What the Lord Requires

Micah 6:6-8 – January 29, 2017

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“What the Lord Requires”

Many people have very particular ideas about how to do things. Ask the editors at Vogue or GQ, or other high fashion magazines, and they will tell you precisely how a well-dressed person ought to look. What about Emily Post, Miss Manners, and Ann Landers? Don’t they let everyone know how to act and how to behave in polite society, in just about any situation?

What about the police and lawyers, and what is legal or not? Aren’t there basic rules and requirements for behavior and actions in this community? You and I have a right to wave our arms as much as we like. Except—my right ends where your nose begins. And what about public intoxication? Drunk and disorderly? There are many examples I could mention about recommended behavior.

Welcome to our mainline American culture, here in the 21st century. I’m not even going to go into the multitude of different cultures and the differences of practice and of culture, world-wide. Yet, many people have quite particular ideas about how to do things, and what types of activity are recommended, even required.

One of our Scripture passages today gives us a short list of what the Lord recommends for each of us. A summary statement, if you will. Let’s read Micah 6:8: “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Let’s unpack that summary statement, and take a look at the two verses that come before. Verse 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?” This is a sincere question, I believe. It’s sincere for the prophet, and sincere for all of us here today. What is the best way to come before God? How can we come to the sanctuary, to the holy place? Who may approach God? What kinds of things do we all need to do (and say, and think) to be acceptable and worthy in the sight of the Most High God?

These verses do not concentrate on what we ought to wear. Different people wear different things, depending on their culture, their context, and their preferences. At some churches, the minister wears super-fancy robes (like at my priest friends’ Episcopal churches in Maryland and Virginia). I have several friends who attend church in Chicago at a very youth-oriented congregation. Their minister wears blue jeans and an open-collared shirt for a Sunday morning service. Clothing choice is NOT what this sermon is about. The choices of what we do with our lives, how we treat each other and live together—this IS what the prophet is talking about here.

What does the Lord require of us, anyway?

Some people and some churches think God wants a showy service, and spectacular offerings. As one of the commentators said, “Perhaps our worship is wrong; perhaps we have not been serious enough in our acts of praise? “What do you want, Lord? Burnt offerings, year-old calves, thousands of rams, tens of thousands of rivers of oil?” (6:6b-7a) [1]

In the time the prophet Micah wrote, a small portion of people did not stop there. They went even further. Listen: “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Yes, sometimes, in the Old Testament times, when people from other tribes and nations thought they had sinned so severely—so grievously that their god could never, ever forgive them, they would actually turn over their firstborn to the temple. In some cases, their firstborn would even be killed by the priests. (This was NOT in Israel. The Lord considered this practice an abomination!) However, in certain places, at certain kinds of temples with horrible blood sacrifices (for example, at the temples of the horrible, bloodthirsty god Moloch), this was true.

Again, NOT the case in Israel. And, NOT the case here, today, either.

The people were too preoccupied about what they could do to please God through their religious ceremonies, only on what happened in the sanctuary. They did not care about the rest of their lives, and how they behaved the other six days a week. How could these people live their lives during the week any old way they wanted to, but just wanted God to put a stamp of approval on their foreheads when they came to Temple (or church) on the weekend? Because, that was what they were trying to get away with.

Which leads us to the general summary in Micah 6:8. What is it that God requires of us? First, to do justice. Justice is dynamic! Not just written down in some dusty book. Justice means that we “work for fairness and equality for all, particularly the weak and the powerless who are exploited by others.” [2]

Who speaks out for those who have little or no power or influence? Throughout history, Christians have felt strongly that they ought to speak for those who have no voice. Like, children, the elderly, and the mentally disabled. People in asylums, prisons, and orphanages. All of these need fairness, equality, and help against exploitation.

Second, the Lord requires us to love kindness. Yes, one meaning of the Hebrew word chesed is kindness, but the full meaning can hardly be conveyed by one single English word. It means a whole lot more than simple kindness! Chesed “has to do with love, loyalty, and faithfulness. It can be used to describe the key element in relationships, whether in marriage or between human friends or between God and humanity.” [3]

This is more than just “being nice” to each other. Much, much more! It all comes down to relationships.

Third, the prophet says to walk humbly with our God. The key word here is “walk.” Not to do things pleasing to God every once in a while, but be “careful to put God first and to live in conformity with God’s will.” [4] Our life’s journey—our continued walk with God—is a journey with our loving, giving, embracing God as our constant companion.

Again, this verse, Micah 6:8—is NOT about worship practices on Sunday mornings, and that’s all there is. This verse is NOT about how to dress for church, or other kinds of exterior behavior, just for show. This verse is about our inside attitude.

This is one verse where the expression “What Would Jesus Do?” has pertinent meaning. What would Jesus do, with that homeless veteran on the street, begging for money? What would Jesus do, with the elderly woman in subsidized housing, trying to make ends meet on only her Social Security check each month? What would Jesus do, with the pregnant teenager kicked out of her home because of an unwise choice?

Is this requirement from God easy? No. Not easy. Is it simple and straightforward? Yes. In plain language, the prophet tells us what God expects of all followers of God.

Let’s close with Micah 6:8, again: “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Let those with ears to hear, let them hear. And do, and love, and walk with God.

[1] http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Justice-Not-Worship-John-C-Holbert-1-20-2011 Justice, Not Worship, Reflections on Micah 6:1-8, John C. Holbert, Patheos, 2011.

[2]  Daniel J. Simundson and the The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 7, The Book of Micah), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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Fishers of People

Matthew 4:18-23 – January 22, 2017

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“Fishers of People”

Is everyone here familiar with regular, ordinary work? Some people might call it common or mundane. The ordinary, everyday kinds of things that ordinary, everyday people do on a regular basis. That is what countless numbers of people do, every day, at work and at home.

That is what Peter, Andrew, James and John were doing, as fishermen. As the Gospel lesson today mentions, these men and their co-workers worked on their boat, doing hard work. Doing what they were used to doing every day. Probably, for some among them, doing the same ordinary, everyday things they had done on their boats for decades.

I suspect this day started out for Peter, Andrew, James and John like so many others. But, this day turned out differently, because Jesus showed up. Let’s see what happened from Matthew’s account: “As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen.”

As one of the commentaries said, “Fishing was a popular trade on the Sea of Galilee. Fishing was the most common occupation for people residing in the small villages located on the lakeshore. Living on the shores of Lake Galilee with its abundant supply of fish, people understood fishing perhaps more than they did farming. Living on the shores of a fishing lake, the whole town was ‘into fishing.’” [1]

Typical for many people in the town of Capernaum, Peter and his brother Andrew were regular, ordinary working men, doing their regular, ordinary job, with others in their family’s boat. Casting their nets into the sea.

That troublemaking rabbi Jesus walks by the shore and calls out to them. He says, “19 Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” What on earth does Jesus mean by that?

Some people consider their work to be simply that: work. But, a portion of workers think work is something more than just a way to earn a paycheck. They consider their work to be much more: something from which they receive significant satisfaction, purpose, and meaning.

One of the writers I consulted, Dr. David Lose, helped to formulate a survey describing “work,” “vocation,” and “calling.” The survey asked respondents various questions about their work, how they viewed it, and how important work was in their lives.

“Where do [these] people find the greatest sense of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose (terms to which these survey respondents resonated far more strongly than “vocation” or “calling,” by the way)? Relationships. Even those who identified their work as a source of meaning and fulfillment usually cited their relationships at work as the places of particular significance.” [2]

Peter and Andrew were interrupted in the middle of their regular, ordinary day by Jesus. When Jesus called out to Peter and Andrew and said He would make them fish for people, He called to them, to build relationship with Him, first and foremost. Then, to build relationships with others.  

These two guys in the boat? It’s their response that is really extraordinary. Our Gospel reading says: ” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” Immediately! They don’t pause and think about it. Immediately, they go!

So now we have the rabbi Jesus, and Peter, and Andrew, walking along the shore. What happens next? “21 As Jesus went from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”

The same thing. These two are sitting in their father’s fishing boat, and the rabbi Jesus calls to them. They get up in the middle of things, leaving the nets half-mended, and they leave.

What on earth is going on here? This reading is difficult to believe. It’s really a stretch of the imagination to think of getting up and leaving everyone and everything these guys know to follow Jesus. I don’t know whether I could do it! Don’t most people figure the disciples were extraordinary, first-century super heroes of the faith? You know. People that we can admire from afar but certainly not identify with.

Dr. Lose refers to some biblical scholars who suggest that “Jesus had been living in Capernaum for a while and had known Peter, Andrew, James, and John for some time, and so this call was neither sudden nor abrupt but was the natural outcome of their friendship. Maybe that was the case (huge emphasis on “maybe”), but given that Matthew reports that when Jesus comes and calls they immediately follow, I think we are meant to take notice.” [3]

Whether Jesus knew these four guys for a long time or for just a little while, Matthew tells us—he stresses they followed Jesus immediately. They didn’t think about it, they didn’t dither, or pause, or tell Him to come back tomorrow. No! They immediately followed and entered into a relationship with Jesus.

And, Jesus? He didn’t call them to come and work for Him. He didn’t just want to be their supervisor or manager. No! He called them into a close, genuine relationship with Him: the best kind of relationship there is! Jesus continues to encourage His disciples, His friends, to bring others into a close, genuine relationship with Him, too. BFFs, best friends forever.

What were some things the New Testament tells us about this relationship with God? To bear each other’s burdens, care for each other (especially the vulnerable), and hold onto each other, through thick and thin. Striving to do this, we will always be upheld by God’s grace. [4]

Some people still don’t think they are worthwhile, or good enough to be real disciples. After all, I suspect we don’t have any super duper saints here in this church. No super heroes of the faith! Can God use me? Can God use you?  I know I am imperfect. I’m just a regular, ordinary person, going about my business, doing regular, ordinary things. I suspect that describes everyone here.

I have good news for us all, however. Jesus is still looking for people to come, to answer His call. He is calling to regular, ordinary people in regular, ordinary situations to rise up and become extraordinary.

Jesus is calling to you and to me, holding out His hand to each of us. Jesus wants us to be in a close, genuine relationship with Him, too. Jesus wants us to go the next step and have concern and love for others: to be in a close, genuine relationship with them, too. Not in a mission, or a ministry, or a movement, but in genuine love and caring for one another.

Here’s an action step for you: find one person with whom you are in significant relationship. Perhaps it’s a relationship that brings you particular joy, or sorrow, or frustration, or hope. It doesn’t really matter, just so long as it’s significant. Once you have that person in mind, please take a moment to pray for that person every day for a week … and to believe that God is using you to make a difference in the life of the person for whom you are praying. [5]

Come back next week and let me know what happened. Did you feel closer to God? Did anything change for that person? We all can rejoice, for all of us strive to be faithful. Alleluia! Amen!

 

(A great big thanks to Dr. David Lose for his excellent words and thoughts on Matthew 4 and his bible study “Fishers of People.”)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

[1] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_fishing_for_christGA.htm “Fishing for Christ,” Gospel Analysis, Sermons from Seattle, Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3018  “Fishers of People,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

[3] Ibid. (emphasis mine)

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3018  “Fishers of People,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

[5] Ibid.

Christ is All!

Colossians 3:9-15 – January 15, 2017

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“Christ is All!”

Did you ever get a brand-new suit? A lovely new dress? Were you dressed in new clothes from head to toe? What about when one or your children or grandchildren was dressed in a wonderful new outfit? That can cause a person to feel brand new, all over.

That’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about, here in Colossians 3, verses 9 and 10: seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self.” That is exactly the word picture Paul is using, about taking off an old shirt or coat, and putting on a new, clean garment.

Paul not only is talking about our new selves and our new identity. He is also alluding to what happened at baptism. He makes mention of it in the letter to the Galatian church, and he mentions it here, too.

In the early Church, people often got baptized as adults. They would go through a several-week period of preparation, teaching and study, and finally be pronounced ready to be baptized. After the time of baptism, which often took place on Easter, the newly-baptized person would put on a new, clean white garment. This would show everyone that they were washed clean and ready to claim their new identity in Christ.

Some people might be wondering what I am doing up here, with no robe. I wanted to show everyone what Paul was describing here. See, I am just plain old me. Nothing special, nothing to write home about. But, now, I am going to take off the old self. Take off my old jacket. What is it that Paul said, again? I put on—we put on the new self. Like, right now, when I put on my robe. I am clothing myself in Christ. We all have done this, already! It has already happened, and is a blessed reality!

However, there is a problem. Paul reminds us about that. Did you know we can fool ourselves into thinking that this has not happened? Paul says exactly that, in verse 9: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices.”

Paul knows how easy it is to lie. Maybe not tell big whoppers, but certainly bend the truth. Some people lie a little, and others lie a lot. Whether it’s a lot or a little, whether it’s lying to other people or lying to ourselves, some people can act like they still have their dingy old clothes on, and haven’t put on their brand new Jesus garment yet. Some people can talk like they haven’t had much of an acquaintance with Jesus, either. Jesus is not affecting them much at all. Not in the way they talk, or act, or think.

We all know how easy it is to stretch the truth to other people. It’s just human, after all! This might be a challenge for us to hear, but, let’s think about lying to ourselves. Yes, not acting or talking like we have put on Christ. What about when we fool ourselves a lot, or beat ourselves up? When we say, “no one will ever know!” or “I guess nobody ever expected much,” or even, “what’s the use? I never can measure up.” Settling for cut-rate, lying to ourselves that whatever we are doing is okay, or giving up, not even trying at all. It’s a really difficult habit to break.

That is a big, big problem! What are we going to do about such a state of affairs?

Sometimes, people do end up stuck in the middle. Right before the scripture passage we read today, in the letter to the church at Colossae, Paul mentions a laundry list of practices and other things that can get in the way. Things that come between us and God.

We believers may think we have gotten rid of the malice, impurity, even blasphemy that Paul describes in verse 8. Yes, Paul matter-of-factly ticks off bad habits and sinfulness from the list, but spiritually, these people haven’t put on their brand-new Jesus garment. Do you know people like that? I’m afraid some people are too focused on themselves, either in a puffed-up self-centered manner, or in a negative, self-defeating way.

I discovered verse 11 of this chapter a long time ago. Paul says, “you have clothed yourselves with the new self…. In that renewal, there is no longer Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”

One commentary I consulted was particular about the translation of this verse from Greek: “There is no such thing as Greek and Jew (the difference of privilege between those born of the natural seed of Abraham and those not, is abolished), [no such thing as] circumcision and uncircumcision (the difference of legal standing between the circumcised and uncircumcised is done away with)—and [no such thing as the difference between] bondman, freeman.” [1]

So many people just skim over this verse, not even considering the inclusiveness and social justice that the text implies. Instead, they are—we are—still focused on ourselves, as if we all are wearing blinders. They—we celebrate the day they were “saved”, but fail to do the work of God’s realm, including the removal of barriers. Those who are stuck halfway between their old, sinful clothes and their new, clean Jesus garment may even be creating new barriers.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. In August 1963, he made his “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on the Mall in Washington, D.C. He said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

That sentence resounds with the quality and the content of this verse from Colossians, as well as the similar verse from Galatians 3:28, which talks about neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Gentile, and neither slave nor free. All of us—that is, everyone—are one in Christ Jesus our Lord. Or, as Colossians 3 states: “Christ is all, and in all!”

Martin Luther King was highlighting people’s insides, not their outsides, and looking at the quality of their character, not the color of their skin. Or how nice their clothes look. Or how expensive their shoes are. Or whether they have been to college or not. Or which side of the train tracks they are from. Or what ethnicity or culture they grew up in.

“There’s a great line from a movie where two African Americans are walking past a whites-only church, and one of them says, ‘I’ve been trying to get into that church since I was a kid.’ His friend responds by saying, ‘That’s nothing, Jesus has been trying to get in there for a lot longer and he hasn’t gotten in yet.’” [2]

The larger church is hurting. Most believers have witnessed divisions and separation both inside and outside the church. Hurt, grief, anger, dashed expectations, frustration, fear…. a mass of emotions. Hurting people, hurting each other.

Jesus will help us. He will not leave us alone, hurting and separated from others. He will not leave us wearing old, dirty, sinful clothes, but will help us to put on a brand-new, clean Jesus garment. Jesus will come alongside of each one of us. He wants all of His children to come together, to love each other, no matter what.

I close with the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, chapter 15: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” No matter what. How much did Jesus love us? He loved us this much. (spread out arms) Alleluia. Amen!

[1] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/jamieson/jfb.xi.xii.iv.html  Commentary on the Whole Bible (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871). When

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday18ce.html “Real Life in Christ,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

 

Baptized, Beloved

“Baptized, Beloved”

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Matthew 3:13-17 (3:16) – January 8, 2017

Water. Water is used for a great many things. For washing and cleaning, certainly! Washing clothes and dishes, washing hands before dinner, washing cars in the summertime. Cleaning things, too, like brushing teeth before bed, and cleaning instruments and tools. Water is used for a special, cleansing purpose in the Christian church, too. Water is for cleansing of people, and washing of souls, of body and spirit.

The Gospel of Matthew begins our Scripture passage today with Jesus at the very beginning of His ministry. He comes to the River Jordan, to see His cousin John the Baptist. And what is John doing at the Jordan? Baptizing people, cleansing them while they confess their sins, washing their souls, inside and out.

Let’s back up a bit, and take a look at the passage from Isaiah, from the Hebrew scriptures. Here we have a prophetic suggestion of what is to come; the prophet tells us here in the book of Isaiah about the Sent One of God.

Did you know that God deeply cares about the Sent One? The prophet says so! Listen again to verse 42:6—“I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you;” We see that God is faithful to God’s promises, and will care for those whom God loves. In fact, God is within the Servant the prophet speaks of, And, God means for this Servant to transform and cleanse the mess the world has been in. [1]

This is awesome news! The mixed-up world will finally be washed and cleansed. Except, Jesus does something completely unexpected. Jesus does not come to cleanse the world, at first. No, Jesus comes to John to be obedient and go through the waters of baptism Himself.

We can see from the Gospel passage that John is really hesitant to baptize Jesus. He says, “No way, Jesus! I oughta be baptized by You! And here You are, coming to me to be baptized?”

I want to remind everyone that Jesus had no sin. He was both God and man at the same time. Yet, Jesus came to be baptized by John. Jesus wanted to identify with sinful humanity in every way. Plus, Jesus wanted to fix the mess the world was in.

Look at verses 6 and 7 of the passage from Isaiah: “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” That sounds like washing and cleansing this fallen, mixed-up world. That sounds like the mission Jesus had in His ministry here on earth.

But, Jesus is not there yet, at the beginning of Matthew 3. Jesus needs to be baptized, to fulfill all righteousness. And, what is righteousness? “Compassionate justice and care for those who are poor and/or marginalized, humility and faithfulness that always point to God as the One who is at work in this transformation, and the hope—the promise—of new things that will dazzle us and rattle the foundations of our safe little worlds. When read, and heard, together, the texts from Isaiah and Matthew dramatically illustrate God’s own deep faithfulness and care.” [2]

We can see from the Gospel of Matthew how God has deep faithfulness and care for Jesus, God’s Son. After Jesus convinces John to baptize Him, the heavens open, the Spirit of God as a heavenly dove descends, and God the Father says, “This is my Beloved!”

Let us imagine ourselves in that crowd on the banks of the river, watching the baptisms, as people are cleansed from sin. John is washing their souls, inside and out. Hear the sound of the rushing water. You and I, all of us are crowded together, jostling each other. We watch John the Baptizer, with that new rabbi Jesus, in the water. Suddenly, the heavens break apart! Everyone, all of us in the crowd know the Spirit of God is present, in the likeness of a dove coming down from the sky.

What do you think of when you hear the voice of God saying, “This is my Beloved!” What goes through your head? What kinds of feelings are going through you? Are you scared? Excited? Puzzled? Confused? Or, all of the above?

Think of baptisms we have seen, even participated in. Do you think baptisms are just an excuse for gifts and a party? Or, does baptism mean much more? Consider your own baptism in light of this Gospel reading. Now, think of the others in this congregation, too. Close your eyes. Think of God saying to you—yes, to you in particular—“You are my Beloved!”

            God is saying that to each one of you. Really and truly.

I found this story on a pastor’s sermon board, online. It was written a number of years ago by a Pastor Del in Iowa. He tells the story of his grandmother’s death, and his subsequent desire to find out more about his grandparents’ families.

“I began to ask questions about my genealogy… about my great grandfather (whose last name was Fahling) whom I remember well from my childhood.

“As I questioned my mother about the family history on my father’s side, she indicated to me that my great grandfather’s real last name is unknown. It seems that he left the old country and came to the New World as a boy, his journey paid for by a farmer with the name of Fahling. Upon crossing the waters of the Atlantic, my great grandfather took up residency with this farmer, labored on his land and took upon himself his sponsor’s name and identity and became part of the Fahling family. He even receiving a share in the inheritance of the family farm.

“At first I was disappointed with the loss of a history, but then I realized that in many respects this is the meaning of our baptisms. Crossing the waters, we take on different residency, ordained labors, and new identities and begin a new history. We become an integral part of the family of God through sharing in the baptism of Christ who sponsors and pays for our journey.”[3]

We have several different ways to come to an understanding of baptism. Yes, we have been washed and cleansed from our sins. We have crossed the water. Yes, each of us has been adopted by God. Yes, each of us has a new identity. And, yes, each of us is Beloved, much loved by God, our heavenly Parent.

Consider this last understanding of baptism, about each person, child or adult, in our congregation. And then about each baptized person you know. God considers each one God’s Beloved. Do we consider each one Beloved? Do we treat each person as God’s Beloved? How would that understanding change the way we treat each other?

Not that baptism magically changes us and—presto, change-o—causes us to become Beloved in some magical way. No! We are Beloved because God says we are. Just as God called Jesus Beloved, God refers to each of us in the very same way.

Praise God! I know I am God’s Beloved, the same way you are, too. What a marvelous name. What a fantastic feeling. What a wonderful God we serve.

 

(Thanks to Kathryn Matthews and the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways for several ideas used in this sermon.)

[1] http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_january_8_2017   by Kathryn Matthews

[2] http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_january_8_2017   by Kathryn Matthews

[3] http://desperatepreacher.com//bodyii.htm

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

A Time for Everything

“A Time for Everything”

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Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 – January 1, 2017

Expectations. Excitement! A fresh, new start. With eyes wide open, we all have the opportunity to make a new beginning, this New Year’s Day of 2017. New brooms sweep clean. New, fresh, sparkling clean, not a spot or speck to be seen. At least, not yet.

 As our scripture lesson from Ecclesiastes 3 says today, there is a time for everything. God has given each one of us a sense of the passage of time. God has implanted that within us, and we are placed in this construct of time, of past, present and future.

What are we to do with this concept of time? And, the idea that time is a never-ending stream? That, somehow, each of us is intricately bound up in this bubble called history, and together or separately, each of us has specific things to do. Or, not do. To look behind at 2016 with longing or regret, missing opportunities lost, or gazing ahead with expectancy, looking forward to what 2017 has to bring into each life?

What new, fresh excitement, and expectations!

Let’s take a common example. A door. We can either be on one side or the other of a doorway. One side—inside—and the other—outside. One side—in the past—and the other—in the future. It’s difficult to straddle both parts of a world, and at the same time to strive to do both of these either/or activities stated in our passage from Ecclesiastes, today.

Thinking further, Doors are good images for New Year’s Day. We have closed the door on last year, on 2016. We’ve opened the door to a new, sparkling clean year.

When each of us walks through a door, things can change—either a lot or just a little. As one bible commentator says, “When you go from outside to inside, you use a quieter voice, you wipe off (sometimes even take off) your shoes, you expect to do different things.  Walking through doors tells us where we are and who we are. “ [1]

Janus is the Roman god of endings and beginnings. A two-headed god, with one head looking backwards into the past, and the other looking forward, into the future. This god presided over gates and doors, and was sometimes shown with a gatekeeper’s keys and staff. There can be a great deal of change and transition from one place to another, as one year changes into the next.

Some people have a great deal of baggage left over from last year. Lots of stuff to carry with them into the new year. What does our scripture passage say? “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” There are several ways to view this poetic look at life and death, and everything that comes in between, but one way is to acknowledge this overarching structure as a foundational basis for understanding the cosmos, life itself.

Sure, some can go too far, and have a totally fatalistic point of view, saying that everything is absolutely fated and predetermined. Nothing is worth doing, no innovation, no creativity; no one can change anything ever. What a hopeless, helpless point of view. This view takes away free will, human decision, and the possibility of change. Why do anything, ever again?

However, we can leave our baggage and stuff, old and tattered, tired and worn, just drop it, even brand-new stuff with price tags still attached. We can look forward to a new year, a new chance to walk into the future with head held high, and eyes open to new possibilities.

I have an opportunity to realize and remember the many blessings that God provides in each of our lives, on a regular basis. Do you remember each of those blessings that God provided in your life, in 2016? Can you name each one, and thank God for it? Nope, me, neither. But, here is a concrete way to help you remember each one in 2017. Here is a real action step to take.

It’s called The Jar Project, and features jars with the following label attached: “The Jar Project. Starting New Year’s Day, I will fill this empty jar with notes about good things that happen. On next New Year’s Eve, I will empty it and remember that awesome things did happen this year.”

There are various other ways people think of this activity. Some people call it a Gratitude Jar, or a Blessing Jar. Put in strips of paper with things or people you are grateful for, or that you have been blessed by, in 2017. Then at the end of the year, each of us will have a whole year of wonderful, awesome blessings to truly thank God for.

Come with me, back to the doors of our sanctuary. We can offer prayer, asking that these doors welcome many visitors during the coming year and that all who come through the doorway be blessed.  I am going to write on our church doors with prayers for all who will come through the doors this year (worshipers, visitors, brides and grooms, parents bringing babies to be baptized, families and friends coming to bury their dead, members of community groups which will use the facilities).

Please, I encourage each of you, each household, to repeat this in your own homes. God’s richest blessings on you and your family in 2017.

 

God of doors and homes, bless this home this year and every year.

Bless all who come and go through this door, both those who live here and those who visit.

May all who enter through this door come in peace and bring joy.

May all who come to this door find welcome and love.

May the love and joy in this home overflow and spread into the community and the world. [2]

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/11/new-years-day-years-b-c.html New Year’s Day, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/11/new-years-day-years-b-c.html New Year’s Day, adapted from Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013