With all the division in our nation, at the suggestion of a congregation member, I want a meaningful dialogue with people of all faiths and traditions on “The Great Seconds”, the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independance (all people are created equal) and the second Great Commandment (love one another as you love yourself) – from the Judeo-Christian background. If you want to take part in meaningful dialogue after viewing, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore. Psalm 133
Unity. Something that has been missing for a very long time in our nation. It seems like I’m constantly talking about divisions between people. And at times it seems like our nation will never heal.
But we always have. No matter what happens, we have the capacity to overcome the divisions, work together and heal.
This is the same for the nation, for businesses, for industries, for the church and for households.
It takes prayer and it takes work. And honestly the most important work is prayer.
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land
(2 Chronicles 7:14).
Join me today in prayer for unity in our nation for the hard work needs to be done.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. Isaiah 60:1
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5
Since New Year’s Day, it has gotten darker in our neighborhood. Many have turned off their Christmas lights. Some of us will keep them on until January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany when we celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men (although we did that in worship yesterday).
This shows the great dichotomy between secular and sacred Christmas. In secular Christmas the decorations routinely go up the Friday after Thanksgiving (although many started earlier in 2020), the Christmas carols begin to play through November, and everything stops right after Christmas day. The radio stations return to their regular format and you stop hearing about Rudolph, Frosty and Santa.
Sacred Christmas, however, really begins Christmas Eve when we light the Christ Candle and continues through 12 days until January 6th. Yet even that can be extended – the Vatican does not remove the Nativity until February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation (Luke 2:22-40)
Personally, I find it interesting that many of the major world religions and cultures have a celebration of light around December (Hanukkah, Diwali, Christmas and Kwanzaa as examples) but then we take the lights down during January – which tends to be dark and cold. Last year I left up a string of white lights through January as a reminder that we are to spread the light.
And that is really the point here, it is not about when you put up or take down your Christmas decorations, rather about being the light of the world, as Jesus calls us (Matthew 5:14-16) and as the light of the world, we are to shine brightly.
As we begin a New Year, be the light. Be the one who is different, who shines when others are dim, who sheds positive light when others are down, who spreads joy instead of despair. Be the light of Christ, share the light of Christ.
May God bless us all in this New Year,
Blessed are those that mourn for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4
The Longest Night
In the northern hemisphere, December 21st is the shortest day, the day the sun sets earliest, and the first day of Winter.
Many churches have taken this opportunity to hold either a “Longest Night” or “Blue Christmas” service, a service of recognition of loss and comfort for those who mourn. These services are designed to allow anyone who has suffered a loss in the past year to grieve before the Christmas celebration.
2020, of course, adds a new perspective of loss. Even if you have not lost a loved one, you are most likely grieving the loss of social contact, the loss of community, the loss of togetherness.
If you are grieving the loss of a loved one since last Christmas, may God bring you comfort.
If you are grieving the loss of a loved one to Covid, may God bring you comfort.
If you are grieving the loss of “normalcy”, the loss of social contact, the loss of your community, may God bring you comfort.
While December 21st is the longest night, the light is coming. We celebrate the light coming into the world and, as the Apostle John said, the darkness did not overcome it.
Although we mourn our various losses, the light will shine once again (and is in fact already shining in the darkness). We will overcome, we will survive, we will again have life and have it to the fullest.
It is a promise of God.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9
The early church grew through small groups and house churches. The Apostle Paul started many of these churches, leaving pastoral leadership in place as he traveled on to his next location. The church began to grow and become more formalized, however the Greek term ecclesiola, which means “little church”, was used. No matter how big the universal church would become, the leaders recognized the little church – the family – as a place for learning and growing in the faith.
At some point the term fell out of use but in recent years has been rediscovered, mostly through our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. The term used today is the Domestic Church, and it is the primary vehicle for growing in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.
Do any of you take lessons such as voice, dance or a musical instrument? If you only attend your one-hour lesson each week, will you become proficient? Of course not. Our daughter must practice her piano daily in order to grow as a pianist. The same goes with her voice. She cannot just attend her weekly lesson and not practice.
We must do the same with our faith. Sunday worship is of utmost importance. Attending worship (even online) is highly advisable as worship is where we come together to lift our concerns before a loving God, where we gather to give God thanks and praise, to corporately admit our sinfulness and receive God’s forgiveness. And even if we are doing online worship, it is still gathering with the church throughout time and space. If you are not participating in worship – in person or online – get on board. You need to do this.
And then you need to practice what you learned in that service throughout the week. Parents and heads of households – you have a special responsibility to teach your children. You can use the sermon as a starting point and live it through the week. Show examples to your children, show examples to your neighbors. Be the Domestic Church so that you can be the Body of Christ.
Advent is a time of waiting. But what exactly does it mean to wait? There are different definitions that offer a complexity to the simple word “wait”.
We all know what it means to wait for things. I often take the train when I travel to Philadelphia and have to wait at the station. We wait in car line to pick up our children at school or an extracurricular event. We wait for someone to finish getting ready so we can go somewhere.
Then there are the unhealthy waits – waiting for the “right time” to start the exercise program, or to have a hard conversation. This type of waiting tends to be more about procrastinating or avoiding something.
But biblical waiting is different. Over the past few Sundays, the Gospel lessons were all about waiting for Christ’s return. Jesus would tell these stories of waiting and watching, combining the two words. And this type of waiting is more of a time of preparation. To wait expectantly means you works towards that event as you anticipate it.
Think about having a child. You must wait nine months – but you do not go about your business as usual, rather you prepare. You create a space for a crib, you get baby furniture and clothing. You start to consider changes in schedules. You rest (and we know the importance of proper rest). This waiting is filled with action and contemplation.
This is the same waiting Jesus calls us to. When we wait or keep watch, we continue to prepare for Him by doing those things He calls us to do. And each of us have different gifts, talents, and abilities, but all are from God and all can be used for God.
During this time of Advent waiting, prepare yourself to receive Him again. Make Advent a time of prayer, contemplation, rest, and action. Consider one thing to do each week that might make a difference for another. Try a new way to pray, or an additional time of day for meditative prayer. Learn a new (for you) song or hymn. Contemplate on the words to some of the traditional Advent hymns. Practice random acts of kindness.
And wait with anticipation for God.
1 Chronicles 16:31-34
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!
Let the trees of the forest sing, let them sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Normally for Thanksgiving we have family members over, but like many of you, not this year. We will celebrate with our household. As every year, we will rise, eat breakfast, and put on the Thanksgiving Day parade. During the parade, I will be busy in the kitchen working on the meal.
But this year we will not have family over.
Yet we remain thankful. Even through all this mess of 2020 we must remain thankful for God is good and his love endures forever. While our worship services are different, and our congregation is scattered, God is with us. Even though we wear masks, and limit our contacts, God is with us. No matter what happens, God is with us. That is God’s eternal promise.
As you sit down for your meal this Thanksgiving, remember to “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
Gospel Reading Luke 17:20-21
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
It is all around us, the kingdom. It is not fully here, but it is here, nonetheless. You can see it in the smile of a child, in the kindness of a stranger, in the power of a sermon, in the softness of a musical note.
The kingdom of God is all around us. But it is hard to see – because we are so focused on seeing everything else. Our society is so busy right now, so busy with day to day living (and that makes sense, as our days are pretty difficult) that we miss signs of the kingdom.
On the other hand, we do not want to be so “heavenly minded that we are not earthly good” as the old saying goes. We must pay attention to our surroundings, we need to know what is happening, we must be prepared for each day.
Yet, what will we do with that information, that preparation? Will we just read, watch or listen to the news and get bogged down in it? Or will we use it to be informed – and then go out and share the kingdom?
There is political discord – so we should stop the political anger and instead offer peace.
There is racial divide – so we should reach out and embrace all no matter their color or ethnicity.
There is concern and fear regarding the pandemic – so we should offer comfort and understanding rather than divisive opinions.
And these are just a few examples. Being informed and knowing the situation is a great way to spread the kingdom of God. It allows us to enter into someone else’s situation and offer the comfort of God.
As you start this new week, consider how you can spread the kingdom.
Church 3.0 The Church Will Survive Video Two
The Nazi Government tried to control the church in the 1930’s. Why do you think some churches went along with this?
How strict should we adhere to separations between the Church and the State?
In what ways could the Church and the State work together for the good of the people?
Here is a link to the Barmen Declaration https://sacred-texts.com/chr/barmen.htm
James 1: 5-8
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
I know I could use some wisdom right now, how about you? We are almost one third of the way through November and I am starting to plan the Advent and Christmas seasons. And that will take lots of wisdom.
This is one of those passages that we all need to read more frequently. Asking for wisdom is a good thing to do – but look at what James says, “ask in faith, never doubting”. And as I said in the sermon yesterday, doubt is the greatest tool Satan has. When the seeds of doubt are planted, mayhem results.
So as a new week begins, as the nation continues to struggle with the pandemic and division over the election, let us all faithfully ask for wisdom.
And believe God will grant it.