Monday, December 18, 2006

3rd Sunday in Advent

Gather the Outcast

The reading today comes from Zephaniah. Zephaniah was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, in fact, Jeremiah at one point asks Zephaniah to take a message to the king. The book Zephaniah is written in response to raids by a group called the “Scythians” who were nomadic raiders originating out of the southwestern Russia. Zephaniah sees these raiders as a warning of more troubles to come if the people do not change their ways.

This by now has become a common theme of the prophets. Destruction is at hand, the people must change their ways, God will save.

Disparity of Wealth and caring for the poor is not only an ancient problem. Consider the following:
“average pay for corporate chief executive officers rose to 369 times that of the average worker last year, said finance professor Kevin Murphy of the University of Southern California; that compares with 131 times in 1993 and 36 times in 1976.”
In fact, the disparity of wealth between the richest 1% of our country and the rest of us is becoming as dramatic as it was in 1929 preceding the great depression. The best year was 1976 when the wealthiest 1% owned 20%, the wealthiest 1% today own about 38% of the nations wealth.

The “brood of vipers” become citizens of the kingdom of God when they begin to live in the recognition that all people are of worth and valued by God. They become citizens when they don’t make judgments about the poor but they begin to do something with the poor.

The people of LUMC have done much to live this vision. This past year through the “Pastor’s Love Fund” we have distributed nearly $1,000 to those in need. We have purchased food, gas and clothing. We have helped with rent, electric and water bills. We have purchased medications, and helped with doctor bills.

This year we will continue to live as people of the kingdom as we continue to name and do the work of helping our neighbors. We will continue to help those who ask for assistance and we will find more ways to bring help to those in need. As we help our neighbors, as we look for signs of the kingdom, we are making the way ready for the Messiah’s reign.

Devotions for the fourth week of Advent

Monday Read Zephaniah 1:7-13
The prophet describes God’s judgment as separating the rich from the objects of their wealth. How might it be a good thing to be separated from objects of wealth, what would the benefit be?

Pray for those holding on to possessions.

Tuesday Read Zephaniah 2:1-4
The people are called to gather together before God’s judgment comes and the people are scattered by God’s hand. How might we find strength in community? How can you participate in building community in your neighborhood, or your church?

Pray for those who are isolated and vulnerable.

Wednesday Read Zephaniah 3:14-20
This is a song of joy, for the community is restored as the outcast are gathered together. What prayers, time or money can you give for a mission of the church this next year?

Pray for the Mission opportunities of the church where we might feed, house, teach, build up the people of God.

Thursday Read Luke 3:1-6
John the Baptist quotes Isaiah, that to prepare for the Messiah we need to make straight paths, lift valleys, lower mountains, smooth over the rough places. How does this image fit your life today? Its December 21st, only a few days now until Christmas, what do you need to change so you can receive the Christ child?

Pray for your life with God, any rough places that you and God need to work on together?

Friday Read Luke 3:7-14
John seemingly turns on the people calling them a “brood of vipers.” Then addresses their questions about living a life with God, with answers like, tax collectors don’t take too much and soldiers respect the people. How might John the Baptist lead you in your work or life so you can live according to God’s kingdom?

Pray for those who are oppressing others and justify it by saying, “I’m only doing my job.”

Thursday, December 14, 2006

O Christmas Tree

Last Night we finally got the tree up. We had a bit of a family discussion about the tree this year, Kendra and I with our newly refinished oak wood floor, wanted to get a simple “fake” tree. Brianna was disappointed. She likes how the “real” ones smell. Finally we agreed, Brianna could have another tree in her room, and that seemed to satisfy her.

There has been a lot of hubbub about trees this week. I received an e-mail from “The American Family Association” who is all upset that Senator Murray refused to say “Christmas” tree instead calling it a “holiday” tree. Ugh. I don’t know why she didn’t call it a Christmas tree. The AMA seems to take this as an attack on Christmas. Politically I think it is silly to try to call a Christmas Tree a holiday tree instead. Have people of other religions all the sudden wanted to claim the Christmas Tree as a symbol? IS a “Christmas Tree" a Christian symbol at all, or is it simply a popular thing to do from the Victorian era? What “holiday” is the tree representing if not Christmas? Are evergreen trees part of Hanukah?

Then there is the well known story about Sea-Tac Airport and its removal and eventual un-removal of said trees. Sea-Tac officials, when asked to display a menorah, decided instead to remove all the Christmas Trees from the airport. Ugh. You have to love the overreaction. Apparently, now all is good and the tree are back as is a menorah.

Here’s the thing. There are a number of Christians who complain about the “commercialization” of Christmas. I too become annoyed when the Christmas decorations and store advertisements appear on November 1st. So why do some of those same people have a problem when “Christmas” trees become “holiday” trees? Wouldn’t it be good for the Christian faith if those who are not followers of Jesus, those who are not professing Christians, stopped celebrating Christmas? What if Christmas was a time set apart for Christians and everyone else went about their normal business?

Of course that isn’t going to happen. Christmas has become a national holiday along the lines of 4th of July. Atheist and Agnostics don’t go to work on December 25th, they don’t refuse Christmas presents, or tell their children that Santa is a Christian Saint and so there will be no presents from Santa this year. So we will continue to struggle with the separation of church and state, Christmas trees and holiday trees, until the Christian faith reclaims Christ’s Mass is its own unique time.

I propose that Christians reclaim the 12 days of Christmas. So that when everyone else has packed up the decorations, stopped playing the songs, returned the unwanted gifts, there will be Christians who are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Let the Senator call the tree whatever she wants to call the tree. Let the airport decorate its halls however it chooses (or not) to do. Let us give thanks to God for sending the light of Jesus Christ into this dark and troubled world.

2nd Sunday of Advent

Who Can Endure?

The prophets we most often read and hear about such as Elijah, Isaiah or Jeremiah were preaching in a time of disaster for Israel. They spoke of the doom coming to the nation state as foreign armies would take control of the land. Then we have prophets like Malachi. The book is perhaps most notable to Sunday School students for being the last book of the Old Testament. It is written in a later time than those prophets (although it is not the newest of the “Old Testament” books.)

Malachi was written during the time of the Persian empire about 450 years before Christ. The crisis that Malachi faces is not foreign rule (although Israel is under Persian control) it is the failure of the Messiah to come. Contemporary people in Malachi’s time had expected that sometime soon after the temple was rebuilt, the Messiah would come. The temple was rebuilt about 100 years before the writing of Malachi. The rebuilding has become a fond, but distant memory for the living generation and yet, no Messiah.

Malachi’s concern is that the people having let go of their hope for the return of the Messiah have now become lackadaisical in their religious life. The people and their leaders no longer give their best for God.

Malachi’s question is also John the Baptist’s question. Who can endure? For John the Baptist and for Malachi those who endure are those who turn their life toward God instead of themselves. Malachi calls the people and the priests to once again put their hope in God. John the Baptist invites all to come and accept the sign of repentance in the waters of the Jordan River.

When we make our path straight we are preparing for the Messiah. We make our path straight, when we give our best for God. We make our path straight, when we find meaning in the traditions of the faith. We make our path straight, when we tend to the needs of our neighbor.
Daily Devotions for the 2nd week of Advent

Monday Malachi 1:2-5
God proclaims his love but the people ask questions, why do the wicked prosper? How do you respond to this inequality today?

Pray for those who are prosperous.

Tuesday Malachi 1:6-2:9
The prophet bemoans the church leaders who have forgotten to give God their best. How can you help the church give its best for God?

Pray for church leaders, our Bishop Rev. Ed Paup, our District Superintendent Rev. Mike Graef, and our Pastor Rev. Bruce Smith.

Wednesday Malachi 2:10-16
Malachi’s strong words against divorce are a call for men to be faithful husbands and to not leave their wives vulnerable and in need. Faithfulness in relationships is a sign of living in covenant with God. What can you do today to tend to your family relationships?

Pray for your family.

Thursday Malachi 2:17-3:5
The prophet describes the coming of the Messiah as a time of judgment.

Pray for the oppressed, the vulnerable, the foreigners.

Friday Malachi 3:6-12
The people are accused of robbing God by holding back their tithes. When do you hold back something in your life from God?

Pray for your life of faith and spiritual guidance.

1st Sunday of Advent

The Lord is our Righteousness
Jeremiah 33:14-16

Jeremiah was a prophet in Israel preceding the defeat of Israel at the hands of the Babylonian empire. Under the threat of the invasion the King of Israel is considering alliances with Egypt and other foreign powers. Jeremiah decries these efforts and implores the King to return to faithfulness of God. The common message of the prophet is that corruption has led to Israel’s downfall.

Once the Babylonians began their attack the prophet speaks not only of the impending doom but he brings a message of Hope. The most dramatic image of hope comes as he purchases land during the Babylonian siege on Jerusalem as a way to say to the people, God will bring us back!

Jeremiah talks about the people returning to God, not because they are righteous but because God will make a new covenant and write it on their hearts. It will be God’s action to restore the relationship.

In today’s reading, the prophet brings a message of the future for Israel. Not only will God restore the covenant but God will bring a new leader. This leader will be from the family of David, Israel’s greatest king. This leader will be known not for military victories but for doing what is right and just. Because the people follow this leader their capital city will be called, “The Lord is our Righteousness.”

The Lord is the way of righteousness, not politicians, not empires, nor armies. The Lord is the way of righteousness, not economic systems, not political parties, nor “the perfect Christmas.” Righteousness comes only from God, and we are called to be agents of God’s righteousness.

Today’s advent message is one of hope for a future with the people following a great leader. A leader who is perfect in following God’s law, a leader who is concerned about the condition of the world, a leader who brings the people into a relationship with God so that they know that their salvation comes only from the Lord.

As we anticipate the coming of the Christ child, we are called to proclaim, “The Lord is our righteousness.” The beginning is simple, the rest takes a lifetime.
Monday December 4 Read Jeremiah 1:3-8
The Lord promises to be present with Jeremiah as he delivers the message. God’s presence is a constant theme in Jeremiah.

Be attentive to the presence of God. Has God’s presence given you some security in the past few days?

Pray for those who are afraid.

Tuesday December 5 Read Jeremiah 14:19-22
This passage comes in the midst of a dialogue between God and the prophet, who is speaking for the people. The people make a confession of their wrong doing and then conclude, “We set our hope in you.”

How have you set your hope in God today?

Pray for those who are in depression, grief and despair.

Wednesday December 6 Read Jeremiah 32:1-15
The prophet in making this purchase of land declares that God will restore the land to the people of Israel. It is a message of confident hope.

When did someone make a bold statement of their love or their confidence in you?

Pray for those stuck in military conflict.

Thursday December 7 Read Jeremiah 29:10-14
God promises the people will return. It will take a long time, but God will restore Israel.

God hears our prayers. Looking back can you see when there was a time it was good that you had to wait for an answered prayer?

Pray for those who are impatient.

Friday December 8 Read Jeremiah 31:31-34
This passage is the heart of the book of Jeremiah. As Christians we know the new covenant in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What can you do to help someone know the Lord today?

Pray for those who do not yet, “know the Lord.”