Spring is here!!

Flowers on campus

I didn’t take any pictures of spring today, but a couple of weeks ago, I had to write the ministerial contribution to the local paper. It was the week after we returned from the trip to Nationals to watch Paulina. In Tennessee the flowers were blooming and I took some pictures of them, so I will share both the pictures and the story here.

Recently my youngest sister, my husband and I took a trip to Tennessee. We went to Eastern Tennessee State University in Johnson City to the National NAIA Indoor Track and Field Competition to watch our daughter participate in the weight throw. I was expecting sunshine and plenty of warm weather and so packed cropped pants and t-shirts and light jackets, we were going south, after all. Much to my surprise and chagrin, we woke the first day to snow and ice on the tarp over the outdoor pool. Of course I had not done a good job of checking out the geography of the area, and I ended up slightly chilly as a result.

We could see the Great Smoky Mountains through most of the trip. We saw them as we drove from the airport in Knoxville to Johnson City and again when we left in the airplane to return home. Sadly we never actually had the time to enter the park associated with them or do any serious touring. At least I was able to snap lots of pictures of the countryside as we drove along. Some highways were lined with trees others were walls of rock and some were ditches similar to ours with the difference being that they were filled with daffodils in bloom. Not many of the trees were sprouting leaves, but the flowers were blooming and the grass was green. It was a sure sign that spring was closer than the cool air was indicating.

This morning when I opened up my devotional booklet it instructed me to read from Isaiah 55: 10-11. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth, it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (NRSV) The words in this passage are another reminder of spring and all that God does for us in terms of providing the seasons and the conditions that allow for growth of plants and grains to give us food for the body and growth of God’s word to give us food for the soul.

As spring approaches our area, take some time to experience the wonder of God’ creation as the grass turns green, the trees show their leaves and the flowers break out in bloom, and as you do be sure to give thanks for all the blessings you have been given.

Be the Light!

Be the Light

Be the Light

Below is the message from Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. The scripture lessons were: Isaiah 58:1-9a, I Corinthians 2:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20 and the title was “Be the Light.”

In the newsletter that you found or will find in your box this morning, I talked about the advantages of being a pack rat. Some of you will laugh because of how I have been complaining about clutter for over a month, and now I think it is good to be a pack rat. The issue is that I keep all of my messages with the bulletin and other notes like announcements in a binder each year then this past December, I put them in a file box in chronological order. It was helpful to look at for the Historian’s report, and now I find it useful each week as we are now repeating the lectionary cycle from 2014. So now I can look back to read that former message and mostly see which scripture I used as the focus for the morning. Today, I can tell you that the last time we discussed this gospel text, I put most of the focus on the part about the salt.

While our focus three years ago was on the statement about salt, and how it flavors foods and reacts chemically, there is more to it than just that. Jesus also inferred that salt is also used as a preservative and when it loses that quality it is pretty much useless. During the time of Jesus “the Rabbis used the term Salt as an image for wisdom” (France 117). [from Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Matthew by R T France.] Add to that the “translation from the original Greek for “lost its taste” actually means ‘become foolish’” (117) and we begin to understand exactly what Jesus was saying to the disciples about not losing their ability to follow and learn and do what they are asked to do in working with him to proclaim the kingdom of God to the world. He does not want them to lose their focus and drive. He does not want them to lose their wisdom in what he teaches them and become foolish. He needs them to learn and to eventually lead. Interesting thought for us even today. And speaking of today, isn’t it true that today when we say salt of the earth people, we are talking about common, everyday, down-to-earth sort of people? That is what we here are, and we, too, need to learn from Jesus’ teachings so we can be the leaders that are of value to him.

Today, though, I want us to concentrate more on the part of that passage that involves light. As Jesus was talking to the disciples he not only told them they were the salt of the earth but also the light of the world. As I started to consider light and just how important it is in our life, I was reminded of those two days when the lights went out right after Christmas. If we put aside the fact that it was cold outside and the heat was off, the issue of not having light wasn’t really so bad until the sun went down. Am I right? During the day, it was a matter of opening the curtains, well if you have them, which on most windows we don’t but that is another story. At night there were candles or flashlights or as we were running around gathering all of those, there were the lights on the cell phones. In my bedroom, I have two kerosene lamps hanging on either side of my patio doors, and those are really handy when the lights are out because they throw lots of light, unless they are empty as one of them was. Oops. The point is that light is important, and those couple of days probably reinforced it for all of us.

I have been noticing the importance of light more and more lately and really see the difference in amount and quality of light when I am reading. I used to think that is was just the size or the particular font that made most of the difference, but I am beginning to recognize the wisdom of my mother and grandmother and great aunts when they would say that you should have good light for reading because it was bad for your eyes, maybe not so much when I was young and knew everything, but now as I get closer to their age, I see their wisdom. Light, good light is so very necessary to see what is important.

The sort of light Jesus suggests with that line about a city on a hill is more like a beacon. A beacon shines in the dark as a guide to others. Think of a lighthouse and how its light would guide sailors to the shore or light the way to help them maneuver past a rocky cliff. Jesus is encouraging his disciples to be the light for others, to show them the way to him because he is the true source of all light. Jesus is also telling us to be that light for others to help point the way to him because he is the true source of all light. And that is what is expected of us as Christians to point the way to Jesus. As a Christian our light is not about attracting attention to ourselves, but showing others the goodness of Christ’s love so that they might see the way to his salvation.

The third part of this light passage seems a little “duh” yet just might be the thing that we as a church should consider more. That line about how no one after lighting a lamp puts it under a basket. Of course we know that a light shouldn’t be hidden under a basket. In the first place if you are thinking about a light with a flame, covering it would choke off the air and suffocate the flame. At the least it would dim it enough that it wouldn’t be of any real use to anyone. And that is what Jesus meant both in terms of a light, and in terms of the light of guiding others to find their way to him. Jesus expects more from his disciples and his churches than just accepting his light and hiding it away for ourselves. He expects us to share our light with all around us, so they can have light too. It all goes back to that candle at our Christmas Service where we shared the light and the total light was multiplied, not divided. I believe we have seen in the past years that as we share more of our light, we have more light to share and we are brighter because of it.

Our Old Testament lesson for today might not seem to fit into this discussion about light or salt, but it fits with this idea that our light is not just for ourselves and it is certainly not to be used to make us look good. Chapter 58 of Isaiah speaks of fasting, which is something that many churches participate in during the season of Lent, which is actually right around the corner. As we have talked of in the past, this is not something we do, and passages such as this one might be part of the reason that we don’t. This passages talks about fasting to make yourself look good and that is not the intent. The true intent of fasting is to make yourself ponder and consider and concentrate on what Christ wants of your life and how to purify yourself for that work.

This passage suggests that instead of fasting for the wrong reasons we should instead take up a cause to help others. To work for justice for those around us, something that the hardcore, mainline people of our denomination are pretty outspoken about. I was reading some of the posts under the tag, UCC on the Reader part of the blog that I am on this past week and I was really upset with one of the posts that I read. There was a very negative comment about our denomination. It was all about how because we have no set in stone doctrine, we have no direction and we don’t’ look at scripture correctly and we really are not a church worthy of joining, and I so badly wanted to bite back, but realized that there was no changing that mindset. I also know that it is not a good idea to get into a urination contest with a skunk, so I just bit my lip and moved on to read something else. But it made me stop and think about the importance of our social justice work because our churches and the members of our churches are not about forcing others to believe the exact same way that we believe, but we are about taking the time to get to know each other and finding ways to work together to reach out to each other in Christ’s love. We are to be that beacon of light that points the way for others to find Christ. We are not the judge that tells them they are not worthy.

Right to life issues: Not really pro life, it is pro-birth. Someone who is really pro life believes in things that support quality of life, not just the birth of a person. I have not actually researched our local or state legislatures, but I encourage all of us to do a little “follow the money” sort of look into what they are supporting and what is being cut. Someone who is really pro life will not vote for cuts in funding for those who are at the poverty level, for school lunches, for early education intervention, for special needs children and their families or for shelters to help those who are abused and the list goes on.

In the passage Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, we see that Paul was encouraging the members there to be more perfect than the law. Not to be above the law in a way that no one could reprimand them for their wrongdoing, but to do things the correct way, to treat others with respect and to act in a way that would not hurt anyone else. And when you think about doing a job and being an example, to be a good example you should do your job better than anyone else. I guess if you stop to think about it that makes good sense.

I will give you one quick example. I used to be an English teacher. I should know maybe better than some that when I write or speak I should use my own thoughts, or I need to give credit to those that I have quoted or even paraphrased. Quick side note: when I was taking classes at Northern State one summer, one of the students was kept after for a “talk.” We later learned she had plagiarized her paper quite obviously and this was her one warning. The NSU English department had a rule of dropping a student from their major if they plagiarized. I guess that conversation was to determine intent or lack of knowledge. Thus as church goers, church leaders Paul tells the people of Corinth and us that we need to follow the laws not just to be smug and say we are better than others, but as an example of what it means to live as Christ asks us to live so that we are able to point the way for others to follow him. Remember to those whom much is given, much is required, and as members of a fellowship of believers it is given to us to be positive, good examples for others, not smug, “better than anyone” sort of Christians, but true believers who are here to joyfully share our walk with Christ with all those around us. Let’s make sure we do that this week and all weeks. If we do that, we will be that light that Jesus was talking about with his disciples all those years ago. Amen!

February newsletter for Church

Here is the little write-up I included with the newsletter for the month of February 2017.

With all my talk the past few weeks about cleaning out the extra “stuff” and eliminating the clutter, on Wednesday I found out that sometimes it is ok to be a pack rat. I needed to find the wording for the installation service, and the bulletin that should have had it wasn’t on the computer in the office. I finally located it in my home office stash of papers. It wasn’t neatly typed and had never been on the computer, but I found it and was able to figure out what to do for the bulletin this week. I realize that I still need to deal with my clutter, but this incident reinforced for me that sort through is the term rather than follow the latest trends of just tossing everything out. In fact, had I not taken the time last month to sort through and organize the file box of papers where I found that old bulletin with the installation service, I would still be trying to figure out how we did it in the past.

Mostly I have been reminded of the necessity of keeping track of things that are important while cleaning out the “stuff” that no longer matters, and now might actually be of more value to someone else. It also reminded me of the verse found in Matthew 6:21 which says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus gave this advice as part of his Sermon on the Mt. Just before this verse, he says that if we store up our treasure on earth it could be stolen or rot away and become useless, sort of like all the “stuff” we accumulate then store it in boxes or closets or containers where it benefits no one. I hope we are all able to take some time this month to ponder where it is we should store up our treasure.

Cactus in bloom too!!

Cactus in bloom

Kalanchoe in bloom

Kalanchoe in bloom

Not much else to say, except that I really want to find the time to do some of the sorting and cleaning yet this winter before the snow melts. I know that once the spring hits, it is all hands on deck outside getting the flower and vegetable gardens ready. In fact, I have to hold myself back, with the cold outside, I am longing to get started on planting some seeds to start tomatoes and peppers early. At least I can work with my indoor plants for now, and hope they stay this good.

Year in Review/Planning the New

Today our church held its annual meeting. It was a long day, sort of. We had a regular service with Communion then went to the basement and held our business meeting then joined together in a pot-luck meal. It is always such a good time together. We have a variety of people from their early 50’s to one lady who will be 90 this summer. She is a spry one too. I have always wondered on their ages and today the moderator let the cat out of the bag when he said one was a junior in 1947 when he was a sophomore, and she promptly said, I was a senior. Well, I could do math pretty fast, and then the others started filling in where they fit in the mix. Wow! They are a plethora of knowledge for me. I also intend to gather up all my knitting and other sewing questions for the eldest of the women soon. It seems that any project I am working on, she has already done. Her work is always so meticulous too. What she could teach youngsters, but we just are not quite on the ball enough to learn or to connect those dots. What a waste. And by the way, the picture of the quilt off to the side is one that we made as a group this year, and they presented it to me this year. What a thing this congregation is. I appreciate them more than they can know!!

My new quilt.

My new quilt.

So back to the church thing. Our scriptures today were the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-13, then a bit in I Corinthians 1:18-31 and finally I used the Old Testament of Micah 6:1-8 as our focus. I did this with a power-point presentation, which I will not show here. I did that one year and the amount of space it takes is unreal. I showed the power-point and we talked about all the things we had done during the year. Fortunately I had pictures of some of our events. I always seem to forget to take them, and had help this year because my secretary shared some of hers. Then at the end, I added what is below as the finish to our message. Hope it makes some sense for the rest of you, too.

Another view

Another view

Now that we have looked over the past, and maybe even thought about more things than what we say, let’s turn toward the future….

The gospel reading for today was from Matthew and the passage is what we call the Beatitudes. This is where Jesus begins his famous Sermon on the Mt. and he is teaching his disciples and followers so many things. He starts with:  Blessed are the __ for they will____ The one that I always remembered was the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God… In other words those who do what they can to end strife, to prevent harm to someone by another, those are the people who God wants as his children. Certainly a goal to work for.

Mostly as I read these verses, I notice the absence of negatives. Jesus doesn’t teach from the aspect of punishment in this passage. He doesn’t say, Condemned are the liars, the thieves, the murderers, the cheats, the bigots, the…. These words are a stark contrast to the teachings of the Old Testament laws. 

So moving on to the words from Paul today, in this part of the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul seems to be writing in contradictions and if you try to read these verses quickly, it is easy to be confused by them because they seem to be saying the opposite thing all the time. The bottom line of what Paul is writing is that God does not choose the most powerful, or the most beautiful or the best of anything to put at the front of the line or to go about doing his work. Mostly, according to Paul, the ones who are set in front are those who are not quite perfect. (whew—that seems to give me a little hope) God chooses the humble, the lowly, the one who is not quite so, how does my family put it, easy on the eyes… Paul says that God chooses the lesser to be the leader so that no one can boast of their own talents or abilities because it is all about God, and that any boasting should be because of Christ and not because of ourselves.

So this leads us to our focus for today. The scripture that we read last, the ones from the Old Testament seem to be the exact ones for us to think about as we head downstairs to our Annual planning meeting, because that is really what we are doing in the New Business section of the meeting, we are planning what comes next.

The writer of this text obviously understands being nothing more than a lowly sinner. This author realizes that in the eyes of God, no one—no human is worthy of redemption and there is nothing we can give to buy back our salvation. Nothing.

The speaker asks, what can I bring? And he goes on to name some ideas: a calf, ok that is not nearly enough, how about some expensive oil, how about rivers of that oil, that is still not enough

What about my first born child… now this speaker is getting a little warmer, and as we read these words and make them our own, maybe we are getting a little closer. Now maybe we are getting the hint. It is not our first born child that is worthy of the sacrifice, it is God’s first born child that makes the difference. And so what can we do in the end? Nothing except to accept that sacrifice in our place. But then the speaker notes that God does ask something of us. As we accept Jesus as our means to Salvation, God also asks that we: Do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.

As we go to our meeting today, I hope we remember those things and ponder and move and vote to do those things as a congregation. Amen.



Jan. 15: Message on calls

This is the message from Sunday, Jan. 15. The scriptures were: Isaiah 49:1-7, I Corinthians 1:1-9 and John 1:29-42. The title was “God’s Call for Us.”

Pink beanie about to be finished.

Pink beanie about to be finished.

Most of you are well aware of the fact that I like to sew and knit and do other crafty things in fact far too many different ones if you want the truth. In fact I just finished up an orange headband and have a pink beanie quite close to being finished with the yarn that was in the church stash in the basement. And because of this like, or passion or hobby as some might call it, I have accumulated lots of “stuff” to go with the idea of someday creating this thing or that thing. Some of you might also know that I like to write and that I used to write more publically, but now mostly I write what is needed for church and I journal. This week I spent a little time looking back at some of my journals as I was pondering a purpose or a plan for this year, and how to resolve all the stuff that I have accumulated especially in terms of sewing and knitting and such, and I found that at least once a year, usually near the beginning of the year, I have written about how this is the year that I am going to clean out the excess junk involved with all my fabric “hobbies.”

Headband front.

Headband front.

Headband back

Headband back

After seeing all the times I wrote about it, I mostly decided that this year I will not hold my breath on the issue, something that James and the rest of my family stopped doing long ago. The truth is that I really, really need to do some sorting and mainly I need to finish more than just a few projects not only to prevent all of us from suffocating under the volume of what I have to work on, but so that the items being stored become of use to someone who is in need. So for the time being, I am going to take these projects as my “calling” to do something good for others. But maybe that is selfish of me because in the long run doing that is really doing something good for myself.

So what is a “calling” if it isn’t a decision or a plan to do something that is worthwhile? According to most Christian beliefs a calling is a summons to serve a church in some capacity or in a place that has a Christian, church like purpose such as being a chaplain in a hospital or on a college or university campus or in the military. In secular terms the word “calling” can also mean a vocation, an occupation, a job. So is there a way to resolve all these meanings into one. Could we be “called” to various occupations in general, to positions of civic leadership, to volunteer tasks, even to groups or organizations in order to be a Christian presence in the midst of a worldly place in order to bring a witness and example for Christ?

Last week I mentioned here during the announcements and Wednesday during the board meeting that our denomination is looking to change the definition of who is eligible to answer the call to be clergy. A change that may take years to implement, but if nothing else, it will force our membership to look at how we think of call and how we interpret leadership in our corner of the Christian world. I for one like the heading that is at the top of our bulletins where it says: Every member minister because in truth we are all called to minister to each other in Christian fellowship.

In all of the scriptures that we read for today “call” was the central theme. In Isaiah, in the second verse that we read, the prophet spoke of being called before birth. This gives us the idea that God chooses us before we even know what we are capable of accomplishing. God knows, and God pushes us towards what we are to do, if we will only take the time to listen, to hear and obey.

In I Corinthians, Paul talks to the church there and speaks of their call as a church to be saints for Christ. That is to do the work of Christ no matter the sacrifice, no matter the hardship. And in turn, Paul instructs those church members to call on Christ for strength and leadership and love and all the things they need to endure whatever they will be asked to endure, even the petty everyday disagreements that happen within any group of people.

The gospel lesson, which we read for today, is not a new story to any of us. We have heard it before. It is the story from John’s viewpoint of how Jesus called his disciples. It is the story of how John the Baptist was busy declaring the importance of Jesus when he came by and two of John’s disciples (one of them is later identified as Andrew brother of Peter) decided they would rather follow Jesus than John and so they did. The story also goes on to list others that took up the call to be Jesus’ disciples to accept whatever it would take to be part of that inner circle. In fact, according to this version by John, Jesus didn’t even say, “follow me” to some of them, he just walked by and they went. They felt this calling without a formal invitation. It was something they were willing to do, something they were inclined to do and if we are able to believe it, this was what they were destined to do.

If you continue reading beyond where we stopped, you will find the words, “follow me” in the calling of some of the other disciples, but today’s lesson didn’t have it. The words we read today give an implied “call.” It is sort of that intuition thing of just knowing without anyone needing to say the words. I am guessing that most of us here at some point in our lives just knew what it was we were going to do as adults in terms of jobs. We had this feeling of how we wanted to devote our time earning a living. Some felt the need to be in health care, some working in education, some felt the tug of the open spaces talking to the animals or riding across the fields planting and harvesting, or running a business or a household, or doing something where you were serving others or all the many things that any of us have done over the years.

In going through this whole business of “calling,” I can’t help but think of that phrase: If you choose a job you love, you will never work a day in your life. It doesn’t literally mean that you won’t work because sometimes what you do is hard work, but if it is something that you enjoy, it won’t be a burdensome work. I also believe that if we answer God’s call for our lives and if we complete our tasks in a Christ like manner what we do is not a burden. But when things are hard, and tasks are overwhelming, Jesus has another answer for us. Jesus calls us not just to work for him, but to come to him. In I Corinthians Paul spoke of being called as an apostle to go out and spread the good news of Jesus. But there is also the call to come to Jesus to lean on him and to learn from him.

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus doesn’t call us only to endure hard, challenging or impossible tasks, he calls us to so the things we are capable of doing and when things seem too hard, we are able to rest in his love and care. Jesus wants us to be successful, but he also wants us to follow his example of kindness and gentleness and honesty and sincerity. He wants us to care for others in a welcoming and fair and just way. And actually, another thing that I have come to learn over the course of these three years is that when you do things with the attitude of caring and concern that Christ would have, burdens are a little lighter and smiles are a little easier to use.

At the end of this month after our morning service, we will meet in the basement to review the events of the church year of 2016 and make some plans for the coming year. The nominating committee has done their job to give us a full slate of officers and for those who have agreed to serve (those who said yes when called), I say thank you from me and on behalf of the congregation. For those of you, who don’t have your name on the list; don’t think that means there isn’t a task for you someplace in the course of the coming year. If nothing else we are expecting something good to eat at the meal after the meeting, or maybe after one of the Lenten services, and besides that there are several more quilt tops that need stitching up next fall. Just remember that song we watched a few months back, “All God’s creatures got a place in the choir, some sing low and some sing higher…and some just clap their hands.”

One of the things we need to consider at our meeting is again what is our call as a church? We do actually fill needs in our community perhaps not as we once did or not necessarily as some think a traditional church should, but we have a real purpose, we have a real call. Let’s ponder that, let’s prayerfully ponder that between now and our meeting so we can all join in working together in answering God’s call for us individually and as this body of believers. In Christ’s name Amen!

Survival Mode

We saw sundogs on the way to church, but the were so wide, I am sure that I could not capture them with a small camera.

We saw sun dogs on the way to church, but the were so wide, I am sure that I could not capture them with a small camera. On the way home the wind had switched and there was lots of drifting.

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!!

Advent: Dec 23 Christmas Service

Church this evening

Church this evening

We had a combined Christmas Eve/Christmas Day Service of Lighting Advent Candles and Lessons and Carols this evening in church. We were discussed the impending bad winter storm headed our way and decided to try to get ahead of it by holding the service on the 23rd instead of waiting for the 24th. The service was nice and the attendance was ok. We had 25 there including me and the piano player. It was nice. My sister Kathy and Aunt Glenda and sister Melissa and niece Elisabeth also came. It was really nice to see them all sitting together with James and Paulina and singing the carols as a group. I only wish that I had taken an extra glass of water with me to the pulpit. My throat was really dry by the time I finished with the readings and the short message on the passage about Joseph in Matthew chapter one.

I followed the recommended nine sections of lessons. In order to give the pianist a break I put an offering after lesson 4 and did a little message after lesson 5. We were singing the song on lesson 2 when I realized that I had forgotten to print out my message and that I didn’t have the prayer for the offering. Well, I found the prayer in the booklet with the invocation that I had to go hunt up during the Advent song. Good grief talk about unorganized. Fortunately I had the message in my head because I had used that scripture lesson at the Health Care Center on Wednesday. That was really an amazing day, but I will share that later.

Another view of the decorations

Another view of the decorations

The passage in Matthew is about how Joseph is considering his options when he realizes that Mary, his betrothed is with child and it is for sure not his child. He basically has some options. He can make a big public deal about it and could have her judge for her infidelity and she could be stoned for it. He wasn’t really interested in that, but had sort of settled on his second option which was to put her aside, basically divorce her. She would not be judged or stoned, but she would end up being shamed for the rest of her life because of having a child without a husband. She would likely end up as a servant or worse for the rest of her life with no chance of being a wife let alone an honorable woman. His last option was to accept her as she was, but he would probably be ridiculed or talked about for that. Well the visit by the angel convinced him that he needed to take her as a wife and be a real father to that baby.

On Wednesday at the Health Care Center it was a service of all women in attendance, and I mentioned that most of the time we center the Christmas stories on the passages from the book of Luke and we concentrate on Mary and the baby in the manger and the angels announcing it to the shepherds and all, but tonight I talked about Joseph. He was that loving man, that carpenter who was just looking for a woman to be his wife and the mother of his children. Instead he is struck with a child that isn’t his, and if he is to believe this angel coming into his dreams, this child is the Son of God.

First he needed to resolve that the dream was not some piece of his imagination or as Dickens had Scrooge say in A Christmas Carol just a bit of indigestion from something bad he ate that caused these weird thoughts. But Joseph was a God loving man, and eventually he realized that he was chosen for a very difficult task, but he was the one who would give God’s Son the heritage of being descended from King David, and he would be the one to raise Jesus in the correct way, and in a safe way. What love he had for God and for Mary and finally for Jesus. What an amazing man to accept that task.

Picking up a light from the Christ candle

Picking up a light from the Christ candle

We closed the service as we always do on Christmas Eve, we turned down the lights, sang Silent Night starting out with a verse in German and then finishing it in English as we passed candle light from one to another. I take the light from the Christ candle and walk down the center aisle lighting the candle of the first person in each pew. Tonight I remembered reading something about how when one candle lights another it takes nothing away from the first candle, and I mentioned that is how it is when we let out lights shine in the world, it just makes everything brighter. Hopefully people were able to leave with some sort of blessing.

At the end of the evening, it felt so good, so free to be able to just do the service without the scripts to follow and all the pre-organized paperwork. It also feels so great to know that tomorrow we will be able to relax and enjoy the time together at home waiting for the arrival of that crazy winter storm. The joke will certainly be on us if it dissipates or turns and heads in another direction, and we have held church early and cancelled the other services for naught. Oh well, I thought we had a special time. We also handed out little bags of goodies to everyone who came. It is supposed to be a reminder of what it was like to come to church in the olden days when every small child or elderly person received a bag of treats.

So, Merry Christmas to all of you, and remember why we celebrate this holiday!

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