Jesus 2nd birth, no first, no being day

A sermon for Christmas 1

Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7, John 1:1-18, Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

 I don’t remember when it was last week, I realized I was preaching today. In the 20 years I’ve been a priest, my family and I have traditionally taken the week after Christmas off, most often to visit family. Since 1994 I’ve preached this day six times; that our family status has changed is revealed that of those 6, 3 have been since 2011. None of which has anything to do with anything except bible verses less often preached are both more difficult, because preachers are not as familiar with them, and more available to flashes of insight, because preachers are not as familiar with them. So the thought of today being “the celebration of Jesus 2nd birth” stuck.

And yes, I said Jesus second birth, not his second birthday. But actually today would not be the celebration of Jesus second birth it would actually be the celebration of Jesus 1st birth, because it happens before creation, and the Christmas event is clearly after creation. Except that Jesus isn’t born the first time, so much as Jesus just is the first time.

Confused? Don’t be alarmed, you are not alone. From the beginning there was confusion about Jesus. Is Jesus human? He has a human mother. But, Jesus also has a divine father, so is Jesus divine? The debate got so contentious that in 325 the council of Nicaea was called to settle the question. We know their work as the Nicene Creed. A second council, in Constantinople in 381 was necessary to affirm the church’s belief. And there is truth to the observation, we are still arguing about Jesus’ humanity and or divinity today.

If we look around at all the Nativity scenes it looks as if we are celebrating the humanity of Jesus, all the baby Jesuses look just like any other baby. And there is deep truth to this observation, for Jesus is completely human, which makes him unique among the stories of gods who often appear in human form, but are never truly human. And I think for the most part we are comfortable with Jesus in human form. Almost all the bible stories are of Jesus as fully human. All the miracles, and teachings are accomplished by Jesus whom the witnesses knew as human, though gifted, even divinely gifted.

I’m not sure we spend a whole lot of time with Jesus – divine. It’s hard to do, in part because there is no sensual reference. I am sure it is important that we pay attention to Jesus – divine. In part because it reminds us Jesus is not a super human, but the very presence of God, which reveals the depth of God’s commitment to us. God cares enough, not just to send a representative, but to be personally present. What do you appreciate more: a call from your boss’s secretary, with message of appreciation, or a call from your boss with a message of appreciation? Secondly, knowing that Jesus is God’s self eliminates the difficulty of God sacrificing a son; God sacrifices God’s self. This is another measure of God’s commitment to us.

A final note of all this may be that today we celebrate Jesus’ being day. Jesus – divine just is, like God always was, always is, always will be. As much as we understand the verbs, complete understanding eludes us. Even if you are able to get your head around the billions of years our universe has been, which is more than I can do, getting our heads around essence prior to, though, and afterwards, … well like I said, it’s beyond me. That; however, is not a comment about its truth.

Truths can come to us by experience, and or experience(s) passed onto us. Truth can also come to us by revelation, and or revelation(s) passed on to us. The presence of God to Abram’s is a revelation. The biblical account of Abram’s revelation is passed on to us. Both are truth, not from any empirical source, but simply because we believe, or we have faith. Put it another way, we trust the revelations passed on to us, just as our forebearers trusted their experience of divine revelation.

So, today is our celebration of Jesus’ being day. A day we celebrate Jesus – divine, a revelation of Jesus’ love for me, for you, for all humanity, for all creation; which makes me worthy, makes you worthy, makes all humanity worthy, makes all creation worthy. See it doesn’t matter that I or you or they love Jesus, human or divine. What matter is Jesus, human and divine, loves me, loves you, love everyone, loves all creation. And that establishes our relationship with each other, with all of God’s image bearers, with all of creation; not just for today, but every hour of every day now and forever.

So, happy second, no happy first birth…, no happy being day; oh, I just thankful Jesus, human and divine, love us all.

Surprised by new hope

A sermon for Christmas Eve

Isaiah 9:27, Titus 2:1114, Luke 2:114(15-20), Psalm 96

I’m tired, are you? I’ve just flat been busy; not bad stuff just lots of stuff. Beginning on Thanksgiving, with helping to pack nearly a 1,000 Thanksgiving Day meals, I have participated in seven board or related meetings; participated in or been to four programs or parties. I’ve helped Angie host our own party, made one out of town trip to visit to grand kids and oh yea, our daughters and their spouses, we had a great, but tiring time. On top of the seasonal stuff I’ve also made regular scheduled stuff like two nights at the Great River Charitable Clinic and three all day trips to Little Rock, Jonesboro and Memphis. And oh, how can I forget I’m trying to get ready for January’s D.Min. session; I ‘m really excited about it, but it’s a lot to add to an already busy schedule. I’m tired. Are you tired?

If the calendar isn’t enough I’m tired of all the junk in the news. I’m tired of the North Korea mess. I’m tired of poorly hired, trained and resourced police getting entangled in tragic events. I’m tired of angry, emotional, disconnected, folks taking advantage of tragedies for personal privilege or gain, whose actions degrade the hard work of faithful courageous folks seeking justice and righteousness. I’m tired of people assassinating police or soldiers. I’m tired of people using guns whenever they get upset about anything, including a messed up McDonald’s order (Meyer)  I’m tired of our own inability, including my mine, to see the harm we do to others who are not like us. I’m tired of ISIS, the Taliban, and others who use gross previsions of Islam to abuse and oppress others; the same goes for abuse of Judaism or Christianity or any other faith’s holy writ. I’m tired of the endless messes in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I’m tired of Ebola, and fear driven reactions, that limit help, far more then they protect. I’m tired of Putin the Thug. I’m tired of our own political thuggery, again including mine. I’m tired of rampant sexual misconduct and poorly thought out responses driven by fear, embarrassment and, let’s be honest misogyny. I’m tired of tired of child abuse, in whatever form. I’m tired of people naming everything that’s uncomfortable and beyond our understanding as mental illness. I’m tired of entrenched endemic ignoring of what can and ought to be done for mentally ill. I’m tired of the news media drowning us in the small percentage of the tragic and the terrible that terrifies us all the while ignoring the enormity of the good that goes on simply because they know fear sells advertising. I’m tired. Are you tired?

Mary and Joseph are tried.  Mary has ridden a donkey and Joseph has walked 70 or 80 miles. Jesus has just been born, Joseph has got to be tired, I was when my girls were born, and I didn’t do anything. The bible doesn’t mention any one being around to help mid wife Mary. Mary is REALLY tired; yes giving birth is extraordinarily joyful but my observation is it’s exhausting. Mary, Joseph, and all Israel are tired.

All Israel is tired of the Roman Empire. Yes they bring the Pax Romana but it’s on their terms, and don’t try to change anything. Their Emperor dares to call himself a god. Everyone is literally tired, everyone had to walk miles to register, to pay poll taxes. Everyone is tired of justice that’s dependent on bribery. Everyone is tired of petty local Kings, backed by Roman Legions, whose job is to control local populations, by any means. All Israel is tired of Herod the brutish tyrant who rules Palestine. He’s not even Jewish! Everyone is tired of taxes they get no benefit from. There are taxes on farm produce, anything bought and sold, on houses and land; there’s even a kind of progressive income tax. To collect them all Rome make use of greedy tax collectors, locals who get rich by over collecting taxes due.

Everyone is tired of the Jewish authorities, who are always maneuvering, scrapping with each other to win favor with Herod and or Rome, imposing dubious religious obligations and/ or restraints for their own benefit; and to collect even more taxes, such as the Temple tax and a second tithe on produce of land. All Israel is tired. Are you tried?

Shepherds are tired. They are not highly regarded. They work from early morning till early morning. Sheep have to be lead to food, so shepherds walk them to pasture. Sheep have to be led to water so shepherds either lead them to a stream or dig a well. The only chance to sleep is when sheep nap after watering. Sheep easily get lost so it takes a constant watch to keep them from wandering away; and since they can’t find their way home, shepherds lead them home. And after a long hard day shepherds protect the sheep at night from wild beast and thieves. Shepherds are tired. Are you tired?

So yes, Mary & Joseph are tired, all Israel is tired, and the Shepherds are tired. Life is hard the prospect for improvement is difficult to see. [Pause] Into this cold bleak mid-winter night so long ago Angles appear singing tidings of great joy, to tired poor cold shepherds, who drew the night shift – again; for to them that night, there is good news, there is a new savior, they will find in oh that little town, who will be in bands of cloth – swaddling clothes. It must ring with surprising authenticity because they take the risk and go to see. To their surprise they find the place and just as the angle said they find Jesus in a manger, with lowing cattle all around. They tell Mary and Joseph what the angle said. It matches what Gabriel said, and Mary wholeheartedly ponders the meaning as, the only now mentioned, gathered folks are amazed. Shepherds ~ are surprised by new hope. [i] Mary & Joseph ~ are surprised new hope. All who hear ~ are surprised by a new hope. A new hope Emmanuel is right here God’s presence, in flesh and blood, that you can reach out and touch, is right here. Into this cold bleak mid-winter night there is new hope that darkness will give way to light, that the oppressive tiresome yolk will be shattered, that justice and righteousness will be established. And this new hope is not just present to Mary and Joseph, or to first century Israel, or to shepherds, or to those gathered around. This cold bleak mid-winter night’s new hope is with us, everyone. As they were surprised by new hope: Emmanuel, God’s presence, so should we be.

In the face of the cold bleak mid-winter international turmoil, national mayhem, local confusion, personal chaos, we are not alone ~ Emmanuel is right here, right now, and always will be. Surprised by new hope we need never be tired again, for we never have been, nor ever will be alone, God is with us, right here, right now.


References

Easton, Matthew George. Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. WORDsearch Corp, 2008. ebook.

“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse , n.d.

Meyer, Holly. “Man pulls gun after wrong McDonald’s order.” Tennessean (2014). <http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2014/12/23/police-man-pulls-gun-wrong-mcdonalds-order/20797161/&gt;.

Orr, Jame, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. WORDsearch, 2004.

Wright, N. T. Surprised by Hope. 2008.


[i] Inspired by NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope

Here I am. Make it so. Amen.

A sermon for Advent 4

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Canticle 3 or Canticle 15 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, Romans 16: 25-27, Luke 1: 26-38

The Star-Ship Enterprise –D warps through the galaxy exploring new worlds all at the command of Jean-Luc Picard’s “Make it so.” It’s almost like ‘Amen.’ A crew member hands him a Kindle he reads whatever is there, sometimes signs it, and sometimes says “Make it so.”

‘Amen’ comes from the Hebrew meaning to be firm, or truth, or faithfulness; and in some instances “so let it be.” (Orr) Jesus’ often used introductory phrase “I say to you…” is the same Hebrew etymology as ‘amen’ (Holman) so we can see the impetus of “make it so” is similar to the impetus of ‘amen.’ And before you get all excited, no I don’t think the Angel Gabriel is a starship captain out to influence the direction of human development. However, there is a connection with Mary.

The Angel Gabriel brings a message to Mary from God. The short form of the story goes:

Gabriel: Greetings!

No ~ don’t be afraid, God has chosen you, and you will have baby to be named Jesus.

Mary: How can this be – I’m not married yet?

Gabriel: It’s the Holy Spirit!

Mary: “What?”

Gabriel: Nothing is impossible with God, your aunt Elizabeth is pregnant.

Mary: Here I am. Make it so. Amen.

This story is one of my favorite, for more than its Star Trek parallel. It resonates with Isaiah:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

the Old Testament reading for my ordination to the priesthood. Mary answers as Isaiah does “Amen.”

In fact the conversations parallel each other: God calls, either directly or through a messenger, the person objects, God gives assurances, sometimes there are multiple rounds of objections and assurances, the one called  finally sees what God sees in them, (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner) and accepts the calling a form of “let it be,” or “make it so,” or “Amen.” Academics have various names but essentially is a call narrative. Through it Luke associates Mary with biblically significant people like: Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.

There is another list of significant biblical characters Mary is associated with, at least in part, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Elizabeth. Though she is not barren, Mary’s pregnancy is mystical, clearly God is present with her.

It’s important to note Mary hasn’t done anything special, she is simply favored (Lewis) simply blessed. Like all who serve God, God calls first, what some call election; our response to the call has the potential for divine service. (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner) You’ve heard me say it before, most often related to life’s tragedies and troubles; however, it applies to God’s call: life happens, calls come, how we chose to respond, whether we trust God, or not, makes all the difference. Mary’s chooses to trust God.

According to Christian belief, no one will ever again be theotokos, mother of God; which raises the question how else is does Mary serve as an archetypical character for us. Karoline Lewis wants Mary’s witness to take Advent beyond its short season so that God coming to us becomes a way of life, a way of faith. (Lewis) So how is one like Mary and allow the here I am – make it so – Amen to come alive?

Julie Gibeau has limited means. Nonetheless, she sees children who have less, and believes that, especially at Christmas, they need to see and know happiness. So for six months she has been baking banana bread. So far, the 1000 loaves she’s sold, has yielded nearly $3000 she uses to buy toys for kids who otherwise would see little or nothing on Christmas morning. (Noel) And then there is Jarrett who won a tablet at his schools fund raiser. He surprised everyone, when he sold the tablet, and with judicious use of coupons and sales, bought nearly $300 worth of toys for other kids: a blanket to a little girl to stay warm, books for another kid to read, and toy trucks for “someone special.” Jarrett said:

Giving is the right thing to do…because you know that another kid might really, really need it … (Ready)

I expect all of us know similar stories, or folks who have and continue to be quietly kind and generous to others, at Christmas, and throughout the year. In their own way they’ve responded: let it be, make it so, Amen.

Steve’s parish is celebrating their 91st anniversary this week. In one of his blogs he wrote:

We can learn a lot from Mary’s example, but as important as it is to show up and say “here I am,” it is even more important for a community of the faithful to join together in saying “Here we are,”

He is right; as important as it is for individuals to say “here I am” there are some things that only the community can convey as together we “here we are.” Sixty First Ave United Methodist Church is a humble congregation, whose members are generally low income, give of their time and selves. For the last 18 years they have run the Last Minute Toy Store, providing toys to neighborhood kids, 90% of whom qualify for free lunch at school. Last year $200,000 in contributions bought 20,000 toys that were distributed to 4,600 children in 1,400 families. The store draws volunteers from all over town, and many receive toys for their family. It’s exemplary of Rev. Paul Slentz teaching of “ministry with the poor instead of for the poor.” (Fiona)

Some times “here I am” is not associated with Christmas. We all know that last week Australia was victimized by a Muslim terrorist. You may not know the incident increased already heightened anti-Muslim sentiment. Rachel was sitting next to a woman on a train; as it came to a stop she quietly began removing her Hijab, head scarf. Rachel told the woman, “Put it back on, I’ll walk with you.” Michael James heard the story, posted it online which rapidly spread with the hashtag #I’llride withyou. (COHEN)

[pause]

There are many examples of local folks and community actions that tell similar stories. Still, everyday God’s message “You, yes you, my favored one, don’t be afraid, here’s what I’m asking, don’t worry, nothing is impossible.” dances through our lives. Everyday individually and as a community we have the opportunity to stop, to question, to express doubt, to choose to believe, to choose to trust, to choose to say: “Here I am.” “Make it so.” “Amen.”

[pause]

Amen!


Bibliography

Bates, Rev. Dr. J Barrington. Sermons that Work – 4 ADvent. 21 12 2014. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/&gt;.

COHEN, NOAM. “Turning #IllRideWithYou Into Real-World Action.” New York Times (2014). web.

Fiona. The greatest gift. 21 12 2014. <http://www.faithandleadership.com/features/articles/the-greatest-gift&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Luke 1:26-38. 21 12 2014. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse, n.d.

Jaconson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 21 12 2014.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher: Advent as a Way of Life. 21 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Advent 2 B: Blessed Like Mary. 21 12 2014. <davidlose.net>.

Noel, Christine C. “Mom who had nothing bakes for month straight to pay it forward.” USA Today (2014). web. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/12/16/inspiration-nation-mom-loaves-bread/20461849/&gt;.

Orr, Jame, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. WORDsearch, 2004.

Pankey, Rev. Steve. “Here I am. Here we are.” 21 12 2014. Word Press: Draughting Theology. <http://draughtingtheology.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/hereiamhereweare/&gt;.

Powell, Mark Allen. Commentary on Luke 1:2638. 21 12 2014.

Ready, Lauren. “Boy turns winning prize into gifts for needy children.” USA TODAY (2014). web. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/12/15/inspiration-nation-boy-wins-prize-needy-kids/20318809/&gt;.

A prophetic voice in an active Advent

A sermon for Advent 2

Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8

Today we are surrounded by prophets. We hear Isaiah the prophet proclaiming freedom is coming. We hear John the Baptist, proclaiming redemption in baptism, and also the coming of the long awaited Messiah. Psalm 85 has a prophetic ring to it. And when we remember prophets explain the future based on current behaviors (Lewis) even 2nd Peter has a prophetic ring to it.

So, I’m in a bit of a pickle, because I’ve always held that I’m not a prophet, and cannot be prophet because I am of the institution. And prophets always come from the outside, and have to, because they have to see the present differently in order to see and proclaim the future God is offering, the future we are all ignoring. However, Karoline Lewis offers a different vision of prophets. She says they are truth tellers. By implication brutal truth tellers. She quotes Gloria Steinem: “The truth will set you free, but first it will really [tick] you off” She continues that when the truth gets suppressed crucifixion happens. She includes Ferguson as a manifestation of suppressed truth; (Lewis) I’d include New York and Ohio both in the news this week for revelation of questionable police actions. And nothing suppresses the truth more than fear.

In his column last week Thomas Friedman wrote about the continuing effects of September 11. He writes from David Rothkopf’s National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear in which Rothkopf names this as the age of fear. In response to Friedman’s inquiry he wrote:

Largely, this is because 9/11 was such an emotional blow to the U.S. that it, in an instant, changed our worldview, creating a heightened sense of vulnerability.” In response, “not only did we overstate the threat, we reordered our thinking to make it the central organizing principle in shaping our foreign policy.

Friedman writes: “the focus on terrorism, combined with our gotcha politics, has ‘killed creative thinking’” (Friedman)

In his column in the Gazette this week John Brummett notes how remarkably effective the political use of fear is.  (Brummett) I believe they both correct, in fact I believe the gotcha politics itself is a response to fear. The scriptural use of wilderness is a good metaphor for us as we find the way to face our fear, and our fear driven destructive behaviors.

There’s another emotion / belief that contributes to destructive behavior, and that is that there is no second coming. That is a concern addressed in 2nd Peter. Folks are of tired of waiting, (Hogan) and they have crafted some bizarre beliefs allowing them to get on with life in some rather risqué ways. If 100 years is a long time to wait 20 time 100 is really a long time. The loss of belief in Jesus’ return and fear are combining to create the deeply troubled times in which we live. And that brings us back to the prophetic voice.

Isaiah’s prophetic voice we heard this morning always rings with today’s opening hymn, and I always want to wrap up in a warm blanket, or go get some warm blankets for others to wrap up in. Not bad, but just perhaps, it’s a bit shallow. Scott Hoezee notes ‘comfort’ comes from the Latin cum and fortis or with strength. (Hoezee) The people don’t need warm blankets, they need strength. They need strength to follow the prophet’s map to Jerusalem, because it is not the water laden normal route; nope, it’s straight through the desert wilderness. Harsh? Perhaps, but it’s so very similar their origins in the wilderness journey through Saini on their Exodus journey to freedom. (Wendland) Mark’s Gospel has John quote Isaiah, and Malachi and Exodus. But the point we often miss is that neither the prophet nor the people are on their own. God’s servant is preparing the way. (Powell) The word here is singular, and it’s clearly a reference to John. However, in the broader context of scripture and of our times, it’s God many servants who will make the preparations who will give strength to the people. ~ Just who are these servants?

Karoline Lewis, David Lose and Lucy Hogan all have the same observation … us. Lewis suggest that we join the prophetic ranks by radical truth telling. (Lewis) Lose suggest that we quit waiting for Christmas and get in the game, (Lose) that we join the prophetic ranks. Hogan suggests we hear 2nd Peter as if it were written to us and live into the new creation, the new heaven and earth [we] find right here and right now. (Hogan) But what about all that I can’t be a prophet stuff because I’m part of the institution.

I’m beginning to believe all bets are off, because the church institutional and Church – body of Christ is outside our political and secular institutions. And in so much as the shepherds, as Isaiah referred to in the latter verses of today’s reading, is always a political metaphor everything we’ve heard is a call to us to be a part of the prophetic voice that challenges all our political and power brokering intuitions by speaking the hard truth.

And let’s be clear, I’m not talking about policy truth, thought there is room for that, I referring to the truth Advent lays before us. We believe in the incarnate presence of God, that’s looking back. We believe in the resurrected presence of Jesus, that’s looking to the future. We believe in the continuing presence of the Spirit, that’s looking at the here and now. Therefore we are not afraid not even of death! And as we come to believe and as we come to trust we will lose our fear, and we can make faith based loving good news bearing decisions about everything. They will be seen as counter cultural, because they will be; they will be seen as courageous because they will be; they will be seen as a manifestation of the Kingdom of God right here, right now because they will be.

Afraid? I am. And every prophet in scripture was afraid, and tried to wiggle out. But every time God’s presence prevailed. God always has been God is and will be with us as we begin to see and speak the truth. Join in an active advent, (Lose) and a fearless future.

Amen


References

Brummett, John. “Down Texarkana way.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 3 12 2014. web.

Friedman, Thomas L. “The Gift That Keeps Giving.” New York Times 3 12 2014. web.

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Isaiah 40:1-11. 7 12 2014.

Hogan, Lucy Lind. Commentary on 2 Peter 3:815a. 7 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher – A Truth Telling. 7 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Advent 2 B: Active Waiting. 7 12 2014. <davidlose.net>.

METZ, THE REV. DR. SUSANNA. Sermons that Work – Finding comfort vs. being comfortable. 7 12 2014. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/&gt;.

Powell, Mark Allen. Commentary on Mark, Mark 1:18. 7 12 2014.

Wendland, Kristin J. Commentary on Isaiah 40:111. 7 12 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.