Pastor Roy's Sermons

February 24 - Deception, manipulation, grace, and trust

Put yourself in Jacob’s sandals. The deceiver has been deceived yet again. First, he deceived his father into blessing him and all but cursing his brother. He was deceived by his father in-law Laban and was tricked into marrying two daughters rather than one. He deceived his father in law by his shepherding practices and when his flocks became too numerous for all to stay in the same place, he took his growing family and their flocks and left under cover of darkness. Rachel, Joseph’s mother deceives her father Laban and steals the family gods likely because she thought they could bless the family. When Laban catches up to them, Rachel remains on her camel with the gods underneath of her in the saddle with the explanation that “the way of women is upon” her. Jacob is then upset with Laban for his accusations. They part on friendly terms and then Jacob offers many gifts to his brother Esau to make peace with him, though it has been upwards of 20 years since he left. Esau has moved on and forgives his brother.
But that is not the end of this story of deception and grace. Joseph is hated by his brothers because he is the favorite son and he is immature and arrogant. The brothers jump him and throw him in a pit and then sell him to traders to be sold into slavery in Egypt. (Really nice brothers. . .) They deceive their father into thinking he was killed by wild animals. Years ago. As Jacob slowly learned to trust by his failures, so did all of his sons.
Now his sons come back from their 2nd trip to Egypt for food during the famine, and they reveal that the paranoid man in charge in Egypt is actually Joseph, their brother, his son. When he sees the caravan which accompanies them, he is convinced and returns to Egypt to embrace his long thought dead son.
So put yourself in the sandals of the deceived deceiver. What are the chances that his son is 1-alive and 2-now second in command in Egypt? Hard to believe! Yet, he believed that the blessing he had worked so hard to find was coming to him without manipulation or control—as a gift. Jacob’s trust had grown slowly—his trust in God, his trust in his brother Esau, and in his sons. He learned the hard way that the more he tried to force, manipulate, and control, the more miserable he was. So over the course of his life, he learned that God’s promises were sure and he came to know that being blessed was not what he did but who he was.
And so our faith also comes to us slowly as we try to force our way into God’s grace. We like Jacob struggle to believe the God promises we are told in our dreams, in our Scriptures, in our relationships. Fortunately God is gracious and the promises are a gift no matter how slow we are to receive them.
Isn’t that what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians? Spirit follows bodily, earthly experience, even as Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection follow the life and death of Adam, the man of dust. We cannot pull off our own imperishable life beyond death. We cannot understand and manage all of our relationships. Our faith stories are filled with mistrust and unknowing, but we do learn to trust. As Paul says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. And so, we wait with open hands, trusting that God gives good things to those who wait, hope, and slowly learn to trust.
Jacob demonstrates that our faith is not up to us, it’s up to God. Faith is foolproof. Yes, trusting is a healthy response, but not even trusting earns us the imperishable resurrection. Whether we trust or doubt, whether we hope or fear, God bestows the imperishable to those who finally leave behind the perishable. Our bodies inevitably wear out and everyone is forced to let go of their stubborn power and release it back to God. Even when it is not a conscious act, the release back to God is sure.
And so, Jesus calls us to love our enemies and give to those who will never pay us back--not as a test of our goodness, but because acting with love sets us free before we die. The children of God know and practice the love of God—who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. We can be merciful because God is merciful. When Jesus says, the measure with which we give will come back to us, he is stating the facts. Those who are tight will live in a tight world. Those who are generous will experience generosity at every turn. We are not earning salvation, we are living the good life—participating in the abundant mercies of God.
This is the love of Christ. This is faith in Christ. This is what Jesus Christ demonstrated on the cross. Love sets us free to trust. Even when hanging on a cross.
May your journey be filled with opportunities to trust deeply in the mercies of God. The greater our challenges and brokenness, the greater our opportunity to release it all in trust to God. The greater our chance to know grace and love. Thanks be to God.



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February 17 The tough road into Trust

Blessed are they who trust deeply not in themselves but in God. They have roots. They are grounded. They are less blown about by instinct and fear, nor the temptation to take shortcuts to blessing and joy which lead to disappointment.
I think we all want to trust God. . .but it’s easier to read it on a coin than to practice it. Why is it we must keep deciding to trust? Why can’t we just choose once and then go on trusting because our mind is made up?
It’s as if our default setting is to worry. Perhaps that is a good definition of what we call sin or original sin. Worry, mistrust, the need to take care of ourselves and get things right—or else—all rather than trusting in God’s care which. . .really always has the final say anyway, right?
So the blessed life is not a life of worrying about getting it right. And yet, we worry. Faith is about trust, not about worrying ourselves into the Kingdom.
We worry about so many things, but fortunately, our salvation in this life and that to come is not about us getting it right but in finally getting that we aren’t ever going to get it right. That we will live every day struggling to trust and receive the love of Christ. . .
And God loves us unconditionally. Whether our faith is at a high ebb or low. So we needn’t worry. We are blessed whether we know it or not. But our readings today remind us that we are more aware of our blessedness when we understand that we broken people, by nature worriers, and that God still loves us.
In fact, it is true to say that the better and more worthy we feel, the further we are from knowing the joy of the God. For those who believe they are in charge of their own lives are truly mistaken and, therefore, lost. If I think I can pull off whatever goals I have for this life, myself, I am lost. Truly lost.
So faith is not about figuring out how to trust, how to have strong faith. It’s about giving up figuring out how to trust. It’s about leaving the trust in God’s hands.
Faith is not faithfulness, it is consecration and surrender in our day to day struggle. Faith is giving ourselves over to God’s purposes each time we realize we can’t really do anything ourselves. The cross of Christ is our highest example, our salvation, because in allowing himself to be crucified, Jesus becomes for us the greatest example of injustice, of despair, of poverty, hunger and thirst, grief, and having a shattered reputation. . .and he allows it. . .for love of all those who also experience these things. Jesus Christ is perfect in suffering and is welcomed by God.
The truth of the beatitudes I just read are fulfilled in his crucifixion and death. These blessings are points of despair. Who wants to be poor? Yet who learns to trust better than the poor. Who wants to be hungry? Yet, blessed are those who have no choice but to look to God to be fed. Who wants to be overwhelmed with grief? Yet, blessed are you who despair because you have lost loved ones? Who wants to be hated, exclude, reviled, and defamed? Blessed are you who find your reputation in God because yours has been destroyed. Rejoice, leap for joy, for only then will you ever be forced to abandon your addiction to providing for yourself/to take care of yourself/to be sufficient. Only then, will you find God and learn to trust God.
Jesus lists opposing woes, because those who never doubt themselves, those who are always able to take care of themselves, those who never abandon hope and give up on saving themselves--they will never give themselves over to trusting God because they don’t have to. Jesus suggests that those who cling to their own ability will miss out on the blessing and joy of faith.
Indeed, there is nothing good about being poor, or hungry, overwhelmed with grief, or excluded and despised, but until we run into significant trouble in our lives and actually need help that no one but God can provide, we are spiritually hopeless because we haven’t been forced to trust in anything but ourselves.
The good news is that everyone has ample trouble in their lives to discover the freedom of faith and the grace of God.
So we tend to think faith is easier for strong, wise, and good people. Jesus suggests that it is only with suffering that we learn to trust and love God. It is born not of our own goodness, but out of the desperation of our humiliation and trouble.
For it is there we learn that there is no hope except in the mercy of God who always welcomes those who seek help. Thanks be to God and may we be aware of our need so that we can allow ourselves to fall into the mercy of God



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Feb. 10--Consecration and Surrender

Children’s lesson: What do people say you are really good at? What if someone who wasn’t as good at it as you told you how to do it? What would you think? But what if what they told you, then, really helped you? What would you think about them? Some of the men who followed Jesus were really good at fishing. . .
Surrender/consecration
Imagine with Isaiah being caught up into the fierce presence of God. How do you react when you, however it happens to you, come face to face with God? Isaiah, like Jeremiah last week, doesn’t make excuses for his sin and unclean lips. He simply confesses his feeling of unworthiness and incompleteness. He is deeply humbled and now he is listening. And right away he receives a message.
As with Jeremiah’s call which we read last week, Isaiah is to assume the worst-- that the people will not listen until almost everyone is driven from the land in desolation. The nothing which remains will be the seed of newness, resurrection, the gift of God bringing new life. The seed is hopelessness and despair. It’s as if God cannot work with an Israel which is good enough.
God’s call to Isaiah is not about him and Israel getting it right. It’s about him and Israel giving up on their own abilities and success. It’s about them surrendering to God first. All the stuff he wants—he’s got to let it all go. That is how consecration works. It’s not about bringing our “A” game, our best effort, its about giving up that our best effort will ever be good enough or accomplish anything at all.
Last week Jeremiah was called to be willing to open his mouth and trust that God will fill it with the right words. God was calling Jeremiah to be surrendered and consecrated to God. So is Isaiah. That is the burning of his lips with the coals from the fire of the altar of God. It’s the opposite of what we expect. And that is how life is.
Hope is from God and God alone. To the extent that we try to save ourselves and everyone around us, we are doomed. Hope does not come from me and you. I cannot help you. I cannot help myself. I can only give myself over to God. The sooner I recognize and embrace that, the sooner I will change from being a fake, a pretender, even manipulatively violent, the sooner we can let ourselves go. . .into God’s grace—so that we can trust, and rest, and hope, so that we can live with compassion toward ourselves and our neighbors.
God’s coming in peace cannot be stopped and it cannot be started. All we can do is receive. Be filled with hope and joy. This is true for every aspiration, every hope that is within us. We can’t make ourselves be good neighbors, or good friends, or good parents, or good spouses. We can only surrender ourselves to God and then to the people we love and serve.
On to Luke. Jesus comes teaching from a boat. Simon must have thought to himself, “At least the boats are good for something since we failed last night.” Until Jesus suggests they go out again, “Sure, whatever you say, Master, we’ll put further out and drop our nets even though last night was a big zero. The fish are elsewhere. But, hey, you’re the boss. Whatever you say, we will do, even though we really do know what we are doing.”
Turns out the fish were closer than Simon realized. With Jesus there is unexpected abundance. Plus the invitation, “Now you will fish for people.” And they followed him.
The disciples were not called to produce their own abundance, but to give themselves over to the abundance of God. Jesus invites the disciples to consecrate themselves to the work of loving people, serving people, leading people back to God. And there will be unexpected abundance. But it will be God’s abundance not theirs.
Today, God is calling us to consecrate ourselves, to surrender to God’s mercy in exchange for our own strength. Jesus calls the disciples not to have all the answers or make good things happen, but to simply follow. To be open and willing to go where the Spirit leads. And chances are good, like the promise of a desolate land to Isaiah, that we will rise up in the strength of God only after we have fallen down in our own strength. The power of the church is in her ability to trust. Not in her ability to get things done. May we be such a church, such a people. Consecrated, surrendered to the mercy and love of God—in every way. Not strong, but lifting up our weakness in humility to God and one another.
And there will be unexpected abundance, in unexpected places and unexpected ways.
Thanks be to God.



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February 3 - Love the foundation of faith and hope

In today’s introduction to the life of Jeremiah, he is reminded that it is God who saves the day. Each day. Each time. Without fail. Without exception. Not Jeremiah, not me, not you. But God. Over nations and kingdoms, to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant. God’s work. Jeremiah’s voice, freely spoken, the divine message flows through him. In humility he learns to receive the message and pass it on. He learns to love his people by passing on God’s love, God’s peace—the good life of God which has the power to transform every aspect, every nook and cranny of Israel’s religious, political, economic, social world. Jeremiah’s message humbly passed along from his investment in listening to God to the people has the power to change, to lift up, to bring a new quality of life.
But Jeremiah must remember that it is God’s message of wisdom and mercy, not his. All he has to do is be willing. Open. Truly open to hearing something new from God. Not just repeating what he has always felt or believed, but listening, carefully listening for the life changing message of God. This is not a message that keeps him or Israel, or us comfortable, but which wakes up the life of God in its full richness, within us and around us. That is no small thing.
In I Corinthians 13, Paul thinks about prophesy and this life of God we call faith. He says, “We know in part, we prophesy in part, but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully. Now abide faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love.” Faith and hope and love are all related. But what is faith without love? And what is hope without love?
Perhaps another way of putting it is that love is the foundation for hope and faith. Or, the most essential of these is love. Hope and faith are all about God’s love and the planting and building of love within us. Love is a powerful force—constantly underestimated. But faithful love is anything but passive. It is quite active. And faithful love is like the coming of Spring, it cannot be stopped even as it cannot be forced until it’s time has come.
Jeremiah doesn’t speak much of his love for his audience. But he does speak of the love of God, the passion of God for all the nations and for his people Israel. Nothing but love could motivate the prophets of the Old Testament. If you read and meditate on their words, you will be moved by this love which is satisfied only by a willing heart.
Is this perhaps why Jesus responds so unexpectedly to his townsfolk? He knows them, so he can cut straight to the point. Perhaps they react violently because they are not willing to go in a new-open to God-direction. They are not open or willing to seek God’s future. They are stuck fast in their own past and miss out on the chance to learn with Jesus.
Love makes us humble and willing to listen. Violence and explosive anger are signs of closedness to God’s message of peace, humility, and courage. Jeremiah learns to listen and speak without fear because he is moved by love. Jesus and Paul did the same. May we also listen carefully for the words and



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January 20 A Flexible and Willing Servant

Jesus turning water into wine is one of my favorite miracles. Most of the miracles in the Scriptures are about healing or about safety. But this one is about joy and celebration, and generosity. I can just picture Jesus and his mother deciding together what and who is worthy of the miracle of abundant blessing. Wine at the wedding feast was a sign of blessing bestowed on the newly married couple. To run out was seen as worse than embarrassing, it was “bad luck.” Turning the water into wine, Jesus as much blesses his mother as he blesses the brand new family.
And the conversation between Jesus and his mother might be as important as the water turning into wine. The path to blessing is one of conversation and yielding. We might think of Jesus as one who always knew God’s will for any situation before him. But clearly in this moment he would have preferred to allow the celebration to end naturally. But he becomes a servant of his mother and of all those who would have been otherwise distressed and suddenly there is an abundance of wine and blessing.
[John calls it the first of the signs to reveal his glory. And the disciples believed in him. What is glory? What does it mean that they believed in him? One of the challenges in reading the Bible is to resist the urge to supply our own answers that arise as we read it. We all have an idea what glory is. We all have our own assumptions of what it means to believe in Jesus. But what does this miracle tell us about what it means to believe in Jesus and to wonder in his glory?]
Jesus has a conversation with his mother and he yields to her wishes. The sign unfolds as a result of his faithfulness to his mother. God’s abundant blessing is poured out because Jesus is flexible.
And what does the wedding family do to deserve this blessing? Do they even ask for it? No. Jesus simply acts on his mother’s compassion.
We are tempted to believe that every spiritual blessing or lack thereof is the result of our effort. We are tempted to be anxious that somehow we will mess up our chances of finding blessing if we don’t make the right decisions and follow the proper protocol. Oh, we talk about grace but we still feel as though everything is up to us. I know I do. Plus, sometimes we feel so unworthy that we are convinced that we cannot be part of God’s blessing. If we were more worthy it would all work out better. We would be helpful to God. Sure we don’t deserve anything, but we just keep trying to prove that we really can pull this off. That you and I can save the day, or at least be helpful.
And here comes Jesus doing a miracle and not even telling the important people that he did it. Remember? Only the servants know that a miracle has happened. The head waiter thinks somebody blew it and accidentally mismarked the good stuff and now it will be wasted on folks who can no longer tell the difference between the good and the bad. That is a lesson in itself—the abundant blessing of God is poured out with abandon and it doesn’t matter whether it is appreciated or not. Perhaps we are being reminded that rank and class have nothing to do with the blessing of God. If anything, those who need help and realize it are more available to notice God’s abundant blessing.
The good news revealed in our texts today is that, as Isaiah 62 says, God rejoices over you, and me, and it’s not because of our own competence but because we are beloved. God is love. And not only are we the focus of God’s joy but the Spirit pours out abundant gifts on us so that we also can rejoice. By the gift of God we are part of the story of blessing.
Everything is a gift. Faith is a gift. Love is a gift. Finding ourselves in this beloved community is a gift. The fellowship we share among these who are abundantly blessed, not with possessions, but with opportunities to enjoy the fellowship of God’s free and unearned welcome.
May we live into this welcome and allow it to flow over us and on to our neighbors and each other. Thanks be to God



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January 6 - the Light of God

Children: Favorite star, favorite gift.
Epiphany, January 6th isn’t usually on a Sunday. But this year we get to celebrate it together. In our celebration we begin with a star and curious travelers. They travel perilous roads seeking a king. What sort of king do you think they expect to find? What king is worthy of a bright star? When they arrive in the land close to the sea, they find the nearest king—Herod—surely he will know something. He asks the scholars and they point to Bethlehem. After one last short trip, they find a common family? Surely not what they were expecting. No great wealth and power.
They bestow their gifts to the unexpected king. They return home wondering—perhaps wandering--the rest of their lives—“What does this mean?“ Likely Mary often asked the same question throughout Jesus’ life. We who come face to face with this unexpected king, we can also ask, “What does this mean?” Perhaps Epiphany points to a moment or a period in each of our lives in which we have an “Aha!” moment. Oh, now I see what faith is all about, now I feel a connection to the Love and Life at work in the universe we call God.
Isaiah carries the theme of this celebration of revelation in light, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” He speaks of deep darkness and the dawn of hope and light. On January 6th, already the days are getting longer. As light returns to the north, we are reminded of hope, freedom, grace, life, and love.
The writer of Ephesians speaks of the riches of Christ, the eternal purpose of God carried out in Christ Jesus. The writer speaks of the boldness and confidence of faith. It’s a bit of a mystery how weakness can be strong, how love can conquer hate and fear and overwhelm grief and loss of all kinds. In this life there is no avoiding suffering.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is not about getting the good stuff without sacrifice or pain. The brightness of Jesus’ life and his courage facing death teaches us that we can let go of our need to be independent and strong in ourselves and entrust ourselves to the grace of God and the goodness of neighbors.
Epiphany, and our own epiphanies come only through prayer. Prayer teaches us to listen, to wait, to hope, to rest in the goodness of God. It teaches us to listen to the Spirit calling us to faithfulness in love. We find love as we receive love. Love comes from God. It matters less how much we are able to love. It matters much more how much we come to look for and see love in God, in God’s salvation, in God’s creation all around us. Our own epiphanies flow from being open to God’s love as it comes to us. Not about mustering up our own love and goodness.
This is the story of Epiphany. A child. A star. The God/man Jesus who is the very presence of God without being any less or more than a man. Listen to this child. Listen to this God/man who leads us to our true self which is God’s gift to us. Epiphany is an invitation to pray. Not as you are supposed to, but as you can. Pray as you can. Start with who you are and listen to God’s love for you. Thanks be to God for the invitation of Epiphany



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December 24 - Dedicated to God

The message of Christmas is God with us. Christians have proclaimed from the New Testament on that Jesus is a union of the divine and human. Sometimes we think of Jesus as not having to struggle because he was divine. We wonder if his essence was a moment by moment choice to be more human or more divine. Some think of Jesus as God appearing human.
But the church has always agreed that Jesus experienced his humanity completely as we do. Being human is as much a struggle as a gift. Jesus came to know that he, a man, was one with God. That made him free to live and love as a human being, and not hold back. In other words, he continually offered himself to God. The offering set him free to be completely human and divine. He lived with human limitations as we all do; but in the struggle, he offered himself to God rather than resisting which we often do. Our sin is to resist the love and faithfulness of God. Perhaps Jesus’ freedom from sin was born of not resisting, but giving himself over to, God.
And here is my point--as we celebrate, this night, the birth of Jesus in a very humble place and time, we have the opportunity also to offer ourselves to God. Salvation is the gift of God. We hear the message of the angels celebrating God coming among us. We know that this baby will grow up to become a poor, itinerant preacher proclaiming the Good News, healing, loving outcasts of every description, calling a people to himself who offer themselves back to God—day by day, moment by moment. Though he had virtually nothing to his name, he was free because his life was an offering.
We often think of our salvation as Jesus setting us free mainly by forgiving our sin. We need to be forgiven in so many ways, yes. But I believe the essence of the gift of salvation is Jesus’ invitation to offer ourselves back to God rather than resist God (which is sin). Each of our lives offered back, imperfectly, to God is a thing of great beauty. If you recall my message yesterday, offering back our lives to God is to live in the strength of the Lord.
It’s important to remember that when we forget to offer ourselves back to God and push ahead in our own stubborn, broken strength, and fail(!), it’s ok. Forgiveness and a brand new start is the free, never ending gift of God. But if we fail to offer ourselves back to God, forgiveness is hollow—it can’t get any traction, because its negative without any positive action. The positive action is giving ourselves over to God with us. No matter how many times a day we have to do it.
Each time, an inward glance toward the Spirit sets us free. We learn this from Emmanuel, God with us in Jesus—born as a fragile baby, growing into a man who learns to give himself over to God and teach us the same.
Thanks be to God for the gift of this Baby who teaches us to be free, to offer ourselves to God who receives us in love. Merry Christmas!  Amen.



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December 23 - In the strength of the Lord

Micah prophesies of an anointed leader who will come. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
It’s a familiar expression, but what is the strength of the Lord? The Old Testament has a lot to say about what the strength of the Lord is and what it is not. Israel’s first king, Saul, is a good example of what the strength of the Lord is not—especially later in his reign. The strength of the Lord is not self-serving. It is not for the benefit of one’s popularity or ego. Kings, prophets, priests, and landowners who lived in the strength of the Lord did not enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. They did not enslave the peasants for their own glory and power. This is why Solomon is not blessed as being faithful as his father King David was. Solomon enslaved large numbers of people on a rotating basis and built the shrines of other gods who blessed the status quo of political greed in Palestine. I quote I Kings “So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not completely follow the Lord as his father David had done.” Keep in mind that David committed adultery and tried to cover it up by intentionally having one of his most loyal military leaders killed in battle. He let his power go to his head, but. . .BUT when confronted, he confessed and returned to humility, loyalty, and faithfulness. He paid dearly for his sin, but he was judged righteous and good in the “sight of the Lord” because of his humility. Solomon and almost all the other Kings and wealthy land owners talked a nice talk and prayed nice prayers but they worshipped power and their own comfort rather than serving the Lord who hears the cry of the poor and the enslaved and comes to their rescue. They were not serving in the strength of the Lord but in the glory of their own strength. They were not people of peace. They were not driven by lovingkindness.
Micah longs for another good leader like David who will serve all the people not with greed but with love, for the good of the people—for peace.
Notice in the magnificat which we read today as a psalm, that Mary focuses on humility. Surprisingly, Mary does not celebrate those who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. The poor and weary are lifted up by God, not themselves; and the arrogant are humiliated by God, not by the poor. The Almighty does great things. The Lord’s greatness is proclaimed. God is savior.
See how this sets us free from being our own saviors? Saving ourselves and the world around us? That is tiring. But to wait for the strength of the Lord, that is life-giving.
So Mary’s blessedness is a gift from God. Her faith is God’s doing. Her part is to offer herself to God. The rest is up to God. Mary has learned that love flows to those who give themselves with abandon to God. The source of our love determines the strength of our love.
In Hebrews we are reminded that Jesus came and offered himself to do God’s will. He found perfect freedom in dedicating himself, giving himself over to the strong mercy of God. We don’t always get everything right (understatement there!), but we can offer ourselves and our love and our service in the strength of the Lord.
In the Gospel reading, Elizabeth says to Mary and of Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” In other words, Mary believed the word of the Lord. She believes by offering herself as a vessel for God’s peace. And that is exactly what then happened. She was a vessel.
The invitation is ours also. We can offer ourselves and all we do, moment by moment, to God. We can offer our meagerness, our failures, our weak faith, and our lostness to God. And the strength of the Lord shines in our weakness and humility, like with Mary. We naturally try to avoid weakness, cover it up, be strong. The strength of the Lord comes to those, like Mary, like Joseph, who instead offer it all up to God. Who receive the gifts of God with openness and gratitude.
Thanks be to God.



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Advent 3 - Joy

How is it that people who hold mostly the same things in their faith practice their faith in such different ways?
For some, life is good. They have enough to eat, good health, and safe, dependable housing—no major changes in their lives. Faith for these focuses on gratitude for God’s goodness and mercy. Joy comes pretty naturally with gladness. The temptation when life is good is to believe that we have earned this good, comfortable life—or that it is guaranteed. . .as long as we continue to live faithfully—to keep our part of the deal. We can slip into viewing faith as a deal between God and me.
But for others, life is difficult. Perhaps the trouble begins with the loss of a job, the loss of a spouse or child, living with a difficult family member, or living with a chronic illness. Any of these can lead to the loss of a place to live. All these things are stressful. It feels like God has not kept up the bargain. They have been faithful, so why the trouble? Now, we know that faith is not a bargain. For these people, faith can come to a crisis point, just as much as the people living the good life can become bored with their faith.
We don’t like a crisis, but from time to time we have to just dig deeper into our faith. We embrace the questions and we hear the voice of God speak in a fresh new way.
Whatever the questions, our faith can handle them. Unless we pretend the questions don’t exist, or ignore them, or think they are a failure to believe. The failure to believe is not courageously asking questions of God, but the failure to believe is doubting whether your faith can grow into and beyond the questions which arise.
When we rest in God’s grace, we have nothing to fear. Remember, faith is not about believing the right things, but about trusting in the profound and unspeakable love of God.
The maturing of our faith comes when we respond with honesty and integrity to what is arising within us. Trouble produces a deep, rooted faith as we search and long for the peace of God. Our wishes, demands, and dreams about reality fall away as we come to know love’s way, love’s truth, and love’s life. The grace of God in the love of Jesus Christ.
So what does mature faith have to do with joy?
With faith, trouble teaches us that gracious love has no limits. Love is profound and defies understanding. Love is always a surprise. Especially from God.
Joy is our experience in faith. Joy is the response to the love of God. Joy is not happiness. Joy is a deep knowing that all is well—even when nothing feels well. Joy is not a gimmick. Joy is a faith which pegs itself on the fully reliable love of God.
Let me reread the Philippians lesson: “Rejoice in the Lord always’ again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The one guarantee we have in our faith is a beautiful, strong, guarantee. God’s presence in love. We are reminded by our baptism that we are beloved children of God. The Love of Christ saves us. The love of God is our hope and our peace. Likewise, Holy Communion is the presence of Christ in love to us, together, period.
This is joy. Remember, though, you can be in the midst of severe depression and still know joy, because joy is not happiness bouncing around in a pretend world of getting all we want and think we need. Joy is deep, profound trust that we are held by a God who can embrace all of our trouble, even our death, and keep the promise of resurrection. From God we come. To God we return. And God is good.
May this Advent be a time of waiting, growing, and deepening faith in God’s gracious presence.
May your faith continue to grow and produce abundant joy—as painful as that is and will be. Amen



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November 25: The Reign of Christ

Children’s sermon: What is a King or Queen? What kind of king or queen would you like to have? What is the difference between a King and Queen and a president? Can a president do whatever he or she wants? In the past, Kings and Queens could. So was it more important back in those days to have a good, kind, just king and Queen? How would it feel to live in the land of a King who took advantage of his power?
Today is the day we celebrate Jesus as our King. What kind of King do you think Jesus is? Since Jesus is King, does that mean everything will always turn out the way we want? Do you think there have been kings who haven’t loved their people? I believe Jesus is the King of Love. Jesus teaches us how to love. We love because God first loved us.
Sermon: This is not a Gospel passage that answers all our questions, but challenges us to listen afresh to Jesus. So today I am asking more questions than suggesting answers. That was usually the way Jesus taught.
Jesus answers the Roman governor’s questions with “My Kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asks, “So you are a king?” Jesus answers, “You say I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
John is inviting us to listen. Listen to Jesus’ voice. Listen to Jesus’ truth. This conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate reminds us that Jesus is not about being in charge and getting his way. Pilate steers the conversation in the direction of kings and ruling, and Jesus repoints it toward listening to the truth and allowing that truth to transform us. It’s no wonder Pilate is seriously unnerved by the conversation and sends him back to Herod. This is no criminal. Maybe there is even a message for him. For some the message of Jesus is hope. For others, like Pilate, it is a message of judgment. He has worked hard, ruthlessly, to be in charge of this puny, despised, rebellious territory. What is this talk of truth? Pilate’s truth is power and control and pleasing Caesar. Caesar is truth. Caesar is right. Caesar is peace. Caesar is joy if you play by his rules and execute his judgments. As Jesus is led away, Pilate is pretty sure Jesus’ truth is not the efficient, violent power and peace of Rome. Pilate has something to think about.
What is Jesus’ Kingdom? What is Jesus’ truth? I’m pretty sure John is not looking for a quick answer here. Not something that we can claim for our own and then efficiently move on to the next challenge. Listening to the truth of Jesus will take us apart. This “not Roman,” “not Caesar” life points us in a new direction. Is Jesus calling to us today, "Why not spend a bit more time listening, for my truth, my freedom, my humility?" I hear Jesus inviting us to a deepening faith, to reconsider our allegiances, our expectations, our assumptions.
There is always room for us to recommit ourselves to the Kingdom of God, the reign of Jesus. I hear Jesus inviting and reminding us to pray, to listen, to continue to grow in faith—trusting in the reign of Christ.
Thanks be to God.



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