Extravagant Gifts

Extravagant Gifts

Our college chaplain prayed the same prayer of thanksgiving every time the offering was presented in worship. It’s a version of 1 Chronicles 29:14b. He’d pray, “All good things come of thee, O Lord. We give thee but thine own.”

Our church joins many around the world in singing a similar sentiment each week: Praise God from whom all blessings flow. We sing that as we return to God a representative portion of the good, the blessings that have come our way by God’s grace.

"I love you because..."

"I love you because..."

Jesus initiated exactly one act in Luke’s gospel prior to the Father proclaiming, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). That one act was not a pleasing act to Mary and Joseph. He cost them three days of worry by remaining at the temple while they began their return to Nazareth (Luke 2:41-52).

Baptism Renewal

Baptism Renewal

Here’s your pop-quiz for today: How many sacraments does The United Methodist Church recognize? You got it: 2 – Baptism and Holy Communion. Enjoy quizzes? Take this one about the UMC’s beliefs about baptism: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/united-methodist-baptism-quiz.

One way we describe sacraments is to say they are those things that Jesus did and commanded us to do. He was baptized (Luke 3:15-22) and he commanded us to baptize (Matthew 28:16-20). He communed and commanded us to – “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:14-23).

Where are they now?

Where are they now?

There are t.v. “specials” and websites aplenty to satisfy our interest in “Where are they now?” If you want to know what happened to your favorite teenage star after the show ended or what happened when the bright lights and big money of major sports faded, the information is out there. I’d like a similar (if less salacious) follow up on some Biblical characters. Where did the rich man go after Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor and follow him (Luke 18:18-30)? Did he sell any and give some? How much? Did he ever meet back up with Jesus and follow? What was next for Mary Magdalene after Jesus’ ascension? And, more related to yesterday’s gospel lesson (Matthew 2:1-12), what did the magi do after they left Bethlehem having knelt before Jesus?

Adjusting Our Plans

Adjusting Our Plans

We usually keep our decorations up for Christmas through January 6th. We’re so busy in Advent that we need the 12 days of Christmas to exhale and enjoy what we worked so hard to prepare. We’ll do that with many of our decorations this year, but not our tree. It expired on January 1st – too dry. 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

The following is a prayer from The United Methodist Book of Worship (#294). It’s intended use is New Year’s Eve or New Year’s. Sometime in the next 24 hours (now is a perfectly fine time to do it!), make space to pray the prayer attentively. Rather than just reading the words or saying them aloud, pause on them – what are your new desires? What are your old fears? Etc. Let them lead you into reflecting on the good and bad of the year behind you and on what you hope to make of the year ahead. Reflect on God who is in the midst of all of it and will continue to be. Let the prayer lead you into prayers of your own. 

Light of the World

Light of the World

This Christmas Eve, as we do most every year, we will hear Luke 2:1-20. It’s the familiar story of Jesus’ birth and the shepherds arriving after the angel’s announcement. It’s what expect to hear on Christmas Eve. 

Near the end of the service, we will do something that’s become expectation: we will light and raise our candles. That’s in keeping with the Christmas Day scripture: John 1:1-14. We stand firm on the promise of John 1:5 – The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

"Why me?"

"Why me?"

“And why has this happened to me?” Elizabeth asked. We’ve all asked. Mary asked it in her own way – How can this be? Those are familiar questions, especially when something goes wrong. Job loss or difficulties, health concerns, family struggles. Why me?  How could this happen?

The Meaning of These Days

The Meaning of These Days

As a church this weekend we hosted the Parking Lot Mission and fed warm breakfasts to financially-poor neighbors, helped 48 children in Florence County receive beds and bedding of their own, were led in worship by children of God from ages 4-84, and invited the community to hear the story of God’s love while joining us in supporting The CARE House of the Pee Dee. It was a good weekend of sharing what God has provided us (Luke 3:10-11) and honoring the God who gives us far more than we can ever give in return.

"Upon Another Shore"

"Upon Another Shore"

One of the mysteries of our faith is that God transcends space and time and connects us across barriers that otherwise divide. We are united in Jesus with Christians who gather in other places of worship – not just those down the street, but those across the world. We are united in Jesus with Christians who came before and those who will come after us. The carols we sing together Sunday have been sung by people on other continents in other centuries and by people who held us close on Christmas Eves long ago. As we sing those familiar carols, those we love, but who now sing their praises “upon another shore” may well come to heart and mind. Sing with them once more. 

"Let Us Remember"

"Let Us Remember"

While we are comfortably gathered in Central’s sanctuary Sunday afternoon for The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, there will be people in our community and far beyond in very uncomfortable, sad, and vulnerable situations. There will be people outside our doors and throughout the world who are physically and spiritually hungry and don’t know where to turn. Even as we know plenty and joy Sunday afternoon, the Bidding Prayer demands we have on our hearts those who do not. 

"Rejoice Jesus' Heart"

"Rejoice Jesus' Heart"

I don’t think enough about what would “rejoice Jesus’ heart.” I have the ratio out of balance – I think too much about what would bring me joy and not enough about what would bring Jesus joy. The Bidding Prayer tells us that our concern for God’s world, God’s people, for peace and goodwill on earth, and for love and unity in the church brings Jesus joy. 

Glad with Praise

Glad with Praise

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols Bidding Prayer continues:

Therefore let us hear again from Holy Scripture
the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our sin
until the glorious redemption brought us by this holy Child;
and let us make this house of prayer glad with our carols of praise.

"Message of the Angels"

"Message of the Angels"

You may have noticed in yesterday’s reading of the gospel (Luke 3:1-6) that Luke tried to take us to a particular place and time. He was careful in his “orderly account” (Luke 1:1) to date John the Baptizer’s proclamation by naming those who were in power. He listed a king, a governor, three rulers, and two high priests to give his hearers a sense of the time period. It was a more vivid description (and a more typical way of doing history in those times) than saying “in the year 28” or “about 50 years ago.” Think of the descriptive difference between, “I was born in 1974” and “I was born during the first months of Gerald Ford’s presidency, in the final months of Governor West’s term, a few months before the end of the Vietnam War, and in a time when ‘The Way We Were’ topped the charts.”

"Live in Infamy"

"Live in Infamy"

I asked our fifth grader this morning if she knew why December 7 is a day “which will live in infamy.” She asked, “What is ‘infamy.’” I said, “Something remembered for a very bad thing that happened.”  She said, “Well, I don’t want to have a bad day.” I told her that not every December 7 is a bad day, but it’s a day to remember because it’s the day that the Japanese shocked the world by attacking Pearl Harbor. 

Now Is the Time to Hope

Now Is the Time to Hope

I concluded my sermon yesterday saying that now is the time to hope. Hope, Biblically speaking, is more than wishing. Hope is a bold expression of faith. Hebrews 11:1 teaches us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hope is clinging to the belief that something better will come because God is good and loving and righteous and wants something better for his creation.

"One more thing before the bus gets here"

"One more thing before the bus gets here"

I have never stood guard against a group of people aiming to do me, my family, or my country harm. I’ve never stood on the 38th Parallel of the Korean Peninsula, or on a watchtower in the Kandahar base in Afghanistan, or on a Coast Guard ship deck outside of Miami. I don’t know what it’s like to spend hours and hours, days upon days watching for something that may or may not come, but if it comes is potentially a grave threat.

Our Plumb Line

Our Plumb Line

If my sermon yesterday left you wondering how can someone be truth, ask John or go straight to the source and ask Jesus. Jesus is the one who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). 

We might be better equipped to think of Jesus as way and life. Way gives us the sense of a path, as in Jesus is the model for living, and conduit, as in Jesus is the means by which we approach the Father. Life is unsustainable without air, water, and blood. Jesus breathes into us (John 20:22), washed us in baptismal waters, and sustains our lives through his blood. But how does this “truth” metaphor work?

Christ is King

Christ is King

This Sunday is the end of the Church Year. We’ve worked our way from Advent through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Kingdomtide, and are at the culmination: Christ the King Sunday. The whole year builds toward this because his reign is forever. Jesus’ infancy didn’t last long, nor did his earthly life, for that matter. In his resurrection and ascension he assumed to his heavenly throne, which is his for all time. Whatever else would seek our devotion and to reign in our lives, whatever else would attempt to have dominion in this world, it is Christ who reigns above all.