Knowing our Identity

Knowing our Identity
By: Rev. Melissa Drake, Southwest Iowa. Region Superintendent

Mark 1:9-13 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. 10. As Jesus came out of the water, he saw heaven split open and the Spirit coming down to him as a dove. 11. A voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love. I am pleased with you.” 12. At once the Spirit brought him into the desert, 13. where he was tempted by Satan for 40 days. He was there with the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.


We are in the first week of Lent—and this Sunday begins our journey of the next 40 days, leading the church up to Easter. The Lenten season is designed to be a mirror for us: it’s a way for us to witness to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, as he prepares to begin his ministry.


For Christians, Lent has historically been the yearly season for us to examine ourselves in that same mirror: to spend time in deep personal reflection and preparation as we get ready to commit ourselves to living into the way of Jesus: the way of his baptism, life, death and Resurrection.


For the church it is our season together of reflecting and preparing for the ministries of sharing the Good News of the Resurrection with the world that so desperately needs to hear and see and touch and feel that they are beloved of God.


Lent, this season always known for its austerity—the season where the days are getting longer, but not necessarily getting better—always begins this same way: with Jesus’ baptism and then immediate temptation out in the wilderness. And this year we hear from Mark, chapter 1, verses 9-13:
About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.


Lent always begins this very same way, and I think sometimes, we, in the church get obsessed over the temptation and the wilderness part, and not so much over the baptism and the naming and claiming part.


And this year of all years, it is a year for us to remember the naming and claiming part: The way the clouds split open and the sun must have been dazzling; the way the wind must have blown, maybe in that wild spring way that makes us adventurous and crazy and ready to go out in the world again, or maybe it blew in that soft spring way that wraps us in the warmth of better days coming; and then the voice. That voice coming from the heavens that says, “You are mine. You are beloved. In your very being I find happiness.”


As Bishop Laurie shared in her devotion last week, Lent has historically been a season to give something up: and that can be such a powerful discipline. We need this time to examine ourselves, to pay attention to what we need to give up and let go so that we can follow Jesus more nearly and dearly. This is a season of giving things up and letting things go as we practice our faith; but it’s also a season of holding on as well. Throughout his time in the wilderness,
Jesus held on to the identity and relationship with God that was so clearly expressed at his baptism.
Friends, as we recommit ourselves to living in the way of Jesus, we need this time of holding on as well. A holding on to what cannot be changed, but what can so easily be forgotten or overshadowed or lost: that deep KNOWING of identity: that deep knowing of belovedness. That deep knowing of relationship, of who we are and who we belong to. And that deep knowing of being absolutely enough, at our very core, for God to delight in us without having to produce anything or accomplish anything.
What would happen to our church communities if we spent the next 40 days holding on to this identity, within our own spirts, during our own times of temptations that tell us that we aren’t enough. That other people have it more and better. That if only we worked a little harder, we’d be more worthy.


And I wonder, what would it be like in our church communities, if we could do this for each other, even in these longer days that don’t always seem to be getting better? If all of our words and all of our work in the next 40 days were about reminding each other, showing each other that we are beloved of God—to remind each other that there is nothing, neither height, nor depth, nor zoom church, nor sub zero temperatures, there is neither pandemic, nor politics, nor temptations or just plain old fatigue that can separate us from the love of our God. And our care for each other.


Friends, this is the promise we made to each other at our baptisms: this is our work of the church: to be connected together. To watch over one another in love. To remind each other of who and whose we are. So that, out of our union with Christ, in his baptism of death and resurrection, we can take this good news out into the world and say and show: World: you, too, are God’s beloved.
May you be blessed; may you hold on.


And may “The God of all grace, who has called us to eternal glory in Christ, establish you and strengthen you by the power of the Holy Spirit that you may live in grace and peace. Amen.” (Baptismal Covenant II, UMH pg. 39).

©2021 Rev. Melissa Drake

FISH FOOD

Jonah Chapter One

1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. 6 The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”

7 The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 “I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

17  But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

FISH FOOD

One of my favorite bible verses is Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God–those whom he has called according to his plan.” The book of Jonah is proof of Romans 6:28. Throughout the four chapters of Jonah, his failures become God’s triumphs.

I’ve often referred to Jonah as the world’s worst prophet. However, the spirit has led me to understand that, in truth, he was one of the most successful of all the prophets … through no fault of his own.

There is a lot of debate about Jonah’s story.  Is it to be taken literally or is it an illustrative story? If you believe it is literal, there are some strange, improbable portions that defy logic. However, as Jesus said in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Is it literal or an allegory? I don’t know and I don’t care. The lessons taught and learned from the book reveal what is possible when God intervenes in a persons life.

  1. Observe. God said to Jonah “Go at once to Nineveh”, Go at once. Go now. There is a urgency expressed here.
  2. Nineveh, that great city” was an Assyrian city. They were enemies of the Israelites.
  3. Cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”  The Assyrians weren’t just enemies of Israil, they were enemies of God.

In point number one we can see that God has a timetable. Go at once. God had prepared the Ninevehites to be receptive to Jonah’s message. Much like Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2b, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”  This begs the question, “What happens if His timetable is missed?” 

We know that God is a God of second chances. You remember the story of the Israelies fleeing Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, and wandering the desert for forty years, right? Well, the forty years of wandering was a second chance. To start with the Jews went straight to the Promised Land in about six weeks. This was God’s original plan. The land and its people had been made ready by God for the jews to move in and unpack. Forty years later they are given a second chance. But this time they would have to fight for the land.

I look at my own life and wonder how many chances for salvation I had passed up, before turning my will over to God? How many times have you heard. God’s invitation and turned a deaf ear to it? How many times did the people of Noah’s time hear and turn away before God said, “Enough is enough!” God declared way back in Genesis “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. (New Living Translation) 

We must understand – listen – listen – this is important – your very eternal life depends upon it – though God is a God of loving forgiveness, and grace, He is also a God of justice. The unrepentent will be cut off from life.

Point number two and three – Nineveh, was an Assyrian city. They were enemies of the Israelites. Why would God warn Israel’s enemies? Why would God warn His enemies? Remember just a couple minutes ago when I said, “God is a God of loving forgiveness, and grace, He is also a God of justice”? That love, grace, and justice extends to all of His children – and we are all of us His children. Remember God the Son said in Matthew 5:44 “But I tell you, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” This is more than Gods will, it is God’s very nature. 

God grants us grace upon grace — but — at some point — He will apply justice to those who refuse to accept His grace. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

Now back to our story. God told Jonah to go and go now. Well, Joe went alright. He went down and booked passage on a ship headed in the opposite direction — away from Nineveh — and, in Joe’s mind — away from God.

Of course you know why he ran from Nineveh. It was the capital of Israel’s enemies. Joe knew that if he took his ol’ Israeli self to that city and say what God wanted him to say, they would kill him. 

Now, about that running from God thing. You and I understand how futile that is, right? God, the creator and sustainer of everything, is everywhere. The psalmest wrote, “Where can I go to get away from your Spirit? Where can I run to get away from you? If I go up to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in hell, you are there. If I climb upward on the rays of the morning sun or land on the most distant shore of the sea where the sun sets, even there your hand would guide me and your right hand would hold on to me.” – Psalms 139:7-10 That psalm was written many years before Jonah was even born. 

Even so, in that age, the belief was that Yahweh was the God of Israel — and only Israel. Other nations had their own gods – false gods with a small g. The general belief was that the great I AM lived in the temple in Jerusalem. He only dealt with other nations if it impacted the land of Israel. Jonah was about to get a lesson in the true universal sovereignty of God. 

Joe was asleep in the bottom of the ship and a frightful storm came up. A storm so great that the crew began throwing things overboard to lighten the load and let the ship ride higher and, hopefully, keep the waves from swamping the ship.

Each of them, sailor and passenger began praying to their various small g gods. All except Jonah, who was asleep in the bottom of the ship.

When every thing that could be thrown into the stormy sea, had been thrown overboard, they began looking at each other. Can’t you just imagine that moment when they realized that it was time to start tossing people into the sea? That little light bulb in their mind clicked on and understanding shown in their eyes. Slowly they backed away from each other. Now there was social distancing! Backing as far apart as they could on the small ships deck and all the while keeping eyes on each other. Who would be the forest to go? I’m sure it was the heaviest man that came up with the idea to draw straws or roll the dice.

That’s when Joe, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, came onto the deck. The dice were cast and Joe lost the roll. 

Accepting that the gods had chosen Jonah, various ones of them asked him, “Are you the one who has caused us all this trouble?” “What work do you do?” “Where are you coming from?” “What country and what people-group do you belong to?”

These men were sure that it was Joe’s fault but they wanted to know the “who, what, when, where, and most importantly why?” They didn’t want to be quilt of condemning an innocent man.

Jonah confessed that he was trying to escape from the One True God, creator of sky, earth, and sea; because he didn’t want to do what he had been commanded to do.

After the sailors heard that, they were terrified. So they asked him, “Do you realize what trouble you have caused?”  The storm kept getting worse and the waves kept getting bigger. So one of the sailors asked Jonah, “What should we do in order to make the sea become calm?”  He replied, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. If you do that, it will become calm. I know that this terrible storm is the result of my not doing what God told me to do.” 

Even then the sailors did not want to anger Jonah’s God. Instead, they tried hard to row the ship back to the land. But they could not do that, because the storm continued to get worse. 

Now listen closely to this part of the story. This is why I’ve changed my mind about Jonah being the worst prophet.

Then they (all of them) cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.”

Do you see? Do you understand what happened here? These people of various nationalities, prayed to God, the One God, the True God, the All Powerful God. Saying, please do not let us drown because of our causing this man to die. O Yahweh, you have done what you wanted to do. We do not know if this man has sinned or if he has not sinned. But, please, do not consider us guilty of sinning against you, when we cause him to die!”

All of these men prayed to God that he would forgive them for sacrificing Jonah.

Then they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea. When the sea became calm, the sailors became greatly awed at God’s mighty power. So they offered a sacrifice to him, and they strongly promised him that they would do things that would please him.

Does that sound like repentance and conversion to you? It sounds like repentance and conversion to me!

Jonah, having confessed his sin, testified about God Almighty. Because of this, these men witnessed and became believers who promised from that moment on to please God.

Even a weak kneed cowardly person like Jonah can be used of God to expand his kingdom.

Oh yes, at the end of chapter one, Jonah became fish food as the he’s swallowed by a large fish. Want the rest of the story? It’s right there in the book of Jonah.

Here are the take aways from today’s lesson.

  1. God may call on anyone at anytime
  2. God has a time table
  3. God prefers grace to justice
  4. There is an unknown limit to the number of times grace will be given
  5. If grace is refused. Justice will be applied.
  6. You can not run from, or hide from God.
  7. Good can use either or both our obedience and disobedience.
  8. Be careful or you may become fish-food.

This bears repeating: God grants us grace upon grace — but — at some point — He will apply justice to those who refuse to accept His grace. 

The bad news, 

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

The good news,

“But to all who believed him (Jesus) and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12

I don’t know what will be your Nineveh. I do know that God has a job for each of his children. When you are given your task, 

Turn aside, neither to the right, nor to the left; yet turn your foot away from evil. For the Lord knows the ways that are on the right, and truly, those that are on the left are perverse. But he himself will make your courses straight. Then your journey will advance in peace. – Proverbs 4:27

,Amen.

©2021 Thomas E Williams

“Answering God’s call to fight evil”

“Answering God’s call to fight evil” – January 31, 2021
(speaker – Gary Broadston – Union Park United Methodist Church)
Scriptures: Psalms 111

  1. Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart in the company of decent people and in the congregation. 2. The LORD’s deeds are spectacular. They should be studied by all who enjoy them. 3. His work is glorious and majestic. His righteousness continues forever. 4. He has made his miracles unforgettable. The LORD is merciful and compassionate. 5. He provides food for those who fear him. He always remembers his promise. 6. He has revealed the power of his works to his people by giving them the lands of other nations as an inheritance. 7. His works are done with truth and justice. All his guiding principles are trustworthy. 8. They last forever and ever. They are carried out with truth and decency. 9. He has sent salvation to his people. He has ordered that his promise should continue forever. His name is holy and terrifying. 10. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Good sense is shown by everyone who follows God’s guiding principles. His praise continues forever.

; Mark 1:21-28

  • Then they went to Capernaum. On the next day of worship, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22. The people were amazed at his teachings. Unlike their scribes, he taught them with authority. 23. At that time there was a man in the synagogue who was controlled by an evil spirit. He shouted, 24. “What do you want with us, Jesus from Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” 25. Jesus ordered the spirit, “Keep quiet, and come out of him!” 26. The evil spirit threw the man into convulsions and came out of him with a loud shriek. 27. Everyone was stunned. They said to each other, “What is this? This is a new teaching that has authority behind it! He gives orders to evil spirits, and they obey him.” 28. The news about him spread quickly throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”
  • On Sunday January 17th we heard that God may speak to us in several different ways but we may not be able to hear God calling our name. The question before us is when God speaks do we listen to God calling out our name and then heed that voice. How many times does God speak to us but we don’t know it was the Lord? How many times have we recognized that God was speaking, but we didn’t hear his message because we were too busy with other things in our daily lives? Remember that to hear the word of the Lord to us, it is essential that we pray from the heart and if we don’t hear the voice it may be because of distractions in our lives.
  • We learned on Sunday January 24th that we might seem hard to reach and convince to follow the call from God when he says “follow me”. Last week we heard that God may be speaking thru Scripture, in our prayers, thru our friends and family, thru events in our lives like failures and accomplishments, thru our dreams or visions or by that still small inner voice. God will not give up on us and may keep trying to get us to answer his call to share our life and our belief with others so we can lead them to know God on a personal level as we do.
    Worship transforms our minds and hearts and souls. Christ may challenge us to be willing to surrender and allow the Spirit to work within us that we might be vessels of grace and invitation in the world around us. We are reminded that this isn’t easy and that it requires a readjustment of our whole lives that we might follow where Christ leads. We need to follow the example of Christ in the face of evil in our world.
    As we live our lives as followers of Christ, we may see others or perhaps even ourselves experience unclean spirits of worry, fear, destruction, or pride.
    Sometimes we call these things demons and blame them for any unexplainable bad thing that happens. When it says in our scripture passage from Mark that Jesus cast out demons, or unclean spirits to be accurate, do we simply reinterpret that to be, “He healed them of their mental illness?” Mark 1:23-26 reads: Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
    We ascribe the title demonic to an incomprehensible evil. Sometimes it is used as a way to avoid responsibility, which is why many of us are reluctant to use a word like demon when speaking of human actions. But it also reminds us that there are “powers and principalities” or as stated in Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” that are beyond our understanding. It reminds us that there is evil in the world greater than the total of the evil that resides in human hearts. Our response to such a realization is either to live in fear and suspicion of everyone and everything or to stand against such evil with the power of our Savior. Do we respond to God’s call to fight evil or are we frightened by the very thought of that.
    One of the questions in the baptism ritual asks parents and sponsors, as well as the candidates for baptism when they are able to answer for themselves, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” It is a part of the nature of our faith that we stand against the evil or demonic both in our society and in ourselves. We can take a stand against the demonic evil we experience and claim that we will no longer stay silent in the face of injustice and oppression perpetrated against a group of people. We do not all stand at the same place and understanding on many issues. We all have the freedom to believe differently in our country but we should not let that separate us and divide us. It may seem that in difficult financial times we need to focus our energies on finances to rescue our local economy and put off other issues that we face. It is in desperate times that we need to be even more vigilant against evil and injustice in our world. When we give in to despair, all kinds of choices seem less unthinkable. That is when the demonic can begin to seem sensible. When the nonsense becomes sensible then you have given in to evil.
    The demon’s question in our scripture from Mark might be on our lips as well. “What have you to do with us, Jesus?” Christ comes to change everything, every broken thing about us. By the grace of God any day can be an opportunity to make a stand and cast out the evil or demons in our life or the lives of others. We must pray for the ability to see the evil that exists and look for guidance as we face the evil demons in our lives and those of other people we meet and interact with. We need to be strong in faith and know that God gives us the strength and power to fight the evil forces in the world.
    God is at work in our world and in each of us as we fight evil in the world. As is stated in Psalm 111:2-4 “Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.” Yes, God delights in us when we are fighting the forces of evil as we answer the call. The Lord is truly gracious and merciful and delights in our efforts to rid this world of evil forces.

  • Let us Pray
    Father, we call on you to give us more of the compassion and authority of Jesus. Embolden us to heal those that are afflicted and drive out the demons that afflict our world. Jesus comes to us, offering healing and hope, speaking and acting with authority. Help us listen to Christ and be encouraged that we may go into the world to do your work fighting evil, confident in God’s love and healing power that can be available thru us.
    AMEN

God calls you by name

“God calls you by name” January 17, 2021

(Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church)

Scriptures

1 Samuel 3:1-10

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am. ”  And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

“God calls you by name”

God speaks and calls Samuel four times, “Samuel! Samuel!”, but three of those times, Samuel thinks it is the elder priest, Eli, who is calling him. It is not until the fourth time, after Eli tells Samuel that it is God, that Samuel responds to the call with “Speak, for your servant is listening” . At first, Samuel does not know God’s voice, but he soon learns to recognize God’s voice and realizes that God is the foundation of his future prophetic work.

The question before us today is: God speaks. Do we listen?

We will be remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday this Monday. He was a pastor and civil rights activist. When people remember Dr. King, one of the first things they may think of is his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered before the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963 for the March on Washington, D.C. for Civil Rights. He was a gifted orator. But he was so much more than an effective communicator. He had a deep concern for the racially and socioeconomically oppressed who suffered under the unjust hands. Dr. King believed “that activism prefaced by prayer can be most effective.” That is something that we get to see very clearly in his life.

In January 1956, during the Montgomery bus boycott, he received a threatening phone call late at night. He couldn’t sleep. We all know of his experience sitting at his kitchen table and praying to God. He was at a breaking point of exhaustion and about to give up. He spoke to God and says that he experienced the Divine and “could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice, saying, ‘Stand up for justice, stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever.’” 

He needed God to speak first. Then he could act. He listened prayerfully then proclaimed prophetically.

The Gospel reading for today, John 1:43-51, is also about God’s call. Jesus calls the first disciples. 

Today’s message is about listening to God calling out your name and heeding that voice. How many times has God spoken to us, but we didn’t know it was the Lord?  How many times have we recognized that God was speaking, but we didn’t hear his message because we were too busy?  To hear the word of the Lord to us, it is essential that we pray from the heart. It’s possible that we don’t hear the voice because of distractions. There’s noise that prevents us from listening. “Noise” is also a technical word. Here is the technical definition of noise: 

  • Irregular fluctuations that accompany a transmitted electrical signal but are not part of it and tend to obscure it.
  • Random fluctuations that obscure or do not contain meaningful data or other information.

Noise can prevent us from listening. There are all kinds of things that can keep us from listening well or listening at all. Some of these things are outside of us, sometimes they are within us too.

(Illustration)

A man suspected that his wife was getting hard of hearing / going deaf. So he decided to test her in his way to understand the scope of the problem.

 And so he devises a little test to know the extent of this problem. Once when his wife is in the kitchen, cooking, this man stands at a little distance and calls out her name and says “honey, what’s for supper?” There is no response and the man feels a little bit convinced that she is going deaf, but then he wants to know the extent of the problem. He goes just a little closer and then he calls out again asking “honey, what’s for supper?” And again, there is no response and the man is now almost convinced that his wife has really gone deaf but wants to take his trial a step further in order to assess the exact extent of the problem. He goes really close behind her and then almost shouts out her name and says, “honey. What’s for supper?”
She turns around and says “for the THIRD time we’re having chicken!”

Sometimes we don’t realize that when we can’t hear anything the problem is with us. We are either deaf to what really is going on, failing to perceive reality, have selective perception, or we think that the problem is outside when really it is within us.

But there are more than physical causes of why we don’t listen or can’t listen to God’s voice in our life. We can be deaf because of these other things that won’t let us focus on God and listen well:

  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Resentment
  • Failure
  • Shame
  • Etc.

It’s important to realize that God calls out in love and that we must make an effort to listen and to respond.

God may be calling out to you today for any of these reasons:

  • To have fellowship with you (Rev. 3:20 says: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me)
  • To instruct you in the way of blessings
  • Caution you against some dangers and pitfalls
  • To encourage you and assure you of His presence
  • To get you to relay a message to someone or testify and witness (even prophetic witness)

I hope that this simple reminder about God calling out to us by name will make us more aware of His love for each of us. The other reading from Psalm 139 in our lectionary set today talks about something that the Psalmist speaks about beautifully in the image of us being ‘knit together in our mother’s womb’. That is the kind of intimacy and love and concern and complete knowledge of you that God has when He calls out your name.

Become aware of God’s presence and His love for you. He’s talking to you in different ways:

  • God’s Word
  • In Prayer
  • Through people, our friends and family
  • Circumstances – failures, accomplishments, etc.
  • Nature
  • Dreams & Visions
  • Small, still inner voice

And like Samuel responded to the Lord’s call, may we be able to obediently respond by saying “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”. I pray that God would bless us with the keenness of hearing to shut out the distractions and noise, and listen to His voice and respond in an attitude of obedience, love and surrender.

God bless you.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,

Teach us to listen for your voice, to listen to your voice, and to heed your call. Help us to fight off distractions and noise so that we may discover the beauty and joy of you talking to us. Amen.

Epiphany blessings

“Epiphany blessings” | January 3, 2021

(Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church)

Scriptures: Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12

Today is Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany commemorates the visit of the magi (“wise men from the East” as the Bible calls them). We don’t know if they were ‘kings’ and we don’t know if there were three of them. The Bible doesn’t say. Some traditions hold that there were actually four. We assume there were 3 because 3 gifts are mentioned (and of course because of the carol we sing “We three Kings of orient are…”).

Anyway, we don’t have a lot of detail but we are given details about the gifts they brought. And we may already know that the gifts were not just random gifts. They were very symbolic in acknowledging and revealing Jesus as the Messiah and also in foretelling things about His ministry. So, from the wise men that came to visit the Christ child, their gifts and the circumstances at that time, here are 3 insights for our meditation this morning.

1. The symbolism of the gifts

We know that: 

  1. The gift of gold acknowledged the Kingship of Christ

Gold was a gift that denoted royalty, authority, and power. It is a gift befitting a ruler. 

  1. The gift of frankincense acknowledged the Priestly Ministry of Christ

Frankincense was used in the offerings in the temple. They added a fragrant aroma to the sacrifices. Frankincense also was added to the oil that anointed the priests. The incense added a dimension of beauty to the worship. 

  1. The gift of myrrh acknowledged the Sacrificial nature of Christ

Myrrh is an interesting gift. In the Old Testament we see it used as a fragrance. In the New Testament we see it used in two different ways. In Mark 15:23 we see that Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh while he was on the cross. Myrrh had a medicinal use as a mild anesthetic (Jesus didn’t want it).

In John 19:39 we see Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea preparing Jesus for burial using a mixture of aloes and myrrh. 

Myrrh points to the sacrificial death of Jesus. We don’t know whether these Magi understood the significance of these gifts or not. But they were designed by God to carry a symbolic meaning. 

2. The inclusiveness

Epiphany celebrates the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. It also marks the first manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles. It signals that God loves Gentiles as well as Jews—that God’s plan of salvation includes Gentiles too. 

It is a celebration of the breaking down of dividing walls—the end of hostilities between groups of people. Epiphany challenges us to consider all the people whom we see as ‘outside the fold’ as actually be within the circle of God’s Grace and Love. It challenges us to abandon our tribalism (racially, nationally, linguistically, denominationally, socially, orientation-wise, politically, etc.) and to expand our tents to welcome even those whom we tend to leave out. Loving those outside our tribe is difficult—but Christ makes it possible. Christ breaks down every barrier and binds us with the common experience of His Grace and Love.

3. The Blessings – in unlikely circumstances (people, places, etc.)

It’s easy to miss because sometimes God tiptoes in at the most unlikely times and surprising places, and uses the most unlikely people.

Those magi, for example, had a star to follow but they almost missed it, by about nine miles – the distance between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. They didn’t expect to find a king in small town, in a manger. They asked for directions in a more logical place – in Jerusalem, at the king’s palace.

The magi would be the least likely ones to come seeking the King who would be Messiah. From the Jewish perspective, who could be more foreign, unscriptural, than a group of stargazers who did not know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? They did not know the stories and genealogy and promises of God. They had neither Torah nor tradition to go by. And yet – they were the ones who came looking for the Messiah even when the Jewish courts and kingdom of Herod wasn’t. In fact Herod told them to go ahead and find the child and then let him know where He was. Of course, the wise men did not, but the point is that the people outside of the Jewish tradition were expected to lead the way to the Christ. They were closer to finding and worshiping Christ the King, the Messiah.

Who expected God to work so silently and unobtrusively and behind the scenes in that time and that place through those people? 

Miracles happen in unlikely places. They happen in small towns and small churches and even outside them. The Magi, unlikely people, were blessed: clueless (clueless about the full import and significance of the Messiah) but obedient and hopeful people.

With such unlikely people and circumstances, God shatters our human framework of beliefs, and God tiptoes in and takes the future out of our hands and our control, to reveal Himself – to reveal who He is – He is God.

God is God. His Love is Love: limitless, profound, deep and true, sometimes incomprehensible, but always inviting us to surrender and to rest. We cannot begin to fathom His awesome ways. This year as we begin our journey through 2021, let’s put ourselves in God’s wonderful and able Hands. In journeying together with God we will find ourselves truly blessed. Wish you a blessed NEW YEAR and as you follow the STAR of God’s Plan – Jesus Christ – in your life, not only will you discover blessings for yourself but that you will be a blessing for people around you.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your wonderful plan for each of us. As your plan unfolds in our lives, give us the mind to follow you and to make ourselves available for what you would have us do. Teach us to love all people even those that are different from us. Help us find and enjoy your blessings that are meant for us as your family.

Amen.

One Day In The Temple

Luke 2:22-40

2:22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

2:23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”),

2:24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.

2:26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

2:27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,

2:28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

2:29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;

2:30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,

2:31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

2:32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

2:33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

2:34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed

2:35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

2:36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phan-u-el, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,

2:37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.

2:38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

2:39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.

2:40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Welcome

In the name the Father, the Son, and the Holly Spirit, I welcome you who are physical present with us, those joining us live through Facebook, and those who may be viewing this as pre-recorded.

Regardless of our place or time we are gathered to celebrate those events that began over 2,000 years ago and continue still today.

Prayer

Please join with me in prayer.

Lord, as you guided Simeon by your spirit to seek out Jesus, the Messiah, guide us also.

As we look backward on events to which he looked forward in trust and faith, Grant us the awareness of the depth of importance to us personally and to all generations.

Grant us also the same spirit that drove Anna to praise God and to speak about Jesus to all who are needing redemption.

And as always, Lord, no matter the words I speak, let them hear your message.

In the most Holy of names we pray. Amen.

Sermon: ONE DAY IN THE TEMPLE

Wow! There is a lot of things going on in our gospel teaching.

Perhaps it will help to understand why Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the temple on that day.

Now one of the reasons NOT mentioned in the scriptures was the same reason WE bring OUR newborns to church. To show off this precious child, more beautiful than any other baby. Right mom? Right Grandma?

Fortunately for me, my two boys and two girls looked EXACTLY the same as newborns, because — well because you can’t improve I perfection.

So I’m sure that this was also in the minds of the Holy Family as they came to present the child.

But they were also obeying the law of Moses. It was after the time for their purification

This it’s the teaching portion of the sermon. There might by a test at the end, so pay attention.

Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day.

I just saw a “cringe” on the faces of several men in the sanctuary.

The purpose of the ceremony of circumcision, which is an offering of blood, is to seal the covenant with the Almighty in the flesh so that it may never be violated.

So sacred is this act that the child is not counted an Israelite until after the ceremony. It is during the ceremony that he is officially given his name.

Much like, through the sacrament of baptism,

God’s Spirit initiates us into Christ’s holy church,

And the pastor invites the congregation to welcome the newly baptised by name.

Now concerning Mary.

From LEVITICUS 12:2-4

If a woman gives birth to a son, she will be unclean for seven days. For thirty-three days the mother will be in a state of blood purification. She must not touch anything holy or enter the sacred area until her time of purification is completed.

Question one is a math problem. If she is unclean for 7 days and then in a state of purification for 33, how long did the holy family have to wait before coming to the Temple?

Answer:

It is customary for the mother to come to the synagogue on the Sabbath after her 40 days when she has regained her strength.

So now we understand why it was said, when the fullness of time had come.

There was still one more ceremony to be observed. Jesus, the redeemer, had to be redeemed. This was the reason they were in the temple that day.

As a sign and remembrance of the Passover in Egypt when the lives of all Egyptian first born males died and the first born males of the Israelites were spared by the sprinkling of blood on the door posts.

Since that time, all first born males belong to God.

You will remember, in the old testament, Hannah brought Samuel, once he was weened to the LORD’S house to be dedicated to the LORD for his whole life.

The parents could redeem, that is “by back” their sons by an offering of silver coins to the temple. If a family, like Joseph and Mary, could not afford the silver, (the Magi had not yet arrived with gold, frankincense, and myrrh) anyway, for the poor, an offering of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons was made.

Do you now understand how important this trip to the temple was to Joseph and Mary?

Q. Why were they in the temple that day?

  1. To redeem Jesus. I would also have given a ½ point for, to show off the baby.

They, as faithful Jews, expected and had made plans for the redemption of their first born Son.

In the last 40 days they had assumedly found a home (perhaps with relatives) in Bethlehem. Performed the circumcision on the 8th day. And Mary had gone through the purification required.

They had brought the sacrificial doves to redeem their son. Every thing was going as expected.

And then — and then along came Simeon, who grabbed the baby from their hands and started a prophetic message.

You parents out there, do you remember how fragile your first born child seemed? Imagine some stranger taking that baby and saying, “Now, Lord, you are allowing your servant to leave in peace as you promised.”

I can imagine Joseph saying, “Now hold on, bub, you’re not leaving with my baby.”

Then Simeon say, “Joe, you have to understand that the Lord told me that in my lifetime the Messiah would be born, and your son is the salvation for everyone, for every nation, even a light of revelation to the Gentiles! I have waited a long time to see him with my own eyes.”

Then Anna, a prophetess of advanced age, at that moment, came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Life Application

Wow, things sure took a dramatic turn into the unexpected. I can almost hear Rod Sterling’s voice, “You are traveling through another dimension, your next stop, the Twilight Zone!” Do do dodo dodo dodo!

I know done of you are way to young to remember the old tv show, “The Twilight Zone.”

But each episode began with, “This is a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.”

So imagine with me for a moment, that you are in that time and that place. You are Mary or Joseph. What is going through your mind as you are confronted by these strangers? And strange they must have seemed.

Your mind races back to the angel visiting you, Mary. Or the Lord visiting you, Joseph, in a dream. The two of you sitting down and discussing among your selves these strange and wonderful visitations. What does it all mean? As usual, the Lord does not fill in all the details for you. You must go forward in faith.

Over the next months, your mind revisits those moments, but they seem to grow a little dimmer as you busy yourself with the things of everyday life, earning a living, preparing the house for the coming child, and then the command of the Roman occupiers of your land that you are required to make a 90 mile trek to Bethlehem, because some emporer in a far off land demands it.

Grumble, grumble, explicative, explicative!!!

You arrive in Bethlehem, which is already overcrowded with other unhappy and weary travelers who also are venting their frustration and anger over this census and the already heavy taxes.

You are not terribly surprised to find that the Motel 6, Travel Lodge, and Marriott are filled with people, some even sleeping on couches in the lobby. But in the stable behind the Budget Inn you find a corner with some relatively clean straw.

And the baby comes: no hospital, no doctor, and no midwife. Just two first time parents who are feeling completely lost, confused, and inexperienced. But you make it through the birth and cleanup as best you can. At last they can rest.

Nope! Not just yet. Enter a crowd of shepherds.

If the atmosphere in the stable was not – um – fragrant enough, with animals, 2 hot sweaty humans and the odors associated with birth, here arrive dirty unshaven men reeking of sheep.

They are so excited and talking over each other trying to tell of being visited by an army of angels.

But those months have past and here you are in the temple with Simeon and Anna making amazing declarations and predictions about your child.

What are you parents feeling? Confused, excited, overwhelmed?

Remember, Mary and Joe don’t yet know about the coming visit of the wisemen or running for their lives to Egypt.

Take a deep breath and think, were their lives really that much different than your own? Sure, you are not tasked with raising the Christ child, but haven’t you, aren’t you, or won’t you be raising each child without knowing what terrifying, wonderful, and amazing thing is going to happen next?

Aren’t all of our lives filled with work, worry, stress, and anxiety?

Not so surprisingly, parent or not parent you have those same unknowns. Jesus is saying follow me. He’s even willing and desiring to be hitched together with you, to do the heavy lifting. His yoke is easy and makes the burden light.

We aren’t given the road map of our lives. We move forward one fearful, hesitant, brave, joyful, and faithful step at a time.

🎶Many things about tomorrow

I don’t seem to understand

But I know who holds tomorrow

And I know who holds my hand🎶 – Songwriters: Ira F. Stanphill

If you have believed in your heart and declared with your lips that Jesus is Lord of your life, then you know the destination even if you can’t see through the mists of time to where that next step will take you.

God has many mansions, one of them has your name on it.

So rest assured that Jesus knows the way home,

and he holds your hands.

There is a sign post up ahead. Your next stop the kingdom of God.

Before we close this service, we’re going to pray for your concerns, join in praise for your joys, and sing a song of invitation.

During that song, if you feel the spirit whispering that NOW is the time for YOU to accept Jesus as your guide through life, maybe for the first time or perhaps to rededicate your life, to get back on that path toward home, please come forward during the singing. If you are already a child of God and would like to make Cross Tracks your Church home come forward then also. Or if you just need someone to pray with you, I’ll be glad to do that also.

Sending forth:

As we go forth, young men and women alike, older men and women, older and young together!

Let us praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

He has raised up the Messiah for his people.

Praise for all his faithful, for God’s people, who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

For while we were yet sinners, God sent his son, the redeemer, so that all people, who believe, might be saved. He is a light of revelation to the Gentiles and a glory to the children of Israel.

Go in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. Speak about the savior to all who are looking for release from the shackles of sin. Amen. Go!

Also visit my other blogs

  • Tom and Ella’s Daily Journal of Our Lives

http://TomAndEllaJournal.com

  • Visit my devotions blog new devotions every day (nearly)

“Holy interruptions

“Holy interruptions”

December 20, 2020
(Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church)
Note: December 20th service is A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Please
see full service on Facebook or YouTube.
Scripture Lessons:
1. Genesis 3:8-15, 17-19
2. Genesis 22:15-18
3. Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
4. Micah 5:2-5a
5. Luke 1:26-35, 38
6. Luke 2:1-7
7. Luke 2:8-16
8. Matthew 2:1-11
9. John 1:1-14
One of the things to note as we heard the Christmas story (told to us through
selected Scripture lessons and carols in this service) is that the birth of Jesus Christ
was according to a beautiful plan of God. A long standing prophecy of a promised
Messiah to save us, came true. That was God’s plan for Salvation of mankind. Mary
was the chosen one to bear Jesus Christ in her womb as the Word was made flesh.
Mary, a young girl of 14 or 15 could not be expected to understand the theology
and the spirituality of all this. From her perspective, she was rightly ‘perplexed’
(Luke 1:29) because this was an INTERRUPTION in her otherwise normal life. She was pledged to be married and as a young girl she must have been looking forward
to all the usual things of a happy marriage and setting up her new home.
We look to the Christmas season to be a time of perfect peace, harmony, and joy.
The first Christmas was not that way. It could have been seen as an interruption.
We all know interruptions too: This year, our lives have been interrupted because of
this pandemic. When we think of the things we couldn’t do as a Church and also as
individuals, we tend to feel discouraged. Our plans sometimes get messed up and
that can confuse us. Right now, at Christmas, it’s supposed to be “the most
wonderful time of the year”, but for many it is very difficult because something has
interrupted the joy. It may be sickness, death of a loved one, financial setbacks,
divorce, or loneliness, or any of those things that thwart our plans.
What was Mary’s response to the interruption in her life when the angel announced
to her that she is the chosen one and she will bear a child who is the Messiah? At
first, naturally, she was perplexed. But the angel said to her: “Do not be
afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God”. The Angel also explains to Mary that
“No Word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37). It is then that Mary is able to accept
this as a Holy Interruption and say 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.
“May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38). She had a holy response to the
holy interruption in her life.

Page
2
Mary’s response is like this:
 I’m scared
 I’m confused
 I don’t know what will happen
 I don’t know how it will happen
 But it’s from God
 God’s Will be done
 I will submit
 I will obey
Mary submitted herself to be used to accomplish God’s purposes and as God’s plans
proceeded, we have Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. There is
hope for all mankind (humankind). Mary accepted the Holy interruption and she
offered a Holy response to it.
As the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in “Life Together”: We must be ready
to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.
That’s right. God may interrupt us to use those moments to fulfil His plan
 to bless other people,
 to put me on the path of more blessing,
 to teach me something special,
 to give me rest,
 to strengthen my faith,
 to help me see the beauty of His creation,
 to help me understand how His Grace works,
 to show me what’s around me – other people,
 to humble me,
 to break me,
 to shape me,
 to mold me,
 to use me.
Sometimes it is in those moments of interruptions, in those special instances that
we may perhaps not understand completely just then, God reveals Himself in ways
we may never be experience otherwise!
Let’s pray for wisdom to see and try to understand those special moments when
God may choose to interrupt our life and our plans. Let’s seek His Strength and
Grace so that we can submit to His Plan more eagerly / readily. Thank God for Holy
Interruptions!

“Christmas Joy” | December 13, 2020
(Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church)

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

This week in the Advent season is known as Guadete (Latin word meaning ‘rejoice’) Sunday, or the Sunday of joy.

There is a strong reason for joy. The Hebrew text promises that the people’s fortune and future have been changed from judgment to hope, from destruction to restoration, from oppression to liberation and from dread to praise (Zeph. 3:1420). Of course, this comes after a period of repentance, but the focus is on joy. (In the gospel text, John the Baptizer opens the curtains before the human drama to introduce the coming of the One who will bring a new chapter of salvation, (Lk. 3:718). That again is cause for joy.)

In our Scripture lesson for today from 1st Thessalonians, there are 3 groups of instructions given to us.
• The first grouping of instructions is about rejoicing, praying and giving thanks.
• The second group is about allowing the Work of the Spirit.
• The third group is about being wise and discerning.

1. Let’s look at the first group. From this group I’d like to point us to the
importance of being Proactive vs Reactive.

This first group of instructions are:
A. Rejoice always
B. Pray without ceasing
C. Give thanks in all circumstances

Professor James Denney of Scotland called these three commands “the standing orders of the gospel.” They are “standing orders” because they always apply to every Christian in every situation.

Rejoice, Pray and Give are easy enough to understand as people of God. The problem is how we are to do it with the conditions attached (or, lack of conditions depending on how you look at it). The difficulty is because of the words “always”, “without ceasing” and “in all circumstances”. It would have been easy to understand and easy enough to do without those conditions (or lack of).

This is where I want to highlight the difference between being reactive and being proactive. Reactive action or behavior is a ‘reaction’ in response to something. It comes as a result of something that happens. If we only rejoice when certain conditions in our circumstances are fulfilled, then our rejoicing is in response to, as a result of and as a reaction to those conditions. The problem in such conditioned responses is that when those conditions are not fulfilled it doesn’t evoke the response of rejoicing. For example, if my rejoicing is dependent on my getting something that I’ve wanted, I can easily rejoice when I get it. But what about when I don’t?

Proactive behavior is seen independent of the conditions in the circumstances, and that is what we’re being called to have. We’re called to get to a point where our rejoicing and praying and giving thanks is regardless of the circumstances. That’s tough because, as humans we’re sensitive to various kinds of stimuli. But that is why we’re to understand this ‘rejoicing’ and ‘praying’ and ‘giving thanks’ that we’re called to do, not just as emotional states or physical acts, but expression of our spirituality and faith.

It is only when we think of it like this and become proactive that we can rejoice ALWAYS, pray WITHOUT CEASING and Give thanks IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES because our joy and prayers and thanks are not dependent on our outside circumstances. They come from within. They are proffered in recognition and grateful acknowledgement of what Christ has already done for us, and in faith of seeing God do what He knows is best for us.

2. The second group is about allowing the Work of the Holy Spirit. Let’s understand this in terms of ‘allowing the Spirit to move’ vs ‘quenching the Spirit’.
The Holy Spirit is a person. The Bible tells us about the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. He teaches, He intercedes for us, He groans on our behalf. He is with us as a constant companion, advocate and comforter. But the Bible also clearly tells us that it is possible to “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30). It’s a sad thought that we can do something so atrocious that the Holy Spirit is grieved! In this passage we’re clearly told that we shouldn’t “Quench the Spirit”. It means we shouldn’t do something that puts out the Fire of the Holy Spirit. It is possible to do things that stifles His Work in our midst, or to hinder Him or to limit Him. Do we intentionally or unintentionally hinder His Work or Limit His Work? Could it be that we may be trying to do good but end up “quenching” the Holy Spirit with

• Man (human) -made rules and concepts
• presuming to know the mind of God and setting up barriers to His Grace,
• our disunity
• our contempt and unforgiveness
• our disregard for the least and the lost
• structural violence (active or passive support of) • our silence (at injustice, for instance) • and so on.

Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to Work and not quench the Spirit. During Christmas as we’re looking at the various characters in the Christmas story, if you look at Herod, you’ll find the original Grinch. He wasn’t happy that another ‘king’ was born. He didn’t like the idea of anyone else in authority except him? What about us? We’re not like Herod, are we?

• Are we happy that Jesus was born?
• Are we happy to let everyone know that Jesus, the Christ, is come in to the world?
• Are we happy to let everyone hear the Good news of salvation in Jesus?
• Are we happy to let everyone approach His throne of Grace and receive eternal life?
• Are we happy to allow the Spirit to move where He will and how He will?

Let’s not hinder the Work of the Holy Spirit by our sin or distrust or unwilling mind. Let’s rejoice as the fire of the Spirit spreads and blesses everyone. Like the Angels proclaimed, this is Good News for ALL.

3. The third group of instructions teaches us to be wise and discerning about what is good and what is evil. We’re told to test everything. We have to hold everything to one ultimate standard of God’s Love. Sometimes it becomes very difficult to discern between what is good and what is evil, what is pleasing in God’s sight and what isn’t. We can get wisdom to discern as we pray and meditate on God’s Word and as we seek to grow in our faith and understanding.

This Christmas we’re having a different experience. We have the time and opportunity to be more reflective and introspective. Let this Christmas be a special time to discover with a new joy the wonderful privileges we have as God’s people and also the responsibility as recipients of His Grace.

God bless us with the real Joy that we have because of Christmas: The Joy of Salvation, the Joy of Salvation FOR ALL, The Joy at the Work of the Holy Spirit, And the Joy of God’s eternal presence with us and ever-present help which makes it possible to rejoice ALWAYS, Pray WITHOUT CEASING and Give Thanks IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES.

PRAYER________________________

Gracious God,

We thank you for the Joy of Christmas. Teach us to do and be all that you need us to do and be so that we may be more in tune with Your Word. This Christmas help us to echo the Good News that the Angels pronounced for all people.

Amen.

“Prepare ye the Way of the Lord

“Prepare ye the Way of the Lord” | December 6, 2020
(Minister – Rev. Caesar J. David | Union Park United Methodist Church)
Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8
From our Scripture reading which tells us to “Prepare the Way of the Lord”, we know that there
is work to be done in preparation of the coming of Christ. Although Jesus was born and lived
2000 years ago and we’re just commemorating that day, the preparation that is needed is still
significant; it is still needed.
Let’s spend some time on meditating on the Preparation that John the Baptist is talking about
here. It is one thing to notice that there is work to be done. It is quite another one to realize that
you are the one who needs to do that work!
So, as we reflect on this, let’s make it personal. Let us understand this as the preparation that
we’re asked to make. What is that preparation?
When we think about preparation in the context of Christmas there’s a lot to be done. We are
usually quite ahead in our preparation of other kinds: for our parties, dinners, decorating the
house, presents and other fun stuff. In fact we prepare so much in advance for Christmas that
when Christmas finally rolls around you’re not that excited about it. Maybe.
Anyway, the preparation that we’re told about is for us as forerunners of Christ to prepare the
way in the sense of making it smooth and free from impediments, and also to inaugurate His
Reign and His Kingdom. Let’s focus on that for a bit as we talk of these two kinds of preparation
we’re called to make as we move forward in this Advent season seeking to celebrate the coming
of Christ in our world.
1. Preparation of our hearts
Some of the biggest impediments to witness, to growth and to blessings in general are not in the
path ahead of us, in the people around us, or even the circumstances surrounding us. It is
difficult, but important for us to realize and accept that sometimes they are not somewhere
outside but within us! And therefore John the Baptist is preaching a message of repentance as a
first step of that preparation. He proclaimed a ‘baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of
sins’. We have to actively deal with sin in our life. It is like cleaning: The kind of cleaning we do
when we’re expecting company at home to make them feel welcome because we’re excited and
happy to have them. If we’re happy this Christmas about the coming of Jesus then we’ll be
happy to undertake all that cleaning in preparation to welcome in our hearts. We have to repent
of our sins and feel the kind of remorse and sadness about it that stops us from walking further
away from God and instead, return to His loving, forgiving arms.
2. Preparation to inaugurate His Kingdom
The Kingdom of God is characterized by Love, Peace, Truth and Justice among other values
and principles. Every opportunity we have to show love, build peace, seek the truth and support
Justice is an opportunity in the direction of inaugurating and preparing the path (making the path
smooth) for consolidating the Reign of Christ on earth.
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2
One of the hardest things this year has been being able to come together for in-person Worship
services. We miss the hanging of the greens in the Church. May be some of us haven’t been in
the mood to even decorate our houses as usual since no one’s going anywhere or coming to
visit. It’s tough. We don’t have all the things this year that make it “Christmasy” and fun.
But think of it this way: we are stripped of all that is not really as important after all as Jesus
himself. As we think of John the Baptist in the wilderness wearing nothing but something
Camel’s hair clothes with a leather belt around his waist, and eating locusts and honey! Talk of
stripping down and bare essentials. It seems like this year as we’re being called to be the
forerunners of Christ, we’re stripped too in another sense. We’re stripped of our parties and get￾togethers and all the glitter and noise of Christmas that usually the world defines as ‘celebrating
Christmas’, and so we have an opportunity this year to quieten ourselves, retreat from the noise
and glitter, to be by ourselves perhaps, and bring our focus back to what’s really important.
We are forerunners of God’s Grace and Love and forgiveness. We’re the ones that prepare the
way for God’s Kingdom by being people of Love and Peace and Truth and Justice. We these
important gemstones of love, peace, truth, justice and so on. This year we’ve not been able to
do a lot of decorating but let’s think differently. Let’s think about decorating, not our Churches or
homes, but the world around us with God’s Goodness and Grace and Love. And it will dazzle
with the Glory of our King.
Let’s think about the opportunities we have for Inaugurating the Kingdom of God. It all begins by
looking inwardly and seeing if there’s some work to be done there. If there is, let’s get started.
Let’s prepare to receive the King of kings and Lord of lords. Let’s prepare to be the forerunners
to prepare the way for the Lord to inaugurate his kingdom of righteousness, of love and peace
and truth and justice.
God bless you.
Prayer
Gracious God, as we come in your presence in this season of advent and preparation, we
realize that there are so many things that we are not able to do that we did in the previous
years. But thank you for the unique opportunity we have in being stripped to the bare essentials
to understand what you really want us to do. Lord, as we understand the true significance and
the message of Christmas, and as we understand your expectation for us to be forerunners to
prepare the way for you, we ask that you would give us the eyes to see opportunities around us
to do that. Give us the strength and determination so that we may place ourselves as
instruments in your hands so that your Kingdom may come. Amen.

Acorn Anxieties

Acorn Anxieties – Rev. Doug Cue

Friends, I’m Doug Cue, Superintendent for the Southwest Region. I’m honored to bring you the word for the celebration.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change … though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea … though its waters roar and foam … though the mountains tremble with its tumult. The nations are in an uproar … the kingdoms totter.

God’s voice resounds, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. –Psalm 46:1-3,6-11

From the letter to the church at Philippi. Philippians 4:4-7

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:4-7

Friends, this is the word of God for we the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Folks both these passages will find expression in what we share here, but there’s also a third passage that I’d like to lift up as we begin. And it may be somewhat obscure for some of us. May have been some time since your last hearing of it. Quite possible that you’re not at all familiar with it. Familiarize yourself with it now. And I want to start with chapter one, verse one of the Book of Chicken Little.

Chicken Little liked to walk in the woods. One day as you are acorn fell from a tree, hit her in the head and Chicken Little exclaimed, “BOOOOOOCK” (Doug pulls on string of his chicken friend to create the noise)

Because that’s what chickens do, they, “BOOOOOCK”

But thank goodness the text translates it for us. Chicken Little exclaimed, “The sky is falling! I must run and tell the king!”

As she runs, she meets Henny Penny.

“Where are you going?” says Henny Penny.

“Oh Henny Penny the sky is falling! I’m going to tell king.”

“How do you know this guy is falling?”

And Chicken Little says, “Well I saw with my little eyes heard it with my own little ears and a piece of it fell on my poor little head.”

“Well,” Henny Penny says, “We must run and tell the king at once.

As you know, as they’re running, they meet, Lucy Goosey. Lucy Goosey, asked them, “Where y’all going?”

“This sky’s falling and we’re running to tell the king,” says Henny Penny.

“Well, how do you know the sky is falling?” asked Lucy Goosey.

“Chicken Little told me,” said Henny Penny.

Chicken Little said, “True. I saw with my own little eyes and a piece of it fell on my own little head.”

Lucy Goosey says, “We must run and tell the king at once.”

As they was a running they meet, Turkey Lurkey, who asked them, “Where y’all going?”

“Sky is falling we’re running tell the King,” says, Lucy Goosey.

“Well, how do you know the sky is falling?” asked Turkey Lurkey.

“Henny Penny told me,” said Lucy Goosey.

“Chicken Little told me,” said Henny Penny.

Chicken Little said, “True. I saw with my own little eyes, heard it with my own little ears and a piece of it fell on my poor little head.”

“Well, we must run until the king at once,” says Turkey Lurkey.

As they’re running, wouldn’t you know it, they meet Ducky Lucky, who asks them “Where y’all going?”

“Sky is falling and we’re going to tell the king,” says Turkey Lurkey.

“Well how do you know the sky’s falling?” asks Ducky Lucky?

“Lucy Goosey told me,” said Turkey Lurkey.

“Henny Penny told me,” said Lucy Goosey.

“Chicken Little told me,” said Henny Penny.

Chicken Little said, “True, saw it with my own little eyes, heard it with my own little ears and a piece of it fell on my poor little head.”

“Well, we must run until the king at once,” said Ducky Lucky.

As they’re running, they meet Foxy Loxy. Asks them, “Where y’all going,”

“Sky is falling we’re going to tell the king,” says Ducky Lucky.

And this is where the litany changes folks. Notice how Foxy Loxy responds here.

“Well, do you know where the king is?” Foxy Loxy asks.

“Well, I do not,” said Ducky Lucky.

“I do not,” said Turkey Lurkey.

“I do not,” said Lucy Goosey.

“I do not,” said Henny Penny.

Chicken Little said, “All I know is I saw it with my own little eyes, I heard with my own little ears, and a piece of it fell on my poor little head, and I do not know where the king is.”

“Well, I do,” said Foxy Loxy. He says, “Come with me and I’ll show you the way.”

And they run on and on until they come to Foxy Loxy’s den and “Run right in,” Foxy Loxy, he says, and they all ran in, but they never ever never came out again.

Folks there are three morals to this story. First is, be brave and do not panic when the acorns of life, take you under your poor little head. Second is always be careful that we don’t get caught up in other people’s hysteria when the acorns hit them in the head. And the third is that whenever we do tend to get collectively hysterical, there is always gonna be a Foxy Loxy around taking advantage of us.

In the fourth chapter of Philippians, Paul writes these words, be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds who praise Jesus. Don’t you think that’s some information that Chicken Little could have used?

Now I don’t know what got stirred up when that acorn hit Chicken Little in the head. Maybe
Chicken Little had a boring little life, and he wanted to spice it up a little bit. Maybe Chicken
Little had little control over anything and worried about every little thing. Then again, maybe Chicken Little was a little less of a chicken than she thought, and a little more human than she appears. But my hunch is there’s some Chicken Little in and all of us.

Y’all remember that passage to the church in Philipi: Be anxious for nothing. Y’all got anything that’s kind of escalating your anxiety right now?

Largest wildfires that the state of California has ever seen going on right now. Historic wildfires raging in Colorado, right now. Hurricanes hammering the Gulf Coast, the number of them being so high this year that the World Meteorological Organization has had to resort to the Greek alphabet for the names. And the last two that hit the Gulf goes made landfall within 13 miles of one another. Y’all got anything else that’s kind of escalating your anxiety right now. Oh, that’s right, a global pandemic.

Folks it’s a brutal season. Our anxieties have escalated, it is almost as if they are in each of us, all of us in the midst of doing the best we can.

It’s not that we are unfamiliar with anxiety, we have mechanisms to deal with it, tools to address it. We weathered anxiety, but it’s the rapid escalation coupled with the inability to see the far horizon that drives our reaction. And I hope you all heard that. It’s the rapid escalation of our anxiety that drives not our response, but our reaction to it. And that’s when it becomes toxic. When we move from response to reaction. And all of a sudden that anxiety, much like a virus, don’t know if y’all have heard that word lately, much like a virus sets in.

Y’all remember Chicken Little. And y’all remember chicken littles friends? Unchecked, escalating anxiety, and it became infectious and they all caught it, and it became a pandemic. And their hysteria leads to their own undoing.

There’s more than just a little bit of Chicken Little in all of us.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, it’s going to guard your hearts and your minds, through Christ Jesus.

So, how is that working for you?

Is the peace of God, guarding your heart and your mind over the long haul in the better part of a year? What does this even look like for us?

Maybe, just maybe, it looks something like this, and we turn to Psalm 46, that God is our refuge and strength, very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear. Though the earth should change, and there’s a word for you: change. Where I’m from, that’s a word that will get the choirs, clucking in the Southeast District I’ll tell you. Though the mountain shakes in the heart of the sea, those waters roar and foam, those mountains tremble, more nations in an uproar, kingdoms totter.

All this anxiousness.

And yet, he gathers us with his voice, and the God of Jacob is a refuge. Come behold the works of the Lord. He makes war cease to the end of the earth, he breaks the bow. He shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.

One of the tragic twists of the Chicken Little story is that it, it took so long for Chicken Little and his friends to travel to the king. They had confidence in the king’s ability to do something about the falling sky, they just had trouble finding the king.

In that Psalm 46 God says, Be still and know that I am God. I’m exalted among the nations, I’m exalted in the earth.

Where’s the king?

Well, the Lord of hosts is with us. God of Jacob is our refuge. God is our refuge and strength, very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear as a people of faith. That is what we are called to remember. That we are not driven by our fear. And we are not called to overreact to our anxiety. But do hear the disclaimer here, to not be driven by our fear, and to not react to our anxiety is not a license for selfishness, or poor decision.

Don’t go running off into Foxy Loxy’s den, which is to say, don’t plan a vacation in a wildfire area. Don’t go swimming during a hurricane, and for goodness sake if you go out, were a mask, social distance, wash your hands, and do no harm.

But don’t be driven by your fear and anxiety.

Lord of Hosts is with us. Got to Jacob is our refuge. God is our refuge in strength a very present help in trouble. We don’t have to go looking for the king. God is close. God is at hand. God is very present. Sometimes we forget that.

There is a video clip that went viral several years back and I was unable to secure the permission for its use, but I do want to describe it for you. My hunch is that many of you are already familiar with it. It’s a video of two people stuck on an escalator. And if you were to Google search it, it would be one of the top results you would you would receive. Check it out.

Two people are waiting on an escalator. And it breaks down, a man and a woman stuck on an escalator. Man says out loud, “Oh that’s not good.” The woman comments, “Wouldn’t you know it, I forgot my phone.” They look around, and they finally begin to yell. “Hello! There are two people stuck on an escalator!” And the scene pans out and fades away as you see the two standing right on the escalator.

And as the scene fades back in a repairman with tools is coming to their aid. He gets on an adjacent escalator to right to the top. Everyone is relieved. They’re happy until the repair man’s escalator breaks down, and the video fades out to black

Folks, y’all want to know how to get off of a broken escalator? Pretty simple thing. Take a step. Y’all want to know what to do when lifes acorns keep falling on your head? Look up. If you’re under the oak tree, take a step. In the book of Jeremiah, God says you will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. All your heart, not just some half-hearted seeking where we keep one eye on our fear and the source of anxiety, and the other eye on God, no seeking God with all our heart. By moving from anxiousness to a less anxious place by taking a step toward God who is close, who is in hand, who is very present.

You know, several years back, I took a continuing ed class with Bill Selby, and it had to do with systems theory and anxiety and being a non-anxious presence. But as he ramped up that track one experience, I don’t know if he does this with every class, but we gathered around and he began to tell the story of Julian of Norwich. In the Norwich church in England, she was a Christian mystic, and was an anchoress, which is to say she lived her life in a cell with a window and was taken care of, but was devoted to prayer and contemplation and spent her life in that cell in the church in Norwich.

He had shared how he would often wonder how it might have been when she was sitting in the cell those days and looking out the window and she looked down upon the congregational setting and the sanctuary of the Norwich church. And the things she would have seen and what she would have done. Julian of Norwich was is widely known for her prayer, which is namely All Will Be Well. And my hunch is as she looked out that cell she probably started praying.

And she probably prayed,

(Doug singing and playing guitar)

All will be well,
All will be well,
All manner of things shall be well, All will be well.

I have a hunch every day she looked at the cell of that window and looked into the sanctuary and maybe, maybe got a glimpse of a room perhaps beyond that sanctuary. If there was a window or a door that happened to be open, or a curtain that was pulled, and if she was taken to another place within the church and seeing the things that folks were burdened with and in their place. The anxieties that they had and as they would jockey for position, and they would have their routines and their agendas and they would play their games.

(Doug singing and playing guitar)

All will be well,
All will be well,
All manner of things shall be well, All will be well.

Maybe there were even days where she looked out that cell window and looked through the doors of that sanctuary and look through the doors the gathering area and got a glimpse of the wider world and saw folks were busy about.

Hurricanes in the Gulf. Wildfires out west. Pandemics and finances and jobs and loss and grief. Isolation.

And I have prayed.

(Doug singing and playing guitar)

All will be well,
All will be well,
All manner of things shall be well, All will be well.

Take a step.

Take a step from the fear that drives you into a piece that embraces you. Take a step from anxiety that escalates to a presence that is not anxious. Take a step from isolation and step into the God who is close, who is at hand, and who is very present.

All will be well.

Thanks be the God. Amen.