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Mission begins with creation

given on Sunday, February 14, 2016–first Sunday of Lent and Valentine’s Day

From Lent’s lectionary: Romans 10:8b-13

In fact, it says,

“The message is very close at hand;
it is on your lips and in your heart.”[a]

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”[b] 12 Jew and Gentile[c] are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[d]

Scripture base for “Mission begins with creation”

  • Genesis 1:1-2:3 – creation of earth and inhabitants

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.[a] The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. . . .

Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” . . .

Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. . . .

14 Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. 15 Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.” And that is what happened. . . .

.20 Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” ,,,

24 Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind—livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.” And that is what happened. . . .

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings[b] in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth,[c] and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

27 So God created human beings[d] in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. . . .

31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!   . . .

2 So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested[e] from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.

Lent’s 1st Reflection: Mission begins with Creation

Not one day begins or ends without knowing the value of God’s creation. We are blessed to live in his world filled with all the glory of the sunrises, birds singing, breezes blowing, and even the sunsets while the moon and stars begin appearing. Each time we look around our world and take in the awesomeness of God’s creation we need to remember that our mission begins with His creation.

In our corner of the world, talking about the wonder of creation may seem out of sync with the seasons. The calendar places us in the midst of winter (here in the Northern Hemisphere, in the middle of North America, even the middle of the continental United States) when the snow typically is mounded up and turning black from weeks of ice, salts and cinders, melting and then refreezing. Winter when the sun shines but we shiver in the artic blasts just does not fill our thoughts with the awesomeness of Gods’ creation as recorded in Genesis.

Yet, creation begins everything; and whether it is in the dead of winter’s most intense artic blast or whether the sun heats up the parched land in the middle of a heat wave, God created this massive world that needs our care. God created us to be the caretakers; God assigned a mission when he created us and we need to make sure we fulfill that mission.

How does mission connect to Lent? Lent is a time for reflecting on faith and while many are giving up on religion and living lives centered on themselves, God continues providing us all that we need. Are we doing all that we need to do as God’s missionaries in his creation?

The Word is a record of God’s creation and includes all the instructions needed for us, his children. Do we know The Word well enough to do God’s work? Do we know history well enough not to repeat the same mistakes over and over?

A couple of weeks ago I presented a challenge: over Lent, fast by adding daily scripture reading, studying, journaling and/or discussing the Word with others. Our mission to be caretakers of the earth is assigned in the earliest chapters of the Bible:

15 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16 But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”

God created us with a clear mission to care for the earth—not just the land, the flora, and the fauna, but everything and that includes each other. Are we carrying out our mission or not? Lent is a time to reflect on the job we do as Christians fulfilling God’s mission, and that means knowing The Word.

According to a new format of the story, Max Lucado and Randy Frazee want to make sure that The Word is shared with everybody in a reader-friendly manner. [Share the Lucado/Frazee book The Word as a visual example] The first chapter begins with the very same words from the Bible included in our worship today:

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,” . . .

 

The Story does not change. The mission does not change. The concern and the reason for a season of reflection is that we change. Adam and Eve represent all of humanity, and throughout history we humans have failed to fulfill the mission.

What began with creation, regardless of when or even how that happened, continues. The Story continues. In Lucado’s and Frazee’s welcome to the new format of the Bible, we are invited to reconnect with God:

This book (or any version of the Bible) tells the grandest, most compelling story of all time: the story of a true God who loves his children, who established for them a way of salvation and provided a route to eternity. Each story in these 31 chapters (an abridged format of the Bible) reveals the God of grace—the God who speaks; the God who acts; the God who listens; the God whose love for his people culminated in his sacrifice of Jesus, his only Son to atone for the sins of humanity.

What’s more: this same God is alive and active today—still listening, still acting, still pouring out his grace on us. His grace extends to our daily foibles; our ups, downs, and in-betweens; our moments of questions and fears; and most important, our response to his call on our lives (our mission). . . .

 

God created a world that was to meet all the needs humanity as long as we fulfilled our mission. Therefore:

  • Read The Word and determine the mission of God’s creation.
  • Read The Word to see how God struggled to teach us how to live.
  • Read The Word to learn from the mistakes of others.
  • Read The Word to find the secrets to a joy-filled life.
  • Read The Word to understand how God loved us so much that he “[sacrified] his only Son to atone for the sins of humanity.”
  • Read The Word to find the promise of eternal life.

 

Read The Word and reflect throughout the season of Lent. Make it a mission to know The Story and how your life reflects God’s love.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, Creator of our world,

Thank you for all the beauty that surrounds us,

even the changes of the seasons.

Thank you for entrusting each one of us,

past, present and future, with your creation.

Help us to remain faithful to the mission

of caring for the world and its inhabitants.

Help us to live confidently knowing you love us

even when we fail the mission.

Thank you, too, for the time and space to reflect

on how we live to fulfill the mission.

Thank you for The Word and the Christian family

surrounding us, supporting us, and working together

to fulfill the mission creation began. –Amen

 

[Lucado, Max & Frazee, Randy. The Story: the Bible as one continuing story of God and his people in NIV.   Zondervan; 2005. Available at CBD.com for $5.00.]

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Veil or Mirror

given on Sunday, February 7, 2016 

 

 

Veil or Mirror?

 

Scripture Foundation: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 NLT

12 Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. 14 But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. 15 Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand.

16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

4 Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way,[a] we never give up. We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.

Reflection:

 

            Waking up in the morning, looking in the mirror is not one of the more reassuring steps of the day. The eyes are not focused, the skin looks tired, the hair is a fright, and a frown seems permanently cemented in the mirror. Thank goodness no one else sees it.

Yet a transfiguration does occur once you complete the morning routine. Maybe it is a cup of coffee or tea to begin or maybe it starts with a morning shower or a shave. Each routine step begins changing the image in the mirror. By the time you finish the routine and the shoes are on, the watch adjusted on the wrist, and the last check in the mirror shows a much-improved image ready to face the day.

The transformation from the sleepy image in the mirror to the polished image ready for the day takes a well-practiced routine each day. The transfiguration that Moses underwent was a result of the face-to-face meeting with God on the mountain. The transfiguration of Jesus came in the meeting with Moses and Elijah while praying on the mountain. Our personal transfiguration is a process that must be followed daily.

Consider each example as outlined in scripture:

  • Exodus 34:When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant,[a] he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the Lord.
  • Luke 9: 29 And as he (Jesus) was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

 

The stories of these transfigurations provides a range of comparisons and contrasts, but the results were the same—the radiance. Both experiences are recorded as a radiance that was so bright, so dazzling white that it could blind those seeing their faces.

In the Old Testament story of Moses, the radiance was so intense that people were frightened. Moses began wearing a veil to hide the radiance while he was out with the people and he removed the veil when in the presence of God only.

Jesus’ transfiguration did not frighten the people in the same manner. Instead, the radiance in Jesus’ face drew people to him. The veil protected the ancient Israelites, but with Jesus the veil was removed—allegorically. With Jesus, the radiance is love. Love, God’s love, reaches out to others and they are drawn to those who mirror God’s love.

The question for each of us is “Does our face reflect God’s radiance?” When others meet us at home, at work or at play do they see radiance or do they see a veil? When you look in the mirror each morning, do you see a veil or do you see God’s radiance?

Today, Christians celebrate the transfiguration and many will also share the bread and the cup in the sacrament of communion that reminds us of God’s . Following Jesus transforms our lives. Each morning, we must look at the mirror image and prepare to face a new day. Do we radiate God’s image or do we put on a veil?

Moses chose to wear a veil when he was not in the temple because his transfiguration resulted in such a brilliant image that it frightened others. Jesus did not wear a veil to cover the radiance evident to the disciples. The radiance no longer needed a veil; rather it needs a mirror.

Paul was blinded in order to get his attention. Yet, when he accepted Jesus as his savior, his life mirrored that radiance as he began his missionary work. Paul’s transfiguration drew others to Christ. Certainly he did not wear a veil; he mirrored God’s radiance.

In the second letter Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church, the process to be a mirror of God is provided:

4 Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way,[a] we never give up. We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.

 

The way to be transfigured into a mirror of God begins with accepting the gift of his son Jesus Christ. It means acknowledging that Christ died for our sins, to simplify the Law of Moses into the New Law–love one another.

Sharing in the bread and the cup is much like looking into the mirror each morning. Each time we partake in the ritual, we are removing the veil from our faces. We commit ourselves to being the mirror image of God in all that we do.

Paul told the Corinthians:

16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

Look in the mirror each morning and check to see if you are wearing a veil or whether you are mirroring God’s image radiating love to all you meet.

Take the bread, take the cup and lift the veil from your life. Let God’s love transfigure your life so that you are a mirror of God’s love. The process includes reading scripture, prayer, worship, and service. Over the next 40+ days of Lent, challenge yourself to read Scripture. Share what you learn, discuss it with others, and pray. The transformation will mirror God’s love to all you meet.

Closing prayer:

Dear Loving Father,

Without you, mornings are cloudy

And my image does not mirror your love.

With you, clouds are cleared

And your love radiates even from me.

Thank you for the gift of your son.

May we drop the veils from our lives

And mirror your radiance

So others may see the transfiguration

In their own lives. –Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Word is Power: The Word was, is, and will be power

 

given on Sunday, January 24, 2016

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.

–John 1:1-2, NLT

Scripture reference: Luke 44:14-21, NLT

14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.[
a]

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Reflection

Words communicate what we need and/or want shortly after we are born. We hear words of comfort and words of correction. We learn the proverbs of life and discover that sticks and stones may break bones, but words . . . well, words are not suppose to hurt us. Yet, words have power.

The scripture today tells the story of Jesus’ public declaration that he is the fulfillment of the scriptures’ prophecy. Walking into the temple, locating the prophecy from the scroll of Isaiah, he read The Word and then proclaimed to be that person. Powerful words!

The Word is God. Jesus is God. I Am is God. Jesus says, “I Am God.” The scripture is the written record of The Word and the foundation of our faith. The Word is God and translates into power, especially when the faithful follow The Word’s message.

Following The Word’s message can be challenging. The first scriptures were handwritten on scrolls that could not be reproduced in mass so each family could have their own copy. The scrolls were kept safe in the temple and read publically only during worship.

The Word has to have power to survive throughout history making the transition from oral to handwritten scrolls and finally into mass production. The Word also has power to spread from the tribes of the Israelites to homes circling the globe today. The Word is so powerful that it carries the message through the millenniums crossing the cultural and political boundaries.

Wordsmiths or, more academically, linguists continue to studyThe Word, carefully tracking the origin, preserving the message’s accuracy and translating the words into languages for each different culture. Such analytical work has maintained the power of The Word. The work is God-driven.

Consider the various titles that prophets used to identify Jesus: Messiah, Savior, and Redeemer.

  • Messiah (noun): 1. the promised and expected deliverer of the Jewish people. 2. Jesus Christ, regarded by Christians as fulfilling this promise and expectation. John 4:25, 26. 3. (usually lowercase) any expected deliverer. 4. (usually lowercase) a zealous leader of some cause or project.
  • Savior(noun): 1. a person who saves, rescues, or delivers: the savior of the country. 2. (initial capital letter) a title of God, especially of Christ. 3. (initial capital letter) Classical Mythology. an epithet of Artemis.
  • Redeemer (noun): 1. a person who redeems. 2. (initial capital letter) Jesus Christ.

 

These three terms are very similar but the connotative or emotional meanings demonstrate different ideas of how The Word demonstrates power.

Even King Herod knew about the prediction of “King of the Jews.” Clearly his perception was that a king would be a challenge to his own position or title. As a king, Herod was a political leader, and the news that a new King was born caused him to expect a challenge to his power. Look at the word king:

King: 1. a male sovereign or monarch; a man who holds by life tenure, and usually by hereditary right, the chief authority over a country and people. 2. (initial capital letter) God or Christ.

  1. a person or thing preeminent in its class: a king of actors.

 

These definitions place an entirely different understanding of Herod’s concern that a new king had been born. The Word has power even over a king.

Lectionary readings this week focused on the power The Word has on the lives of the faithful whether in the earliest days of creation to the current day in which we struggle to apply The Word in our personal setting. For this very reason, taking time to read and to study the scriptures is critical or the power of The Word is lost.

If we teach children that “sticks and stones may break bones, but words can never hurt me,” then we must teach and reteach ourselves The Word. The Word is a powerful defense to the innuendoes, the slurs, the name-calling, the false statements, the slander and even the ridicule that we sling at each other—even towards ourselves.

The Old Testament is filled with the stories of ancient people facing the very same problems we face today. The environment may not be the same as the ancient settlements along the Jordan River. Lifestyles, careers, communication, transportation and technology may be dramatically different today than when Jesus began sharing The Word.

All these differences today do not change the power of The Word. During the ancient times, the Scriptures were read during Temple and the listeners spent hours listening. They wanted to hear the Law read to them. Today society has changed the way The Word is heard, but the power is the same.

This week Martin Luther King’s speeches echoed along the air waves. His powerful words reflected God’s Word and have driven the dream to value each human equally is one of this country’s most constitutional ideas. The Word to love one another, even your enemies, is powerful.

And still, there are those who have not followed The Word. Many have not even been exposed to it. They live in different cultures, they are illiterate, or they simply are unchurched. The Word needs us to share the good news. As long as there is one person who does not know The Word, Christians—each one—is responsible to share the message of God, The Word. The Word is power, but the power must be sustained,

Today you are challenged to know The Word personally. Read The Word, listen to The Word, study the word, discuss The Word, and practice The Word. The Word is power but it must be activated.

Closing prayer

Dear God, Almighty,

The Word brought Jesus to us so many years ago;

But today The Word seems to be missing.

The Word is power that fuels so much good,

But today the bad seems to disconnect us from The Word.

The Word promises to power us with love,

But today love seems to be losing strength.

Send The Word to empower each one of us

So today we can fuel others with your love.

The Word is power that never runs dry,

So today fill us up so The Word burns brightly.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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Getting along with God

given on Human Relations Sunday, January 17, 2016:

Scripture base: Psalm 36, esp. v. 5-9, NLT

 

Get along with God. It sounds so simple, so why don’t we do it. Get along with God! Today is Human Relations Sunday according to the UMC calendar, but nationally it is also the weekend that is designated to honor Martin Luther King’s work in civil rights. Can you imagine what our world would be if everybody simply used “get along with God” as a guiding principle.

Accepting God in our lives and acknowledging that Christ was born, lived and died for us, we accept the responsibility to get along with God. God asks us to use grace each day to maintain loving human relationships, yet we continue to fail.

Each day we depend on God to guide us and to protect us. As Christians, God expects us to guide and to protect one another. God depends on us to be his representative in our communities. If we model God’s grace and unconditional love, we will get along with God as well as make a difference in our own world.

Consider the word ‘depend.’ Mental health practitioners analyze human relationships and see patterns of behaviors that are reactions to how people treat each other. As the world shrinks and boundaries blur, human relationships depend on unconditional love. A breakdown in a relationship can even lead to a diagnosis of codependency:

of or relating to a relationship in which one person is physically or psychologically addicted, as to alcohol or gambling, and the other person is psychologically dependent on the first in an unhealthy way. [Accessed on January 14, 2016 at dictionary.reference.com.]

 

Sadly codependency becomes a systemic cancer as it leads to repetitive behaviors between generations and also has a magnetic quality as codependents gravitate to one another.

Following God’s law, offering grace and loving one another unconditionally can prevent codependency. Relationships based on the non-judgmental, unconditional love God demonstrated through Christ’s ministry lead to an interdependent peaceful community within one’s own home, neighborhood, country and even globally.

How, then, do we live in a challenging world that seems filled with judgmental, hateful and faithless people? The Golden Rule may be ringing in our ears, but applying it can be difficult. Yet, God has provided the prescription and sent Jesus to demonstrate how to use this perfect form of love. All we need to do is get along with God by getting along with one another.

In Psalm 36, King David outlined the benefits of getting along with one another. We depend on God’s grace and love:

Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the ocean depths.
You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.
    How precious is your unfailing love, O God!
All humanity finds shelter
in the shadow of your wings.
You feed them from the abundance of your own house,
letting them drink from your river of delights.
For you are the fountain of life,
the light by which we see.

 

Even in David’s ancient times, long before Jesus was born, the prescription for healthy human relations is explained:

Because I love Zion [God],
I will not keep still.
Because my heart yearns for Jerusalem,
I cannot remain silent.
I will not stop praying for her
until her righteousness shines like the dawn,
and her salvation blazes like a burning torch.

–Isaiah 62:1 (NLT)

 

Do not stop praying for her or him or for a country or a neighbor or a family member. Dependency on God will keep unhealthy relationships from developing and getting along with one another is also getting along with God.

Depending on God leads to healthy independence from the unhealthy human relations whether it is between family members, friends, neighbors, strangers, or even cultures. Turning over negative relationships to God through prayer frees us to develop our healthy relationships. So . . .

  • Practice dependency on God. Turn the hurt over to God in prayer.
  • Practice independence from people who trigger negative behaviors.
  • Practice interdependence with Christians who work together to share God’s love.

 

The outcome of a non-judgmental, faithful, and loving lifestyle is a world that radiates freedom. Getting along with one another is getting along with God.

This Sunday may be Human Relations Sunday, but every day should be. God created a world that was designed to meet our every need. He created us with free will, too, but we fail to use God’s law and a healthy relationship with him—we get along with God.

As we continue into this new year, remember to offer grace to others who may not yet know God’s grace and unconditional love. Each person you meet needs your unconditional love, too. Get along with one another.

When something gets your ire up, stop and think. How do you want to be treated? Treat others the way you want to be treated. Do not use cross words in reply, pray for God to guide you. When a driver cuts you off on the road, take a deep breath and cry out to God for help.

If you react negatively, others react negatively towards you. God will be missing in your life. God’s grace is your fuel, so use or offer grace in all your relationships with others. That is how you get along with God, but it is also the way you get along in a diverse world of believers and non-believers, too.

Today may just be 1/365th of an entire year, but in all your relations on each day of the year, practice God’s law. Let others see what dependence on God does in your life so they will find the blessing of God in their lives. Getting along with God makes getting along with others positive not negative. And the ultimate outcome is salvation and joining with others getting along with God throughout eternity.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

Daily we are challenged by relationships

That hurt our feelings or even our bodies.

We struggle to offer grace to those who hurt us.

We struggle to love unconditionally when filled with pain.

 

Guide us to follow your son’s example.

Guide us to love one another

even when we do not love the behaviors.

Guide us to offer grace

even if others do not.

Guide us to get along.

 

Thank you for your grace and unconditional love.

Thank you for your son, Jesus Christ.

Thank you for the promise of everlasting life

When we get along with you, God. –Amen

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Do We Ever Grow Up in God’s Eyes?

–given on Sunday, January 10, 2016

Scripture base: Luke 3:15-22 (lectionary reference to Jesus’ baptism)

Luke 18:15-17

Biblegateway.com connections:

[ Jesus Blesses Little Children ] Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them;

[ Jesus Blesses Little Children ] People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.

[ Jesus Blesses Little Children ] People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it.

 

 

Have you ever noticed that you never feel grown up? One of life’s more embarrassing experiences is running into an old high school classmate and not even recognizing him or her, but then there is that voice. Suddenly a thousand memories rush over you and recognition is there!

The process of growing up does make physical changes in our appearance, but the process does not have the same effect on our brains.   The more we age, the more knowledge we gain; but does this mean we grow up in God’s eyes?

We often address God in our prayers as ‘Father’ and we ask him for guidance. We go to God to complain and to ask for help. The attitude we take is often the same as that we use with our earthly parents. Do we ever grow up in our parents’ eyes?   Do we ever see our own children as grown up?

In the commentary for this week’s lectionary, there is an interesting reference to Dominican Priest Jude Siciliano. He explains an old Southern saying that I have never heard before: “God has no grandchildren.”

The saying means that our faith is not handed on the way family heirlooms or family stories are handed on from one generation to the next. Although we honor our ancestors in the faith from Adam and Eve, through Abraham, Moses, and the apostles, our faith is not handed down from them. God has no grandchildren; God has only children. The Lord entered our lives directly through our baptism. Our parents and godparents certainly want to see us have the gift of faith they have received but they cannot give that gift; it is from the Lord.

 

Maybe the secret to growing up is not to grow up. If we are always, regardless of chronological age, a child of God it seems like we do not have to “grow up.”

But let’s back up this aging thing a bit. Aging is a process that begins on one’s birthday. There is no doubt that we have earthly, biological parents. Even Jesus was born with earthly parents, but it was during Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River that God’s presence became public when the Holy Spirit descended upon him.

Our baptism publically declares God as our father. As God’s child, we are never going to grow up. We can grow, but we are never going to outlive God. We are always his sons and daughters. We are never grandchildren. Nothing can forcibly separate us from our heavenly Father.

Can we ever grow up though? Certainly we can. We are organic beings who can physically develop from newborns to toddlers to school-aged kids to high school students, and even on to be parents.

Yet, through all these developmental phases, God is with us. As our heavenly parent, God is always present. He is available at any moment in time. He loves us even when we make mistakes.

In our closing hymn, Jesus Loves Me, we are reminded of how God loves us as his children. We might think the hymn refers to the youngsters, only, but if we are God’s children then age does not matter. Remember, we are God’s children even if we turn 5, 15, 55, 91, or 101.

Does this not make a huge difference when we consider birthday celebrations? If we never grow up in God’s eyes, then we never have to feel grown up. The opportunity to be forever young is a gift that we can accept.

How do we accept God’s gift? There is only one way. We accept Jesus in our lives, and publicly affirm the relationship through our baptism. Accepting God also means that we accept the responsibility to follow his teaching and to live according to his Golden Rule. If we do not unwrap God’s gift, then we will never discover the secrets of life everlasting.

As Christians, remembering our baptism can keep us young. Even though it is possible to never participate in a reaffirmation of faith service, reviewing the baptismal covenant is one way to celebrate being God’s child. [Turn to p. 32 in the UMH to read the statement concerning baptism and/or review of the covenant ceremony.]

The Baptismal Covenant is God’s word to us, proclaiming our adoption by grace, and our word to God promising our response of faith and love. Those within the covenant constitute the community we call the church .

Persons of any age are suitable candidates. Infants and others unable to take the vows for themselves are presented by parents and/or sponsors. . .

. . . Baptism is not administered to any person more than once, for while our baptismal vows are less than reliable, God’s promise to us in the sacrament is steadfast.

Baptism is an outward sign of one’s acceptance of God as our heavenly father. Baptism defines God’s relationship with us. We are responsible as sponsors and as independent adults to accept God’s gift.

Unwrap God’s gift by reading the Bible. We know that our earthly parents and grandparents have learned many secrets to life, but those who model reading the scripture, going to church, serving one another in love, will always be children in God’s eyes. They opened up God’s gift and used it. As you unwrap God’s gift to you, too, you will learn that the secret to never growing up is accepting God as your heavenly father.

  • Apostles’ Creed (UMH 881)
  • Invitation for baptism/church membership (UMH p.33)
  • Closing prayer (UMH 253)

 

 

 

 

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Looking into the Mirror: Would God Hire You?

given on Sunday, January 3, 2015

An opening thought: Today is Epiphany Sunday and it is coupled with communion, as is our local tradition of serving communion on the first Sunday of the month. Epiphany is the final celebration of Christ’s birth while communion is the covenant reminder of Christ’s death: the beginning and the end: the alpha and the omega.

Looking in a mirror does not always reveal the most flattering image of one’s self. Yet using a mirror to inspect one’s appearance may be one of the most important steps before leaving the house. As the mirror image shares with you what it sees, do you approve?

At the local vo-tech school, a full-length mirror is posted just inside the entrance, near the office. Above it is the question: “Would you hire this person?“

Maybe Epiphany is the perfect time to look into a mirror and ask, “Would God hire you to be his messenger?” Epiphany marks the end of the holiday season and the beginning of a new calendar year. Conversations often are filled with a discussion on resolutions.

Resolutions are positive motivators for those who manage to make them and stick to them, but personally that is a struggle. Maybe I should make them, but then when I fail, the emotional fall out is disappointing even embarrassing.

Yet, the change from one calendar year to the next is an excellent time to look into a mirror and check one’s self. Are we satisfied that what we see is someone God would hire?

God, as the creator, designed a world that was to meet the needs of his children—as long as we followed his directions. Yet, we were also given free will and as time moved forward, the choices humans made began eroding the relationship between God and his children. God sent messages and time passed.

By the time God decided to send Jesus personally, he needed a team to carry out the work needing to be done. The surprise Mary and Joseph experienced when the angels visited them, probably left them feeling inadequate. But God saw more than they could see in a mirror.

God needed faithful, good people who could handle all the ridicule others would throw at them. He needed those who could handle unknown battles while Jesus grew up. God knew Mary and Joseph and he tasked them with raising the baby Jesus.

Accepting the roles of Jesus’s parents is what each parent yet today does, too.   If we look into the mirror, do we have the faith modeled by Mary and Joseph? Stepping into another year, evaluate your implementation of John Wesley’s acts of piety.   Could you list them as strengths on a resume or job application?

The Christmas story includes others who demonstrated extraordinary faith. God placed them in positions to tell others about Jesus’ birth. The shepherds followed the angels’ summons to see the baby Jesus with their own eyes.

Shepherds do not leave the pastures or meadows where the sheep are eating. The decision to leave the mountainside was out of the ordinary, but they took the risk. They were eyewitnesses of the most important event, and they carried the story to family and friends. Can you picture yourself risking your job to see a newborn who is not even in your family?

The Christmas story continues. Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem to register, and now the baby is born, visitors are coming in and so much is changing. Giving birth in ancient days included different practices, and quickly returning home was not an option.

Epiphany celebrates the visit of the three wise men. These men came “thousands of miles” to find the King. Today, would you be so confident in your research that you would travel hundreds even thousands of miles on foot or camel to prove a theory? The conviction to stand by your words is a desirable quality in workers, in spouses, in parents, as well as in friendships.

The skills God needed from the faithful carried the news of Jesus’ birth throughout the millenniums. As the wise men arrived, saw the new king, and shared gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the truth of the wise men’s theory is realized.

The epiphany or realization that this baby is indeed the Messiah begins a series of events that takes 30 years to unfold. Look in the mirror, has Christmas provided you an epiphany?   As you look into the new year, does the mirror show you what strengths you have to answer God’s call to you? What are the weaknesses that need improving in order to do God’s work?

The three wise men had studied the stars, probably read all the prophets, talked to other wise men, and finally made the decision to set out on a journey to find Baby Jesus. Imagine their epiphany when all the years and all the miles they invested in the search for the new king prove what they predicted.

The story of Jesus, the Messiah, began thanks to the skills and the faith of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men. The story that is shared in the scripture continues to lead us to our own epiphany about the truth of Jesus Christ. As we look into the mirror, may we see what God sees in us—that we, too, have the skills and the drive to continue sharing the story of Jesus Christ.

The Christmas story is the beginning of the New Covenant. God looks for those who have the strength to serve, who have the skills needed, and the faith to trust that as long as we love one another as we want to be loved, we can do all that we can for all those we can in as many ways as we can.

And as Lent quickly races toward us, we look at the mirror to check that we are ready for God to use us. This Epiphany, look in the mirror and prepare to do commit to your covenant with God through the sacrament of communion.

As Matthew was telling the ancient Jewish people, the Old Covenant was replaced with a New Covenant. He shared the story of Jesus’ last Passover:

20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve;[a] 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

The Wise Men visited a baby and knew that he was the King of the Jews. They did not return to King Herod, instead they returned to their own homes—thousands of miles away. For 30 years, the story did not continue as expected. Then for three short years, Jesus changed the world. But the story did not end.

Jesus set into place, the new law based on love. On that last night with the Apostles, Jesus shared the cup and the bread. He commissioned them to carry on the task of loving one another and spreading the good news. This Epiphany Sunday, look in the mirror. Would God hire you to carry on?

As you join in communion, consider the covenant we make with God to share the story. We do have the skills and the strength, each in our own way, to love one another as we want to be loved.   By doing that, we honor and love God above all else.

Closing prayer (UMH 255): The Epiphany Prayer

O God,

You made of one blood all nations,

and, by a star in the East,

revealed to all peoples him whose name is Emmanuel.

Enable us who know your presence with us

ao to proclaim his unsearchable riches

and that all may come to his lift

and bow before the brightness of his rising,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

now and for ever. Amen.

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December 27 service

Special note:  The final worship service of 2015 continued the Christmas story much in the same fashion as the annual gathering–scripture and hymns/carols.  The key was to ask reflective questions and know it is time to look at our responsibility to continue telling the story as carefully as Luke did when he wrote the gospel to Theophilus.  I am simply going to include the structure for Sunday’s service for review and reflection.

 

The Prelude: The prelude signals time to prepare for worship, lit candles represents Christ is with us, and *starred listings suggest standing if able.

Welcoming & sharing time: Birthdays, anniversaries, prayers answered or prayers needed.

Luke 1: Dedication to Theophilus (to each of us)

1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first,[a] to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

*Hymn Congregation will choose the hymns . . .”What Child Is This” and “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee”

Luke 1 . . . The birth of John the Baptist foretold

11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.

Question to reflect upon: Do you hear the message the angel brings?

Talking with God:

  • Silent prayer: This is a time to talk and listen to God, privately..
  • The Lord’s Prayer: UMC uses “trespasses,” but “sin” may be used.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses/sins,

as we forgive those who trespass/sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, the power

and the glory, forever. –Amen

Hymn Congregation’s choice. . .   “It Came upon the Midnight Clear”

Kids’ Learning Time:     Hearing vs Listening

Luke 1 . . . The birth of Jesus foretold

30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

 

Acts of thanksgiving:

     Offering: Members pray and support God’s work; guests are here to worship.

*The Doxology: Found in the hymnal, no. 95

*Prayer of thanks:   Thank you, God, for all the blessings you have provided. May these offerings continue to bless others during these difficult times. –Amen

*Hymn Congregation’s choice. . .  “Away in the Manger

Luke 2 . . . The Birth of Jesus 

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

*Hymn Congregation’s choice. . .  “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Luke 2 . . . The Shepherds and the Angels

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[i] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[j] praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”[k]

Question to reflect upon:

Do you hear the angels or do you listen to the angels?

Luke 2 . . .But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

*Hymn 251 Go Tell It on the Mountain

*Closing benediction: Thank you for joining in worship.

The postlude: This musical benediction provides final moments for prayer   and/or reflection. Please honor this time with silence.

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