Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, February 20, 2017

Out of the Box


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, Amen.

A few weeks ago, I watched this video going around Facebook, created by a Danish television channel. It begins by different groups of people walking into a room and each group standing in a separate box marked out on the floor. Everyone was looking around a little nervously when the voiceover to the video begins to narrate: “It’s easy to put people in boxes. There’s us. And there’s them.”

“The high earners. And those just getting by. Those we trust. And those we avoid. There’s the people new to the country. And those who have always been here. The people from the countryside. And those who have never seen a cow. The religious. And the confident. There are those we share something with. And those we don’t share something with.”

Next, someone with a clipboard steps forward to ask questions and invite people to come out of their boxes, sort of like a getting-to-know-you game I’ve played many times at camp. Suddenly these very different groups mingle and reform into new groups. They become groups of people who were the class clown, those who are stepparents, those who believe in life after death. Those who have been bullied, and those who have bullied others.  The video ends with every member of every group out of their boxes and gathered together as ONE GROUP, as all the people who love their country, Denmark. The video ends with this thought: “So maybe there’s more that brings us together than we think.”

One person’s reaction to this video was “we all have the same color blood.” Unfortunately, this is not the natural mode that we operate in. Walking down the street, seeing someone who looks differently or acts differently from us, our brains automatically jump to the easy and simple conclusions and puts that person in a box. As the video shows us, it’s much harder to remind ourselves of our common humanity.

It’s human to fear what we don’t understand. And it’s also very human to lash out when we feel that we or the people that we love have been hurt. Because the truth us, part of being human is that we WILL hurt one another, whether on purpose or by accident. 

In today’s word, Jesus might preach these words to us – “You have heard it said on many a bumper sticker ‘Don’t get mad, get even.’ But I say to you, ‘Love the people who have hurt you, and even pray for their well-being’.”

Tell me to do something – anything – else, Jesus. Anything but THAT. Tell me that God is on my side when people make me angry. Tell me to be kind to my enemies… once I have subdued them. Tell me to ask for extra forgiveness after I’ve exacted my revenge. Tell me to do anything at all to my enemies, except to love them. Because I DON’T WANT TO. 

Because deep down in my heart of hearts, if I am really honest with myself, I don’t think that my enemies deserve my love…. And I don’t think they deserve God’s love either. Because how can God love people “like that”?

We are not alone in this sentiment. The disciples must have listened to this part of the Sermon on the Mount with growing horror and outrage. Because on the surface it looks like giving in and giving up to their oppressive Roman overlords. Some of the disciples wanted to FIGHT, to set up a new political system here on earth with Jesus as the one in charge, to turn the tables on the Romans to drive them out.

What Jesus proposed seems like becoming a doormat. And that is not what Jesus is proposing at all. Jesus won’t FIGHT or take FLIGHT, but instead, shows us “a third way.” A way that breaks the mold and breaks the cycle of violence, and publicly exposes and names injustice. The way of non-violent resistance. Jesus shows his disciples how to assert their own dignity as beloved children of God and not allow themselves to be put in a box by others.

Jesus is absolutely NOT talking about domestic violence or abuse here. He is not leading a Christian marriage seminar. He is talking to a people who have been systematically oppressed by people in power, and those people in power have created laws and systems to keep their power in place by degrading the humanity of an entire people. In Jesus’ time, it was legal for a Roman soldier to conscript a Jewish man to carry his 60 pound bag of gear for one mile – and one mile only - when they were on the move. So, you know, they were at least nice about their oppression, or something, because there were punishments for soldiers who abused this rule. Imagine then, the reaction of a Roman soldier when a Jewish man kept going into a second mile, and the poor soldier is running after to get him to stop! Who is in control now?

Similarly, if someone struck you on the right cheek, that doesn’t mean they are left handed. That means that they hit you with the back of their hand, which was a kind of blow reserved for people who were considered beneath you – women, slaves, servants, children, anyone lower on the social strata. If you were to turn your face so that you could also be struck on the LEFT, they would be forced to use their palm, which was reserved for striking an equal. By turning your cheek, you are telling them that not only are you refusing to hit them back in revenge, at the same time you are forcing them to treat you as an equal, a fellow human being.

Sometimes turning the other cheek means leaving a relationship. Sometimes turning the other cheek means a police report and a restraining order. Sometimes turning the other cheek means getting out of a situation, because then you are acknowledging that you are human being with wants and needs, a human being that deserves to live a life that free from violence and fear. As we all do.

But Jesus - being Jesus - also flips the tables back on US. Just as we are called to refuse to stay in the boxes that others put us in, we are not to put other people in boxes, either. And according to Jesus, that means loving our enemies and praying for those who threaten us.
The enemies of Jesus’ disciples were pretty obvious and pretty brutal – the Roman government and those in power who colluded with them. In our time and place, I think the people who are truly our enemies are much less obvious, but just as powerful.

Our enemies are not our opposites, as many would like us to believe. Our world does not have to be about white verses black, men verses women verses transgendered people, gay verses straight, Christian verses Muslim. I happen to think that our true enemies right now are those who want us to view those people as our enemies. They want us to stay in our boxes, to fear those who are in other boxes, and to continue to operate out of hate and fear. But we all know, because we can see it on the news and all around us, that this keeps us stuck. Hate creates more hate, and fear creates more fear. It’s a cycle we can’t break by acting in the same way.

The Reverent Doctor Martin Luther King Jr, who was a champion of non-violent resistance during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, once said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Love gets us out of the box, even though we would rather put that love back IN the box. But we all know what God does with boxes. When love had every dignity taken away, when love was violently murdered on a cross, when love was sealed a way in a dark tomb, when death thought it had won the day… Jesus broke out of that tomb, broke free from the chains of death, to show us that the darkness cannot and will not win.

Love is busting out of the tomb all over the place. Jesus calls us our boxes to see that there is “more that brings us together than we think.”

Just this last week, in the Los Angeles area nearly two hundred thousand people were told to evacuate because of a hole in a local dam. Sikh temples all over the area opened their buildings to give the evacuees shelter, food, and supplies, just five years after a tragic shooting happened in a Sikh Temple in my home state of Wisconsin. The Sikh community in California opened their doors to complete strangers, because they were in need. They had every reason to say no. But they said yes. “We all have the same color blood.”

 Love knows no bounds and destroys every box we try to create. Thanks be to God. AMEN. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Love and the 12 Commandments

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

I am a big Jane Austen fan. I’ve read her books, I’ve seen the movies, multiple times, so I was both surprised and delighted when last year it was announced that one of her little-known novellas made it onto the big screen. Imagine, the first big Jane Austen hit in YEARS! It was a BIG DEAL! (At least for me!)

It’s called “Love and Friendship,” based on Austen’s short story “Lady Susan,” a widow who uses ever person and situation to her own advantage. Not even the 10 Commandments are safe from her. She tried to convince her daughter to marry a very silly but very rich farmer by using the fourth commandment. Which is……? Take a wild guess? That’s right, “honor your father and mother.”

But this rich farmer-gentleman, named Sir Martin, has his own opinions about the 10 commandments. While on a visit to Lady Susan’s family, he hope to impress them by talking about “the old prophet who came down from the mount with tablets bearing the Twelve Commandments.”

When he is told that there only 10, he exclaims, “Really?? Only 10 must be obeyed. Excellent. Well, then, which two to take off? …Many of the ‘thou shalt nots’ – don’t murder, don’t covet… one simply wouldn’t do anyway! Because they are wrong.”

Yes, Sir Martin, they indeed are wrong. I think that many of us, myself included, can tick off most of the 10 commandments and think “well, this week I didn’t murder anyone, I didn’t rob a bank, I didn’t go on a date with someone who is married, and I haven’t wrongfully used the Lord’s name. All things considered, I think I’m actually doing pretty well.”

The Atlanta Falcons in last week’s Super Bowl game might have gone into half time thinking the same thing, when the score was 21-3 in their favor. That they had this “winning the Super Bowl thing” locked in, in the bag, and for the rest of the game they could sit back and phone it in. But we all know what happened in the second half. The lesson of that game was clear – you gotta show up for the second half of the game.

The last two weeks in the Sermon on the Mount were the wind up, believe it or not. You are blessed. You are salt and light. And now, this week Jesus is really digging into the hard stuff, the kind of topics that would have make most people walk away if he had started his sermon here. This is the second half of the game, where the rubber meets the road about what it means to be a disciple. Following Jesus doesn’t give us a pass. In fact, the standards will be higher and the stakes will be greater, and our actions under more scrutiny.

After I bought my car last year, I got a Luther Rose magnet to put on the bumper. When that went on, and especially now that I have the official “Family of God” sticker on the back there too, I find have to check myself while driving. Just the other day, someone cut me off to get into the left turn lane, only to notice what I could already see: their lane had been blocked off by a police officer. I admit, I had some very not nice thoughts about them, and I almost didn’t let them back into my lane. But, not only was it the right thing to do, but I also knew that I had to do it because of who the back of my car advertises – Jesus and Family of God. Did I want to let them in? No way. But successful driving not just about what is lawful. It’s about what’s best for the flow of traffic as a whole. In other words, how would Jesus drive?

The rules of the road that God gave us is the 10 Commandments. But it seems that even these 10 are not enough for us. We always seem to find our way around following the rules. Squeaking through at the end of a yellow turn arrow because we know there is time buffer between lights. Parking crooked because we’re in a hurry. Following a little too close to the car ahead of us. Been there, done that. But… technically NOT illegal.

 So Jesus takes on a couple of the well-known commandments that we might feel pretty confident about, and – surprise! Jesus ups the ante for those of us who claim to follow him. Which is not very nice of Jesus at all.

“You have heard it said you shall not murder.” But, according to Jesus, it turns out that if we are angry with any of our fellow human beings, if we insult them and call them names, when we convince ourselves that this is acceptable behavior, we have made them into less than people. When we reduce the humanity of any of our neighbors, forgetting that they too bleed and have feelings, we are putting our own lives above theirs. It is as if we have killed them in our minds. Been there, done that.

In Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, Luther provided explanations for each of the commandments. For the 5th commandment, “you shall not murder,” Luther writes: “We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all life’s needs.”

Keeping the 5th commandment is NOT about NOT killing, pardon the double negative. Truly keeping the 5th commandment in the Jesus Regime also means not labeling people or not insulting them and their families. AND, as Luther adds, it also means living together in unity and helping our neighbors out when they are in need. 

The same goes for Jesus’ take on the 6th commandment – “you shall not commit adultery.” Luther’s explanation reads: “you are to fear and love God, so that we lead pure and decent lives in word and deed, and each of us loves and honors his or her spouse.” Jesus takes it a step farther and says this shocking statement that is one of the banes of preachers everywhere this week: “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” 

It could have been worse, folks. This could have been my FIRST week with you instead of my THIRD. But bear with me. This is not the first time that Jesus goes into some pretty uncomfortable territory, and it won’t be the last.

When a man looks at a woman in this way, he sees her only as function of what she can give to him, he denies her autonomy as a person, and he reduces her to commodity be acquired. Take a look at any magazine in the grocery aisle, every billboard, every commercial on TV. 

When a half-dressed, photo-shopped female body is used to sell a product, she too becomes an inanimate object rather than a person with hopes, dreams, desires, and a will of her own. And so it has been throughout human history, before advertising was even invented. Women’s bodies have always been feared, shamed, and controlled.

With this additions to the 6th commandment, Jesus isn’t telling women to cover up because “boys will be boys.” Jesus is instead calling boys to be men, to put an end to centuries of blaming and shaming, and to remind them that God created women to be people too.
Jesus lived at a time where women could not have a career, make a living, or live independently from her husband or male relatives. Marriage provided financial stability and the assurance of a future through children. The idea of romantic love, or our obsession with a holiday that celebrates romance and couples would be completely foreign to them.

So imagine divorce at this time. Divorce is a traumatic, life-shaking event no matter what the context. Imagine though, that a woman in Jesus’s time is divorced by her husband – because it is the husband who initiates this, not the wife – what are her options? She would either be homeless, or go back to live with her family of origin in shame and disgrace… or she could get married again. All pretty bleak options. All leave her with even less value in the eyes of her culture.

Imagine the kind of man who would pursue such a woman at her most vulnerable, after her previous husband had used his societal advantage to cast her aside. Such a man is taking advantage of this woman when she is at her most defenseless.  He participates in and condones in the first man’s sin for his own gain.

By calling this a sin, Jesus is affirming that, in the words of a colleague of mine, “Each person is sacred and deserves to be treated that way.” In Jesus’s time, and in ours, the sacredness of each life is threatened when anyone is treated as less than human. In Jesus’s time, Jesus said that meant for men to be faithful to their marriage promises in a world where women had much less power and choice than they do now. In our own time, I believe that Jesus would say divorce is the most loving option when it is the only way that the sacredness of human life can only be upheld, and that remarriage between two consenting adults who respect the sacred humanity of one another is never wrong.

Love in its truest form is more than just red hearts and a nice dinner. Love is seeing the needs of the other as important. Love is living in a relationship built on mutual kindness.  Love is seeing every person as sacred and deserves to be treated that way. Love is how we were created to live with one another.

God is love. And God created us to love. Love gives us life. Jesus is the love of God with skin on, literally love fully fleshed out.

Love is hard. It calls us to do difficult things. Love asks us for our words and our deeds to be life-giving, not life-limiting. Love calls us to walk the truth path of who we were created and called to be: no more and no less than beloved Children of God.

As it turns out, silly Farmer Martin from the movie “Love and Friendship” was right all along. When Jesus was asked which commandments were the greatest, Jesus actually gave us two more, clever man: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’.” (Matthew 22:37–39)  Ten plus two equals twelve. There you have it. The Twelve Commandments. Only, we don’t get to “leave any of them off.”

When we leave here today, as we brush the crumbs from coffee hour from our coats, we’ll hop in the car, and I know I’ll probably break at least three commandments on the way home. But we keep driving, knowing that we don’t believe in a God of Rules. Our God is a God of Love and Friendship and Forgiveness. So don’t worry about trying to keep at the commandments all at once. Just keep the one that’s right in front of you. Take it one day at a time. We got this. And God’s got you. Amen.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

You are Salt and Light!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ, amen.

As I was putting my call sermon from December 4th and my sermon from last week on my online blog, I realized that though these sermons were almost two months apart, I talked about Dietrich Bonhoeffer both times. And, at the risk sounding like I am totally uncreative, I thought it would be a good idea to mention him AGAIN, in order to share with you who he was and why I have quoted him so much in the past and probably will in the future.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor in the 1930s who preached, wrote, and was a leader against the Third Reich, and the Nazis did all they could to prevent him from speaking out. At one point Bonhoeffer escaped to the United States, and could have lived here permanently, out of harm’s way. But he could not stay away from his people. So he bravely came back to Germany, and not long after was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis. He was executed just days before his prison camp was liberated by Allied forces.

About a year ago a Catholic acquaintance heard me preach on Bonhoeffer and he was shocked: “What? He’s Lutheran?” he said, “I assumed he was Catholic.” Nope. The Catholics get plenty of cool people… like Mother Teresa and Stephen Colbert. But WE get Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer is OURS!

Lutherans don’t have saints the same way Catholics do, but we still lift up models and heroes of the faith that show us how to live as disciples of Jesus during challenging times.
There is still plenty to learn about being a disciple. The Sermon on the Mount keeps going and Jesus is still preaching. In fact, his sermon goes on for about two more chapters, and we’re going to get a pretty solid chunk of it in the next few weeks before Lent starts.

“Previously in The Sermon on the Mount”: Jesus flipped the expectations of the world upside down by telling us who is really blessed in God’s kingdom – the poor in spirit, the outcast, the mourning, those hungry for righteousness, those who work for justice and peace. 

Bonhoeffer knew what it was like to be blessed by Jesus as he was hungry and thirsty for righteousness, as he mourned for the state of his nation, as he was reviled and persecuted by those who sought to silence the message of the Gospel. Bonhoeffer also how to live as salt and light, and how hard that would be in a world that would rather make that light stay hidden.  

Speaking of things that are hidden, February is not just “Valentine’s Day Awareness month,” or “Super Bowl Month.” February is also Black History Month, a fact that seems to get buried underneath all the red hearts and guacamole.

If you haven’t already seen the movie Hidden Figures, after fellowship time, drive over to the Regal Cinema or the theater of your choice and catch the next matinee, you’ll probably make the 12:25 showing. Hidden Figures is based on a book that tells the story of three African American women who worked for NASA in the 1960s. I’m going to let that fact sink in for a moment. Black women, working in math and science, in the 1960s.

When a fellow colleague asked Mary Johnson, one of these amazing women, “If you were a white man, would you wish to be an engineer?” Mary answered, “I wouldn’t have to. I’d already be one.”

I don’t think it’s spoiling the movie to reveal that these women were the true “hidden figures.” At every turn, they were minimized, ignored, feared, misunderstood, and excluded. But at every challenge, the minds of these women shone out as they did their patriotic duty to safely launch John Glenn into orbit. They could not help but shine as the brilliant women that they ARE, pioneers and heroes in their own right. It’s pretty awesome that we can learn about the amazing stories of these hidden figures by watching points of light projected on a giant screen.

It is a property of light to shine. Light can’t NOT be itself. It can’t NOT shine. Light doesn’t have to TRY to be light. Salt doesn’t have to WORK AT being salt. They just are. Light doesn’t second-guess itself or worry about what the other photons will think if they shine. Salt doesn’t strive for the perfect work-life balance before deciding that it has the time to be salty. Salt flavors, light shines. It’s what they do.

Jesus said, “You are salt and light.” The end, end of story. We just are.

But that also means, if we are the light, we can no longer remain hidden, even if we wanted too. Light shines - the Body of Christ is seen in the world. It’s who we are. If we follow Jesus, we won’t be able to help ourselves. It’s going to get us noticed by people whose notice we may not want.  But this light is also going to make us see things that we might rather not see.

If you look into bright light for long enough, a shadowy image of that light will stay in your retinas for a few minutes. And on the flip side, if we look into darkness for too long, our eyes can adjust to the lower levels of light, if the sun sets slowly enough or we wait long enough in the dark.

The world seems like a pretty dark place right now for many of us. But after a while we can convince ourselves that it really isn’t all THAT dark after all, especially when certain aspects of the darkness don’t affect us ALL that much.

But many of our brothers and sisters have been plunged into darkness and despair. Those who are misunderstood, feared, vilified because of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality are suffering in the darkness. Their struggles are unseen, unnoticed, or deemed as unimportant. And there are many in the world who would like the darkness, and want to keep it that way. The darkness may be scary, but perhaps even scarier is how comfortable the darkness can become to us.

The beginning of the Gospel of John states that “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) That light is the arrival of Jesus, who came to defeat darkness and the power of evil, and to the world who God is.

With Jesus, the mask comes off, and we get to see the love of God in action. Like Clarke Kent taking off those fake glasses that were never really fooling anyone anyway, revealing a real flesh and blood superhero who came to save the world. But not by flying and jumping higher or running faster than anybody else. Instead, he saved the world by becoming a normal, regular, everyday human being. A human being who could experience pain and sadness and grief and even death. A human being who was also God’s son, who died and rose again so that we might live, too.

So when Jesus says we are blessed, we’d better pay attention.

So when Jesus says we are salt and light, we’d better listen up.

So when Jesus says it’s time to assemble the super heroes and super heroines, we’d better be ready to saddle up.

We belong to a real-life league of heroes, one who don’t wear capes or have secret identities. WE, actually, wear our identities on our sleeves, in plain sight, for all to seen.

Admission to this league of heroes isn’t reserved for the fast, strong, or superior. We belong to this league because we are God’s beloved children. We don’t consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer a hero of the faith because he was perfect, supernaturally brave, or above making mistakes. He’s a hero because Jesus trusted him to be who he was called to be – salt and light until the day he died.

We are light and salt for the world. The darkness will only get darker until we decide that we are going to BE who we ARE. Like beacons of light, we reveal the injustice of the world, which would rather work undisturbed hidden in a cloak of darkness. We shine to say to our brothers and sisters, “I see you, I see what’s happening to you, and I’m NOT ok with it.” 

Like salt, we are the spice of the world that brings out the flavor of love and kindness that already exists out there, which the world has chosen to forget or is too afraid to show.
The world is watching, and people are going to notice. The world is going to try and prevent us from being who we are.

A little salt and a little light go a long way. Just a little light in the darkness, shining wherever you are, can make a big difference. You don’t have to be the next Dietrich Bonhoeffer. You just have to be the next YOU. Child of God, salt of the earth, light of the world. Amen.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

You are Blessed!

Sermon – First at Family of God 1-29-2017
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, amen.

Remember back to the last time you experienced a big, life-altering event. Whether it was the birth of your first child, news that a loved one had just died, hearing that you’ve been hired for that perfect job, or receiving an unexpected diagnosis – one minute life was normal and the next minute normal life was thrown out the window. At the very moment, your life changes, and your brain becomes completely up-ended. Like opening up your checked luggage from the baggage claim and discovering all your neatly packed belongings have not ONLY “shifted during flight”…. But have become a complete jumbled mess.

Confession time. I met many of you for the first time almost two months ago, and since then I have said goodbye to my previous congregation, packed up my life and my cats, and moved across state lines. My brain right now probably looks something like that piece of luggage, and I thank you in advance for bearing with me as we orient ourselves to one another.

The disciples who said “yes” to the call of Jesus were no strangers to transformation events. Last week we hear about how they were at the beginning of their own exciting journey. They had just been called by Jesus to follow him, to even drop what they were doing and just go. No more fishing for fish – Peter, Andrew, James, and John would be fishing for people from now on. So I’m sure their brains were more than a little addled, too, trying to wrap their minds around the whole thing, and wondering, “What happens now? What did we just commit to? Who are we now? Where in the world are we going?”

Jesus’s answer comes in the next chapter in Matthew, as he begins what we call “The sermon on the mount,” which is pretty helpful in making it obvious that this is a sermon and it happens on a mountain. But less obvious is the fact that is Jesus’ very first sermon the Matthew - his inaugural sermon if you will, and this section is what is commonly called “The beatitudes.” This sermon will set the tone for the Jesus administration and sets the terms for what it means to be a disciple.

To be a disciple is a fancy, “churchy” way to be a learner, a student. A student learns from and listens to a teacher. Jesus is the teacher, and we the students. And the very first thing that Jesus teaches in his very first sermon is that his students are blessed. Jesus’s disciples are blessed, even though they would not be considered first round draft pics for Jesus’s Kingdom. And they are blessed RIGHT NOW, even in their jumbled brain states.

Take a look over who Jesus says is blessed one more time. This is a list that seems totally backwards, and shouldn’t make any sense to us. This is not how the world works, as we see on a daily basis. THIS is who the world says are blessed – those who are wealthy and successful, those who are in power, the famous, the popular, those who seem to “have it all together,” those who are beautiful or attractive or thin or strong…THESE are the blessed ones in the eyes of the world. Just look at the news, social media, or the cover of any magazines in the checkout aisle at ACME. They do not feature people like us. THAT is the way of the world.

But Jesus turns the world order on its head. He opens up our carefully packed luggage, dumps it all out, saying we won’t need all that in Kingdom of Heaven. The NEW Kingdom, the Jesus regime, starts NOW, with his first sermon. That regime starts with the revelation that you are blessed, right where you are, however you find yourself. And we can find ourselves in some pretty touch places right about now.

THESE are the blessed ones –those who don’t have it all together, those who are bullied, dispirited, or fleeing their homes as refugees, those who are grieving, those who hunger and thirst for the common good, those who are merciful and compassionate, those who work for peace and reconciliation, those who have a single-minded devotion to God’s kingdom, those who don’t back down from working for justice, even when they are misunderstood and challenged. Jesus calls THESE people blessed. And I am sure that we can all find ourselves somewhere on this list.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor and martyr in Nazi Germany, wrote in his book “The Cost of Discipleship” that this is the reason we are blessed by God - “All are called to be what in the reality of God they are already." (p. 107) It is a heritage we lay claim to because it is already ours. Jesus calls YOU blessed, because you ARE a child of God and a fellow disciple of Jesus.

Jesus teaches us that we are blessed because we need to know where we are FROM before we can know where we are going. Oh yes, the journey does not stop for the disciples on the mountain where Jesus preaches his first sermon. This is only the beginning. The journey of discipleship and the teachings of Jesus continue.

Every teacher worth their salt knows that they can’t just TELL, but they also have to SHOW. All the best teacher I know teach by example. And Jesus is no exception. Jesus doesn’t just talk the talk in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus also walks the walk, in every aspect of his life.

If you haven’t seen the show The West Wing, I think now is the time to start, and it’s even on Netflix. On the show, Leo McGarry is President Bartlett’s chief of staff, and he wrestles with challenges like alcoholism and divorce, and yet, always seems to know the right thing to do in a crisis. In one episode, his friend and fellow staff member is struggling to come to grips with his PTSD, and Leo tells him this story:

“This guy walks down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can't get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you, can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and he shouts up "Father, I'm down here, can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. ‘Hey Joe, can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I've been down here before, and I know the way out.’”

Jesus has been down here before.  Jesus spent most of his time with people down there in the hole, with the downtrodden and displaced, with those grieving, with those hungering and thirsting for God’s kingdom, with those actively making peace, with those with a heart for God’s justice, with those who are merciful when the world thinks it’s a sign weakness, and with those who are hated and feared by others.

Jesus lived the true meaning of being blessed, he fulfilled his inaugural promises, and while doing so he turned an instrument of death into a symbol of new life and the new family we are all a part of. To quote again from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The fellowship of the beatitudes – the blessed are yous – is the fellowship of the Crucified [one]. With him [we] have lost all, and with him [we have] found all. From the cross there comes the call, ‘blessed, blessed….’” Blessed, blessed. (p. 114)

I recently saw this message in my Facebook feed which caught my attention: “I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. He said Deny me in front of your friends and I will deny you in front of my father. Challenge Accepted. If you are not ashamed Copy and Paste.”

I would like to propose an alternative version. “Jesus Christ has accepted me as a blessed and beloved child of God. He said, ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’ Challenge Accepted. If you are not ashamed, do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

We are called to be hungry and thirsty for God’s justice when there is a clear shortage. We are called to march against the tune of the rest of the world. We are called to show compassion when we are taught to only look out for ourselves. We are called to follow the voice and vision of Jesus above all the other desires of our hearts. We are called to be an active force for peace in the world.

To the rest of the world, this is a completely foolish endeavor. But, as Paul wrote, “Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?” “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”

In the Jesus regime, what is foolish is wise and what is weak is strong. The merciful, the meek, the peacemakers, you, and me are all blessed and are brought together into a blessed community and family. And a crucified man is our ruler and guide in doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with him. Challenge accepted. Amen.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

12-4-16: Make Room for the Kingdom

My call sermon at Family of God Lutheran Church on December 4th: 

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Imagine, if you will, what a “John the Baptist Christmas card” would look like.  We see pretty much every other thing every other thing associated with Christmas on cards… so why do we leave out John the Baptist? Perhaps such a card might look something like this – a big hairy man with crazy hair out in the desert, knee deep in the river he has been baptizing people in, with a Santa hat on, singing “I know if you’ve been bad or good, so repent for goodness sake!” Or maybe holding out a tray of honey covered bugs and saying “I made you Christmas cookies!”

But of course John the Baptist doesn’t bake cookies or stand still enough to get his likeness on a Christmas card. He is far too busy baptizing, of course, which is well, you know, part of his name, after all!

Often we associate baptisms with babies, because babies are cute, especially when they cry when the pastor pours the water over his or his head. Often too we think about Jesus coming to us as a cute baby as we head toward Christmas, like the chubby infant pictured perfectly clean and happy on Christmas cards.

But John the Baptist reminds us that the coming of Jesus is not about cute babies or Christmas cards. Christmas is actually an invasion. Not an alien invasion or a British invasion, but a divine invasion. This is an invasion, not of weapons and power, but of peace and love. Jesus is about to invade our own world, and enter fully into our realm that is ruled by sin, death, and the powers that defy God. And the sign of this invasion in your baptism.

Jesus enters our world so that he can snatch you out of Satan’s hand, right out from under his very nose. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor in Germany during World War Two, who lived out his baptism in some very scary times, wrote that wrote that, “Christ invades the realm of Satan, [and] lays hands on his own…” (The Cost of Discipleship). 

That’s you. You are his own. When the water was being splashed on your head, Jesus was saying, “Excuse me, this one is MINE.”

We became God’s children and given the promise of being part of God’s kingdom forever.
But the world tries hard to convince us that we aren’t children of the promise – that instead, we are children of snakes. “Brood of vipers,” to quote John the Baptist. People like the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Pharisees who were the religious score keepers. And the Sadducees had cozied up to those political power – the Roman government, who had conquered their people and ruled with a heavy fist.

The Pharisees and Sadducees heard the snaky voices of the world calling to them, voices that said following “the rules” are the way to earn God’s love, and that seeking after power and influence are more important than seeking God’s justice. We hear the same voices calling to us every single day from every direction. These voices tell us that following certain rules or lifestyles will make us more deserving of God’s love and those who fall short are worth less than us. These voices tell us that seeking after more money, power, success, the newest gadgets, and the most popular friends is the right way to live our lives.
And right now, when we in the church are celebrating Advent but the rest of the world is in full-blown Christmas mode, the voices tell us that our Christmases are supposed to look and feel like the most perfect Hallmark card.

Those voices, for all their promises of happiness and fulfillment, do not deliver. Following these voices takes us down a road that ends in credit card debt, strained relationships, a planet in peril, conflicts and wars and poverty and national anxiety, leaving our lives as dead as a stump left behind after chopping down a Christmas tree.

Another voice, coming from John the Baptist, a voice from the wilderness cries out that the kingdom of heaven is coming near to us. We are Children of the Promise, and the promise is about to be fulfilled. It’s time to remember who we are. It’s time to remember what kingdom we belong to. We belong to a kingdom where new shoots grow out of dead stumps. We belong to a kingdom where the old, “snaky” person in us dies, so that a new person, a new creation in Christ, can be born. It’s time to get ready for this kingdom to arrive.

But there is certainly a lot of junk left over from the old life, the “brood of vipers” life that is cluttering up the way and making our paths of following Jesus pretty crooked. This extra stuff needs to be given up and left behind – like getting rid of extra files on your computer or apps you never use on your smartphone so it can run faster. Or like those boxes that you take with you on every single move, boxes you have not opened in five or ten years, boxes that are filled with things you can’t even remember. But every time you see them you think, “Gosh, I shouldn’t get rid of this, what if I need it later?” So you drag it to your next move so it will take up room in your closet for the next five years. 

Let me remind you what’s in those boxes we’re carrying around. Things like trying to keep up with the Joneses and having the picture perfect Christmas. Things like the fear of people who are a different gender, sexual orientation, were born in a different country, celebrate a different religion, and those who struggle with homelessness, addiction, or mental illness.
We are told to cling to all the things in these boxes, but none of these things belong in God’s kingdom. These things need to be left behind, in the kingdom of snakes. These things belong by the side of the road along the way of the lord.

In the baptismal liturgy, we are asked if we renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God, the powers of this world that rebel against God, the ways of sin that draw us from God. Our response is to renounce them, to abandon them, to turn our backs on them.

We renounce them when we use our income to give back to our communities to help those in need, or to patronize businesses that ethically treat their workers and the environment.

We renounce them when we do not give into the messages of hate and fear, or listen to the loud voices telling us that some of God’s children are worth less than others.

We renounce them we make way for the needs of someone else rather than looking out for ourselves first.

Renouncing these boxes is really hard, though. We will be called to live differently than many of the people around us, even our friends and family. We will be called to leave behind what feels comfortable or secure. Others may see us as weak, as easy marks, as losers, as not keeping up,” or being hopefully out of touch.

In our baptisms we were given everything, but we were also given a call to follow. We may not be imprisoned or beheaded as John the Baptist was, or to be sentenced to death in a Nazi prison camp like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But we will be called to make tough choices in our daily living. As Bonhoeffer also wrote, “When Christ calls [a person], he bids [them] come and die.”(The Cost of Discipleship) 

In our baptisms, though we have died with Christ, we have also been raised with him in new life. It’s scary and wonderful newness.

Isaiah reveals to us the vision of what we have to look forward too, as we make room for the coming of a new kind of kingdom in our lives. Isaiah describes a world where mighty predators coexist with the most helpless and vulnerable among us. A world where the powerful and the powerless live together in peace.

We may even recast Isaiah’s vision in different ways. What do you imagine the coming kingdom of God to look like? I think it might look something like this, from the reflections of a colleague: “The CEO will dream with the peace activist … the senators will dance with the undocumented farm workers … the American military leaders will dine with Pakistani mothers… children from all nations will play together and learn together and grow in to their full God given potential … animals and the earth will be treated with respect and care … war will cease and they will not harm anywhere in this holy creation “ Now THAT would be a pretty amazing thing to see on a Christmas card, wouldn’t it?

This is the vision of how life can be that we are making room for - the vision of a new kingdom getting ready to be born in the world, a kingdom you are a part of. This is the kingdom we are turning TOWARD, turning to face as it arrives, like the dawn that comes after a long dark night, like a shoot growing up from a stump long thought dead.

Leave those boxes behind. God is doing something new. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Final Sermon at St. Paul Lutheran

Epiphany Jan 8th 2017
Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, amen.

One of my favorite Christmas movies is the Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s an adaptation of Charles Dickens original Christmas Carol, with Jim Henson’s famous Muppets. Kermit the Frog is Bob Cratchet, Gonzo is Charles Dickens telling the story, and Michael Kane is the “regular human” playing a wonderfully grumpy Ebenezer Scrooge.  Naturally, it IS a musical, and in one of the songs the Ghost of Christmas Present sings these words: “[Christmas] is the season of the spirit. The message, if we hear it, is make it last all year.” And at the end of the story, when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning and realizes he gest another chance to right a lifetime of grouchiness, he exclaims, “I WILL honor Christmas, and try to keep it all the year!”

And Scrooge is right, Christmas is not just one day on the calendar. Long after the 70% off sales are over and the rest of the world has moved on, we are still celebrating Christmas, all twelve days, to be exact. And, following the example of Ebenezer Scrooge, we too honor Christmas during the rest of the year, by living our lives as if every day were Christmas Day. And that means, though our trees may be put away and normal life may be in its full, hectic swing, it means the work of Christmas is never done

Canadian Catholic theologian Michael Dougherty writes, “When the carols have been stilled, when the star-topped tree is taken down, when family and friends are gone home, when we are back to our schedules – The work of Christmas begins: To welcome the refugee, to heal a broken planet, to feed the hungry, to build bridges of trust, not walls of fear, to share our gifts, to seek justice and peace for all people, to bring Christ’s light to the world.”

We, who are fellow bringers of this light of Christ, celebrate 12 days of the season of Christmas, ending on the day of Epiphany, Jan 6th, which was Friday this year. Epiphany celebrates the light of Christ coming INTO the world in order to be given TO the rest of the world. Epiphany reminds us that Jesus was born for US too. It is the day when our familiar manger scenes are finally complete, with the addition of our three “king” figurines joining Mary, Jesus, Joseph, shepherds, and various animals.

A favorite youtube channel of mine, “Adam Ruins Everything” is a short show that does exactly what it sounds like…. Ruins things that you thought you knew all about. I apologize in advance doing my own little segment called “Pastor Lydia Ruins Epiphany.”

 So, our familiar crowned figures didn’t actually show up one the night of Jesus’s birth… or even 12 days later. They didn’t arrive on the scene until … MONTHS or even YEARS later. And by the way, they even weren’t actually kings.  “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” while a great song, is not entirely true (though the choir sang it beautifully just a moment ago!). The men we think of as kings are actually astrologers from an unknown eastern country. There might have been three, two, six, twelve or fifty. We don’t know. But we DO know that there ARE three gifts, all fit for royalty - gold for obvious reasons, frankincense and myrrh, both those used for both anointing and embalming.

But there are KINGS here in today’s Epiphany story. However, there are not THREE, but TWO kings. One of them is a false ruler set up to be a puppet king of by the absentee power of Rome – and he is certainly NOT the fun kind of puppet like in A Muppet Christmas Carol. The other king is the true king of the universe, the Lord of Lords, with a star to herald his birth. And no two kings could be more different.

First, though, we have to go back into our time machine of choice – TARDIS, Scooby Doo Time Machine, DeLorean – to last week’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, which actually happens AFTER today’s reading Did you catch that? It is a little confusing. 

Anyway, AFTER the wise men fade from sight, Herod finds out how wise they actually are by giving him the slip. This sets off Herod into a rage, and because he felt so threatened by this toddler king that he ordered the mass murder of all the children under two years old in and around Bethlehem. This is what the dream that Joseph had warned him about, and he took Jesus and Mary to safety to live as refugees in Egypt until Herod died.

Herod is a king that you want to avoid, rather than seek after. Herod is a childish king, a manipulative, power-hungry, insecure baby-murderer. Instead, the wise men were led to the child King, who was God in the flesh and the light to all the nations. This child king would later grow up to keep making powerful people – like Herod – tremble in their boots, by turning the “world order” on its head. This child king grew up to bless the poor, make the last first, and grant his people life by way of an instrument of death that we invented. In the Jesus regime, as described in Psalm 72, Mary’s song, and many other places - the needy are delivered, the poor are given justice, and their oppressors are crushed.  The light of this king shines forth in the darkness of the world, and we will be able to arise follow this light where it is leading us.    

The road that the wise men were led on took them far from home, through a strange country, and into the path of some scary people. But they were always guided by the constant light of the star. And, after finding Jesus, they were still guided out of harm’s way by taking a different road. They took a path that was unknown to them, but they knew the one who was leading them on their way.

A prayer I have prayed often, which is found in our hymnal, is known as “The Servant’s Prayer." It goes: “O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

What roads led you here today? All of us in the middle of this venture we call life, where sometimes the path ahead of us is hard to see and full of unknown challenges. Sometimes this road feels long. Sometimes this road takes us past all kinds of people, some of whom may be “Herods” in disguise.

Sometimes the path takes us to new places, away from the familiar, in order to do a new things and start new adventures. Sometimes our path takes a new turn, and we go by a different road than we had imagined ourselves following.

None of us really have any idea where this road will take us, but we know to WHOM this road is talking us, and who is guiding us along the way. Along the way, we find Jesus. And we are always guided by his light and love.

When the wise men found Jesus, they did not END their journey there, just as Christmas does not end on December 25th. Finding Jesus only caused them to get back out on the road. Like many of the wise men and women who have gone before us, we too are called to keep putting one foot in front of the other, continuing to do the work of Christmas by living the Jesus regime –“welcoming the refugee, healing our planet, feeding the hungry, building bridges, not walls, sharing gifts, seeking justice and peace for all people, bringing Christ’s light to the world.”

By Chinese artist He Qi
Hopefully we do go out “with good courage, not knowing WHERE we go,” but knowing that the hand of God is leading the way, like a bright beacon of hope, and the love of God is keeping us going, like an ever present companion. The path twists and turns, it goes through scary and beautiful places. But no matter where it may take us, we are going to be ok.

I have been taking down the wall art I’d hung up to get ready for moving to the next venture that God has called me to. One is a picture that hung in my office, a gift from another goodbye, of baby Moses in his basket of reeds, rescued by the princess of Egypt, after having been sent forth by his sister Miriam in the hope that God would make his journey a safe one. 

Another is a cross made out of broken ceramics put together with wise women, as we embraced our brokenness together and made something new and beautiful out of the broken pieces.

Another is a quote from C. S. Lewis, painted on wood reclaimed from the scrap pile, which says, “Courage, dear heart.” It’s a quote from one of his Narnia books, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The crew of the ship The Dawn Treader are lost in a magical cloud of darkness, and all despair of ever getting out. Then a white albatross flies overhead, whispers something to them, and then leads the way out into the light. What did albatross whisper? “Courage, dear heart.”

Take courage, dear heart, on all the paths the God takes you. Courage, dear heart, when the Herods of the world seem to loom large. Courage, dear heart, when traveling out on a road different than the one you arrived. Courage, dear heart, and keep walking. Amen.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Christmas Selfies

Christmas Day 2016
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and savior born to us this day, Jesus the Christ, amen.

A light shines in the darkness
(of the mall...) 
At the beginning of December, five youth and three adults, including myself, descended on the unsuspecting Quaker bridge mall to hunt for signs of the season of Advent. We were successful, and had fun taking selfies of ourselves looking for Advent when the rest of the world was already in Full-On Christmas Mode.

These were some of the selfies we took together: following a star like the wise men. Finding things, like trees and shoes, that were the color of advent, which was …. (Blue). Wearing a fur coat and giving our best impressions of John the Baptist. And my personal favorite, riding the down escalator, pretending to be the heavenly host.

But now Advent is over, and Christmas has actually, for real, finally here. But with it comes all the accompanying trimmings, including food, presents, stress, lights, carols, travel, family, traffic, and Christmas cards with pictures of happy family members with smiling, well-groomed children.

We of course want to share ourselves with family and friends at the holiday season, especially ones we can’t be with or haven’t seen in a while. But we never send out the picture where little Bobby is pulling Susie’s hair, when the baby won’t stop crying, or where Uncle Tim is arguing with cousin Billy, or the dog is chewing Grandma’s shoes. Instead, we send that one perfectly prepared moment when everyone is sitting still and looking great in their Christmas best.  

And similarly, the rest of the year, for those of us who post pictures and selfies on social media, we try to find the best angle or the best light, and we use filters and Photoshop. We curate and control how the world sees us - enhance the good, minimize the bad – so that we show the world, not our actual faces,  but our best faces, prepared for your viewing pleasure.

And at Christmas time, we go into overdrive. Weeks ago I started seeing so many pictures of Christmas trees and advent wreaths and churches being decorated for Advent. And as the weeks progressed, I saw pictures of people decorating Christmas cookies, posts complaining about traffic or lamenting about finding the “it” gift of the year – and also many, many people sharing how they couldn’t believe Christmas was almost here, and how woefully unprepared they felt for it to arrive.

Every year we strive to make Real Life look like what we send out in our annual Christmas cards. We’ve been prepping for months now, but still there hasn’t been enough time. What if we couldn’t find the almond bark or find time to bake and decorate cookies this year? What if the tree never made it up or decorated, or if you didn’t get as many gifts for the family as you usually do?

What if we’re not ready for Christmas to arrive? Will it still feel like Christmas? Will Christmas still come?

A friend of mine shared with me that she was looking back on past photos she shared on Facebook around Christmas time in past years. She remembers feeling surprised to see that five years ago, she and her husband had put up almost no Christmas decorations. That happened to be the year that her daughter was born (on Christmas Eve, no less!). Five years ago, though they had prepped for their daughter and NOT for God’s Son, Christmas still arrived.

Poor Mary and Joseph were certainly NOT READY for Christmas to come. They weren’t even in the comfort of their own home when Jesus was ready to be born. Instead, they were far from home on a road trip not of their own choosing, in a strange town with no room for them. Can you imagine Mary’s dismay when she realized that her contractions has started and she was going to deliver the promised Son of God RIGHT THERE, among these animals? And can you image Joseph fighting his panic when he realized how unprepared he was to act the midwife at Mary’s delivery? As NOT ready as these two were, they did the best they could with what they had, bands of cloths and manger and all. And Jesus still arrived.

The shepherds were not ready at all to receive the news about Jesus’s arrival either, during that night as they watched over their flocks on the night shift. And nothing on earth could have prepared them for witnessing the heavenly host arrayed in the sky, singing and praising God for the birth of a savior who is the Messiah, the Lord. The only response they could think of to this amazing announcement was to go see him for themselves. So they high-tailed it out of there and descended on the poor, unsuspecting Mary and Joseph, who with these visitors, got their second surprise of the night.

Many of Jesus’ own people weren’t ready for him when Jesus arrived on the scene, especially when he began preaching about the kingdom of God and healing people and hanging out with the wrong crowd. John the Baptist did his best to try to get people ready for his coming, and we certainly had our fair share of hearing this from John the Baptist during this Advent. But many people didn’t recognize Jesus as who he was, as the reflection of the image of God, and others chose NOT to see. After all, Jesus disturbed their picture of God, one of a  God loves some more than others, a God who cares more about following rules than about justice and peace. And so, some rejected him, because Jesus was a threat to the image of God they preferred to see instead.  

But ready or not, Christmas still came. Ready or not, Jesus still arrived. Ready or not, the light still shines in the darkness.

Jesus came to us as the image of God, the picture of who God is and how God wants to be seen. This picture is not filtered or “cleaned up” to look nicer in with filters or Photo shop. Jesus came to be with us in the grittiness of life, born into existence with dirt and animals. Jesus pitched his tent and moved into the neighborhood, became flesh and blood and lived among us, so that he could be present with us in the NOT so “picture perfect” times.
Jesus came into this word to experience those not so “picture perfect” times too. He experienced loss and rejection, grief and pain, suffering and even death – all the things that we would rather edit out of lives. Jesus chooses to be with us in the unedited version of our stories, to reveal to us that our stories, as unfinished and rough as they are, are part of God’s story.

Jesus entered into that story on Christmas Day. And the good news today is that the light HAS dawned upon the world, that Christmas HAS come, because here we are. We made it – we “made it” to this day, but we did not “make it” happen. We don’t have to make, strive for, find, or “save” Christmas, contrary to all the popular Christmas movies on the hallmark channel and songs on the radio. Christmas arrives, whether we are ready or not. Christmas arrives and Jesus appears, and we get to witness it as it happens. Just as Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds all did.

We, though, are unable to jump in a time machine and go back to witness the actually birth of Jesus. But we are still able to witness the arrival of Christmas today. Like Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” with its spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, WE can say about Christmas that Christ came, Christ is coming to us now, and Christ will come again at the end of time. And in the present moment, Jesus is arriving all the time, all over the place. Think of these as the “Christmas Selfies” of Jesus, and our job is to find them, like a real life Christmas selfie scavenger hunt.

But what would these snapshots of Christmas arriving look like in our actual lives?

A Christmas selfie in real life might look like a friend of mine who, after witnessing a Kmart employee being chastised by a customer in the Layaway department, deciding to make an anonymous layaway payment for a stranger, and that made the Kmart employee’s day.

A Christmas selfie in real life might look like the time another friend had just started as the pastor of a church who agreed to make a meal and be a host overnight for a homelessness program, for the very first time, on the night of Christmas Day.

A Christmas selfie in real life might look like our Christmas pageant last Sunday, written by one of our own youth, when we witnessed a talking animal telling a scared and lonely foster child that “Christmas is the perfect time to welcome a stranger.”

These are just some of the selfies of Jesus shared with us in 2016. I’m sure that you all have witnessed others, and will be witnesses to many more in the years to come. You don’t need a smart phone or filters or fancy equipment to witness them. You don’t have to be completely ready or totally prepared in order for Christmas to arrive in our lives.

Christ was born for this. Christmas is HERE. Jesus happens. Every year. Every day. Right here and now. Amen.