Pastor Roy's Sermons

December 2018

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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