Sunday, December 31, 2017

Speaking of Simeon and Anna Luke 2:21-40



Speaking of Simeon and Anna

In todays reading there is a lot of law thrown about.  Literally Luke mentions the Law 5 times. “Luke shows his skill at creating atmosphere.  Five times it is mentioned that Jesus’ parents observe the law, and Simeon and Hanna, another couple straight out of the old testament, reinforce this picture.”[1]
Luke uses the old testament differently than Mathew does in the Christmas story. “He does not use a prediction-fulfillment formula. Indeed, he does not even quote a verse from the old testament. He does however, proclaim the continuity of Jesus with Israel and his fulfillment of Gods promise to Israel in more than one way.”[2]
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book the first week explain that “We see the theme of fulfillment with great clarity in the song of Mary, Zechariah and Simeon, the Canticles known by millions of Christians as the Magnificat, the Benedictus, and the Nunc Dimittis.  Although most scholars think of these as ancient Christians hymns, perhaps we should think of them as ‘chants’ – hymns sung repetitively.”[3]
So, these three different verses from the narrative of the Christmas stories may have been early hymns of the church. These were likely sung before the Gospel was even written.  Marcus Borg speaks about how they are used but first gives us a bit of history about these canticles.
“as early Christians hymns, they are neither reports about what Mary and Zechariah and Simeon said nor Luke’s free creation. Rather, they are a pre-Lukan Christian Canticles…it is intriguing to think that we are hearing ‘pregospel’ Christian communities at worship in these texts.  This is what gospel, ‘the good news,’ of Jesus meant to them.  And by including these in his Christmas story Luke affirms that this is what the gospel of Jesus meant to him.”[4]
What Luke does, as opposed to quoting old testament, he uses echoes of old testament.  He uses phrases that parallel familiar readings from the old testament to proclaim Jesus as fulfillment of the old testament.
“Both the tone and the specific language of these hymns express the theme of fulfillment.  The tone is Jubilant, ringing with the conviction that God’s promises are being fulfilled.”[5]
Listen to the words of the three canticles. The canticle of Mary also known as the Magnificat. States “My soul Magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”
What joy abounds in that simple phrase.
In the song of Zachariah also known as the Benedictus we hear; “Blessed be the lord god of Israel for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up for us a mighty savior.”
Again, great Joy and affirmation that the people have been redeemed by the savior.
And Finally, todays canticle the song of Simeon also known as Nunc Dimittis states; “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.”
Simeon proclaims a great peace in the fulfillment of a promise through witnessing the arrival of salvation in Jesus.
Earlier I mentioned much of this passage is about the law.  First Luke wants to show that Joseph and Mary are good Jewish law-abiding parents.
“the passage we see, it gives us a glimpse at what kind of parents God entrusted baby Jesus to. They were people who feared God. The angel told them to name him Jesus. They obeyed and name him Jesus. God’s word told them to circumcise him on the eighth day. They obeyed the law and had Jesus circumcised on the eighth day. In fact everything we see Joseph and Mary doing in verses 21-24 is written in God’s law found in Leviticus 12. According to God’s law a woman becomes ceremonially unclean for seven days after giving birth. If she gave birth to a boy she must wait 30 days to be purified from her bleeding. If she gave birth to a daughter she must wait 60 days to be purified. Mary and Joseph obeyed this law. Once the woman is purified, the Law of the Lord says the baby must be brought to Jerusalem and presented to the Lord. They are not to go empty handed. They are to present to the Lord a lamb. If they can’t afford a lamb they are to present a pair of doves or two young pigeons. According to God’s law the purpose of this sacrifice was to redeem the first-born son and to offer atonement for the woman’s uncleanness. … We see our great Savior Jesus was entrusted not to rich parents but to godly parents. “[6]
This again is all in accordance with fulfilling the law in order for Jesus to be that fulfillment we must also see that the law is fulfilled for him by his parents.
“Luke has apparently taken this old idea of the first-born son being dedicated to God’s service and made it fruitful for his narrative. The Torah contains no requirement that the first-born son be presented at the temple. However, Luke alludes to the story of Samuel. When Hannah, who had no children, prayed to God for a son, she vowed that, if she had a son, she would give him to God for all his days (1 Samuel 1:11). And indeed, after Samuel was born, Hannah brought him to the temple, and he was “lent” to the Lord for life (1 Samuel 1:24-28). It is clear that Mary in Luke takes the role of Hannah (cf. Luke 1:46-55 with 1 Samuel 1:11; 2:1-10) while Jesus takes the role of Samuel (cf. Luke 2:40, 52 with 1 Samuel 2:26). Thus when Joseph and Mary present Jesus to the Lord in Jerusalem, they are in effect dedicating his life to God (no redemption money is given). Jesus will be “holy to the Lord” (Luke 2:23). With these words Luke subtly alters the language of Exodus 13:2, 12 from a command to consecrate (hagiazein) the first-born to God to a declaration about Jesus. Luke’s wording is reminiscent of Luke 1:35, where the angel Gabriel tells Mary that her son will be “holy” and will be called the “Son of God,” because he will be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Luke’s wording is perhaps also (though more distantly) reminiscent of other stories that speak of Jesus as a “holy one” with a special relationship to God (e.g., Mark 1:24). The story thus sets the stage for Jesus’ life dedicated fully to his heavenly Father (Luke 2:49).”[7]
Here again Luke doesn’t make a direct reference to the old testament however he is creating a narrative that alludes to it in order to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old testament and has a unique relation to God.
The next scene does hit me as funny, you see here we have Luke speaking of the law, his parents are fulfilling the law.  But as visitors to the temple suddenly a strange man takes their child and starts proclaiming thanks and fulfillment. If that were to happen today Mary would be screaming Joseph would be yelling a crowd would be gathering and soon Simeon would find himself arrested.
All we know about the life of Simeon is found in this verse. He was righteous and devout, and he was waiting for Israel’s Comfort: and the Holy spirit was on him. And it was revealed by the holy spirit that he would not die till he saw the coming of the Christ.
Upon entering the temple, he is with the Holy spirit takes the child and Blessing God affirms that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies.  But Simeon is not alone in this. We are also introduced to Anna.
One commentator writes;
“Luke introduces us to Anna the Prophetess. She, like the Shepherds, the Magi, and Simeon, confessed Jesus as the Christ, our Incarnate Lord, even before He celebrated His first birthday on earth. And yet, even though she is an invaluable witness to Jesus Christ, we cannot really recount her actual encounter with Jesus.
Luke gives us valuable information about the scene. We can read the very detailed account of Simeon confessing Jesus as the Christ. Then Anna arrives in the Temple while this is happening, but Luke decides not to explain any further details. Simeon appears in 11 verses, 9 of which describe His encounter with Jesus in the Temple that day. We know Simeon held Jesus in his arms, we can pray the same prayer he prayed, we know how Mary and Joseph reacted and what Simeon says directly to Mary. In contrast, Anna gets only three verses, and only 1 verse alludes to her being in the Temple at the same time as Jesus. What exactly happened? We cannot say. The specific information we do have about Anna and the silence about her encounter with Jesus are both startling, and intentionally so. There is barely a description of her encounter with Jesus. Just where she meets Jesus, Luke decides to fall silent.”[8]
It is interesting that we know of anna’s history a bit.  We know she is in the temple always.  We know she encountered Jesus, then she stands, praises God and speaks about Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel. Affirming that Jesus is the redemption.
“Based on the information Luke does give us, we can spell out a lot of the significance of Anna. Luke provides specific details about who Anna is, and they teach us how to think about Anna. Following Luke’s lead, we can fill out the meaning of his thought-provoking silence.
Luke mentions two people who bear witness to Him in the Temple: Simeon and Anna. The Bible advises, and for specific cases in the Old Covenant Law even requires, the evidence of two witnesses to establish an important legal charge (Deuteronomy 17; 19). Simeon and Anna are the two witnesses here, a complimentary pair. Both are pious and patiently waiting for Israel’s redemption. They represent the whole human race, male and female. Simeon is the male witness, and Anna the female witness. The man comes first, but it is not good for him to be alone, so the woman comes second, joins to the work of the man, and together they complete their service to the Lord.
Simeon is a prophet, because God includes him in divine council, and Anna is the prophetess, because God blesses her with this grace. Both confess Jesus is the Christ. Their combined evidence is greater than if only one confessed this truth. Simeon confesses Jesus as the Lord’s Christ, and Anna confesses Jesus as the Redeemer of Israel. They both hoped he was the one to redeem Israel, and they were both on target. Jesus grew up to redeem God’s people.”[9]
The commentator goes on about all the innuendos and possible double meanings one can read into who anna is where she is from and who her father is I believe some were a stretch but two are often referred to one is anna also sometimes called Hanna the commentator states;
“Anna is the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher.  The meaning of each name is important.      The name Anna, or as some translations render it, Hannah, reminds us of the other famous Hannah in the Bible. Hannah presented her son Samuel in the temple as a boy before God, so also, now, Mary is presenting Jesus in the temple as a boy before God. …
Why does it matter that Anna is from the tribe of Asher? Asher was a northern tribe of Israel conquered by Assyria. Asher became known as one of the ten lost tribes. What once was lost is now back
“Simeon and Anna appear as devout Jews who are awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises of consolation and redemption for Israel. These sections of Luke’s story are drenched with the language of Deutero-Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 40:1; 42:6; 49:6, 13; 52:9, 10). Simeon and Anna thus become spokesman and spokeswoman for the salvation and redemption that is to come through Jesus. Simeon gets a glimpse of the salvation that one-day the whole world (“all flesh”) will see (cf. Luke 3:6, Luke’s addition to Mark): forgiveness of sins and deliverance from eternal death (Acts 13:38-39, 46-47). That is the ultimate meaning of Christmas, the incarnation of the Son of God.”[10]
The incarnation of God, in other words God with us, Emmanuel.  This whole analysis of this part of Luke’s Gospel may lead one to say, so what or better yet, now what?  What do I do with this knowledge of the fulfillment of the Old testament as testified to by Simeon and Anna?  How does this relate to the here and now?
Many look at the Gospels and the life of Christ as leaving us waiting.  Many Christians spend their time looking for the time of Christ’s second coming. They look for signs and symbols and numbers and patterns in the sky. Actually, I do not know what they are looking for. I really am not concerned as it goes back to you shall neither know the time or place.
I want to live as Simeon’s canticle says;
“Master now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; For my eyes have seen your salvation.”
You see we have seen God’s salvation. We have seen and studied God’s salvation in Christ and now, and everyday, we are called to live into that salvation.  We are called to find better ways to spread the Good News that God became incarnate and taught a message of radically inclusive love for all.
Now we are called to live into that message and to be that message.  We look for God in the everyday and in every way. We seek out ways to find God in our lives in the hope that we may just be the message of God’s hope to others.
I recently read about a small church in a small town in Michigan.  It was a church of 35 members just a few years ago now their Sunday worship is around 135 they are literally bursting at the seams.  They even have a new church start a couple of towns over because people were driving quite a distance to be part of their community.
What did they suddenly start to do differently than they had done before?  For one they learned the history of the UCC as a denominational movement.  How we are a church of firsts and we have a radically strong rich history that we are a part of.
Then they started to get out in their community.  The pastor said they just started to go to everything.  I am not sure what everything included but they became visible.  They became a very visible part of their community. 
“’As we've been growing, people want to take our mission and bring it outside of the church. It's more than Sunday morning," Sapienza said. "We started a Steven Ministry program, partnering with a national organization and thousands of churches. Several members of the congregation have become trained to minister to others in our community. They meet with someone once a week, to sit and listen, be a presence. Others have decided to work with children at the elementary school, becoming volunteers in the school tutoring program. We've become a creation justice church, to care for the environment and have held recycling events and led beach cleanup on the shores of Lake Michigan.’
Church members also march in the Gay Pride Parade, have offered help in the Flint Water Crisis, and participate in Black Lives Matter events.
‘By dramatically increasing their footprint in the community, they have claimed their prophetic voice and embraced their diversity,’ said Gonzalez. ‘This is a story of engagement, vision and revitalization. The congregation has begun to own their ministry and believe in themselves. It’s been exciting to witness firsthand.’”[11]
I am not saying their way is your way, but it is a way.  To intentionally seek out places that have needs and be the church that feeds those needs.  As the new year is upon us I would like to hear from people who want to do something, try anything, who want to explore what it means to be the church in the 21st century.
It is your call as a congregation to listen for Gods still speaking voice and find ways to answer the call a call that means reengaging old connections or forging new connections I do not know what the answer is for you but just as the child grew and became strong so is the church called to grow be strong be filled with wisdom and seek the favor of God. We are called to continue to proclaim the Canticle of Simeon and the praises of Anna, for the redemption of the world has come and we are called to claim it, proclaim it and to live out that proclamation and share the good news with the world.





[1] Nicholas King, The Bible (Great Britain: Kevin Mayhew LTD, 2013), 1940.
[2] Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus's Birth (New York: Harper One, 2007).  Two authorities on the life of Jesus draw on the gospels of Matthew and Luke to tell the true story of Jesus's birth and to place its lessons in context with the modern world.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] University Bible Fellowship, Faith of Simeon and Anna, 2006, accessed December 30, 2017, http://www.washingtonubf.org/BibleMaterials/Luke2005/luke2b_msg.html.
[7] Stephan Hultgren, Commentary on Luke 2:22-40, December 28, 2014, accessed December 30, 2017, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2258.
[8] Dave Shaw, “Anna Asher,” theopolis Institue, February 12, 2015, accessed December 30, 2017, https://theopolisinstitute.com/anna-of-asher/.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Connie Larkman, “Small Michigan Church quadruples in size by ministering to its community,” united Church of Christ, December 20, 2017, accessed December 30, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/news_small_michigan_church_quadruples_in_size_by_ministering_to_its_community_12202017?utm_campaign=kyp_dec26_17&utm_medium=email&utm_source=unitedchurchofchrist.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Watching for Peace



This the fourth Sunday of advent we are watching for peace the peace that we are about to celebrate and honor the peace that comes in the form of a small child. I remember when I was young, Christmas held so much magic for me and truly it still does just in a different way. The story goes that my father never really had a Christmas as a young man. His step father was rather strict and thought it frivolous to spend money on such things. So, when he married my Mother his first experience of a family Christmas was with my Grandparents. So, making Christmas good for us kids became very important. The Christmas tree would be delivered by Santa and we would wake up to it Christmas morning. We were allowed one toy from our stocking before getting dressed for Christmas morning mass. We would come home to a big breakfast and it wasn’t until the dishes were done that we were allowed to open our gifts. Well life goes on kids get older and traditions change. Eventually Santa decided he could not afford the time to bring us our tree anymore and, so we got to buy the tree and decorate it ourselves which was always fun. First, we had to get the tree straight, which consisted of Mother directing dad, he was so patient, it wasn’t until the third or fourth full circle of moving front to back left to right would he decide they were done and it was straight enough. Then dad had to fight with the lights. It seemed like a constant battle that he would never win. Mother cherished her memories and almost every ornament had a story and the story had to be shared and the ornament admired. It took some time to get the tree together. After the angel was placed neatly on the top of the tree we would carefully unwrap the tissue around nativity set and its creche. It had shepherds and sheep there was a cow and a donkey. Of course, there was Mary and Joseph and an angel hung upon the pinnacle. The three kings were often set off in the distance because they do not arrive until epiphany. During the 40 days of lent we would place a piece of straw in the manger and Jesus would be laid in the straw on Christmas eve. Oh, and the creche had a music box on the side. Once wound it played silent night. Often in the evening I would get under the tree looking up from below and play that music box. It was such a peace filled sound to hear silent night plucked out on the metal spines of the little music box. Sometimes I would fall asleep under the tree as silent night played. The silent night story is one of my favorites at Christmas. Not far from where I grew up is a silent night chapel an exact copy of the chapel in the town of Oberndorf. “In 1818, a roving band of actors was performing in towns throughout the Austrian Alps. On December 23 they arrived at Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg where they were to re-enact the story of Christ's birth in the small Church of St. Nicholas. Unfortunately, the St. Nicholas' church organ wasn't working and would not be repaired before Christmas. (Note: some versions of the story point to mice as the problem; others say rust was the culprit) Because the church organ was out of commission, the actors presented their Christmas drama in a private home. That Christmas presentation of the events in the first chapters of Matthew and Luke put assistant pastor Josef Mohr in a meditative mood. Instead of walking straight to his house that night, Mohr took a longer way home. The longer path took him up over a hill overlooking the village. From that hilltop, Mohr looked down on the peaceful snow-covered village. Reveling in majestic silence of the wintry night, Mohr gazed down at the glowing Christmas-card like scene. His thoughts about the Christmas play he had just seen made him remember a poem he had written a couple of years before. That poem was about the night when angels announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah to shepherds on a hillside. Mohr decided those words might make a good carol for his congregation the following evening at their Christmas eve service. The one problem was that he didn't have any music to which that poem could be sung. So, the next day Mohr went to see the church organist, Franz Xaver Gruber. Gruber only had a few hours to come up with a melody which could be sung with a guitar. However, by that evening, Gruber had managed to compose a musical setting for the poem. It no longer mattered to Mohr and Gruber that their church organ was inoperable. They now had a Christmas carol that could be sung without that organ. On Christmas Eve, the little Oberndorf congregation heard Gruber and Mohr sing their new composition to the accompaniment of Gruber's guitar. Weeks later, well-known organ builder Karl Mauracher arrived in Oberndorf to fix the organ in St. Nicholas church. When Mauracher finished, he stepped back to let Gruber test the instrument. When Gruber sat down, his fingers began playing the simple melody he had written for Mohr's Christmas poem. Deeply impressed, Mauracher took copies of the music and words of "Silent Night" back to his own Alpine village, Kapfing. There, two well-known families of singers — the Rainers and the Strassers — heard it. Captivated by "Silent Night," both groups put the new song into their Christmas season repertoire. Silent night! holy night! All is calm, all is bright, 'Round yon virgin mother and Child! Holy Infant, so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace. The Strasser sisters spread the carol across northern Europe. In 1834, they performed "Silent Night" for King Frederick William IV of Prussia, and he then ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas eve. Twenty years after "Silent Night" was written, the Rainers brought the song to the United States, singing it (in German) at the Alexander Hamilton Monument located outside New York City's Trinity Church. In 1863, nearly fifty years after being first sung in German, "Silent Night" was translated into English (by either Jane Campbell or John Young). Eight years later, that English version made its way into print in Charles Hutchins' Sunday School Hymnal. Today the words of "Silent Night" are sung in more than 300 different languages around the world.” By the time the song had become famous throughout Europe, its writer Joseph Mohr had died and its composer was unknown. Although Franz Gruber wrote to music authorities in Berlin stating that he was the composer, the melody had been assumed to be the work of Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven at various times and these thoughts persisted even into the twentieth century. The controversy was put to rest in 1994 when a long-lost arrangement of "Stille Nacht" in the hand of Joseph Mohr was authenticated. In the upper right hand corner of the arrangement, Mohr wrote, "Melodie von Fr. Xav. Gruber."… Father Joseph Mohr's final resting place is a tiny Alpine ski resort, Wagrain. He was born into poverty in Salzburg in 1792 and died penniless in Wagrain in 1848, where he had been assigned as pastor of the church. He had donated all his earnings to be used for eldercare and the education of the children in the area. His memorial from the townspeople is the Joseph Mohr School located a dozen yards from his grave. The overseer of St. Johann's, in a report to the bishop, described Mohr as "a reliable friend of mankind, toward the poor, a gentle, helping father." I share this story because this song blesses so many, as we watch for peace I pray that each may have a silent night. We watch this night with many, many who are watching for and hoping for a night when there is no war, when there are no fights or hate crimes on our streets, when the world can be still and rest in peace filled silence. There was a night like that once, a Christmas miracle if you will, a miracle of a silent night. This Christmas Miracle has been shared over and over again. The truce of 1914. It is said that on Christmas eve during world war I the troops in the trenches were so close to one another that they could hear each other talking. They could smell the aroma from each other’s food. You see; “Pope Benedict XV, who took office that September, had originally called for a Christmas truce, an idea that was officially rejected. Yet it seems the sheer misery of daily life in the cold, wet, dull trenches was enough to motivate troops to initiate the truce on their own — which means that it’s hard to pin down exactly what happened. A huge range of differing oral accounts, diary entries and letters home from those who took part make it virtually impossible to speak of a “typical” Christmas truce as it took place across the Western front. To this day historians continue to disagree over the specifics: no one knows where it began or how it spread, or if, by some curious festive magic, it broke out simultaneously across the trenches. Nevertheless, some two-thirds of troops — about 100,000 people — are believed to have participated in the legendary truce. Most accounts suggest the truce began with carol singing from the trenches on Christmas Eve, “a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere”, as Pvt. Albert Moren of the Second Queens Regiment recalled, in a document later rounded up by the New York Times. Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade described it in even greater detail: “First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing ­– two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.” The stories go on saying some kicked a make shift soccer ball around…others shared gifts of cigarettes and a drink. For some the truce lasted only a few hours for some the fighting did not resume till after new year’s. It doesn’t matter how long the Christmas truce lasted, what it says about human nature is amazing. Left to their own devices with no interference from politically motivated ranking officers Peace found a way. Peace found a way in spite of all that was happening around them. Peace found a way in the midst of a battle to enter into the hearts of two armies. Though it was the hymn of oh come all ye faithful. It could have just as easily been silent night. The point is on that night in the midst of hatred and war people watched peace and experienced the peace of Christmas. So I pray that we may put this year behind us, as a people and we can start to watch for peace. Just as I said before when we watch for hope we become the hope, when we watch for love we become that love and when we watch for joy we become joy. So if we choose to watch for peace, we will see Peace, we will be peace, and we will be a way for peace to be manifest in our world. Christmas eve and Christmas day are when we celebrate God breaking into the world as a gentle, helpless baby. As Isaiah 9:6 says “for unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called wonderful counselor, Mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of peace” May the prince of peace reign in our hearts and guide us to find a better way that we may begin to bring peace to the world. That we may begin to bring peace to our community. What does it mean to work for peace and to seek peace? It means doing the small things like collecting toys for Christmas or the tools for habitat. It means finding ways to help us better serve each other through partnering with other organizations. Perhaps we may want to look at a mission trip or partner with another congregation to make a mission trip. Maybe it means working with Petaluma Bounty and meals on wheels. Perhaps it means finding better ways to eat responsibly and helping to get nutrition to those in need. We may find new ways of bringing peace through opportunities offered by the United Church of Christ by attending the annual gathering, by participating in the Golden gate association and/or by engaging in any one of the numerous national movements. I pray we can watch for peace as you as a congregation work to build your church profile, dream of new possibilities, and seek to call new settle minister. I pray we can watch for peace as we seek out better ways to work for a just world for all and how that will manifest for you as a congregation as well as on the state and national levels. But more immediately I pray we can watch for peace as this day one of our most sacred nights we can appreciate the gift of those around us. As we share Christmas in our own way I pray that the peace we are watching for arrives and stays in each ones hearts and carries us through the year to ocme. Amen.

advent at the border part 4



Sunday, December 17, 2017

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Watching For Hope Mark 13: 24-37






“Most of us depend on our calendar to help us keep track of time. We remember events and appointments in our personal lives, and follow the events of the world around us based on a calendar that turns over a new year on the first of every January. This week, as it does each year, the church gets a head start on the rest of the world by beginning a new year (Year B in the liturgical calendar) on the First Sunday of Advent.

Nora Gallagher uses the church year and its seasons as a framework for her graceful meditation, Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith. "The church calendar," she writes, "calls into consciousness the existence of a world uninhabited by efficiency, a world filled with the excessiveness of saints, ashes, smoke and fire; it fills my heart with both dread and hope."[1]

Todays reading says “Therefore keep awake – for you do not know the when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep Awake.” (Mark 13:37) 

Stay awake, be alert, be ready!  In the midst of this gospel reading this time is very stressful.  The description of end of days when the sun ceases to shine and the moon goes dark and the stars literally falling from the sky. We are being told that this could happen at any given moment.  And we will not know that hour till we see it but when we do see it we will know!

I think if I was alive back then and I heard this for the first time, when they had no understanding how the real world and universe works, I would be terrified.  I would have no problem staying awake because how could I sleep?

I really do Like Nora Gallagher’s reflection on the Church Year.  The liturgical calendar is something very few of us truly live by. However Happy new year!  The Church year is literally what a pastor’s life revolves around.  The only time we pay attention to the secular calendar is around tax time.

But Nora’s reflection is so elegant and sweet it bears repeating; “’The church calendar,’ she writes, ‘calls into consciousness the existence of a world uninhabited by efficiency, a world filled with the excessiveness of saints, ashes, smoke and fire; it fills my heart with both dread and hope.’”[2]

This season of advent we are watching, watching with hope, with Joy, with Love and with peace. This Sunday we watch with hope, the hope that comes with a small child. What does that hope look like? As we live this church calendar how acutely aware do we become of a world uninhabited by efficiency? Do we see a world filled with excessive saints?  Do we taste a world of ash, smoke and fire?

Let’s talk about the lack of efficiency.  Being Christian in this mad world is not efficient at all.  We are called to run towards pain, hunger, disease and dis-ease.  We are called to get out of our comfortable lives and challenge the world around us to be better, we are called to be better, we are called to be in this world as active participants working to bring about the kindom of heaven right here.

How does that happen?  What does that look like?  It is our relationship with the sacred. It is how we walk seeking that just world for all.  The Just world for all campaign is a campaign of the united church of Christ which incorporates the 3 great loves.

 “The 3 Great Loves is the denomination’s opportunity to express how our Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, and Love of Creation work together to address the inequities in our current world. 

Over the course of the next two years, through the lens of the 3 Great Loves, the United Church of Christ tells the story of how we are impacting and transforming the world, united in common purpose and mission.

During these upcoming two years, there will be moments of special invitation to participate in this denomination-wide undertaking. One by one we will focus on each of the 3 Great Loves in service to our communities.

Our expression of love, is and will be our living testimony”[3]

Our living testimony.  We are not a church that does altar calls, we do not seek miraculous healings though we do claim and proclaim them.  We are a church of action. We are called to the reservations.  We are called to the homeless and the hungry.  We are called to care for each other and the world the best we can.

In the podcast for a just world, a new program from the United Church of Christ, the narrator speaks of the unique spirituality that embodies this program. She states “When I talk about spirituality I am talking about the demonstration of relationships, the commercial spiritual genre highlights only the relationship between an individual and the disembodied divine, but the embodiment of God's love and justice in Jesus and the demonstration of transforming life-giving relationships infused with liberating action and love. Show us the holiness the presence of God in all of our relationships.”[4]

As we watch for hope it is through our spiritual relationship that not only do we watch for hope but also we are hope.  As we seek ways to connect to make better this world it is our knowledge of the embodiment of divine love in Christ and our practice to mirror that love in this world to seek out and offer Gods love and Justice to those who are marginalized and/or in pain that we become the face of Christ, that we are transformed into the hope of the world. 

The narrator in the podcast goes on to say “So then discipleship, the process of us walking more closely to Jesus more deeply in the action of love transforming our lives to demonstrate that embodiment which is to become more human while at the same time recognizing more deeply the sacred presence in every person, is part of our path in seeking a just world for all. Maybe it can be called a spirituality of justice. It has everything to do with recognizing our deep interconnectedness to one another, to creation, to God, and demonstrating those relationships in love. Do justice, walk humbly, love mercy… not just in individual interpersonal encounters but at the dinner table, with the food we eat for our bodies and nourishment, who we invite to share it with us, the way we preserve and prepare the food the way it is cultivated in the earth, the way we treat those who tend it along the agricultural supply chain.”[5]


The concept of justice work and food go so hand in hand it can be overwhelming, but it truly is where all the world interconnects “Over 1 billion people are employed in world agriculture, representing 1 in 3 of all workers… Labour force participation rates are usually highest in the poorest countries. More people are employed out of necessity than by choice, as only a fraction of the working-age population can afford not to work. In these countries, low unemployment ļ¬gures in conjunction with high labour participation rates result in large swathes engaged in vulnerable employment and many in working poverty.”[6]

As Californians we are rich in agriculture and yet in those wet and rainy months much of our food comes form across the border.  During the high production months much of our labor comes from across the border. We need to think about and at the very least be aware of our food and our practices around it

 We should think about “If it crossed international borders through the trade policies and what we do with our food waste.”[7] 

You see “There is a demonstration of relationship in all of those things. When we remain unconscious to that fact, exploitation easily takes root and the dominant dehumanizing structures and systems are free to grow. But recognizing humanity. And deep interconnection along the way gives us the opportunity to choose life for ourselves. For others. For creation. And to plant seeds of life.”[8]


The whole Gospel of Mark was written about 40 years after the crucifixion during Roman occupation perhaps that is why there is such an urgency to the whole gospel. “The Gospel of Mark moves at breakneck speed centering the sick, the poor, and the demon possessed the literal masses of people marginalized in the economy and systems of Roman occupation.”[9]

Perhaps that is why there is such an urgency to todays message to keep awake, to keep our eyes open. I know in this time it is hard to keep our eyes open.  We have witnessed injustice, hateful acts, natural disasters, and wars. We can be tempted to look away.

But we will stay awake, we will watch for the Hope in the world to come and we will strive to be that hope.  Even if it means just changing our eating habits to a more sustainable way.  Even if it means bringing toys for children.  Even if it means just being aware of our global community and how we are all of us, each and every one of us, connected.

Just by watching for hope we become the hope that is embodied in the Christ child. Let us continue to be that hope as we seek a Just world for all.


Amen.                                                                                             



[1] Kathyrn Matthews, First sunday of advent year B, accessed December 2, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_december_3_2017.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Dorhauer, John, Three Great Loves, 2017, accessed December 2, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/3greatloves.
[4] Tracy Howe Wispelwey, Advent at the Border part 1, November 28, 2017, accessed December 2, 2017, https://soundcloud.com/forajustworld.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Food and agriculture organization of the United Nations, Labour, accessed December 2, 2017, http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/i2490e/i2490e01b.pdf.
[7] Tracy Howe Wispelwey, Advent at the Border.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Podacast for a Just world advent part 1

I am sharing the UCC New podcast over the next for weeks  let those who have ears hear...


Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Journey to Gratefulness Luke17:11-19


Pastor Andy Cook Shares “the story of Pam, who worked in downtown Chicago. Every morning, she encountered a heavyset, middleaged woman in a shabby coat soliciting spare change in front of an old brick church. She greeted everyone with a smile and a pleasant "Good morning." Pam almost always gave her something. After almost a year of this routine, however, the woman in the shabby coat disappeared. Pam wondered what had happened to her.

Then, one beautiful day, she was in front of the church again, still wearing the same, shabby coat. As Pam reached into her purse for the usual donation, the woman stopped her. "Thank you for helping me all those days," she said. "You won't see me again because I've got a job." With that, she reached into a bag and handed Pam a wrapped package. She had been standing at her old spot waiting, not for a handout, but for the people she recognized so that she could give each of them a doughnut. She was thankful.”[1]

Being thankful is not always so easy.  Working our way into a grateful life takes practice and it is a Journey.  Listen to today’s Gospel. Jesus is traveling when he hears ten lepers Call out from a distance.

Leprosy is a terrible disease. It is a communicable disease that affects the skin and nerves of those infected. Though it is still around today most people will not catch it.  It requires a compromised immune system and or poor nutrition.  It is treatable with a regimen of medications. Annually there are 214000 new cases every year.[2]

Back then, in Jesus’ time, they had figured out that it was a communicable disease so if one were to display symptoms they were exiled from their family, their community from all they knew. Being that there was no treatment except for a miracle most died of disease and or starvation.

This disease took a terrible toll on the body.  As the nerves die one easily injures themselves and so sores and infections set in.  Besides loosing limbs, people literally would rot from the outside in.  The smell was the worse.

“Beth Moore, in her book Jesus The One And Only, tells of an occasion she had to be near a modern-day leper colony. Something within her had always wanted to minister in a leper colony, but her trip overseas had given her the first opportunity to be near such a place. She walked by the entrance three times. She saw those who were suffering. She begged herself for a chance to go inside. But she could not.

The reason? The smell overwhelmed her. She could not work up the stomach to go inside the colony. She could not bear the thought of witnessing for the Lord, but at the same time becoming violently ill as she faced human beings already acutely aware that they were different. The trip passed, and she was not able to go inside.”[3]

Lepers lived in groups and would beg for money or food.  But this wasn’t your normal fashion of begging.  They had to keep a distance, people could not get near them and they understood this.  So, they would stand not even on the side of the path or roads but in the nearby fields and they would shout at the top of their lungs hoping someone would have pity.

I Imagine, since they were not allowed to get close to people they often had their begging bowl set next to the path though they were a way off.  This opened them up to robbers and thieves who could easily steal their money before they even had a chance to see what might have been tossed in their plate.  They were subjects of fear and loathing often run off while rocks and stones were tossed at them. Human contact besides fellow lepers was seldom.

Jesus is on this road and he hears ten lepers shouting from the distance “Jesus Master have Mercy on us”! I imagine at first, he just heard noise in the distance because he did have a crowd around him.  But as they proceeded the shouting became louder and the crowd quieted down as they realized who, well really what was making the commotion.

Now Jesus does not approach them. He has hardly any interaction at all he just shouts back “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”(Luke 17:13)  My first thought, if I was one of them might had been “what are you kidding? Been there done that! That’s how we got here”

“The local priest had duties other than leading worship on each Sabbath. He was also something of a health official. If a person was miraculously healed of leprosy, it was up to the priest to inspect the body, to test for a complete removal of the disease, and to announce the person healed. In such cases, the person would have been cleansed, and at that point, it would be fine for the leper to see his wife again, to hold his daughter again, to look for work again. If the priest gave him the OK, he would be healed!”[4]

In the same way it was the priest who proclaimed the person unclean and sent them into exile.  So yeah been there done that would have been my thought.

But not this group.  This group, still diseased, still with open sores and extreme pain start to walk to the local priest.  These ten ill people who know their disease can see it is still running its course set out on the road.  They did not wait for the healing.  They did not wait for their prayers to be answered.  They trusted in Jesus so much that they started to walk down that road they were told to walk.  They stepped out in huge faith before their prayers were even answered.

Rev. Cooke says; “In other words, all of these men were no better off than they had been ten minutes earlier, when they had first spotted the famous teacher.

And yet, they headed off in search of the priests. And on their way, they were healed. On their way, a hand reappeared, and tingled with life. A crutch tripped on a filthy rag, as it fell to the ground. The leg was back, healthy, whole, complete. The skin cleared, and the tiny hairs on a forearm turned from snow white to brown. One looked at the other, another looked at the rest, and the screaming started. The smiles broke into cheering, and a sweet madness. They raced off in the distance, not believing that the nightmare was finally over.

But for the miracle to happen, these men had to start walking in faith before their circumstances had changed one tiny bit.”[5]

I try to be faithful.  I try to trust in God.  I have stepped out in faith not knowing what was coming next.  But wow this one is hard. I imagine these men just still sore still pain ridden turning to seek a priest in despair.  They had nothing to lose.  They have heard of this great teacher.  They have heard about his miracles and, so they just start walking.

They start walking slowly at first for it is painful to walk.  Then slowly one starts to notice his step becoming lighter.  A little way down the road another starts to notice he can feel his feet.  A third can feel his hand.  Suddenly they all stop realizing what has Just happened and they rejoice.

 I wish my faith was as great as theirs.  There are so many roads I would have walked down.  Then again perhaps they were not mine to walk down. Funny thing stepping out in faith. It is particular. It is a process and when it happens what is meant to be will be.

I truly believe these lepers were sent to the priests because that is what they were called to do.  Even though doubts were high.  Perhaps they were even touched by healers before and nothing happened.  We do not know their whole story all we know is that this time.  This time when Jesus gave them a task their hearts were moved enough that they stepped out.

There is a cooperation needed for the miracle to happen it takes three.  That’s what I said it takes three. It takes God to give us an opportunity and/or many opportunities.  It takes the spirit prompting us , encouraging us to step out.  Then finally it takes us taking that deep breath and to actually start down that road.

It is a challenge for us and we always want to well bargain.  You know what I mean.  Ok God I feel you are calling me to do this, to go here, to try that.  I will go, do, and try, if you dot dot dot.  Right? I mean how many times is our prayer God if you just dot dot dot then I will dot dot dot!

“But we cannot wait until the problems are over to start walking in faith. You cannot put conditions on holy God. You cannot say, "Lord, as soon as there's enough money, I follow your instructions." You cannot pray, "Lord, if you'll just solve this issue in my family, I'll start to church." You cannot put conditions on God! Instead, God places a demand for faith on us, before anything at all has changed.”[6]

This is a long road, this faith journey and it requires of us some bold moves.  God requires of us to be bold. But even being bold in God requires a process.  For us it’s called discernment. “Discernment is more than just a process. Even for the most 'material' or 'nitty-gritty' matters, there is a Spirit at work nudging us, leading us, even pulling us by the nose ring. Then again, even for the most 'spiritual' matters, there are disciplines, methods, processes, lessons, means, and tools which the Spirit can work through to help us discern rightly. Discernment isn't usually a sudden zap from beyond, but something which emerges from hard work and close attention.”[7]

This process of the journey with God means we listen with our spirit, with our soul for patterns.  God doesn’t usually just drop something on us and expects us to act right away.  I said earlier there are often something that continues to arise in our heart.  An opportunity from God that seems to come to us again, and again, and again. Until we take it to prayer and say is that you God.

Remember Samuel?  The lord called him three times.  The first time he thought it was Eli, so he went to Eli and said here I am and Eli said go back to bed.  The God called Samuel a second time this time Eli realized what was happening and told Samuel to answer here I am Lord the next time he is called.  I took 3 calls and a spiritual director to figure out that it was God calling Samuel.

We really cannot put God on hold oddly enough she will keep pestering us till we answer the call that is placed upon our heart. 

Also there are times we should step out on the road that God has called us to in spite of where we are at on our journey.  Much as with the lepers.  They were not healed yet and they started upon their Journey.

“God might say, "Love me despite the disease. Obey me despite the lack of talent, or the lack of resources. Follow me now, despite the depression. Say no to the temptation, while it still is difficult. Praise me in the darkest of nights, and in the worst of circumstances."[8]

It is here through the most difficult of times when we are tested.  Do we step out on the journey with God knowing that we may not have all the gifts needed?  Perhaps knowing that we do not have all the resources?  Perhaps knowing that a ministry may cost the church money?  How many times has anyone heard a story of people seeing a need and begin to fill it then and only then does the money come to help make the ministry stronger, better?

I know of a church in Medford Massachusetts called sanctuary. Now this is not an example for this congregation but an example for stepping out in faith.  They had this big old historic sanctuary and the congregation was down to about 30.  They knew they had to do something different.  They sold their sanctuary and moved into a store front in downtown.

They didn’t know if that would work.  They were scared and for the first two years or so it seemed truly rough going. But now it is a thriving congregation ministering to youth.  Ministering to the people who walk by.  They have Projects of partnering with other churches.  They have a ministry to a Lakota reservation.  They have art church, Faith and Film, and dinner church.

Again, I am not saying this is your future what I am saying is sometimes it seems crazy and impossible when we step out in faith. They almost failed a few times but now they thrive, and they are grateful.

First, they were grateful for their history and all their old sanctuary was. Then they were grateful for a new beginning. It didn’t matter how tenuous, they were greateful.  Then they were grateful to offer a warm place where one can come in form the cold right downtown. Today they are very grateful to be a thriving congregation.

Remember our Lepers.  They had to say ok to God before they were healed.  They had to step out in faith to be healed. They had to be grateful for just the chance that this Jesus might be the real thing.

“This is the nature of God, a God who loves you so much, He'll give you the opportunity to be thankful when nothing about your circumstances gives you that motivation. My friends, that is the very definition of faith. If you praised God only on the good days, only in the best of circumstances, it would not be faith at all. That would be more like a business arrangement - and this is not about business!”[9]

So, what about that road to gratefulness.  We assume 9 lepers went to the priests praising God for their miracle.  They went to the priests for verification of the miracle, so they could be welcomed back into society, so they could get home to their loved ones.  So, they could have a full and wonderful life again.

So many of us have a prayer answered and barely take notice.  So many times, we are faced with small miracles daily.  I mean just the sunrise here is a miracle in and of itself every day. It is so beautiful and yet so many just take it for granted. I have said this before and I will say it again in a few minutes. God answers our prayers and sometimes it is in hindsight that we see it.

But the challenge is when we see it do we just acknowledge it and move on.  Do we Give God the credit due?  Do we make the journey back down the path to stop and say thank you before we move on to the task at hand?

“One of the men came back to Jesus, and praised God. He was thankful. He was public about it. He was loud - he wasn't shy at all.

Why was he so loud? This guy had been forced to yell for as long as he'd had leprosy. Had it been years? He'd probably yelled so long, he didn't know how to come to the Lord quietly, or even in a normal voice. When he came back and fell at the feet of Jesus, he was just louder than the normal person, and he was praising God.”[10]

What is praising God louder than normal.  What is giving thanks out loud and so all can hear? Isn’t that worship?  Isn’t that a Sunday service?  Do we not intentionally put time in our service to be grateful?  This thanksgiving weekend do we not take a little extra time to be grateful. Right her right now is the end of the road to gratefulness.

“One healed leper came back. One caught himself in the midst of the celebration, and returned to Jesus. He reversed his steps, put his family on hold, put the priest on hold, and came back to the cause of his celebration. His response and life situation were unique, but in the simplest sense of what he did his thankfulness led to action. And boy, did that turn out to be important!

"Where are the other nine?" Jesus asked.

Do you realize what this says? Jesus said, "Go, and show yourselves to the priests. Jesus never commanded that any of them express thankfulness to God, or return to him, the healer. Nevertheless, that is what Jesus expected.

What kind of action is Jesus looking for from you? Has God's Holy Spirit been urging you toward some action step? Had the Lord been tugging at you for some step of faith? Is there a family, a friend, or even a stranger in need of help this Thanksgiving season? Is there something you feel compelled to do?

My best advice, based on what Jesus was looking for 2,000 years ago, is to take that step of action. Assume God is pulling you toward that area, or that action, and get it done.”[11]

Talk to others about it perhaps God is calling more than one.  Whatever, wherever you are being called to I suggest you listen pray and talk with others about it.  But through it all be grateful.



[1] Andy Cooke, Sermon: A lifestyle of thanksgiving - Luke 17, last modified 2017, accessed November 2, 2017, http://www.lifeway.com/Article/sermon-thanksgiving-lifestyle-lepers-healed-luke-17.
[2] Lepra.org, Leprosy FAQ, last modified 2017, accessed November 25, 2017, https://www.lepra.org.uk/faqs-leprosy?gclid=Cj0KCQiA3dTQBRDnARIsAGKSfll7JjMmmowTAjM0y38ukTB_jTHqLdjOIFj0sMuqebXYqbRN4U-wLK4aAgVGEALw_wcB.
[3] Cooke, Sermon.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Robert Longman, Spiritual Discernment, last modified April 2, 2017, accessed November 25, 2017, http://www.spirithome.com/discernment.html.
[8] Cooke, Sermon.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.