Finally we were able to meet for services in 2017. We held a somewhat celebration of Epiphany, though no serious reference to it. This was our first service after the two days everyone in the congregation endured without electrical power. Thanks to a couple of members the water in the church was drained and all the faucets left open to prevent any major problems if the temperature dropped below freezing. Not all basements did, but that is a real danger in these times, and far more so in an unfurnished house than in a place that is always partially heated.
Our scriptures were: Hebrews 2: 10-18 and Matthew 2: 7-15 & 19-23. The title if you can’t tell from the text was, “Survival Mode.”
It is so good to see so many of us gathered here together this morning. What a testament to the faithfulness of our congregation. I really only anticipated a very few of us to venture out because of the cold. And certainly a great thanks is owed to the dedicated workers who cleared a nice path for us to get in the door.
To say this has been an interesting start to winter and Christmas season is, well an understatement at the least. I titled our message today, Survival Mode, so we could spend some time thinking about what we have been through and how it connects to the scriptures, but also to let us reflect on how God’s grace is with us in all things.
So I don’t have to tell any of you what we mean by survival mode in South Dakota. Anyone who was raised in the northern plains understands the dangers of a real winter. In fact the cold we have been experiencing since the storm is not just life threatening, but it is the kind of cold that we who have lived here all our lives joke about. We say this is what keeps out the “riff-raff. We know just how dangerous it is and how to “survive” in it. Winters like last year spoil us. This year we are finally getting the real thing. This reminds me of some of those winters when my Dad would fight with the electric waterer out in the feedlot, or that year when Paulina and I were in Pollock and most schools were off because of the cold, but we were in session, and for science class they did a lab outside where they threw hot water into the air to see if it would freeze before it hit the ground, and it did. They took pictures.
For me one of the hardest things about enduring something harrowing is responding to going back to “normal.” It seems that no matter how the experience affects some people, as soon as it is over some sort of “drama” shows up to take away the camaraderie or the pull together attitude that you get in those times. I always think if only we could show those attitudes all the time. I think that I get my ability to kick into gear during those crisis times because of how I grew up. For me a crisis or a major event seems to bring out our family’s best work. It is during the tough times that my mental process kicks in to do its best work and when I am able to remain the calmest.
When the power went out on Christmas night, and I knew about it when I fell asleep, unlike everyone else in our house, my mind went into the zone of what would need to be shifted around to allow for the least amount of damage. And even before the outage during the day when James noted that with the significant rainfall, we could have an outage if the wind picked up, the first thing I did was to make sure all my electronic devices were fully charged, though when the power went out and the cell towers went down, it didn’t matter how full the batteries were charged.
I have to confess that I didn’t have to do any of the real work such as helping with hooking up a generator, checking on other houses or going outside and shoveling, I started the day by staying in bed with the cats around me and being ok with a cold breakfast. Actually we could have eaten for a week or more with the leftovers in the fridge, the fruit on the counter and the snacks in the pantry. Mostly I kept thinking how lucky we were that our other two daughters were not home for Christmas. Having only the three of us in the house made it much easier. Of course having a sister and brother-in-law with a full generator set up was a big bonus. By that I mean he has his generator hooked up to the electric box and so it has the potential to run any part of the house, although not all at the same time. (side explain info on math involved…campsite)
I am sure everyone here has a story or two that tells how you survived the outage, and I have heard a few of them as I made some phone calls later in the week to see how you were doing. Each one of us has our own unique story of how we survived that power outage, how we reacted while on survival mode.
The scriptures we read for today are a story of survival. It seems that this year the lectionary scriptures pull our focus to Joseph, the human father of Jesus. We don’t find stories about him very often in the gospels. From what I could count, he is only mentioned 7 times in the gospels, mostly in Matthew and Luke, but also in two verses of John. However, the story that we discussed on Dec. 23 when we held our Christmas Service and the scriptures of today speak loudly and clearly about why Joseph was chosen to be the human father of Jesus. I understand it as being because he understood the importance of Survival Mode.
He didn’t wait around and wring his hands and wonder what he should do. He didn’t take time to ponder the messages that were sent to him by God, and he didn’t stop to second guess what it was all about. He heard the message, he accepted his call, and he got to work. He would have made a great director of FEMA, or at the least a very good emergency management coordinator.
By the time the Wisemen came to Bethlehem to visit the baby and pay homage to this new king, Joseph was on board with who this baby really was. He had already heard from one angel about Jesus, and he knew that it was the Messiah living in his house, and that he and Mary had a pretty big job ahead of them keeping this child safe. So when there was a second visit from an angel, he didn’t hesitate. He had to be fairly well versed in the religious and political goings on of the time to know that Herod would see a baby Messiah as a major threat, and so when given the option to head to Egypt, he didn’t wait for morning, they left in the dark of night as soon as he heard the warning.
Last around Easter I mentioned the movie, Risen, and there were a few of you in the congregation that also saw it. About the same time there was another movie about Jesus’ younger years and it was called, The Young Messiah. I am not sure where the idea for the script came, perhaps the Apocrypha, or someone’s thoughts, but it sure made you wonder about the dangers to the life of Jesus as he was growing up. If that concept is to be believed or even considered, it gives an enormous weight to the role of Joseph as the human father and protector of the young Jesus, the young Messiah, the only begotten Son of God, the Incarnate God.
Jesus as the Incarnate God is what makes Christianity completely different from any other religion. Most religions believe in a higher power. A good portion of them believe in a creator and life after death, but this is it in terms of believing in God coming to earth to atone for our short comings, our sins, in order to redeem us to a status that allows us to live beyond this world in an eternal world with God.
In essence belief in Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus as the Christ, the Incarnate Son of God puts us in full survival mode from the day we accept him to the day we join him.
My thoughts as I was preparing for today were all over the board, but that was because I have had too much time to read and ponder too many different topics. I have been considering a few things set to affect our near and distant future that we can’t talk about here, but my conclusion today is this: the bottom line for our life individually and as a church really is this: “What value do we put on life, and what sort of life do we value?” What is important to us? I seriously believe that importance shifts when our lives are reduced to survival mode, and I so dislike how easily the drama and the pettiness of so many unimportant issues creep back into our bubble when we are no longer faced with our own survival. Believing in God is not just a pie in the sky, feel good sort of thing that advertisers tell us we need to pursue. It is not like looking for the best new tool (in the kitchen, in the gym or in the shop, or the nicest car or even the perfect erase-all-the-wrinkles face cream.
We are called to a faith in God by the very essence of our being. Because God formed us and knows us and loves us, we are drawn to that love to fulfill who we are. Our survival is not just about food and drink and temperature, it is about love, God’s love and the love of fellow believers. Part of our survival in this church this year is contingent on our ability to live that and to share that with everyone we know. Let’s be sure to do that this week and every week. Amen!!