Jesus Said: “Love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Last week Pastor Jim shared with us the importance of repentance, turning around or turning back; today I would like to add to that thinking another type of turning; turning over. Turning back to God and turning one’s life over to the care of God seem to me to go hand in hand. Neither one is easy. Both require a willingness to surrender the ego and/or the parts of ourselves that are holding us hostage to beliefs, behaviors and ideas that impede our spiritual growth and development. Turning one’s life over to God and leaving it there requires courage, patience, trust and faith. This act of surrender takes one out of the driver’s seat, challenges our notions of autonomy, and in a way, asks us to become as helpless and as dependent as a newborn child with the hope that a God we cannot see, touch or feel will care for us and provide what we need when we need it. It is no wonder that asking us to let go of all we think we know about life, to embrace a way of being that is so dependent and trusting, can make it feel like we are birthing into being a new self. It can be painful and hard. And yet the reward, a new life in Christ, makes it all worthwhile. (more…)
As some of you know, I was a news reporter for many years – for a quarter century in fact. And many years ago, I covered a huge wild fire in Southern California that destroyed an entire neighborhood in San Bernardino, known as the Panorama fire.
It is still listed as on of the worst fires in the history of the West. Some 280 homes burned to the ground and four people died. (more…)
I’d like to tell you about a friend of mine of many years. Her name is Doris. She is a few years older than me.
She was born during World War II in Poston, Arizona, in the desert near the Colorado River hundreds of miles from the nearest city. Doris’s family name is Okada. She is Japanese American. Doris was born in an internment camp.
For those unfamiliar with the internment camps, they were established by executive order 9066 of President Roosevelt two months after the outbreak of the war. (more…)
Some of us in this room remember the grainy black and white movies of the 1950s that showed aliens arriving on earth. In the movie, little green men (They were all men. There were no little green women) would find an Earthling and said, “Take me to your leader.” By the way, we know they were green because someone in the movie would refer to them as such. Anyway, what is interesting about that demand, “Take me to your leader,” is the idea that there was one leader on earth who could speak for all the earth’s inhabitants. That there was a leader in charge of everything and who governed all our lives. Someone the alien life forms could negotiate with or tell that we were about to be invaded. Well you and I know that there never was such a person. However, given that we are about to, in less than a week, have new leaders in our country who are responsible for our nation’s welfare and because we as a congregation are about to begin the search for our new leader, it seems to be the right time to ask ourselves what leadership means to us. (more…)
Today is the first Sunday of Epiphany – a new season for the new year. This is a season marked by light in the darkness and a sense of new starts for all of us.
As we hear the biblical stories unfold this new year once again, we will hear about people who make new starts. They will have strengths, and flaws, courage and cowardice, and often a mix of both. (more…)
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” — Isaiah 9:2
Blessings this Christmas night!
We gather tonight, as many have in ages past, to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, walking among us as the Incarnate Word Made Flesh, as the traditional language proclaims this.
Our parish name is the Church of the Incarnation, and that also makes Christmas our paternal feast day. Happy birthday Church of the Incarnation! (more…)
Each Sunday of Advent has a nickname. Last Sunday was called “Joy Sunday,” and we lit a pink candle in the Advent wreath.
This Sunday should be called “Courage Sunday.”
Whether you realize it or not, every single one of you is courageous.
Walking through these doors takes courage.
Being here to experience something bigger than yourself, if only for a short while, takes courage.
Praying takes courage.
Listening for the nudging of the Spirit takes courage.
Standing up for what is right takes courage.
This morning we hear a remarkable story of courage in the Gospel of Matthew.
We hear the story of Joseph, the father – or stepfather – of Jesus.
We hear about the miracle of Joseph’s courage. Maybe he was an unlikely hero, but most heroes usually are.
Joseph is a carpenter, and in the ancient Hebrew world, carpenters are makers of small wooden implements like spoons and bowls. Carpenters eke out a meager living.
For the time and place where he lived, Joseph is relatively old. Maybe in his 40s.
Men did not live long in the ancient world.
Joseph is probably a widower – there are suggestions in the gospels that he has older children. He needs a wife to care for his kids and run his household.
And so arrangements are made for Joseph the carpenter to marry the maiden Mary of Nazareth.
She is young, probably not older than 13 or 14.
Joseph probably had never met Mary when this arranged marriage is made with Mary’s father.
Her father promises Joseph that Mary hasn’t had relations with a man — that she is a virgin.
And then it is discovered that Mary is pregnant — and not by Joseph.
Imagine the shock. Mary’s world is about to come crashing down.
Her pregnancy brings scandal and dishonor to Joseph and to her father. Her family likely will shun her, and in fact, her mortal life is in serious danger.
Under the law, Joseph can have had young maiden Mary stoned to death. Executed. No one would think this wrong.
No one, that is, except Joseph.
Joseph says No. When the world is screaming for blood, Joseph stands up for what is right and says No.
Joseph protects Mary and her baby from certain death. He makes a promise and keeps it.
From where did Joseph find this miracle of courage?
I suspect not even Joseph knew he had such courage until an angel visited him in the night, in a dream, and tells him this baby will change the world.
Perhaps the angel reminded Joseph of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my savior.”
And then he believes Mary when she tells him that she has had the same dream with an angel visiting her.
The courage of Mary and Joseph begins in the same place where courage begins for each of us — in the stronghold of the Lord who is inside each one of us.
I don’t care if you live in a huge house, or a small apartment, or on the streets. I don’t care what you’ve done in life, good, bad or indifferent.
The Lord is truly in each of us, and fills us with more courage than we can imagine.
Mary and Joseph had to go away to escape the judgmental eyes of their relatives. I suspect some of us know what that feels like.
They had to start over. Starting over takes courage.
I have a young friend who has had difficulties with alcohol and drugs and the law.
But something within him is bigger than himself. Something within him is telling him to start over. Something within him that he cannot yet name gives him courage.
This is God’s gift to each of us: The courage to change our lives when change is needed.
Maybe this is what Advent and Christmas are all about:
New beginnings, new life, new courage.
We need each other’s courage. We need to hold each other up. When my courage falters, I need yours.
This is why it is so important to be a part of this faith community, to be here for each other.
This morning, we will baptize two children.
We will welcome them into this faith community for the rest of their lives. Wherever they go in life, they will always be a part of us.
This may seem like an ordinary thing, but it is not. Don’t ever take baptism for granted.
It takes courage for parents to say they will bring up their children in a life of faith.
It takes courage to stand before the baptismal font and pledge to follow in the way of Jesus. It takes courage to live into our baptismal promises.
The culture around us says do otherwise.
It is easier to believe in something else, like power and money, than to believe in a small baby, born in a manger long ago, who brings courage to the poor and the oppressed, the sick and the lonely.
The water in the baptismal font is the traditional symbol of the new life that comes with baptism. But water is also the traditional symbol of the death to the old ways that get in our way of living as the people God created us to be.
This death must come before new life and new ways of living can begin.
Baptism is about the courage of starting over.
This morning, listen closely to the baptismal pledges. Don’t let them glide past you. Pay close attention to the last promise – the promise to “respect the dignity of every human being.”
Respecting the dignity of every human includes respecting our own human dignity.
Whatever is dragging you down, do something about it. Start over.
If it is a relationship that needs mending, fix it.
If it is unhealthy habit like smoking or too much drinking or eating, do what it takes to change it. Start over.
Respect the dignity of every human by respecting your own dignity.
If you need help, have the courage to seek it.
And bring this to prayer.
Sometimes prayer can be painful. Prayer takes courage.
Prayer can bring up difficult memories, or things that are hard to face.
Jesus did not promise to protect us from pain. Jesus promised to wipe away our tears, heal us of our pain, and give us courage.
So when you leave here today, bring your courage into the world in all that you do, and with everyone you meet.
Every small act of kindness matters. Every act of generosity matters. Every act of courage matters. All of this adds up, one upon another.
So have courage: A new light will soon shine, and new life will soon be amongst us.
For a child will be born for us, a son given to us; and he will be named Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
I want to begin by acknowledging that in the wake of the current election, many of you are feeling raw, fatigued, or anxious, or all of that. This is a fact we need to acknowledge up front. This would have been true no matter whoever won.
I do not propose to rehash the election. The results are what they are. We do need time to get over this, so let’s be gentle with each other.
I said this before the election, and I will say this again: we already have a messiah. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. (more…)