Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christ the King

I have been leading this Christ the King service for 6-7 years, tweaking the scripture readings and the songs, but keeping the basic format. Every year I wonder, "Should I do this again?" and every year people tell me they appreciate this service. Glory to God!

Christ the King Sunday

• Hymn 715: Rejoice! The Lord is King!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. – Revelation 1:8

• Today we remember the Christian calendar, the liturgical year, in scripture and song. Each season or holiday has a liturgical color (although many of the holidays are “white or gold”).

No sermon today, but a verse, reflection, and hymn representing each season of the Christian year.

Advent. Purple or blue.
The Christian year begins with the anticipation of the arrival of God’s Messiah, the fulfillment of the promise. We often sing Christmas carols, although some say we should wait until Christmas to sing the Christmas carols, and sing songs of anticipation before Christmas. We light the Advent candles to mark our waiting. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas (12/25).

Today's Advent Scripture reading: Luke 1:26-33, the Annunciation
Today's Advent hymn: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Christmas. White or gold.
The birth of Jesus Christ. God’s promised light comes to earth. Christmas is a 12-day season, going from December 25th to January 6th.

Today's Christmas Scripture reading: John 1:1-14 the Word became flesh...
Today's Christmas hymn: Joy to the World!

Epiphany. White or gold.
Celebrated in the Eastern churches as Christ coming to the world. In the Western churches (that’s us) it’s when we ‘remember’ the “wise men” who traveled far to worship the King. God revealed His light to all nations. January 6th is the day of Epiphany, and the season of Epiphany lasts until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Often about five weeks.

Today's Epiphany Scripture reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
Today's Epiphany hymn: Once In Royal David's City

Lent. Purple.
The 40-day (minus Sundays) season of preparation for Easter. Often marked by repentance, prayer, fasting or self-denial, Lent (which is named for the lengthening of days in springtime) is also a time of Christian instruction. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (46 days before Easter) and goes through Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.

Today's Lent Scripture reading: Mark 8:31-38
Today's Lent hymn: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

We have an additional reading and hymn for Holy Week, the week that includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Today's Holy Week Scripture reading: Hebrews 10:16-25
Today's Holy Week hymn: What Wondrous Love is This?

Easter. White or gold.
The celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, his victory over sin and death. Though the date of Easter changes, it is always the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs after the vernal equinox (March 21). The season of Easter lasts fifty days, including Ascension Day (forty days after Easter) and ending at Pentecost (fifty days after Easter).

Today's Easter Scripture reading: Acts 10:34-43
Today's Easter hymn: Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Pentecost. Red (for the day) and green (for the season).
Pentecost was a Jewish harvest festival (50 days after Passover), and is now celebrated by Christians as the birth of the Church, the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost marks the beginning of “ordinary time,” the season that spans from the end of the Easter season until Advent. In “ordinary time” (aka “Kingdomtide”) the actions of the early church are remembered.

Today's Pentecost Scripture reading: Acts 2:1-6
Today's Pentecost anthem: Holy Spirit, Truth Divine

Christ the King. White or gold.
The “New Year’s Eve” of the liturgical calendar, Christ the King Sunday celebrates, well, Jesus Christ the King of Kings. Thus the Christian year begins, revolves around, and ends in celebration of God’s gift to the world in Jesus Christ.

Today's Christ the King Scripture reading: Revelation 1:4-8
Today's Christ the King hymn: Crown Him with Many Crowns

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Demonstration of Power

26th Sunday after Pentecost
on Luke 21:5-19, Isaiah 12, and Isaiah 65:17-25
Ten days ago Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the east coast of the Philippines. Perhaps the strongest tropical storm to make landfall in recorded history, 10-min sustained winds of 145mph, 1-min sustained winds of 195mph (3.25 miles/min... half a mile in ten sec).
Perhaps the second deadliest for Philippines,
with 3,600 dead (over 5K in Thelma, 1991).
It's hard to conceive what 195mph is. NASCAR cars race in the neighborhood of 215mph, maybe capable of 250, 260. Wind record is 253mph (maybe 318, according to one internet search). Japanese Maglev train 367mph (1mi in 10s). Land speed record about 400 for wheel-driven vehicle. Commercial planes travel about 500mph. Sound barrier 768mph, broken by Chuck Yeager in October 1947. He more than doubled that speed 5 years later. 20 years later Pete Knight set the manned plane record now a stunning 4,519mph (more than Mach6).
Powerful stuff people have done but back to Typhoon Haiyan's sustained winds of 195mph, not man-made, just happened by heat and pressure.
The Great Red Spot on Jupiter has winds of 2-3 times that, 430mph, and 620mph gusts. Three times size of earth, storm has been storming for over 400 years (since telescope invention).
Amazing demonstrations of power, don't hold a candle to the power of God, who commands winds and seas and indeed created the earth and the planets and the forces within. But that's not where I'm going with a demonstration of power.

Jesus and the Temple (the Second Temple) in Luke 21, you think this is impressive? Not only “you ain't seen nothin” but this is dust and will return to dust. There's only one thing you can see here that you can put your faith in and that's me. This Temple has been destroyed before and it will be destroyed again. It may be the place where God is most closely identified but it is not God.
Jesus talks about the end of life as they know it and includes a gem in verse 13: “This will provide you with an opportunity to testify.”
You won't have control over what happens to this city, this world, what happens to you, but you can forever testify to the power of God and your trust in him. The one that made the earth, the planets, the sea monsters and storms, there is no power can out-power God.
And even that's not exactly where I'm going with the power of God.

We read in Isaiah 65 God saying I'm creating new heaven and new earth, the former things won't even come to mind. You like this Temple? It's a shack compared to what I've got coming. What you see now is a shadow of what is to come.
We read in Isaiah 65 God saying No longer will babies live only a few days, No longer will you hear the sound of weeping or crying, No longer will you be hungry or oppressed. No longer will any of the things that cause you sorrow or grief come to mind any more. I am making things new.

Sorrow or grief. This is so much of the world we live in, so much of what we see, and when that's what we look at, it can get us down. I have a friend who is taking a medication that causes deep depression for a day or so. What gets him through is knowing it's temporary, knowing it's not real. Gives him appreciation for folks who suffer with the real stuff. Testify that God's power is greater than powers of depression or addiction or darkness. (btw remember we have a mission statement “to share the love of God with people in a hurting world”).

I attended a clergy gathering on Friday at WV Wesleyan in Buckhannon, got to be introduced as the new guy, got to meet Pastor Judy and Pastor Mark. Pastor Mike Estep spoke about ministry in exile – when things are not going your way, when you're not at home, you're not comfortable. Drawing on the story of Daniel Pastor Mike gave us three points: God is still sovereign, pray without ceasing, and don't be a lone ranger. That is, don't make the mistake of giving troubles more power than God, don't forget to prepare yourself and to appeal to God in prayer, and do reach out to brothers and sisters in Christ along the journey.
We heard a word from Pastor Barry Ball, husband of Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball. Barry spoke from Psalm 137 (which I shared my first Sunday here, how can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?) and shared with us that we have three choices for responding to exile: blame God, complain, or sing a new song. While holding fast to God remember that God did not abandon the people to exile but was there among them, and that God desires that we worship God in spite of circumstances. THAT is a powerful demonstration, when in spite of horrific circumstances, people choose to worship God. We saw it after the World Trade Center buildings fell – people went to church to connect with God. We see it after tragedies and disasters, people reach out to connect with God. We see it in response to typhoons – people give money and resources and time for relief efforts, they give for people they've never met and will never meet, people of different language and culture and skin color and belief, people reach out and give, THAT is a powerful demonstration.
One final thing from that clergy gathering, in our worship we sang a classic Charles Wesley hymn “And Can It Be That I Should Gain” 363. We sang it slow. A little too slow for my liking, but instead of stewing about it I chose to soak in the words. Where I saw another demonstration of the power of God: God's power to free us from our sin... my chains fell off and I was free (repeat). That's power.

Pray for freedom, courage to testify, thanks for salvation
(we pray to the Lord, Christ our faith is in you)
The temple we have faith in is Christ

Hymn 559 Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Kill it, Waste it, Pass it, or Make it?

25th Sunday after Pentecost
from Haggai 2:1-9

There are only two times when you should worship God: when you want to, and when you don't want to... When it's convenient, and when it isn't convenient... When you feel like it, and when you don't. 
Title of message inspired by The Phantom Tollbooth (Norman Juster, 1961) 
(“For Milo, who has plenty of time”) (It's bad enough wasting time without killing it) … 

God is interested in how we handle the resources we're given.

Haggai context: 520 BC, post exile return to Israel, to Jerusalem, to devastated land and Temple, but Temple remains in ruins as people devote their attention to their own things.
But we read in chapter 1:9, “Because my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house...” your crops fail, you remain hungry and thirsty, you lack fullness...
The people respond to the word of the Lord, and they begin to work on the Temple, and we come to today's reading, where the Lord says, “Be strong... work, for I am with you... Don't fear... I will fill this house with my glory... I will provide prosperity in this place...”

God requires that God be a priority in our lives, not second or third... and God promises that blessing will happen – shalom, peace, wholeness is the fruit of God-prioritizing in life.

There's something of a “reap what you sow” feeling in this. If you live your life apart from God, your life will be lacking something, will be wonky, off-kilter. You may not be able to fully identify what's wrong, but you'll know that you're missing the mark somewhere.
But, if you prioritize according to God, God will be in your life, and shalom is sure to follow. Keep in mind, of course, that shalom is not wages... it's not an even exchange where you earn favor by being faithful – it's more like you grow God-fruit by nurturing relationship.

There's a flip-side to the “reap what you sow” feeling, and that is that you can't fake prioritizing God. You can't live by God 80% of the time and expect 100% shalom... you can't hide/deny sin and expect God to pretend it's not there, too.
I'm in Weight Watchers, have been for a few years. You may look at me and say "Why?" and what you see is the fruit of being in WW for a few years. WW principle: here's a system to help you eat disciplined. Do this faithfully and you'll lose weight. Cheat the program and you're cheating yourself and you won't lose weight.

So God is interested in how we handle the resources we're given, including our time... 

God requires that God be a priority in our lives. How do we do that?
Same way you prioritize relationships in your life. Married folks, when you first met or started dating the person who would become your spouse, how much time did you spend thinking about them, or on the phone with them, or actually with them? A lot. You may even have sacrificed other things so you could be with that person, may have given up hobbies or habits because that person was important enough to prioritize your life around.

If you have kids, you know that one of the greatest gifts you can give them is your time, your undivided attention. You can do that by making sure that you eat one or two meals together (no electronics) five days a week, or by scheduling 15 minutes one on one every day, it'll amaze you. Once again, when you nurture relationship, you produce fruit.

How do we make God a priority with our time? Spend 15 min a day with God. Read & reflect, alone and with others. Pray. Worship alone and with others. Write a “thank” list.

God is interested in how we handle the resources we're given, including our money... God requires that God be a priority in our lives. How do we do that?

In the UM church we teach that the tithe – ten percent of income – is the starting place for faithful giving, that God receive the first-fruits of our income. It's the first check I write after I receive a paycheck, ten percent of my pay goes back to God through the offering plate, and I believe that not only does God use that offering plate to maintain the church but to fund mission and ministry and outreach, locally and globally, and that when I say with my checkbook that God is number one in my life, God blesses me in spirit, produces God-fruit in my life. It's my hope and expectation that tithing is something you believe in and participate in, or that you're actively working towards it.

God is interested in how we handle the resources we're given, including our time and our money... God requires that God be a priority in our lives, and God promises that blessing will happen: shalom, peace, wholeness are the fruits of God-prioritizing in life.

John the Baptist says in Luke 3:8, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance...” That is, turn to God, put sin behind you, and let the way you live your life, spend your time and money, show that God is priority in your life. Make time for God, who promises to be with you, and who promises amazing things to come. “Be strong... work, for I am with you, says the Lord... Don't fear... I will fill this house with my glory... I will provide prosperity in this place...”

Into Affirmation of Faith 889

Sunday, November 3, 2013

This Is What I Give

24th Sunday After Pentecost / All Saints' Sunday
Luke 19:1-10 Jesus and Zacchaeus 
• Do you know what “Zacchaeus” means? “Pure and righteous.”
(Makes me think about the lesson last week in which a tax collector was justified – made righteous...)
Zacchaeus is a tax collector, and not just any TC, but like a TC supervisor, a big cheese. He's got money & power, and also public disdain (in league with the oppressors, as well as unclean, social outcast). TCs not looked upon favorably. Easy to assume he was corrupt, but no evidence really. We don't know if he was corrupt or not.
What DO we know about Zacchaeus? 
He desired to see Jesus. 
He ACTED on that desire. 
And he was known by Jesus.

And after one interaction with Jesus, Z was repentant and humble (important ingredient, remember?) putting action behind his contrition (which I'd consider a spontaneous act of worship). Jesus has done something remarkable in Z's life, and Z responds with great commitment. “This is what I give: half of my possessions to the poor, plus 4x restitution to anyone I have cheated. This is what I give.” TIWIG is encouragement to act on gratitude at God's action in your life, because without action, repentance is lacking. Don't TELL me you're sorry, LIVE it. Don't TELL me you're a child of God, Live it.
What exactly HAS Jesus done in Zacchaeus's life? One, he addressed him publicly and two he said he'd stay with him. For an unclean social outcast that was a kind of redemption in the here and now... he treated him as a human, as a brother, he restored a level of dignity and honor to his household. And Jesus says Salvation has come to this household – I think Jesus is referring not only to the here-and-now redemption but the invitation to eternal life as well. Jesus says, “This is what I give: my love, my life, my self, my all for you. I came for YOU.”
So now I have two questions: what has Jesus done in your life, and how have you responded?
There's good news here, really at least triple good news: Jesus knows us, Jesus invites us to life now, and Jesus invites us to eternal life. We are not our own, we belong to Jesus, we are bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus, we are covered by him redeemed by him saved by him. There's good news for anyone who feels outcast or unworthy or like they have to earn God's grace or clean up before coming to God. Z's repentance didn't come until after his interaction, and Jesus says in words and in actions that folks like Z – imperfect, messed up, broken, outcast folks like me – folks like Z are why Jesus came. Everybody's welcome, nobody's perfect, and anything can happen.
Today we celebrate Holy Communion, in which we remember how Jesus carried out his mission to seek and save the lost, and today we remember loved ones who have died... loved ones who were known by Jesus, sought by Jesus, saved by Jesus, and who we will see again by the grace of Jesus.
That's a lot to be thankful for. How will you give thanks?

Into All Saints' liturgy for Alphon C., died 12/12/12; and Leroy M., d. 4/3/13

We bless your holy name, O God, for all your servants who, having finished their course, now rest from their labors. Give us grace to follow the example of their steadfastness and faithfulness, to your honor and glory; through Christ our Lord. Amen.