Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Expectation.  Maybe during this time of the year, expectation runs at one of its highest given the season.  Children are bouncing off the walls to see what will appear under the tree in a matter of ten days; others are excited for this major snowfall; some have great anticipation as they are going to experience that first Christmas with a newlywed or a new born.  Maybe it is the first Christmas in a new house, or you perhaps are even celebrating it in a new way.  Whatever situation people find themselves in; there is a level of hopeful expectation. 

However, as we know and often experience, sometimes our expectations are not met.  Sometimes things do not turn out the way we think they should.  Sometimes we are expecting happiness and we overlook joy....
What are your expectations?  How do you expect God to come to you this season?  Where are you looking?   Do we sometimes look in the wrong places?  Do we miss it when it happens?  Are we caught up in seeking happiness and missing joy? 
(From Pastor Randy's Sermon) 

From Pamela -- My life has rarely been filled with expectations that are met.  For some reason my greatest sorrows and my greatest joys have generally been unanticipated and unbidden.  There has generally been a balance of loss/gain, pain/pleasure, brokenness/reconciliation.  
Just recently I experienced a situation that seemed that it would be, at best, "positive" -- My younger brother is seriously ill.  My older brother arrived from out of town and we were debating about going to the hospital.  Why debate?  Because these two men have not spoken for nearly a decade, and have not seen each other for 7 years.  What was always a strained relationship had become totally alienated.  
Yet, as is so often the case, with grave illness hitting my younger brother, the older man felt that he "should" see his younger brother while he could.  
I did not see how the visit could be anything but painful -- my younger brother is very skilled at cutting himself off from others without ever looking back.  
Yet we went to the hospital room.  
Upon seeing my face, my "little" brother's face lit up as it so often does.  Then I announced:  "There is somebody else here to see you!"
When my older brother came around the corner, my younger brother's face was, literally, like the young boy seeing Christmas Morning miracles.  Then he said:  "Oh my God, I have missed you, brother!"
No words can contain the abundant joy in that moment -- totally unprecedented.  unexpected and mysterious.  
With the grave illness still raging, happiness is still elusive when it comes to my younger brother.  However, JOY is very much alive, well, and vibrant!  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Preaching judgment is the easy part.  Sometimes we know other Christians who are ready to announce this judgment on people or other faith denominations; sometimes those people are us too.  When people talk to others who aren't interested in the church, it's almost always because they believe that the church is more interested in judgment than it is in peace, acceptance, grace and salvation.  Sometimes, we have communicated really clearly about sin but not so clearly about the love of Christ.  What an indictment of our core message!  Perhaps Christianity has given the impression that our sinfulness is more powerful than the saving One, Jesus Christ, who is the heart of God beating in the world. The one who is coming is more powerful than me, even more powerful than my brokenness.  It is only the relentless and ongoing announcement of love and peace coming that will inspire us to change and to live from its power.

Jesus is the one who enters into the heart of human life, takes into himself all those things that separate us from God.  He steps into the gap between our inner life and our external behavior.  His work ends, not in self-righteous satisfaction of letting sinners have it.  It ends at the cross. And then, on Easter morning, what the broken get is new life.  Judgment may burn us up, but grace ignites us to be alive again.  

(From Pastor Randy's Sermon)

From Pamela:  Lutheran homiletics (the art of preaching) always teaches a balance of "Law" and "Gospel".  The Law part impresses upon us the high priority God's will should have as we make choices about behavior and relationships and priorities.  (That part usually makes us squirm, because we feel judged, yet we know we really can't effectively ALWAYS toe the line -- at least I can't).  Then there is the Gospel that says, you know what?  God knows you can never fully abide by God's Law, so therefore God sent His unconditional Love and Acceptance (in Christ) to complete the gap between God's Law and God's fulfilled promise that we are utterly forgiven and eternally reunited with God.  
I think about the flow of any given worship service -- greeting, confession, forgiveness, scripture, sermon, prayer, offering and then Holy Communion.  Lots of Law and Gospel stuff.... and the Gospel wins!  We are sent out as Gospel People, children of God free to love abundantly and serve others with lavish generosity.  
Yet, even before we walk out of the sanctuary we often kick into judgement of some sort -- and often the worship leaders are the worst -- 
(That didn't work, won't do it that way again, note to self:  next year ...... )  
Let's promise to let the Glorious Gospel of Christmas linger, at least for a while, this year.  Let's resist the temptation to pay attention to anything that disappoints, annoys or (in worst case) offends.  Let us not be ones who gather around critique or analysis of a better way to do Christmas!  Let us hear the amazing news -- the reign of Love has broken in -- no more judgement, no more bondage.