest that we are looking at, still applies to us today. God still wants us to care for the downtrodden and oppressed of our world. God still wants us to share the blessings we have received with those in need. And it’s not just told to us here in this passage from the Old Testament. How many times in the New Testament do we find Jesus showing compassion for the poor and the oppressed? How many times do we find Jesus telling the people to care for these people? It’s all over the New Testament!

And we do that already don’t we? Through our offerings, our mission work, the time we give to help others through the missions and ministry of this congregation. So do we need to be reminded of this again? Am I forgetting all of the good work that you all do through this church?

Of course not. This congregation has a lot of good work that it can look back on and know that you are doing the work that God has called us to. From the food pantry to the rummage sales and countless other things. There is no question in my mind that this congregation is already working very hard to live into this final rule that we are talking about here.

So why did I chose this Scripture? Why bring this all up again? Why rehash what is essentially the commandment to love one another as yourself? Well, I want you to think about it in a new way. I want you to think about fulfilling this rule of sharing the blessings with others beyond what we do on a normal, everyday or every week basis. I want you to think about all of this as how it relates to our planning for this congregation.

And there are two ways want you to think about it. First, I want you to think about how and in what ways this congregation is blessed. Where is our harvest most bountiful? Is it financially? Is it in love? Is it in our ability to teach? To comfort? How is this congregation blessed in real ways, real and quantifiable ways?

We need to compile an inventory of these ways and these things. We need to acknowledge those things that we are in excess of. If we do not really know what we have, how can we hope to use it later on? The ways in which we are blessed, that excess of blessings, those are all part of our identity. They are part of who we are, both as individuals and as a congregation.

The second part is how do we share those blessings, that bounty from God, with others? And who are those with which we should share it? It is easy to say that we should just share everything with everyone and call it a day. That’s a really nice idea, but one that does not translate well to practical reality and the world in which we live. So we need to have a plan. We need to make some choices.

We need to consider who God is calling us the most strongest towards to share our blessings with. Is it the youth in our town and the surrounding neighborhoods? Is it the veterans who are lacking for housing and basic needs? Is it the shut-ins who can no longer explore the world they once knew? Is it all of them? Or is it some other group or groups that we haven’t even identified yet?

Well, that’s what we are going to try and figure out. We are going to work to discern where God is directing us to go and to do. We are going to talk to people. We are going to look at community research. We are going to use the resources that we have, from data to prayer, to discern just where God is calling us. We are going to move this congregation forward and we are going to make an impact in our community and in this world. Even if it’s one person at a time.

So as I close this message today I want to again ask you what I asked you last week. To pray, just five minutes a day, every day, from now until the end of the calendar year. That’s only thirty-nine more days. One hundred and ninety-five minutes. Or just over three hours. It can be any time of day. Just five minutes of dedicated prayer.

And I am asking you to focus that dedicated prayer time on prayers for direction, prayers for peace, and prayers for love. If we can all come together in prayer, as one voice asking and trusting God to lead us forward, just imagine what we might hear? Imagine what we might be able to accomplish for God’s ministry and for the people of this community and this world. Let us imagine together. Let us pray together. And let’s see just where God leads us together.

Amen.

 

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Party Rules: Part II – Deuteronomy 16:13-15

We will continue this morning with our sermon series titled, Celebrate the Harvest, where we are looking at the harvest and harvest celebrations in the Bible. Last week we looked at a passage from the book of Exodus that focused on the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths. This morning, we read from the book of Deuteronomy where we find this feast again mentioned and more outlined about it.

We like to party don’t we? When you look at our culture and society, I think that’s a fair assessment. We enjoy celebrating birthdays, graduations, baptisms, anniversaries, retirements, and much more. Any major milestone or event in our lives deserves a celebration, whether big or small. We celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s Eve. We gather with loved ones and decorate and eat a lot of food.

We even have stores dedicated to parties. From the party stores we find within and around our town, to places like Party City where you can get all kinds of decorations and balloons and anything else you could possibly want for your event. You want a Hawaiian luau theme for your son’s graduation party? They have it. Want to have a Disney Princess theme birthday party for your daughter. Done. There is a whole industry dedicated to parties and celebrations.

So I have to wonder, what kind of person are each of you at a party? Are you the “life of the party”, right in the middle of everything with a crowd around you? Or are you the one who is busy making sure everyone else is having a great time, filling drinks and helping out wherever needed? Or perhaps you are the DJ, keeping watch over the music and making sure every gets to hear at least one of their favorites? Or are you maybe more of the wallflower or people watcher, observing others and just enjoying all the activity?

I have my guesses, and have even witnessed some of you first hand at events we have held. But there are lots of different personalities and types of people at parties and gatherings from those holding court to the storytellers to the observers. They are each different in their own ways, but they all come together to make for an enjoyable time as family or friends. And that’s why we have parties right? To have a good time. To have fun. To make memories. To spend time with those who matter to us.

Author and theologian Frederick Buechner once wrote, “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.” And did you know that God wants to us have a good time when we are having a celebration or a party? I mean, that’s one of the things that this passage tells us. One translation of these verses reads as, “Thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, and, because the Lord shall bless thee, thou shalt surely rejoice.”

This is saying that it is the will of God that his children should be a joyous people. Let’s think about this. In the Old Testament the people of Israel, those under God’s law, were instructed to rejoice and celebrate before God. And they did! But what about now? As God’s children living in the new covenant that comes from God’s grace in the Gospel, isn’t it our responsibility and honor to rejoice and celebrate not only at times like these feasts and traditions, but also to always rejoice. Because we have that Good News. We have that salvation found in Jesus Christ that is more appropriate than anything else to celebrate!

As much as the ancient Israelites had to celebrate in the love of God back then, look at how much more we have to celebrate now. And I don’t mean our technology or our medicine or anything like that. I mean our eternal salvation that Jesus died for and rose again after defeating death and sin. We have that new covenant of love with God that came through those saving acts of Jesus. I’ll be honest, I feel like we should be celebrating that very reality every single day.

But there is more we can take away from this passage in Deuteronomy. As we continue in verse fourteen it says, “Rejoice during your festival, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female slaves, as well as the Levites, the strangers, the orphans, and the widows resident in your towns.” So it’s not just that we ourselves should be celebrating, but that we should be bringing others to celebrate with us. The more the merrier right?

Seriously though, when we are rejoicing in the love and grace of God ourselves, we should also be working to bring others to rejoice with us. We should be doing everything we can to help others to know the joy that we know in God. And we are called to be rejoicing in God not just because of the blessings and things we receive now in this life. No, we should also be celebrating because of that promise, that Good News – that is our future.

So here in these few verses we have two more commands or rules from God about how we celebrate. The first, to celebrate with joy and happiness the promise and hope we find in our God. And second, to share that celebration with all people and bring people to the celebration. So how do we do that? How do we take these rules given so long ago, and apply them to today? How do we live into these expectations that God has given to his children?

Well, that’s up to you. You see, as we come together to discuss the future of this congregation and the role we hope to play in our community and our world, that is just what we will be figuring out. Because if we celebrate the Good News every day of our lives, and share it with others, that is the ministry that God calls us to. And we know that, so we just need to decide exactly how we are going to do it.

How are we going to celebrate the blessings and promise of God’s love and grace? How are we going to live joyously and rejoice daily in the Good News of this new covenant? How are we going to blow the roof of this place with an outcry of celebration of God’s love for his people and his creation?

And then we must answer the question of how we are going to bring that celebration to the world. How are we going to share it with others? How are we going to invite our community into the party? How are we going to spread the joy and happiness we have in God’s love and grace throughout the world?

Are we going to shake the very foundations of this building with our cries of joy and excitement and rejoicing? Are we going to wear God’s love upon our hearts for all to see? Are we going to let God’s love shine in us to be beacons of hope for the world? Are we going to open those doors and invite the world to join us in this worship space? Or maybe we are going to go out of those doors into the world and seek out the world to share the Good News.

Whatever the plan will come to be and look like in the end, the goal, the mission is clear. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I have asked you many times before to imagine a world where people lead their lives with love, or do something else counter to what we tend to do. Now I am asking you to imagine a world that raises a joyous sound in celebration of God’s love and grace.

Imagine it! A world-wide party based on love, acceptance, care, and joy. What would it look like if everyone knew about God and Jesus and the love for creation that led to eternal salvation? Care you picture it? Can you see the smiles on people’s faces? People of every race, every nation, every age, every gender? Can you see that beautiful image?

But that image is a little ways away yet. We are not yet there. There is much work to do and the Church needs help to do it. That is why we are coming together to plan and pray and discern what God is calling this congregation to do. We are working to understand what role we play in this great celebration that is yet to come. We are working to build the foundation for that celebration.

So we must think about what ministries we are being called to engage in. We must think about where God is pulling us. Should we be doing the same ministries, but make some adjustments? Should we be doing different ministries that are focused in a different way? Those are the kinds of questions we must begin to ask and consider.

The goal is not in question. The endgame is very clear and has been given to us by God. To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are called to share the celebration with everyone and bring them all to the party as we celebrate God’s love and grace for all humanity and all creation. That part of the work is done.

We must now work with God to figure out how we will get there. And if you ask me, we could not ask for a better partner to be working with. Our God wants us to be a joyous and happy people! Our God wants us to be in relationship with Him and to know His love. Our God sent His only Son to die a horrible death to win for us eternal salvation. And our God is an all-powerful God, who has always been and always will be. We will never be alone in these endeavors.

Now every week I always leave you with a challenge or a request to do something over the coming week. Well today is going to be a little different. I still have a challenge for you, but it is not just for this week. I am asking that each and every one of you take five minutes every day in prayer. But not just in your regular prayers about your life, your loved ones, or the other things you bring to God.

No I am asking for an extra five minutes each day to pray and ask God for direction for our congregation. Ask for clarity in how we can achieve God’s mission. Ask for peace that we can work together in harmony. And most of all ask for love. Love for each other and for our congregation. I ask that you do this every day from now until the end of the year.

If you start today, that’s only forty-six days. That comes out to two hundred and thirty minutes. Not even four hours between now and the end of this calendar year. If we can all do come together and dedicate that time in prayer, any time during the day that you can spare that five minutes, can you imagine what we might hear? I do not claim to know what the future will be for this congregation, but I am beyond excited to see where God is calling us and direct us to go. Won’t you join me in that excitement and celebration?

Amen.

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Party Rules – Exodus 23:16-17 & 19a

We are in the second week of our sermon series, Celebrate the Harvest, where we are focusing on the harvest and harvest celebrations as described in the Bible. As a community with deep roots in the farming industry, the idea of harvest is definitely not new to many of you but what we find in Scripture may be for some.

Rules. They are everywhere in our world. From STOP signs and track signals to how we do our taxes to the laws of our nation, rules are quite literally everywhere. And that’s probably a really good thing, at least in some cases. Without rules that people agree to follow and obey, we would be in a world of complete chaos. As it is, we struggle enough right now in our world when people choose not to follow the rules and cause harm to others.

But where else do we find rules? I know growing up when I was in school, our teacher had a set of classroom rules like not talking out of turn and sharing with others. We find rules with our money from our banks and lenders about making payments on time. It really does seem that there are rules in everything we do doesn’t it? Well at least there aren’t any rules we want to throw a party right?

Hmm…that may not be true today…Let’s see, you have rules about the drinking age. Rules about noise levels. Rules about the number of people in a given space. I guess even when we are trying to celebrate something there are rules to contend with. And again, not that those are bad things. It just adds to this idea that our world is surrounded by rules.

And I think because of that, it might be easier for us to relate to the Israelites in the Old Testament that we read about in our Scripture passage for today. In fact, a lot of the books of Exodus and Leviticus are about rules. Rules on how to live, or what to eat, or how to reconcile issues between neighbors. And while some of what is there we might not agree with for our world today, these rules were important to prevent that chaotic existence we would fear even today.

So let’s look at the rules from our reading about celebrating the harvest. The festival mentioned here, this festival or feast of ingathering is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, or Feast of Booths. It happened to coincide with the general fall harvest for the people, but not just the harvest of grain-type crops. It was also for the harvesting of crops from trees and vines like olives and grapes. This festival was a way to honor God and give thanks for the food and good harvest they enjoyed.

But then, in verse seventeen, there is another rule or command given. It says, “Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.” Now what this was meaning was that they should come to the courtyard of the tabernacle and stand there facing the opening of the tent where the tabernacle was kept. They believed that God would then be present there with them, at least symbolically, through the Ark of the Covenant, which was kept in the tabernacle. Then, the heads of the families, which were all men at this point, would stand to worship together in the courtyard.

Then we come to our final part of the reading, the first half of verse nineteen which reads, “The choicest of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.” This is focusing on bringing an offering to God for the harvest and life and blessings. But it is a little more than that. It is more than just a command to bring some type of offering to God. It is very clear that they are to bring “the choicest of the first fruits” or the very best of their harvest for God. This command is also about what is an appropriate offering to bring.

So in this short passage the Israelites get three distinct commands to follow. One, to celebrate the harvest festival. Two, to come and worship God during this time as family. And three, to bring with them the best offering they are able to. Three different commands, yet they are serve the same purpose. They are all ways to worship and praise God for the good things God has done for these people.

But how does this relate to us today? We don’t really have harvest festivals in the same way that these ancient people did. Yes we might have some celebrations around the time of harvest, but ours are probably more well-known for hayrides and apple picking than for worship and offerings. That is not to condemn what we do by any means, just pointing out the differences. And we should expect those differences because we live in a much different world than the one the ancient Israelites knew.

But I think that we can still recognize and act upon the tree commands or rules given the Israelites in our own way here today. Let’s start with the first one. Celebrate the harvest festival that aims to give praise to God for a bountiful harvest. Sounds simple enough right? Now we may not chose to, or even be able to, celebrate in the exact same way as they did back then. But I think we can still celebrate and give praise and thanksgiving somehow right?

Hey! Thanksgiving!! Isn’t that a time of celebrating with family when we remember all of the things we are thankful for, or you know…blessings? Isn’t that a time when we give thanks to God for all of the good things in our lives like family and friends? And it’s right around the harvest time and we eat a lot of foods that fit into that harvest schedule. So maybe we are already doing this in a way. But maybe we could add to it or focus a little more on the thankful part than the shopping for the next big holiday that tends to creep into that time. Just a thought…

How about the second command or rule? Come and worship God together as family. Well, while we don’t usually have a worship service on Thanksgiving Day, we do have many around it. So are we already doing this one too? Well I guess that might depend on how we define family. If we think of family as blood relatives, or in the same way our legal system acknowledges family members, then it probably depends on where your family lives.

If you are fortunate enough to have your family members living close by, then you may be able to worship together as a family during this time. But what do you do if your family doesn’t live close by? What if they live in another city? Or another state? Or even another country? Then what? Or what if your family doesn’t always get along and you don’t celebrate holidays together? Then what do you do?

Well, as we have talked about before, family can be defined in many ways. If instead of limiting our understanding of family as blood relatives, we expand it to include our family of the Church, our brothers and sisters in Christ, then it looks a little different. Then we can be surrounded in worship with our family. And while the Israelites had the male held of household to lead them, we have the head of the Church universal, Jesus Christ to lead us. Not bad huh?

And then our last command or rule. Bring with us to worship the very best of what we have to offer, our greatest offering. So is that just mean to bring the most money we can? Does that make those who are better off financially than others better givers? Not at all. You see offering does not just mean money. Offering is a gift, a gift that given of one’s self. When we have our offering in a little while today you will hear me say something very specific about offerings.

As I do every worship, I outline our offerings as our time, our talents, and our tithes. So it’s not just about our money. It’s about sharing all of the gifts God has blessed us with whether those gifts are financial, our giving our time to God’s ministry, or using the talents we have for God’s ministry. If you give your time helping out at a rescue mission or with a food pantry, that is an offering of your time. If you help repair something here at the church or for someone in your neighborhood who can’t afford to hire to someone to do it, that is an offering of your talents.

Because in those selfless acts, you are witnessing to others through your actions the love of God. You are that light to the world. You are being Jesus to others. You are living the love of God for the world. The passage talks about bringing the best offering you have. Well you know what that really is? It’s not money. It’s not even really just your time and talents. The absolutely greatest offering that you have been blessed with that you can bring back to God is your life.

What I mean is that the greatest offering you can give to God to be dedicated to God’s ministry in the world is your entire life. Your words. Your actions. Your efforts. Your time. Your talents. EVERYTHING! If you live your life with love, with God’s unconditional love for all the world, you are giving your life in offering. If you are Jesus to the world, through your words and actions, you are giving your life in offering. If you let God’s light shine through you in your life as a beacon of hope and promise for others, then you are giving your life in offering. How awesome is that?

And how awesome is it that we can find a connection like this to those ancient Israelites? How good does it feel to know that even though it may not be in the same ways, we are still honoring those same rules and commands that they were given by God so very long ago? I’d say it feels pretty good. I’d say it is very awesome to have that connection. Yes our contexts are very different between then and now, but there is still one impossibly strong constant that continues to exist. And that’s God and God’s love.

Well as I look to bring this message to a close, I will again bring to you a challenge that I hope you are willing to take up and own. As we prepare to meet together as a congregation and look towards the future and where God is calling us to be active in His ministry and in the world, I want you to very seriously consider that third command or rule. I want you to think long and hard about what your very best offering that you can bring to God is.

Think about what you currently are bringing in offering to God, whether your time or your talents or your tithes. Think about why you bring what you bring. Think about why it is important to you. And then think about what else you can bring in offering to God in thanks and praise for all of the blessings in your life. Think about bringing all of you, your life and your very being. As we begin to dream and plan together it is those offerings of ourselves, our entire selves, that will move those dreams forward and see those plans come to fruition. So what can you bring in offering? Amen.

 

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Seasons Change – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Well it’s the start of a new month as we enter into November, which also means that it’s the beginning of a new sermon series too. “Celebrate the Harvest” is the title of our new series and we will be following it for the next four weeks.

Now this one probably won’t have any sound effects like our last sermon series, but I think you will enjoy it just the same. We will begin to look at what the Bible tells us about the time of harvest and harvest celebrations. So as the leaves continue to change and the season of fall moves along, let us explore together the Scriptures and messages of God.

When we think about seasons changing, we probably think about leaves changing colors, the first snow fall, the first signs of plant life after a thaw, or the daylight lasting longer and longer from the summer days. In the short time that I have been here with you all I feel like I have been able to fully experience both the summer and fall seasons, with a little bit of winter and spring thrown in there.

Winter because of how quickly it seems to have gotten cold and the frost on the lawn that greets me some mornings. And spring because of all of the rain storms we have had already reminds me of the old saying, “April showers brings May flowers.” Although in our case it may be something more like, “July storms chases away October warms…” Sorry, that sounded a lot better in my head I think…

Anyways, as humans we tend to think of seasons in only the terms of our weather and calendar usually. Summer is time for fun outdoors swimming and running around. Fall is the time we focus on the harvest and the holidays begin. Winter is all about snow and cold and for those who are Christian, celebrating the birth of our Savior. And then Spring with the rain and signs of new life, and a time when we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior that brings us new life.

These seasons have also been used in the past to help track the passage of time. Just like sunrises and sunsets and other reoccurring things in nature, the changing of the seasons has been used to show the passage of time for record keeping, storytelling, and more. As seasons come into our reality and then move along, making room for the next, we are continually blessed in each of those times. I do realize the apparent irony of that statement given the conditions of last winter. But trust me, even in the coldest times God is blessing us and sometimes in new ways we don’t even realize.

But is a season, the word season, only talking about the four seasons we acknowledge in nature? Or depending on where you are from the two seasons, winter and construction. Let’s take a look back at our Scripture reading for today from the book of Ecclesiastes and read again what we find there…

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”

So it would seem that when it comes to seasons, we can find more than just the four in nature we commonly acknowledge.

Now this Scripture has been used for many faith-related events and happenings. It has been used most commonly for funerals and memorial services. And it is a very appropriate passage when we talk about the different times for things, as well as acknowledging the many times and things in life that happen. This passage is just as much about the time for things as it is about naming the realities of the human experience.

A time for birth and a time for death. We were all born and one day we will all pass on. A time to plant and a time to harvest. I don’t think I even need to spend any time on that one given the number of farmers we have in this community. A time to kill and a time to heal. This one could be taken a few different ways including a time to kill relationships, and a time to heal from them. Or it could be taken the literal sense of taking a life, which happens not only amongst humanity, but in all levels of creation.

A time to break down and a time to build up. Sometimes we have to help those we love to break down a little in order to build them back up. A time to weep and a time to laugh. That one’s pretty self-explanatory. A time to mourn and a time to dance. As is that one. A time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones together. I had to look this one up I admit because as you know I love rocks and I cannot for the life of me imagine why you would throw away stones. And when I did look it up there does not seem to be a very clear answer as to what was being discussed here.

A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. Again, this could be referring to relationships or to the issue of cleanliness. A time to seek and a time to lose. Nothing in this world lasts forever and we have to let go of some things at times. A time to keep and a time to throw away. We all know this one pretty well don’t we, with our rummage sales?

A time to tear and a time to sew. I think our crafters definitely understand that one. A time to keep silence and a time to speak. Whether referring to prayer, or moments of injustice, or any other situation, I think this one can carry lots of meanings. A time to love and a time to hate. This one may not seem very Christian-like given how much we talk about loving one another, but the truth is as humans there are times we love and there are times that we hate. A time for war and a time for peace. This one as well is all too familiar for humanity as we throughout history have continued along the rollercoaster of war and peace.

But I wonder what this passage might look like if it had been written today. Or even if we just updated it for today… Maybe something like this:

a time to send email and a time to receive email;
a time to take selfies and a time to Instagram;
a time to Tweet and a time to post;
a time to DVR and a time to Netflix;
a time to shop at the farmers market and a time to shop at Meijer’s.

Or what about if we looked at it from the perspective of the church? How about these additions:

a time to welcome and a time to invite;
a time to hold traditions and a time to change;
a time to pray and a time to act;
a time to share the Good News and a time to live the Good News.

You see, this passage is talking not about what we should be doing but what is the actual reality for humanity and creation. There is war in humanity. There is hatred in humanity. There is death in humanity. But while this passage is talking about the reality of humanity that does not mean we can’t imagine and think about a reality that we are hoping for humanity. We can work to create a reality that does not live into all of these things listed in our reading, but instead builds for the kingdom of God.

Now I admit some of these cannot be changed by humanity. A time to be born and a time to die are out of our hands. But we can acknowledge death in a different way. We can see that yes, we will move on from this world at some point, but it is not the eternal death once feared because through Christ we have eternal life.

But what if we worked to change some of the other ones. How about the last two? What if we could get rid of the hate and the war and just have a time to love and a time for peace? How amazing would that be? If there were no hatred in the world? If there were no war? If people all over the world together led their lives with love and had compassion for each other, think of what that would look life! I believe that we would begin to see the kingdom of God in all its glory and majesty.

But there is more to this passage as well. Because as we talked about before, seasons change. And seasons bring about change. For humanity to realize any of these new things, there must be change. And as we talked about last month, change is a scary thing. Change means letting go of control. Change means trusting God and each other. Change can be terrifying.

But change can also be wonderful. Change can be part of new life. Change can be new hope. Change can be the beginning of something greater than what we know and experience right now. As we look ahead to meeting together to discuss and discern God’s plans for this congregation in the coming weeks, we must acknowledge that change will be a part of those plans.

Now I am not saying everything will change or that everything even HAS to change. There are many things that we do now that we will want to carry forward and because of what those things are and do, we believe that God wants us to continue with those things. We are not talking about throwing everything away and starting over.

Rather though we are looking at what things we can add to what we do. What things need improvement or adaptation to be more relevant to ministry of God? Where is God pulling us to be more active or more aware in our community and within the world? Those are the questions we will be asking and looking for guidance on.

As you head home today, or wherever you may be headed next, I ask that you think about all of this. Yes change can be scary, but change can also be exciting and powerful and uplifting. Think about where you feel God calling you and this congregation. Think about the traditions we hold most important to us. Think about what you can bring to the table and to God’s ministry. The seasons are always changing and there is always new hope and new life waiting for the chance to spring forth within the current life that we live and cherish. And while the seasons may change, the unconditional love of our God never will.

Amen.

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Defeating Evil – Revelation 12:3-4 & 7-9

Well it is the final week of our sermon series Things That Go Bump In The Bible…gonna miss that…and our Scripture comes from the book of Revelation and tells us about a seven headed dragon. But now, after talking to our children this morning about baptism and being family, how can we connect these two concepts? How does the baptism of a small child coincide with the supposed threat of the Apocalypse and a rampaging seven headed dragon? Well, let it be said that I always liked a challenge…

Let’s start with the Scripture reading first. The book of Revelation is one of the most theologically contested sections of the Christian Bible. Some people feel very strongly that it outlines without question what the end times will be. Others feel that it describes the rise and fall of the Roman Empire in relationship to the Jewish people and the Christian followers of the time. Still others feel it is just the ramblings of an isolated and exiled man who began to lose his grip on reality and wrote down the dreams and hallucinations he began to experience.

Did you know that the Book of Revelation was not included in the original groups of texts for the Bible? It was not included during the Council of Nicaea, but was added several years later at another gathering of faith leaders. Regardless of whether you take these passages as literal truth, theological interpretation, or just some crazy stories, there is a lot of value here for everyone regardless of where you fall on the theological spectrum.

Let’s look at the Scripture reading again. “Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.” So we are not just talking about the kind of dragon we see in most movies like Disney’s animated classic “Sleeping Beauty” or even the fantasy action film “Reign of Fire” where dragons have taken over the earth and humans hide in fear.

No here we are talking about a huge, monstrous create with seven, SEVEN, heads, ten horns and a crown on each of the heads. And this things does not sound very friendly like the creatures featured in the children’s film “How To Train Your Dragon.” No, we read that its tail knocked a third of the stars of heaven down to earth. Let me say that again. It knocked a third of the stars of heaven to earth.

I have a very powerful imagination and I’m still not sure I can even begin to fathom what that might look like. This is some serious power and a very real threat to humanity and creation. This thing, this seven headed dragon is not messing around here. This is without question one creature I really would not want to cross paths with.

But as we continue to read, we find the hope and salvation that we have in God. It continues with, “And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” So we find that God’s army of angels is not only able to defeat this dragon, but the dragon’s army of angels as well. Victory is secured! Right?

So all is well then? The threat has been neutralized and happy ending yeah? We can all go live happily ever after in joy and peace, playing music on harps and lutes. Just like a Disney cartoon or a fairy tale story. Good times… Well…not quite… You see, if we continue to read on we see that the battle continues on earth and there is much more to come. The dragon continues to attack and verse seventeen goes on to tell us that the dragon was angry, and went off to make war on those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.

Guess what people? That’s us. That is all Christians in the world. The dragon is now focusing its anger and attack against people like us who claim Christ and are in relationship with God. But there are some things that we claim in our faith tradition that bring us hope. We believe in an all-powerful God that loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. We have read here that God’s angels can defeat this great dragon, so we know we are not alone to fend for ourselves. God is with us.

Let’s take a few moments now to step away from the scary dragon running around eating things and spraying fire all around, to look at our theology of baptism. And when I say “our theology”, I mean the United Methodist Church theology that we claim when we are in this space together in worship, as well as when we are out in the world. I know many of you have already been baptized but I am guessing for the large majority it happened when you were very young and you might not remember most of it, if at all.

But regardless of when it happened, some very important things are recognized as happening in that moment. One of those things is that we claim a new identity. When we become Christians, we are said to be “putting on Christ.” And baptism is a celebration of this new identity in Christ. That is why we start the baptism with renouncing the evil and sin of the world, and then move to pledging our loyalty to Christ.

Another that is happening during this time is that we are entering into a covenant with God. But this covenant is not initiated by us through our pledge of loyalty, but rather it is initiated by God. And that is recognized through the words we have said, “The Holy Spirit works within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Baptism is just the beginning of our relationship with God. It is one of the doorways through which we enter into relationship with God. And I say one of the doorways because there are more than just this one. In the United Methodist Church we do not believe that you must be baptized to be saved. But we do believe that baptism is a gift of God’s grace that we receive as part of the journey of salvation. So those who have not had the opportunity to be baptized, or don’t even know about it, are not lost.

And the God we claim, our faith and our theology, is one of what I believe to be a God of love. It is because of God’s love that God invites us to be baptized and be in relationship with God. It is because of God’s love that Christ came to suffer, die, and rise again after defeating death and sin. That love wrote a new covenant and established us all as children of God.

So what does the seven headed dragon we read about from the Book of Revelation have to do with our baptismal covenant with God? Well, if we look at both situations we find two separate examples of the same thing: God’s love. We find God’s love in the battle against this evil dragon, and we find God’s love in the covenant of baptism. And I think that some would argue that the covenant that we enter into through our baptism is not only recognized in the moment when the dragon attacks, but it is upheld when God retaliates against the dragon and defeats it.

Now that is not to say that those who have not been baptized would not be saved from the attack and wrath of the dragon. As I mentioned before, baptism is not required for salvation. But the covenant is also upheld in that moment. But that also assumes that moment will come in the way it has been described to us.

The truth is we do not know exactly what will happen in the end, or for that matter when the end will come. Many people have tried to determine when the world will come to an end, and so far they have not been correct to this point. The Gospel of Matthew even affirms this where it says, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

What we do know, or rather we believe we know through our faith, is that our God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. We know that because of what we find in our Scriptures. We know that because we believe that Christ came to this world, became human and divine, and then suffered, died, and resurrected after defeating death and sin. God made that sacrifice because God loves us and we matter to God. We know God continues to love us through the blessings we receive every day. We know God continues to love us in those moments in our lives that we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.

So as we close this sermon series about the monsters and scary things we find in the Bible, I hope you have come away with some important lessons and ideas about our God and our faith. We talked about the monsters in our dreams. We talked about the monsters of the unknown. We talked about our fears and where they come from. And today we have talked about one of the evilest monsters in the Scriptures, the great seven headed dragon.

But we also talked about God’s love. We also talked about God’s protection. We talked about being in relationship with God and trusting God. And today we talked about the new covenant that God invites us into through our baptisms. We have talked about just how powerful God’s love is, and that is stretches to all humanity and all creation. In every dark place, we found God’s love there. In every scary moment, we found God’s love there.

It is my sincerest hope that these past four weeks have given you some new perspective on the fears in your life and the scary things in this world. I hope that you have found new strength in God to stand up against those scary things. I hope that you have found new levels of trust in God to go into the dark places in your world, knowing God’s eternal light will guide your way.

And, as I always do, I want to leave you with a challenge for when you head out from this place today. And that challenge is one that I know will itself be scary for some of you, but it is a very important one. I want you to go from here and share what you have discovered about God and fear with someone in your life. Share it with someone who may be facing some of their own scary situations. Share it with someone who is living in fear in their lives. Share it with someone needs it the most.

Because that is what we have been charged with doing. As United Methodists we claim our mission to be to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And it is through sharing these messages and our faith that we accomplish that mission. It is a mission we must always lead with love, and do in a caring way. Fear mongering and coercion are never appropriate methods. But go out with God’s love as your guide and share it with all you encounter in all that you say and in all that you do.

Amen.

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