Christmas Eve Message: Ordinary Day and Extraordinary Hope

It was just an ordinary day in the City of Bethlehem.

The population, in those days, was around 1,000 people. That is a little more than double the latest Census estimate for Salvisa. All of those 1,000 people and more were gathered in Bethlehem on that day. The people were under the authority of the Roman Empire, which had no problem throwing its weight around. On that particular day, the people under Rome’s authority were required to return to their hometown in order to be counted. This was an ordinary occurrence for the people in Bethlehem, because Rome made it a habit of doing things to reminded people of their authority and power.

It was also an ordinary day for those outside of Bethlehem. Residing around the hillsides outside of Bethlehem were a group of shepherds. The shepherds were doing their job. They were keeping watch of their sheep to make sure they stayed safe from intruders. Shepherds were not the most beloved group of people. Some tolerated them as those who performed a needed task in society, but the people had little use for them. Others viewed them as thieves, because they would do what was needed in order to survive even if it meant taking from others. On that day they were just trying to live and survive. Continue reading

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Keep Persevering

There is nothing better than baseball in October. The thrill of the playoff chase. The tradition of the World Series and hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the season. The tradition that the Cubs will lose.

At least, that is my yearly hope. You see, I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan which means that cheering for the Chicago Cubs is one of the worst thing you can do in sports. Some friends of mine who share my opinion have gone as far as to say we are “NeverCubs.” My few Cubs friends tell me this is the year. That this is the year the curses will be lifted and that a championship will return to Wrigley Field for the first time since 1908 William Taft was preparing to make William Jennings Bryan the Chicago Cubs of presidential politics. Look it up and you’ll see what I mean.

My few Cubs friends tell me that all their troubles center around a goat named Murphy. Legend has it that a storeowner, Billy Sianis, tried to bring his goat to Game 4 of the 1945 World Series. When he was asked to remove the goat, Sianis became irate said that the Cubs would never win another World Series. The Cubs were up 2-1 in the series and would eventual lose the series.

Truthfully, though, as much as I cannot pull for the Cubs I do admire the perseverance of Cubs fans who continually believe, “This is our year.” Even when things seem too difficult to believe or the season does not go as they would hope they never give up. They continue to believe that something good, another World Series title, is coming their way. Continue reading

Sermon: True Christian Community

This was one of those weeks that brought forth all the emotions of life out of me. I’ve been sad. I’ve been happy. I’ve been nervous. I’ve been pleased. I’ve been anxious. And I’ve been relaxed. That seems to be the state of a Methodist pastor during General Conference season.

If you followed my posts or seen the news, this week, our tradition of faith has seen better days. The world unfortunately saw us at our worst. We focused on our divisions between conservatives and progressives. We became disinterested in doing ministry together. We lost our way. Yet, in the news of the discord over issues that have defined our nation – such as human sexuality, which we will talk in more detail about on Wednesday – came word that approximately 70 percent of our congregations did not have a profession of faith or a baptism in recent years.

We are a church that is struggling. We are a church that has lost its purpose. We are a church that is dying. Continue reading

The Apostles: Where Are You Looking?

We continue, today, our journey through the Books of Acts by picking up right where we left off last week. To refresh your memory, we looked at how Jesus called the Apostles, the group who had followed him throughout his earthly ministry, to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit. We even said there are times when we need to wait on God as we go out to share the message with others.

We pick up the story still as the Apostles and Jesus are still in Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus is giving his final instructions, but he is preparing to leave them soon. This Sunday, which we affectionately call Mother’s Day, is, this year, also the day we celebrate as Ascension Sunday. It focuses on an event 40 days after Easter when Jesus ascended to heaven to return to his place at the right hand of God the Father. This day anticipates the celebration of Pentecost, which is next Sunday, when we will celebrate the church’s birthday when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles.

For now, we are on the mountaintop receiving these last words from Jesus. He tells them that they will receive power from God and that they would be the witnesses of God’s love to all people. And then he ascends into the clouds.

After this moment, the Apostles cannot help but to stare into the sky looking at the clouds. Maybe they are thinking to themselves that the cloud is a sign of both the heavenly realm and God’s presence. But, most likely, the Apostles are staring into the clouds waiting for Jesus to return. Continue reading

Turn Out the Distractions

Every Sunday before the sermon, I try to gather us together with a centering prayer. What this prayer does is it gives us space to catch our breath, collect our thoughts, and to prepare ourselves to hear what God wants us for us today. I know, for some, the sermon is a time for a nap, but this time is truly a time of deep discipleship where we are encouraged and challenged to grow closer to God’s love. This is the most important time of the worship service.

The importance of this time is why I try to include this phrase in the pre-sermon prayer each week: Turn out the distractions of our days and of our lives so that we may be attentive to your voice and what you have for us this day. Sound familiar? These words are important for all of us, because I recognize we often come to worship distracted by the concerns, worries, and moments in our lives. Continue reading

The 8th Day

The night before was long and dark. It was the Sabbath day, the seventh day, and those who had followed Jesus had gathered together. Just hours before they witnessed Jesus’ gruesome death on the cross and now they waited to finish a job that was rushed that evening. You see, some of Jesus’ followers hurriedly placed him in a garden tomb knowing that the Sabbath was coming and that work to prepare Jesus for burial would have to wait for the next day, which was a Sunday.

That was the mood as the women gathered on that Sabbath night. We can assume they told stories of Jesus’ life. Perhaps they talked about how he fed more than 5,000 people with barely little food or how he healed so many people. Through their tears, they prepared the spices that would be used to give Jesus, their teacher and friend, a proper burial. The only things that kept them from going to the tomb, then, were the dark skies and the Sabbath laws that prevented any work from taking place until the following day. Continue reading

Sunday Sermon: Hallowed Be Your Name

One of my favorite things about parenting is finding out about all the new things Noah can do. It seems like every week there is something new he is doing, new words he is saying, and new facial expressions that bring a smile to our faces.

Sometimes, though, I do not see these new developments. When you are around someone as often as you are your own child, you don’t always see things like how much bigger he is or other developments. That’s why I am thankful for Sunday mornings. The time before church is often when I really get to see the new developments, because many of you lovingly point them out to us. I’m thankful when you tell us that he is getting taller, or when it looks like he has a new haircut when has never had one, or that he is interacting with some of you in new ways. That is a blessing to us, and it helps us to see how our little buddy is growing. Continue reading