Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Untitled, Sort-of Sermon

Luke 5:1-11
Matthew 28:16-20
John 4:13-19
Matthew 10:5-14

If you weren’t with us on Sunday, you missed an unusual (but I think good) one.  Due to a combination of illness and the movement of the Spirit, instead of the sermon I’d been preparing, I presented a version of what I’d presented at the Leadership Enrichment Event the day before.  The material I was presenting was the culmination of many things God has been teaching me, in some ways, my entire life—but more-intensely over the past year.  I have come to understand that the life Jesus calls us to is a life of deepening relationships.  It is arguably the most important thing we do.  And that is precisely the argument I make.  

Because it was more of a “presentation,” it wasn’t scripted, as I usually do.  So the following is the combination of what I remember saying, my brief notes, and a couple of things I’ve thought of since then.  



To begin with, I think the Spirit drew me to present this instead of the original sermon I had in mind is that this is, by far, more important.  Over the past couple of years, we’ve been talking with Rev. Dr. Stan Wood about being a “missional” church.  That relationship has unfortunately come to an end—I found his insights and personal support to be a gift from God.  However, if I have one criticism of his approach to helping us be a missional church, it is this: he kept using the word “missional.”  What I think he meant was “relational,” because building and deepening relationships is the most important thing we do as the church.  Last Sunday we talked about love (1 Corinthians 13).  Last week we heard the Apostle Paul say that love is even more important than faith and hope!  This week we ask: how is that love expressed?  It is through our relationships; first with our Savior, then with one another, and then with those in the world around us.  

So we begin, as we all do, with our relationship with Jesus.  We all have our own unique journeys with Jesus—all have our own stories of how we came to faith, and all have our own journeys that led us together as a congregation—but we’re all on the same road.  We look to Luke 5:1-11 and see some similar patterns with our life in Christ: first, that he comes to us.  Peter and the rest weren’t looking for Jesus; they weren’t looking to become disciples; Jesus comes to them.  He begins the relationship with us by coming to us and setting relationships as our pattern of life.  Along with that, it’s an imposing kind of relationship: Jesus doesn’t just sit at coffee with us (although he certainly does), he puts us to work.  “Let’s go fishing,” Jesus says.  “We just went fishing,” say the professional fishermen, but they go anyway.  We know the rest of the story.  

The next common pattern we see from this story is Peter’s reaction (v. 8): “Get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  The holiness of Jesus compels us to notice that we are not.  Of course it does.  But how does Jesus respond?  Does say, “Oh really?  Okay then.  Never mind.”  Does he say, “Oh you’re not so bad; I’ve seen much bigger sinners than you.”  Nope.  He looks right past Peter’s sinfulness.  He says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”  Apparently, Peter’s sinfulness does not disqualify him from becoming a disciple.  Of course, it didn’t disqualify us either.  

And of course, we know the disciples’ next choice too.  Upon hearing our Savior’s invitation to come catch people, we do what they did: we leave behind what we can and we follow him. We enter into relationship with Jesus.  

But of course, Jesus doesn’t just call us into relationship with him; he calls us to be in relationship with one another as well.  As disciples, as fellow followers of Jesus, we walk alongside one another as well.  We look to the pattern of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) and see that it is all about our relationships: we make disciples; we baptize in the name of Father, Son, & Spirit (even our God is about relationship!); we remember that the Spirit of Jesus is with us always.  We are meant to walk together with Jesus.  

But what does that mean?  Is there a difference between belonging to a church and belonging to one another as fellow disciples?  This is and has been a very personal question for me.  This is an illustration that I didn’t use on Sunday: Google the phrase “yubba lubba dub dub.”  Did it ask you if you meant, “I am in great pain, please help me”?  It is from an adult-themed (and rather inappropriate) cartoon, where one of the main characters uses it as a catch-phrase.  It isn’t until much later in the series that we find out its meaning.  In other words, this character has been walking into rooms yelling, “I am in great pain, please help me!” and no one has heard him.  In the cartoon, because this character is rather unlikable, that revelation is meant to be funny; but in the church, it is certainly not.  How do we know if the person sitting next to us every Sunday is crying out for help if we don’t understand the “language” they are speaking.  

I won’t rehash the journey away from and toward emotional health that I’ve been on this past year, but I’ve been there.  When I was finally made aware that I was “not well,” it was coupled with the realization that I had no one I could talk to about it.  Not that I was not cared for; I know I was cared for and I know it now more than ever.  What I mean is: I had no one I could reach out to pray for me in the middle of the night.  That kind of relationship is deeper than most.  That depth of relationship takes a spoken commitment: “I’ll be there for you as you will be there for me.”  Since then, I have surrounded myself with such a team of people.  The treasure that they are to me has encouraged me to invite you to deepen your relationships with the people in the church: my hope is that you will create your “team” as well.  We rarely know when a crisis will arise; but when it does, you’ll want your team on the ready.  

These deepening relationships, as vital for us as a church as they are, are not just for us.  Deepening relationships is how we bring Jesus to the world.  We see how this might be done in John 4.  You know the story: Jesus and the boys are traveling through Samaria and, the disciples leave Jesus alone by a well.  Along comes a woman to draw water and Jesus (of course!) puts her to work: he asks her for some water and she points out how he’s not supposed to do that.  They talk about water a bit and then the conversation turns to the woman’s husband.  She says she has no husband and Jesus points out that, actually, she’s had five and the one she’s “with” isn’t her husband.  Ouch.  

Do we know this woman?  Of course we do: we meet people like this every day; people we meet who are living with loneliness and shame; and God is calling us to care for them by entering into a deeper relationship with them.  In our context, it might look more like this: maybe you’re at the coffee shop or the library.  Maybe she’s on a computer and you notice something isn’t quite right.  Nothing prophetic, necessarily; maybe you just notice something.  Maybe the Spirit nudges you to ask, “Hey, are you okay?”  Maybe that same Spirit nudges her to tell you the truth.  “No,” she says, “my husband and I can’t seem to love each other anymore.”  And so you enter into real and deepening relationship.  Maybe you say something like, “Wow, that sounds really hard.  How do you deal with not feeling love with your husband?  Are there ways that you’re working on finding that love again?”  And maybe most helpful of all, “Is there anything I can do to help?  Maybe pray with you?”  That is how the Kingdom of God has always grown: we meet them where they are, we walk with them, and we show the love of God along the journey.  

The lack of deepening and real relationship is literally killing our society; and that is the one thing we are called to bring to our society.  It is no accident that the most urgent thing our society needs and the thing we are most called to do are the same exact thing.  Building relationships is not only how we’re called into discipleship, not only what we’re called bring to one another, but it is how we bring salvation to the world.  

There is one final point from Matthew 10:5-14 that shows us, in an unusual way, that there may also be a specific kind of person God is calling us to walk with in this world.  It’s an interesting story: Jesus sends his disciples out into the world to practice his relationship-building ministry (again, putting us to work).  He gives them instructions on traveling light and then adds an interesting note on where to stay.  He says, “Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”  What just happened there?  Jesus sends the disciples into the world, looking for people in it who are not disciples, but who are “peaceful” to what God is doing.  Then, Jesus has his disciples to for them the same thing that Jesus does for everyone else: put them to work.  Jesus sends us into the world, looking for what my friend calls “people of peace”—people who are already working in the Kingdom of God, but don’t even know it.  Jesus sends us to recognize what God is doing through them and walk alongside them in that work.  To show them in your words and actions the miracle of our Savior’s love and them put them to work: let them take you fishing; let them give you water; let them fix you a room.  

I’m reluctant to publish the illustration I used on line, but the gist goes like this: God called me a couple of years ago to begin walking with someone in our town who is obviously a “person of peace.”  This person does not go to church, but knows we have had many opportunities to have spiritual conversations.  I have had opportunities to tell this person, most importantly, that I see what this person does as God’s work.  So the other day, this person was going through a difficult situation and asked me if I could pray about it.  Of course I did.  I don’t know if this person will ever set foot in a church, but that’s not my job.  My job is to deepen that relationship, walk with people wherever they are, and keep the door open.  

So in the end, I guess the big message is this: remember that everything we do is about building & maintaining relationships; first with the Savior who seeks us and calls us; then with one another as we seek to truly care for one another; and finally with those God puts in our lives as we go out into the world.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Love Isn't

1 Corinthians 13
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

As you might imagine, there’s a class they had me take in seminary where I learned how to serve Communion.  There are other classes where we talked about what happens in the Lord’s Supper and what it means, but those classes didn’t make me nearly as nervous.  

I remember the day we practiced doing the pastor’s part of the Lord’s Supper; I was scared to death.  It terrified me because I’d only seen it done before; done by an ordained, installed, and properly-sanctioned and full-fledged pastor.  I was not one yet.  I think there was something in my head that was afraid that, if I got the words wrong, it wouldn’t work; like if recited the incantation improperly, the magic wouldn’t take.  

Then it came to be my turn: I stood at the little table we’d set up and picked up the little loaf of bread they’d given me and was surprised to find that the words just came.  It turns out, when you watch a thing being repeated once a month for your entire life, you just pick it up.  In fact, I bet that with a little prompting, you’d find you know the words too.  Take the bread: Jesus said, “This is… [my body, which is broken for you].”  And then he said, “Do this... [in remembrance of me].” 

There are those two parts to it and both are important.  Why do we remember Jesus saying, “This is my body, broken for you”?  Well, that’s easy: that’s our salvation story; he gave his literal body so that we might have life.  But the other part may not be so easy: why do we do this in remembrance of him?  Well, that’s what this sermon’s about, but I’ll give you a hint: it may be the reason we do this at the start of every month; it may be the reason we repeat it so often throughout our lives that we memorize it without even trying; and it may be, as followers of Jesus, the very most important thing we do.  

So today we hear from the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians.  I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear from First Corinthians thirteen, I instinctually look around to see if anyone is getting married.  I am sure I’ve been to a wedding that didn’t quote this passage, but then again, I doubt it.  This is the go-to wedding Scripture, right?  It’s especially true if the couple isn’t super-Christian: they’re getting married in a church because they think they’re supposed to or their trying to make someone’s parents happy.  And First Corinthians thirteen is perfect for that: God is not mentioned once.  Did you notice that?  If you do attend church on a regular basis, you probably just assume God in their somewhere.  You have probably heard the idea that God is love before—that all love is born of God—so when Paul starts talking about Love, you know the code; God’s right there.  But if you’re not-so-connected, this is just a wovewy scwipturwe about wuv.  

Only, it’s not.  Not only is Paul not merely talking about the kind of love  that will hold a marriage together, this love is counter-cultural, revolutionary, and even a little subversive.  Bringing this passage to a celebration like a wedding, is like bringing gasoline to a celebration like a bar-b-q; you’re asking for trouble.  

To understand the scope of what Paul is talking about in First Corinthians thirteen, you need to keep in mind what Paul was talking about in chapter twelve.  To a conflicted and diverse church, Paul calls them to live together as if they were one, united physical body; indeed the very Body of Christ.  He reminds them, as he would remind us, that we are different from one another by God’s design; that our differences allow us to function uniquely in this Body.  But at the same time, those unique gifts, abilities, and experiences come together to serve our Savior’s work in the world; that, bound together by His Spirit, we continue His ministry together.  

And as I alluded to earlier, that is the important message we take from this Table: that just as our Savior embodied this ministry for us, in remembrance of him, we are sent to embody it as well.  We are, as Paul says, the Body of Christ and individually members of it.  So what then do we do?  Knowing we belong together and that our gifts are used by God to continue our Savior’s ministry, how do we do that?  That’s what chapter thirteen is for.  

In chapter thirteen, Paul so excellently shows us that it’s all about love.  The gifts we use in the name of Jesus, if they’re not used in love, are worthless.  Love is the most important thing; Paul says love is somehow even more important than faith and hope!  But he’s not just talking about tender, warm-fuzzy feelings.  No, the love Paul talks about in chapter thirteen is the embodied love of God that we bring to the world in everything we do.  

I’ve been living with verses four to seven in a unique way over the past couple of weeks.  As I was preparing for this message, a couple of things struck me about these verses.  Mainly, that they are personal; that they are, in their own way, about me.  The way it’s worded is deceptive: Paul starts it with, “Love is.”  In my mind, talking about “love” in this way separates it from me personally.  “Love is patient; Love is kind; well, good for Love.  Keep up the good work, Love.”  But if we read these verses—as I think we clearly should—as Paul’s reminder to embody God’s love as the Body of Christ, these words can only be taken personally.  

I’ll talk more about this in a minute, but this thought challenged me to re-write verses four to seven.  I found it to be really helpful on a couple levels.  First, it was helpful because it made it more personal: instead of “Love is patient; love is kind,” my re-write made it, “Be patient; be kind”; I it more of a personal command, do you know what I mean?  But it was also helpful because it confronted me: you don’t even get through verse four before you realize that most of this passage about what love is, is about what love isn’t.  

As I read, and re-read, and re-read this passage, it became for me a prayer of confession.  (No doubt, you also noticed that it became our literal prayer of confession this morning.)  As I lived with my more-personal paraphrase of these verses, I was first confronted by the unfortunate truth that I have not embodied love.  If my wife wasn’t as graceful as she is, she would certainly confirm that: I have not been patient to her; I have not been kind.  I have insisted on my own way, I have been irritable and resentful, and so much more.  And it’s not just her: I have not embodied this love to my children, to my neighbors, and to you.  

But then, by the grace of God, something better started happening in me than just the guilt of my failures: I started to actually memorize those verses.  Something like hearing the words of the Lord’s Supper repeated so many times that you get surprised that you actually know them.  I found I could repeat verses four to seven to myself as I walked to and from work; and repeating them, I found I could do a bit better at embodying them.  Not perfect, but better.  Friends, let these words take root in our hearts: 
Be patient
Be kind
Do not be envious 
or boastful 
or arrogant 
or rude
Do not insist on your own way
Do not be irritable 
or resentful
Do not rejoice in wrongdoing,
rejoice in the truth
Bear all things
Believe all things
Hope all things
Endure all things

Friends, there is nothing in this world we can do that is more important than embodying God’s love in it.  In whatever we do as Christ’s Body, let us do it in love.  Wherever we go, whatever we do, and whomever we are with, may love be our goal, now and forever.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

An Open Book

Nehemiah 8:1-12
3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

I used to be a youth pastor; most people know that.  That was kind of my first career: I worked with children and youth in one capacity or another for about as long as I’ve now been a small-church solo pastor.  The message is the same and the community that you try to shape is the same, but the ways you do it is very different.  For example: with young people, you don’t form Christian Community over coffee or a potluck.  With young people, you do it by cramming them into vans and taking them on a road trip.  Works like a charm.  Sometimes they come together because of the time they spend together; sometimes it’s the adventure they have along the way. 

I remember one such adventure: there were three vans, crammed with kids.  I forget where we were going, but it wasn’t a place we’d been before.  Keep in mind: this was in the days before cell phones and GPS.  The way it worked went like this: the driver of the lead van knew the way; the driver of the middle van kept her eyes on the lead van’s taillights and the driver of the third van kept his eyes on the taillights of the middle van.  Because I was in charge, I presumably knew the way and everybody followed my van.  (A little foreshadowing there.)

So we’re moving along and we come to a place that I know we’re supposed to turn; so I turn and the caravan follows.  Only, I very soon realize that I’ve turned the wrong way.  So I find a safe spot, turn around, and the over vans follow.  We get back to where we already were and turn the other way.  A little farther along, we get to a place that I know we’re supposed to turn; so I turn and the caravan follows.  Only, I very soon realize that I’ve turned the wrong way.  So I find a safe spot, turn around, and the other vans follow.  We get back to where we already were and turn the other way.  

Eventually, we did get to where we were going and I see the other drivers coming toward me and I know what’s coming.  I cut them off: I said, “I know!  I got you here, let it go.”  To their credit, they did… until my birthday.  On my birthday, the driver of the middle car—without any fanfare or explanation—gave me a compass.  A compass, by the way, that I kept in my car for years after that.  

Our Scripture lesson today reminds us that we sometimes need a compass; we need friends who will—without judgment and in love—deliver that compass to us.  There is no shame in admitting that we get lost; the only shame is not returning to a direction that is True.  

Today we hear a wonderful Bible story that you may not have ever heard before.  As with just about all of the Bible, this story remembers how the power and will of God was at work in the lives of the people of God.  It may not be as well-known as some of the other parts of the Story of Salvation that the Bible tells, but it has its place.  

We know how, centuries earlier, God had delivered the people from captivity in Egypt and brought them wonderful gifts: gifts like a land of their own, and security, and abundance, and prosperity.  Gifts like the Law to keep the people near to God and reliant on what God was doing.  And for a while, that worked just fine.  

But you know the next part of that story too.  Famed theologian Walter Brueggemann once said, "Prosperity causes amnesia;” and eventually the people forgot where all of those gifts came from.  They forgot to seek what God was doing; they forgot to rely on God’s will and power; they forgot to obey the Law that deepened their relationship with God.  The point of all this that we’ll eventually come to this morning might seem a little remedial to some.  I assure you, it’s not.  What we learn here today is vital to our not-forgetting; vital to our own spiritual health, to the life of our church, and to our work in the world.  But the story continues: Scripture also records God’s hand at work in their downfall as well.  These once blessed, but forgetful people faced their own consequences.  God allowed the Babylonians to overrun the land and the people to be carted off, where they spent half a century in exile.  

But then there’s this part of the story that we don’t always get to: the people of God did eventually get back; the hand of God was at work there too.  Eventually, the Babylonian Empire gave way to the Persian Empire and God used Cyrus the Great to help them rebuild.  Now, there is a lot more to that story, but that’s the short version of how we get to our story today.  

The Israelites were finally able to return to the so-called Land of Promise, but what they saw wasn’t pretty: the walls of Jerusalem were in ruins; the great temple was a mound of rubble; the countryside was a wasteland.  It isn’t hard to imagine the mood; possibly because I feel that way too some days.  I look at the culture that surrounds me, so often self-centered and self-destructive.  I look at the church—not just this one—that seems a shell of what it once was; torn down by division and priorities that never belonged to Jesus.  Yeah, I know their mood; it’s called “despair.”  

But God was not done telling their story yet and God is not done telling ours.  God raised up leaders who would see beyond the despair and on to what God was building even in their midst.  God raised up a somewhat hard-nosed administrator named Nehemiah and a scribe named Ezra.  And although the work wasn’t easy, they stepped up to lead a new start, including building a new temple and new city walls. 

Which brings us to our story today.  When the work was finished, they gathered everyone together; and I mean everyone.  The text mentions a place called the “Water Gate (a different Watergate).”  They gathered them there because it was a place where everyone could be gathered: men, women, young and old; everyone was there.  

Ezra pulled out a scroll he’d brought back with him from Babylon.  It was a scroll containing the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.  In other words, their history; how they first came to be a people and how they first came to inhabit this land.  

The other day, my son asked me how my side of the family came to live in America.  It’s a good question: knowing where we’re from and how we got here helps to shape what we do here.  But if you don’t tend to it, again it can be forgotten; I know I don’t tell it right.  I know the basics, but if you want to know the real story, the details and dates and names, you need to ask my dad; he knows those things.  If you want to learn it right, you need to know who to ask.  When the Israelites wanted to really remember their own history, they went to those books of the Bible.  

With everyone gathered, Ezra read the stories of where they were from and how they got there: creation, Noah and the ark, Abraham and Sara, Joseph and his coat, their deliverance from Egypt, the Commandments, all of it.   But meanwhile, they have priests moving among the people to help them understand what is being read.  We skipped a couple of verses out of mercy to Brenda.  The verses we skipped were mostly very difficult to pronounce proper-names of the people there; but what happened there is an important thing to point out.  

Hearing Scripture is good; come to church on Sunday and listen to the Bible being read; we’ll do it every week; it’s good for you.  And knowing Scripture is even better; memorize those verses that keep you focused and hopeful; turn them into songs that you can sing throughout your day.  But the point of Scripture is understanding.  We need one another for that understanding.  Sure, it helps to have people around who have studied Scripture and know the contexts and languages, but even more than that, we need each other to remember that we are also characters in the story God is telling through Scripture.  That’s good news, but it isn’t always easy to hear.  

And then an unusual thing seems to happen: the people hear this good news, but start to weep.  Now, tears can mean a lot of things.  I’ve been teary a lot lately, but my tears don’t often mean I’m sad; more often than not, they indicate joy in my soul.  But why are they weeping?  

I think it’s because God’s Word can do two seemingly opposing things in us at the same time.  They hear God’s Word and they are rightly confronted by it: God’s Word confronts us with the knowledge that there is a gap between who we are and who God wants us to be.  And weeping can be an appropriate response to that knowledge.  

Perhaps a better question is: why did Nehemiah and Ezra tell them not to weep?  Well, I think it’s about the other thing Scripture does in us.  You see, God’s Word doesn’t just point a finger at us, God’s Word points us back to God.  It points us to the abiding, eternal fellowship we are meant to have with God, our Maker, our Savior, and our Sustainer.  That might make the happy tears flow, but it’s certainly news that is worth celebrating!  That is the kind of news that would guide and encourage the people of Israel as they embarked on difficult work before them; and it’s the kind of news that will carry us as well.  

The point of the message today is deceptively simple: get back to God’s Word.  If you’re self-conscious because your Bible is a little dusty, don’t be; remember that in our story today, they hadn’t cracked theirs open in generations and met them in it.  Only, get back into God’s Word.  Maybe read the text for next Sunday a few times during the week.  Maybe start with the Gospel of Mark and see where that takes you.  Better yet: join a Bible study where other followers of Jesus can help you, not only hear and know, but understand the story that Scripture is telling and your part in it.  Only, get back into God’s Word.  Let it confront you, but let it also point you to the God who loves you, comes to you, and has a plan for you forever.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Do What He Tells You

John 2:1-11
2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

The older I get, the more conflicted I become about this story.  I’m no teetotaler, but I’m also not the kind of pastor who would deal in that kind of moral absolute even if I was.  Most people don’t have a problem with alcohol.  The Bible does not say drinking alcohol is a sin.  And besides, we do have bigger things to worry about: we are tasked as followers of Jesus to proclaim his salvation to the world.  

But like I said, I’m also getting older: I’ve seen things.  I’ve seen what alcohol has done to some of the relationships of the people I care about.  I’ve seen the studies about the effects alcohol can have on people over time.  I’ve seen the statistics on what drinking can do to families and communities.  I know that even a more-relaxed attitude about drinking will increase the chances our kids will abuse it.  And then along comes a Bible-story about Jesus miraculously making an extravagant amount of wine for people who were already drunk.  

Maybe you can see why I’m a little conflicted; and I’m not even sure that’s the most conflicting part of the story.  There’s still another piece to this story I’ll get to in a minute.  The good news is Jesus seems a bit conflicted by this story too.  The good news is, for Jesus, what happens here is not so much about the wine.  The good news is, if it’s about something else, maybe we can take that lesson home with us instead.  

This is one of those messages that, to flesh out what it’s about, we’re first going to need to peel back what it isn’t about.  For example: it isn’t about a magic trick.  

There’s one about a priest who gets pulled over.  The officer asks him, “Father, have you been drinking tonight.”  
“Oh no, officer.  I’ve just been drinking water.”  
“Then how come you smell like wine, father?”  
“Praises be!  He’s done it again!”  

It’s funny, for the past couple of weeks, we’ve had a recurring theme of magic.  Attendance has been a little low because of the weather, so let spend a minute to review a little.  It started on Epiphany, when the Magi—the astrologers from the East—come to bring gifts and celebrate the New-Born King.  Then last week, our reading from Acts introduced us to a magician named Simon.  Those two magic stories go in very different directions: the Magi are actually used by God through their “signs” to go and celebrate something no one else in Israel seemed to know anything about; that story shows us how God uses the most-unlikely people (even magicians).  

But then Simon’s magic did not seem as tuned into what God was doing.  Ordinarily, I think that is the thing about magic: usually it’s self-serving.  If the Magi got it right, it may have had something to do with looking at something past their own self-interest.  Last week, Simon’s self-serving ways would set him at odds with the Holy Spirit; not a good place to be.  It got him into trouble, but I believe it also set him on a path toward repentance; and repentance is inherently not self-serving.  

Which leads us to the wedding at Cana.  The wedding at Cana raises an important question for me: what’s the difference between a miracle and a magic trick?  It may have something to do with the lessons we’ve learned from the Magi and from Simon.  Ignoring the obvious mystery of where the power to do amazing things comes from, who do these amazing things serve?  The Magi look to the stars for signs and God uses them to proclaim the birth of the Messiah.  Simon looks to his own interest and tries to buy the Holy Spirit.  

So which is this?  John tells us that this was the first of the signs Jesus did.  “Signs” is a weird way to put it.  At any rate, it doesn’t seem Jesus wanted it to be the first “sign,” right?  He even argues with his mom about it.  So which is this: is it a miracle or is it a magic trick?  Who does it serve?  I suppose I can see how it can serve God, but to be honest, it would be a stretch.  God’s power is obviously at work in Jesus, so it could be used to point to what the Kingdom of God is actually like: lavish, abundant, and joyful.  The God who would send his own Son to bring us life eternal is not going to throw a cheap, boring party.  

Now I could put a sermon like that together (and I may have at some point), but let’s be honest: there isn’t anything in this story that really says that.  Sure, God’s unending, unmeasurable, extravagant love is at work here; but it’s not really obvious, as miracles go.  Compare turning water into wine to other miracles: he fed the hungry; he healed the blind; he gave hearing to the deaf; he raised people from the dead!  I mean, even calming a storm is more helpful to others than making more wine.  

Hate to say it, but this is more of a trick than a proper miracle.  So why does he do it anyway?  His mom tells him to.

I love this part of this story.  There aren’t many conversations recorded in the Gospels between Jesus and his mom.  But isn’t it delightful that this conversation with his mom could just as well be anyone’s conversation with their mom.  Jesus’ mom comes up to him and bosses him around like any mom would.  

I love my mom and I am so grateful to still have her in my life to argue with.  And if there is one thing that I’ve learned through my decades of professional experience, academic study, achievements, and degrees it is this: I am never going to win an argument with my mom.  

When I’m talking to my mom, my age doesn’t matter; my education doesn’t matter; my experience doesn’t matter; being right doesn’t matter.  When I’m talking to my mom, I am eternally her little boy.  She’ll ask me what my sermon’s about, and I’ll tell her what Scripture passage I’m preaching on and what it means (because, you know, that’s what I’ve been educated and trained to do) and she’ll say, “No, I think it means...” and she’ll tell me what she thinks.   

And yes, Scripture can have lots of different meanings to lots of different people—and she’s really sweet about how she says it, don’t get me wrong—but I’m the expert!  I have a master’s degree!  But when mom says so, it is so; resistance is futile.  There is a way a mother can talk to her son that only a mother can do.  No matter how old you get, how much you know, or how much you achieve.  And what I love about this story is that this is even true if you are the Messiah.  

The mother of Jesus walks up to the incarnate Word of God and starts bossing him around.  She says, “Hey, they’re out of wine;” and she says it like she knows he’s going to do something about it—because of course, she’s his mom.  And notice, he kind-of says “no.”  He says something like, “How is that our problem?”  And notice that he doesn’t just say “no;” he’s not a defiant son, he’s just reluctant.  He’s a good son and so he explains why he’s reluctant: he says, “My hour has not yet come.”  In other words, “This is not how I wanted to start this, mom.  This is not a part of the plan.”  

Of course he’s right.  It is a valid point.  A wine-making parlor trick could be confusing to some.  It is a legitimate concern to say, “You know, mom, some people might get the wrong idea about me if all they know about me is that I make wine at wedding parties.”  

And having voiced this very legitimate concern, Jesus’ mom turns to some servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Isn’t that great!  She totally ignores him.  “Thanks for your input, Messiah.  Do whatever he tells you.”  

So what does Jesus do?  Same thing you’d do: he did what his mom said to.  Now you and I would have to go to the store to get more wine, but when mom tells you to get more wine, Messiah or not, you get more wine.  

I think this is where we really start to see what this story is really all about.  More than what it might say about the morality of alcohol; more than what it might say about the extravagance of God; more than what it might say about what even qualifies as a miracle; this is a story about listening.  As it should, it starts with Jesus.  This is a story about Jesus changing his plans for his mom’s silly whim.  Granted, there are other times when he didn’t because, for the salvation of the world, he couldn’t; but here he could, so he did.  

Sometimes I lose sight of the humanity of Jesus; sometimes I forget that, when he wasn’t performing miracles, he probably looked a lot like we do; his relationships and interactions with the people he cared about probably looked a lot like ours.  When your mom asks you to change your plans, when those plans can be changed, you change your plans.  Why would we think Jesus wouldn’t do that too?  Jesus loved like we love and still does.  In fact, those relationships are what his ministry was all about.  Now that I think about it—now that we look at this story through the lens of relationships—this was exactly the right miracle to start with (and yeah, I’m calling it a miracle now)!  Look how relational it is: they’re at a party, what’s more relational than that!  His mom tells him the party needs more wine; they argue about it (like people do); she invites the servants to join in by telling them to, “Do what he tells you.”  They are now part of the miracle.  

As it turns out, this story is symbolic of what our life together is meant to be.  A rhythm of our relationship with Jesus and our relationship with the world around us and the needs we see there; our relationship with Jesus to know that he hears those concerns; our relationship with Jesus and the faith to know he has the power to meet those needs; our relationship with Jesus and the trust to do what he says about them.  

Friends, let us remember today that our Savior meets us where we are because our Savior wants to deepen this relationship.  May we trust that he hears us.  May we trust that his power can bring joy to this world.  And may we trust him enough to do what he tells us.

The Good Guys

Acts 8:9-25
Baptism of the Lord 

What do you think of when I say the name, “Benedict Arnold”?  Boo, hiss, right?  In American culture, Benedict Arnold is a name that’s synonymous with betrayal and treason.  If someone were to call a Benedict Arnold, if those weren’t fighting words, you probably would have something you’d need to apologize for.  

But here’s the thing: had his plan gone the way he wanted, it might have been a different story.  Granted, the way his story is told today, he was generally disliked by almost everyone; but who knows, maybe he’s just remembered that way because things didn’t go as he planned.  Maybe if they did, we’d be remembering him as a hero today: maybe being called a Benedict Arnold would have meant you were a person of principle who stood up for what you believed in; who knows?  

Here’s another name to think about: Rosa Parks.  A woman who we remember for standing up for her beliefs by literally not standing up.  A woman whose name we remember for fighting against laws that most Americans today would consider unjust, unnecessary, and degrading to the human condition.  But let’s not forget: she was breaking the law at the time; she became a criminal to make her point.  Are we supposed to admire criminals?  

The books we read and the movies we watch often make it so simple to know which are the good guys and which are the bad guys.  (And by the way, I’ll be using the word “guys” in a gender-neutral way; women are “guys” too.)  But it’s not just fiction: check out a couple of news stations (which I don’t recommend) and the good guys on one channel are the bad guys on the other; and vice-versa.  Sometimes we forget that real life is never so simple.  The truth is, both news stations are right and wrong at the same time.  The truth is, in real life, we can each be both the good guys and the bad guys.  The truth also is: in the Kingdom of God, we do have a choice; and by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us, we can be the good guys.  

If you weren’t here last Sunday—and let’s face it, if you weren’t here last Sunday, you’re probably not here this Sunday—last Sunday was Epiphany: the day we remember the young Jesus being visited by “wise men from the East,” or Magi.  And what I shared last week was that, the thing I love the most about that story is how God uses the least-likely people.  The religious scholars in Jerusalem don’t know the Messiah has been born; the king doesn’t know; the priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, none of them know; but the mumbo-jumbo astrologers, they know.  I like to use the word Matthew uses because it brings home the point: “Magoi” or Magi.  You know, the root of the word “magic.”  You know, one of the things that Moses strongly condemned; yet they seem to be the unlikely heroes who are paying attention to what God is doing.  God even sends them a message in a dream.  It’s almost as if God may not be as black-and-white as we’ve led ourselves to believe.  

Continuing in this troubling theme, we meet another magician today; and like the magicians we met last week, it’s hard to tell if he’s a good guy or not.  By the way, Acts chapter eight is all about a guy named Philip.  Philip is a good guy in every sense.  I’ve preached about Philip before because Philip is a person we should aspire to be like.  You may recall that there was also a disciple named Philip; this is probably not the same Philip.  This is probably the Philip who is named in chapter six as one of the first Deacons.  In other words, this Philip was one of the first people chosen in the early church to get some real work done.  And Philip was the right guy for the job: he listens for whispering voice of the Spirit and moves when he’s called; even when he’s called to bring the Good news to the Samaritans (of all people).  Rules and propriety don’t seem to be Philip’s thing; obedience to God seems to be Philip’s thing.  And as much as I love Philip and struggle to follow his example, there is this other story within Philip’s story that has me a bit more intrigued today.  

Is Simon ever really a good guy in this story?  It’s hard to tell.  He seems to go back and forth.  He is described by Luke as someone who practices magic, and I’m not sure what that means; only, I know it can’t be good.  If you go to a magic show, almost everyone knows it isn’t really magic.  Most entertainers in this line of work have the integrity to call themselves “illusionists.”  Simon calls himself a magician.  He is, apparently, so good at it that it impresses the locals.  They call him great.  More importantly, he lets them call him great.  They ascribe his magic to a gift from God, and he lets them.  They listen to him because of the amazing things he does, so he tells them things they’ll want to hear.  

In short, I don’t trust him.  He looks like a con man to me.  He doesn’t seem like a good guy.  He seems to be manipulating the superstitious and the feeble-minded to make himself feel important, even though he knows it’s just an act.  People fall for it and he doesn’t do anything to show the honest truth that he’s just a guy.  

But then comes Philip: Philip brings the Truth about Jesus and the Samaritans in masses believe.  And not only that, so does Simon!  Simon, a liar, finds Truth!  Simon believes.  Simon gets baptized.  Simon, who has amazed others with his illusions, sees the power of God at work in the name of Jesus.  Again, it’s hard to trust him, but I’m certainly not going to fault in someone who finds Jesus.  

The disciples in Jerusalem hear about the ruckus Philip is causing in Samaria and send James and Peter to check things out.  They come to Samaria and bring a baptism that the Samaritans don’t yet have: the baptism of the Spirit.  Peter and John pray and the Spirit is poured out.  Simon sees it, and has an odd response: instead of rejoicing in the power of God, he want’s a cut.  He tries to somehow buy it from Peter and Peter tells him is money can die with him.  Simon is back to being a bad guy, if only for a moment.  The repentance that comes next means a lot to me.  I know about that kind of repentance in ways I don’t really want to talk about.  Simon seems to see, perhaps finally, that his ways and God’s ways are not the same way.  He calls on a mercy that I’m not sure he yet knows is abundant and free.  “Pray for me,” he says; and that’s all we know; but that’s not all we know.  We know the God of mercy that will meet him in that prayer.  We know the God who sees past his misdirected self-interest and loves the wounded guy who needs love and forgiveness like the rest of us.  Our journeys may have been different, but we know that journey.  

I have a four-year-old that I meet with rather regularly; get yourself a four-year-old, I highly recommend it.  A four-year-old lives in a twilight land of reality, fantasy, and Spirit-led wisdom that the rest of us can only look back and envy.  He has a couple of friends around that age who also dwell in the same realm.  In that realm, they are superheroes.  They are, by their own admission, Good Guys.  They save the day, every day.  The other day, my son asked me, “Daddy, we’re good guys, right?” 

My answer was pure instinct: “Of course we are!” I want to be a good guy; I am intentional about it.  I have rules and practices that help me maintain it.  

He then changed it up on me: “Can good guys ever be bad guys?”  

“Well, that’s some existential stuff there, dude.  I’m going to need to think about that a little.  From my own personal experience, as a guy who tries to be good, I’m afraid I know first hand that I have not always been a good guy.  In spite of my desires, in spite of my efforts, I have been a bad guy at times.  But then again, I have also known some bad guys who sometimes do good things.”  

As I was trying to work all this out with him, he asked the obvious question: “Daddy, how do you know if you’re a good guy?”  

First of all, who are you?  We had to work on that one for a while.  I’m kind of proud of the answer we came to, but it did take some time.  What we finally came to was this: good guys look out for the interests of others; bad guys only look out for themselves.  Bad guys, in other words, can do good things for others on accident, but good guys do good for others on purpose.  

In our lesson today, Simon is clearly not a good guy.  It seems he’s on a journey to become one, but at this point, it isn’t on purpose.  Simon, as it turns out, is not a role model for us; Simon hasn’t learned to be a good guy on purpose yet.  Which is okay: Simon’s goodness starts where all goodness starts.  Simon’s goodness is the happy result of grace.  Simon is what we all look like when we are faced with a God who is only good; a Savior who only looks out for our interests first; a Spirit that moves into our hearts and shows us what it means to be that kind of good.  

Yes, we can be and we are called to be the Good Guys, but only because God was good to us first.  Recognizing the grace of God, at work in us by the power of the Spirit, let us follow in our Savior’s lead as we care for those around us in this world.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Fourth Gift

Matthew 2:1-12
Epiphany 

So today is, depending on how you count it, the twelfth day of Christmas.  A day my true love, I believe, should have given to me twelve drummers drumming.  As it is, over these past twelve days, she hasn’t given me anything, least of which a partridge in a pear tree.  And to be fair, I haven’t given her anything either.

That’s a weird song, can we agree on that?  Especially if you think too much about it—which of course I do.  I got a little obsessed this week and started scouring the internet to try to make some sense of that silly song.  The most reasonable thing I found was [quote], “The exact origins and the meaning of the song are unknown.”  Well, case closed.

I’m not entirely sure that there ever was a strong tradition of gift-giving during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany.  Given the already over-commercialization of Christmas (starting sometime in October), I’m not sure there even should be such a tradition.  But then again, there can be something spiritual about a gift-giving season, right?  We begin on Christmas morning, remembering first the gift we’ve been given: Jesus, God-with-us; born in humility; born to restore our relationship with God and to save us from ourselves.  So it sort-of makes sense that we, following in that example, give gifts to those we care about.  Maybe not for twelve days, but there is something about gratitude in the practice.  And then on the twelfth day, we remember the gifts of the Magi—the gold, and the frankincense, and the myrrh—thus we draw to a close this gift-giving season.  But maybe we shouldn’t.  

Bear with me now, but do the gifts of God ever stop?  Does God ever stop surprising us with epiphany after epiphany, as it were?  Is there ever a morning in which God’s mercies are not renewed?  Would it not figure that we might be called to give as God gives?  Perhaps this gift-giving season is not meant to just end; maybe it is merely a reminder that we’re just getting started.

I remember realizing once, I believe during a shower, that the word “epiphany” had several different meanings.  Capitalized, it refers to today, January sixth, twelve days after Christmas: the day we remember the so-called Wise Men (or Magi), visiting the young Jesus.  Similarly, it can mean the manifestation of a divine being… like the young Jesus.  And it can also mean the sudden, a-ha, realization of a thing; that little lightbulb that turns on above your head.  

In other words: I once had an epiphany about the word “epiphany.”  Not the deepest of my shower thoughts, but there is something deeper there: that these little revelations in our lives don't often come to us where and when we might not otherwise expect.  I would expect these kinds of surprising truths to come to me while I'm doing something deeply spiritual: like having a holy conversation with someone, or reading the Bible, or being caught up in prayer, or even participating in worship, but no; they usually come to me in places like the shower.  

Now, in a religious sense, the word epiphany is taken from a Greek word that means “appearing or showing forth.”  So the day of Epiphany commemorates the power and presence of God being made known, in this case through these Magi and their star.  But I think that when we talk about the other kind of epiphany, of some truth dawning on us out of nowhere, there is also that notion that God is somehow making God's self known to us even through the revelations of our own out-of-nowhere thoughts.  

Which is exciting for me because there is a lot I don’t know about God; I’ve come to find the joy in that.  There is joy there because the Infinite God of the Universe, it turns out, is not hiding from us.  God wants to be known, God wants to be in an ever-deepening relationship with us; and because this God is, as I’ve said, the Infinite God of the Universe, there is always more to know.  And if nothing else, what I’ve learned of this Infinite God is: God loves surprises.  

The truth is, by our own sinfulness, our relationship with God has been broken; and God says, “Surprise! I will fix it.”  The distance between us and God is so great, we cannot ever find God on our own; and God says, “Surprise! I’ll come to you.”  Surprise! The Infinite God of the Universe dwells among you, born in humility.  And God’s not done with the surprises.  

Honestly, these so-called Wise Men (and, by the way, we don’t know that they were all men) might be my favorite surprise of this whole story.  They were absolutely the wrong people for this job: the text doesn’t say where exactly from the East they were from, but they were not locals.  They were not Hebrews and they were not even followers of the same religion.  They don't know about the promised Messiah or the prophecies about him like the one the priests looked up from Micah.  These were astrologers; they were shaman; they were New Agers before it was new. And these are the people who show up looking to pay their respects to the newborn king.  It's like some hippie from Durango showing up to wish you a merry Christmas, but you didn't realize that it was December 25th.  

Matthew tells us that Herod was “frightened and all Jerusalem with him,” and of course they were!  Those who should know don't know that their king has been born; yet a bunch of hippies do!  “Hey man, we were watching your king's star move into your constellation, man.  Congratulations, man! So dude, where's the baby?”

We imagine that there were three of them, and tradition has even named them, but Matthew is not so specific; only that there were three gifts.  Tradition has also read meaning into those gifts, but again, Matthew is not so specific.  In my opinion, there’s a bigger, more-obvious headline here: surprise, God has done it again!  It’s not the first nor the last time God will pull this kind of prank on us.  God is constantly asking the wrong people to proclaim Good News while right people are left looking silly, bewildered, and out of touch with God's plan.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think of it this way: who does God ask to proclaim the Messiah's birth?  Shepherds and hippies.  How does God win victory over sin and death for us?  Through the humble sacrifice of Jesus, that we celebrate here at this Table.  Who does God send to proclaim hit rising from the tomb?  Women.   Who does God call to be his very body in this world and proclaim the message of salvation?  Us.  

Why do you suppose God keeps doing this?  Why does God keep asking the least obvious, the least respectable, and the least influential to speak the most important message ever given?  Well, I'm not God so I can't say for sure, but I have theories.  Maybe, God calls the least likely people because these are the kinds of people God cares the most about.  Maybe these are the people who need to hear this news the most.  

Maybe God calls these kinds of people as some kind of lesson to us.  Perhaps it's the same reason that God was shown forth into this world as a poor and helpless baby.  Maybe these unusual outsiders are called by God because our notions of importance, and power, wealth are not actually things that God values; and we need that reminder.  

And maybe there's even some other, simpler lesson here.  Maybe God calls and uses the unusual and unexpected of the world... because those are the sorts of people who go when they're called.  Maybe God lined up the stars just so, that a bunch of astrologers would notice and go to Jerusalem to sing Happy Birthday, because those God told about it in the first place didn't want to upset their own importance.  

God chooses these Wise Men, these Magi, because they have a lesson to teach us.  Matthew tells us they brought three gifts, but there is a fourth gift that means more to us: they gave the gift of obedience.  Like us, they are unlikely pilgrims, but they went.  They heard the call and gave the gift that we ought to give: they left the comfort of their homes and culture and they sought after the True Jesus.  

As we enter this new day and this New Year, let us follow their example; let us seek the Savior/King, who has come into this world to bring us back to God.  As we do, may those near us see the surprising love of God in us and come to seek him too.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

What Child Is This?

Luke 2:45-51
First Sunday after Christmas

I understand that between one and two thousand people a day are reported missing in the United States.  That seems like a lot of people until you think of all the ways a person can go missing.  Sure, some are taken by people with ill intent, but more likely not: people get displaced by natural disasters; children are abducted by a distraught parent; a person with dementia wanders off; a teenager, tired of chaos and abuse at home, run away to what they believe is a better life.  Most are found, I might add; it’s rare that someone goes missing and isn’t eventually found.  My point is simply that people go missing for a number of reasons.  

But today’s missing person seems unique.  One spring day, many years ago, Joseph perhaps turned to Mary and said, "Hey, have you seen Jesus?" That set in motion a days-long frantic search—ending as they usually do with the lost being found.  This missing person story ends happily enough with a teachable moment, but not the one you might expect.  

Luke tells us that Jesus was twelve when this happened.  I’m pretty sure that “twelve” meant something different in Jesus’ day, but I can also imagine that there were some parallels too: twelve was and is a pivotal time of life.  Not quite a child and not quite an adult.  Parents, teachers, neighbors all asking the same kinds of questions: who do you want to be?  Do you want to follow in your dad’s carpentry business or maybe venture out into something else?  Will you take up your mother’s faith, treasuring and pondering the promises of God in your heart; or maybe become an ascetic zealot like your cousin John?  

You might expect a story like this might end with such a twelve-year-old learning a lesson about clear communication and not wandering off; but that’s not where this story goes.  No, this lesson is for the twelve-year-old’s parents.  Jesus goes missing and the apparent lesson is: “You should have known were I’d be; I’m going to be in my Father’s house.”  The lesson seems to be for the adults, to know Jesus well enough to find him doing his Father’s work.  All this, once again, left his mother to “treasure these things in her heart”; which frankly, isn’t a bad idea for the rest of us.  

Some kids know early on, what they want to do with their lives.  People like Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers.  In his end-of-life autobiography, he wrote about his early fascination with computers, saying that, when “I was 13 years old, I already knew what I wanted to do.”  And he did it, and for better or worse, his vision for his own future changed the world.  

But that kind of clarity is rare.  Think back to what you were like when you were that age; did you know what you wanted to do with your life?  Did your outlook on life and opinions of yourself even remotely resemble who you are now?  I’ve met people like that: years ago, when I went to my twenty-year high school reunion, I made it my quest to learn peoples’ befores and afters.  I asked people to describe who they remember being and asked them if they were now the people they expected they’d be.  There was only one guy: he said, “I knew what I wanted to be when I graduated, I knew the steps it would take to get there, and now I’m doing what I thought I’d be doing.”  He was the only one.  For the rest of us, however pivotal those early years were in shaping who we were to become, those kids aren’t the end-product, as it were.  But like I said some kids know early on and Jesus seems to have been one of those kids.  

After the festival, the text tells us, his parents headed for home; they headed down that well-worn road to the Jordan valley.  And because they were traveling with a larger group of friends and family from the same region, they never noticed that Jesus had stayed behind.

Years later, Jesus would tell a story that started, "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves."  He told it that way because he was familiar with that road; another good reason to travel in a larger convoy and perhaps another good reason why his parents got as panicked as they did.  

That day this road was crowded with perhaps thousands of pilgrims heading home after the holidays. They were on their way to the Jordan Valley, or Galilee, or even further perhaps. Friends and family, traveling, talking, singing, eating, laughing.

And then they noticed: "Where is Jesus?"  All of a sudden, the happiness of the journey became the worry of a dangerous road and a frantic search for a young son.  “Where is Jesus?  Was he with us when we left Jerusalem?  You thought he was with me, I thought he was with you.  Maybe he’s still in Jerusalem.  Maybe he wandered off on purpose.”  

When I was very young, maybe five or six, my parents threw a party; but it wasn’t the kind of party a five or six-year-old would find interesting.  It was all adults and there were no games or presents to open and I got bored.  I remember thinking, “I’m going to go for a walk,” and I did.  The adults were all wrapped up in their boring talking, so no one noticed the little kid walk out the front door and down the street.  I don’t remember how I knew it, but I knew not to cross any streets, so eventually I made it all the way around the block and back to my house.  

I remember the strained happiness on my mom’s face when I told her about my adventure: “Oh, all the way around the block, you say?  Heh, heh, good for you.  Maybe next time tell mommy before you go for a walk, okay?”  

Luke doesn’t tell us what Jesus’ intentions were for staying in Jerusalem, but he clearly wasn’t just wandering off.  His place was in the Temple.  Even at twelve, he knew his life had purpose and that purpose began in the house of God.  Of course it did: the presence of God is where our curiosities and spiritual stirrings find calling.  Surprisingly, it is in the presence of God, as we are deepening our relationship with our Maker and Savior, that our other relationships start to make sense.  As we deepen our relationship with God, we first discover who we are in the light of God’s love: what are our truest values; how is God calling us to change; how is God calling us to live out who we are and who God is calling us to be?  From there, all our other relationships seem to fall in line.  But it begins in the Temple, as it were; it begins by seeking the presence of God to shape us into the children of God we are made and meant to be.  

In a couple of days, we will begin a brand-spanking New Year.  Even more than learning to write a “nine” instead of an “eight,” there is hopefulness in a new year.  Sure, it is an arbitrary day that marks the passage of time, but it’s useful.  It’s useful because it reminds us that we can start over.  For some, it’s a new attempt at healthier behaviors; for others, it’s a renewed resolve live out the values of care and compassion that God has put on our hearts; for yet others, it is simply a grateful reminder that, “The old life has gone, behold, a new life has begun.”  

However you enter this New Year, I invite you to follow our Savior’s lead: to be found, should anyone be looking for you, in the presence of God.  Call it a “resolution” if you need to, but seek the presence of God, here in this place and in your daily walk.  Be found in your Father’s House in whatever way you understand it, but be found in your Father’s House.  Whether we are twelve or one hundred and twelve, or anywhere in between, we are children of God.  And our God wants to be in relationship with us, to renew us in our calling, and to shape us into the people we are meant to be.  As we enter this new day and New Year, may we be found in our Father’s presence, seeking to be the children of God we are called to be.