Sunday, December 20, 2015

Alive and Kickin'

 Commerce Presbyterian Church
December 20, 2015

This morning’s sermon is about the gift of hospitality and welcome.

Luke’s tells the beloved story of Jesus and John’s birth--
the infancy narrative as it’s called has a special place in our hearts.

It’s a story I’ve heard since I was born.  
Growing up, in order to prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus at his birth, my family--parents, two older sisters, and myself-- performed the ritual of lighting the Advent wreath around our own table each Sunday leading up to Christmas each week, complete with scripture readings and, before you paint too idyllic a picture, this is what it really looked like:
We children begrudgingly read what we were asked to read.
when it came time to sing a familiar hymn
my mother’s voice carried us,
as my father moved his lips while giving us all piercing looks of discipline
while my sisters and I would trade glances across the table trying to make the others snicker and sneer.
We celebrated Christmas with the extended family as well.
We went all out and had our own Christmas pageant at Uncle Hugh’s and Aunt Julia’s house! Costumes prepared,  parts were assigned,
on the drive we crammed our lines--”Let us go now, even unto bethlehem to see this thing which is come to pass which the lord hath made known unto us.”
Always spoken in the King’s language.
Valiant attempts to capture the spirit of the season, don’t you think?  

This morning is no exception in the carrying on that tradition:
The arrival of Christmas comes in a short-- or long-- 5 days depending on your perspective.
Presents sit under our tree; this is driving Zia crazy-- we are calling her cray-Z,
she’s already opened at least one present and attempted to put it back--can you blame the four year old?!

We in Advent, waiting, but, the period of gestation is almost over.
Speaking of gestation, let’s use our imaginations a bit as we look at the story of two pregnant women this morning--Elizabeth and Mary.
Even with the significant exposure to this story growing up, I never paid much attention to their pregnancy--the significance of the baby John giving Elizabeth a little kick within...until Trasie became pregnant.

Trasie says it was during her 17th week of pregnancy with Ruby Gene when she first felt a little flutter within.  She really wasn’t sure…couldn’t believe it.  
But eventually, those flutters became kicks, punches, dancing and spinning…
It was most noticeable in the evenings. As the day was settling down, the fetus was revving up.
Our most memorable times that the fetus moved was when we sang to it in bed.  Since we chose to wait to know the gender, we had not assigned a name.
So we called the baby “Lieden”, named for, of all things, a blood clotting condition Trasie has which had lead to previously unsuccessful pregnancies.  
As baby Lieden was revving up in the evenings, we’d sing to it:
This little Lieden of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…This little lieden of mine..I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine let it shine let it shine.

And the fetus would respond like it was Dancing with the stars.
A miracle within--all of life, from cradle to grave a miracle--a gift.

Slide: Elizabeth and Mary
Elizabeth (left) visited by
Certainly, Elizabeth and Mary believed they were experiencing a gift from God.
But, their situations were quite different.

Let’s look more closely at this meeting between Elizabeth and Mary....
First, think about Elizabeth, there knitting booties perhaps--a most pious and righteous woman; descendant of the great priest Aaron, she was even married to a priest--
a preacher’s wife you might say.  
She and her husband surely lived most upright lives--knew the rules well, and knew who followed them and those who didn’t.  Elizabeth had done things the right way--waited a long time to become pregnant, and finally her prayers were answered.  Everyone in town would be willing to celebrate her pregnancy and her life!

Now let’s consider Mary.
Mary’s story is romanticized—pure and innocent—as we tell it today; it is difficult for us modern day readers to read much between the lines.

She lives in a small village, where everyone knows everything about everybody... she is unwed...and an angel?  
who would believe Mary’s story?   
Quite often--in Mary’s time, in our time--when a young girl become pregnant out of wedlock, this is not something celebrated….I recently saw a program on television where a teenage girl was kicked out of her house by her father when he found out she was pregnant---this doesn’t just happen on TV.  
We don’t know how Mary’s father reacted, but in Mary’s time, it could lead to severe punishment.

When the angel announced to Mary she would bear a child:  Mary “pondered these things in her heart,” and did she hide what was going on for as long as she could?
Until, Luke says, Mary “went with haste”  and ” remained with [Elizabeth] for three months”…
pregnant Mary skips town.. An 8 mile journey.  Alone? On foot?   
Was she praying the whole way that Elizabeth would believe her story?   
The visit could have been a disaster, but where else could she go, except to a wiser older relative’s home far from her village.
Tired from her journey, sees the house ahead.
She pauses for a moment, takes a deep breath, and approaches the house,
There at the door she musters one more act of courage...she knocks:
[Knock] “Anybody home?   It’s me, Mary.”
Elizabeth hears a knock at the door. Had she known Mary was coming?
“Mary?” questions Elizabeth to herself... a look of concern grows over her face.  
Had even she had heard of Mary’s “condition”... “Pregnant from an, hmmm.”

“Hello...Elizabeth?”, comes the voice of Mary from outside.

How should Elisabeth receive this woman standing at her door….
Elizabeth slowly rises from her chair, still not sure what to do or say:
And just then, what happens inside of Elizabeth’s belly?  
A kick.  A kick from within.
John the prophet from God, seems to have played prophet even inside the womb of Elizabeth….
he gave a little kick, maybe moving Elizabeth from any potential place of judgement or scorn to a place of hospitality and welcome….
A kick, a call, back to being present to her own miracle…and the gift of all of life.
A kick within….
She holds her belly, you can see the wrinkles of concern melt into calm, and then convert into a smile...into joy!  
It is after the kick, the scripture says, that Elizabeth is filled by the Holy spirit, and greets Mary with words of welcome and goodness, love and rejoicing:
“You are blessed Mary, and so is that child. Thank you so much for coming to see me..can you believe it, it was the child inside who knew it was you, he leaped for joy inside me! These children--yours and mine--are children of great promise, Dear Mary!”
Mary is relieved. She has been given the gift of welcome. The gift of Joy!

Throughout the story of the birth of our beloved Jesus, are stories of hospitality and rejection.  
Elizabeth welcomes Mary at the door after she made haste from her own hometown.
Pregnant Mary and Joseph were unwelcomed as they entered Jerusalem, until an innkeeper offers a barn.
Mary and Joseph welcome shepherds and wisemen to rejoice with them over the birth of their child.
Joseph and Mary were unwelcome in their own country and must flee as refugees after a tyrannical ruler--Herod--seeks to do them in....
and it is in Egypt, the same place where Joseph was received, where the Holy Family was welcomed and provided safe haven until they could return safely to their homeland.

Slide: Welcome
Welcome, Hedgehog, Animal
There are many stories being told this time of year.
Some are stories that would promote fear, judgement, and an unwelcoming posture towards others...
As Christians we must remember our Biblical stories told this time of year, and how they inform our lives and our place within them.  
When is a time in your life when you have been met with a warm welcoming spirit--especially when you may have been going through some difficulty?
when is a time you were met with an unwelcoming spirit? Which one of those spirits would you have considered “Holy”?

It is easy to allow a spirit of judgement, suspicion, ridicule and scorn to guide how we interact with those who find themselves in difficult situations…
It is during those times when we may need a little kick…
A kick in the you know what.  
To remind us to allow the holy spirit to conceive within us a spirit of welcome.
Like Elizabeth, you may well be welcoming the Christ, who is found in the guise of stranger, or an outcast or someone who is misunderstood and hurting.

Over the next five days, how many of us will be running around...with haste?
Perhaps looking for gifts to give?
Consider giving the gift of welcome and hospitality....

Who may be coming to church tonight or later this week that you haven’t seen in a long time or never met? Can you feel the baby john leap inside you?
prompting you greet them with a smile, “welcome, so glad to see you, what a special time of year”   

What about at work?  Who may be having it kind of rough this time of year? If you’re on break or if you run into them in the parking lot, pause to say “hello, how are you”  and listen to what they say.  Let that baby John Leap inside.  Be filled with the holy spirit.

Who’s are you getting together with this season? Are you looking forward to it...or dreading it :)?  Yesterday, I was at Trasie’s extended family gathering...I had this sermon in mind when I arrived!

Or, maybe you’re not going because…well,
Can you allow a little kick--of the Holy Spirit-- within to remind you of the gift of welcome you can give.

Let that little lieden..I mean little light shine…because of the promise of a child, prepare him room.
Five more days til he arrives!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What Does God Want For Christmas?

Sunday, December 13, 2015 - Luke 3:7-18


                             for Commerce Presbyterian Church

Slide: Title
Do you think Christmas is more for children or for adults?

I think Christmas for children is wonderful.
I think it’s great for adults to relive that magical experience through children. The sugar plum fairies, letters to Santa, and the Christmas Eve anticipations -Twas the night before Christmas--can reawaken our sense of imagination and delight.

Christmas for adults, however, is another matter.
I hope there are not small children in the room, because my sermon may not seem very Christmasy :)

I don’t know about any of you, but as Trasie is my witness, I have a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit.
I relate more to four characters who tend to emerge this time of year...

Slide: What do they have in common--Grinch, Darius Rucker, Charlie Brown, John the Baptist?
In their own way all four challenge what seems to be the modern day way we observe Christmas.

Dr. Seuss’ reviled character, the Grinch,
But, really was actually onto something. He may have seen the early signs of what Christmas was becoming … people are headed in a direction of hyper consumerism, which misses the spirit of Christmas--so he tried to steal Christmas in order to preserve Christmas…
And he’s still at it.  The AJC reported he was arrested  in Moultre yesterday!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Nesting Instinct, Luke 1:68-79

Nesting Instinct

Dec 6, 2012, Commerce Presbyterian Church, GA
Slide: Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John
Zechariah Writes Down the
Domenico Ghirlandaio's Zechariah Writes Down the Name of His Son (1490,)

The story of Jesus’ birth is told in detail in the Gospel according to Luke, and it is one of the most beloved stories of all of Scripture. The story of Jesus’ cousin, John’s birth, is also part of this story and told in detail in Luke.
This morning I will read about an occurrence from John’s birth from the end of the first Chapter of Luke, verses 68-79, found on page 60 Red, 834 in Black pew bibles if you’d like to follow along.
It is a song sung by Zechariah.  Grounded in the present, Zechariah sings a song of praise, claiming and celebrating God’s liberation in the past, and a song of prophesy, of expectation, hopeful for what God will do in the not too far off future through the coming Savior, and his own son.
But before I read it, let’s step back and ask: Who was this Zechariah, the priest?
Let’s call him Zech for short. It’s kind of fun to think about how one becomes qualified to make it into the bible.  And I can really relate to this guy’s story. I’m a preacher, kind of a priest. Zech was a priest of the order of Abijah. Who? I don’t think for that reason he made it.
He was a husband to Elizabeth, who the bible says was a descendant of Aaron..As in Aaron the brother of Moses. Now, that definitely got Zech some “cred”..he married up:)
What’s more Elizabeth is a relative of Mary, as in the future the mother of Jesus. You can imagine people probably talked about him like this, “Hey, isn’t that Elizabeth’s husband. Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin.” I get it, people talk about me like that. “Isn’t that Trasie’s husband,” but that wasn’t all.
Zech also became a father...father of John the Baptist.  And there it is. Zechariah became well known because of one of his children. Now I really get it.  
I am certainly known for my children. Ruby’s dad or Zia’s dad!  
Zech made the bible because of his wife, Elizabeth, and his child, John the Baptist--kind of dumb luck, but hey, it was providential and he was faithful in his calling.
As with many births in the Bible, the birth of John is one not without strange events!
Zech and his wife  Elizabeth had not yet had children; they were beginning to think that they wouldn’t have any children. But, the angel Gabriel appears to Zech, “your prayer has been heard, you will have a child, but, not just any child!  The messenger who would prepare the way for the Messiah, who would deliver the people from their enemies!  
Zech, first terrified becomes incredulous, “can this be true?”
Wrong answer.  He is made mute.
Maybe a punishment,
or maybe a lesson to be learned about the power of silence.... For months, as the baby grows in Elizabeth’s womb, and Elizabeth is probably really loving the peace and quiet.