New Year, New You: Food

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Today continues a New Year’s resolution theme for January, with probably the most-frequently resolved issue:  food. Before you put your hopes and dreams in this message, let me be clear:  I am not a nutritionist.  I haven’t come up with the next diet fad.  I am a pastor, and my area of conviction has little to do with your BMI and much to do with your soul.  But the state of your soul has something to do with you relationship with food… and that’s what I want to talk about. Paul starts this passage – this letter to the Christians in Corinth – with a couple “maxims” related to the body, and one in particular has to do with food.  Maxims were short sayings that were a staple of Greco-Roman culture; J. Paul Sampley calls them “epitomes of truth, of commonly shared convictions or perceptions… they typically function as a ‘given.’” A good analogy might be the sayings we throw around today, like “don’t reinvent the wheel.”  A phrase like that and serves as a kind of proof in and of itself. If you open up to 1 Cor 6 you’ll easily notice these, because they’re in quotes.  Here’s my favorite, one I could easily see us Americans saying:  “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” YES, Greco-Roman maxims!  Food is the best! I’ve always liked food, but most especially, sweet things.  When I was younger I had a maxim of my own:  “Every meal should come with dessert.”  In the absence of a traditional sweet treat, I was known to substitute...

New Year, New You: Forgiveness

Mark 1:4-11 I’m glad to be back in the sermon-writing saddle after being out on vacation last Sunday.  More than just Sunday – my family was out-of-pocket for 8 full days. In our world of work, school, and church, 8 days is a really long trip.  Long enough to have a cornucopia of celebrations:  5 Christmases, 3 extended family meals, an anniversary party, a reunion with old friends, and new year’s eve.  Oh, and a stop for ice cream almost every day – because what’s vacation without ice cream? By the time we rolled back in to town (with Chick-fil-a milkshakes in hand, because peppermint chocolate chip), even the kids were recognizing we couldn’t live this way forever.  “When do we get to go back to school?” Are you feeling it, too? Maybe you, too, are ready for something better for you.  Maybe the last month of celebrations made your jeans uncomfortably tight… or your credit card debt uncomfortably large.  Or maybe it’s something bigger.  Maybe there are things about 2017 that you’d like to leave in last year.  Maybe you want 2018 to include less bad choices and more good ones. If so… this month at Andrews UMC is for you. For the next four weeks we’re going to be taking a look at common new year’s resolutions; topics like food, money, and decisions.  But today we’re going to lay the foundation for all of it with an important first step.  And forgive me, I have little kids so the only way my brain can think it is to sing it:  Let it go, let it go… To...

Manger Scene: Jesus

Tonight we gather in the dark, in the quiet last hours before Christmas morning.  Some of us are here to sing the songs and hear the Scripture like we do each year.  Some of us are here to sit next to family or see old friends or just to be together with others who believe.  Many of us are here for the special moment when we’ll light our candles and sing “Silent Night.” But the reason we are all here, really – the whole reason for Christmas – is a birth.  A normal, everyday birth. Can you believe it? When God chose to come into the world, it wasn’t with a flash of light or by a cherubim-drawn chariot.  God arrived the same way we all arrived on this planet:  through a nine-month pregnancy and a painful delivery and the first amazing cries of new life. It was a normal birth. And yet… there were signs from the beginning that it was not a normal birth.  A pregnant young woman, not yet married… a man, who would have divorced her quietly except for what the angel said… the shepherds, sent to see a savior born in a manger… the wise men, who came from outside the boundaries of Israel to find a king born under a star… This was a normal birth… and yet it wasn’t. What kind of birth is this? From the beginning, Mary was trying to figure that out.  Luke tells us that she does a lot of “pondering.”  When the angel first appeared to her – “Hello!  Favored one!” – Mary “ponders” (Luke 1:29).  When...

Manger Scene: Wise Men

Matthew 2:1-12 As we place the next-to-last figures around the manger scene, I need to teach you two things.  The first is that – as idyllic as our manger scene looks – all these people weren’t actually there at the same time.  When Matthew tells us about the wise men, he says they visited Mary and Joseph and their new baby in a house – not a manger. But we usually think of them all together, don’t we?  Maybe that’s not so wrong; Matthew and Luke tell us they were all involved in Jesus’ birth.  And they do make a pretty nice set. There’s something interesting about their togetherness, though, that’s worth more careful consideration. That leads me to the second thing I want to teach you today.  I want to teach you a song.  From Sesame Street.  Because so many good life lessons come from Big Bird and the gang, and this one will help us as we think about these wise men. With this particular song, Big Bird might stand in front of a table of items – bowls of bird seed, maybe – and sing… And we kids watching at home deduce that the really big bowl of bird seed is different from the moderately-sized bowls.  Not hard, right? We can play that same game with our manger scene today, because today we’ve added new characters that are… different. We started with Joseph – an ordinary Jewish man.  Then we added Mary – an ordinary Jewish woman.  Then came the shepherds – ordinary, Jewish blue-collar workers. Today we add… the Wise Men. One of these things...
Manger Scene:  Shepherds

Manger Scene: Shepherds

Luke 2:8-20 After placing Joseph and Mary around the manger, today we continue building the set with the shepherds. Shepherds were ordinary guys. Ordinary guys who worked with animals, to be more specific (thanks, Robert Tannehill). They were the kind of person who could visit, say, a manger and not feel out of place. They were average dudes who were on the clock at a time when most people are asleep. If Jesus were born today in Cherokee County, the “shepherds” might have been some folks working third shift in one of the mills still running around here – or maybe even working overnight at the casino. Good but ordinary people, making ends meet by doing what they could in a limited job market. Obligated to be awake at a time when most people are asleep. It might have been around their nocturnal “lunch break” when suddenly – An angel! Luke tells us they were “filled with fear” (2:9). If these are ordinary folk, then I can only imagine their reaction is… colorful. “Don’t be afraid!” the angel says. “I’m here with good news! A savior has been born – right here, in little old Andrews! And here’s how you’ll know: He’s not at Murphy Medical Center, not even in someone’s warm bedroom, but in the barn that sits behind the Quality Inn.” (Now, I know some good folks at the Quality Inn, and I doubt they’d send a family about to have a baby out into the cold… but bear with me for the sake of the story.) Next come more angels! A whole chorus, singing hymns! And...

Manger Scene: Mary

Luke 1:26-38 Today we continue building our manger scene with Mary… the one who found herself unexpectedly pregnant and had faith enough to accept it. I have to believe that finding out you’re pregnant is always kind of shocking.  When I discovered I was pregnant with Eleanor, our oldest, it was very much planned for – Alan and I had been married a couple years and wanted to have a little Alan or Mary Jr. But it’s funny, seeing the positive result on that pregnancy test still took us off-guard.  I used my shaky hands to call Alan at work, hoping he could come home for lunch.  “No, I’m tied up today,” he said, not realizing the mind-blowing news I wanted to deliver. So I just blurted it out:  “Well then… I’m pregnant!”  When he finally came home and we got to talk it over together, we just laughed in a kind of hysterical disbelief.  We were trying and hoping for this end result… but now that it had worked, it felt a lot like our bluff had been called. And that’s with an expected pregnancy. So how much more shocking was Mary’s pregnancy?  No at-home test, no “trying,” even.  Just an angel showing up and saying, “Hello, Mary – God’s favored one!  God is with you!” Mary was likely just a girl (women got engaged around the age of 12), but she shows a mature intuition with this glowing greeting.  Luke 1:29 tells us she was “greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (1:29). Here’s how I interpret...

Manger Scene: Joseph

Matthew 1:18-25 During Advent we at Andrews UMC are building a manger scene, adding a piece each week until Christmas Eve.  Today we begin with Joseph… which means, today we’re talking about Jesus’ earthly dad. I have always been a daddy’s girl.  I aspire to be like Dad in all important things, from the way I sink a basketball (sometimes) to the way I drink my coffee (black, always).  I love my daddy. But like many daughters, I was closer to my mom.  Being the only two girls in our five-person family meant that Mom and I naturally logged more hours together.  We’d shop all day, laugh late at night, and talk on the phone each morning until I was late for work.  I’ve always adored my dad, always felt close to him… but for much of my life, I knew my mom in an intimate, best-friend kind of way that I didn’t know my father. I think many of us are like this with Joseph and Mary.  We might admire him, but we don’t know him like we know Mary.  Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth tells us a whole lotta details about the Messiah’s mom:  her shared pregnancy with Elizabeth; her song; even some of her thoughts on things (“How can this be?”).  Mary shows up in the story of Jesus’ adult ministry (notably, around the cross); Joseph is only mentioned later as part of Jesus’ identity (“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”) Who is Joseph, really? Today’s Scripture tells us Joseph’s reaction to Jesus’ birth in just 8 verses… but those 8 verses tell us a very important thing...
The Shepherd that Seeks

The Shepherd that Seeks

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 The Prophet Ezekiel by Michelangelo (1510) Today we hear from Ezekiel, a smart and kind of strange prophet from the late 6th century.  That was a tough time to be an Israelite, because it was the period of the exile.  The Northern Kingdom had been kicked out of their share of the Promised Land since 722 BC, when the Assyrians came to power.  For the Southern Kingdom this exile is a fresher wound; the Babylonians took Jerusalem in 587 BC.  Ezekiel lived in that southern kingdom… lived in the past tense, because now he’s been forcibly deported 600 miles east to modern-day Iraq. Ezekiel has a message for God’s exiled people: God is searching for you. Ezekiel the prophet uses the image of the shepherd to explain this phenomenon.  “I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out,” Ezekiel says for God (34:11).  Imagine the sigh of relief this must have given the Israelites, to hear that God will find them and bring them home. Yes, it’d surely give them relief… if they could make it through the first 33 chapters of Ezekiel’s message. Chapters 1-24 of Ezekiel is a message of doom on a people who worshipped other gods not only near God’s temple, but in God’s temple.  Ezekiel’s vision is of God’s presence leaving that temple.  He compares Israel to an unfaithful spouse.  After all that – like an angry man ready to snap at the next person who comes into view – Ezekiel spends chapters 25 through 32 judging the surrounding nations. No one gets off the hook.  Mistakes have been...
Remembering God When Things are Good

Remembering God When Things are Good

Deuteronomy 8:10-20 “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you” (Deut 8:10). Easier said than done, I think. I speak as one with authority, because today’s Scripture is preparing the Israelites to go from the wilderness into civilized life… and if you know me at all, you know I’ve spent my fair share of time in the wilderness.  As a backpacker, I’ve made my bed in a sleeping bag under a tarp.  I’ve packed up and walked and designated a new plot of land as “home” each night.  I haven’t survived on manna, but I have lived on the food I could carry:  dry goods and simple meals where “add boiling water” is the bulk of the recipe. In the wilderness you learn to ration… or you go hungry.  Then sometimes you do ration and you still go hungry.  You’re hungry for something besides granola bars and dry ramen noodles.  You’re thirsty for something besides plain lukewarm water. All this hunger and thirst and rationing leads a person to daydream about leaving the wilderness. Which is a funny thing about backpacking.  When I get to go on a hiking trip, I look forward to it for months.  And then, when I’m actually out in the wilderness… after about day 2 all I can think about are my creature comforts back home. I’m not totally convinced, but I think it’s possible that the main reason I like backpacking is the glorious moment when I step off the trail and into a climate-controlled vehicle… the triumphant ride back to...
How to be a house that serves the LORD

How to be a house that serves the LORD

Joshua 24:14-25 Joshua is old.  He is about to die. He has time for a farewell speech, though.  It’s a good speech, reviewing everything God has done for Israel:  setting them free from Egypt; leading them through the wilderness; bringing them to this promised land; allowing them to defeat bigger armies with bigger soldiers.  I can picture the people getting pumped up remembering all those victories. Then the trip down memory lane builds to a challenge: “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (24:14-15). The people have a choice.  Neither God nor Joshua is going to make them serve God.  They can choose to go serve other gods, if they want. Joshua just made that good speech, though, so the people are prime for this kind of commitment.  Their hearts full of inspiration make the right answer obvious.  “We will serve the LORD!” the people say. “You better mean it,” Joshua says (my paraphrase).  “God won’t put up with unfaithfulness.” “We won’t be unfaithful – we will serve the LORD!” the people say. So they say. And so we say – in the moment.  It’s easy when we’re in church or at some retreat.  The right answer is...