The Golden Rule

Matthew 7:12

A number of you might recall Art Linkletter’s show “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”  Here are a number of quotes from an old email that circulated the internet years ago on children’s definitions of love.

“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.”
Rebecca- age 8 

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different.  You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
Billy – age 4 

“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.”
Karl – age 5 

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”
Chrissy – age 6 

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.”
Terri – age 4 

“Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.”
Danny – age 7 

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
Bobby – age 7 

“During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling.  He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.”
Cindy – age 8 

“My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.”
Clare – age 6 

“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.”
Karen – age 7 

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”
Jessica – age 8 

One more.  Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife.

Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said,  “Nothing, I just helped him cry.” 

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Love.  How would you define it?  How would you describe it?

Here are some well-know Bible passages on love.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

John 3:16 (and 17)

The story of God’s love for us in and through Jesus—His birth, His life, His suffering, death and resurrection—is the greatest story of love ever.  Jesus’ love teaches us that true love is not in what we receive from others, i.e. how they make us feel, but in our words, attitudes, thoughts and actions given for the welfare and benefit of others.  

You might recall the saying, “The love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay.  Love isn’t love until you give it away.”   Genuine love is when we get ourselves off of center stage, get past our feelings of hurt, abandonment and loneliness and reach out to others past ourselves.  

The key verse in our worship bulletin this morning is Matthew 7:12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Parallel to it is the summary of the Decalogue that Jesus gives us in Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Love.  Thursday is February 14th, Valentine’s Day.   

Love is something that you and I know something about.  There are many examples of love here in our congregation.  The love of a couples having celebrated decades of life together, and you can see the love and warmth in their eyes as they look at each other, and care for each other through sickness as well as in health!  Today we even have one of our coupes celebrating their love by getting married.  

The best way to deal with our feeling empty and incomplete—lonely—is to focus outside of ourselves.  Give yourself away like Jesus does for you and me.  This type of love is not romantic, sexual love.  It is love that is rooted in honoring and caring for those around us and treating them as we ourselves would like to be treated—with kindness, gentleness and respect.  That type of love makes life worthwhile.  It is the real key to being a Valentine.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Surprised by Joy!

John 2:1-11 & Psalm 30

A husband and wife are in a hospital room.  They have been married a long time.  He is laying on the hospital bed, IV’s and monitors hooked up to him.  She is looking lovingly into his eyes.  

He looks up at her and says, “Honey, remember that car accident years ago?  It took me months to recover.  You were with me through that.

“And, do you remember the time I was working on the roof and fell off?  We didn’t know whether I’d be paralyzed or not.

“You were with me when I lost my job.

“When we lost our home, you were with me then too.

“And, now, here we are again…I think you’re bad luck!”

Most of us know a little bit about “bad luck.”  Folk of my generation might be familiar with the old show called “Hee Haw.”  One of their theme songs was “Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me.”  

Gloom, despair and agony on me

Deep dark depression

Obsessive misery

If it weren’t for bad luck

I’d have no luck at all

Gloom, despair and agony on me.

Life does not always go the way we would expect or want it to go.  The reading from John 2 about the wedding feast addresses that.  Sometimes the wine runs out.  When it is most important, and we are most dependent on it.  

Wedding feasts in Jesus’ day were week-long celebrations with a lot of food and a lot of wine.  They were happy celebrations where family and friends—the entire community would gather together and celebrate relationships and life.  To have the wine run out was like a bad omen for the future of the marriage.  It was like picture language—metaphor—for the unexpected twists and turns in life that rob of us peace, contentment and joy.  

Bad luck.  

So…what do you do when the wine runs out?  When your source of joy dries up?

What is your source of joy?  What makes you dance on the table?

Psalm 30 also focuses on the hard times in life that rob us of joy.  King David wrote the words to this psalm as a sung prayer.  In it he reminisces about when disaster overwhelmed him.  He was staring death in the face and cries out to God.  

The psalm, typical of psalms of lament, states the problems the writer is facing, recognizes God’s help in the midst of the troubles, and then praises God for deliverance.

The point of this psalm, coupled with John 2’s story of the wine running out at a time when it was most needed is essential for us today.  

Bad times do not last.  Not from the perspective of eternity.  

“Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”  

Sometimes we live with the illusion that we are impervious to peril.  Safe from harm and pain.  Then something unplanned and unexpected happens and we realize just how vulnerable we are and “the wine runs out.”  We are overwhelmed with sadness, sorrow and misery.  

I wish that were not true.  I wish we could avoid pain and suffering.  But reality bites.  Pain and suffering are a real part of life.  

But…and this is an important but…pain and suffering do not have the final word.  God does.  

The wedding feast at Cana where Jesus turns the water into wine recorded in John 2 is the common text for this second Sunday in Epiphany.  Epiphany means manifestation, or revelation.  It is the season of growing light when we recognize Jesus’ coming to us in our brokenness and shattering our darkness with hope, and light and peace.  

Because of Jesus—His life, death and resurrection—we do have light and hope and peace in this crazy world of ours.  Pain, suffering and even death do not have the final word.  

God does.  Hope does.  Light does.  

The amazing thing about Jesus turning the water into wine is to contemplate—think about all the miracles that happen around us every single day.  Miracles that we have become accustomed to.  Miracles that we take for granted.  

It is just as much a miracle, is it not, for water, through a plant and soil to form grapes, that when they ferment after harvest make wine.  It is just as much a miracle for clouds to accumulate moisture and hold tons of it suspended in space and then drop it in the form of rain.  It is just as much a miracle for the chemicals and nutrients to be absorbed by the water, and through osmosis be taken up and assimilated into the forming fruit of the vine.  

Life is a miracle.  Life, even amidst the suffering, pain and death of life is a miracle.  And I think that life is worth it.  No matter the pain and loss and suffering.  

Little ways of God, reminding us and revealing God’s presence in us, with us, around us, and even through us.  Nehemiah 8:10, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The God who came to us in human flesh in order to bring us forgiveness, life and peace continues to be God in the darkness as well as in the light.  The God on the mountain is also the God in the valley.  The God of the good times is also God in the bad.  

Because of God’s victory for us in Christ we can trade our sorrows for joy, cash in our pain for hope and life.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen!

Epiphany Message

Matthew 2 (the visit of the magi and Herod’s anger and violence)

“epiphanaow”—to reveal, make known

We in the northern hemisphere are in the season of growing light.  In Australia and “down under” the days are getting shorter.  But for us the days are getting longer.  We have just passed the shortest day of sunlight. The winter solstice is behind us.  

It makes sense then that the church would choose this time of year to celebrate the concept of God’s light penetrating the darkness and the increasing manifestation of Jesus.  Manifestation means to make known, to reveal.  

Jesus, the light of the world, has come into the world.  

John’s Gospel says in chapter one, “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…the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:4-5 & 9)

Matthew’s Gospel, in the account before us this morning, shows us that this light not only shines on the Jewish people—the people of God, but all the people of the world.  

Outsiders, Gentiles, non-Jews, foreigners come seeking out this young boy who they believe to be the newborn king—King of the Jews.  

Our manger scenes often show the magi around the cradle, admiring the new born baby Jesus.  It is not likely that they came to Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth.  They probably didn’t come until a year or so later.  We don’t know.  But we do know they had been studying the stars and were aware of Jewish prophecy regarding the Promised One, the Messiah.  

What is amazing is that they leave everything, family, home, friends—all that they are familiar with and begin a long journey to find this baby.  Based on stories they’d heard?  Astrology?  

They were not kings, but were probably wealthy.  They had time to study and examine clues and mysteries.  But they did more than just study.  They were motivated to act on what they were learning.  

Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and writer, compares them to the scribes and Jewish scholars in Jerusalem.

“Although the tribes could explain where the Messiah should be born, they remained quite unperturbed in Jerusalem.  They did not accompany the Wise Men to seek Him.  Similarly we may be able to explain every article of our faith, yet remain spiritually motionless.  The power that moved heaven and earth leaves us completely unmoved.

“What a contrast!  The three (wise men) had only a rumor to go by.  But it spurred them to set out on a long, hard journey.  The scribes, meanwhile, were much better informed, much better versed.  They had sat and studied the scriptures for years, like so many dons (and scholars).  But it didn’t make any difference.  Who had more truth?  Those who followed a rumor, or those who remained sitting, satisfied with their knowledge?”  (Watch for the Light, Soren Kierkegaard).

The obvious application for us?  Act on your faith.  Do not give mere intellectual assent to the existence of God and Jesus.  Don’t just say you believe. Put your faith into action.  Live out your faith.  

A part of our living out our faith is to understand that Jesus is not just for a select few.  God doesn’t choose favorites.  

Imagine how many boundaries these traveling wise men crossed; how many risks they took; how arduous and hard their journey was.  It cost them everything.  Because, somehow, they understood that God’s love and gift of a Savior reached out to them and their people as well as the “chosen people of God” in Jerusalem and Judea. 

How does King Herod respond?  He is an insecure, small minded king.  He is only concerned about protecting his position and power.  He doesn’t care about anybody or anything else.  He uses his power, authority and resources only to protect his own selfish self-centered interests.  

His paranoia causes him to find out from his Jewish scholars the place Messiah would be born—Bethlehem.  He finds out the approximate timing of the birth of Messiah from the wise men.  Then he orders the death of all the babies in and around Bethlehem to be murdered.  Boys and girls alike.  The murder of the innocents!  It is part of the Epiphany story and it is hard and harsh and leaves us troubled. 

Yet, think of this.  

We see the small picture.  The close up of pain and suffering we see and experience and we wonder “does God care?”  If so, why doesn’t God act or do something.

Yet this is the very point of the story.  God, in Christ, has come into the world.  The incarnation is the story of God—infinite in majesty and glory—becoming small and frail and at risk of all the evil we encounter.  

Why did God become human.  Why was Jesus born?  To live and die in our place.  To go to the cross and destroy forever all evil and brokenness.  

That does not take away our frustration and anger at injustice and violence caused by people like Herod.  It shouldn’t.  We should be chagrinned and angry at all evil and injustice.  But it does show us that God does indeed care and God has indeed acted and is acting through Jesus and now through the body of Christ—you and me—to make a difference in our world.  

So, again, the application of this text?  Don’t be like the passive scribes and scholars in Jerusalem.  Don’t be like Herod and lash out in anger against anyone who seems to threaten you.  Be like the magi who left everything, who risked everything to seek Jesus, to know Him and to serve Him.

The Christmas story is not about a cuddly cute baby.  The story of Epiphany is not just about light and a star and some kings who came to the cradle.  It is about caring for people—all people of all shapes and sizes and colors and even religious expressions.  It is loving those whom God created, those for whom Jesus came and died and rose again.  Care for those most vulnerable and at risk.  Don’t stop because of the noise and criticism others give you because they think you’ve gone liberal on them.  

Live your faith out loud!  In Jesus’ name Amen.  

Jesus’ Family Tree

Elim Lutheran Church December 30 2018

text: Matthew 1:1-17

DNA research has become the thing to do for many of us.  It is interesting and fun to discover a bit more of who we are and where we come from.  Sometimes though we discover things we do not expect.  Family secrets that no one told us before, like your ethnic origins being different than you thought; like you have other siblings you have never met; and maybe you are related to someone famous—or other things that are more scary to think about. 

There are a few surprises in Jesus’ ancestral history too.  Jewish people over the years have kept better track of their history than most of us.  

Jesus’ family tree includes some pretty colorful characters.  Some good guys.  Some pretty shady bad guys.  Jehoshaphat was an okay king.  Josiah became king of Judah when he was nine years old.  He was mostly a good king and accomplished a number of good reforms.  Hezekiah was one of the best kings.  

Manasseh was one bad king.  He shed a lot of innocent blood and led the people of Judah in idol worship.  He did have a turn around late in life.  But he was one of the worst.  He is part of Jesus’ lineage.  

The most amazing part of Jesus’ lineage is the women Matthew lists.  Amazing because Jews seldom would list the women.  Yet Matthew lists four, five if you count Jesus’ mother, Mary. 

What is amazing about these four women is their parallel story to Mary’s story.  All had sexual ambiguity and shadowy stories surrounding them. 

Tamar played the part of a prostitute with her father-in-law Judah.  She had good motives, she was trying to perpetuate the family line of her deceased husband, Judah’s son.  But still she played the part of a prostitute and conceived a child out of wedlock.

Rahab was the prostitute from Jericho who took in the Israelite spies and hid them.  She supported herself and her family through the age old business of selling her body.  She becomes the mother of Boaz who ends up marrying the Moabite widow Ruth.  Jews traditionally have despised the Moabites.  And yet Ruth becomes the grandmother for King David.    

The fourth woman in Jesus’ family tree is not even named.  She is referred to as the wife of Uriah, the noble soldier whom David had killed in battle in order to hide his adulterous affair.  Her name?  Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother.  

It seems as though Matthew is deliberately helping his Jewish readers see that Mary is not alone in their suspicions of her sexual purity.  Mind you, Matthew is not putting any of these women down, but maybe he is deliberately helping us to see Mary in a different light.  At the same time he re-affirms that the baby she bore was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Not every Christian believes in what we call the virgin birth.  I do.  And I believe that Matthew believed it and taught it through his gospel account.  And through that gospel account he makes a very clear point that Jesus, our Messiah was human with a very human ancestral line—connecting Him to both women and men.  

Looking at that line Matthew takes it all the way back to Abraham, making Messiah Jesus to be a son not only of King David, but also of Abraham—making Him a son of the Promise to bless all the peoples of the world.  Jewish readers would get the point that Jesus is in the Messianic line of King David, and thus understood to be Messiah—Savior of the Jewish people.  He is the Savior of the world.  

Thank you Matthew!

Another thing Matthew does is his use of numbers.  He lists fourteen generations from Abraham to King David, fourteen generations from King David to the Babylonian Exile, and fourteen generations from the Exile to Jesus.  This deliberately pivots by centering on David.  The point?  Jesus is the “son of David” who will sit on the throne of David forever.  Jesus is David’s royal son.  He is Messiah.  

Three sets of fourteen generations is interesting because fourteen generations is not necessarily accurate by our western standards.  Matthew did not feel it necessary to list everybody, even though he deliberately lists women with suspicious histories.  He seems to be intentionally using fourteen generations to make a point.

Also interesting is David’s name in Hebrew has a numeric value.  The Hebrew language gave letters of their alphabet numeric value, like the Roman Numeral system.  The numeric value of David’s name?  Fourteen.   So, again, Matthew is making a very strong point to his Jewish readers that Jesus is Messiah, the son of David promised by God long ago to sit on David’s throne.  

David’s throne today is not a throne in the Jewish capital city of Jerusalem—just recently this year being so designated by President Trump.  Jesus’ throne is better understood as Him being Head of the Holy Christian Church, the body of Christ.  

More than that Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings.  Paul in his letter to the Philippians, chapter two, reminds us that “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11).

The last thing to say about Jesus’s family tree is that through Mary Jesus takes on our humanity.  According to John’s Gospel Jesus is the “logos” — the Word who was with God and is God from before the beginning of time (John 1:1).  Jesus is God who came to us in human flesh to bring us back into fellowship and life with God.  

Jesus joined our family tree.  He became human and stepped into our broken world, so that we could be brought back into God’s family tree.  

God made us children of God through Christ Jesus.  We lost that connection through our rebellion and sin.  Jesus—through His life, death and resurrection—brought us back into the family again.  

Thank You Jesus!  Amen.

God’s Marketing Strategy

Elim December 23 2018

the Dilemma of Joy, Christmas Dilemma by the Skit Guys (skitguys.com)

Luke 2:8-20

“Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays…”  That is what I was singing to myself as I was fighting the crowds in Costco and then the traffic outside.  Better to be at home and not shopping.  It was crazy on Saturday!

Especially at this time of year stores, merchants, marketers, are all pounding us with advertisements trying to get us to spend our money on their products.  And their marketing is pretty clever.  Reba and I have our favorite commercials.  Car commercials are not about cars, but about lifestyles and luxury.  Insurance commercials are quite entertaining and clever.  Marketing.  Getting your brand recognized and desirable.  Getting your name out there.  In the same vane, every year I look forward to watching Super Bowl commercials, regardless of which teams play.  Advertisers and marketers are pretty clever in getting their name out to us.    

But God’s style of marketing is different.  

It is amazing that God deliberately chose “premodern days” to do something wonderful and new in our world.  The timing for God to enter our world and defeat evil was not choreographed to follow the discovery and invention of space age communications and lightning fast internet providers.  There were no selfies with baby Jesus and his young parents.  No Twitter or Instagram announcements and photos.  Modern day news reporters with TV cameras and satellite connections were not in Bethlehem covering the breaking news of a new born king.  There was no “breaking news” or pundits trying to explain what was happening in a small out-of-the-way town called Bethlehem.  

The first announcement of Jesus’ birth was by an angel, followed by an angel choir.  They were not announcing judgment, but God’s mercy and good news!  They were the “breaking news” of the day.  God was on the move.  Quietly.  Subtly.  God was slipping into the world in a most unusual, unexpected way.  God was born as a baby boy in a small town bustling with people.  God was born in a dusty, smelly corner of the world out of sight and unnoticed by most of the world.  Except for a small band of shepherds whose quiet evening was shattered with the incredibly, unbelievable news of the birth of Messiah!  God certainly does work in marvelous, mysterious ways!  

I suppose that not everyone believes that an angel of the Lord broke the silence of a peaceful, non-eventful night for a small band of Palestinian shepherds watching their flocks under star lit skies.  It might be hard to imagine the heavens bursting with sound and light to a small band of nobodies in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night.  It seems and sounds absurd—a product of some hopeful child’s imagination, but I believe it.  

I have never seen an angel.  I have never witnessed an angel choir.  My guess is that it was pretty stellar, out of this world, so-to-speak!  

And the recipients?  Those who were directed to find the new born baby and his mom and dad were humble shepherds.  Not nobility.  Not the rich and famous.  No one from Hollywood, no reporters or cable news network executives.  Not even church people—no bishops or clergy, or rabbis or any religious professionals.  No religious folk.  Just a small bunch of guys that lived with their sheep.  Uneducated, probably unwashed, unshaven smelly shepherds.  

They were the ones who heard that first noel!  And they were the ones that made haste to Bethlehem to see this thing that the Lord had made known to them.  Imagine their surprise! First the unexpected medium—an angelic messenger and night-sky-filling angelic choir.  And the message itself was unbelievable.  The Messiah was entering the world quietly and humbly with no human fanfare at all.  No red carpet.  No trumpets.  No royal entourage. No limousine or secret service personnel.  Just a small band of insignificant shepherds.  

They might have felt totally unworthy, totally unqualified to be the first evangelists to share the news of the birth of the Messianic King.  But share they did.  They “spread abroad what they had been told about Jesus.”  The dilemma of joy overrode their fear of public speaking.  And all those who heard their story were amazed.  

Mary and Joseph were taking note.  They had seen some angels themselves and had been told some amazing things about this special boy they were suddenly charged with bringing into the world and raising.  We are not told what Joseph thought.  Quietly observed?  Wondered.  We are told that Mary treasured and held close to her heart what they had shared.  It reaffirmed the message the Angel Gabriel had shared with her nine months earlier.  It backed up the angelic dream Joseph had about who this special child was and what His purpose and mission in life would be.  And I am sure Mary and Joseph spent a few nights talking and wrestling with the meaning of it all.  

One thing is for certain.  They were never the same again.  The shepherds were never the same again.  They were changed.  They became excellent good news bearers!  

We, too, should be good news bearers—sharing what we have seen, heard and experienced of God’s love and grace in Jesus.  Telling the good news of Jesus is not a job for celebrities or cable news anchors.  God uses everyday, ordinary people like you and me.  God chooses the lowly and the humble to show the wonder and power of His love. Let’s get hopping and tell the story of Jesus. 

In Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

The Dilemma of Belief!

The Inn Keeper’s Dilemma, part III of the Christmas Dilemma series by SkitGuys.com

Luke 2:1-7

Belief necessitates action on our part—whether that means change in our values, belief system, or behavior; or in seeing Jesus in “the other.”  Encountering the incarnate Jesus, God’s Son in human flesh means we can never be the same.  

The Dilemma of Belief.  

The dilemma of belief sounds like an oxymoron to me.  The miracle of belief, the wonder of believing, those sound good.  They make sense.  But the dilemma of belief?  

Belief, when it is genuine and comes from the heart and cannot remain mere intellectual assent.  The type of belief that God initiates in us through the power of the Spirit—hence the miracle of belief—requires action.  The Apostle Paul has a term, or rather a phrase for this, “the obedience of faith” (cf. Romans 1:5 & 16:26).  Faith, belief, requires a response from us.  If we really believe the message of Jesus’ incarnation, His life, death and resurrection on our behalf, we cannot remain neutral.  

Looking at the text.

Luke takes us to the historical anchor for Jesus’ birth narrative.  It happens at a specific time and place in history.  Augustus was the Roman Emperor.  Quirinius was the Governor of Syria overlooking Nazareth and Bethlehem in Palestine where Jesus is born.  Luke even records the motivation for this event.  It is the first registration for taxation.  Joseph and Mary, despite Mary’s condition were forced to travel approximately 100 miles on foot, albeit with the help of a donkey.    God was acting in and through history bringing about the fulfillment of the prophecy of where Jesus would be born (Micah 5:2).

They were not alone.  There were a lot of people on the road doing the same thing.  Everyone was forced to go to their ancestral home in order to register for the taxation.

Thieves would be lurking in the shadows waiting for opportunities to steal from hapless travelers and victims.  It also means the population for the ancestral cities swelled with outsiders so that finding a place to eat and rest was nigh unto impossible.  They didn’t have Hotel 6’s or Holiday Inn Expresses or McDonalds Restaurants in those days.  The had to depend on friends, relatives or others to open their homes.

The Skit Guy dramatization of the Inn Keeper’s Dilemma is fun, but also thought provoking.  What do you do when presented with a holy moment—when you know something special and unusual is taking place?  Ignore it?  What if your wife won’t let you?  What if your belief in something holy is happening right there in front of you?  You might just have to do what you can even if it seems inadequate!  

So the Inn Keeper scratches his head, and finally comes up with an unusual solution.  The barn.  The animals can help keep you warm and the feeding trough can make a make shift cradle.  My wife has some extra clothes and bedding you can use for the little tyke.

And, what a surprise to have the shepherds showing up in the middle for the night!  Boy were they glowing and happy.  Their excitement just added to the sense of wonder and holiness that permeated the night.

Consider today.  Where do you expect to see God on the move?  Where do you expect to find Jesus?  Mother Teresa would see Him in those she ministered to.  The lepers and the poor, people on the street.  Who do you see Jesus in?  The challenge is to have our eyes open, the eyes of our heart, to look with our ears and with our soul and to see Jesus in the most unlikely people.  

And, if we see Jesus in “the other,” how does that change the way we treat them?  If we see Jesus in the immigrant at our border, how does that change the way we treat them?  If we see Jesus in each other, how does that change the way we treat each other?  If we see Jesus in the one with whom we have just had an argument how does that change us?  How does it change them?  

The Inn Keeper’s Dilemma of Belief helps us to see that unexpected opportunities arise at unexpected times and in unexpected places to serve the Messiah, to serve Christ the Lord.

Lord, keep our eyes open.  Open our hearts to see You in each other.  Help us to respond with the obedience of faith.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Joseph-the Dilemma of Doubt

We are using the SkitGuys Christmas series entitled “Christmas Dilemma.”  Sunday, December 9 2018 we focused on Joseph and his struggle with doubt.  

Matthew 1:18-25

Last week we looked at Mary and her dilemma of saying yes.  Saying yes to God is not always easy, nor convenient.  Her reputation with her church, family and future husband were on the line.  How do you explain away an unexpected pregnancy? Yet she took God at His word and believed the angel Gabriel.  Remember the name Gabriel means “Warrior of God.”  God was declaring war against sin and death through the birth of His Son, through God’s entrance into our world as a baby.  Unbelievable?  Yes!  But believe it.  God was on the move!  God is still on the move!

Today we are considering Joseph and his dilemma of doubt.  Doubt in two senses.  First of all he doubted what we call the virgin birth.  Wouldn’t you?!  

“Mary, that is a great story.  You are pregnant.  It is not my child.  And, sure, you say it is a miracle—a God thing!  Right!  An angel told you it is the child of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Mary, I love you, but this is crazy.  Sorry.  I cannot do this. I cannot trust you anymore.”

Joseph was a kind, gentle man.  He didn’t want to embarrass Mary, so he determined to quietly dissolve their marriage contract—and yes betrothal meant married—just not a sexually consummated relationship yet.  

But—and this is a big but—he wrestled with what to do!  He tossed and turned.  He talked to himself.  He shouted at God.  And finally decided to “absorb the problem himself.  Absolve Mary.  Let her keep the dowry and promissory money, but not marry her nor publicly disgrace her.  After he decided this he was able to finally lie down and get some shut eye.  Now that he had reached his decision he sleeps.  

And as he sleeps an angel of the Lord appears to him with an incredible message that changes his mind.  

Have you ever had that happen.  You wrestle with something for hours, trying to sleep but cannot because your thoughts are spinning and turning in your mind.  You toss and turn.  Then when you are finally able to sleep your subconscious mind continues to process your problem and — wallah! A solution pops into your brain.  You wake up and you have a workable solution to your nightmare problem.  

This was not Joseph’s subconscious mind at work however.  It was God.  God on the move.  God through an angelic messenger telling Joseph the exact same thing Mary had told him.  The child is not another man’s child.  The child is God’s Child—God’s Son, conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Nothing is impossible with God.

Joseph doubted the virgin birth.  Those among us who doubt the virgin birth should feel some comfort here.  You are in good company.  Yet, think of this.  Joseph came to believe the virgin birth as God’s intervention, a God thing caused by God’s Spirit.  We may not have a direct messenger from God convincing us, but we have Joseph’s account, and plenty of scriptures supporting the concept of the Incarnation—God coming to us in human flesh through the miracle of conception by the Holy Spirit.  

Once Joseph is able to overcome the doubt of Mary’s pregnancy, he then has to struggle with his doubt about how worthy he is to raise God’s Son.  How do you do that?  How does a simple carpenter raise a king?  How do you raise God’s Son?  Joseph felt inadequate, unworthy.  

I doubted my ability to raise my two sons.  Still do.  Yet God entrusted Joseph with His Son.  And I believe he did a great job.  None of us are perfect parents.  We do the best we can, and pray for God’s grace and help in the process.  And, accept His forgiveness when we fall short.  But we never stop parenting or loving.  

God’s plans for us is not easy. We bungle it enough times.  We make mistakes. We are human.  Yet God does not quit on us.  God doesn’t let us quit.  God entrusts the message of salvation to us.  God, through the Holy Spirit and through His Son Jesus lives in us and through us.  

God says, “I know the plans I have for you…” Jeremiah 29:11.  God is able to use us to help other find and experience the love and grace of God.  God used Joseph and Mary.  God even spoke through a donkey once in the Old Testament.  God can speak through us too.  And remember, actions speak louder than words.  Be kind.  Be patient.  Be forgiving.  Point to Jesus and what He did for us through His coming to us as a babe who lived and died for us in our place, and rose again so that we could live the new life.  

I am glad Mary said yes to God.  I am glad Joseph overcame his doubt and took his part in God’s pan also.  You and I can follow suit.  We can live as forgiven believers pointing to Jesus, God’s Son, Savior of the world.  God give us courage and grace to do so.  Amen.