The Word that Communicates John 1:1-18

We communicate through all sorts of ways.  A smile, scowl, hand gesture, ‘the look’, emoji, act of kindness are all ways that we can communicate to others.  These help convey emotions like anger, joy or frustration but are limited.  We use medium like Twitter, smartphone, Facebook, email, YouTube, texting, etc. to help us in passing on news and ideas to others.  These medium have no power without the use of simple, basic words.  The use of words is how we communicate with each other.  Noun, verb, adverb, tense, etc. are how we fully express ourselves and relate to others.

The opening verses to the Gospel of John tell us about someone called the Word.  We are told that from the very beginning the Word was with God and was God.  Furthermore, all of creation came into being through this Word.  If we want to know about God, then the Word is the noun, verb, adverb, tense, etc. expressing God’s nature to us and relationship with us.  So who or what is this Word?

Well, even though we owe our very existence to the Word, we have rejected it.  The law which Moses passed down we love to call and use as God’s Word to control and berate others.  However, the Word is grace upon grace and truth.  To the darkness of the world with its revenge, assassinations, violence and slavery, the Word is a light that shines of life and the darkness won’t extinguish it.  Social media may be used to attack, degrade our humanity, demand perfection that is unattainable but belief (a gift from the Holy Spirit) in the name of the Word gives us the capacity to be declared children of God.  Once again, who or what is this Word?

Well, words are used to communicate.  The Word is God in the flesh come to be with us.  The Word is God showing to us what humanity was created to be.  The Word has come to be a light that exposes our darkness.  The Word is what took our rejection and murderous cross so that we could know the grace upon grace that raises life out of death.

John the Baptist stood alongside the Jordan River and pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus is this Word that is the full expression of God to us.  So if you want to know the truth of God’s nature, look to the words of the Gospel of John as they continue to point to Jesus.


Threatened By A Baby Matthew 2:13-23

Less than a week ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus.  We sang hymns that tell of news bringing joy to the world.  We sang about mangers and angels and shepherds and Mary.  Christmas comes with a great crescendo and then it is back to life as we know it.  In a few days children return to school.  After taking a couple days of vacation, it is back to work.  Christmas with the baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by adoring parents, shepherds and docile animals is easily sentimentalized.  We gladly take the comforting news of ‘God with us’ but we quickly ignore the challenge and judgment that ‘God with us’ entails.  Matthew jolts us to reality with Joseph and Mary taking Jesus to seek refuge in Egypt.  Matthew also described what happens when rulers feel threatened.  In this case, the poor suffer and the innocent are killed.  Christmas is about Jesus’ birth.  The following Sunday is about the world with its Herods.

Magi had come to Herod to find the one born ‘King of the Jews.’  Herod and his grasp on power felt threatened.  He wanted the Magi to return and give the location so he too could worship – Herod lied.  The Magi didn’t return to give Herod what he wanted to learn.  Thrown into a rage Herod ordered the massacre of Bethlehem’s children.  Only Matthew records the history of this brutality but it was well within Herod’s normal behavior.  Bethlehem was a small bump in the road town outside of Jerusalem.  Such news wouldn’t have caused a stir in the region but it would have caused parents to fear a little more for their children’s well being.

The Christmas message is truly good news.  Each Christmas we are reminded that in Jesus, the God of mercy and love has come to live with us.  The Christmas message is also that in Jesus, God has entered this world with those forced to flee for refuge…under the lies and fear…in solidarity with the powerless often paying the price of the world’s brutality.

So celebrate the good news that is Christmas of ‘God with us.’  Also celebrate that God has come for those under the brutality of the world’s Herods.  The world’s salvation has truly come, born to us.


God Is With Us Matthew 1:18-25

Christmas is only a few days away but we are still in the season of Advent.  The time continues for us to consider the coming of God to be with us.  Including, the responsibilities and consequences that are a result of God’s arrival.  What usually happens when we consider Immanuel (God with us), we assume that God is coming on our terms.  God is coming to bless my business.  God is coming to make the country powerful.  God is coming to thrash my enemy.  Yes, the coming of God does bring to us blessing.  Yet as we prepare to receive the Christ child, we do so not on our terms but on God’s terms.  This is the only way the blessing can be received.

These verses from Matthew might seem a few days early.  They are Matthew’s description of Jesus’ birth.  Two points are made by Matthew.  One is about Jesus’ identity.  The other is the reaction of Joseph to the news of Mary’s pregnancy.

Joseph lived in a culture where the worst thing you could do was to bring shame upon the family.  Mary was betrothed to him.  In those days marriage was a two step process.  The first step was betrothal.  The second step was the husband at a later date taking his wife to his home to be his wife.  During the betrothal step the woman was considered the man’s wife.  So the news of Mary’s pregnancy was sure to bring shame upon Joseph and the future marriage.  Joseph chose to dismiss her (break off the betrothal) in the least shameful way possible.  Later in a dream, an angel told Joseph to keep Mary as his wife.  Mary’s pregnancy was Immanuel (God with us) and Joseph was to name the baby Jesus because he would save us from our sins.  Joseph did as the angel advised and welcomed Immanuel – God’s flesh and blood presence into the world.  He did this regardless of the cultural consequences.

Joseph lived in a time where kings and rulers were not opposed to blurring the line between humanity and divinity.  Matthew wanted to clear up any confusion here.  The claim of divinity was not through a position of human power.  The presence of divinity was not the result of human declaration.  Immanuel is God’s action to be with us.

So here we are a couple days from Christmas.  The challenge for us is to prepare ourselves to receive ‘God with us.’  How will we do this?  According to our expectations or upon our declaration?  Or in Jesus, who was not ashamed of our flesh and blood…not ashamed of the cross…in order to bring us forgiveness and a resurrected life?  How will we receive him?


Is Jesus the One? Matthew 11:2-11

The message for the Third Sunday in Advent turns raw.  The reality is that the question being asked is our question as well.  Is Jesus the one we should look to solve all our problems or do we need to look in another direction?  Is Jesus the one to bring the day of Lord which is the reign of God?  Or, what politician can we turn to who will bring God’s blessings?  Which corporate CEO can we turn to who will restore paradise on earth?  What latest technological advancement is coming that will elevate humanity above the mess we keep making in and on the earth?

Last week John the Baptist was so sure and confident.  He railed against the leadership calling them ‘vipers.’  The people were strongly urged to repent and to be baptized in preparation for the coming of One who will baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  John challenged Herod’s unethical conduct and ended up in prison.  Soon his head will be fetched as a party favor and for revenge.  Suddenly John’s boldness turned to doubt.  John pointed to Jesus but he didn’t live up to expectations.  Now a prisoner, John asks, “Is Jesus the One?”

The message for today is raw because it cuts deep to our own doubts.  Where do we look for that strong, decisive and charismatic leader, who: restores us to an idealized past…leads us to an utopian future…takes away all of our enemies…makes sure we end up on top?  This question has been on humanity’s lips for thousands of years.

Jesus responds to John’s question by referencing the Year of the Lord’s Favor, the Year of Jubilee, when salvation and freedom is brought to all (Isaiah 61:1-2).  Jesus was healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, raising the dead and the poor heard good news.  We are blessed if Jesus’ ways don’t offend us.  We are blessed as the ways of God that bring life are welcomed; instead of a reinforcing the ways of human power.

After all, why did the people go out to listen to John in the first place?  See the scenery?  Look at a person of wealth and power?  No, they came to listen to a prophet.  They came to listen to a word from God.  Isn’t that what we are really listening for in our questioning – a word from God that speaks of salvation?

Jesus brought a radically different understanding of how God’s salvation will be brought to this world.  This radical way is glimpsed when the sick are cared for…good news is heard in the place of empty promises…the poor are lifted up rather than being used for better profits…death is overcome by resurrection.  We are blessed if Jesus’ ways of bringing the kingdom of heaven don’t offend us.


An Uncompromised Voice Matthew 3:1-12

I have heard it said that preaching should bring comfort to the burdened while at the same time make those living at ease uncomfortable.  John the Baptist checked both off the list from the reading in Matthew.  God is not impressed with human power by whatever means it is gained.  God announces what is about to happen not through human power but in human weakness.  The birth of Jesus was announced first to shepherds (the witness of a shepherd wasn’t accepted back then).  The news of Jesus’ resurrection was first announced by women (their words were considered nonsense according to Luke).  The great prophets of old weren’t the ones echoing the words of the king.  They were the false prophets.  The great prophets were apparent nobodies who called the king to accountability.  John the Baptist was out in the wilderness and he spoke a word to be heard by the burdened and the ones at ease alike.

The people from the surrounding region came to hear John’s message to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  Repentance means to turn around.  The coming reign of God is to be embraced with lives that reject the current power structures in order to embrace God’s rule of justice and peace.  The poor and enslaved gladly received the news of God’s judgment on their behalf.  They were baptized as a way of preparing for the coming of God in their midst.

Religious leaders of the time, Pharisees and Sadducees, also came to hear John and to be baptized.  He called them a bunch of snakes.  They weren’t to put their confidence before God based on heritage, position or DNA.  Instead, they were to show lives of repentance by seeking God’s justice and not power.

John was in the wilderness announcing the coming of one who will establish the rule of God.  John baptized with water but this one of God will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  This one will bring judgment where what is done for the kingdom is kept; what is useless is discarded and burned.  This one whom John the Baptist announced is Jesus.

John the Baptist’s words are still double edged for our day.  Jesus establishing the coming rule of God is good news for those enslaved and under oppression.  Jesus establishing the coming rule of God is judgment for those in power who show no compassion or justice for the enslaved and oppressed.  As the days draw closer to Christmas and welcoming of the Christ child, let us heed the words of John and show lives of repentance.  Let the news of Christmas be good news for all people.


Burglar Alarms and Jesus’ Coming Luke 24:36-44

These days surveillance seems to be the normal for life.  Stores have signs warning of surveillance to protect against theft.  Maybe you have invested in home monitoring equipment with cameras inside and outside on the watch for a burglar in the night.  Jesus told of a house holder being on the watch to prevent his home from being broken into.  The threat at night comes not from a shady character but from Jesus himself.  While a house owner will keep watch to prepare to stop a burglar who might come at any time, Jesus is telling us to also be prepared for his unexpected arrival.

The church is in a transition.  The church begins its new year with the start of Advent which is about preparing for Christ.  This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent and the emphasis is on the second coming of Christ.  The preparation for his coming leads us to Immanuel – Christ with us – Christmas.  The readings also shift to the Gospel of Matthew.  So we begin the start of the church’s new year looking at Christ’s coming.

The tough challenge for us is not be so caught up with the ways of life that we forget the warnings.  As an example, the vast majority of scientists are sending out the warning of damage being done to the environment by high levels of carbon dioxide.  Will we continue as normal until the weather changes become too severe?

Jesus has just told of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and of great hardship to come.  Naturally, all those in attendance wanted more information to prepare.  Jesus gave no exact timeline but that the Son of Man will return.  When that right moment comes, the elect will be gathered to welcome his coming.  This moment is secret.  Jesus doesn’t even know but only the Father.  This isn’t an excuse to ignore his coming but to make all of life a way of preparation.

Jesus referred to Noah and the flood.  Life was going on as normal. This normal was so full of corruption and evil that God was pained in his heart.  The flood came and the unrighteous were washed away.  So it will be when Jesus returns.  People will be doing what is normal: working, marriage, raising children, etc.  Then one will be taken and another left behind.  As with the image of the flood, what is unrighteous will be taken away.  The ones left behind are the ones to welcome Christ’s return as King and Lord.

So how do we prepare?  How do we get ready for the day we don’t have an exact timeline?  Imagine a newly engaged couple.  Even if the date hasn’t been set, their lives are changed with future plans starting to be put in motion.  Life has suddenly changed for them.  Christ’s death and resurrection has begun a new age that is on the way to being fully established at his return.  Like the newly engaged couple, the focus is to be on the future in God’s reign.

Jesus does give some examples of what are expected in the following chapter.  One is in the Parable of the Talents.  This is using of our resources and abilities to further not the corruption of this age but the age of God’s justice and mercy to be established.  More specific items are listed with the Sheep and the Goats: the hungry are fed, drink is given to the thirsty and clothing to the naked, the stranger is welcomed and the sick are cared for while the imprisoned are visited.  This is how we prepare.

Life as normal is concerned about Black Friday deals and Cyber Monday specials.  Life as normal is worrying about paying the credit card bills in January.  Jesus is telling us to prepare with a life that is a new normal; one prepared for his coming.


The Making of a King Luke 23:33-43

I think that if we were to create a list of what made a great political leader it would be long and also varied.  The list might include: powerful speaker and motivator, just, ethical, forceful, merciful, etc.  Making our own personal list might be helpful as we look at the reading from Luke.  What unfolds is the crucifixion of Jesus.  What is contrasted are the opposing views of what makes a true king.  God’s view, as usual, doesn’t always align with our view of political leadership and power.

The current impeachment proceedings are a sad commentary on political leadership.  How the testimonies are received is filtered largely by party partisanship.  The goal of finding the truth is sidelined by winning.  When all has been said and done, the winning side will boast that justice has won out.  Really?  Will this justice mean that future generations will inherit a less polluted and resource diminished earth?  Will this justice provide for the poor to receive a little more or is the one percent going to continue taking more and more?  Will the justice won start healing the division or will the fracturing only get worse as we enter into next year’s election winning?

Jesus was crucified.  Crucifixion was a horrible way to die.  Crucifixion was a degrading way to die.  The victim was naked and publicly hung for all to see the spectacle.  In Jesus’ case, a sign was posted that he was the king of the Jews – a way to mock the Jewish people.  Luke describes the crowd as watching in silence while the leaders and soldiers mocked Jesus.  If he was a king then he should come down off the cross and save himself.  All appearances would say that Rome was the winner.  However great political leadership, kingship, isn’t deciding who wins and loses.  A true sign of kingship is giving life.

Among the many taunts a criminal, also crucified, asked that Jesus remember him in his kingdom.  Jesus stated that on that day, the criminal would be with him in Paradise.  Paradise was where the righteous were in God’s eternal presence.  Rome judged the criminal worthy of death; Jesus declared the criminal worthy of Paradise.  Jesus’ kingship brings life and with his resurrection God proved this to be true.

So the impeachment process continues.  Eventually, one side will claim victory with justice served.  Yet, will new life come to this land as a result or will the old divisions continue in the pursuit of political power.  Jesus has showed us true political leadership.  He shows that laying aside personal power for another to have life, in his example giving up his own life, is how kingship is exercised.  Political service that ignores personal gain for the life of the country?  Should we want anything less?


Faith for and during the crisis Luke 21:5-19

As time rolls on by, we encounter those moments which shake the faith we have for life.  A child dies.  A spouse dies.  Faith is challenged in the after effects of disease or flood or tornado or hurricane.  What we believe about life is questioned.  We wonder about the goodness and presence of God.  As we look at the political landscape with the partisan attacks, lying and manipulation of the truth, where do we put our faith may be at the front of our minds.  Where do we put faith when the world seems to be a chaotic mess?

Jesus and the disciples were walking by the Temple.  A few disciples boasted about the amazing structure and beauty of the Temple.  It was an amazing building constructed by Herod, largely to the glory of Herod.  For the faithful, however, the Temple served as a solid reminder of God’s presence during the trials of Roman occupation.  Then Jesus declared the Temple would be destroyed (at the time Luke was written the Temple had already been destroyed by Roman forces).  Jesus went on to tell of a persecution for his followers that would go far beyond what is called the ‘War on Christmas.’  The things we look to for security such as family and friends would betray his followers – even to the point of death.  Why?  Jesus and the kingdom of God stand in direct contrast and challenge to the chaos.  Our sin – our defiance – leads us to choose the chaos.

So where does faith go when Temple and family and friends are part of the chaos?  First of all, Jesus warned about con-men and manipulators who would use the times for their personal advantage – don’t be deceived.  Jesus offers more than a stoic approach to ‘tough it out’ kind of faith.  He shows us the God who brings life out of the chaos.

The beginning of Genesis tells of the Spirit of God hovering over the formless void (chaos) and an amazing, life sustaining creation was formed.  From the chaos that nailed him to a cross, Jesus was raised to a resurrected life.  This world will give way to the resurrection into a life that goes beyond our comprehension.  The Spirit of God, present from the very beginning, is a witness to us so we can be a witness of hope to others.  Faith looks to Christ’s return when this hope is fully realized.

Time passes by and we are all challenged to find a place where faith can grasp.  Jesus’ death and resurrection points us to God who raises life out of the chaos.  Let faith hold firm to this and gain the life that comes in Christ.


A Different Vision of Life Luke 20:27-38

How does the idea of resurrection affect the way we live out our lives?  Maybe we look only to a future life and overlook the here and now.  Maybe we don’t believe in a resurrection and the whole idea seems ridiculous.  However if we are willing to rethink our concepts of God and the power of God, life is given a new perspective.  Jesus tells us that God is a God of the living.  In the power of God, even those who have died are alive to him.  This power of God has the capacity to not only change thoughts of life lived in the future but also in the present as well.

Jesus was being challenged by the Sadducees about the resurrection.  They were closely aligned to the Temple in Jerusalem and held firmly to the Torah – first five books of the Bible.  Since no mention is made of the resurrection, then it isn’t a possibility.  The Sadducee saw the work of God to bring justice as limited by the parameters of the Torah.  Jesus challenged them to widen their views on the power of God.

The Sadduccees tried to show the concept of resurrection as ridiculous.  They used the teaching that if a man died childless, his widow was to marry the man’s brother.  A child born would then carry on the name, the life, of the deceased man.  If this man had seven brothers who all died without a child with this woman, who would she belong to in the resurrection?  While this arrangement did help protect the widow in a male dominated society, it also highlighted the understanding of a woman’s life from a purely biological value.  Her purpose was to produce children that carried on the man’s life.

Thousands of years have gone by and women are still looked upon in many ways from a biological viewpoint to serve men.  Not having children is looked down upon.  Choosing not to have children is thought of as strange.  So Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection is radical.  God is a God of the living and we are children of the resurrection which means our relationships are based upon this God of the living.  Jesus’ death and resurrection changed everything.  Relationships are more than biological arrangements.  A woman has greater purpose than to carry on a man’s name through a child.  A child is of greater value than the mere continuation of a legacy.  Serving God in ways that foster and enhance life to flourish in God’s good creation goes beyond human reproduction.

So Jesus’ words with the Sadducees about the resurrection left them either praising him for his wisdom or reluctant to challenge him again.  How does the idea of the resurrection affect the way we live out our lives?  If we have children we are blessed to be children of the resurrection.  Raise those children for who they are, children of the resurrection.  If we don’t have children because of choice or infertility,  we are blessed to be children of the resurrection.  The resurrection really does have a way of changing everything.


For All the Saints Luke 6:20-31

This past week Halloween was observed.  A few little Spidermen and dinosaurs braved the cold and rain to stop at the door for candy.  They are probably enjoying their bounty now as I write these words.  There is also another observance that will be done at worship on Sunday.  Halloween got its name from “All Hallows Eve” which is the night before we recognize the saints on All Saints Day.  We remember those martyred for the faith.  We remember those faithful ones who were amazing examples of the faith to us.  Each passing year my list of those who have died has grown.  I miss them.  I am thankful for them because of the great hope they have passed on to me.

This Sunday names will be read and candles will be lit to honor the saints.  The saints who taught us in Sunday school.  The grandparents who drove us to worship.  Those who showed us how to face death with a living hope of a resurrection to come in Christ Jesus.  The saints who walked among the terror, hate, violence, greed of this world and refused to surrender to its alluring manipulation.  Their faith kept pointing to Christ and the kingdom of God where the pain, the sickness and death will be no more.  The reading from Luke lists people the world thinks are a bunch of losers.  The poor, hungry and excluded are called the blessed by God because their hope is kept in Christ and the kingdom.

The saints are simply those forgiven by God in Christ.  Their lives are an expression of that new life forgiveness grants.  By the grace of God, we too are the forgiven in Christ and numbered among the saints as well.  It is now up to us to pass this blessing on to others.  My writing is a little shorter today.  Take the extra time to say a prayer of thanks for the saints who blessed you.