Sunday, January 16, 2022

Varieties of Gifts - Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year C

1 Corinthians 12: 1 – 11

 

This week, a group of 12 folks from Faith hopped on ZOOM to listen to one of our own members, James Hedrick, talk about affordable housing in Montgomery County.

 

Let me give you just a little glimpse of my pastor’s heart and mind here.

 

It was so cool to listen to someone in our community share with so much knowledge and passion.  It made this pastor’s heart sing.  And it appealed to my geeky economist/sociologist/justice activist side, too.

 

Because James had a knowledge and understanding of and passion for the alphabet soup of acronyms and formulas that are affordable housing policy and development.  

 

I give thanks for his knowledge and for his passion for how more people can live in Montgomery County with a roof over their head.

 

And every now and then, Kay McCarty posts some incredible picture of things that she has created with her hands – and in this moment, I am remembering the beautiful collars draped on women in Kenya and the smiles on the women’s faces. 

 

I can only dream of creating that way with my hands. And those creations bring so much joy!

 

This summer during our family fun nights, Karen Johnston turned baby carrots into kid friendly Martha Stewart worthy self-contained, COVID friendly crudité with a paper cup and some ranch dressing, safely, creatively and nutritiously feeding a hungry crowd of families on several occasions.

 

I love to entertain, but those gifts of organization, presentation, efficiency, appeal and patience for navigating food preferences and food groups? Not mine.

 

And as the new pastor at Faith, in the months before COVID struck as we waded through by-laws and finances, I gave thanks again and again for Belinda Tilley’s calm and even spirit and mind for analysis and justice, which she put to use as we navigated the difficult decision to close the preschool here at Faith.

 

All of these folks, ALL OF YOU…bring such amazing and unique gifts to this community of Faith.

Thanks be to God.

  

Today, in our scripture from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul reminds the church community that everyone has gifts, and that those gifts are given so that all may work together within a community to proclaim Jesus as Lord. 

 

Corinth was a “unique” place. It was a center for all sorts of idol worship and excessive living – I know some people just LOVE Las Vegas…but I had a gut reaction to Vegas the one time I visited.  It just made me sad to think of how much money and energy went into short-lived pleasure. It was one of the first times I remember feeling badly about the money I was spending to be in a place in comparison to the money people were earning to make my visit possible. I am not all that straightlaced…I like to have fun. But Vegas was just too much for me. And so, I kind of imagine Corinth as a first century Vegas. What happened in Corinth, stayed in Corinth.

 

Paul’s letter from which we heard today is part of a series of communications between him and the members of the Christian community at Corinth. Our scriptures include two of these letters, and we only have Paul’s side of the exchange, so we must use our imagination to understand what complaints and requests for mediation Paul has received that lurk behind his corrections, counsel, and advice.

 

Today’s portion of the letter is about spiritual gifts, and it begins with some reminders about speaking. It would seem that there is some tension in the community about the varying value of different gifts – as if there is some suggestion in the community that the gift of speaking in tongues, of Spirit led speech, might be superior to other gifts in the community.  

 

And in response, Paul first reminds the community that Spirit-led speech proclaims Jesus is Lord first and foremost. 

 

He goes on to remind the community that there are many kinds of gifts that all come from one Spirit. There are many ways to serve the one Lord, Jesus Christ. There are many ways for a person to “be” in the world, all activated by one creator God. And all of that diversity of gifts and goodness are intended for the good of all.

 

This undergirds the wider theme of this entire letter to the church at Corinth – and that theme is unity, living together, working together, relating together across all the differences to be ONE body of Christ in the world.

 

There is a stark reminder in Paul’s counsel – we are who we are and are capable of what we are capable of by the power of God’s creation and the Spirit. And all of that is intended to be used, put to work, in community.  The thriving of a community depends on the gifts that members put to work for the good of all.

 

Paul’s message calls to mind Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s frequent references to the African concept of ubuntu.  

 

Ubuntu essentially describes the power of our shared humanity, our interconnectedness.  Ubuntu can be understood as “I am because we are.” Or I am because YOU are.

 

And our interconnectedness, our shared humanity RELIES on our bringing our unique gifts to bear on our shared life. There is a reciprocity here – we cannot be our fullest selves without others gifts. And when we bring our fullest selves to the community, we share in thriving that we have no other way.

 

As I sat in conversation after conversation this week, I saw people’s amazing gifts. I saw dreamers and optimists. I saw people who are mighty prayers. I saw people who are good with numbers. I saw people who love to make art and music. I saw people who have gifts with words. I saw people who can fix broken things.

 

Each one of us is different, and each of us has received different gifts by the power of the Holy Spirit.  

 

Seriously – think about it. No two of us have identical gifts.  And yet when we bring those differences into the community, the church, they create a strong whole – a oneness.  Not a sameness. Not conformity. Not uniformity.  But unity.

 

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced a question about the various forms the civil rights movement took in the 60s, he noted that unity did not equal uniformity.  He recognized that different people would bring different ideas and different approaches to the larger movement. He recognized that there was strength in all of the giftedness coming together for the sake of equal rights. 

 

I give thanks for the variety of gifts that are being manifested by the power of the Holy Spirit in this community of Faith Church. 

 

I am aware that we live in a time when there is a lot of pressure to vote the right way and believe the right thing and say the right words. And I believe that the Kingdom of God draws near when we each let our giftedness shine for the good of the whole.  I believe that we proclaim Jesus Christ Lord not just with words but with our lifestyle when we offer our gifts without hesitation, and without hierarchy.  I believe that each of us brings valuable threads to the fabric of our church.  And together, we will continue to make a difference.


To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

 

May we boldly share our gifts because the world needs them so.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Well Pleased - First Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C

Isaiah 43: 1 – 7 * Luke 3: 15 – 17; 21 – 22


We are at the brink of a new season – a season that can feel just like the bridge, the connective tissue between Christmas and Lent.  In the season after the Epiphany, as the church-y folks call it, we learn more and more about Jesus as he emerges as a prophet, a teacher and the Messiah of God.

 

The season unfolds as if the star that revealed a new King to wise strangers was just the tip of the revelation iceberg.  

 

In this season after Epiphany, we’re going to be looking for revelations of who Jesus is, what that means to us, and how we bear that revelation in the world. And we’re going to root our exploration throughout these next weeks in Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, perhaps best known for the iconic passage about love.  We’ll be thinking about Jesus as a revelation of God’s love and what that means for us – how we receive, reflect and bear love in the world because of who Jesus was and who Christ is.


I want to start with something of an excursus – a little teaching or reminder that I hope will help us along our journey in this season and generally as a group of folks seeking God’s justice in the world.

 

At Christmas and Epiphany, and in the series we are unfolding in this season after epiphany, we tend to call on the language from John’s gospel about light in the darkness. The light comes into the world - light which cannot be overcome, and the star which the magi followed effectively “lights” their way to Jesus. Light can be a beautiful image.  We describe Jesus as light of the world. But we have to be very careful wielding “darkness” as the other end of the light spectrum. Images of light as good and dark as bad have become part of our cultural fabric here in the Western world, and that cultural fabric has a lot of implicit bias against people with black and brown skin and against things associated with “darkness” – think about mental health as well.  

 

If we are serious about our journey of anti-racism here at Faith, we have to relearn some things about images of light.  And so for today, I want to encourage us to think about light this way – light is about knowing.  If you imagine a dawn breaking, as light builds, we are able to see more and more visual detail. And the opposite of that revelation in the light is unknowing or mystery. I am trying to retrain my brain to think about light at one end of the spectrum and unknowing at the other – It certainly fits with the word “revelation” and therefore hangs well with the idea of “epiphany” as well.

 

Can we let that be vital groundwork for our exploration of God’s word? The image of Jesus as light is about revelation and discovery and knowing.  The opposite of that would be a lack of understanding, a fog, a mystery, a misunderstanding.

 

With that as a guidepost for this bridge season, let’s take a look at our Gospel lesson for today to see what is revealed – so that we might discover truth and knowing, so that we might emerge from some of our unknowing.

 

Luke’s gospel that you heard today is thin on details about Jesus’ baptism by John.  Essentially we get two significant components of the story – John is offering a baptism with water – which might have been understood as a purification related to repentance -  while John is also making it clear that he is not the Messiah who will wield another kind of baptism.  

 

And then, we hear almost in passing that “when all the people had been baptized, Jesus had also been baptized.”  

 

The particular baptism of Jesus – the wading into the water - is not the big event in Luke’s gospel. 

 

The big event in this moment is the opening of heaven, the descending of the Holy Spirit “in a bodily form like a dove” and a voice from the heavens (of God) claiming Jesus as son – “You are my son, my beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

 

I appreciated the commentator this week that encourages us to pay attention to Jesus wading into the waters of the Jordan along with scores of others – and in this way, Jesus, who would have no need for repentance or ritual purification as the Messiah – enters into the earthy realities of the human world with everybody else. He doesn’t hold out for a private baptism in a secluded location. He’s right there in the teeming humanity of the moment.

 

Have you ever seen images of Hindu purification at the Ganges River?  So many people wading into a river flowing with the grime of life…the same river into which the ashes of the dead are launched. But it is constantly moving water – water that holds all kinds of life – beginnings and endings, hopes and griefs, sustenance and disease, swiftly moving through place by place over bodies here and there all the way to the Bay of Bengal. 

 

In our scripture, Jesus is wading into the Jordan right alongside everyone else. He is wading into moving water carrying the earthy realities of the surrounding countryside. He is wading in with all the humanity that showed up in the wilderness that day.  He is taking on all of the rough edges of shared humanity.  He is not holding himself apart. He is entering into it all.

 

He doesn’t make any speeches, he doesn’t draw attention to himself. He enters into it all. His commitment in the moment is to be with humanity.

 

And there is a voice - the voice of God – “this is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

 

Will you take a leap with me here?  

 

Jesus wades into the waters of John’s baptism be at one with humanity, to take on the fullness of humanity, to participate in the need to repent of the basic realities of the human condition – of self-centeredness, of greed, of anger, of pride, of envy, of forgetting that God is God and not our human selves.

 

And God claims Jesus in the midst of it. My Son. Beloved.

 

Just like God claims each one of us in baptism.

 

And Jesus has no words. But he leaves that place and gets to work – gets to work of being tested and tried, of teaching and preaching, of feeding and healing, of calling and traveling, of blessing and sacrificing, of turning tables upside down and naming what is broken. 

 

The work of being beloved is just that – messy work.

 

There is a lot to consider in this way of understanding the gospel text.

 

Compared to this moment in Luke’s gospel, I think we as the church have a pretty tame expression of baptism.

 

We often think about baptism as a very personal moment of relationship. A moment when we submit to the waters of baptism and are individually received as God’s beloved. Here in the church, our liturgy reminds us that we are all in this together – we vow as a community to surround the baptized. But here in Luke’s gospel we glimpse a different kind of shared experience. Jesus takes on the full range of human experience by joining in the baptism of repentance that John offers. 

 

It makes me wonder…

 

When you think about your baptism – and if you were baptized, you don’t have memory, but I hope you have thought about what it means to have been claimed that way – when you think about your baptism, what do you understand as YOUR commitment from that time forward?

 

Do we, in our baptism, not only receive God’s blessing but enter into a kind of solidarity with humanity? A solidarity in which we share the gifts and the foibles and shortfalls of the human condition?

 

Where are the places that we must be willing to take on the sins of our shared human experience and repent as a human race? As a collection of believers? As the community of Faith United Methodist Church? As citizens of the United States, maybe? Where are the places that we have fallen short collectively? 

I think about the need to unlearn patterns of self-sufficiency, of scarcity, of bias, of autonomy… in order to be part of the fabric we share – in order to love one another fully and well.

 

And then, what does it mean to us that God’s proclamation of love is for us, too. Us as well. All of us along with Jesus?

 

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus has no words. No words at all. But God has words. 

This is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.

 

Do you know that this love is for you? That God loves you? That you are beloved of God?

 

May we hear this claim and live into the responsibility of it. May we keep wading into our shared human condition and receive love well so that we can also reflect it well.

 

May it be so.

Amen. 


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Chosen Home - First Sunday after Christmas, Year C

Colossians 3: 12 – 17 * Luke 2: 41 – 52


 

It is possible that you are feeling a little whiplash right now.  Weren’t we just celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus among the livestock in Bethlehem?

 

And today we find ourselves pondering a 12-year-old boy who is at the brink of adulthood in his culture, who has left his family and found his way into the Temple where he is in conversation with the teachers.

 

Why?

Why are we pondering this text today? I mean, I know kids grow up fast and all that, but…

 

I am grateful for the commentary that led me back to Mary and Joseph, that led me back to the act of searching for Jesus.  

 

Let’s start there – first with Mary and Joseph.

…you know – Jesus’ Mother Mary. Mary who was visited by the angel. Mary who was unmarried. Mary who gave birth to this boy amidst the livestock. 

And Carpenter Joseph – the working-class guy who did as God asked, taking Mary as his wife when she was suddenly pregnant before their marriage.

Mary and Joseph, the good and faithful and devout Jewish parents.

Mary and Joseph, who in just a few verses prior to those you heard today, had presented their 8 day old son at the Temple for dedication with the lawful sacrifice of two turtle doves.


Parents who had been through a lot. Parents who had made some really hard choices to be parents to this now 12-year old. 

 

These are deeply loyal and observant Jewish parents…they are parents of humble means.

 

These parents dutifully went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. To do the right things in light of their faith.

 

And then they lost their son.

 

They. Lost. Their. Son.

 

In the crowd at Passover.

 

Can you imagine what a shock that might have been?

And eventually, they find him in the Temple, with the teachers, asking questions, exploring truths, answering questions.

 

And when Mary fusses at her boy, when Mary names how anxious she and Joseph have been, Jesus asks what they expected – he’s in his Father’s house. Did you not know that I must be here?

 

Cheeky adolescent. I wonder if that came with an eye roll? 

 

There is a dual reminder here.  Mary and Joseph may be raising this kid, but he’s not “of them.” And he’s got a call on his life.

 

Jesus goes on to grow in wisdom and in years, in divine and in human favor, the gospel goes on to say.

 

In this text, it seems that Jesus knows who he is and where he belongs and who he is called to be.  And within the context of our themes about home, we might be tempted to point to this text and talk about how Jesus has chosen to be home with God. And to ponder what that might have to do with choices we make.


But I think it is not that simple.  

I think we have to try harder.

I think we don’t get to make ourselves out to be like Jesus in this text – because we are fully human. 

 

And we are definitely not fully divine.

 

Is it possible that we need to put ourselves in the shoes of Mary and Joseph?

 

You know – the parents who realize that somehow they lost the boy?

…the parents that have to seek after the boy entrusted to their care?

 

I wonder…

Is it possible that we occasionally lose Jesus in our festivities at Christmastime?

 

Have we lost sight of his Jewishness? 

It was no mistake that God chose to reveal Godself as a Jewish man born to a devoted Jewish family.

 

Have we lost sight of his humanity?

Here is an adolescent who, according to the text is learning and growing and becoming. He didn’t hatch forth as a fully formed and informed wise miracle working rabbi.  

If we take time to ponder that, and we fully accept that Jesus is fully divine AND fully human, we have to consider God learning new things…God becoming wise.

 

It is strange space, the space between the Silent Night and candlelight of Christmas Eve and the wise men showing up with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we have flashed forward and we can be challenged by what we see here.


And really, it is a pretty good time to have something to ponder. It’s a pretty good time to have something challenging on our hearts. Because after all, it is only the second of 12 days of Christmas.

 

Do we need to go looking for Jesus?

Are WE surprised to find Jesus in the Temple?

Where do we expect to find Jesus today?

 

Today, we are just a day removed from the wonder of a baby born in Bethlehem.  And we’re called to think about who Jesus really was.

 

Will you wonder with me in the days to come?

 

And is it possible that our searching has something to do with our finding where we are truly at home?  

 

May there be revelation for us all as we continue

Amen.

Invited Home - Christmas Eve 2021

Invited Home

Luke 2: 1 – 20


 

The story of Jesus born to Mary and Joseph is old. It is told again and again. Many of us have heard it our whole lives.  Even if we are somewhat new to the story, chances are we’ve lived in a culture where it was something of a source story, a story whose lines are familiar to us somehow.

 

And yet, each time it is told, it is spoken into wherever we find ourselves on this life’s journey.

 

And this year…this year it is spoken into yet another variant surge, yet another set of changing plans, yet another set of anxieties about who might be sick, who might become sick, who should gather in what ways, where tests are available.

 

And we do the story disservice if we try to make all of that background noise silent. 

 

Because the background noise is not just noise - it is very much a part of the way God enters our world today.

 

Because throughout this story, it is plain that God is not about to wait on the perfect circumstance. In fact, God seems pretty committed to imperfection here. God shows up despite the clutter, the mess, the societal expectations, the laws, the political winds.

 

And God invites the powerless to open up. To meet God where God is or where God will be.

 

Zechariah is invited to parent the one who came to tell of the one who was to come despite his doubts.

Elizabeth is invited to bear John despite her infertility and age.

Mary is invited to birth God’s son despite her unwed virgin status.

Joseph is invited to receive a pregnant Mary as his wife despite the laws and societal expectations that surround him.

Somehow a humble home for livestock is invited to become a temporary home to the Messiah despite the animals chewing their cud alongside the birthing mother.

Shepherds are invited into Bethlehem to witness and honor a newborn king despite their simplicity, their lack of worth in the eyes of the locals.

Wise strangers (or Magi) are invited to follow signs that they see in the stars to a faraway place to honor a new power, despite their differing customs, nationality, faith. 

 

This is a story full of invitations despite the expected way of things. It is a story full of surprising “yeses”  despite the risks and disruptions. It is a story of invitations in spite of what the rest of the world expects.

 

I wonder, what unexpected but holy invitations have been placed before you? 

I wonder, how will you respond?

 

This week, navigating hard decisions about safety and wholeness, worship and celebration, I have been grappling with the differences between what I tend to think God wants or needs (mostly influenced by my own desire to meet the world’s expectation) verses what the story of God reveals about what it is God wants, needs or will do.  

 

I found myself journaling some simple formulas.


Holy is not equal to tidy.

Holy is not equal to expected.

Holy is not equal to perfect.

Holy is equal to received.

 

Hear that again.  Holy is equal to received.

 

Fr. Richard Rohr says this: “We are always the stable into which the Christ is born a new. All we can really do is keep our stable honest and humble, and the Christ will surely be born.”

 

How is it that we will receive what we are invited to bear or witness or nurture or praise? Not just this day or the next? But in the next and the next and the next? Especially when life in the moment feels crazy, turned upside down, imperfect?

 

Into that this week, the first verse of O Holy Night has rested in my heart.

 

Long lay the world 

in sin and error pining 

till he appeared 

and the soul felt it’s worth.

 

Do we really feel our worth because God invites us to bear, to witness, to nurture? 

Or do we spend time and energy seeking our worth elsewhere?

 

This story – this story about imperfection and radical yeses, this story that is told over and over into different seasons, different circumstances, wildly different life realities – this story calls us to remember and live into this:

 

God doesn’t need our perfection. 

God doesn’t need an elaborate meal or an extravagantly-set table. 

God doesn’t need a nursery appointed with all the things. 

God doesn’t need to come into the world through powerful people. 

And in fact, God comes into the world through the powerless and to the powerless, creating justice and joy and power by God’s very presence with us in flesh.

 

By joining us in the flesh God deems even the broken places, the weak places, the cluttered and dirty places, the worn places…. 

God deems them worthy, 

good,

even very good.

 

May it be so.

Amen.

 

 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

A Home for All

Zephaniah 3: 14 – 20 Luke 3: 7 – 18


 

Before we really dive in today, please remember that there is origami paper and instructions for folding houses on the welcome table in the narthex.  You should feel free to get up and grab supplies, or more supplies…because this is prayerful work as we worship today – trust me.

 

(Thank folks for helping to create our Christmas Close to Home event yesterday – spirit filled fellowship)

 

Can you imagine entering into the sanctuary on a Sunday looking for hope and comfort and assurance and instead hearing this…

 

You…you brood of vipers!

 

To be fair I am occasionally scolded for not being hopeful enough.  But that is part of this job.

 

AND I am pretty sure I have never started right out of the gate that way.

 

In our scripture today from Luke’s gospel, people have gone out into the wilderness to hear John preach.

 

As one commentator noted about our text this week, throughout the scriptures, wilderness is a place where God’s miraculous and grace-filled provision meets people’s greatest needs.

 

Why had this particular group of people left the cities and gone into the wilderness to hear John preach? What was their great need in that moment? And how did John channel God’s miraculous and grace-filled provision?

 

The other reading you heard today was from Zephaniah, who is part of a stream of prophets who are looking toward the day of the Lord, the day when God’s presence, either as a mighty warrior King or as a earth-moving holy presence filling the Temple, looking toward that day as something of a reset, a reset that will judge and sort, gathering a righteous remnant together. And yet, in this particular text, Zephaniah takes all the judgement he’s written about prior and suggests that God will remove judgement from God’s people.  Somehow, in spite of the need to judge, God will gather up the scattered and make the people of God whole.

 

The people who gathered in the wilderness to hear John were steeped in this prophetic tradition – they had heard again and again that God would come and make all things whole. They were steeped in an idea that some would be judged. They were steeped in an idea that enemies would be defeated. They had also heard, time and again, that the descendants of Abraham were God’s chosen people.  That somehow, lineage mattered. And they were expecting a Messiah. 

 

In spite of all the expectations of God’s intercession, the people of Israel were also struggling. They lived in an economic system that kept expanding the distance between the haves and have nots. They lived in a political system marked by foreign rule and occupation. They lived in a religious system where there were lots of rules and lots of expectations about what boxes had to be checked in order to be in good standing with the religious system, but that system did not translate into better lives for those most beaten down by underpaying jobs, substandard housing, a lack of good healthcare, protection for the widow and the orphan and the immigrant. 

 

They also lived among “others,” folks who didn’t necessarily know the God of Israel they way that they did…and those others all shared the same struggles with the economic and political systems around them.  


So as they gathered in the wilderness, these people brought the backdrop of the prophetic tradition and they brought the reality of their daily lives, and John called them out – you brood of vipers! – but he also told them what it means to change their lives, to live into repentance.

 

We’ve talked about repentance before – repentance in this context is from the Greek metanoia, which actually means to change one’s mind or to turn. John doesn’t stop at asking them to change their minds.  He calls them to bear fruit with those changed minds.

Don’t just give it lip service. 

DO SOMETHING. 

Make sure that your turning your life toward God actually causes things to happen in the world. 

Bear fruit.

 

John goes on to suggest that already, the ax is ready for pruning – that fruitless plants can be removed to make way for fruitful ones.

 

And the people, hearing this, ask John what it means for them.

 

What then shall we do, they ask.

 

John breaks it down and makes it pretty easy to understand – if you have two coats, give one away. If your job is to collect taxes, don’t collect more than is required.  If you are paid to serve and protect, let your paycheck be enough – don’t use your power to extort more from the people you serve. 

 

He was speaking into their world, their contexts – naming the places where perhaps their practice of loving neighbor was falling short. Naming places where they could turn, where they could change their ways, change their minds and ACT and LIVE in ways that demonstrate- that make real - love for their neighbor.

 

Here in the middle of the Advent season, in the middle of a few weeks when so much of the messaging around us has us focusing on decorations and gifts and events and food, John enters in with a very down to earth and practical word for us.

 

Pay attention to how you care for everyone. Because what you claim to believe doesn’t matter if it isn’t bearing fruit.

 

During this season of advent, we have been thinking about home as a place we know but don’t yet fully know  – thinking about what it means to receive the gift of God with us in the birth of Jesus and to not yet see the fullness of God’s kin-dom where there are no more tears and sorrow – I ask that we listen deeply to the simplicity of John’s call to action. 

 

Our ancestry doesn’t matter.  Love others. Their ancestry doesn’t matter. Share what we have. Don’t be greedy. Pay attention that our security, comfort and wholeness is not creating suffering or hardship or limitations or oppression for another.

 

This week, John challenges us to make sure there is a home for everyone, not just ourselves, not just our chosen family, not just our denomination, our church, our faith, our political affiliation, our comfort zone…make a home for everyone. Make sure that your love of God and neighbor aren’t empty affirmations but instead bear fruit. Change the world.


And if we take that seriously, it will necessarily change our daily lives. 

 

And it will change our shared lives as a congregation.  It has an impact on the way we spend our money, and the way we structure our work, worship and study, and the way we use our building. Because we are called to bear fruit that is worthy of our claim that Jesus Christ is Lord, that God is love, that the Kin-dom is at hand.

 

Over the past two years, we have done a lot of hard work here at Faith to orient ourselves toward what matters most –turning toward our neighbors, naming places of need and injustice, to designate a larger portion of our tithes and offerings to the needs of those around us.

 

We have named the desire to be anti-racist and to be reconciling.  It hasn’t been easy to get to this place. In fact, it has been pretty painful at times. There have been disagreements, there has been criticism. But we have kept discerning and refining and claiming our identity as followers of Christ.

 

And some days we are not quite sure what it means to live into that claim faithfully.


I wonder if right now we aren’t just a little like those whom John meets in the wilderness…needing some clarification, needing some direction, needing focus, needing metrics …
Needing God to call us specifically in a direction.

 

Asking…What then should we do?

 

Asking…What does the season of Advent offer us in terms of clarity?

 

Asking…How is God calling us into the next step?

 

Asking… What is in this word for us today?

 

Today, I hope that you have been keeping your hands busy with home-making…I mean, creating tiny houses.  Now I want us to use our imagination and our prayer as well as our hands.  

 

What does it mean for there to be a “home” for all? 

 

Yes, there are actually people without roofs over their heads at night. 

 

To see that they are housed is one way we can do this work.

 

But there are also people whose heart has no safe home. Whose immigration status, whose race, whose faith, whose gender identity or sexual orientation has no home. Whose hearts have no shelter.

 

What does it mean for us to work for there to be home for all?

 

Today, I am asking us to prayerfully consider John’s call to action as we fold these tiny houses.  At the end of the service, we’d like for you to decorate our tree up here with all of your tiny houses.  

 

My prayer is that these tiny houses represent our desire to bear fruit worthy of repentance – fruit that brings about safe places for hearts of all kinds, food for the hungry, shelter (physical, spiritual, social and emotional) for the thriving of all of our neighbors.  

 

We want these tiny houses to be commitments to how we will bear fruit.  We want them to symbolize actions we intend to take in the year to come –in order to be a community of love and justice, welcome and fellowship, transformation and growth.

We want this tree to remind us of what abundant fruit can look like – love in action. So may our busy hands and our praying hearts commit and bear fruit worthy of our claims.

 

May it be so.
Amen.

 

 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Laying the Foundation (Advent 2, Year C)

Philippians1: 3 – 11 * Luke 1: 57 – 80


Last week, I told you a bit about my childhood home.  It is currently on the market – we’ve struggled a bit with its sale.  I mean – it is an old home, occupied for so many years by one family.  My father always said that post-World War 2 construction was kind of lackluster because builders were throwing up houses as fast as they could to meet the expanding population and the move out of cities into the suburbs. He used to mutter about the use of 2x4s instead of 2x6s for the framing. The lack of insulation. Poorly hung windows…much of which he remedied in his handy lifetime.

 

Recently an inspection turned up a problem with one of the walls in the basement.  Never in my lifetime was that basement perfectly dry.  I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a dry basement.  Living on the southern end of Lake Michigan, most houses are built on former swampland (not unlike Washington, DC). The heavy black soil holds moisture. In stormy seasons, there was often a trickle of water across the basement floor.

 

But it was ok for our needs. The foundation was strong enough. It held the frame of the house steady and strong.  Over time it has shown some faults. It needs repairs. It is a new era. It has worked hard since before my parents took ownership in ’63.  

 

Fingers crossed – with some repair work and revitalization in 2021, there will soon be a new occupant at 2424 Hart Street, with components of a fresh foundation.

 

This week, we’re talking about laying the foundation for what is to come – about the people who laid the foundation for the coming of Jesus and for the ongoing work today of laying the foundation for people to know Christ’s love and presence in their life.

 

In our gospel text from Luke’s first chapter, we come mid-stream into the story of Elizabeth, Zechariah and their miraculous baby boy whom they name John. 

 

It’s worth backing up a bit to remember the fullness of the story.  Zechariah is a priest, Elizabeth his wife has been unable to conceive.  They have lived a blameless life, righteous, upright and law-abiding, the text tells us.  But one day as Zechariah enters the sanctuary to perform his priestly duties, an angel of the Lord appears.

 

The angel Gabriel tells him that his wife Elizabeth will bear him a son which he is to name John.  That son will have the spirit and power of Elijah and will turn many back to God.  He will prepare people for the coming of the Messiah.  

 

And…because Zechariah has the nerve to ask how he can trust this to be true, the angel renders Zechariah mute until all the things he has explained about the baby come to pass.  

 

It turns out, Elizabeth does conceive…and while she is pregnant, she is visited by her relative Mary, a young girl who has also miraculously conceived.

 

We enter the story shortly after Mary’s announcement to Elizabeth, just as Elizabeth and Zechariah have welcomed their son and are preparing to circumcise him on his eighth day. Just as he was about to be named after for father Zechariah, Elizabeth – who hadn’t been visited by Gabriel and hadn’t been told what to name her son – announces that he will be named John, a name that is NOT a family name.  


And when all of this comes to pass, Zechariah, who has been silent since Gabriel made it so, is suddenly able to speak again. The first thing he does is to offer praise to God – and that praise includes prophecy…

 

…prophecy that includes the hope of rescue from enemies, the ability to serve God without fear, and a child who will go before the Lord – go before the Messiah to share news of salvation and forgiveness. 

 

Prophecy is not so much about future telling; it is about speaking God’s truth into the moment, into the here and now. In this story, people lay the foundation for what is to come by sharing the words given to them by God. This is their prophetic act.

 

Zechariah and Elizabeth lay a foundation for the work of their son John, the one who comes before the Messiah who is to come.

 

These words from Zechariah’s song particularly touched my spirit this week:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the most high…you will go before to prepare the way…”

 

Next week, we’ll hear more about how John lays the foundation for Jesus’ message of God’s love and salvation.  That work of laying the foundation, of preparing the way is hard and dangerous work for John…but we get ahead of ourselves.

 

This week, will you ponder something with me?

 

Who is it that has laid the foundation for your life? For your faith? For your relationship with God?

 

And maybe, at what different points in your life was that foundation shaken? 

 

And how was it strengthened?

 

I remember sitting through confirmation classes – always a mix of learning and fun – with Rev. Glen Berg, my childhood pastor for 18 years. He always welcomed questions.

 

I remember getting to sing the third verse of Joy to the World as a solo on Christmas eve during my senior year of high school… “no more let sins or sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground…he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found…”

 

I remember Charlie and Nan stepping up to embrace my kids as if they were their own grandchildren, being the embodiment of love in action when the confusion of divorce threatened to overwhelm all of us.

 

I remember sitting in a Hebrew bible class learning about wisdom from a wise teacher – and feeling like everything I had experienced suddenly meant so much more.

 

These are just some places where I know foundations were being formed, repaired, restored, strengthened.

 

What about you?

 

And beyond pondering those who laid the foundation for your life, for your faith, for your relationship with God, will you also ponder this?

 

How is it that you are called to be laying a foundation in others’ lives?

 

Maybe it is in your own family or on your own block.

Maybe it is right here in the community of Faith, shepherding a small group, or staying in touch with a group of people who need connection.

Maybe it is in your workplace. Or your classroom. 

Maybe it is with young people. Or maybe it is with aging folks who are tired of the race they’ve run.

 

And finally, will you ponder this: how is it that we, as the community of Faith, are called to lay aside distractions in order to lay foundations for other’s connection to God the Father, Son, Spirit?

 

The work of prophesy, the work of speaking God’s truth into the here and how – into the lives of others, lays the foundation for Christ entering in… It is work we do not do of our own will and our own knowledge, but it is work we are called to do with words and visions and ideas that are spoken into our lives when we quiet down enough to listen, when we take time to soak in God’s word – both as it is written in our scriptures and as it shows up in the lived moments of our lives.

 

As I wrote this message this week, I was reminded of my earliest understanding of my call – to help people give voice to the deepest questions of their heart.  My call has never been about answers. It has always been to drawing out curiosity and wonder and drive to know God more deeply. My call has to do with laying foundations. I suspect each of us is called into this work in some capacity. 

 

In the week to come, I pray you will think on these things. And that you will share what shows up.

 

I close with these words from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi:

 

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

 

May it be so.

Amen.