Favored – Luke 2:1-20

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Thirty-four years ago Prince Charles gave Princes Diana a beautiful engagement ring. A 12-karat sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds. When she died in 1997, her son Prince Harry got the ring. Him and his brother, Prince William agreed that whomever married first would get the ring. So, twelve years after his mother’s death, prince William asked his brother for the ring back. He also approached the queen, as required by law, and ask for her blessing on the engagement. When all of that was done, Prince William flew Kate Middleton to Kenya, borrowed a helicopter and flew her to a remote, private spot on a lake nestled at the base of Mount Kenya, and asked her to marry him. As you know, the wedding was spectacular.

To see picture of them together, laughing, smiling, joking…it is a fairy tale romance, fit for a king.
What a very different story we tell tonight. Mary and Joseph…we are not even sure if they were married when Jesus was born. If they were, they’re newly married, traveling, not to a beautiful location like Kenya, but eighty miles to his home town. Their wedding, not even worth mentioning.

What kind of King would be born into this story?

Prince George, the first-born son of Prince William and Kate Middleton, was born in the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital. This is a hospital that offers advanced care, state of the art facilities…This prince was born surrounded by a team of doctors, nurses, and midwives. “Special” patients that check into this hospital receive extra care…they stay in an extra-large, comfortable, room…new parents can send their little one to the nursery while they enjoy a full 4 coarse meal created by a private chef…it is an upscale sort of place. No expense was spared at the birth of this future king. The power of this child evident even in his birth story.

It is the story you would expect to hear at the birth of any king.

What a very different story we tell tonight. The birth of a King. Born not in an upscale hospital…this king was born in the left over space…after every bed in town was taken. No room for them in the inn, this king was born in a space fit only for the animals, I can’t image the smell. No comfortable hospital basinet for him, his crib a manger.

What kind of King would be born into this story?

I am thankful that Jesus was born into this story that kings aren’t usually born into. I am thankful that he does not hold before us a picture of perfection, I am thankful that our lives…bumpy, imperfect, real…beautiful are known to our king.

When I was 13 years old, one of the middle school staff walked into my classroom…looked at me, and said, “it’s time.” Being the very snotty 13-year-old I was, (sorry mom!) I looked at her like she was crazy. “Time for what?” It only took me a short breath or two to connect the dots…it’s time. My parents were waiting for me in the car. And we drove the 30 minutes from Buena Vista to the area’s hospital in Salida. Where, after a bit of monitoring, they decided it was not time, and the doctors sent us home.
It was only a few minutes after we got home when my mom walked into my room and said again…it’s time. This time, it really was time! My dad drove as fast as he could, while still being safe (sort of!). I think we only got stuck behind one car on the ride back to Salida…but that car was going extra slow, my dad flashing his lights, using words that I probably should not repeat from the pulpit, until we finally got around it and made our way to the hospital for the second time that day…My mom, the calm one in the whole thing, explained to the E.R. attendants that the wheel chair they brought her, would not work. They would need to bring her a gurney. Just a few minutes after getting her into the ER my baby brother was born. My happy, healthy, baby brother.

It’s not the story of the birth of a king.

He was not surrounded by doctors, we did not have a cozy room, or a personal chef. But it is our story, it is my brothers story…imperfect, bumpy, real…beautiful.

I wonder how often Jesus heard the story of his birth growing up? Did he know about the manger, and the shepherds? As a child did he understand that he was the kind of King that lived the imperfect, bumpy, real…beautiful parts of life?

In 2012 Ward Miles was born three-and-a-half months premature. He weighed less than a-pound-and-a-half, and it was hard to see him through the tubes, and wires, and tape holding it all on. His mom Lyndsey, with the help of a nurse, slowly picked him up for the first time…he was four days old. With the wires tubes and all, she holds him to her chest and then slowly, very slowly, the nurses holding the wires out of her way, sits in the chair behind her. Lyndsey’s husband is taking a video of the moment and she suddenly looks up at the camera and smiles. The smile of a frightened, young mother holding her baby for the very first time. The nurses tuck his little arms and legs under him, cover him with a tiny blanket, and her smile slowly turns to weeping as she leans her face into his tiny body. Pondering all that had happened, the joy of touching her baby’s skin, the relief that comes with finally holding him.

I wonder how often Mary held her child as he grew. How often time stopped and she simply pondered all that he was, all that she had heard about him, all that was promised. As a child did he experience those moments with his mom? Did he know he was the kind of King that was loved so deeply, so fully by his mother, picture perfect life…or not?

On July 22, 2013 there was a simple, formal customary bulletin announcing Prince Georges birth. Of course, there were also a press release, and many 21 gun salutes around the world in Bermuda, the UK, New Zealand, and Canada…Bells in churches rang across the word including the Westminster Abbey, buildings were lit up that evening…in blue to let the world know it was a boy.

A birth announcement heard ‘round the world. An announcement fit for a king.

What a very different story we tell tonight. In a dark field, not far from Bethlehem the skies opened up to angels and their music. The light breaking into the darkness. The birth of this king was not announced to the people in power, or the rulers of that day. The birth of this king was announced to shepherd’s living in a field; to outcasts; to some of the most despised people of their day.

What kind of king would be born into this story?

Carlos Whittaker, a singer and songwriter, along with his sound crew and his video crew, began to film a music video in a park in Atlanta. It was a cold, windy day, but it needed to be done. So, Carlos sat on a chair, picked up his guitar and started singing God of Second Chances. It was not long before a man wandered up to them. A stranger. He looked like he might be homeless, an outcast of our society. This man removes his hat, knees next to Carlos and begins weeping. As Carlos continues singing his song… “You’re the God of all the ages, who are we that you should save us, we’re in awe before you now, and our hearts are bowing down, and our hearts are crying out” As Carlos sings, another voice suddenly enters the song, the voice of the outcast, singing praises to God…one God, one Creator, yes and one father…

It was an imperfect, bumpy, real…beautiful moment. A moment that gives Glory to God. A moment that announces the presence of a king…

What kind of king would be born into this story?

 

 

Suggested Donation

Suggested Donation….

A few years ago, a week or two before Thanksgiving my husband went to Wal-Mart to buy his lunches for the week. While he was there he purchased a couple of turkeys, and left them with Care and Share as he left. I wasn’t there when he returned to work, but according to him, one of his coworkers response to his act of generosity was “Why in the world would you do something like that?”

I don’t think most people’s response to giving is so…well…ungenerous! But I do believe there is a culture of scarcity that drives people to accumulate more and downplays the importance of giving. When it comes to the church in particular, I hear comments like, “If the church isn’t here to give [to me], then what is it here for?”….”Why in the world would people give money to the church, it doesn’t need their money.”…”I think it’s crazy that people give to the church first, they should give what they have left over at the end of the month.”

And I have to admit, tithing is a very odd behavior indeed! It is directly contradictory to the wider culture of “more, more, more.” It never did make any sense to me why my grandmother went without food for one day every month to give the money she would have spent on food to the church, and that she would give money to the church while she herself was in need, was a continuous source of family tension.

That we give as an act of worship, acknowledging that God has already given us all we need; That we give because it changes our hearts, growing us into generous, giving, grateful people; That we give because we know that what we invest in grows and we want to Kingdom of God to grow…that we give to the church because it is who we are…took me a long time to understand.

So, in a staff meeting we were talking about wording for upcoming fundraisers and Kent suggested that we just say, “Suggested donation $5.” It is for church fundraising, and I believe the people who will read that will get it, in fact because we are talking about fundraising within a church, I am sure that many will give more than suggested, because they want to support this particular church program.  But what about my demographic? The people who didn’t grow up in or around church? Although, I am sure they would give the suggested donation for a product that they are purchasing, isn’t this an opportunity to tell people why we give? So, on the invitations for our event Stories @ The Edge, I put, “We believe what we invest in grows, so we believe in investing in good things. And we believe this is a good thing, so please consider paying for your meal.” It of course is not a huge thing, just reading this isn’t going to make the unchurched tithe, but hopefully, it does start to plant tiny seeds (maybe the size of mustard seeds?) to get people, both churched and unchurched, to think about why we give.

November 16 Sermon at First United Methodist Church (Colorado Springs)

Audio from my first sermon at First UMC in Colorado Springs. Forgive the shaky voice…and the stumbling over words…I am pretty sure “nervous” doesn’t cover it!

 

 

The text I started with, unedited, with all my spelling, grammar, and total confusion intact. (Not the actual text I preached…but sometimes its close!)

Let us pray…oh God open us up. Open our eyes that we might see, our ears that we might hear, open our hearts that we might feel, and then oh God open our hands that we might serve.

Years ago, Leanne Hadley took an evening to teach the Stephen Ministers in this congregation about her process of working with children. If you ever spent much time with her you know that she talked a lot about symbolism. Symbols are a teaching tool…if you look around this room you will see many symbols in the stain glass windows, on the altar…but symbols can be much more than a teaching tool: the symbols that individuals create often allow others a peak into their lives, their faith, and what is important to them. That evening, Leanne told us if you want to know about a person, ask them about the symbols that they surround themselves with…ask them about the jewelry they wear and the tattoos they have…you will be amazed by the answers you get! I have to tell you…GREAT advice!

Over the years, I have been allowed a look into people’s lives that I otherwise would not have had. More than once I have asked about a tattoo and heard about the personal struggles people fight…alcoholism, drug addiction. Sometimes I will hear about battles won…a woman choose to put a purple ribbon tattoo…a symbol of domestic violence awareness…on her right wrist because it was the hand that she raised in court to be sworn in…before testifying against her abuser. Another woman, Diana, from my hometown, has two tiny feet prints on her wrist. A memorial for her twin boys born way too early, surviving for only a few moments in her arms. Another tattoo on her arm is a memorial to another one of her sons, this one carried to full term, he survived only a few weeks. The symbols that people choose to tattoo onto their body, are so often deeply meaningful, a part of their story in words and in pictures.

One evening, I asked someone about a tattoo that was on her back, apparently it screamed New Orléans, to anyone local to that area. I asked about another of her tattoos on her arm…it was an interesting symbol…almost a heart shape with designs dancing around it…and when I asked about it, she told me it was the symbol for a goddess…the goddess of all things feminine…the knowledge and wisdom of this goddess passed down to her from her grandmother.

Out of all the tattoos I have asked about, she is the only one to say it was the symbol of a god or goddess. But as I thought about her answer, it occurred to me…it was not the first symbol representing a god that I had seen. …

I can’t tell you how many cross tattoos I have seen. Cross tattoos always tell me a little about a person, where they come from, and rituals they have participated in like baptisms and communion. It tells me a bit about their beliefs, and when they say a prayer, who they say that prayer to, it tells me that Jesus is or was at some point an important part of their life.

I started wondering about the images I see…are they symbols for gods, for objects of worship…even if we don’t call them that? When I see a dollar sign tattooed on an arm, is it there because they like money or because they worship it? And what about other places we find symbols? The jewelry we wear? The bumper stickers on our cars? Product logos on the technology we carry in our pockets? When does brand loyalty become brand idolatry? When does an object we use turn to an object we worship?

A Southern Baptist, Dave Miller blogged about his own idolatry, he talks about America’s love for sports…the coliseums…I mean stadiums that we have built to cheer on our team…the hundreds of dollars we will pay for tickets…and the overpriced fan gear we will buy so everyone knows which side we are on…the communities we build around our team…the dedication to showing up week after week…When does the love of a sport turn into idolatry?

“I am a sports fan,” he admits, “There is a certain 27-time World Series champion team from the Bronx that I like a little bit. My Durango has one sticker on it, a 2009 Yankees championship window sticker… My office at the church has a Yankee mouse pad, a Yankee light switch cover, various Yankee paraphernalia and wall hangings, and a shelf full of books about Yankees from the past. I’m a fan.That leads me to ask a question.When does a love of sports become idolatry? After 86 years of glorious frustration for the baseball team from Boston, they came back from a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS, then swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to “reverse the curse.” I liked the curse!

I turned over to game 4 of the World Series and found the Red Sox comfortably ahead and ready to celebrate their championship. The camera was panning the crowd which was demonstrating a wild glee, the pent-up frustrations of over 8 decades of disappointment and frustration being released in that moment. And I fumed. I thought to myself, “I hate these people with the white-hot intensity of a thousand burning suns.”

We don’t live in a pagan culture, or I guess we don’t usually call it that. When we think of a pagan culture we often think of people that can say…oh that’s a goddess…but it is when we adjust our site just a little bit to understand the false gods of the American culture that we can better understand this letter that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.

Thessalonica was a pagan city. There were many gods that the people of that city worshiped. And this is where Paul decided to start a Christian community.

The people of Thessalonica would probably have been more than willing to accept Jesus as yet another God among many, to hang a cross on the wall next to cupids bow and arrow…but of course to follow Jesus is to deny all the other gods. Paul was asking the people that joined this early Christian community to turn their back on everything they were used to, comfortable rituals, prayers they had spoken their entire lives, probably loosing friends…maybe even family in the process. He was telling them they had to deny the goddess passed down to them by their grandmother…

In this pagan city, Paul set up shop downtown. It wasn’t like our downtown, where owners put their best items in the window to draw people in…it was more like a farmers market. A social place, where people mingled and talked. It is in this setting, in a downtown shop, in a place where people went to socialize and meet new people that Paul talked about Jesus. While in the process of daily living and running a business, with his words and his deeds, he started sharing his faith. It was here that he started gathering people together for a new Christian community.

Eventually, Paul brought together a community that dedicated their lives to Jesus and then he moved on. He went to another city, to start another church.

Although, he wanted to return to visit, he didn’t have time for travel so he sent Timothy. We know little of Timothy’s visit, except for what we find in this letter, which Paul wrote to the community after Timothy’s return.

Church, Paul tells them…you are amazing! Other churches look to you as an example of God’s love…you are our pride and joy! You are living exactly as we taught you to live. And we are grateful to you. Because of how you live, because of your words and your deeds, people are learning about Jesus.

It is a few verses before today’s text that the tone changes. The Thessalonians had put much of their faith in the idea Jesus would return in their life time but then some in their community had died: shaking their faith, leading them to doubt and question, they started longing for the security and peace of their old gods…the rituals, and prayers they were used to.

And Paul tells them to have faith, he assures them that Jesus will come, even those that have already died will meet him when the time comes. Don’t return to your old ways, don’t get drawn back into the false promises of the culture, stay in the light…stay awake. Church, you are a community set apart to be an example of Christ’s love…don’t turn away from your faith.

And then there is my favorite line in the entire letter…put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. Church, when your faith is shaken, when you long for the security and peace the culture and its false gods offer…choose the work of faith, the labor of love, and the steadfastness of hope.

A few years ago, there was a high school basketball game in Texas that made the news. Both teams were from Christian high schools, one a large school, and the other a tiny one: there were 20 girls total in the small school, 8 of them on the team. There was no doubt that the large school was going to win.  But it was obvious within minutes of the first quarter that they could win big. At half time the score was 59-0 and the team pressed on, never letting up. Some of the parents said it looked more like a lay-up drill than a game. In a culture that says loosing is for losers, go big or go home, in a culture that says winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing… that is what this team did. The game ended with a score of 100 to nothing.

Another game, a Friday night football game was very different. Again, it was a large Christian School against a small team that had no chance of winning. The small team was a group high school boys from a detention facility. They would have no one in the stands cheering for them outside of the correctional officers, they would have no parents, no friends. In fact, the boys talked about being treated like aliens, like animals in a cage, hopeless and unredeemable. But the coach from Grapevine Faith High School had a plan. Before the game, the coach emailed the parents of the school and asked half of them to sit on the other side of the field and cheer for the other team.  For the first time, Gainesville State entered the field running through a banner, hundreds of people cheering them on…they had cheerleaders, and parents on their side. And when it became obvious that they could not win…the coach of the large high school put in…not his first…or his second…but his third string players. For the first time the young inmates from the detention facility scored a touchdown. Even though they lost, they gave their coach a Gatorade shower after the game. For the first time in a long time someone was in their corner. Loving on them as if they were their own. Grapevine Faith High school choose the work of faith, the labor of love, and the steadfastness of hope…and everybody won.

 

Lectio Divina – Exodus 17:1-7

Strike the Rock – Creative Response to Lectio Divina

Art Journal Page
Strike the Rock – Exodus 17:1-7

 

Lectio Divina – Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

 

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
Do you know you are worthy of love?

This is my creative response to Lectio Divina this week.

It is reflective of my theological understanding of what Brene Brown teaches in her Ted Talk about shame and vulnerability. There is something about original sin, shame, and the power of vulnerability that connects deeply for me. I wonder if the knowledge of good and evil is the move from “simply being” to the knowledge that we are imperfect. What if the knowledge of good and evil is the knowledge that there is a continuum…the knowledge that some things are better than others? There are people better than us, faster than us…in this world we may not be good enough, lovable enough…what if the knowledge of good and evil is the fear that we may not be worthy of love and belonging? Which drives us to the question…where am I on the continuum? Is my location good enough? The search for salvation then is the search for the knowledge that we are worthy of love and belonging. We search for this place where we know we are imperfect and we know we are worthy of love…that we belong to someone.  Which of course we do, in so many ways God reaches out to us to show us that we may be imperfect but we are worthy of love and belonging.

Matthew 17:1-9 – Transfiguration Sunday

Listen to him... he says, "don't be afraid"
Listen to him… he says, “don’t be afraid”

 

Creative response to Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina – Matthew 5:42 (The Message)

Practice the servant life
Practice the Servant Life

 

Image response to Lectio Divina