Sunday, December 6, 2015

Zecha-who? Singing the songs of Advent, Sunday December 6, 2015

To follow is this morning's sermon manuscript - with a big shout out to the folks at Kessler Park UMC in Dallas, Texas who remind us how to pray, respond and prepare to be light to the world...

Our journey through advent has been a journey of songs…we’ve heard the yearning song of Hannah, the last song of King David, the triumphant song of Mary – and today we have the song of Zechariah…

Zecha who – you may ask? Well Zechariah was a priest – just like his father was a priest – he and his wife were faithful, they were obedient, they practiced their faith not only in the temple but also at home in the community. They were model citizens who had it all – except one thing – a child.

Our friends from UNI are going to set up the rest of the story – with a skit that is quite appropriate – a skit about what happened when Zechariah encountered an angel of all things while he was at work in the temple.

Read more about that story here

So Zechariah is mute for 10 months – and he and Elizabeth finally have a son – and as they are about to name him – John - Zechariah finds his voice…

 John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied,
 “Bless the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has delivered his people.

He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house, just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago.

He has brought salvation from our enemies and from the power of all those who hate us. He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and remembered his holy covenant, the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham.

He has granted that we would be rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes, for as long as we live.

You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way. You will tell his people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins.
Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” (Luke 1:67-79)

Like Mary, David and Hannah - Zechariah’s prayer is full of hope, anticipation and gratitude to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. His faith, their faith, is part and parcel with who they are…it goes deep into the marrow of their bones and it is lived out in what they do – as parents, as leaders, as prophets, as proclaimers of God’s hopes and dreams for the world.

Unlike the others, Zechariah takes it a step further – He offers a prophesy – a look forward…in his prophesy he is claiming on behalf of his 8 day old son – the promise and the hope of the people of Israel…the messiah is near – and his son, John, is going to be a part of his rise to power…but not through military might – but through the forgiveness of sins!

You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.

You will tell his people how to be saved
through the forgiveness of their sins.  
(Luke 1: 76-77)

A challenging prophesy – a life to grow in to – like many parents as they look into the eyes of their first born – they project the hopes and dreams of tomorrow on their precious children…

I’m guilty of it – and you are too…

So what moves John from being Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son to being the forerunner of the messiah?

I believe it’s the same thing as what moves us from being people of prayer to people of action.

This past week people of prayer have been under fire…and frankly, the headlines make me sad – and concerned. We are, in my opinion, at a tipping point as a country – and as people who claim the name Christian. We are teetering at the brink of being irrelevant if we don’t put our words, our prayers, our faith into action

As Wesleyan’s – as United Methodists - we know what it means to hold piety (prayer) and action in tension – or atleast we should…we can talk the talk – but are we able to walk the walk?

Each of us, by virtue of our baptism, have been commissioned – ordained even – to

renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin….

To accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves….

As together we confess Jesus Christ as our Savior,
put our whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as our Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races.  
(United Methodist Book of Worship - Baptism liturgy)

By the power of the Holy Spirit – poured out on each and every one of us – we have been commissioned to be light bearers – to take God’s love, mercy and grace into dark places…to speak up for the least and the lost…to care for those who are in need…and to extend this to all people of all ages, nations and races.

How are we doing?

I am not here today to tell you want to stand up for – but I am here today to encourage you to take a stand for whatever God has placed on your heart…whether its literacy, homelessness, mental health, the environment, feeding folk, what ever it may be – take a stand friends – do something – let your life sing

Because without action – without 30 some years of Zechariah and Elizabeth and extend family leading John toward the prophesy – then Zechariah’s words would have been an empty dream…

But instead – through faithful living and teaching and a willing student – John grew strong in his faith – he became bold in his speech – he was ready when the time was right to prepare the way for the Lord…his cousin…his childhood friend, Jesus.

What are we doing this season of advent to prepare the way for the return of the King – in the midst of the distractions of this Christmas season?

I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to the folks at Kessler Park United Methodist Church. Their church supports refugees in the Dallas Fort Worth area – their pastor, Wes Magruder, received word of a refugee family who was finishing up their immigration vetting process – they had been examined and reviewed by all sorts of agencies – for the past two years...and they were all ready to come to America – then, the bombing in Paris happened and the Texas Governor said – no way – no Syrian refugees – period…not even the ones who had been screened, approved, vetted and who now had their tickets bought and were ready to move to their new home.

That didn’t stop the folks at Kessler Park UMC – in anticipation of this family – a mom, dad and their child - they began to get everything ready – they found a one bedroom apartment, held a furniture drive for the family – scrubbed everything from top to bottom and went grocery shopping for them – they responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and they were ready – ready to say yes – even when the rest of the world was afraid… hopefully later this week they should be stepping into the welcoming arms of a community that has been praying and preparing for them.
Into the darkness of the world, into our hopes and dreams comes Jesus – the light of the world – and the light is more than able to chase away darkness…the gospel of John says it better than I can…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
(John 1:1-8)

The true light is in this place…the true light is out in the world – the true light is Jesus Christ who invites us – you and me – ordinary folk from NorthEast Iowa…

Be the light

Be hope

Be the difference


Listen for the Holy Spirit

Get inspired

Do something with this life – this light – that you have been given!

In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit…Amen.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Advent reflections from Waverly, Iowa

To follow is my latest column from our local Waverly newspaper.  My one shot to share something this Advent season...enjoy!


some of our treasures -
rearranged by grandson Z
Many of us have our Christmas trees up, favorite mementos of Christmas’ past are scattered around our home. We might even have Christmas music and the scent of cookies wafting from the kitchen.

All of this to build up to the celebration of our Lord and Savior’s birth! This is indeed a most wonderful time of the year. But bright lights and yummy cookies can’t mask the realities that some of our neighbors are facing.

News from Paris, Chicago or right here in Iowa reminds us that life is fragile and difficult for many people. Some of us may have someone special missing from the table this year, while others of us are struggling to figure out how to make ends meet let alone give our loved ones a special Christmas.

And don’t get me started about the Iowans who are reeling with the decisions they will have to make due to changes in funding for care of their vulnerable family members! So much is yet unknown - I am horrified by the way we are treating the least of these in our state.

In the midst of it all we are reminded that a baby was born. To a young family far from home, to a young woman named Mary who said yes to God’s call and claim on her life.

Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible puts it like this:

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

(John 1:14 The Message)

Into the messiness of Bethlehem and into the messiness of Iowa and into the messiness of our own lives, Jesus comes…flesh and blood he has moved into the neighborhood. Not as a hateful or mean deity, but truly and completely the generous loving one-of-us, one-with-us, Son of God

Because of this Good News, we can face the unknowns with confidence, knowing that God is one of us, God is among us, God is within us…God is…and we, like Mary, can answer God’s call and claim on our lives to live as people of compassion for the least and the lost, the vulnerable and the struggling.

It’s not about presents under the tree it truly is about the journey – one day at a time, one conversation at a time with those who live in our neighborhood, who shop at our community groceries and who attend our schools, churches and various community events.

As we lean toward Christmas, during this season we in the church call Advent, let’s meet one another right where we are and build a new network of friends for this messy and glorious journey called life. While at times risky, I promise that you will be blessed by reaching out to folks in new ways and in new places.

Theology Pub - Monday nights @ The Fainting Goat!
Do go to church this Advent season – hang around for coffee and fellowship afterwards most Christians are good people just trying to figure it out. If that doesn’t work out come join us Monday nights at 6:30 at The Fainting Goat for Theology Pub – a safe place for conversation, community and fellowship.

I really hope that you and I will have an opportunity to strike up a conversation some time so that we can start building a bridge of friendship that transcends the material demands of Christmas and begins to build a more compassionate and caring world, the kind of world that grown up Jesus modeled and taught about long ago.

May you and yours be blessed in this season of Advent – this season of holy waiting and anticipation!

He rules the world with truth and grace,

And makes the nations prove

The glories of his righteousness,

And wonders of his love,

And wonders of his love,

And wonders, wonders, of his love.

(Joy to the World, Isaac Watts, 1719)