Keep on Doing the Things

By Rev. Chris Jorgensen

April 22, 2018

 

Scripture: Philippians 4: 4-9

 

It occurred to me this week that confirmation sermons are kind of like graduation speeches. People are here to see you get confirmed; nobody wants to listen to some long speech from a guest speaker. Unless that guest speaker is Will Ferrell – but maybe that’s just me. And yet…at every graduation, the speaker gets up there and prattles on and on for like 20 minutes and No. One. cares. So I will keep this brief, I promise. I won’t be that guy.

 

Unlike a graduation speech, this is a sermon, so we better start with the scripture. Our scripture today is the closing section of a letter from Paul to the community he established in Philippi. That’s where the Philippians live – Philippi. (See you learned something today.) And the section we heard reflects the general tone of Paul’s whole letter. He is so darn happy. He’s telling those Philippians to rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say rejoice! He tells them: don’t worry about anything. Just be thankful and trust in God.

 

Which is a little annoying, right? Don’t you hate it when you are having problems and someone is all sanctimonious and tells you that you should just be thankful and trust in God? I mean, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking Paul is being a little obnoxious here. I kind of thought that myself when I first heard this scripture quoted with no context.

 

But here’s the interesting part! Paul, Mr. Just-Be-Joyful-and-Don’t-Worry-about-Anything is writing to the Philippians from prison. He’s been thrown in jail for spreading the good news about Jesus. And he still is rejoicing. He still is giving thanks. That’s because Paul’s life has been so changed by Christ that his priorities are totally transformed. He is not worried about his personal well-being or comfort.

 

When Paul encountered Christ, he was given the gift of understanding which things matter, and which things don’t. Paul knows that the gospel is spreading. He knows that these folks in Philippi to whom he is writing are remaining faithful and following Jesus and telling others. And because of that, Paul doesn’t even care if he’s stuck in jail. Paul is joyful that his friends in Philippi are well and that they are succeeding in their mission of sharing Christ with others.

 

Paul encourages these Philippians to rejoice at the good work they have done, and like in a graduation speech, he gives them some advice as well. He writes, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” I think all of these verbs are interesting. He could have just said, keep on doing the things you have learned from me. But he says, keep on doing the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Not from me. In me. The way that Paul taught the Philippians about the transformative and liberating love of Christ wasn’t just by talking to them about it, but by showing it to them, by allowing them to receive and experience it for themselves.

 

Confirmands, the same charge that Paul gave his beloved friends in Philippi is the one I give to you: keep on doing the things. “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen…and the God of peace will be with you.” Now, we don’t personally know Paul, though of course we can learn from him by reading his letters, by hearing about his ability to remain joyful in Christ even when he’s in prison. But hopefully, you also know some people personally who follow the way of Jesus and in whom you can see what transformation in Christ looks like.

 

I hope and pray that you learned something about following Jesus and being filled with the love of God from me or from Emily as we journeyed through confirmation together. And I hope and pray and trust that you have received and heard and seen something of Christ in others as well: your parents who showed you the face of God from the very first time they comforted you, your grandparents who sat beside you in these pews or prayed for your from far away, your Sunday school teachers who taught and loved you, your youth group leaders who challenged and encouraged you, your sponsors who let you ask the hard questions without judgment, the elders of this church who modeled commitment and generosity, and even your friends who studied alongside you – who showed you Christ in their acceptance and joy and even some seriousness in this business of learning more about God.

 

These people have shown you what it means to follow Christ. They have shown you what it means to be people of faith. Because faith isn’t just about believing something. It’s about living your faith every day. It’s about coming to worship. It’s about praying alone and with others. It’s about being part of the family of God at the communion table. It’s about service for and with the poor. It’s about treating each other – especially the outcast – with gentleness. It’s about inviting and welcoming people. It’s about supporting people when they have needs. It’s about seeking justice and not putting up with anything that takes advantage of the weak. Hopefully, these are things you have learned and received and heard and seen.

 

And now it’s your turn. Now it’s time for you to do the things. Now, it’s time for you to take responsibility for your own journey.

 

Like most graduation speeches, this is really a message, not just for the confirmands, but for all of us. Faith is not a spectator sport. You can’t be a Christian just by watching me dance around up here every week, as entertaining as that might be. Like Paul says, you need to “keep on doing the things!” If you want to grow in faith, you have to live your faith.

 

You have to practice it. Just like you won’t become a better musician or athlete or student without doing the things that musicians or athletes or students do to grow, you won’t grow as a Christian unless you do the things that Christians do to follow ever more closely in the footsteps of Jesus. And no one can do that for you – not me, not your parents, not your partner, not your teachers or small group leaders… You. You have to do the things.

 

Certainly, we do them together. Christians have always been Christians in community, but you are the one who has to show up. You are the one who has to come to worship. You are the one who has to pray. You are the one who has serve. You are the one who has to stretch yourself to be more compassionate, to continue to study, to learn more and do more in pursuit of God’s mercy and justice. You have to do the things!

 

You have to show up – and not just that – but you also have to be truly present. Be present and be open and do the hard work of asking the hard questions and choosing faith in Christ even when God seems distant or the demands of faith seem too steep. It’s in those very spaces of struggle where you will encounter God.

 

So Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice! Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen…and the God of peace will be with you.

 

Thanks be to God.

 

Amen.

 

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

 

  1. Who is someone in whom you have learned or received or heard or seen the presence of Christ? In other words, who showed you what being a faithful disciple of Jesus looked like through the way they lived their life?
  2. What is one thing you have done in the past to grow in your faith?
  3. What is one thing you want to do in the future to grow in your faith?
  4. Have you ever grown in your faith because of a difficult experience? Tell us about what happened and how it helped you grow closer to God?

Set Free from Judgment

By Rev. Chris Jorgensen

April 15, 2018

 

Scripture: John 8: 2-11

 

A man named Shon Hopwood grew up in David City, Nebraska. Do you know David City? Well, it’s a nice community. It’s a small town of about 3,000 people, with a low crime rate. Shon was lucky: he was born into a good family. He had good Christian parents who encouraged him to be self-reliant and responsible. It seemed like he had just the right start in life to grow up and do well: to be a positive contributor to society.

 

Well, Shon went to college, and like a lot of people, it wasn’t his thing. So he went into the Navy, served for awhile, and was discharged for medical reasons. He went back to David City, got a job, things looked okay. Until one day, his friend Tom invited him out to the bar for a drink. And Tom said, “What do you think about robbing a bank?”

 

And rather than say, “What, are you kidding me?” or “No, of course not,” Shon’s response was “Yes, that’s a great idea.”

 

And that’s how Shon Hopwood became a bank robber. In fact, he recruited some friends and robbed five banks in rural Nebraska before he was caught and sent to Federal Prison.

 

I learned about Hopwood in a radio story on NPR this week.[1] They were using him as an example of someone who seemed like he had all the advantages and opportunity to be a fine, upstanding member of society. Yet that one conversation with Tom in the bar caused his life to have a radically different trajectory.

 

The story ultimately was about whether we can predict what a person’s future life will be based on their history. To find out, a couple years ago, a professor at Princeton University put on a competition for computer programmers. He challenged them to create a program that would predict which children will be successful in life and which will not.

 

Here’s how it worked. The professor had information about 5,000 children. And the computer programmers were supposed to predict – by looking at the children’s experience and history from birth to age 9 – what each child’s GPA would be at age 15. The professor had high hopes, but it turned out that none of the computer models could consistently predict how any individual child would do. Scientists can of course identify patterns – things that generally make kids more successful – but they could not apply that to one individual kid and guarantee that kid would succeed or not.

 

The bottom line to the story was that there is a lot of randomness in the world. Our lives are not pre-determined by some scientific set of data. And part of that is because we have the radical freedom to choose – for better or for worse – how we will act in each moment. Shon Hopwood choose pretty poorly back in 1998.

 

Today’s scripture points us to that radical freedom to choose, unencumbered by our past choices, because of God’s forgiveness. When the woman caught in adultery stands before Jesus, he simply says to her “I don’t condemn you. Now go and sin no more.” It’s not that her previous actions don’t matter. It’s just that she is free from them. Whatever has happened in her life or whatever mistakes or bad choices she had made, when standing before Jesus, she is free to act differently. She is free to go forth and live in the way that God desires for her, untethered from her past.

 

We have the same freedom. When we have sinned, when we have acted in ways that have separated us from God, Christ grants us the freedom to choose differently from this very moment forward. And even beyond that – when we have made mistakes, when we have been negatively impacted by random bad luck, or other people’s bad behavior – we still are free to go forth and live in the way that God desires for us. To go forth and sin no more.

 

But. And. To receive the freedom to choose God’s way again and again, we have to let go of judgment. In today’s scripture, the scribes and Pharisees are very busy judging this woman. They drag her before Jesus as a kind of test. For them, being judgmental of others is what determines if you are really teaching the truth. If Jesus doesn’t condemn this woman, they figure, then he is guilty of breaking the law of Moses. They want to expose Jesus as a false teacher.

 

So they drag her in front of Jesus and say, “Hey, this woman was caught in adultery. The law of Moses says we need to stone her for that. What do you say we should do?”

 

Well, Jesus is having none of it. He doesn’t even answer and instead, bends down, and writes in the dirt with his finger. Commentators tell us that this was Jesus’ way of dismissing them. He wasn’t even going to engage with them. But the scribes and Pharisees persist, so Jesus finally stands up and says to them “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

 

Then he starts writing on the ground again. Kind of like, “okay, I’ll wait.” And of course, the scribes and Pharisees slink away. None of them was without sin. None had the right to judge her or stone her. So the woman is left standing there alone with Jesus. He straightens up and addresses her this time, saying: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” And she says, “No one, sir.” So Jesus sends her off, too, saying “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

 

In this passage, Jesus frees all these people from judgment. I mean, the scribes and Pharisees may not have liked it, but I think Jesus is doing them a favor. He is showing them that they don’t have to be burdened with the need to judge other people. If they have sinned (and all humans have sinned) then judgment is not their job. And then Jesus unburdens the woman as well. He doesn’t suggest that she should stand around being ashamed. He doesn’t tell her to atone for her sin in some way. He simply says, “I don’t condemn you either. Go and sin no more.”

 

Now this is more mercy than most of us (maybe any of us) can muster. When someone sins, when someone does wrong, I think it’s human nature to want to judge and punish folks. But more than anything else, I think this scripture tells us that judging is not our job. And this frees us to let go of the burden – I truly believe that it is a burden – of feeling like we have to spend our time judging others and judging ourselves.

 

I think those two things are wrapped up in one another. How often is our judging of others a reason not to look at our own behavior? How often is our judging of others something we use to feel self-justified? “Well, maybe I’m not living a perfect Christian life, but I’m doing a heck of a lot better than those people.” “Maybe I haven’t helped people as much as a I should, but look at them! They deserve to be in a bad spot because of what they have done.”

 

That kind of judging – that’s not our job. And thank God it is not! I am not telling you this to judge you. (Not my job, right?) I’m telling you this because I think it is so darn liberating. You don’t have to judge others; you don’t have to judge yourself. It’s not your job. You can admit where you have sinned and where you have made mistakes and fallen short. You can admit where you have not loved God and not loved your neighbor as yourself. And you don’t have to get stuck there. You can live in a new way. You can hear the words of Jesus: “Go now and sin no more.” Go! Live differently! You are freed from the past! You can choose differently. You can live differently as an individual person.

 

This is also true of us as a society, as a community. We can acknowledge our collective failings and not sit in judgment of ourselves or others. Instead, we can live differently. We can acknowledge our past and present sins of sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, classism; and we as a culture can choose to go and sin no more! Especially today as we recognize Native American Ministries Sunday, it is important to acknowledge the sins we have committed against Native people in the past. But we do not need to get stuck in judgment. We can go and sin no more. We can live differently. Instead of seeking to erase Native American identity (as many churches, including our own United Methodist Church has done in the past), we can choose differently to support and stand in solidarity with Native American people.

 

When we let go of judgment, we have this exquisite freedom to choose in every moment. We have the freedom to go and sin no more in every moment. That is why none of those computer models worked. Even with the worst histories, we can choose differently, and live in the way of Jesus from this moment on.

 

Which brings us back to Shon Hopwood. While he was in prison, he was approached by a fellow prisoner to help him draft a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. And despite having only a high school education, Shon wanted to be helpful. So he said, “Okay.” And they worked on the petition, sent it out, and Shon kind of forgot about it…until the day when he heard his friend yelling to him across the prison yard that the Supreme Court had accepted the appeal Shon had written…which as you can imagine, is pretty unusual for someone with no college degree and no formal legal training.

 

Fast forward sixteen years, and Shon Hopwood is now a law professor at Georgetown University.

 

In every moment, we can choose to be weighted down with judgment for others and ourselves, or we can choose to go and sin no more. We can go and choose the life of love and mercy and justice and hope and abundance and peace that God wants for us. We can choose to walk in the footsteps of Jesus – no matter where we have wandered in the past.

 

So go. Be unburdened, starting in this very moment. And sin no more.

 

May it be so.

 

Amen.

 

[1]https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/03/30/597974076/invisibilia-do-the-patterns-in-your-past-predict-your-future

 

QUESTIONS FOR CONVERSATION / REFLECTION

 

  1. What do you most often find yourself judging other people about?

 

  1. What do you most often judge yourself about?

 

  1. Tell us about a time in your life that you either carried or let go of a burden (whether judgment, guilt, shame, regret, anger, or something else). What happened? How did that feel? How did it make a difference in your life?

Live Like You Have Faith

A Sermon by Rev. Chris Jorgensen

April 8, 2018

 

Scripture: Luke 24:13-35 

 

Some days, some weeks, faith is hard to come by. Whether it’s because we are experiencing brokenness or heaviness or despair, or whether it’s because we are just weighed down or overwhelmed by the banality, the sameness, the endless routine of everyday life; some days, some weeks, faith is hard to come by. It is hard to see the Risen Christ in one another. It is hard to recognize, like the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins says, that the “world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

 

This is one of those weeks. Now last week, Holy Week and Easter: those are easy. It is the climax of the story, the grandest week of the church year! We show up, we dress up, we give it our all for that one week… and then we fall off something of a cliff. Because, even though technically, liturgically, we celebrate Easter for fifty days, once the big day is said and done, it’s easy to fall back into the routine of same-old, same-old.

 

Some days, some weeks, faith is hard to come by. It is hard to see the Risen Christ.

 

But friends, we are not alone in this struggle. In our gospel reading today, we have Cleopas and his unnamed buddy, and they are having a pretty bad week as well. They had spent the week in Jerusalem for Passover with Jesus, and commentators tell us that their 7-mile walk to Emmaus was probably a walk home. They too had experienced the exhilaration of Palm Sunday, the community of Holy Thursday, the grief of Good Friday, and they have begun to hear rumors of the resurrection. But apparently, those rumors were not compelling enough for them to stay. They are going back to their home town, their old life, in Emmaus.

 

On the way, they are discussing all the things that had happened, and Jesus himself starts walking along with them. And they don’t recognize him. He talks with them, and he even explains to them how all of the scriptures were pointing to how the Messiah (in other words, HE) would have to suffer and die in order to save the people. Yet, even with him explaining all that, they do not recognize him.

 

Now I have said this before, and I will say it again here. Here are these two people who had physically been with Jesus, like three-four days ago. The Risen Christ literally is walking beside them, explaining who he is, and they cannot recognize him. Now, if it is that hard for those with immediate experience of Jesus to recognize the Risen, Living Christ; how much harder is it for us?! Some days, some weeks, faith is hard to come by.

 

At times, faith was also hard for John Wesley. As you heard me say in the Children’s Sermon, Wesley is our spiritual forbear. He is the founder of the Methodist movement, from which our own United Methodist Church has grown, as well as Methodist and Wesleyan churches around the world. According to the World Methodist Council, there are over 51 million people in the Methodist family of churches worldwide [1]. And all of them can be traced back to John Wesley.

 

Yet even John Wesley struggled with faith. He struggled most remarkably after he had spent some time in the American colonies. Early in his ministry, he had gone to Georgia with the hope of spreading the gospel to Native Americans and colonists alike. By all accounts, his time there was something of a disaster. He had failed at his goals.

 

But the thing that disturbed him the most was on the ship to-and-from the colonies. During those crossings, he experienced storms at sea. And in the midst of those storms, the ever-so-pious Wesley, found himself terrified of death. In Wesley’s mind, his own fear of death was proof of something being terribly wrong with his faith. Because, after all, if he believed in a loving and merciful God who would receive him after death, why should he be afraid to die?

 

To make matters worse, there were these Moravian missionaries on board. The Moravians were German Christians who also were headed to the colonies to spread the good news. And as Wesley cried out in terror during the fierce Atlantic storms, the Moravians calmly, peacefully prayed and sang hymns, with no fear at all.

 

Despite Wesley’s impressive credentials as an Anglican priest and pioneer of the Methodist movement, he struggled with his faith. After his fear on the ship and his failure in Georgia, he returned to England somewhat distraught. That is when he became friends with Peter Böhler. Böhler counseled Wesley about what to do in the face of his apparent lack of faith. One time, Wesley was so distraught that he told Böhler he was going to stop preaching because how could a man with such weak faith be an adequate preacher? And that’s when Böhler instructed him with the following words: “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”

 

So that is what Wesley did. Despite his doubts, he continued to act like a person of faith. He preached faith, he prayed, he worshipped, he served the sick and poor, he met with the bands and societies of Christians that he had established, and even when he didn’t feel like it, he showed up. And because he continued to act like a person of faith even when he felt doubtful, he was present and open to the experience of being assured by God one evening in 1738. This is when Wesley had what is called his “Aldersgate Experience,” possibly his most profound experience of God’s grace in his whole life. Here is what he says about it in his journal:

 

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading [Martin] Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” [2]

 

I think my favorite part of this description is that he went “very unwillingly” to a reading of Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. I mean, that sounds boring. I would have gone very unwillingly, too. But he went. Because he knew that when he was experiencing a crisis of faith, the thing he needed most was to be in Christian community with others, and to continue to worship and learn and serve, and as Böhler told him, “preach faith” until he had it.

 

Even the giants of our faith, like John Wesley, had doubts. Even those who knew Jesus, in person, were not immediately able to recognize the Risen Christ. I suppose one could find this alarming. But I find it strangely encouraging. When we have doubts, of course we have doubts! We are no John Wesley. We missed our opportunity to walk with Jesus on this earth by about 2,000 years. Even those folks had doubts. Of course, we do too! What a relief!

 

So how might we ever have a chance to see Christ, when in fact, we are no John Wesley, no first disciples?

 

Well, I think our eyes can be opened to the Risen Christ when we respond to God’s presence by living as if we have faith even when we are not “feeling” it. To paraphrase Peter Böhler, “Live like you have faith until you have it.” Live like the presence and power of the Risen Christ is real, and it will be. Live like the God-who-is-Love guides your life, and then you will find that the God-who-is-Love is guiding your life.

 

That’s what John Wesley did. And that’s how the disciples on the Road to Emmaus saw Jesus, too. Toward the end of our scripture today, Jesus is about to leave them. It says, “He walked on as if he were going ahead.” But Cleopas and his friend don’t give up on this stranger. They urge him to stay. In fact, their insistence that he stay is practicing the inclusion and hospitality that Jesus had modeled for them. Even though they thought Jesus was dead and didn’t know what the heck was going on, they were still going to act like his disciples. And so they say, “Stay with us.” They invited him into their home, and they invited him to their table.

 

And when he was with them at the dinner table, he took bread, he blessed it, he broke it, and he gave it to them. And their eyes were opened. They saw the Risen Christ. And when he vanished, they noted to themselves that he had been there all along. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

 

Like John Wesley, these disciples’ hearts were strangely warmed. Not because they saw Jesus immediately, not because they never had doubts, but because they stayed with him. They chose to follow in the way he had taught – even, maybe even especially – when they were discouraged.

It’s easy to lose sight of Christ in the disappointment, the struggle, even the banality of our day-to-day lives. When the Easter party is over, and we go back to the regular rhythm of our days, God can be difficult to see. It’s okay. It’s okay to have doubts.

 

But don’t be discouraged. Simply live like you have faith until you have it. Walk out of these doors and into the world as if Christ is risen in you and in every person you meet. You don’t have to be a hero who never struggles, just a person who is willing to spend one day – and then the next – living as if Christ is truly alive.

 

Do that enough, and you just might find that along the way, your doubtful heart has been strangely warmed.

 

May it be so.

 

Amen.

 

[1] http://worldmethodistcouncil.org/about/member-churches/statistical-information/

[2] Journal of John Wesley. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/journal.vi.ii.xvi.html

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION / DISCUSSION

 

1) Think about a time in your life when you felt incapable of doing what was expected of you (maybe in a job or role or challenge in your personal life).  What was that situation? How did it feel? How did you get through it?

 

2) Think about your journey of faith. Were there times or situations in which you had doubts? What did you do in response to those doubts?

 

3) Who is one individual in your life who inspires you to become a more faithful person. What about that person is so inspiring?

The Abundance of Who We Are

By Rev. Chris Jorgensen

Hanscom Park UMC

February 25, 2018

 

Scripture: Mark 14:1-11

 

Well, it is the moment that you have all been waiting for… or perhaps the moment you’ve been fearing…depending upon your perspective. Ever since that crazy bishop decided to appoint a woman at Hanscom Park church, I know you have all been waiting for me to use the F-word. You know, the F-word…feminist. Well, today is your lucky day! I know. You’re excited. Or very concerned. But hey, at least it will be interesting, right?

 

Today’s scripture is my favorite feminist scripture in the bible. And by feminist, I simply mean it’s a scripture that encourages women – and I think all of us – to participate fully in ministry.

 

I first learned about this scripture in seminary. Let me set the scene for you: I’m sitting at my desk reading the whole Gospel of Mark as an assignment. And I’ve made it to chapter 14. To be honest, I’m just trying to get through it at this point. So I start reading this story, and I get to this line of Jesus’ where he is talking about this woman who anointed him. He says, “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

 

I literally stand up, and I look at my bible like “What the heck did I just read?” So I sit down and read it again. “Truly, I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

And then I think I yelled something like, “HOLY COW!” I was so excited. I mean. Holy cow. Here is Jesus honoring this woman and saying she should be remembered wherever the gospel is proclaimed. Wow! So I ran out, and I told Matt, and he was like, “Settle down, Chris.” And I told Ruby and she was like, “Okay, Mom.” She was 7.

 

I was just super excited. But then I got to thinking about it. Jesus said that everywhere the gospel is proclaimed, what she has done should be told in remembrance of HER. Well, then why the heck am I just reading about it now? I mean, I had been a part of Christian churches for a good 20+ years at this point, and I have never heard anyone tell this story.

 

So now I’m ticked.

 

And I tell Matt, and he’s like “settle down, Chris.” And I tell Ruby, and she’s like “Okay, Mom.”

 

And once I settle down, I begin to think about and research how this could have happened. Jesus said this woman should be remembered wherever the gospel is preached. So how could she be forgotten? That’s when I learned about what I like to call the giant patriarchal eraser. It’s like one of those huge oversized pink erasers you can find in novelty stores – and it’s a metaphor for how a tradition that wanted to keep women out of leadership conveniently erased these kinds of stories from the biblical narrative.

 

In the case of this story, the gospel writer of Luke re-wrote the story, described the woman a sinner, put her at Jesus’ feet crying instead of his head, and took out Jesus’ admonition to remember her. And THAT’s the version of this story the tradition has chosen to emphasize – despite Mark’s version being earlier, and Matthew including Mark’s version in his gospel as well. The church simply chose to ignore Jesus’ words, so it wouldn’t have to deal with Jesus honoring this woman in such a profound way.

 

So why does Jesus honor her? Simply put, it’s because she gets Jesus. She understands who he is and what his mission is, and we know she understands it because Jesus says aloud, “She has anointed me for my burial.” See all through the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ male disciples don’t get it. At every turn, they resist Jesus telling them that he is not the kind of Messiah they were hoping for. They simply don’t want to acknowledge that suffering and death are part of the deal. But this woman is the first person to acknowledge that Jesus is going to die, and so she offers herself in service by anointing Jesus.

 

This anointing takes place on the Wednesday of Holy Week. The other early weekdays of Holy Week help us to know more about who Jesus is, and what his mission is, as well. On Monday, he goes into the temple and flips the tables of the money-changers and the dove-sellers. According to Borg and Crossan in their book on The Last Week, he does this not because having money in the temple is a problem in general – but because the temple has become a place where people go to put on airs of being holy and righteous, but they are not actually living out their piety by helping the poor. Their religion has become a way for them to feel better about themselves, even as they benefit from and prop up unjust systems. Jesus’ table flipping is an act in the footsteps of the prophet Jeremiah. It is a sort-of symbolic tearing down of the temple – telling the people that if they keep acting this way, God is going to destroy their beloved place of worship.

 

You can probably imagine that this did not make the religious authorities who were in cahoots with the oppressing empire very happy. So on Tuesday, Jesus has a series of interactions with these religious authorities. In each interaction, they are trying to trap or undermine Jesus by asking him theological questions. And each time, Jesus manages to rhetorically flip the tables on them, too. He proves his own faithfulness and exposes the authorities’ hypocrisy. And he does it in front of crowds of people. The authorities know they can’t arrest him with so many supporters around, and so they just have to put up with his criticisms.

 

Like Palm Sunday, these early weekdays of Holy Week give us insight into who Jesus is. On Monday, Jesus is a provocateur, staging this big demonstration to get his point across. On Tuesday, Jesus is a wise and wily debater. Whether by flipping tables or verbally outmaneuvering the authorities, he is not afraid to confront injustice, even if it means confronting those who seemingly hold all the power. And he knows how and what to do and say to make sure it has maximum effect. Jesus is bold, and he is wise.

 

I submit that these early days of Holy Week tell us that to serve Jesus, to be like Jesus, we have to be bold and wise. And the story of the woman anointing Jesus tells us that each of us has particular gifts that enable us to be bold and wise like Jesus. The fact that this woman was a woman is what made her able to serve Jesus in the way she did. Because of the patriarchal culture of ancient Judea, she couldn’t be one of Jesus’ disciples in the sense that the twelve could. There were actually a number of wealthy women in the gospels who supported Jesus’ ministry financially even when they couldn’t be part of his inner circle. What this woman did was take the very specific gifts she had – her womanhood and her wealth – and she served Jesus with all of it.

 

Maybe that’s why he praises her and wants her to be remembered every time the gospel is proclaimed. Because in order to serve Jesus, you don’t have to be a man who fits a certain mold. You just have to serve Jesus out of the abundance of who you are. Whatever your identity, you can be like and serve Jesus extravagantly, not in spite of who you, but because of who you are.

 

My friend and mentor Pastor Vicki Flippin preached one time about the difference between being accepted in spite of who we are, and being embraced because of who we are. Pastor Vicki is a young woman. She is bi-racial (her mom is white; her dad is ethnically Chinese). She is an unapologetic voice for inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church. And she told us about her first pastoral appointment in a suburban New York City church. By all accounts, it was a good appointment. And the people there accepted her in spite of her being a woman, in spite of her being young, in spite of her pushing the church to be more inclusive. She was bold, and she was wise. But she always was serving Jesus in spite of who she was.

 

And then she came to Church of the Village in New York City, and they accepted her and LOVED her because she was a woman, because she was biracial, because she was an unapologetic voice for inclusion. And that’s when she really was able to serve Jesus out of the abundance of WHO she was. When she was fully embraced and empowered to serve Jesus and serve the church from that place, well, it was a sight to behold.

 

And I am so happy to share with you that I feel that way here at Hanscom Park. As you may know, I just happened to be getting my picture taken for our Wall o’ Pastors this very same week that I was planning to preach on the woman who anointed Jesus. Folks, there are 130 years of male pastors on that wall, and I am the first woman. Now, as you can probably guess, there are some churches who to this day have a real problem with women pastors – even in our United Methodist system. I’m on a Methodist Clergy Moms Facebook group, and you would be shocked to hear about some of the struggles folks share about being clergy women in churches that do not affirm them.

 

That is why I am so grateful for this place. I have told some of you this, but I want you all to know that your acceptance and affirmation of who I am has been transformative for me. By being excited with me about me being your first clergy woman, you are empowering me to be the best possible follower of Jesus I can be. So I can be bold like him. So I can be wise like him. So I can take risks like him. And above all, so I can be loving like him.

 

And it is my goal that I will always do the same for you: to help you each see how you are uniquely and beautifully made to follow Jesus and serve him extravagantly. And as a community, we are uniquely called to follow Jesus and serve him extravagantly together.

 

So hear this: to follow Jesus and to serve Jesus, you do not need to be anyone else but who you are! You are loved, you are gifted, and you are enough. And I am never going to stop reminding you of that.

 

Because together with all our unique gifts fully embraced, you know what we are going to do?

 

We are going to be bold like Jesus. We are going to be wise like Jesus.

We are going to take risks like Jesus. And above all, we are going to be loving like Jesus.

 

And we are going to change the world.

 

Thanks be to God!

 

Amen.

Listen Before You Speak

By Rev. Chris Jorgensen

February 4, 2018

 

Scripture: Numbers 22:21-38

 

Donkeys rarely get a role – much less a speaking role – in the bible. Today, however, Balaam’s donkey is not only a main character but is actually the hero of our story.

 

To understand what is going on in this admittedly unusual bible story, we need to know a little of what has come before. You know some of this background, I’m sure. Let’s start with the Israelites: God’s people. The Israelites have come out of Egypt because they were being oppressed by Pharaoh.

 

They have been wandering in the wilderness for a whole generation. At this point in the story, they gotten out of the wilderness and set up camp on the plains of Moab.  So there is a whole new generation of Israelites, and there are a lot of them. God has fulfilled God’s promise right there that Abraham’s ancestors would be fruitful and multiply. The people of God are thriving – hurray!

 

However, not everyone is excited about that. Enter King Balak. Balak is the king of the Moabites. He’s looking at these Israelites who are camped out on the plains of Moab and looking pretty cozy there, and he is worried. King Balak is worried that these Israelite immigrants (maybe more appropriately described as refugees given Pharaoh’s violence toward them)… he is worried that they are multiplying so fast that they are going to use up all of the resources of Moab, and he is worried they might start a war and try to take Moab for themselves. He doesn’t want them in his land, and he certainly does not want them multiplying.

 

Now King Balak has heard about the guy with the donkey: Balaam. (I know their names are similar.) The donkey guy, Balaam is described as a diviner. He has special divine powers. He is able to bless or curse people. Balaam is a Moabite, a subject of King Balak. He is not part of God’s chosen people, but even so, he knows the Israelite God Yahweh. Well, all King Balak knows is that Balaam is powerful and might be able to help him with his Israelite immigration problem. So King Balak summons donkey guy Balaam to meet with him, so he can command Balaam to curse the Israelites, so they will quit multiplying, and he can get rid of them.

 

Our scripture today opens with Balaam on his way to meet King Balak. But as you heard in our scripture, God has other plans. The angel of the Lord appears three different times to try to stop Balaam’s progress. Balaam’s donkey sees the angel and tries to alter his course, and every time, rather than heeding the donkey’s warning, Balaam strikes the donkey to try to get him to keep going. Finally, Balaam’s donkey speaks up – literally! He tells Balaam to stop striking him, and points out that he has been a loyal donkey who would only be stopping and going off course for good reason.

 

Once Balaam is convinced that his donkey is someone who he should listen to, Balaam is able to see the angel of the Lord himself. The angel tells Balaam that if it hadn’t been for the donkey, the angel would have killed Balaam. And Balaam finally hears God’s message to him which is: when you meet with King Balak about those immigrant Israelites, only speak the words that God tells you to speak. Do not help King Balak by cursing the Israelites with your words.

 

In this story, donkey guy Balaam possesses the power to bless or to curse God’s people by his words. I think we too have the power to bless or curse by our words. Now, we might not have magical divine powers like Balaam, but the words we speak, the opinions we share, have consequences. Sometimes our words are a blessing. And sometimes they are a curse.

 

In our story, Balaam has a choice. He can curse the immigrant Israelites because that’s what the powerful, corrupt king wants him to do. Or he can bless them because that’s what God wants him to do.

 

He is fixing to curse the Israelites when his donkey tries to get his attention. His donkey, this powerless, abused animal has something important to tell him that will help him see and hear God’s message. But Balaam just sees the donkey as getting in the way of what he wants to do. So instead of listening to the donkey, he beats the donkey. Balaam wouldn’t ever dream that maybe the donkey can tell him something about God. And yet, only when Balaam listens to the donkey’s words, is he able to hear God. Only then, can he receive God’s instructions to bless instead of curse.

 

As I pondered this story this past week, I couldn’t help but think of the state of political discourse in our nation. How often do we really listen to the people who we see as getting in the way of us having what we want? How often do we listen to the voice of the member of the other political party? How often do we listen to the person who deeply disagrees with us: that person who maybe we think is responsible for everything that is wrong in this country in the first place? How often have we metaphorically kicked those who are getting in our way rather than stopping to listen to them?

 

What if instead of getting angry and frustrated with our political foes, we listened to them instead? What if before we decide to kneel during that national anthem, we talk with a veteran who thinks we should stand in respect for the flag? What if before we condemn people who kneel, we talk with a black mother who is terrified for the safety of her teenage son? What if we talk the veterans who don’t really like the kneeling, but still believe that they served for your right to kneel if that’s what you choose to do?

 

What if we listened to victims of sexual assault before we decried political correctness? What if we listened to the men who are afraid they will be unjustly accused? What if we listened to refugees to hear about the violence they fled and the ways they are contributing to our country? What if we listened to poor white people who feel like they are being told they are privileged, even though they can’t find a decent-paying job and feed their families?

Before we speak, before we post on Facebook, before we forward that email, before we re-tweet, before we even have a good rant in the privacy of our own living rooms, what if we listened to the very people we think are the problem? What if we listened to those we have been treating as less-than-human, as obstacles in the way of getting what we want and what we think we deserve?

 

Friends, I’m not sure you know this. Maybe you do. But we are a politically divided church. We do not agree on many of the issues I just named. But what if in our diversity, we could at least be an example to the world of people who absolutely refuse to treat someone as less than a beloved child of God – just because we disagree? What if we absolutely commit to listening to one another, and even reaching out beyond our little community, to listen to the voices of people with radically different experiences and opinions than us?

 

Maybe then we could be like the diviner Balaam and hear the words that God is speaking to us. Maybe then we can even be a light and an example – this church – for the people and systems all around us that are so very divided and broken.

 

May our listening and our speaking be a blessing to the whole world.

 

May it be so.

 

Amen.

 

—-

 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

 

  1. Re-read the scripture for today. What details are especially interesting to you? What are you drawn to?

 

  1. What questions do you still have about the scripture? What do you want to learn more about? Is there anything your find problematic or concerning?

 

  1. Who is one person in your personal life that you have trouble listening to because you have deep disagreements? What do you disagree about, and why might you find it so hard to listen?

 

  1. Have you ever listened to someone whose life experiences were very different from yours and changed your perspective / opinion because of it? Tell us about that person and how/why you changed.

Keep the Miracle Bandwidth Wide

by Rev. Chris Jorgensen

Hanscom Park United Methodist Church

January 28, 2018

 

Scripture: Matthew 17: 24–27

 

When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?’ He said, ‘Yes, he does.’ And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?’ When Peter said, ‘From others’, Jesus said to him, ‘Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offence to them, go to the lake and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.’

 

Unlike last week’s scripture, this is a new one to me. It came up in a Google search of weirdest scriptures in the bible. I mean – Jesus telling Peter to pay the temple tax with a coin God sends to him via the mouth of a fish – I mean, what’s weird about that?

 

Miracle stories in scripture – whether about fish or not – always have some kind of point, but sometimes we can hear these scriptures and get hung up on the miracle part.  We write off not only the scripture but the whole concept of miracles because we think miracles don’t happen or no longer happen. We define a miracle as God sort of magically breaking a law of physics on our behalf. And maybe we even relegate God into those gaps – only believing that we see God at work when something utterly unexplainable happens.

 

But in ancient times, when the bible was written, miracles were simply part of the worldview. There wasn’t this division between everything-we-could-explain and these things called miracles. There wasn’t the natural world and the miraculous world. There were stories about the wondrous signs of God’s presence and power – and that was all seen as possible and natural.

 

We modern people have a much better understanding of science, and we like to have categories of natural and supernatural – and we tend to put miracles to the latter category. But I would argue that just because we understand science doesn’t make the world we experience today any less miraculous. A professor of mine one said it to me this way: “Keep the miracle bandwidth wide.” What if we learned to see and talk about the miracle of God’s presence not just in the gaps of the unexplainable, but in everything?

 

Today, we are welcoming new and some returned members into our church community. And I think when we welcome new members, it’s a good time to ponder once again the nature of discipleship: about what it means to be a person of faith and what it means to be a follower of Christ.

I think the first thing that committing to be a disciple of Christ means is that we commit to seeing the miracle of God’s presence in our everyday lives. Whether that is awe at the birth of a child, or natural wonders, or extraordinary kindness, or relentless justice. Whether it is the everyday miracle of suffering loss and grief and still being able to get up and out of bed one more day. Whether it’s not being able to get out of bed and receiving the love and support you need from those around you.

 

There is almost an endless litany of evidence I could offer of the divine miracles that don’t break physical laws but are simple and extraordinary moments of light breaking through the darkness. The first step of discipleship is moving from using God as a way to explain the unexplainable to seeking God in the effervescent reality of every moment.

 

And once we see God in our lives, discipleship requires us to respond. In response to the miracle of God who is light and love, we incarnate God who is light and love. In response to the miracle, we are called to be the miracle.

 

Many years ago, before Ruby was even born, I was working as a librarian. My friend Jodie had invited me out to visit her. She was the principal of an alternative school for emotionally and behaviorally challenged adolescents in Oakland, California. This was a private school for the kids who had been kicked out of the public alternative school. These students had some serious challenges.

 

Well, I had agreed to help Jodie at her school for one day. She needed help organizing books in order to set up a school library. So I spent most of the day in a dark basement room organizing all these books. At the end of the day, Jodie came to get me and was leading me through the school. And we happened upon two teachers who were having to physically restrain a student who had been acting out violently in class.

 

Jodie, of course, took this all in stride, but I was more than a bit unnerved by the situation. Mostly because, as I explained to Jodie later, I couldn’t understand that when the kids she worked with had such emotional and behavioral problems, how she could ever imagine them graduating from high school, getting a job, and being able to support themselves and live productive lives. And Jodie simply told me that she didn’t think about that. She thought about the fact that she helped a child to become a better reader that day, or that a child had one good day with no emotional outbursts. And I was in awe of her – and of all the teachers’ abilities – to be present with students who other people (people like me) would have just given up on.

 

To me, these teachers’ ability and willingness to give themselves in service to these at-risk kids…well, that looked like a miracle. I’m often taken by the miracle of those who serve as a way of life. I recently have been able to be in awe of hospice workers, of nurses, of the teachers of kids with profound disabilities at JP Lord School that will be moving in right across Frances Street from us. And the people who I talk to, more often than not, are simply responding to a call because they have seen the sacred miracle in the people they serve, and they are responding by being the miracle.

 

To tell you the truth, when I came up out of the basement that day in Oakland, having been hidden away safely from the chaos of Jodie’s school with my neat little stacks of books, I think that was the first time I saw a glimmer of the kind of life I was being called to as well.

 

And so we are here today, some 15 years later, ready to welcome new and returning members. If you are joining the church today, will you raise your hand?

 

So…you are being invited to this strange new way of living: this way of living where we run around not explaining away all the good and holy things that happen in life – but we name the source of them as God. And we agree that if these things are a gift from God, then it demands a response from us. When we see the miracle, we make a commitment to be the miracle. We commit to finding our strength in God, and then we put ourselves in uncomfortable places and situations, so that we will find ourselves transformed – more and more each day in the image of Christ.

 

May it be so…for our new members, and for all of us.

 

Amen.

 

——

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

 

  1. Re-read this week’s scripture. What details are especially interesting to you? What are you drawn to?

 

  1. Pastor Chris said that miracle stories in scripture always have a point. What do you think is the point of this particular scripture? (Or if you are not sure, what questions do you have about the scripture that might help you better understand the point/message of the scripture?)

 

  1. Pastor Chris invites us to be open to seeing miracles in our everyday lives. What things, people, or experiences in your life do you consider to be “non-magical” miracles?

 

  1. In response to the miracles we experience in our lives, we are called to be miracles for each other. How is God calling you to live differently in order to be that miracle? What step (either big or small) could you take in order to participate more fully in being God’s miracle in this world?

 

Jesus Our Plumb Line

A Sermon by Rev. Chris Jorgensen

January 21, 2018

 

—–

2 Kings 2:23-25

 

Elisha went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!” When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.

 

——-

 

Friends, would you raise your hand if you ever heard that passage of scripture read in church before? How many of you have ever read this passage yourself, or heard someone talk or teach about it before? As you might have guessed, this scripture is not very well known. It is not in the lectionary. The lectionary is that prescribed cycle of readings that many churches use each week in worship – including many Methodist churches. In theory, if you follow the lectionary readings for three years, it is supposed to pretty much cover all of the bible (or at least the important parts), but there are some passages that are conveniently left out. This is one of them.

 

Now as I said last week, if we are going to be Christians who are active in our faith, who take our Christian tradition and scripture seriously, we have to acknowledge that there are some pretty awful things in the bible. I’d say this scripture is in the top five worst stories in the bible. So today, I want to use this colorful and frankly pretty horrible story to talk about how we can take the bible seriously in the context of our faith in a loving God who we know in Jesus Christ.

 

So why this passage?

 

Well, I stumbled across this passage about seven years ago. And when I did, to be honest, I just thought it was funny. This is kind of funny on first read, right? A guy is walking along. Some kids are making fun of him for being bald, and he curses them, and then a couple bears come out and maul 42 boys. Even funnier, one of my clergy colleagues this week told me that he actually read this scripture to Boy Scouts while they were camping one time… because he wanted to get their attention in worship.

 

But I digress. Strangely enough, this is a text that I have mentally carried around with me and wrestled with for a long time. It would come up again occasionally through seminary, and I’ve taught about it at the Urban Abbey when I was there. And the reason I carry it around with me is that, even though I thought it was funny at first, I learned that it is best not to take the scripture lightly. I have come to understand that when we affirm the Bible as sacred, we must take it seriously, all of it.

 

During my Hebrew Bible course (my Old Testament course), my professor Dr. Ngwa said this, “Reading scripture is an ethical activity.”

 

I understand that to mean that when we read a biblical text, we make judgments about it. Wesleyans like us might use the tradition, our experience, and reason to decide what the scripture is saying, and then decide whether or how this scripture reflects the nature of God

or the nature of humanity or both. As a preacher, I might use commentaries and dictionaries to discern a scripture’s meaning and significance. And I do believe I am guided by the Holy Spirit when I study and research and write and preach – and you are guided by the Holy Spirit when you listen and reflect and study as well.

 

When I was researching our text for today, I was appalled to find out that there is a whole bunch of commentators throughout history who seek to explain how Elisha’s actions and God’s instigation of the mauling of the boys are justifiable. I will use just one example of this from a commentator named Mark Mercer [1]. Mercer explains that the youths in this text (note: he argues that the Hebrew word used here could mean youths – or even young adult males – not necessarily little boys) are actually urging the prophet Elisha to engage in idolatry at a cult site in Bethel. He says that what the NRSV translates as “go away” could also be translated as “go up.” In other words, go up to Bethel and worship an idol. Mercer makes a good case for this reading.

 

And then he explains that the reason the 42 young men got mauled by bears was because they were encouraging the breaking of the covenant with God, that this terrible outcome was because of God’s intolerance for idolatry, rather than anything about the young men making fun of Elisha.

 

When we read this ethically, we might agree that yes, idolatry and the breaking of a covenant with God is a serious sin, but even so, does the mauling of 42 people seem like God’s justice as we know it in the rest of the biblical text or what we know from tradition, reason, and experience? I would argue, “no.”

 

This reading from Mercer is just one example of a whole lot of scholars turning themselves into rhetorical pretzels trying to figure out a way to say that the prophet Elisha was right, and that anger and killing of children by bears is a reasonable divine response in this situation.

 

But what if we read this text freed from the idea that our job is to just defend what the prophet did no matter what?

 

That is what I believe we have in the interpretation offered by a scholar named Wesley Bergen, who reads this incident as one example of how the biblical text is actually inviting us to criticize the prophet Elisha.

 

Through Bergen’s study of all of the stories about Elisha in the bible, he shows how Elisha is a substandard prophet, who acts more like a roving miracle-worker than one who is committed to God’s larger purpose of bringing Israel back to Yahweh. Bergen suggests that though Elisha claims to speak in the name of God, he gets distracted from his prophetic purpose as he goes about the countryside blessing and cursing by his own power. Bergen summarizes, “The prophet is powerful. The prophet is not unambiguously good” [2].

 

A detail highlighted by the Jewish Study Bible supports Bergen, while mentioning nothing about these boys inciting idolatry (Mercer’s argument). The JSB interpretation emphasizes that calling Elisha bald-head was in contrast to the prophet Elijah’s hairiness [3]. And Elisha would have understood this as an attack on his authority, saying in essence, “you are no Elijah!” That attack on his prophetic authority is what caused Elisha to curse the boys.

 

So through Bergen’s interpretation, we see these cracks emerge in the prophet Elisha: that maybe he wasn’t as good of a prophet as Elijah, and maybe he knew it. And maybe that’s what causes him to respond with overreaction and evil to these boys questioning his authority.

 

But we have two different readings to choose from. One that says those boys deserved it, and this was just divine punishment, and one that says this story tells us more about the broken humanity of our prophets than about how God would react in this situation.

 

So how do we choose? Well, as I mentioned before, we use our Wesleyan Quadrilateral: the whole of scripture, our reason, the tradition, and our own experience of God’s grace. And we also use Jesus as our plumb line. Certainly, our Jewish brothers and sisters and sibling (who also call the Hebrew Bible their sacred scripture and have to deal with this text, too) have other ways to read the Elisha text critically and ethically, and they might decide that Elisha doesn’t act on behalf of a just and merciful God based on their tradition. But we, as Christians, we can evaluate whether this story truly tells us something about how God and God’s prophets would and should act by looking at our cornerstone, Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus is our plumb line. From the life, ministry, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we find out what is true about God. And the one teaching that comes to mind when I think about whether I need to defend Elisha’s actions or not is from Matthew 22: 34-40

 

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. All the law and the prophets MUST conform to these two greatest commandments to love God and love your neighbor. Does cursing and instigating the mauling-by-bear of 42 boys because they made fun of your hair and/or your authority sound like loving your neighbor? I don’t think I even have to answer that.

 

It’s not just Jesus’ teachings that reveal to us who God is and what God would have us do. It is his very life, death, and resurrection. Jesus went around healing people and casting out demons – all with the intention of restoring suffering people to community so that they would be loved and cared for. Jesus died at the hands of the Roman Empire because he dared to confront the religious and political authorities who were oppressing his people. And then Jesus forgave even the people who nailed him to the cross.

 

Through his death and resurrection, Jesus taught us that the fullness of life and love come not from God dominating humans, but from God’s love and mercy that transforms even the most death-dealing situations into life – not through threat of harm but through the startling offer of love even to those who might seem least worthy of it.

 

So, no. I do not think God sent bears to kill children because they dared to make fun of a prophet. To want to hurt someone because they questioned our authority or hurt our feelings – that’s something that humans do.

 

But God… To love us so much that our fears vanish: that’s what God does. To show mercy beyond comprehension: that’s what Jesus does. To empower us to love those who would seek to harm us, knowing that even in our death, there is victory: that’s what the Holy Spirit does.

 

Thanks be to God, for Jesus Christ: our cornerstone, our plumb line, our hope.

 

Amen.

 

—–

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

 

  1. What details of this scripture are especially interesting to you? What grabs you? What parts do you still have more questions about?

 

  1. What other stories or images of God in scripture (or elsewhere) do you find hard to reconcile with the God we know in Jesus Christ?

 

  1. Have you ever made a decision or acted in response to a situation after asking yourself the question, “What would Jesus do?” Tell us about what you did and why you thought Jesus would do the same.

 

  1. What is one thing about God that you learn when you consider the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus?

 

—–

Citations

 

[1] Mercer, Mark. Elisha’s Unbearable Curse: A Study of 2 Kings 2:23-25. Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology. Vol. 21, Issue 2. 2002. p. 165-198.

 

[2] Bergen, Wesley. Elisha and the End of Prophetism. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999, p. 13.

 

[3] The Jewish Study Bible, ed. Adele Berlin & Marc Zvi Brettler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

 

 

Comply, Collaborate, Resist?

A sermon by Rev. Chris Jorgensen

January 14, 2018

Scripture: Matthew 2: 1-16

So, you might be surprised that we are revisiting the story of the magi this week. I mean, we need to get moving here. Epiphany is over, right?!

But here’s the thing! That scripture we usually hear about the magi. Where it ended last week… well, the scripture ends of a cliffhanger. Imagine it with lots of drama. “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”

What?! Why?! What is King Herod going to do?!

Well, if we keep reading, like we did this week, we find out that Herod has some seriously evil plans. Herod is plotting to kill Jesus, this newborn King of the Jews, to make sure he is not replaced. In fact, Herod is so evil that when he figures out he was tricked by the magi, he does not hesitate to send his armies to kill all the children under two years of age in the Bethlehem area, so he can get Jesus that way.

Now Herod was a bad, bad man. Historians tell us that Herod was a willing collaborator with the occupying Roman Empire. While he provided order and political stability to the region, he also imposed a crushing tax rate to re-create Jerusalem in the monumental style of Roman cities and to fund his own opulent lifestyle. He liked his position of power and money and would do anything to keep it.

He was known for his domestic disputes and willingness to kill off members of his own family if necessary. Religious historian Reza Aslan writes, “Herod’s was a … tyrannical rule marked by farcical excess and bestial acts of cruelty…Upon ascending the throne, he massacred nearly every member of the Sanhedrin [a council of judges] and replaced the Temple priests with a claque of fawning admirers” (Aslan, Reza. Zealot : The Life And Times of Jesus of Nazareth. New York :Random House, 2013. p. 20-21).

So the event called the Massacre of the Innocents, these children murdered around Bethlehem, while not able to be proved historically, was well within Herod’s usual character. And in the story we heard today, he used his new temple Priests, that “fawning claque of admirers” to help him justify and implement his evil plans. In the scripture we hear today, it is the “chief priests and scribes” who give both him and the magi the information that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Though perhaps unwitting, these religious leaders use the scripture to help Herod with his massacre.

The people around Herod seemed to have three options about how to respond to this despotic ruler: comply, collaborate, or resist. The scripture says that when Herod was frightened, all Jerusalem was frightened with him. Those frightened folks were likely to just keep their mouths shut and not get involved. They certainly wouldn’t have wanted Herod’s anger turned toward them. So they comply. The temple priests, of course, collaborate with Herod. They too lived a sumptuous lifestyle, and they know they only have their positions at Herod’s pleasure. So they help him figure out where Jesus is. The only people we see resisting are the magi. They sneak away before Herod can get Jesus’ exact location out of them.

I think the thing that bothers me most is the action of the temple priests: these collaborators who are supposed to be faithful and upright. They go ahead and use the scripture to help Herod decide which children he is going to massacre. This bothers me, I’m sure, because I am a pastor and can relate to the temple priests in some ways. But mostly, it bothers me because I know Christian history, and I know historically, Christian religious leaders have used scripture so many times to justify evil.

For example, Anti-Jewish and pro-authoritarian sentiment justified by scripture was used to support the Nazi Party and the Holocaust in World War II-era Germany. Before the American civil war, scripture was used to support slavery, and afterward racism and segregation. Most recently it was and still is trotted out to justify the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. And in every one of these instances, Christians have chosen to either comply with the evil being done in Jesus’ name, collaborate with those who were doing it, or resist.

On this day before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I’d like us to look specifically at how Christians responded to segregation. I will pull just one example from our own Methodist history. The year was 1963. The Methodist Church (not yet “United”) was an officially segregated institution. When the Methodist Church and the Methodist Church – South unified in 1939, they (we) created something called The Central Jurisdiction. Every other jurisdiction was a geographical one, but all of the African-American churches and clergy people were put into their own jurisdiction that spanned all of the United States. Of course, less resources were allocated by the General Conference to the all-black Central Jurisdiction. This was textbook institutional racism and segregation. The Central Jurisdiction was not dissolved until 1968.

So, as I was saying, the year was 1963. And 28 white Methodist pastors in Mississippi wrote a letter protesting racial discrimination and segregation, and condemning communism (you know, to prove the writers were not too radical). It would be considered pretty tame today. But in 1963 Mississippi, the reaction to the letter is described as being like a bomb exploding. The pastors were verbally harassed, their congregations demanded they be fired and withheld their pay. They and their families – including their children – were ostracized from their congregations and communities. Eventually 20 of the 28 left Mississippi, driven out mostly by statewide church politics. But eight did stay and continue to work for racial reconciliation. (http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/mississippi-pastors-paid-price-for-segregation-challenge)

In the face of evil, these Methodist Christians chose to resist. And it had real consequences. For many in the civil rights movement, the consequences were even greater. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself gave his life for the cause.

And so on the eve of his holiday, with the story of Herod and the massacre of the innocents echoing in the background, I invite us to ask ourselves a very hard question. In the face of an evil like segregation, and in the face of evil that oppresses and takes advantage of the most vulnerable people in our world today, would we comply, collaborate, or resist?

Frankly, I think that depends on one thing. In our scripture, we heard about Herod’s fear. This fear drives him to kill children in order to keep his position of power. And the people of Jerusalem, it says, were fearful with him. Their fear caused them to comply or collaborate with this evil man.

Fear. Fear leads down the road to destruction. Fear leads to complicity and collaboration with those who would crush the vulnerable in order to maintain power. And, yes, what I’m talking about is political. And it is also personal. How often being fearful causes us to want to impress the popular kids at the expense of the outcasts? How often do we adults court the approval of those in power and ignore the needs of those who are not?

It’s likely not even conscious. Maybe we get to know the “higher ups” in our work place because it’s good for our career, but we don’t pay much attention to those in positions lower than ours. Heck, I do this. I want to please the District Superintendent and the Bishop because they have power over me. But if I give into the temptation to worry first about pleasing my DS and the bishop and climbing the ladder of power, then I am not acting out of love and care for you (my people!) and the vulnerable people in our community that Jesus calls us to serve.

But it is so easy to be fearful and complicit. How do we ever resist?

How did the people in history who stood up against oppression at all costs do it? Well, many of them did it because of their faith. Martin Luther King, Jr. had real faith. Real faith that convinces us that we can be like Jesus – and resist the powers of evil no matter what the costs. Real faith that there is something and someone MUCH bigger than you – or the specifics of your current predicament – that will hold and support and catch you even if your choice to resist costs you everything.

We need that real faith. Faith so strong and deep and anchored that it casts out fear in the face of whatever evil we need to confront. It is the only kind of faith worth having. And with God’s help, that is the kind of faith we are cultivating here. Bold and courageous faith. Faith that calls us to something greater than comfort and respectability. Faith that makes us unafraid to resist because we cannot put up with the injustice and suffering happening all around us.

That is an MLK-kind-of-faith: a faith that caused King to knowingly risk and ultimately give his life, working for the liberation of black people and poor people of all colors.

May we have even a sliver of King’s faith, and may it set us free from fear – for the good of all people and all of creation.

May it be so.

Amen.

————–

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Read the scripture for this week. How does reading the “rest of the story” about the Massacre of the Innocents change the way you think about the scene with Herod and the magi?

  1. Do you have any questions or observations, anything that jumps out at you or confuses or concerns you about the new verses for this week? (Verses 13-16)

  1. Describe a time when fear caused you to act in a way you wish you hadn’t.

  1. Describe a situation in which your faith gave you courage.

Venturing Out

A Sermon by Rev. Chris Jorgensen

January 7, 2018

person looking at starry sky

Scripture: Matthew 2: 1-12

 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”  When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

 

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

  who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

 

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

Today in our scripture we encounter some wise men, some travelers from the East. The Christian tradition sometimes calls them the three kings, like in the song we just sang. But the commentary I was reading this week points out that there is actually nothing in the text to indicate that they are kings. The word used to describe them – magi – could mean wise people or even astrologers. They are more of a Persian or Babylonian pagan priestly class. They are readers of the stars, interpreters of dreams. They are thoroughly outsiders: both in terms of their religious beliefs, and ethnic and national identity. They are completely outside the Jewish tradition from which Jesus the Messiah arises.

 

And yet God calls them to see the child Jesus. God uses what they know – their own belief system, the stars, dreams -to guide them to Jerusalem. There they encounter King Herod. And Herod consults his experts, the ones who know the Jewish tradition and its scriptures about the Messiah. And the experts tell Herod that the baby will be found in Bethlehem. Herod shares this with the wise ones from the East, and this information from the scriptures helps to lead them to the baby Jesus, so they can honor him.

Prompted by star-struck curiosity and wonder, and guided by the scripture, the magi venture out and show up to see the Christ-child, God incarnate. And this is the Epiphany we celebrate today: the revealing of God in Christ to the whole world. Because these magi were foreigners, it signals that Christ has come not just for a small community in Judea, but in fact for everyone. And the magi bring valuable gifts to honor this Christ child. Before they left home, they packed up their gold, frankincense, and myrrh – expensive, precious items. Because even though they didn’t know exactly what they were seeking, the stars told them that it was very important indeed. And God moved them to follow.

 

God move us, too. God calls us to follow our inner sense of God in the world, our sense of awe and curiosity and wonder. For a stargazer, it makes sense that God would reveal Godself in the stars. Maybe we too get a glimpse of the awe of God when we get out of the city lights and look up into the vast night sky. Perhaps we sense God’s grandeur in a sunset, at the edge of the sea, even in the silent falling snow.

 

Or maybe it hits us most as we greet a newborn child, or as we witness the love poured out between two people at a wedding. Maybe it’s the hope of resurrection that we experience when a loved one dies. Perhaps it’s seeing selfless acts of compassion or courage that warm our hearts and bring a lump to our throat. Like the magi, it might be something very specific to our culture and situation and individual interest that moves us to wonder about God, to ask questions about who or what brought all this into being – and what we are supposed to do about it.

 

In the Methodist tradition, we refer to this as prevenient grace. This is the grace that comes before, the sense of God’s presence that is in us even before we might name it as God, even before we realize we are longing for God. In our tradition, we believe this grace is available to every person.

 

And as we experience this grace, these glimpses of God, maybe our curiosity gets piqued. Maybe the next thing we do is read the bible. Maybe we might go to church. Maybe we have been in church this whole time, but this light of God’s presence suddenly makes us want to pay attention, real attention for the first time. Maybe we decide to try praying, even if we are not really sure what good it will do or who exactly is listening.

 

After my own experience of encountering God’s prevenient grace, I decided I needed to get a bible. I literally didn’t have one in my house. So I took Ruby one day, and we went to Borders on 72nd and Dodge (way back then when it was still open). And I got a bible. I flipped open to the Gospel of Matthew, and I started reading. Chapter 5.

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 

What I read there took my breath away. It was so beautiful. It was none of the guilt and shame and judgment I had learned about as a child. It was a story of a God who loves and who calls us to love each other in response. It drew me deeper into faith.

 

And yet, the bible is a complicated book. Had I turned to lots of other chapters, I might have experienced something very different. I’m going to be honest. When you pick up a bible, it does not take long to find something violent or ethically problematic. It does not take long to find an excuse to throw the whole thing out if you are looking for one. Our holy book: it was written by deeply flawed human beings – like us.

 

And yet, by some miracle of the Holy Spirit, it still points to God. As our Methodist Articles of Religion – the fundamental doctrines of the Methodist church say, “the Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation.” The scriptures lead us into a saving experience of God’s grace.

 

But we have to venture out and show up in order for that to happen. We cannot simply say yeah we believe all that stuff without knowing what’s in the bible. We can’t simply pretend that the violent and problematic parts of scripture don’t exist. Part of our job as Christians is for us to take the bible seriously. That means we have to wrestle with it. That’s our gift we bring when God calls us. We bring our openness to encountering God in the story and person of Jesus. We bring our effort in asking questions about how the scripture leads us to God and figuring out how to apply it to our 21st-century lives.

 

Because we don’t have faith in words in a book. We have faith in the Living God, the capital-W Word, revealed through Christ, whose essence flawed humans tried to capture in the bible. We don’t worship the book. To worship the book is idolatry. But to wrestle with this book is holy. To struggle with our doubts and open our hearts and devote our lives to knowing this God: that is the precious gift we bring like the magi. We too are seekers and wanderers with our heads filled with stars – hoping to see a glimpse of God.

 

I want to close today by telling you about Guy Consolmagno. He is an astronomer. He studies space, meteorites, and the physical universe as a whole. He is also a Catholic, Jesuit Brother and the Director of the Vatican Observatory. I listened to an interview online with him this week. It was from the radio show called “On Being,” hosted by Krista Tippet. In the interview, Brother Guy says a lot of interesting things about religion and science.

At one point in the interview Tippet asks him about something he once wrote, which is this: “Christianity does not start with faith but with experience. Faith is our reaction to that experience.” He replies to her that he still believes that is true, and he has come to believe that the same is also true about science. Before you decide what you want to study, what hypothesis you want to test, you experience something. You intuit something. Then you begin to ask questions about it, to try make sense of it. You use all the tools of science to learn about this experience.

 

The same is true of theology – of learning about God. Scripture, though certainly not perfect, helps us to make sense of this experience of prevenient grace…this pull from God, this call, this sense of awe and wonder that makes us want to seek and learn more. This is the same call that moved the magi to Bethlehem. And it is the same call that moves us to seek and understand God’s presence in relationships, in nature, in scripture, sometimes even here in church. And each of these things we encounter is not God himself or herself in totality, but they do point us toward God. They guide our way as we earnestly seek to understand and encounter the divine.

 

And when we venture out and show up, with the gift of earnest desire and a willingness to encounter and maybe even be changed by God, we too might be graced with an epiphany: the revelation of who God is with us and for us.

 

May it be so.

 

Amen.

 

*https://onbeing.org/programs/guy-consolmagno-george-coyne-asteroids-stars-and-the-love-of-god/)

 

Discussion Questions

 

1) Re-read the scripture for this week. What part of the scripture do you find most interesting and inspiring? What are you drawn to? Why?

 

2) What part of the scripture do you find problematic or do you still have questions about?

 

3) In what situations in life do you feel most aware of God’s presence?

 

4) What is one thing you have done in response to becoming aware of God’s presence?

Humbled to be Holy

A sermon by Rev. Chris Jorgensen

Hanscom Park United Methodist Church

December 3, 2017

 

woman holding up arms to sky

 

Scripture: Luke 1:39-55

 

The scripture we heard today contains a prayer (or song) that is known in our Christian tradition as The Magnificat. The word “magnificat” comes from the Latin translation of this song of Mary. It means magnify. Mary starts her song by saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” This is a song of joy and confidence in the power and goodness of God.

 

…which is actually a little surprising coming from someone in Mary’s, um, situation. Let’s back up in the story a bit. You may know this already. See Mary has recently been visited by the Angel Gabriel. And the Angel Gabriel informed her that she would be bearing a child, Jesus, who will be called “Son of the Most High” and who will “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end!”

 

That sounds pretty good. But there’s a little problem. Mary is not married.

 

If we turn over to the Gospel of Matthew, we learn that Mary is only engaged (or betrothed) to Joseph at this time. My trusty New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary tells us that this engagement “was a binding arrangement between people already legally considered husband and wife, so that unfaithfulness was considered adultery.” So when Joseph finds out that Mary is pregnant, and they have not yet had relations, technically Mary could have been put to death for her unfaithfulness (though our commentators mention that the death penalty for adultery was not really practiced by the time the gospels were written). However, they still describe the penalty for adultery as “severe and humiliating.” Think: how people sometimes react to unwed mothers in our culture, but like 100 times worse.

 

Not to worry though. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that upon finding out Mary is pregnant, Joseph (who is a righteous man) decides to divorce Mary quietly. But he too is visited by an angel in a dream. And that angel explains to him that Mary had become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit and that Joseph should marry her anyway. So that’s good.

 

But over in today’s gospel, in the one we heard – Luke’s version of the story, we get no such assurances that Joseph was going to swoop in and save the day by covering up the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy. All we know is that the Angel Gabriel visited Mary. That Mary was afraid and perplexed by his visit. But when the angel explained to her that she is going to become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, she agreed to this plan. God gave her a choice, and she chose obedience. She said, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; Let it be with me according to your word.”

And from that point on, our heroine Mary is not deterred one bit by this scandal. In our scripture today, Mary sets out and goes with haste to see her relative Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. Mary is pregnant. She has not been married up properly to Joseph. She is a young woman having a child out of wedlock in a society that thinks that is a real problem. And she goes to see Elizabeth.

 

She goes with haste that conveys excitement. Everybody in this scene is filled with joy. Mary is joyful, Elizabeth is joyful, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumps for joy – even as Mary is part of this scandalous mess of God’s plan for birthing Christ into the world. And the Magnificat, Mary’s Song of Praise, indicates her awareness that what God is doing through her is counter-cultural. She names that God has come to her in her lowliness, in her humility – and God has done great things for her. God has done and will do great things for her and for her people, who are poor and oppressed and lowly just like her.

 

God’s plans for Christ being birthed into the world through Mary are unexpected, are counter-cultural (even a little scandalous), depend upon Mary’s humble obedience, and bring Mary and the whole world joy and salvation.

 

So what might this tell us about God’s plans to birth Christ in the world this year – through us? Perhaps God’s work in our lives too is unexpected, counter-cultural (even a little scandalous),  and requires our humble obedience – and will bring us and the whole world joy and salvation.

 

Now, I think the key to embracing God’s plans for us is to start with the humble obedience piece.

 

I know, it’s my least favorite piece, too.

 

Because humility and obedience also require vulnerability. And I think holidays in general, but Christmas in particular can make us feel really vulnerable. During Advent we are invited to come face to face with our deepest longing. Our longing for love and acceptance. Our longing for salvation and assurance. Our longing for a life of meaning. Our longing to really know that we are loved by God and part of God’s dream for the world.

 

But we can’t really control that. Nothing we can do, can MAKE an experience of God’s grace happen for us. So I think maybe we put all of our hopes for the Christmas season into the things we can control, the things we can plan, the things we can buy. And our whole culture tells us this is what we should be doing. It promises that this is what will make us happy. Right?

 

The culture tells us things like this: “Giving your kids just the most beautiful tree surrounded by piles of presents will fill your (and their) deepest longing for joy. Making sure that your holiday gathering is just perfect will guarantee that your family will get along and will always be there for you. Buying new clothes or getting your hair done will make you beautiful enough to be deserving of love. Filling yourself with good food and drink will make sure you never have to feel empty.”

 

Now I’m not against any of those things. Please. Enjoy your festive tree (I’ve got one) and your lovingly set table and the confidence of a new hairdo and the pleasure of food and the fun of cooking it together. But just remember that none of it needs to be perfect, and that none of it can fill the deepest longing of your heart. Only God can do that. Only Christ can do that.

 

To invite Christ into our lives, we have to humble ourselves. We have to give up the power we think we have to fill our own every need. And we have to offer ourselves in obedience to God’s desires for us. Now, as your pastor, I wish I could give you an exact 3-step process for how to ensure that you will be filled with the Holy Spirit and never feel empty again. But I can’t. But I do have an idea of how we might start.

 

I believe it starts with prayer. One thing I’m doing to help us commit to prayer during this season of waiting is that I am sharing my daily devotional time on Facebook. Friends, it’s not fancy. It’s me turning on my computer and a camera and asking you to pray along with me through my usual practice. It’s probably not even as long as it should be. But it does help us to be accountable to one another when we commit to praying together – whether it’s in person or online. So if you are on Facebook, go Like the Hanscom Park United Methodist Church page, and you will be able to find me doing a live video there Monday through Friday at 7:45 AM…just praying and reading scripture and a reflection. And you are welcome to join me.

 

And if not that, then find another way to ground yourself in prayer this season. I encourage you to add whatever prayer practice to your life that will help you stop and listen for God’s presence and desires for us. Because we hear so many voices, so many messages every day, and even if they have the word “Christmas” as part of them, they are most-of-the-time not God’s voice. You know as well as I do that Christmas has been commercialized and secularized and exploited so folks can make money. The voices outside us talking about Christmas have almost nothing to do with welcoming the presence of Christ into our lives. So if we want to hear God’s voice, we have to do something counter-cultural.

 

We have to stop and listen. We have to be non-productive. We have to pray. Prayer gets nothing done. Prayer is not going to help you get one thing marked off your Christmas list. But I believe prayer is the only way we can hope to humble ourselves before God and submit (that’s a scary word, right? Well, I’m using it anyway). We have to submit to God’s radically different dream for our lives and for the world.

 

And as counter-cultural as submission and humility seems, it is also the only thing that will bring us joy.

 

“My soul magnifies the Lord

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”

 

To be like Mary, we have to be lowly servants. We have to be counter-cultural, wrapped up not in the commercial trappings of a money-making holiday, but in the beautiful scandal of God coming to live with us right here in the mess of our world.

 

And promising to redeem it.

 

May it be so.

 

Amen.