Oh yeah, FM 99.1 has been playing the most wonderful tunes for almost a week. Christmas baking is in full swing, the church and many homes are decorated. We’re fixin’ to have a jolly good time again. That’s what Advent is all about: Preparing for Christmas, right?
The first Sunday of Advent sets us straight:
“Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.”
(Mark 13:26 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 30 November 2014)
The first week of Advent is about the end of the world. While the whole season of Advent is about getting ready for Jesus’ first coming as a baby on Christmas, this first week is a reminder to also get ready for Jesus’ second coming at the end of all time. The people in Mark’s church fully expected Jesus to come back during their lifetime!
Imagine that: If I were to fully expect the world to end before I die, I wouldn’t worry about retirement planning. Also my holiday preparations would change: Do I really start the fermentation process for my home-brewed Christmas beer that takes from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve? And after the holidays: Do I bother boxing and labeling all the decorations? – I may not need them ever again! And what gifts should we give with the expectation they are our final act of love?
Christians have been wrestling with this tension for over 2000 years. 2000 times doing everything for maybe the last time. May this Word from God never get old but may the still-speaking God continue to challenge us when we get too comfortable.
The holidays are fast approaching. You may already have started your Christmas baking. You certainly have started planning out the details of your Thanksgiving feast. One thing is certain: The most yummy dishes usually contain ridiculous amounts of fat plus either sugar or salt. So basically the worse they are for you the better they make you feel. Indulgence adds pounds to our waste-lines and obesity is one of the main causes for so many diseases that kill so many. According to the Calorie Control Council, during the state-sanctioned gorging event known as Thanksgiving, the average American can stuff down as much as 4,500 calories — nearly twice the recommended daily allowance. Don’t we bring doom on ourselves with all this overeating?Even God Almighty seems to be joining the health-conscious choir:
“I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”
(Ezekiel 34:16 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 23 November 2014)
To be honest I have a problem with texts that proclaim “God will destroy the fat” or whatever group of people. They are so easily abused by hate-groups that put their own spins on them. I would much rather learn what God wants as opposed to what people condemn. So, on a positive note let me put our Thanksgiving feast back on the menu: God’s vision for the culmination of world history is that of all the peoples of the earth gathering on Zion for an everlasting heavenly feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines (Isaiah 25:6-8). After all Jesus ate with sinners and his disciples all the time – so much so that they called him a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:19).
So if food is not the problem, what is? Our watchword this week contrasts the haves and the have-nots, the ones that are starving and homeless and those that are out of control in looking only after themselves. That is a problem in every aspect of life: If all your resources be they food, finances, feelings are all focused on just yourself then you are not open for the love of God and the love you are supposed to share with the people around you. That does not only go for overabundance: People starve themselves, emotionally and physically and overindulge in the pain and the feeling of being lost. I want to read this edgy text to call for a well balanced diet for all aspects of our lives. And literally every diet plan has cheat points or days. So enjoy!
According to the latest numbers from the World Health Organization a girl born in the US in 2014 can expect to live an average of 82.2 years. For her twin brother it is 77.4 years. Those are some good numbers yet we all know that averages don’t mean a whole lot when you talk to a healthy 101-year-old or when you have a baby die in your arms. The truth of the matter is: Most people I have worked with didn’t grow older than 150. That means there is a Psalm in the Bible for every birthday. 150 songs that sing God’s praise and each single one has its own focus like this one:
“So teach us, O God, to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”
(Psalm 90:12 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 16 November 2014)
Age 90 sounds like a good time to see how wise you are. Every age has its own challenges and questions. So a birthday is a good day to grab that old book and flip to the Psalm that matches you new number.
Is there really such a thing as a correlation of age and wisdom?
I asked y’all for brainy quotes on Facebook and here is what I got:
– Old age and experience will always overcome youth and enthusiasm.
– “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now” Bob Dylan
– The error of youth is to believe that intelligence is a substitution for experience, while the error of age is to believe that experience is the substitute for intelligence
– There is nothing wrong with the younger generation that 20 years won’t cure!
– Growing old is not for sissies
– The older I get, the better I was!
– Stay young, stay foolish. -Steve jobs-
– “Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.” ― Albert Einstein
Veterans’ Day is not just a day to say thank you and to pray for our veterans and their families. For us as a UCC congregation it is a call to action. In 2013 General Synod voted to recognize the need for compassionate care and healing to our veterans:
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Twenty-ninth General Synod of the United Church
of Christ challenges all of the United Church of Christ congregations to express compassionate
care and healing ministry to all our veterans and their families through education and the
development of sensitivity to the issues of soul healing and spiritual care.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Twenty-ninth General Synod of the United Church of
Christ encourages “local church” awareness and reaching out to local Veterans Administration,
Veterans Service Commission, support of Veterans Courts, through the compassion that is rooted
in the teachings and example of Jesus.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Twenty-ninth General Synod of the United Church of
Christ encourages the Office of the Local Church Ministries to partner with the Soul Repair
Center of Brite Divinity School in the development of resources for use by our military
chaplains, Veterans Administrations Chaplains and our local congregations to express
compassionate care and a healing ministry to our veterans and their families.
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the Twenty-ninth General Synod of the United Church of
Christ challenges the members and local churches of the United Church of Christ to serve
veterans with healing care beyond established medical and military protocols and seek ways to
welcome our veterans home, through worship, fellowship, pastoral care and advocacy to
reintegrate them in our communities, and help to bring peace to veterans, their families and the
What are ways you can think of St. John’s United Church of Christ should heed this call?
This is the day that you call us to cast our votes.
You don’t care whether we are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, Independent, affiliated with another political party or no party at all.
You do care however that we engage in the process, that we remain faithful stewards of your creation and all your beloved people in the city of Rosenberg, in Fort Bend County, in the State of Texas, in the United States and all over your world. Help us elect faithful servants so that our communities can be shaped after your heavenly kingdom that we long for.
Tonight I pray for our city council that you may guide them in this meeting to work towards a city that may become more and more of a reflection of the heavenly Jerusalem where all your children are invited to the feast, no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey, where liberty and justice are upheld for all. Bless our council to make sure that the alien, the orphan and the widow are better off because of what the council does tonight and every day.
Tonight I pray for all the people that they may be worthy citizens of their communities and do their part of holding elected officials accountable or become involved themselves. As our city develops a new comprehensive plan give more and more people the courage to step forward and make their voices heard. You bless Rosenberg with an abundance of growth, now also bless these our council members with the vision and authority to guide and manage the future development of our city so that it may create more blessings for the least of these.
Reminder that Daylight Savings Time ends Sunday, November 2 at 2:00 a.m. So please remember to set your clocks back one hour before going to bed Saturday night.
How dare we call ourselves Saints? No, not the New Orleans kind, but the kind of people that strive to be holy because God is holy. Well, the church has consistently done that ever since it started reciting the Apostles’ Creed some 1500 years ago:
“I believe […] in the Communion of Saints”
Yeah, from that crying baby in the church nursery to the 101 year-old lady and everybody in between, God considers us all Saints. Now God doesn’t do that in a Catholic kind of way:
“In Catholic terminology, the communion of saints is thus said to comprise the church militant (those alive on earth), the church penitent (those undergoing purification in purgatory in preparation for heaven), and the church triumphant (those already in heaven).”
Instead the Reformation has stressed the Priesthood of all believers, which basically means that there are no Saints that are more saintly than any other Saint.
That’s why Martin Luther on the occasion of All Hallows Eve (Halloween is the evening before All Saints Day) in the year 1517 made the point that was spelled out in Scripture before:
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and the Lamb!”
(Revelation 7:10 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 1 November 2014)
That was revolutionary news back then: In order to graduate from purgatory to heaven your deceased relatives needed your help. Namely the church wanted you to pay cold hard cash for a letter of indulgence to shorten their time of suffering. It was like the church owned a treasure chest of salvation and you had to buy in, for yourself and everyone you cared for. Luther spoke out against the practice of indulgences because: Salvation does not belong to the church but Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and the Lamb! God gives salvation for free to everybody!
That still is revolutionary news today: There are churches out there that will tell their people that they have to believe or act or love or be a certain way or they will not get saved. They put pressure on you for not giving enough money, for not following their moral code. They tell you they know how to “get saved”.
The Good News of Reformation Day / Halloween / All Saints Day is this:
You are a Saint! You are saved no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey!