Sermon: Possibilities Unfolding

Matthew 3:13-17

I enjoy passages of Scripture that have many different directions that one can take. There is so much contained in these few short passages that we heard this morning. Who is John the Baptist, and what is his mission? What does the Baptism of John mean? Why is Jesus being baptized? And a whole host of others.  Well, I am not going to answer any of those questions this morning.

This morning I would like us to look at God’s ability to bring order out of chaos and to do that we need to read back through other stories in Scripture.

The focus will be on the water. Keep in mind that for our ancestors in faith, water was a pretty scary proposition. One could not breathe underwater; water was where Leviathan lived, storms started on the water. So to speak of Baptism as being immersed in the water, and using the image of dying and rising was slightly off-putting to them.

But, there is no better place to start than “In the Beginning” Genesis 1:1-5:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

If you have even been involved in a building project, then you know how chaotic it can be. All sorts of things going on at the same time. Different trades in and out of the job site all doing their jobs and the contractor is like the conductor of a symphony making sure it all happens at precisely the same time. I am sure that during the creation of the known universe, things were a little chaotic and we see that God, the Great General Contractor all of history, sending his Spirit to hover over the waters. Remember, water is a bad thing, and the Spirit was there to make sure the bad stayed where it was supposed to stay.

We have the story of Noah and the Flood from Genesis 6:9-9:17;

Seven days from now, I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.

God uses water to clean the earth of all that is wrong but saves Noah and his family who escape destruction because of that same water. The same water that destroys is the same water that saves. Remember that it will come up again later.

But we also see a turning point here in the relationship between God and humanity. Humanity had cut themselves off from that personal relationship with God after the issue with the fruit in the Garden. I want to take a little aside here to give you my theory on why Adam did what he did. You see, I believe that Adam learned, very early on that his life would be much better if he just did what his wife told him to do. I did not truly understand this until I got married myself, anyway, back to our story.

The change comes in Genesis 8:21:

The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.”

God makes a covenant promise to humanity that God will never destroy humanity again. This is why I will never understand those who claim that God sends weather incidents like hurricanes and floods as some retribution for what people have done.

We next turn to Exodus 15 and the story of the Israelites fleeing from their captivity in Egypt being pursued by the forces of Pharaoh. You know the story; the Israelites are backed against the sea with no possibility of escaping the oncoming Egyptian Army. Moses lifts his arms and parts the Red Sea so they may cross.

The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea. The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone. Your right hand, Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, Lord, shattered the enemy. Exodus 15:1-6

Here the water became their escape, and it became a tomb for the enemies of people. Once again, we see that water is both salvation and death.

And then we come to today’s Scripture and the Baptism of Jesus. As I have mentioned before, Jesus left us with the example of a life to follow, his way, his life, his truth. When we accept that Jesus is the Lord of all, then we accept the change that comes with that. Baptism is that sign, we die to our former life, and we rise to a new one. We are claimed, by God, at our Baptism, whether it was as an infant or an adult. We recommit to that life and that Jesus is the Lord of all, at our Confirmation or other public declarations.  Through Baptism, God makes order out of the chaos of our lives and sets us on the path toward righteousness.

In the service of Baptism we ask that the Holy Spirit descend upon the waters, to hover if you will, to make order out of chaos. The water of Baptism become, as the water has before, death and life, we die to sin, and we rise to new life. It’s not that we do not sin any longer, it’s just that we are now on a path towards that newness of life where we are no longer slaves to sin but have redemption through Jesus Christ.

At our Baptism, promises were made by us or on our behalf that we would reject sin and believe that we need the grace of God in our lives. We pledged that we believe in God and Jesus Christ, and we promised to resist oppression and evil and to show love and justice wherever possible. Later in our lives, we would confirm those promises and beliefs at our Confirmation and make a public declaration, in our own words, of our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

For many of us, our Baptism was a long time ago, and we probably do not remember it. But we are called to renew those promises not only through our Confirmation but every day. We are called to seek justice, to show mercy, to love God, to love our neighbor, and to love our enemies. Let us live as people called by God and who have been given God’s grace of forgiveness. Let us renew those promises to, at this hour, and seek to follow the path of Jesus.

Baptism: Sacrament of Transformation

The Sunday after the Epiphany is set aside for the remembrance of the Baptism of Jesus Christ. This year, in the three-year Lectionary cycle, we will hear the story of Jesus Baptism from the Gospel of Matthew as found in the third chapter. The Church places this remembrance, following Jesus’ birth signifying the importance of Baptism not only in the life of the Church but in the life of the Christian.

Baptism is one of two Sacraments in Churches of the Reformed Tradition, the other being the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the sign of dying to sin and becoming a new creation in the life of the Church. Later in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives the command to go into the whole world, make disciples, and baptize them in the name of the Holy Trinity. Through this Sacrament, we become members of Christ’s body, the Church, and we share in Christ’s ministry in the world through our calling.

At our Baptism, promises were made by us or on our behalf that we would reject sin and believe that we need the grace of God in our lives. We pledged that we believe in God and Jesus Christ, and we promised to resist oppression and evil and to show love and justice wherever possible. Later in our lives, we would confirm those promises and beliefs at our Confirmation and make a public declaration, in our own words, of our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

For many of us, our Baptism was a long time ago, and we probably do not remember it. But we are called to renew those promises not only through our Confirmation but every day. We are called to seek justice, to show mercy, to love God, to love our neighbor, and to love our enemies. Let us live as people called by God and who have been given God’s grace of forgiveness.

Wisdom Wednesday: The Importance of Forgiveness

I believe it is safe to say that after the topic of love, forgiveness is the subject I preach and teach. In my understanding, forgiveness is at the very heart of our lives as Christians and our spiritual lives. The critical thing to remember about forgiveness is that forgiveness is not for the person you are forgiving; forgiveness is for you.

When forgiveness is withheld, the other person has power over you, not in a physical sense but more in a psychological and spiritual understanding. There will always be that part of you that belongs to someone else until we are at the point we can offer forgiveness.

The other important point is that forgiveness does not mean forgetting nor does forgiveness mean you do not wish to see justice served but remember, there is a fine line between justice and vengeance.

Forgiveness isn’t saying that what happened was ok; it’s saying I won’t let it affect me anymore.

Here are five questions to ponder to forgive, to let go, to free your energy, and to let the in light.

1. What am I still holding onto? What have I not forgiven yet?

2. What are the impacts to me of not letting go of these issues?

3. How do I benefit by hanging on to these issues? What do I get to stay feeling? What do I not have to deal with or face?

4. What is the biggest thing I haven’t forgiven yet?

5. If I was to let go of ___________, I would feel ________________________.

If you are having trouble forgiving or would like more tips and exercises to help you get to the place of forgiveness, contact me, and we can start a discussion.

A Prayer for Peace

God of infinite mercy, we trust in your good purposes of peace for all your children. We pray for those who at this time face danger in defense of justice.

Watch over those in peril; support those who are anxious for loved ones; gather into your eternal purpose those who will die.

Remove from the hearts of all people the passions that keep alive the spirit of war, and in your goodness restore peace among us; for the sake of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Adapted from the Book of Common Order, Church of Scotland

6 Steps to Spiritual Awakening in the New Year

It’s a New Year and all of the “New Year, New You” posts and MEMEs have begun to pop up. I decided this year, that I would not make resolutions, they never work anyway, but I would set some goals and one of those goals was to improve on my spiritual life.

On the blog, Sivana Spirit, author Kim Chestney writes about making changes in your spiritual life for the New Year. Chestney lists 6 steps to waking up your inner self and start off on the right path.  Here is a little from the post.

“Each January, as the New Year comes around, we have the opportunity to renew our commitment to personal growth. Now is the time to refocus your life on what matters most: the authentic expression of your inner truth. Virtually all of life’s dis-harmonies and imbalances arise from a state of incongruence between our internal and external realities. Aligning these two aspects of our being is much easier than you might think. The secret is to recognize, understand and express the intuitive connection between our personal being and the universal, cosmic Higher Self.”

Although all of the steps are important, a great place to start is with step number six; love all

Here is a link to the post to read the rest.

If need guidance is getting your spiritual life back on track, or need someone to guide you on your spiritual journey, check out my Spiritual Companionship page for more information.

12 Ideas to Have More Success with Your Goals

Well, we made it to another year, another decade!  If you are like me, New Year’s Resolutions never last past the first month of the New Year so I have decided rather than make resolutions, I would set goals.

The problem with resolutions is they are usually too grand, have no set time frame, and have no measurement for success.  Losing weight is a nice goal, but with no clear path it will not happen.

Here are 12 ideas to help you not only set goals but stick with them in the coming year.

Set Smart Goals – Make your goals smart – Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time bound.
Excitement – Big, exciting goals are often easier to achieve because they’re so inspiring to work towards.
Take Action Regularly – Gain momentum and achieve goals easily through regular action, however small.

Your Plan – Chunk your goals down into stages, identify the steps along the way, then work your plan.
Outside the Box – Keep an open mind and be prepared to achieve your goals in unexpected ways.
Understand Why You Want Your Goal – Your “why” will keep you going when your enthusiasm wanes or you have a difficult step to take.
Reach Out – Who will help you achieve your goals? Who supports and encourages you? Ask for help!

Go For It – No more procrastination! Stop putting things off and go for it instead.
Obstacles – List your obstacles – whether it’s you or something else. Now you can do something about them…
Authenticity – For goals that feel good and are easier to achieve, align your goals with WHO you are.
Learn to Prioritize – Most of us have more to do than time available. Ask yourself, “What matters most?” and work on that first.
Stay Focused – Determination and perseverance are more important to your goals than skills or ability! Stay focused and succeed.

Form a plan and stick with it. Make your goals smart goals and you will succeed.

If you need help setting goals or sticking to your plan, check out my coaching page and let’s start a conversation.

Sermon: Running for Your Life

Matthew 2:13-23

There is an old saying, “You have the freedom to make choices, but you are not free from the consequences of those choices.” Every day we make choices most of them inconsequential; what am I going to wear today? What should I have for lunch? And all the rest of them. For many of us, we do not have to make life or death choices, we do not have to make life-changing or life-altering choices, but even in the simple, we should seek guidance.

The story we have heard this morning is a story about how God will protect those he loves, and it is also a story about faithfulness to what God is asking us to do.

Now I have not been a parent all that long I am still trying to get used to the idea, but if someone was trying to harm my child or, I was in a situation that I could see no way out of except to protect that child at all costs, I would do. Imagine being so desperate to protect that child that you risk your own life. You walk thousands of miles to find a better place for them to live. Maybe you have paid some people lots of money to help you get there with the promise of a new and better life. But when you arrive, you are thrown in jail and separated from your child. You endure some of the worst conditions, and you are separated from your child. You are eventually told that you have to leave, but your captors cannot locate your child, but you still have to go.

Now imagine a group of people, reasonably well off and privileged. They say that they follow Jesus and love the Lord with their whole heart, mind, and soul yet are indifferent to the suffering of the least of these. This same group of people very recently gathered in churches and sang and celebrated the birth of a child that had no place to lay his head and say that they would welcome that child into their home all the while ignoring the children ripped from the arms of their parents and placed in cages. Welcome to the 21st century telling of the story of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.

We don’t like to think about those sorts of things. We don’t want to talk about it, and we can justify those atrocities that have been done in our name by saying something like, they should not have come here, they should have stayed where they were. Sure, it’s easy for us to say from our padded seats in our warm churches surrounded by people that love us. Still, it is a different story when all you can think of is fleeing the place you have grown up because conditions there, by no fault of your own, have become unsafe and unlivable and all you seek if the freedom to raise your children without the fear of them being taken from you or killed.

This was the same fear that Mary and Joseph encountered. The Wise Me had come and paid a visit to Herod. They told Herod why they had come and Herod, filled with hatred and greed, convinced the Wise Men that he too wished to pay homage to the child. But they had a dream, and in that dream, the angel told them not to return to Herod. At considerable risk to their lives, they obeyed the angel and left without returning to Herod.

At the same time, the angel appeared to Joseph and told him to take the child and his mother away, to Egypt, outside of the grasp of Herod and with considerable risk to the lives of all of them, he did exactly what he was told to do by the angel. He did not have permission to enter Egypt. He did not have a sponsor or meaningful employment he just did what he had to do to protect his family. Joseph was faithful to God’s command, and God protected him.

But back home, Herod figured out he had been lied to by the Wise Men. Perhaps he was told by his advisors that he had to act to save face. Maybe he knew that if he did not do something, his base of support would turn against him. So what did Herod do? He had all of the male children murdered, to find the one he had them all murdered. He sent the military to round them up. They broke down doors, raided shops all in the name of keeping people safe. There was no trial; there was no due process; there was only murder.

Yesterday was the Fourth Day of Christmas and the Commemoration of the Holy Innocents the commemoration of the day when this atrocity took place. Scholars are unclear of the number that Herod ordered murdered but suffice it say, it was a large number. Some scholars believe it did not happen, and the story is an allegory of what hatred will do and what corruption of power will do. An allegory of what a person is willing to do to hang on to that power.

We all make choices in our lives, some good and some bad. How many of us seek out guidance from God, or others we trust, when making big choices in our lives, life-changing choices. Joseph chose to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, outside of the grasp of the madman Herod. The Wise Men decided to go back home another way to avoid being part of the slaughter of the innocents. Herod made a choice, obviously not directed by God, and he carried out severe crimes against humanity.

This is a difficult story, this is a hard story, but it is a story that we have to face. Joseph and Mary have had a wonderful experience, the birth of a child. They know this child is destined for greatness. They have had visitors from shepherd to the exotic visitors from the east that brought them expensive gifts and in a matter of moments; their lives will be changed again. They must now pack up all they have and run for their lives. They must run away to protect the child that God has given them to care for. What parent would not do that?

This is a story about the cruelty of humanity. It is a story about the corruption of power and the greed of one person, with an army at his beck and call, that can violate the lives of so many just to hang on to power. A sadistic mad man that will destroy the lives of so many, crush the hope and dreams of those seeking a better life just to protect the desires of those who already have so much more than most people in the world have.

But it is also a story of faithfulness and a story about doing whatever is necessary to protect the lives of those vulnerable in society. It is a story about standing up to power, even if it means going another way or deceiving that power. It’s a story about God’s faithfulness to his covenant with us that God will remain with us no matter what we are going through. It’s a story about choices and consequences, good and bad, but in the end, it is a story about the power of love over the power of hate. Herod dies, but Jesus survives. All of that hatred could not overcome love. All of that darkness could not overcome the light.

In the end, this is a story of love and a story of faithfulness and a story about God’s promise that he will always be with us to help us and guide us if we just listen when he speaks.

Amen.

Sermon: Christ is Born

Four weeks ago, we began a journey that has brought us to this night. Four weeks ago, we started our preparation in both the physical as well as the spiritual sense for this night. This time of preparation is a time for us to reconcile not only with God but with one another. It is a time to attempt to fix what has been broken in our relationships and our lives.

We began with the first candle and the reminder that as Christians we have to have hope, hope that all things will be made new, hope that in whatever God is asking us to do he will walk right beside us all along the way. Hope that with the birth of Jesus Christ, the promise of God has been fulfilled, and light has been brought to earth to lighten the darkness.

We lite the second candle to remind us of the love that God has for us. Ours is not a god that punishes ours is a God that forgives. Ours is not a God that sends a storm and other such things to wipe people out, ours is a God that makes covenant promises with us, and when we stray, God sends his son to show us the way and leave us a path to follow. That son is also the light, the light that will shine before us, so we no longer have to stumble in the darkness.

We then shifted gears a little; we paused in our time of reconciliation and lite the lone pink candle. We heard the message of Mary, and yes, she knew that her soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in the God who saved her. We found the joy of a young girl’s yes when God asked her to do something amazing. We heard from the Gospel of John that the love of God for each of us does not come with a price, does not come with a set of rules other than for us to pay that love forward to our neighbours and the whole world.

We are almost to end of our journey, and we come to find rest and peace, the peace of God that passes all understanding. We learned that we are not perfect, that our lives do not have to be perfect, that Mary and Joseph were not perfect yet God used them because they were willing to take on the task that God asked of them. Sure, they were scared, but God’s promise that he would not abandon them brought them peace. The message for us is that we too can find that peace in God, and we can find rest in his promise that he will love us no matter what.

Then we come to tonight. Tonight we lite the large candle in the centre of all the others, the candle that represents Christ and the light that shall never fade. Each of the surrounding candles has burned down because their light has shown so bight these last weeks, but as each candle burned down another came along to replace it. We heard from the prophet that a son has been born and all authority has been given to him. We heard from Luke that God spoke to the shepherds to tell them not to be afraid for the angel is bringing them a message of great joy, that today Christ s born. And we heard from Paul that hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured out upon us and will remain with us forever.

So what does it all mean? The message of Christmas is easy, love. God sent his only Son because God loves us and wants us to find the right path. God’s gift to us this night is that love that comes without strings, some assembly required, but the directions are clear, and there are others to help. Our job now is to take that love out into the world so it will shine for others to see.

In a few moments, we will dim the lights and pass the flame around the church that will light the candles that we each hold. The fire comes from the candle that represents the love of Christ. The glow is warm to remind us of the warmth of love, the love that God has for us. We will light our candle and then pass this light to another to warm and brighten their day. We will sing Silent Night to remind us of what took place and the birth of the Christ Child. Then, the lights in the church will come back on, and we sing joy to the world as the light has won over the darkness.

Although we will extinguish the light we hold this night, do not let that light go out. Take that light with you wherever you go this night and the days to follow. Pass that light along to another to brighten their day and illumine their path. We have become that center candle, that candle that represents Christ in the world; let that light shine brightly for all the world to see.

Merry Christmas!

Sermon: God With Us

Matthew 1:18-25

I am not a big fan of the Hallmark Christmas movie genre. I am sure you have seen one or two of these “classics.” The storyline is the same. A small town, a person comes home that has been away for a long time. The small town is in some crisis that only this person and can fix. Usually, the mine is closing, the store is being sold, or the family home that people have lived in for generations is being sold. There is usually an evil developer that comes into the story a little more than halfway through. There is a love interest of some kind, but in the end, it all works itself out, and everyone lives happily ever after. Well, only if life worked that way.

Many people will strive for that “perfect Christmas” the Christmas card Christmas with the fire burning in the background. At our house, it is usually on Netflix with Christmas Carols playing in the background. We search for that perfect gift, and maybe we find it, perhaps we don’t. We expend a tremendous amount of energy in pursuit of something that does not exist, something that is a creation of a greeting card company.

Many feel extreme joy this time of year, but others feel a sense of loneliness or sadness that prevents them from having the sort of Christmas that they think they should have. There is no such thing as a perfect Christmas.

Today we hear the second part if you will, of the Christmas story that began last week. This week we focus on Joseph and his role in all of this. But it is also a reminder that God sometimes upsets the comfortable social expectations and conventions. That first Christmas was anything but perfect. Most people would not expect God’s incarnation to come through the life of a poor girl from a backwater outpost of the Roman Empire. I think we sometimes forget just what a scandal the incarnation was and that behind that pretty nativity scene, there is a story of both wonder and scandal.

The passage we heard this morning from the Gospel of Matthew calls to mind the fact that preparations for that first Christmas were anything but perfect. Joseph, whom the text refers to as a “righteous person,” discovers that his soon-to-be-wife is pregnant. The writer of the story knows the back story that this is God’s Son, but this is unheard of in 1st Century Palestine, heck that is unheard of in 21st century New Hampshire!

In Joseph’s mind, this pregnancy is a violation of the social convention of his day. He decides that he is going to divorce Mary, which legally is the more humane of all of the options available to Joseph at this time. Because he is a righteous man, he decides to divorce her quietly so as not to disgrace Mary or her family.

We are like Joseph at times. We go about our business and do not want to stir things up or call attention to ourselves; we handle things quietly and without a fuss. There is a reminder for us in this text today that we do not always have to do things in a loud way to get them done; we can work behind the scenes to bring about change.

But there is another lesson to be learned through the actions of Joseph, sometimes the life we are being called to by God goes against and causes us to violate social conventions. Sometimes we are being urged to flip over the tables in the temple, refuse to sit at the back of the bus, use any drinking fountain or bathroom we want. Sometimes we are being called to stand up and to speak truth to power. Sometimes we are being urged to stand up even when everyone else is sitting down.

Joseph did not violate the social convention of his day to be rebellious; he broke convention because God, as God often does, intervened unexpectedly. God sent an angel to Joseph in his dream. The angel told Joseph that everything is going to be okay. God is about to do some fantastic stuff. Yes, God understands that he is asking you, Joseph, to do something that goes against everything you have been taught and understand to be accurate, but hang in there; God will be with you every step of the way.

This is the real message of this passage that God works even outside of the ways we think God works, in spite of the way we believe God works. God works through our less than perfect lives. God can use us even though we are wretched sinners beyond any hope of reconciliation. God can and will do something new and amazing!

Somehow, Joseph believes what the angel is telling him, that this child is from the Holy Spirit, that he already has a name, Jesus; and that he will save people from their sins. Those of us who know how this story unfolds and ends struggle with understanding just how this infant will save us from our sins and show us a new way, imagine what Joseph must have been thinking.

Again, we have all been Joseph. Perhaps there has been a time in your life when someone has intervened in your life that prevented you from doing something in haste or set your feet on a different path. I recently came across something that said, if you are in the position to help someone do it because God may be answering their prayer through you. Yes, we have all been Joseph, but we can all be the angel as well.

As one can imagine, this news catches Joseph off guard. He is unaware of the journey that he is about to be on. God has chosen Joseph to be the protector of his only son. Joseph has been called not only to go against every social convention he knows, but he is being called to make sure nothing happens to Jesus. Jesus is not his biological child, but Joseph will love him and care for him, risking his own life at times, to make sure nothing happens to him. Poor Joseph does not get the credit he deserves for the part he played in the story.

Mary and Joseph knew the end of the story; they knew that God was going to do something amazing, they did not know all the steps they would have to take in between, they started with small steps, following God’s promise that all would be well. But this text is also calling us to rise and to follow God’s call, not knowing where the journey will take us, or the path that God has set before us.

Amen.

Prayer for the United States of America

God of all righteousness, hear our prayer for the life of our country. Assist us in coming together and finding common ground. Help heal the deep divisions that exist and help us work together for the common good. Bless all those in positions of authority. Bless the people of our country: rule their hearts and encourage their endeavors for the good of all. Help us to seek service before private gain, and the honor of your name before the popularity of our own. Give us liberty, peace, and joy, and bind us in service to the community and in loyalty to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Adapted from the Book of Common Order, Church of Scotland