Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Gaps

          This is the last Sunday of this year. It’s the Sunday that falls in between two Wednesday holidays.  And on the liturgical calendar we are in between the birth of the Messiah and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.
          There’s a gap, a bit of downtime, a silence, between the two events. In the gospel lesson for today we heard of Joseph’s dreams, the atrocious slaughter of the infants by Herod, a refugee family fleeing into exile and their return. All that and yet we can see that from the beginning of these events to the end of the last one many years have passed. These are gaps in time we know nothing about. We can only guess what might have taken place. There are spaces in time missing from this story.
Today, for a moment, reflect on the gaps we encounter: the times of silence in our lives, the empty time when we’re between jobs, the uncertain time when we’ve retired and yet haven’t planned how we’ll fill our idle time, the pauses when we read a sentence of scripture when we come to a comma or a semi-colon, the interludes in a piece of music. What do we do with the gaps, the silences when we encounter them? Do we try to fill the void or do we leave it alone? What do we do with them?
The other side of this reflection is how do we feel when there’s a gap in time or there’s absolute silence? Are we comfortable or not so comfortable with the gaps? Do we feel alone, abandoned, anxious, or fearful or do we get a sense that we’re not alone?
I think many times when the pauses are too long, the silence to deep, the spoken words too far apart we have a strong tendency to rush in and fill the void. We have a low tolerance to the long, quiet stillnesses, the gaps in time because we feel like we’re alone.
My friends, what I pray that we learn today is that, we’re never alone. The presence of God is always with us, even when we feel as if He’s abandoned us because of some wrong we think He’d never forgive us for. Even then He’s with us.
What we learn from those who have chosen lives of quiet and contemplation is that often it’s in the silence when God speaks to us.
Isaiah 30:15. There you find God speaking to the people of Israel and he says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”
If you read on you’ll find that God’s children wouldn’t have any of that and so they suffered. In verse 18 we then read how God “longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”
That may be where we fall down. We’re too impatient to wait. We can’t abide the silences and the gaps. We feel alone in the silence. And so we impulsively forge ahead, many times doing the wrong things and we end up hurt just like the people of Israel and Judah, the chosen children of God.
Even with all their rebellion God never left their side, never completely abandoned them. In fact that’s why Jesus came to earth as a baby.
So, my friends, in the silence we’re not alone. In the gaps in time in our lives we’re never really alone. Jesus, Immanuel, God is always with us.
And these gaps, these silences aren’t bad things even though we may not like them anymore than we like change. In the silences, if we listen, God may speak to us. In the gaps of our lives we are never alone because God is with us, Immanuel.
The gaps, the silences are necessary for us. Just as rests in music gives us a place to breathe, the silences, the gaps, give God a chance to speak to us. As we sit breathing in and out in the silence paying attention to the rhythm of our breaths God comes to sit with us, becoming one with us in the silence.
As we become one with God and God with us we become attuned to the thoughts of God. The more time we spend in the silence the more opportunities God has to converse with us.
This isn’t so far fetched as some may think. If a couple has been married for quite a while we notice that sometimes one or the other finishes sentences the other one’s started. It’s almost like they know what the other is thinking. 
Our relationship with God is the same, I think. The more time we spend with God the more we grow in God’s likeness. It’s almost like we know what God’s thinking. And we know that God knows what we’re thinking, if we believe in God. That’s the key, believing.
My friends, I ask that you believe that God is always with you, never abandons you, and is speaking to you in the gaps and the silences. Embrace that silence and listen as God speaks his word to you.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

God Cares

Listening to these readings from the Bible the one overriding theme that speaks to us, I think, is that God cares. He cares whether we’re thirsty. He cares whether we’re scared; he cared enough to send his Son, Jesus, to save the world, a world that was pretty messed up then and I think you’d agree is still pretty messed up today.
God loved us enough to send us an Advocate, his Holy Spirit, after Jesus ascended into heaven, which means we’re never alone. God is always with us.
For some folks that gives them hope and for others it leaves them uncomfortable because if God is always with us he knows every mistake we’ve ever made.  By the same token he also knows how often we’ve succeeded in walking in the Way of Jesus.
God knows our needs before we ever get around to talking to him in prayer. His invitation to us is always an open invitation to “come” when we’re thirsty, when we’re hungry, when we’re too scared to step out alone, when we’re grieving a loved one dying.
God has told us time and again to not be afraid, but we still are.  Even though we forget, even when we try to go it alone, even then God still cares. He never abandons us. God’s always ready to give us his best.
And there’s no hidden agenda with God. He just asks us to come, listen, seek, and believe. 
In this season of Advent when nights are too long and days are too short we are reminded that God sent his Son to be the Light of the World, a world that was hiding in the darkness, a world that still hides in the darkness.  In John’s gospel reading Jesus says, “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” God cared for this world so much he sent the Light into the world to drive back the darkness.
          God cares. God cares that a family is missing their mother, their grandmother, their great-grandmother, their friend. God cares, that’s why he has us gather together to celebrate the lives of these saints so we can support each other, so God’s love can flow from friends to family and back again.
God cares. He cared for Norma and he cares for her family. And he cares for every one of you gathered here this morning. And my friends, that the Good News for us, God cares for us. God loves us. God desires an intimate relationship with us.

Thanks be to God for his loving grace. Amen.


          In this Christmas season, a time of long nights and short days, a time of too much darkness and not enough light, we need to hear the words of Paul to the people of Thessalonica, “…do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”  
          And also John’s words that say, “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life… Light has come into the world… whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” “…whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life… the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.”
          My friends, these words give us hope…if we believe. There’s the key…believe. If we believe we shall have eternal life. If we believe we shall not perish. If we believe we will hear the voice of Jesus.
          Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.”
          Believe in God, believe in his Son, Jesus the Christ. My friends, the good news is that if we believe we shall not die but shall rise again just as Jesus did…and live.
          Where God is there are many rooms and Jesus has prepared rooms for us in that place. Beulavon has a room all ready created just for her.
          Jesus said, “…if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” I believe that’s exactly what will happen. Jesus will come back and we will all join our friends and our families again…and sing praises to our God.
          A very long time ago when I worshipped at Silver Creek EUB church I learned my ABC’s, “ask, believe, and confess.” The good news for all of us gathered here today is that if we believe we will not die but will live eternally with God in a place that he has prepared for us, if we believe.
          I can’t tell you how God will accomplish this wonderful thing, that’s a mystery to me, but I do believe that God can and will do what Jesus promised. Because 95 years isn’t enough time for us to get to know each other…and God.
          So, believe in Jesus’ words and trust in the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus the Christ and believe that one day we will all be together in one place, a new heaven and a new earth.

          Thanks be to God for his grace…and peace. Amen.

Monday, December 16, 2013


          The ‘pathway’, the road we walk, the journey we’re all on, Isaiah says, has been made new…and it’s a safe place to walk. It’s a place where healing occurs. It’s a place of beauty with flowers and streams of water in the middle of a hot, dry desert.  It’s a Holy Way Isaiah calls it.
          As the children were thinking about their journey here today what were you thinking about? Did you reflect back on what you saw as you came to church today? What caught your eye? What did you see that you’d never noticed before?
          This church is on a journey. In fact this church has been on a journey that began over 142 years ago. There have been changes and yet much has remained. The journey continues and only God knows what lies ahead. One thing is certain, it will interesting. Some things will change and some things will stay the same. It is a journey on a pathway designed by God, a Holy Way.
          As you listened to the Word read this morning what word or group of words spoke to you? One group of words in particular spoke to me, “Be strong, do not fear…Your God will come…he will save you.” 
          Isn’t that all that most of want in this life to not fear and to be safe? Isn’t it a comfort to know that God is right beside us taking care of everything? We really shouldn’t worry about anything because God has been there ahead of us. He has already prepared the answer or answers for us because he loves us.
          James reminds us to be patient as we wait for the Lord to come again. Just as a farmer puts the seeds into the ground and then waits for the rain and the sun to cause the seed to burst and plants to grow so should we wait patiently for God’s plan to blossom and bear fruit.
          What did the psalmist say today, “Blessed are those whose help is in the God of Jacob, and whose hope is in the Lord their God.” Our God is faithful, forever. This God who created everything we see has it all taken care of.  God is watching out for everyone, everywhere even as we wait.
          So, the good news for us today is that God is here with us as we wait. He’s always been here. He was with us last week as we discerned his Word for us. He will walk with us as we journey through this next year toward Advent 2014.
          In the meantime God has work for us to do. Some of which is telling our own faith story, maybe to each other, in the beginning, and then to our friends who may question why we go to worship every Sunday.
          Last week one of things we felt God leading us to do, or reminding us that we need to keep doing, is to make disciples. 
          As disciples are made God’s word, and His love, gets to more and more folks and they learn about God’s kingdom right here in this very place. And as more and more people join us in telling the story of God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ we may one day actually experience real peace on earth.

          In the meantime we will continue to wait for the Lord, Jesus Christ, to come again and make everything new. What a day that will be. Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Monday, December 9, 2013

There Will Be Change

          This year during this season of Advent we are still waiting for the Messiah’s return. Just as the people Isaiah was speaking were waiting for the coming of the Promised Savior so we wait for the Savior of the World to come again.
          Isaiah gives us a picture of a tree stump which will produce a new shoot. The tree has been toppled and it looks like its dead but in the spring a leave appears, then a branch, and eventually it’s a small sapling.
          Israel and Judah were being punished by God for disobeying the ten laws he’d given them. They failed to love God; they were failures at loving and caring for their neighbors. And so, God sent armies from Babylon to destroy the nation, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple on Zion. The people were taken into exile, many would never return. And some were left behind. God’s children were in exile in every nation in the known world.
          Isaiah said that there was a remnant, those chosen few who had remained faithful to the Word of God. From this remnant the nation would be rebuilt. From this remnant, from the stump of Jesse, a new shoot would spring forth. This shoot would be the Savior of the whole world, Gentiles and Jews.
          When this Savior came things would be different, everything would change. Nothing would be like it had been before.
          Imagine wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, calves and lions, cows and bears all co-existing being led by a child. Imagine children playing next to a cobra’s den and putting their hands in the viper’s nest and not being bitten. It’s beyond anything we can imagine. We can hardly comprehend such a state, yet this is what God told Isaiah to tell the people…and a few believed, a remnant trusted in the words of the Lord.
          From that remnant a nation was rebuilt. From this remnant a Savior was born. From this remnant a Savior will return to save the world…again. And make it new, make it different. Make it a place of peace and justice and righteousness and compassion. Make it a place where there is happiness and joy and laughter, a place we can just barely imagine. Some might call that place heaven.
          A different place, a place nothing like anything we’ve ever experienced. When that happens “there will be change.” Nothing will be the same.
          Can you remember your excitement when you were 6 or 8 or even 10 years old as you waited, expectantly, for Christmas Day? Can you remember the anticipation you felt as December 25th drew closer and closer? Do you remember how happy everyone seemed? Do you remember the smells that came from your Mom’s kitchen? Do you remember how you were told you had to wait until Christmas to sample the good things Mom was making? Do you remember?
          My good friends, Jesus, our Savior, our Lord is coming again. The day of his return is closer now than it’s ever been. Can you feel the excitement, the anticipation, the tension?
          God is gathering his children, the remnant, the body of Christ, in preparation for his return. When the Savior returns things will be different, things will change, drastically. Nothing will be like it is now. We won’t see any of the old familiar things because it will all be different.
          As we wait in joyful anticipation for that day, let’s keep Paul’s words to the Romans and John’s words to the Jews ever before us.
          The Word of God was written to give us hope and to encourage us as we wait. Paul says that we are to, “Accept one another as Christ has accepted you.”
          John said, “The ax is lying at the root of the trees and every tree that doesn’t bear fruit will be cut down and used as firewood.”
          Jesus Christ our Savior is coming again to save the world, to make it new again, to bring peace like we’ve never known in our lives. And so we wait, expectantly, anxiously, excitedly for that day, that day that’s just around the corner.
          My friends, as John said, “Repent, for the day of the kingdom of heaven is near.” And things are going to be different. Everything will change.
          God sent his Son, Jesus, not just for the Jews but for all who accept him as their Savior, Gentiles…and Jews.
          In Paul’s words, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as your trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, December 2, 2013


          The scripture lesson from Isaiah said, “He will teach us his ways so we can walk in his paths.”  Back when Isaiah was a prophet people walked everywhere. The places they walked were, for the most part, just paths. Some places were wider where the caravans traveled but where people walked it was mostly paths. So, it’s easy to understand what Isaiah was talking about when he talks of walking in God’s paths.
          Everybody could get a picture of a path because that’s how they got from one place to another. Today the Prophet might use the term “road” or “highway” or “interstate” and we’d immediately get a picture in our minds what he was talking about because that’s how we travel today.
          So, when we think about traveling in God’s path or road what’s that mean to you. How can we travel in God’s road and what kind of road would it be or what kind of road is it?
          For me it’s easy to picture a path because I walk almost everywhere I go here in Walnut, unless I’m going to McDonald’s for coffee, then I drive. But, mostly I walk. I use the sidewalk when it’s clear but I’ve been known to walk in the street too. It just depends on the circumstances.
          So, when Isaiah speaks of walking in God’s path I picture a sidewalk. But that’s only a mental picture. God probably didn’t intend for us to literally walk his path.
          More likely he was trying to get us to understand that we needed to get to where we could see or where we could hear God’s message for us. Isaiah said that the people needed to get to the mountain in Jerusalem, to the temple of God where the Message would go out from.
          Think about that for a minute. Where can we go to hear God’s message for us? Where can we go where the noise of our everyday lives can’t interfere with God’s message? What path would we take?  And would we all necessarily take the same path?
          The lessons from God’s word for us today talk a lot about peace, freedom from disputes, and loving each other. What pathway would we walk to achieve peace? How do we get from where we are now to where we need to be to be at peace?
          Isaiah and the psalmist said we need to get to the temple on the mountain, the house of the Lord. That’s where they said we should begin. Paul in his letter to the Romans said that now is the time to wake up. The time of Christ’s return is nearer than it’s ever been and we need to be paying attention.
          Paul said that we need to put aside those things that are inhibiting us and put on the armor of light and behave decently. He said, “Clothe yourselves with Jesus Christ and forget about fulfilling your physical desires.”
          So, the pathway to peace, to reconciliation leads to the temple, the house of the Lord. To get there we have to shed the things of darkness and put on light. Can you picture that?
          Darkness is all those actions and things that keep us from being at peace with each other, those things that really don’t make us or anyone else happy. Putting on light is being intentional in our attitudes towards our neighbors, our families, and the strangers we meet. Clothing ourselves in Christ is being like Jesus, imitating his life, being like him.
          Right now these are just words. How can we possibly be like Jesus? How can we shed the darkness and put on light? How?
          It’s as easy as surrendering, giving everything over to God and it’s that hard too, because it’s not exactly easy to admit that what we’ve been doing isn’t good for us or our friends and families. It’s never easy to let go of what has become so familiar to us and try something different like really trying to love everyone.
          Friends, if it was easy we wouldn’t need foreign ambassadors traveling all over the world to work out peace accords and disarmament agreements. If it was easy we wouldn’t need mediators to help settle disputes. But, it’s not easy.
          That’s when we turn to God and ask for his help…and his love…and his peace…and his grace. That’s when we surrender and say, “I give up. I can’t do this by myself. I need you. I’m sorry for trying to do it my way.”
          And that my friends, is the beginning of walking the pathway of peace, admitting that we can’t do it alone, admitting that we need God’s forgiveness and love and grace.
          The pathway to peace is love, love for God and love for one another. But first we have to walk the path to God. My friends, none of us have to walk this path alone. There are many other folks who will be walking with us. They may be strangers but they will soon become friends because they’re walking the same path.
          The path we’re on right now is leading us to a manger in Bethlehem. May we be patient as we travel in hope. The journey has only just begun.
          Thanks be to God for his eternal, loving grace. Amen.