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Keep Awake

1st Sunday in Advent, year B: Mark 13:24-37

We are in a time of waiting right now, and it unfortunately doesn’t have much to do with Advent, or the second coming of our Lord. It has to do with the pandemic. We are waiting to get a job back, or a new job to come. We are waiting for school to go back to normal. We are waiting to worship together indoors, without masks.

We are waiting.

But are we awake? Sometimes I feel like I’m just moving from one day to the next, not really being awake. I’m getting things done. Emails get sent. School work gets turned in. Meetings are attended. But I’m not sure I’m awake for all of it.

Mark’s gospel is the one synoptic Gospels, or gospels written from a similar point of view, but Mark skips the birth story, and focuses on the second coming of Jesus. Because the season of advent preparing for the birth of Jesus has already come, that was done long ago. Our season (or seasons) of advent are awaiting the coming of Christ again.

In Mark 13:37 the author says “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” What does keeping awake look like for you in this unprecedented season of Advent 2020? Perhaps it looks like focusing on your faith, through practices like reading scripture, prayer, or attending a Bible study. Perhaps it looks like taking care of yourself, making sure you are getting enough to eat and drink, and taking care of your health.

No matter how we keep awake this season, remember this. God promises to be with us. God came to be with us in the form of the baby Jesus so many years ago, walked with us, ministered with us, cried with us, died for us, and not even death kept him from us.

Therefore, God is with us in the waiting. Keep awake friends.

And YOU Shall Name Him Jesus

4th Sunday of Advent Year A, Matthew 1:18-25.

Many of us are pretty familiar with the story of the Holy Family by now. The story of angelic pronouncements, decisions to be made, and a new family formed. One character in this familial tale that sometimes gets glossed over is that of Joseph.

We know about how righteous Joseph was, that he married Mary anyway, and that he was a carpenter. But the most important part of the story is this.

1:21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus

Joseph names the infant Messiah Jesus. This might seem strange to us, but under the law, Joseph naming Jesus meant he claimed him. He was legally his child. Joseph was claiming Jesus as his own. This is huge.

He didn’t have to do this. He could have gone on with his plan to let Mary go quietly, and his reputation would have stayed in tact. But people would talk, and I’m sure they talked plenty. They would guess that this child wasn’t really his, but he claimed him anyway.

What a message of grace and love from such an overlooked character! To take a child and claim him as his own. Sounds a lot like what happens to us in baptism. God names us and claims us as God’s own. We can learn a lot from Joseph, the father of Christ.

Shalom.

Not What We Expected

Third Sunday of Advent year C Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Matthew 11:2-3

Have you ever been really excited for something, and then when it happened, it didn’t really live up to the hype? I’m sure we all have, at least I know I’ve seen at least one movie that should have been great and I’m pretty sure was a total dud.

But at least I wasn’t the one in the wilderness shouting “Prepare ye the way of this highly anticipated movie”. But that’s what John the Baptist had been doing. He had been preparing everyone for the coming of the Messiah. The person who could come and topple the corrupt government and would usher in the Kingdom of God.

And yet John sits in jail. Jesus didn’t come out of that baptismal water and immediately jump on a white horse and bring the Romans to their knees. In fact, he wasn’t at all what they expected.

And isn’t that the way of it?

We are prepared for happiness, and sometimes we are called to some unhappy places.

We are prepared for love, and sometimes the ones we love were not the ones we were meant to be with forever.

We are prepared for success, and sometimes we help others succeed instead.

We are prepared for royalty and all of its fanfare, and yet this is the season where we meet our savior in the most humble of places.

And even though we know the story, and we know why this baby in a manger is so important, we are still sometimes like John, wondering if this Jesus is really what we were expecting. Does Jesus really ask us to love our neighbor? And is our neighbor really everyone? Does Jesus really challenge those in power and raise up those who are weak?

And we know the answer is yes. We know that Jesus is all that and so much more. So, in this season of Advent, let us shake loose our expectations, so that the unexpected Jesus can surprise us once again.

Justice for the Poor

2nd Sunday in Advent Psalm 72:1-7 18,19

72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

Our culture has taught us to get really caught up on certain aspects of faith. I’m not even going to name them, because you know what they are. They are the political hot points. The things that make the news. The things that get people so fired up they are willing to unfriend church folk over it.

But you know what scripture talks about hundreds of times, almost as if God and Jesus were really serious about it? The poor. We are to care for the poor and the needy. We are to see to the needs of the widow, orphan, and prisoner.

Sometimes it feels like we’ve lost that fire to do something about poverty in our world. We’ve been fed a lie about why people are poor, and that they need to stay that way. I don’t believe that’s true. I echo the cry of the psalmist in our scripture for this week, that our leaders might champion the cause of the poor, and seek justice for the oppressed.

In September of 2019 I attended the Assembly of the Deaconess Community of the ELCA a community that I am blessed to walk with on my journey of becoming both a Deaconess Sister and Deacon within the ELCA. In that assembly, through the leadership of another candidate, the Deaconess Community voted to endorse the Poor People’s Campaign .

I am very excited about this endorsement, and I’m excited to see what I can do to support the campaign in my local area, especially through voter registration and mobilization.

So how will you champion the cause of the poor among us? I hope its through checking out what your local Poor People’s Campaign is doing and serving the cause. But if not, do something. Advent is about waiting, but the poor can’t wait forever.

Do Unto Others

All Saints Day Luke 6:20-31

There are lots of blessings and woes in this passage. And all of them make us a little squirmy. A seminary cohort of mine used to start sentences with “deep down in my icky dark core…”. This is one of those deep down in my icky dark core moments in scripture for me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want those who hate me to be blessed

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want to pray for those who abuse me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t want to think about the fact that I might be counted among the “rich” of this world, even in the times I struggle to make ends meet.

Deep down in my icky dark core I crave the approval of people, I need everyone to speak well of me, even when I know my call should cause people to feel a little uncomfortable and to even disagree with me.

Deep down in my icky dark core I don’t do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

But the Good News is it isn’t about me. Its never about me. Its about God, and I’m not God, and praise be for that! I need to remember that my sinful self regularly needs grace and forgiveness, and to be reminded, even with scripture that hits my icky dark core that others need grace and forgiveness too.

So I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep trying to honor the parts of scripture that hit my sinful self hard, to honor others as images of God, and to do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

Remember Our Sins No More

This week the Old Testament reading for the Lectionary Text comes from Jeremiah 31:31-34, for Reformation Sunday. I love Reformation Sunday. It gives me a reason to wear my Pentecost pants a 2nd time (a habit I picked up from my childhood pastor, although to be honest, not sure where those pants are since I’ve moved, so I guess it’ll just be Pentecost/Reformation Chacos)

As Lutherans we talk about the Law and the Gospel a lot. A. Lot. We’ve often err on the side of writing off the Old Testament reading some Sundays as irrelevant because of the Gospel, but I love this one.

I love it because God is making promises to God’s people. The people who continue to screw up. The people who can’t quite seem to get it right. The people who fail. Sound familiar?

God not only promises to “forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more”. Remember our sins no more. Think about the magnitude of that statement.

We can forgive sin, we know we aren’t perfect and we all sin, and we are supposed to forgive each other, but can we forget each other’s sin? Sometimes I think that’s hard for us as humans, because we can choose to forgive, but we often can’t help remembering. Maybe it has something to do with our survival instincts. We remember what hurt us so we can try to avoid it and not be hurt again.

Then I think about the people I’m closest to. My family, friends from childhood, people I’ve walked through Hell with. Those people have hurt me. I’m sure they’ve hurt me more times than I can count. But I’m not sure I remember all of those times, because we choose love. We choose relationship.

That’s what’s so exciting about this Old Testament reading. God chooses God’s people. The people don’t choose God. That would be too easy and too fleeting. But God chooses us, and God (with Her infinite memory) chooses to remember our sins no more.

That sounds an awful lot like Good News.

Peace be with you.

Here am I Lord, But wait…

5th Sunday after Epiphany Isaiah 6:1-8 Year C

“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!'”

This is one of my favorite old testament passages to read with children and youth. The imagery is crazy, God on a throne with a huge flowing robe, seraphs with 6 wings, hot coals, all the things. Its such a cool passage and as visions go, its a pretty crazy one.

But the really important part comes at the end, when God asks “whom shall I send” and Isaiah says “Here am I; send me!” But I’ve always wondered, if it weren’t for that crazy vision, with the Seraphs blotting out Isaiah’s sins with that hot coal on his lips, would he have been so quick to jump into the role God had planned for him?

Or would he have had the million reasons we often present for why we can’t do what God intends for us? His family needed him. He has to earn a living. He needs a little more time to pray about it. Maybe in a few years, but now he has student loans to pay off… (ok maybe that one isn’t an Isaiah reason, but how real is debt today???)

We’ve all got reasons we can’t stand up and say “Send Me”, and often those reasons are valid, or at least the appear valid in the moment. But God’s calls on our lives are rarely convenient and rarely care about our excuses. While we might not receive extreme visions, we know there are those nagging calls out there. Those calls begging us to do something new, something scary, something that expresses the radical love of Jesus Christ to the hurting people in the world.

So don’t be afraid, or maybe go ahead, be afraid, but stand up anyway and say “Here am I lord, Send me!” The good news is you’ll never be alone, the God that sends you out always goes with you.

Love is…

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 2nd Reading 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind…

Flash back to any weddings yet? I think sometimes those of us who work in churches roll our eyes at how often this passage gets used in wedding ceremonies, valentines day social media posts, and everywhere surrounding romantic love.

But Paul isn’t talking about romantic love. There’s a word for romantic love in Greek, and that word is eros. Here Paul is talking about agape love. Agape is the love that God has for us, and that we have for God. Its not bound by attraction or mutual affection. Agape is the kind of love that is unconditional, that we can’t earn or deserve, but is freely offered.

Sometimes I see all of the things listed in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians and I think “yeah, that sounds great, but is love really like that? Are we capable of that?”

I truly believe we are. We catch glimpses of Agape love between people all the time, we just need to be paying attention. I asked some social media pals what they think Agape love is, you’ll find some of their answers below, mixed in with my own musings.

Love is…

When someone stops to help a stranger change a tire, knowing it will be an inconvenience.

Listening.

Showing up week after week to teach Sunday school when you’ve had it up to your neck, because kids deserve someone who loves them.

Selfless

Doing the dishes, and not bragging about it.

Opening every cabinet door in the fellowship hall kitchen with a 2nd grader, because he needs to do that with you instead of sitting in children’s church.

Being present.

Choosing a career that serves others, over the ever driving appeal of wealth.

Giving of oneself.

Not abandoning a teenager who has done everything to push you away.

Sacrificial

Sitting at someones bedside, even if they no longer know you are there, or who you are.

Always looking for the good.

Telling your spouse they will go to every inter-generational event at church because those kids are going to know you love them gosh darn it.

The way. The way of God because God is love. If it’s not agape love, it’s not of God.

Ultimately, love is hard. Its hard because we are human, and we are sinners. We mess up, we make each other mad, we hurt feelings, and we break relationships. But luckily, that love that is of God is the way. Its the way back to restoration, the way back to wholeness, the way back to Shalom.

The greatest of these is Love my friends, the greatest of these is Love.

Great Gifts

2nd Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

“Now there are a variety of gifts but the same Spirit” – 1 Corinthians 12:4

What is the greatest gift you’ve ever been given? And I’m not talking about any of those noble answers like, the love of my child, or my amazing spouse… save it. When I say greatest gift, what comes to mind?

(Just to be clear, the love of my children and my spouse are both amazing gifts, but that’s just not what we are talking about right now)

I am an only child, and holidays were not a huge deal at our house, so I know I got great gifts as a kid, but I’m not sure I remember a lot of them. Although there was this one year when my mom wrapped up figure skates that I had been wearing for a few months, because those suckers were expensive, and when she said they were my Christmas present, she meant it!

One Christmas when my oldest child was about 5 and his brother was just a baby we were visiting family, and my oldest’s Godfather came over with presents. If ever there was someone who’s love language was gift giving, it would be his. Everyone got great gifts, and I got a laptop. It was such a huge deal for me, because it wasn’t something I would have been able to get for myself, and was something I really needed.

That’s sort of what its like with our Spiritual gifts right? Oftentimes we feel like our spiritual gifts probably don’t matter that much, like the time we got socks when we really hoped we were getting that new bike. But we needed those socks, and people around you need your spiritual gifts. Sometimes your spiritual gifts will be like my Christmas computer, big and bold and desperately needed. Other times your Spiritual gifts might seem more like socks, needed but not necessarily noticed.

But your gifts are unique to you. Even if you and another person both have the gift of hospitality, you are uniquely created and your gift will look different than theirs. That’s the beautiful thing about spiritual gifts, all of them are needed within the church, and outside its walls. Someone is waiting for your gifts to be used, for you to welcome them, talk to them, sing with them, or just sit with them. So take some time to think about what your gifts might be, and how you can best use them to serve your church and the world!

For more information on Spiritual Gifts (definitions, quizzes etc) check out these links:

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/spiritual-gifts-online-assessment

https://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Congregations-and-Synods/Faith-Practices/Spiritual-Renewal/Assessment-Tools

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