When Christ Rises, We Rise

When Christ Rises, We Rise

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 10, 2021

Baptism of the Lord

Mark 1:4-11

I had a sermon prepared—all ready to preach—but then Epiphany came. January 6, 2021 a day that will live in infamy as the day insurrectionists attacked the Capitol of the United States of America—not the capitol of some developing country—but the Capitol of the United States. In the months leading up to this horrific event that left five people dead and our democracy gravely wounded, I have wept and prayed, just as you have, I daresay. Often, I have shaken my head at some unimaginable event and remarked in disbelief, “This is not who we are.” But Wednesday, I had a startling epiphany. This is who we are. We are a nation that is broken, though I hope, not beyond repair.

 

This week we witnessed our democratic process interrupted by extremists, rioters, who erected a noose outside our Capitol building. A noose! A symbol of hate. Through this and the actions that followed: scaling the Capitol wall, breaking through locked doors, endangering the lives of elected officials and essential staff, creating such a dire situation that Congress and the Vice President had to be rushed to safety, and traumatizing every one of us through the images we saw playing out across our screens—all of this—all of it was the culmination of propaganda that has permeated news and social media outlets for months and months. Fact has been turned into fiction and hate speech has turned us into haters.

 

And if the battle over our democracy is not enough, we are in another battle against a virus that is killing us by the thousands. Thankfully, vaccines have been developed and are on the way. Until they reach us, scientists continue to repeat the mantra that the best way to slow down the virus is to wear a mask, wash your hands, and practice social distancing. But people far and wide have refused to follow CDC guidelines. Why? Some are convinced that the science is fiction. Others are of the belief that their individual rights are of more value than the rights of those in the larger community. For Christians, such behavior is a clear response to Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves. And the response is, “Absolutely not, but thanks for asking.” Then, there are stories of health care workers who are being called liars, who are being berated and disrespected and for what? For risking their own lives to save even those who are convinced the virus is not real. Fact has been turned into fiction and hate speech has turned us into haters.

 

In all the chaos and confusion, it would be easy to give up hope, except for the baby born in Bethlehem long ago into the humblest of surroundings. Stargazers, seekers of wisdom from other lands, see a light—a bright, shining star—and they follow it to the Child. They bring gifts, but imbued by his light, the gift they receive is far greater. The child grows and becomes a man—fully human—fully divine. When it is time for the Son of God to begin his ministry, into the waters of the Jordan River he carries the weight of the world. He, who is without sin, carries our sin into life-giving waters—all of our sin—our nationalism, racism, sexism, agism; our greed, prejudice, jealousy, and hatred—he takes it all and he buries it there in the water. Then, when Christ rises from the water, we rise with him and we are forever changed.

 

As believers baptized into Christ’s love, we recognize, we must recognize our brokenness. And, considering recent events, it behooves us to also consider the role we have played in our national crisis. For you see, as followers of Jesus, no matter how much we love this great land of ours, if we love our country more than we love God, we sin. If the flag means more to us than the cross, we sin. If we trust the almighty dollar more than we trust Almighty God, we sin. If we are more likely to give up Jesus than our political party, we sin. If we help disseminate falsehoods that grant evil more power instead of boldly speaking truth to power, we sin.

 

I grew up in the hills of Appalachia to a hard-working, dirt-poor, dysfunctional family. To say my future looked dismal is an understatement. Yet, through the grace of God, throughout my life doors have opened to me— doors that would lead me to opportunities beyond my wildest dreams; doors that would lead me to a family of my own (dysfunctional in our own special way). I am grateful to be a citizen of the U.S.A., but I am also a citizen of another land—another kingdom—the Kingdom of God and that is the citizenship that I treasure most. Proof of my citizenship does not come through a social security number or a photo ID or a passport. Proof of my citizenship comes through the way I live.

 

As citizens of the Kingdom of God and of these United States of America, I am convinced that we are at a crossroads marked by two symbols: a noose which is a symbol of hate and a cross which is a symbol of the power of love to conquer hate. The path of hate leads to more hate. But through the Cross, the love of Christ is put on display for every nation of every people of every time. And with love as our guide, nothing is impossible. With love, it is not impossible to speak truth to power; it is not impossible for the church to play a crucial role in helping our nation heal; it is not impossible to learn to listen to one another instead of judge one another; it is not impossible for every child of every race and background to have doors of opportunity opened for them just as they have been opened for most of us.

 

The path of love—that road less traveled—is not easy. But love can serve as a magnet to pull us toward God and toward our neighbor. The magnet of love can propel the church into a brighter future. Too often, though, the church has been a part of the problem rather than part of the solution. We have spoken words of love inside the church building but love is not what we have shown to the world. Surely, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the church is not a building. The church is baptized believers. The church is us. So, if we go out into the world to spout words of hatred, the church goes out into the world to spout hatred. If we promote evil, the church promotes evil. If we belittle those who do not look like us or worship like us or speak our language, the church belittles those who do not look like us or worship like us or speak our language. If we scorn the LGBTQ community, the church scorns the LGBTQ community. If we fail to acknowledge the immense value of every man, woman, and child—regardless of skin color, the church fails to acknowledge the immense value of every man, woman, and child—regardless of skin color. We are the church. We are the sons and daughters of God. We are the brothers and sisters of Jesus and we are called to continue his work of love in the world.

 

This past Wednesday, on the day marked as the Epiphany of the Lord, we witnessed horrible actions perpetrated by citizens of our nation. It was a sad day, but a gift has sprung up from our tears. The gift is an invitation—an invitation to consider the question I posed in a sermon last year: WWJBD? What would John the Baptist do? John the Baptist was not Jesus, but he knew who Jesus was and his life’s purpose was to point seekers to Jesus. I am a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I am not Jesus, but I know who he is, and I know how to reach him. Here, I will lead the way: “Holy Son, Holy Father, Holy Spirit, Three-in-One, I bow before you with all the humility I can muster. You are the creator of the universe. You are the giver of life, faith, hope, family, community, and abundant resources for the good of us all. Oh God, I confess that I have been more interested in my good than in the good of others. Though you created me in your image, I have acted in ways that have tarnished your image. In my arrogance, I have assumed that my story within the beloved community is the most important story. I have assumed that my education and life experiences are all I need to decide what is right and what is wrong. For my journey, I have selected guides who think like I do or who have become what I want to become. Along the way, I have failed to consider other voices—the voice of the black man, the voice of the brown woman, the voice of the migrant worker, the voice of the gay teen, the voice of the Native American, the voice of the bi-racial child, and the voice of every American who is trying their best to find truth in a time when falsehoods are easier to come by. So many voices have been silent to me. Forgive me for not listening. Forgive me for not paying attention. Forgive me for caring for me and mine while ignoring thee and thine. Hundreds of times, thousands of times, I have prayed alone and with others: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done. Thy will be done. I have prayed these words, but I have not always meant them. Sometimes, what I have really meant is MY will be done. My will! Lord Jesus, I long to be like you. I yearn to live with love and compassion as my guides. When I witness people, who are living in fear and acting in ways that are harmful to our democracy, I want to see them with your eyes. I want to see them with love instead of anger. Cleanse my heart. Inoculate me with your divine love. Help me see the other. Help me hear the other. Help me love the other. Help me recognize that I am the other. You are my only hope. You have given me the gift of life. In gratitude, I give my life back to you. May it rise before you as incense, as an offering of praise. In the precious name of Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, I pray. Let it be so. Amen.

 

(Let us keep silence.)

*Cover Art “The Baptism of the Lord” by Ira Thomas from Catholic World Art

Gathering the Flock

Gathering the Flock

CRE Jane Shelton, January 3, 2021

2nd Sunday after Christmas

John 1:10-18

 

We have finally made it!  2020 is gone, and we are celebrating and welcoming 2021 with great joy and hope as we begin this new year, although COVID is not done with us yet!

 

Somehow this past year though, feels like….well, it feels like the Grinch came, and he had no heart at all!

 

I fear that 2020 has left a scar on us that we will not soon forget.  It seems we have lost so much, but would we be remiss if we did not look at what we have gained?

 

In some ways, it seems like it was just a couple weeks ago when I was talking to you from this very spot about “Star Words.”  Remember those?  You know, the yellow stars we gave out last January that held a meaningful word.  A word that we were to hold for the year, to live into, and then we would be able to gather this January to discuss and remember our words, and perhaps share with one another exactly how those words had spoken to us through the year.

 

My Star Word was “trustworthiness.”  I remember pulling that word from the basket, and thinking, “Gosh, I hope I’m already trustworthy!”  But as I had instructed everyone to do, I placed that star in a memorable place in my house so that I could see it often, and be reminded of my trustworthiness that I needed to live into.

 

So there it was on my refrigerator all year, staring back at me every time I opened the door, and next to it was Dick’s Star Word, “Unity.”

 

I often pondered how these words applied to us.  What did they mean?  And how would we live into them.

 

Then came COVID-19 like a bad winter storm that wouldn’t go away.  Life became complicated, frustrating and yes, even disappointing.

 

People that I worked with daily, were no longer in my life, and people that I was used to sharing joy with were being informed of much disappointment.

 

Any thoughts of gathering with friends and family became almost impossible.  Whoever thought we would have to cancel Easter Egg hunts, picnics and routine daily activities?  No graduations, no football gatherings, no Thanksgiving and perhaps worst of all, no Christmas gatherings?

 

Indeed life changed, and it changed for everyone.  There was no normal, and we were all left wondering if life would ever return to the normal we once knew, and we still wonder.

 

Yet, here these Star Words remained, staring back at me day after day.  Trustworthiness and Unity.

 

 

As I began preparing for today’s message, I realized how comforting the words in Jeremiah 31 were that Dick Shelton read for us this morning, and how comforting and timely in a world turned upside down.  Knowing the Shepherd will gather the flock.  Knowing we will indeed gather again.  I could just picture myself like the lamb in the arms of Jesus like we see in the beautiful stained glass window here in this church, and many other churches we’ve visited.

 

We will no longer languish, and we will have joy!  The Lord will comfort us and give us gladness!  We will be satisfied with the Lord’s bounty!  I wondered had these been someone else’s star words?  Joy?  Gladness?  Satisfied?

 

So there in my mind popped one of the words that I had been staring at all year, and a loud voice in my heart spoke, “we will gather and have unity in the flock.”  God wants his children to be unified.

 

And if we believe in him, if live into God’s trustworthiness, we will be given the power to be children of God.  It is through grace that we are given the power to be children of God, and to live into that calling by showing others the love of Christ.  With this power to be a child of God, I realized how important it is for me to reflect this same trustworthiness to others. How important it is that I have the ability to be relied upon as honest and truthful so that I might reflect God’s grace and truth.

 

We are all used to gathering to socialize, fellowship, and share meals.

 

Gathering is an instinct of survival.  From the beginning of time, gathering has occurred.  Gathering of nature for natural events to occur, gathering of animals in packs for survival, and gathering of humans for survival and growth.

 

When we look back to when Jesus was born, there was gathering at the manger.  When Jesus walked among us teaching the good news, groups gathered to hear his teachings. Indeed, Jesus traveled with a group of disciples and others for support and protection.  When he was judged and crucified, groups gathered.  When Christ arose, groups gathered.

 

So how do we respond today when we cannot gather physically?

 

One of my commentaries on Lectionary Reflections by Jill Duffield states, “This text in John invites us to silence that voice within us that tells us to keep everything under control, do not expect too much, do not hope too much, do not reveal too much, to not rejoice or grieve too much, and instead give ourselves over to the Word made flesh and embodied in us. Allow the Word to overwhelm and envelop, silence in you any voice but God’s. Open your mouth, your body, your whole Jesus-redeemed being to praise and song, truth, grace upon grace, let it radiate through you so that you will be, …we will be, ….the light of the world no darkness can overcome.”

 

God sent his Son, God in the flesh, to gather the flock, and to show us how to keep gathering.  So we gather in the power that has been given us as Children of God. We gather in Spirit by grace and truth that we have been shown by the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

 

When we gather via Livestream and Zoom, Facetime and Telephone, we gather not by physical touch, rather by the power of the Spirit that touches us within the heart, just as the Spirits  in the wombs of Mary and Elizabeth jumped with joy before John the Baptist and Jesus were able to physically touch.

 

In Dolly Parton’s Christmas Special, she sings, “Circle of Love,” and the lyrics to this song speak to our text today:

 

‘Circle of love, halo of light, when Jesus was born on that Christmas night.

God sent his Son, his great gift to us.  Salvation for all, he loved us that much.

We honor and praise that gift from above.  He holds all of us in a circle of love.’

 

It’s up us to continue the circle of love, and Jesus has shown us the way.

 

So even if we can’t gather the way we want to now, the way we think of as normal, think of all the doors that have been opened and given to us because we have been given the power to learn new ways to gather as children of God to share the Word in this world.  We have been given the power to learn new technology, new ways to share in worship, new ways to connect and gather. New ways to embrace and expand our circle of love.

 

We are constantly bombarded with what we should think and feel, what and who we should like and dislike, and who we should follow or stand with.

 

Yet, God has given his children the power, and it is up to us how we choose to use that power.  Will it be to follow an ever-changing world telling us what we should think or feel with every whim…., or will it be to follow Jesus in all his trustworthiness in a circle of love on whatever path we are given, in whatever direction we are taken.

 

In the end, we will gather and be united in the power of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God.  As long as we trust in his Word, as long as we believe we have the power to be children of God, and with that comes the responsibility to continue bringing in the lambs to the flock, until that time when we are all united and gathered at the Lord’s table.

*Cover Art from https://pemptousia.com/2016/12/the-word-became-flesh-john-1-14-a-sermon-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

 

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; December 27, 2020

1st Sunday of Christmas

Luke 2:22-40

There is a beautiful statement attributed to St. Augustine: “The one who sings prays twice.” Of all the things we miss about how we worshiped prior to the pandemic, I daresay for many of us, singing together tops the list. To join our voices as brothers and sisters in Christ warms our hearts and reminds us of who we are and, more importantly, whose we are. Hymns of our faith help us tell the story of God’s love in wondrous ways: Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee; Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land; O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel; Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn king.”; Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

 

As a Minister of Word and Sacrament, charged with the responsibility of designing worship services, when I think of the songs of our faith, I think of songs that simply must be sung at particular times in the life of the church. For example, every Easter Sunday, I feel compelled to include “I Danced in the Morning” as our final hymn. Why? Because in my humble opinion, it provides one of the best retellings of the life of Christ in its entirety. Another song that almost always makes the cut for the 1st Sunday of Christmas is “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.

 

The song, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is an African American spiritual that likely dates back to the mid-1800’s. Originally it was passed from plantation to plantation orally until it was finally put to paper and then recorded. Regarding the song, I happened upon the following from a Presbyterian Church blogpost:

 

“Go, Tell It on the Mountain” is a joyful clarion call to proclaim from the mountain that a Savior is born. Messiah is come! It is an expression of joy and ecstasy for the poor, the downtrodden, the lonely, the insignificant. It is a fresh declaration each Christmas that Jesus is in the world – He was born in Bethlehem. Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, John Wesley Work II, who taught Latin and history at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, heard someone sing this refrain. He shaped the melody, harmonized the tune, and added some original stanzas. In 1907 he published it in a small booklet, Folk Songs of the American Negro. This song and well-known versions of… “Lord, I Want to Be A Christian,” “Somebody’s Knocking at Your Door,” and “Were You There” were also included.[i]

 

While “Go tell it on the mountain” is an expression of joy, it is also a vivid picture of what we are to do with the news of the Christ Child’s arrival. And just what is it that we are to do? We are to respond. Let us take a moment to look at how Simeon and Anna respond. When Simeon comes face to face with the Christ Child, he praises God, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The prophet, Anna, who never leaves the temple but worships there with fasting and prayer night and day, adds her own voice of praise, speaking about the child to those looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. In response to the presence of Jesus, neither Simeon nor Anna can keep from praising God—can keep from telling those around them what has happened in their hearts.

 

Here we are, some 2000 years later. Is our responsibility any different than that of Simeon and Anna? Aren’t we, too, charged with telling the story—over the hills and everywhere—that Jesus Christ is born? And if we do not, who will? Truth be told, Presbyterians are not known for placing an emphasis on evangelism. We tend to shy away from being so bold. We feel more comfortable relying on words often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words. Perhaps such an attitude sufficed when Christianity held a privileged position in western society—when church attendance was a priority for every man, woman, and child in the neighborhood. But those days are long gone. So, what are we to do?

 

It is common in African American churches for the preacher to call out during his or her sermon: “Can I get a witness?” To which often comes the response: “Amen.”[ii] Can I get a witness? It is a good question, and it is a question to which we must all respond in some form or fashion—if we are serious about being a follower of Christ. For you see, acting as a faithful disciple will at some point require that we speak of our faith—that we offer our testimony, if you will.

 

If the whole idea makes us nervous, we might reframe it by considering what happens when we have a delightful meal at a new restaurant in our community. How do we respond? Likely, we tell someone about our dining experience. We talk about the atmosphere, the excellent service, the generous portions, and, of course, the delicious apple pie! So, you see, giving testimony is as easy as apple pie! And we need not be afraid because if we are open—if we are willing—the Holy Spirit will give us the words that we need to share the good things God is doing in our lives and in the world around us. In its most basic form, evangelism is simply telling others about the hope we have for tomorrow. It is about inviting others to the Table so that they may taste and see that the Lord is good.

 

As recipients of God’s great love through Jesus, we do not have to look far to see God at work. The peace, hope, joy, and love of God are writ large all around us. And the Spirit is constantly on the move, creating and calling us to pay attention and then, to share our experience with others. Come and dine and then, go and tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born. You see, it is as easy as apple pie. Can I get a witness? Amen!

 

(Let us keep silence.)

 

Cover Art “The Presentation” by Ira Thomas @ https://www.catholicworldart.com, used by permission;  Music CCLI 20016020/13

[i] Rev. Sarah Bolhofner @ https://www.northcreektoday.org/blogs?author=5630f41ce4b092885154362d

[ii] Canadian Presbyterian Church Resourse: Rev. Dr. Ross Lockhart @ file:///C:/Users/revho/Downloads/Equipping-For-EM_Aug2017%20(1).pdf

 

Son of Mary

Son of Mary

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; December 20, 2020

4th Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:46-55

 

Fred Craddock, one of the most influential preachers of the past century, shared a story about something that occurred when he was a young preacher, still wet behind the ears. It just so happened that he was invited to the “coming out” party for a young girl on her 16th birthday. What a shindig it was—a beautiful home, a lovely girl with a lovely dress, food, music—a wonderful celebration. From a well-to-do family, this young girl had the world on a string—a future filled with endless possibilities. A short time later, it just so happened that Craddock had an invitation to another home, to visit another young girl—she, too, was 16 years of age. But when Craddock approached her house, he was taken aback by the scene before him. There she stood on a rickety old porch, no shoes, a baby cradled on her hip, with a face that looked as if it had already seen half a lifetime. From a poor, down-and-out family, her future, and the future of her baby, looked awfully dim. Craddock recalled feeling such sadness as he made his way back home that afternoon. He could not help but compare the circumstances of the two girls with whom he had recently spent time, and, as he made his way down the road, he said aloud to the heavens, “I don’t get it, God. Do you love that other girl, the one who lives on the “right” side of the tracks more than you love this one? It sure looks like it.” And after a while, Craddock was certain he heard God answer. “Fred, O Fred,” the voice of God spoke, “Fred, are you stupid?”

 

In this life, who is blessed and who is not? It is an age-old question that we ponder from time to time. Into our ponderings, walks none other than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary is a young girl, living in a poor, nondescript town, likely 12 or 13 years of age. She is betrothed to Joseph, which means, among other things, that the bride price has been paid. By all accounts, they are “married” but Mary will continue to live with her family for a year before the marriage can be consummated. Mary is living in an “in between” time, caught between her life as a daughter and her life as a wife.

 

One day, quite unexpectedly, the angel Gabriel appears with a message for this young girl with no outstanding pedigree. Gabriel comes to announce a special event—a baby will be born. But wait! Something is oddly familiar about this. It sounds a lot like the stories told of long ago—the foretelling of the birth of Ishmael, the birth of Isaac, the birth of Samson. It is the same pattern, isn’t it? The coming birth is proclaimed, the name of the child is given, and then something of the child’s future is foretold. But this is the coming Messiah so why this hearkening back to birth announcements of old? Could it be that the world needs to remember that the saving work God was up to back then is the same saving work God is up to now?[i]

 

During our journey through Advent, we have considered different ways of knowing Jesus—as the Son of Man, the Son of God, and the Son of God’s Love. Today we consider Jesus as the Son of Mary. Let me be clear, nowhere in Scripture is Jesus specifically addressed as Jesus, Son of Mary. Yet, Mary is favored by God and called to do an extraordinary thing. In fact, Mary is no less “called” than is Moses or Jeremiah. Have you ever thought of Mary as a woman “called” by God to do a prophetic act? Honestly, have you given her much thought at all?

 

In the book, Mary in the New Testament, Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars work together to examine what the churches have had to say about Mary over the years. [ii]  The authors confess that neither tradition has done Mary justice. The Catholic tradition gave her the title, “Mother of God” and made her into a sort of goddess. While Protestants may not be guilty of putting Mary up on a pedestal and denying her full humanity, we are hardly innocent. In our haste to deny “all things Catholic,” we have thrown out the proverbial baby with the bath water. In truth, Mary makes us so uncomfortable that we only bring her out this time of year. We dust her off, shine her up, dress her in blue, and have her smile that sweet, ethereal smile while she holds baby Jesus in her arms. Then, in another week, quick as a flash, we stick her back in the closet until next year.  For us, Mary has become little more than a prop in the manger scene. In our determination not to adore Mary, not to pray to her, and certainly not to bow to her, we have gone to the opposite extreme. We ignore her. It seems to me that Mary may have found favor with God, but neither Catholics nor Protestants have done her any real favors since. Nevertheless, could it be that Mary still has something to teach us on our pilgrimage with her Son?

 

Mary finds favor with God—not because of any special status of her own—but because God chose her—plain and simple. “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you,” the angel Gabriel says. “The Lord is with you.” These are the same words spoken to mighty warriors like Gideon and to godly prophets like Moses and Jeremiah when they are called by God to do extraordinary things. “The Lord is with you.” Following these words, I imagine there is a great pause…and then…and then…the commission. Mary is called by God and what is it she must do? Mary’s mission? Mary’s prophetic vocation? Motherhood.

 

“How can this be?” When Mary objects (as all prophets seem to do) she is reassured that God is at work and, ultimately, will be glorified when the Holy Spirit overshadows her with the resulting birth of the Son of God. If these words of assurance are not enough though, like Gideon, Mary is given a sign. The angel Gabriel directs her attention to Elizabeth—old, barren, and in her second trimester! You see nothing is impossible with God. Mary is called and she humbly responds: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary joins her voice to those of Abraham, Samuel, and Isaiah: “Here am I.”

 

Mary becomes the Amma Mother of Jesus. Favored by God, and obedient to God’s call, what wonders she witnesses. She is there when the Magi come from the east to wonder at this king. She is there as a refugee in Egypt, keeping her baby safe. She is there in Jerusalem when her 12-year-old son goes missing. She is there at the wedding in Cana, prompting her Son to make a wine that is oh-so-fine. She is there at the foot of the cross seeing what no mother should ever see. She is there when the news breaks, “Christ has risen! He has risen, indeed!” After his ascension, she is there praying along with the rest of the disciples. She is there, waiting for her next assignment, her next vocation: to continue the work of her Son.

 

Whenever I pause to ponder the life of Mary, I have renewed respect for this precious woman, who, as a young girl, appears to have little to offer to the world. Except herself! Turns out, that is all God wants from Mary. It is all God wants from any of us! In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] Brent A. Strawn, The Lectionary Commentary, ed. Roger E. Van Harn, 286

[ii] By Byron L. Rohrig, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Indiana printed in Christian Century, November 26, 1986, p. 1062

Son of God’s Love

Son of God’s Love

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; December 13, 2020

3rd Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:46-55

 

After Mary is visited by the Angel Gabriel, who tells her that she will become the mother of the Son of God, she pays a visit of her own—to Elizabeth. In response to Elizabeth’s blessing, Mary sings a song of praise—what we know as the Magnificat. In this song of praise, Mary rejoices in God and in her good fortune. She imagines how others will be blessed through her and through her Son—the lowly will be lifted up and the hungry will be filled—the ways of the world will be turned inside out and upside down. In time, the baby is born—Emmanuel—God with us. In time, the baby grows into a man and begins his ministry of embodying God’s love for the world. He loves the unlovable. He welcomes the stranger. He does everything in his power to make the wrong right and the crooked straight. Yet, his expansive love serves only to get him killed, or so it seems.

 

In her song of praise, Mary envisions a new day. But that new day—in its fullness—only begins with the birth of her Son. It will not be made complete until he returns in all his glory. After Jesus returns to his Abba Father, like Mary, we live in the “in between times” and, like Mary, we wait.

 

We look around us and we see that sin abounds, and sometimes we wonder, what is it all for? When will we see the promise fulfilled? Yes, we wonder, as thousands upon thousands have wondered down through the ages. One such wonderer was Julian of Norwich, who was born in 1342. During her lifetime, the Black Plague swept through England three times. Around half of the population of Norwich died during the Plague. Clergy and undertakers could not keep up. They, in fact, in many cases, became victims of Black Death themselves. The Middle Ages were times of social and political upheaval, and incessant wars. The class system was beginning to crumble and with the sea change, came revolts and lootings and violence. Due to widespread corruption, the church was in upheaval, too. Indeed, these were tumultuous times.

 

At the age of 31 Julian became ill—so much so a priest was called in to administer last rites. While she lay on what she and others thought was her deathbed, she had a series of mystical revelations—visions—or showings as she called them. After a few days, much to everyone’s surprise, she recovered. But the experience changed her life forever. In the years to come, she would write a short text, describing her visions, and many years later, a long text in which she further analyzed and reflected on all that God revealed to her through decades of meditating on the experience. It is interesting that her book was the first to be written by a woman in the English language. It was a dangerous task to undertake—a woman interpreting the things of God—in English, no less. Some 500 years would pass before the writings of Julian of Norwich would gain the attention they deserve.

 

From Julian’s writings, we learn of an encounter she has with Jesus. In the vision, she sees the results of sin all around and she drums up the courage to ask why God did not prevent sin from ever coming into the world. Instead of answering her question, Jesus gives her all that she needs, saying, “Sin is inevitable, yet all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” While these are Julian’s most often quoted words, she has more to teach us. One theme worth noting this morning appears near the end of her writings. All along she knew in her heart that the visions were not for her so much as for others. They were meant to be shared. She was merely the vessel. Still, one question remained. What was it all for? And the answer she received was quite simple. It was for love.

 

Through a modern-day translation, let us hear Julian’s own words:

And from the time that this was shown, I often longed to know what our Lord meant. And fifteen years and more later my spiritual understanding received an answer, which was this: “Do you want to know what your Lord meant? Know well that love was what he meant. Who showed you this? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it to you? For love. Hold fast to this and you will know and understand more of the same; but you will never understand or know from it anything else for all eternity.” This is how I was taught that our Lord’s meaning was love. And I saw quite certainly in this and in everything that God loved us before he made us, and his love has never diminished and never shall. And all his works were done in this love; and in this love he has made everything for our profit; and in this love our life is everlasting. We had our beginning when we were made; but the love in which he made us was in him since before time began; and in this love we have our beginning.[i]

 

During the Season of Advent, we are looking at Jesus as the Son of Man, the Son of God, and the Son of Mary. Today we reflect on Jesus as the Son of God’s Love because Jesus and love are synonymous. In other words, if we say the name of Jesus, we mean Love. Scripture tells us that God is love and God’s love becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ. When we look at how Jesus lives his life, we see love in action. We witness healing and hospitality, mercy and compassion. To follow Jesus is to live in loving ways. It is to become sacraments of God’s own presence to those we encounter—even those who do not look like us or speak our language or worship as we do or agree with our social or political views.

 

Above all, God is love. And God is ever loving us and ever working on our behalf. The life and death of Jesus is the supreme act of love and the cross shows us the heart of God—reaching down from Glory and reaching out to all humanity. God can be trusted. God is faithful. In Christ, the Son of God’s Love, a new community begins—one that Mary catches a glimpse of—one that Mary sings of. Truly, the fullness of Christ’s promise of a loving community will not be complete until he returns in all his glory, but in the “in between time,” no matter how things may appear, we can trust that all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Furthermore, as members of this loving community, surely, we recognize there is much work for us to do—and it is the work of love. On our journey through Advent, let us ponder in our hearts how we are handling our assignment to be God’s love for the world.

 

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] Mary C. Earle, Julian of Norwich, 189.

*Cover Advent Art by Stushie, used by subscription

Son of God

Son of God

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 29, 2020

2nd  Sunday of Advent

Is. 41:1-11; Mark 1:1-8

Today we open the Gospel of Mark and read, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” If we hear these words and take them literally, as THE BEGINNING, then we miss out. For this is a story that’s been going on in grand themes, in grand ways, since “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” What Mark provides is neither the LITERAL beginning of Jesus Christ, nor the LITERAL beginning of THE STORY. Instead, all of Mark, the entire Gospel, offers us the gift of a NEW CHAPTER in the grand story of God’s relationship with humankind. The history of God loving and caring for humanity and God being revealed in unexpected ways through unexpected people is a long, long story. And while John the Baptist, this New Testament prophet, prepares the way for the Lord, Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life!  Good News, all around!

 

In our reading, Jesus is referred to as the Son of God. The title, “Son of God” appears often in the Old Testament, in reference to persons having a special relationship with God: angels, holy men and even the descendants of Seth are called “sons of God.” In the New Testament, Jesus is often called “Son of God,” referring to the special relationship between Jesus and his Heavenly Father. This connection is made even as the angel appears to Mary announcing his coming birth. “Do not be afraid, Mary” the angel says, “for you have found favor with God. And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son…The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”[i]

 

Both the writer of the Gospel of Mark and John the Baptist point us to this Son of God. Like prophets before him, John the Baptist does strange things in strange ways. When he appears in the wilderness wearing camel’s hair and a leather belt—make no mistake, people take notice. Maybe he reminds them of Elijah or one of the other prophets of old. By this time in Israel’s history, the people are longing for a word from Yahweh, so when John appears in the wilderness urging repentance and baptism, they come, they listen, and many are baptized. The truth is—this rough and roaring prophet has one purpose and one purpose only—to point people to the Son of God who will usher in the Holy Spirit. In a way, John’s life serves as a hinge between the Old and the New Testaments—drawing us back to the stories of the prophets and judges and kings and drawing us toward Jesus, the Son of Man; the Son of God, who comes to redeem creation and all its people.

 

While the angel, the writer of Mark, and John the Baptist testify to the Son of the Most High, so does his Father. At his baptism, Jesus comes up out of the water, the heavens are torn asunder, the Spirit descends upon him like a dove and a voice is heard from the heavens, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”[ii] At the Transfiguration when Jesus talks with Elijah and Moses, Peter, James and John see the clothes of Jesus transformed into a dazzling white and they hear a voice out of the cloud saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.”[iii]

 

Jesus is the Son of God—but not in the sense of a human father and his son. God doesn’t wed Mary and produce a child. Jesus is God’s Son, conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit. The relationship between this Father and this Son is beyond our comprehension. Even in our brightest moments, we peer through a glass dimly. Yet, we sense that when we have seen the Son, we have seen the Father.

 

Jesus speaks frequently of his relationship with his Abba Father. In the midst of praying for his disciples, in what is known as Jesus’ “high-priestly” prayer, he says, “So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.”[iv] Before the world began, Jesus was with the Father. In Colossians the Apostle Paul speaks of Jesus as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…”[v] Through Jesus the invisible God is made visible.

 

Mark starts us on another chapter of a story that began long, long ago. The Son radiates the Father’s glory. For us and for our salvation, Jesus breaks into our lowly existence, does his saving work and returns to the side of his Abba Father. But he hasn’t left us alone. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom he promised, is here with us now, filling us, praying for us and empowering us to carry on the work of God the Father and God the Son until that day when the Son will come again in all his glory.

 

There is so much to this story of God’s love…more than can ever be spoken adequately. Yet what can be said is enough…enough to make us see, hear, hope and dream. It is enough to draw us in, claim us in the waters of baptism, nourish us by the bread of life…it is enough!

 

In Kathleen Norris’ book, Acedia & Me, she tells this story: “When my oldest niece was three years old, my brother would drive her to day care in the morning, and her mother, who worked as a stock-broker and financial planner, would pick her up in the afternoon. She always brought an orange, peeled so that her daughter could eat it on the way home. One day the child was busying herself by playing “Mommy’s office” on the front porch of our house in Honolulu, and I asked her what her mother did at work. Without hesitation, and with a conviction that I relish to this day, she looked up at me and said, “She makes oranges.”[vi]

 

It’s the Season of Advent and there is a glorious story to be told; a story with chapter upon chapter, layer upon layer, section upon section. It’s so easy to see the part and take it for the whole, but this story is too large to be contained in a chapter, in a section, even in the entire Bible! This story cannot be contained. The Gospel breaks forth from the pages of Scripture and reaches into all creation through all eternity. The whole story of God’s love for us as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, is still being written and, by the grace of God, we are a part of it. Our part is to seek the face of our Abba Father, walk in the path of Jesus our Brother and, as believers baptized through water and the Spirit, live obedient lives.

 

Jesus Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, enters human history. The Bread of Life comes, comes, ever comes, during the Season of Advent, during every day of our lives, to feed us manna from heaven and to give us the blessed hope of a full life now and eternal life to come.

[i] Adapted from Luke 1:30-35.

[ii] Adapted from Mark 1:9-11.

[iii] Mark 9:7.

[iv] John 17:5.

[v] Colossians 1:15-16.

[vi] Acedia & Me, Kathleen Norris, 216.

*Cover Art by Stushie Art, used by subscription

Son of Man

Son of Man

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 29, 2020

1st Sunday of Advent

Mark 14:24-37

 

Today marks the beginning of a new church year designated as Year B by the Revised Common Lectionary. Thus, during the year, we will often focus on the Gospel of Mark. Each gospel has its own personality—something obvious in the way each one begins. Matthew gets us started with a lesson in genealogy and a picture of Joseph, Mary, an angel, and an unexpected birth. Luke starts us off with both Elizabeth and Mary with child and singing praises to God. John begins with poetic whispers that gently build into a bold declaration of “the Word made flesh and dwelling among us.” But Mark—Mark has no time for such things. Mark does not bother with angels or shepherds, wise men, or baby pictures. Instead, Mark gets right to it, startling us with: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and in walks one of the wildest people in Scripture, John the Baptist, clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, living on locusts and wild honey.[i]

 

From here, things move at a rapid pace in a race to get the whole story out. Sentence after sentence begins with words like, “And then…Immediately…As soon as” which has the effect of rushing us from place to place.  It is as if Mark is a news reporter and, sensing that we have the remote control in our hand, he wants to make sure we get all the information we need before we change the channel.  But we are not likely to get bored with this gospel account; we are not likely to touch that remote control, because Mark has something to say and Mark knows how to say it. Detail after detail draws us in and invites us to believe in Jesus Christ.

 

Our reading today comes from a section of Mark known as “the little apocalypse.” A series of warnings are offered, and Jesus advises his disciples to watch, wait, keep alert, for the end of time is drawing near. Although there is much that could be said about the cosmic signs and warnings, we will leave that for another day. What I want us to focus our attention on this morning is verse 26: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Notice the title: Son of Man.

 

Throughout Mark, Jesus is referred to in several ways: Christ, son of David, Son of God. But the title that Jesus prefers for himself is Son of Man. The term is used in several places in the Old Testament. It refers to human kind in Psalms; to the prophet in Ezekiel; in Daniel the term is used in a vision Daniel has of a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven to be given dominion over all nations and all peoples for all time.[ii] Maybe Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite name for himself because it best describes who he is AND what he has come to do. It speaks of his divinity and his humanity. It describes the servant role he willingly chooses.

 

While the Gospel of Mark is known for including “the little apocalypse,” it is also known for having three passion narratives. On three different occasions Jesus warns his disciples of the pending death of the Son of Man. Jesus seems bent on making them understand that it is as a human that he has entered history. The New Adam has come to make all things right, and as a human, he will live and breathe and die just as we do.  But let us never forget, it has not always been so. This Son of Man comes from the very heart of heaven, from the side of his Abba Father, from the sounds of the heavenly choir, singing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” He gives it all up to enter the human story; to enter our story.

 

Yet, Jesus does not refer to himself as the Messiah, the Christ, or even the Son of God. Instead, Jesus chooses the title that describes his human status. Imagine with me for a moment, Jesus comes to the earth as a baby, grows into a man, and eagerly goes about the work of his Abba Father. He enters the story of our brokenness and shame; our hopes and dreams.  He joins in the dance of life with us. “See,” he seems to say, “Look at me…look for me…I am here with you…I am here for you…” Through this Son of Man, God works on our behalf. What wonderful love is this!

 

Because of his divine nature, God grants authority to Jesus to forgive sin. Because of his earthly purpose, he will suffer, die, and rise again. Jesus, the New Adam, uses the title, Son of Man, to claim the authority that is his and his alone, for no other earthly being is willing or able to accomplish the task set before him. Only Jesus has the power to make that which is crooked straight. Only Jesus can take on the powers of darkness to bring hope and light to us all.

 

In our reading for today, when Jesus speaks of the fulfillment of the end of time, once more he takes up the human mantle: “They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with power and glory.” Jesus will come again and when he does, he will bring both mercy and judgment. In the meantime, we wait with eager anticipation. No one knows the day or the hour—only the Father has that information. So, we wait.

 

As one pastor puts it:

It may seem strange, at first, to begin our anticipation of the birth of Jesus by being exhorted to wait for his coming again. After all, this talk of Jesus’ return seems out of sequence because, in the context of the liturgical year, we are still awaiting his birth. In one important respect, however, it is entirely fitting, because it places us squarely with those who awaited the birth of the Messiah. Neither those who awaited the first coming of the Messiah, nor those who now await his return, know when he will appear.[iii]

 

We say, “But we know the day he arrives. We light Advent candles. We check off the weeks until we reach that big circle on the calendar marked ‘Christmas Day.’ Our traditions guide us as we put up the tree, hang the greenery, and celebrate.” We are bent on reaching the 25th of December—Christmas Day—but what about Christ? Perhaps on this first day of Advent, it behooves us to remember that there is a difference between waiting for Christmas and waiting for Christ.

 

Herein lies that great paradox of our faith, the “already and not yet” of which scholar, Oscar Cullman spoke. Already Jesus has made our salvation possible so that we are able to be in right relationship with God. But not yet do we live in complete communion with God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. We live in the “in between times,” but if we have eyes to see, there are glimpses of heaven all around. While we wait for Christ to return in glory and all evil to shut its mouth, we have a calling upon our lives to live justly, kindly, and with great expectation of what Jesus has done and continues to do through the power of the Holy Spirit guiding our hearts, hands and voices.

 

It is the beginning of Advent. We watch…we wait…for the coming of the Christ-child, lowly and in a manger. It is the beginning of Advent. We watch…we wait for the Son of Man to return in the clouds with great glory and power. Let us begin the Advent journey waiting for Christmas AND waiting for Christ.

 

[i] The Life with God Bible, Commentary on Mark, Kimberly Clayton Richter

[ii] Daniel 7

[iii] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 1. Martin B. Copenhaver, 23, 25.

*Cover Art by Stushie, used by subscription

Son of Man

Son of Man

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 29, 2020

1st Sunday of Advent

Mark 14:24-37

 

Today marks the beginning of a new church year designated as Year B by the Revised Common Lectionary. Thus, during the year, we will often focus on the Gospel of Mark. Each gospel has its own personality—something obvious in the way each one begins. Matthew gets us started with a lesson in genealogy and a picture of Joseph, Mary, an angel, and an unexpected birth. Luke starts us off with both Elizabeth and Mary with child and singing praises to God. John begins with poetic whispers that gently build into a bold declaration of “the Word made flesh and dwelling among us.” But Mark—Mark has no time for such things. Mark does not bother with angels or shepherds, wise men, or baby pictures. Instead, Mark gets right to it, startling us with: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and in walks one of the wildest people in Scripture, John the Baptist, clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, living on locusts and wild honey.[i]

 

From here, things move at a rapid pace in a race to get the whole story out. Sentence after sentence begins with words like, “And then…Immediately…As soon as” which has the effect of rushing us from place to place.  It is as if Mark is a news reporter and, sensing that we have the remote control in our hand, he wants to make sure we get all the information we need before we change the channel.  But we are not likely to get bored with this gospel account; we are not likely to touch that remote control, because Mark has something to say and Mark knows how to say it. Detail after detail draws us in and invites us to believe in Jesus Christ.

 

Our reading today comes from a section of Mark known as “the little apocalypse.” A series of warnings are offered, and Jesus advises his disciples to watch, wait, keep alert, for the end of time is drawing near. Although there is much that could be said about the cosmic signs and warnings, we will leave that for another day. What I want us to focus our attention on this morning is verse 26: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Notice the title: Son of Man.

 

Throughout Mark, Jesus is referred to in several ways: Christ, son of David, Son of God. But the title that Jesus prefers for himself is Son of Man. The term is used in several places in the Old Testament. It refers to human kind in Psalms; to the prophet in Ezekiel; in Daniel the term is used in a vision Daniel has of a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven to be given dominion over all nations and all peoples for all time.[ii] Maybe Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite name for himself because it best describes who he is AND what he has come to do. It speaks of his divinity and his humanity. It describes the servant role he willingly chooses.

 

While the Gospel of Mark is known for including “the little apocalypse,” it is also known for having three passion narratives. On three different occasions Jesus warns his disciples of the pending death of the Son of Man. Jesus seems bent on making them understand that it is as a human that he has entered history. The New Adam has come to make all things right, and as a human, he will live and breathe and die just as we do.  But let us never forget, it has not always been so. This Son of Man comes from the very heart of heaven, from the side of his Abba Father, from the sounds of the heavenly choir, singing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” He gives it all up to enter the human story; to enter our story.

 

Yet, Jesus does not refer to himself as the Messiah, the Christ, or even the Son of God. Instead, Jesus chooses the title that describes his human status. Imagine with me for a moment, Jesus comes to the earth as a baby, grows into a man, and eagerly goes about the work of his Abba Father. He enters the story of our brokenness and shame; our hopes and dreams.  He joins in the dance of life with us. “See,” he seems to say, “Look at me…look for me…I am here with you…I am here for you…” Through this Son of Man, God works on our behalf. What wonderful love is this!

 

Because of his divine nature, God grants authority to Jesus to forgive sin. Because of his earthly purpose, he will suffer, die, and rise again. Jesus, the New Adam, uses the title, Son of Man, to claim the authority that is his and his alone, for no other earthly being is willing or able to accomplish the task set before him. Only Jesus has the power to make that which is crooked straight. Only Jesus can take on the powers of darkness to bring hope and light to us all.

 

In our reading for today, when Jesus speaks of the fulfillment of the end of time, once more he takes up the human mantle: “They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with power and glory.” Jesus will come again and when he does, he will bring both mercy and judgment. In the meantime, we wait with eager anticipation. No one knows the day or the hour—only the Father has that information. So, we wait.

 

As one pastor puts it:

It may seem strange, at first, to begin our anticipation of the birth of Jesus by being exhorted to wait for his coming again. After all, this talk of Jesus’ return seems out of sequence because, in the context of the liturgical year, we are still awaiting his birth. In one important respect, however, it is entirely fitting, because it places us squarely with those who awaited the birth of the Messiah. Neither those who awaited the first coming of the Messiah, nor those who now await his return, know when he will appear.[iii]

 

We say, “But we know the day he arrives. We light Advent candles. We check off the weeks until we reach that big circle on the calendar marked ‘Christmas Day.’ Our traditions guide us as we put up the tree, hang the greenery, and celebrate.” We are bent on reaching the 25th of December—Christmas Day—but what about Christ? Perhaps on this first day of Advent, it behooves us to remember that there is a difference between waiting for Christmas and waiting for Christ.

 

Herein lies that great paradox of our faith, the “already and not yet” of which scholar, Oscar Cullman spoke. Already Jesus has made our salvation possible so that we are able to be in right relationship with God. But not yet do we live in complete communion with God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. We live in the “in between times,” but if we have eyes to see, there are glimpses of heaven all around. While we wait for Christ to return in glory and all evil to shut its mouth, we have a calling upon our lives to live justly, kindly, and with great expectation of what Jesus has done and continues to do through the power of the Holy Spirit guiding our hearts, hands and voices.

 

It is the beginning of Advent. We watch…we wait…for the coming of the Christ-child, lowly and in a manger. It is the beginning of Advent. We watch…we wait for the Son of Man to return in the clouds with great glory and power. Let us begin the Advent journey waiting for Christmas AND waiting for Christ.

 

[i] The Life with God Bible, Commentary on Mark, Kimberly Clayton Richter

[ii] Daniel 7

[iii] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 1. Martin B. Copenhaver, 23, 25.

*Cover Art by Stushie, used by subscription

Christ our Compassionate King

Christ our Compassionate King

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 22. 2020

Christ the King Sunday

Matthew 25:31-46

 

Today marks the end of the church year—a year in which we have explored Matthew’s interpretation of Christ and Matthew’s theology. For Matthew, it is through Jesus Christ that God has come to dwell with his people. For Matthew, Jesus, the Messiah, is a kingly figure, who suffers for his people and brings either salvation or judgment. For Matthew, the kingdom of God is a present and a future reality made up of those who do the will of God.

 

In our gospel reading, Christ is introduced as the King. How appropriate that the ending of the church year should climax with Jesus crowned Lord of All!  Of course, kings have played an important role in Israel’s history. You remember the story told in I Samuel.  All the elders of Israel come to Samuel saying, “You’re old and your sons are not following in your footsteps—appoint for us a king to govern us –like all the other nations.” Samuel is upset so he prays to God and God answers, “Listen to the people. They aren’t rejecting you; they’re rejecting me from being their king. Just as they have rejected me again and again since the time I brought them out of Egypt. So listen to them –but warn them what the king who will reign over them will do.”

 

Samuel tells the people of Israel, “This is what your king will do:  draft your young men to the king’s army to make him implements of war and to fight, make you slaves to plow the fields and reap his harvest, your daughters will be forced to serve the king as perfumers, cooks and bakers, and he will take the best of your fields, vineyards and livestock for himself.”  Then Samuel says, “And in that day you will cry out because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves.”

 

Samuel warns—but the people refuse to listen, so God gives them a king. Eventually, all the “warnings” come to pass.  The Israelites want laws, an army, a human monarch in the place of God.  This chosen people who once had the choice of having God as their king, choose an earthly ruler instead.  And oh, the price they pay!  Sure, there are some kings who find favor in God’s sight—King David comes to mind.  But as the years pass, evil kings outnumber the good ones and God’s people drift further away from the will of God.

 

God puts up with the earthly kings of the Davidic throne until finally, in the fullness of time, God brings forth a King who will perfectly keep his covenant and his word even to death on a cross. Elizabeth Achtemeier writes, “Jesus Christ becomes, in his person, all that Israel was meant to be—the obedient and faithful Son of God, called out of Egypt; the obedient cornerstone of a new community of righteousness and peace for all peoples, the Davidic ruler who knows how to protect the poor and to establish justice in society.”

 

Yes, Israel has quite a history with kings. In Matthew, we find them waiting for yet another; they await a warrior king—someone who will save them from Roman rule—but Jesus will not rule through intimidation, oppression, and war. Jesus is a King of Compassion who calls his people to be people of compassion. In verse 32, we see all the nations gathered before him, as Jesus, like a Shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And what is his criteria? Who has shown compassion for the members of his family? Who has cared for the poor, the distressed, and the needy? And whom does Jesus identify with in this story? Jesus identifies with the sheep—I was thirsty, I was hungry, I was naked—Jesus makes the reference some 14 times. It is in the very nature of Jesus to identify with the afflicted, and in today’s reading, those who are blessed by Christ also identify with the afflicted—and they do so without even knowing it. They help the needy because they have the mind and heart of Christ. It is a natural, spontaneous expression of love and compassion.

 

Of course, we know that Jesus is rejected and crucified, but, ultimately, he is victorious over death. He rises once and for all in the power of the Sovereign King, who is determined to forgive us, that we may have life and have it in abundance. In short, Christ begins the final rule of the kingdom of God on earth. This is the king spoken of in today’s passage: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.”  For now, Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, on his heavenly throne, restraining his enemies and protecting the church, but there will come a time when he will appear openly, to establish perfect order in heaven and earth, to crush his enemies under his feet, and to assemble the faithful to share an everlasting and blessed life.[i]

 

Certainly, Christ’s way is not the usual ways of sovereigns.  He is more powerful!  His riches are endless! His kingship lasts for all eternity. Nevertheless, he does not use his power and glory to lord it over his subjects. Instead, he becomes the servant. Christ our Compassionate King rules with love and compassion. He identifies with this family of his who lives on earth. As followers of Jesus, we too often hunger or thirst, become sick, feel lonely. What a comfort to know that Christ shares the experience with us. And as Christ participates in the story of our lives, he calls us to be participants in his work of love and compassion for the world.

 

Dear church family, when I think of all you, during this season of Thanksgiving, I give thanks to be surrounded by a host of compassionate souls. You are a people of fervent prayer. You identify with the afflicted. You help those in need. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, you continue to find creative ways to be the light of Christ for the world. Indeed, you act as if you know the Arabic proverb, “The one who has bread is debtor to the one who has none.”  You act as if you know that each earthly kindness draws us closer to that Great Feast we will share together with our LORD. Yes, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you act as if you have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd and you have responded, “Yes, my Shepherd! Yes, my Lord! Yes, my King!”

 

Amen.

[i] John Calvin

*Cover Art “Christ the King” by Ira Thomas @ https://www.catholicworldart.com/1p-king.html. Used with permission

Risky Business

Risky Business

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 15, 2020

24th Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 25:14-30

When we gather next week for Stewardship Dedication, we will offer prayers and blessings for our Prayer & Pledge Commitments for 2021. With this in mind, the reading from the Gospel of Matthew could not be more appropriate since it is frequently used to teach the value of making the best of our God-given gifts—be they time, talents, or treasures. On this text, I am sure you have heard numerous sermons preached along these lines. I have preached a few myself. But as I pondered the parable this week, I was compelled to meander down a different path—one that invited me to consider other gifts the story has to offer. Let us take a closer look.

Earlier in the chapter, Jesus warns those who wish to enter the kingdom of heaven to keep their lamps trimmed and burning. Then, he tells a parable about a wealthy man who departs on a long journey. Before he leaves, he distributes his property to three slaves—each according to his ability. After a long time, the master returns to settle accounts. He is pleased to find that, in his absence, the first two slaves make wise investments to double their money. The third slave, however, takes a different approach. He buries his treasure because he is afraid to take a risk. More than that, he is afraid of his master. In response, the master chastises him and sends him to outer darkness.

At first glance, the master may appear heartless and concerned only about money, but the story is not really about amassing wealth. The story is more about a master, a slave, and their relationship. So, what do we know about the master? We know that he has abundant resources with which he is generous. We know this because he is able to entrust to one slave 5 talents (the equivalent of 75 years of wages); to another, 2 talents (the equivalent of 30 years of wages); and to the last, 1 talent (the equivalent of 15 years of wages).  In other words, all 3 men are given a lot of money. We also realize that the master knows his slaves. How do we know that? Because he gives each one according to his ability. Thus, before the master ever departs, he anticipates what he will find upon his return.

And what do we know about the slave who digs a hole to hide his talent in the ground? We know what he thinks of his master. He thinks his master is harsh, reaping where he does not sow, and gathering what is not his to gather. More importantly, we recognize that he acts out of fear. He expects his master to be harsh. Ironically, because of his lack of trust, he gets exactly what he expects. And isn’t that the way of life? Don’t we often get exactly what we expect?

Imagine with me for a moment, a friend who is in the habit of starting every conversation with what is WRONG with his life, or with any given situation. How often does such an attitude become a self-fulfilling prophecy? On the other hand, bring to mind a friend who looks for the good in people. She even has the audacity to look for new possibilities in stressful situations, hopeful that a better day is just around the corner. Isn’t it true that she, too, often gets exactly what she is looking for—better outcomes, better opportunities?

Scholar David Lose has this to say on the matter:

What we expect is most often what we see. Do we see conflict as something awful and to avoid at all costs? Then it probably will be. Do we instead imagine conflict as a chance to grow and stretch? If so, then we will probably experience it as just that. Is a crisis a threat or an opportunity? Is a challenge a problem to overcome or a mystery to be embraced? Is someone who disagrees with us an opponent or colleague? Again and again, our experience of life is so very deeply shaped by our expectations.[i]

Attitudes and expectations fuel the poem penned by the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi:

Once a believer asked the angel of the Gate,

“Is it true that hell is the road through which both believers and unbelievers pass?

For on my way here, I saw neither smoke, nor fire.”

“The road you passed was hell indeed,” the angel smiled,

“but since you have overcome your lower nature, to you it appears as a garden.

Having planted the seeds of devotion, you transformed the fire of anger into compassion

and ignorance into wisdom. The thorns of envy have turned into roses

so now your fiery soul has become a rose garden where nightingales sing praises.”

Truly, dear Christian, attitudes matter. Expectations matter. And God wants us to expect great things because God cannot wait to fulfill our hopes and dreams. In fact, many of our deepest desires have been planted in our hearts by none other than God’s own Spirit. So yes, God wants us to dream and dream big. But first, we must believe that God wants good for us and not evil. We must believe that God is in the wonder-working business.

God is in another business, too. God is in a risky business. Think about it. God creates all that lives and moves and breathes. God forms man and woman in God’s image. Then, God turns over the keys of the kingdom to humanity. How reckless! How risky! And if that is not enough, God looks down upon us all and sees we need a hand. So, what does God do? God takes on skin and comes among us as a helpless baby—for love’s sake.

When you imagine God, do you imagine God with a clenched fist or an open hand? The Message translation of Psalm 145:16 has this to say about God: “Generous to a fault, you lavish your favor on all creatures.” So, you see, not only humans—but all living things—are blessed by God’s open-handed nature. God is the greatest risk-taker of all. And we, formed in God’s image, are created to follow suit. We are created to be open handed and open hearted—generous and kind, compassionate and loving. We are not created to think small—of ourselves, of our neighbor, or of God. Our God is in a risky business and we are invited to join the family enterprise. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

[i] David Lose @workingpreacher.com

*Cover Art “He Hid His Lord’s Money” from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.