Posts Tagged ‘God with Us’

No Crying He Makes?

Away in a Manger used to be my favorite Christmas hymn and I still think it’s a lovely tune. But I have become critical of it on account of the “no crying he makes” line.

NoCrying

I mean, are we really saying that Jesus wouldn’t have cried? It’s a sign of health when a baby cries; a baby communicates his or her needs through crying!

If* the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus is real, then Jesus cried as a baby.

But this year my son noted that Away in a Manger is kinda babyish. And that prompted me to reflect some more on the lyrics and melody. I gave it some thought and I realized it’s a lullaby. So, yeah, maybe it is kinda babyish.

But also, it occurred to me that as a lullaby, its purpose is to quell cries, to calm a baby or young child.

With that, I thought maybe the line about “no crying he makes” is actually be more of a hope or vision of the lyricist. I mean, as much as we might want scream, “hey kid, knock it off with the crying already!”, that’s only gonna terrorize the infant worse. A positive, future projection of a cessation of crying all packaged in a soothing song is much more gracious.

So, maybe the songwriter never was trying to claim that the baby Jesus wasn’t a crier, rather that he was. He really cried. Because he was a real baby. And babies cry.

And would they please stop already!?

_______

*Of course, I believe it is.

When it Rains it Floods…and Makes Lightening

 

Scripture doodle art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Scripture doodle art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Living in Texas has had its ups and downs for me. I’ve had the joy of getting better acquainted with my in-laws, and the honor of being with my mother-in-law in her dying days. I’ve enjoyed spending time outdoors more days out of the year. But I’ve also had the worry of drought, and the terror of lightening striking my house.

Lately we’ve had massive rains and severe flooding near us and my worry and terror leftover from past calamities have crept back up on me.

We were in Houston the other night with flash-flood warnings blaring from smart phones all night. The power at my father-in-law’s house went way down low–I guess you call it a brown-out–but it never went out completely. It was an eery and restless night.

The next morning, interstates and schools were closed all over the metropolis. I was supposed to go to a conference, but I was prevented from making the trip.

We were able to return home safely, and sleep in our own beds the next night. But more rains came that night too. And there were more flash-flood warnings. And there was lightening–violent outbursts of shocking, white light filling the sky, penetrating the darkness of my bedroom.

The lightening that Tuesday night took me back to that night of the lightening striking my house. My breath felt shallow, my heart was in panic mode. I got out of bed–sleep was not even an option at that point–and tried to outsmart the flashes interrupting the darkness by lighting a candle, and I sang and played on my ukulele until the sun showed up Wednesday morning.

The next few days remained edgy for me. The next couple of nights I defied the wet of rains and floods by lighting a fire in my backyard. This was my own little way of trying to take back some measure of control over elements that are actually far beyond my reach.

Saturday came and I needed to pull myself together to prepare a sermon. I had read and re-read the Gospel appointed for Sunday, and had given some thought to my message. But I needed to get to it for real, so I sat down and read all four of the scriptures that were appointed.

[Sidebar: The Lutheran tradition of which I am a part generally uses a 3-year cycle of scripture readings called the Revised Common Lectionary. Each Sunday has four readings appointed; ordinarily these include an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament epistle (or letter), and a New Testament Gospel.]

And I tell you, I know that no cycle of readings can be perfect, but I am so grateful for the tradition of having a lectionary. It helps tremendously to stretch me to read parts of the Bible that I might otherwise overlook. I mean, favorites are favorites for a reason and worth reading and re-reading, so that’s often what I do when I approach scripture on my own.

But Saturday was a shining example of  how my faith, my life, are enhanced by having a lectionary. I would not have happened upon Psalm 29 by chance. But it was appointed for this past Sunday. And the words of that Psalm washed over me with peace and comfort.

Here are some nuggets:

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” –Psalm 29:3-4

“The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.” –Psalm 29:7

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” –Psalm 29:10-11

These words spoke to me in my uneasiness about the weather. For all of the out-of-control I feel, God is bigger yet than those flashes of flooding and of lightening. And I laugh at myself trying to defy the elements, lighting my candles and fires, for God is even above my vanity, my folly, my fires.

I don’t know exactly what it means that God is above all these things. I shudder when some attribute vengeance to God, suggesting that God sent floods to discipline God’s created people. I don’t perceive God as working that way.

For me comfort comes from knowing that God is steadfast. God is not shaken by even the most aggressive tempests. God’s love is a constant on which I can rely–rain or shine.

I am in awe of the work of brothers and sisters in the faith who have woven together lectionaries. I am thankful for this Psalm that spoke to me in the middle of the rain. And I am relaxing into the peace that comes from knowing that God is enthroned over the floods and lightening.

Light Show & Tell

This message based on John 1:6-8, 19-28 explores the hope that we have in Jesus as the light that shines in our darkness.

This was preached and recorded at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Greenvine, TX on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 14, 2014

Click the following link to listen to the message or scroll down to read the manuscript:

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/light-show-tell

 

Light Show & Tell

Hope. We hope for lots of things in this life. Some of what we hope for is really profound, like the tenacious teen who says, “I hope we will have peace on earth.” Other times we hope for something more of the moment, like a child who says, “I hope I get what I asked Santa for this Christmas!”

Grown-ups hope too. They may say something like, “I hope I get the job promotion I’ve been working toward.” Or, “I hope I don’t have to have surgery.”

And in the church, we hope. In fact, “hope” is one of the major themes of our time of Advent.

Our Gospel reading from the book of John has a lot to say about hope. But to get the full meaning, I’d like to back up to the beginning of the chapter and read a selection for you. You can look this up in your pew Bibles if you’d like to follow along. [Read John 1:1-8]

The “Word” referred to here, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” is Jesus. And in Jesus, “was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

While the emphasis of the verses officially designated for the day is on John the Baptist, it’s important to see the connection to Jesus. John’s entire role was to be “a witness to testify to the light.” In other words John was there to show and tell people about Jesus.

Jesus coming into the world was the fulfillment of many hundreds of years of hope by the people of Israel. God had made promises to them over the centuries, setting them apart as God’s chosen people. But the people of Israel saw their kingdom rise and fall and spent most of their history occupied by foreign powers.

But all throughout that time, even the darkest days for the people of Israel, the light of God’s promises shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

It seems difficult to fathom—holding out hope over centuries of uncertainty. And even when Jesus did come, he wasn’t exactly the Mighty King for which many had hoped.

And that’s a tricky thing about hope—sometimes we hope for one thing, but we get something greater still.

I don’t know about you, but hope tricks me like that. My greatest time of longing in my life was the time after I was married and before I had my son. My history of infertility made it difficult to have a child. I had hoped so hard to become a mother, but year after year it wasn’t happening.

When I couldn’t have a baby—and I knew it was my fault—my thoughts grew very dark. I began to question my value, my worth as a woman. I wondered if God had brought this infertility on me as a curse because I didn’t deserve to be a mother. I felt hope slipping away.

But light shined in my darkness.

Y’all know that I have a son. And he is an answer to prayer, but I tell you, his being born was not what restored my hope.
In the midst of my darkest days, God met me and assured me of his love for me no matter what. Not because I was “good enough,” not because I was “woman enough,” and not because I would be a mother some day. But right then, God loved me, God cherished me even in the depth of my pain.

I don’t know what all made it possible for me to have my son. I did have some help from modern medicine, I also was on a special diet at the time. I wish I knew. I had hoped I could have more kids. And even now, some days I go to that dark place and wonder and worry about my “womanhood” and my “worth” since I still can’t have another child.

But God continues to shine his light in my darkness, giving me the hope and reassurance that only God’s love can give.
The specific words that bolstered my hope when I question my worth were spoken by a theology professor of mine years ago, “Remember that God loves you for Christ’s sake and will not let you go.” In fact, when children come forward at the communion time and ask for just a blessing, those are the words I use. “God loves you for Christ’s sake and will not let you go.”

We can hope for lots of things. And some of what we hope for will come to pass—we may very well get what we asked Santa for or that job promotion. Yet, our faith tells us that there is something deeper still in which we can place our hope. It’s what John the Baptist came to bear witness to, it’s what is at the heart of Jesus’ story: That God loves us for Christ’s sake and will not let us go.

No matter our circumstances, God loves us. Whether we are naughty or nice, God loves us. Whether we can do all the things we wish we could or not, God loves us. Whether we accomplish what we want to in life or miss one opportunity after another, God loves us.

It’s not wrong to hope for all kinds of things in this life. But sometimes the circumstances of life don’t go our way. And if everyday circumstances are what we place our hope in, we may disappointed. But this light, this love of God, is a sure and certain hope in which we can place our ultimate trust.

May you bask in the light of God’s love and allow God’s love to radiate through you that you may also bear witness to his love, and show and tell others, “Remember that God loves you for Christ’s sake and will never let you go.”

Look Who’s Stooping

Sometimes we’re asked to do something that we don’t feel worthy or prepared to do. How does the life and ministry of Jesus affect our sense of worth?

This sermon based on Mark 1:1-8 explores this idea. This was originally preached and recorded on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 7, 2014 at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Greenvine, TX.

Click the following link to listen to the message or scroll down to read the manuscript:

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/look-whos-stooping

 

Look Who’s Stooping

A missed call showed up on my cell phone a few weeks ago. When I saw that it was from Pastor Blair Lundborg from the synod office, I said to my sister-in-law, Karen, “If this is about a job, the answer is ‘yes.’

“Don’t you want to find out what the job is first?” Karen challenged me.

“Well, of course I’ll hear him out before I say ‘yes.’ But I think this is an answer to prayer. I have hoped to find a way to be of service in our synod, and if my synod is calling me about a job, then this might just be what I’ve been waiting for. So, I’m pretty sure it’s a ‘yes.'”

When I got a free moment I returned Pastor Lundborg’s call. It was, in fact, about a job, but to be completely honest with you, when he told me what he had in mind, I was a bit nervous. He invited me to serve as the interim for Emmanuel in Greenvine. This job was a step beyond what I had imagined for myself.

For one thing, an interim assignment—even one at half-time—would mean a great deal more hours than I had worked at a paying job in a very long time. But also, it is a job that is ordinarily filled by an ordained pastor, which I am not.

I found myself rethinking my words to Karen about being able to say, ‘Yes’ on the spot. I did indicate interest, but wanted some time to think it over.

I had to ask, ‘Am I prepared for this ministry?’

After some thought and prayer and conversation with my husband, I realized that, with the help of God, I could do this. So I told Pastor Lundborg I wanted to move forward with the possibility. He got me in touch with y’all and we agreed on a contract for me to come be your interim minister.

The feeling I had about wondering if I was prepared for this assignment, is similar to what John the Baptist experienced. Despite being the one to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist wrestled with his own anxieties about the situation.

John the Baptist had crowds coming to him from the big city and from across the countryside. They were eager to hear his message and receive the baptism he offered.

But John knew that his work was not for his own sake. He was there to point to Jesus.

John himself recognized that Jesus’ ministry was more important than John’s and that Jesus would surpass him. In Mark 1:7-8, John says of Jesus, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of John the Baptist, I imagine him as a rather primitive character. He wore clothes made of camel hair and he ate locusts and wild honey. So, when John talks about feeling “not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of Jesus’ sandals,” I can begin to imagine why.

Yet, as I already noted, he did have crowds coming to him, so he obviously had a good thing going. Still, he had that sense of feeling unworthy compared to Jesus.

Goodness. I can certainly related to feeling unworthy as compared with Jesus. I was even nervous about becoming an interim minister, but John was the opening act for Jesus!

“Not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

It’s not clear from this text whether John the Baptist knew the identity of the one coming after him.

Did he know that it was his cousin, Jesus? If you’ll recall from the story from the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist was 6 months older than Jesus; their mothers were pregnant around the same time.

I have a lot of cousins, some older and some younger. The older ones will always be people I am in awe of. And the younger cousins will always be people who I knew as babies.

When you think about it, it almost seems strange for John not to feel worthy compared to his baby cousin.
But see, that’s just how disarming Jesus’ story is.

John didn’t feel worthy to stoop down and untie Jesus’ sandals, and yet God himself stooped to become one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.

And this is the wonder that we behold as we prepare for Jesus birthday at Christmas. Jesus stooped to be born as one of us, to be a baby—even a baby cousin! He stooped to live out life among us—and one of us.

It is worth noting that the name of this church, Emmanuel, means “God with us” in honor of the reality of God stooping to be one of us.

And Jesus stooped lowest of all, enduring the humiliation of a death sentence.

God in Christ Jesus came to be one of us to demonstrate once and for all that we don’t have to do anything to become worthy. Humanity is so loved by God, that God came to be one of us—to live and die and rise again for our sakes.

And through Jesus’ rising from the dead, Jesus proves once and for all that we have nothing left to fear—not even death and the grave. And that with God’s help, we can do more than we thought possible.

So, being an interim minister is new for me. And, this particular pastoral transition is new for you as a congregation. While you’ve had pastors come and go in the past, each pastor is different. There is no one quite like Pastor Rich. And having your lives touched by him has changed you—and from what I can tell, it has changed you for the better. Now that he is no longer pastor here, you too may have your anxieties about your future as a congregation.

Or maybe there are other challenges you’re facing in your daily lives? Perhaps you have a new job, a new school, new friends, or new stage of parenting. Whatever it is, we are often faced with experiences that push us to do more than we feel prepared to do.

Oh, sometimes we might need more training or study to be able to do what is asked of us. And it’s a good idea to take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow in our skills. But let’s not overlook the ways that God can and does work through us right now.

We can entrust our ministry together, our jobs, our classes, our friendships, and our families to our Lord. We don’t have to be anything other than who we are to be dearly loved by the God of the universe. We don’t have to feel unworthy of service in the church and in the world, because we look to and trust the God who stooped for us, empowering us to love and serve in his name.