Monday, January 28, 2013

Good News?

Through this current church season I have been using...and adapting the liturgical material from Spill the Beans Issue 6. Yesterday I presented these facts for the United States. Spill the Beans used data from the UK. I don't know about the congregation but these numbers astounded me. 

Jesus said God had chosen him to bring the good today has God chosen us, you and me, to bring the good news of God's kingdom to these folks? I believe he has.

May God bless you all this week as you labor doing God's work with the gifts he's given you.

Voice A: Today we are told: ‘There are 16.4 million children living in poverty in the US right now. That’s 22 per cent of the children, or more than one in five according to 2010 census. They are 24% of the total population but 36% of the poor population.’

Voice B: But Jesus tells us: ‘He has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.’

Voice A: Today we are told: ‘A report on human trafficking in the United States says that human trafficking is the 2nd fastest growing criminal industry next to drug trafficking. Children account for roughly one-half of all the victims. Of 2,515 cases in 2010 more than 1,000 involved children. It is estimated to be a $32 billion dollar industry. There are 27 million people around the world who are enslaved. The U.S. Department of State estimates 14,500 to 17,500 people per year are brought in for the purpose of labor or sex exploitation.

Voice B: But Jesus tells us: ‘He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives.’

Voice A: Today we are told: ‘The FDIC and Federal Reserve offices stated the cause of the majority of bank failures, 2008-2011, were aggressive growth strategies, high risk taking, and uninformed or inattentive management. In this period 414 U.S. banks failed.’ They lost their way and sought profit for the shareholders only and forgot the people who trusted them with their life savings.

Voice B: But Jesus tells us: ‘He has sent me to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind.’

Voice A: Today we are told: ‘Reports say that one-half of the nation’s violent crimes, 3.4 million, go unreported. Domestic abuse statistics say that 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are assaulted by their partners. Data shows that 3 million children are witnesses to domestic violence’

Voice B: But Jesus tells us: ‘I have come to set free the oppressed.’

Voice A: Today we are told: ‘This has been with us always.’

Voice B: But Jesus tells us: ‘Within your hearing these things have come true. By hearing them, believing them, trusting them, living them, these words have come true. Let not the world shout loudest. Let our loudest word be our actions within the world.’


Manifesto: as political as they come; as challenging as they come; as life changing as they come.

Such was Jesus’ manifesto written long ago, brought to life in the Son of God, harnessing the power of the Spirit.

Not popular in some quarters, radicals never are, but when they saw all those grand old words being lived out, after centuries of gathering dust, folk couldn’t help but get upset as they were confronted with a way of living that they could easily embrace if they could shake off their apathy, built up over the years and tamped down into a solid seemingly unmovable mass.

Not rocket science. Not even political science. But simple undiluted love: the kind that’s buried deep within, waiting to be kindled and coaxed into flame, so that the poor hear good news, captives are released, the blind can see and the oppressed go free. That’s some Manifesto!
Spill the Beans Issue 6 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Parties & Gifts

          Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is about the gifts of the Spirit and John’s gospel reading is about a wedding party. Gifts and parties, they kind of go together don’t they.
          Have you ever thought about this journey, this following the Way of Jesus as being a party? Parties are full of fun, good food, laughter and dancing, and stories. Is it possible that we’ve missed something? Is it possible that God’s kingdom here on earth is a party?
          When I was growing up what I heard was that being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, meant that I had to give up doing certain things. Some of those things were fun, like dancing, playing cards, and wedding parties with wine just to name a couple.
          Now I learn that isn’t what Jesus was saying at all. God is love. God loves you and me and our neighbors. God helped Jesus keep a party going by turning water into wine when they ran out because there were more guests than there was wine. God diverted a disaster for the bride’s father by having Mary go to Jesus and telling him it was time. God wanted to help keep the party going.
          Okay, so fast forward to now. Is this party still going on or have we put the lid on the good times? What do you think?
          John wrote his gospel writing about Jesus’ signs. The other gospels call them miracles but John uses the words signs. This turning the water into wine was the first of his signs.
          What did this sign mean, the turning of water into wine? It’s pretty neat being able to turn everyday, ordinary water into the best wine ever produced. Do you think it was just about the wine or is there something else to this?
          Could it be that Jesus was trying, in that different way that he had, to show us that the kingdom of God that had come to earth was like a wedding party? That’s probably not the way Jesus’ ancestors thought about it. Shoot, it’s probably not the way most people today think about the kingdom of God.
          Or…maybe the water was a sign or a symbol of the old way, the Law, and by turning it into premium wine he was showing that with the arrival of the kingdom of God things were going to change for the better. Maybe it meant that the old order was going to change, be made new, be better. Maybe it meant that there’d be less injustice, less oppression, fewer families going without, more…love, premium love. Maybe, what do you think?
          Think about how things changed after Jesus came, performed his signs, died and rose again. Think about the things we can do now that we can’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t do without the gift of Jesus’ Spirit in our lives.
          A party isn’t much of a party without gifts, right? So, with Jesus’ ascension there was, first, the gift of the Holy Spirit and then…the gifts of the Holy Spirit on each person who by faith came to know Jesus.
          Most of us have picked up all the wrapping paper from the Christmas gifts and some of us have birthday gifts yet to unwrap, which makes me wonder, “Have you opened your gifts from the Spirit yet?”
          Oh, you didn’t know you had a gift from the Spirit. Paul tells us we all have gifts from the Spirit, all of us. You didn’t know that? Sure you do.
          If you don’t believe you’ve received a gift from the Spirit maybe you should ask your family or friends what they think your gift is. I’ll bet they can tell you. One thing I know for sure is we all have gifts. Sometimes they’re disguised and not easy for us to identify. They’re there nevertheless.
          So, ask yourselves, “Where’s the party (God’s kingdom) today…and what gifts does God’s Spirit have for me today?” You might wonder how any of us are to know the answers to these questions.
          Friends, God didn’t just talk to the folks we read about in the Bible. He speaks to us today in his word and in our quiet times, in our work, through his Spirit, through our friends and our enemies. If we have ears to hear we can hear his Voice.
          But there might be some of us who are more interested in the party. How are we going to find God’s party? Again, I believe God will lead us to the party. It just might not be the kind of party we’re thinking about.
          It might be a soup kitchen party. It might be a visitation party. It might be a good guys food boxing party. Or…it might be a real party with kids and games and noisemakers and music and dancing and cake and cookies and other goodies. 
          What if we woke up and every day was a party and there were gifts? What would that be like? Do you think it could happen? Do you think that may have been what Jesus’ signs were about?
          Parties and gifts, that’s the Good News, that’s the Gospel message today. Let’s make a real effort this week and in the weeks that follow to find the wedding party and use the gifts we’ve been given by the Spirit.
          Thanks be to God for his amazing grace-filled gifts. Amen.

Monday, January 14, 2013


          Words, they’re so simple yet so very powerful. Think about it. Think of those times when you were inspired to do something you’d never considered possible before. Think about the times when you’ve been hurt to the quick of your soul.
          What gave you that inspiration? What hurt you so bad that you wanted crawl into a corner and die? I’ll wager that it was someone’s word or words that resulted in the inspiration or the hurt. Words have so much power and yet no one has asked for a ban on them or a background check before anyone can use them. No one has to pay for a license before they can use something as simple, yet so powerful, as a word.
          Today’s lessons from the Scriptures are words. Words written by prophets, psalmists; letters written to the churches, the Good News, the Gospel, written for God’s chosen ones, the Jews, written to the others, the Gentiles. Words written by men and women inspired by God. Words that have survived longer than anyone ever imagined they would; words that still inspire people, you and me.
          When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John after the Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove, God spoke…words. “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” Words…from God.
          These words came to Jesus as he was using words…praying to his Father. What did these words do? What did Jesus do after he was baptized? He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil, tempted by…words.
          The prophet, Isaiah, reminds us that God created Jacob, Israel, you, and me, and everything we see around us. How’d that happen? God spoke… words and there they were.
          How does anyone know what God requires of them? He speaks to them with…words; words that we read and hear from his Scriptures; words that he speaks to us when we’re in our quiet places. He calls to us, he summons us with…words.
          What do we need in order to have life? Food you say? No, “man doesn’t live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deut. 8:3).”  What did God ask Moses to have his people do? He told them, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds…teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deut. 11:18-20).”
          Words…the psalmist for today tells us that the “voice” of the Lord is powerful, majestic. It thunders and breaks the cedars of Lebanon, sets the desert to shaking. The voice of the Lord strikes with lightning. Words…from God have power.
          Paul, the least of the apostles, used…words…to spread the Good News to the Gentiles in Asia. He used…words…in his epistles, his letters to the churches he helped plant, words…just letters put together to make words, just a sound that comes from our mouths as the air flows over vocal chords and past tongues and through lips…words. 
          Words…so simple, yet so very powerful, especially when spoken by God or with His authority.  John was using words as he prepared the way for the Messiah, Jesus. These words had power that scared people, upset people. Words that ended with John being arrested and thrown into prison. Words…made folks wonder if he was the Promised One.
          He wasn’t. He said someone more powerful was coming after him. Someone he wasn’t fit to kneel and untie his sandals. Someone who also used the power of…words.
          You know who I’m talking about, Jesus. The authorities in power thought by killing him the words would stop and their power would be destroyed. It didn’t.
          The Word’s words survived and are as powerful as ever today. His words are why you’re here this morning.
          Words…are spoken at the baptismal font. Words…are spoken when we celebrate the Eucharist. Just words…but they have so much power. They have the power to transform, to change, to redeem those who hear them or read them.
          Just words…but they have power, especially when the come from the One who really knows the power of the Word. 
          It all began with a word… “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).”
          Thanks be to God for his grace-filled word. Amen.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Looking for the Light

          Where’s the light? Where’s the joy? There’s fighting and killing in Syria, Palestine, and Sudan. We’ve not fallen off the “fiscal cliff” but now it looks like there’s a danger that we might hit our heads on a “debt ceiling.” Where’s the light that Isaiah speaks of today? Where are the prophets like Isaiah to share the Good News with us?
          Where’s the reverence and joy of the magi when they first set their eyes on Jesus?
          The psalm today spoke of a king, a leader, whose focus was on justice and doing things right for the needy and the afflicted. Where are those leaders today? Where’s the light and joy?
          I know…none of this sounds very “spirit-lifting” does it? Winter has a way of doing that to us. There’s not enough light. There’s too many hours of darkness…and cold. And then there’s the news, not much joy or light there either. It’s all so depressing.
          And to top it all off so many folks have had their holidays disrupted with colds, flu, and a myriad of other ailments. Not much light and joy there either. How can there be light and joy when everything hurts?
          So, friends, can you help me out? Where’s the light? Where can we go to find the joy? Is there any help for us?
          Maybe that’s why we need to hear the words of Isaiah.
60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
“Lift up your eyes and look about you:
          There was darkness then but the prophet speaks of hope, speaks with a certainty that God’s glory will rise upon them, and us, even though the darkness covers the world now. God, our Lord, will bring light into the world.
          This light came into the world once and dwelled among us for a time. Our hope is that the Lord will return and again bring light into the world.
          In the meantime where do we find the light? Where do we find the joy that so many of us are looking for?
          Did you hear Paul’s words for us today? Listen to them again. “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
          It’s the church’s responsibility to bring the Message of the Good News to the world. I guess that means that you and I are to be the prophets who tell others about the light that is coming again to drive back the darkness that’s invaded our world.
          Some of us might be asking, “How are we to do this when we struggle ourselves to see the light or feel joy?” Friends, God has given each one of us grace-filled gifts that enable us to share the Good News. As Paul said it’s… “by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.” That power is available for you and me to access.
          God’s grace through the working of his Holy Spirit will help us see the light and bring his joy into this dark, bleak world with its cliffs and ceilings.
          So, the answer to the question where’s the light, where’s the joy, is that it’s right inside us. We each have the power to bring a little bit of light and joy into someone else’s life through the power of God’s Holy Spirit working in us. We just need to work together, holding each other up in prayer every day, coming together to worship and going into the world with God’s love and grace, trusting in God to be right there beside us as we do this work.
          Thanks be to God for his light-filled grace. Amen.