Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

What Are We Waiting For?

The culture thinks it’s time to celebrate Christmas, but the church tells us to wait and keep watch during these weeks leading up to Christmas day, a time historically known as Advent. But what are we waiting for when we already know the Jesus story?!

This message, based on Mark 13:24-37 was recorded on the first Sunday of Advent, November 30, 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/what-are-we-waiting-for

 

What Are We Waiting For?

“I know some good games we could play,”

Said the cat.

“I know some new tricks,”

Said the Cat in the Hat.

“A lot of good tricks.

I will show them to you.

Your mother will not mind at all if I do.”

Dr. Suess is one of my all-time favorite writers. Depending on your perspective, Suess’s iconic “Cat in the Hat” is either great fun or a horrible influence. In the books about him, this Cat comes around when the kids are home alone—this might be a clue that he’s trouble. But then he plays these wild games and makes a huge mess.

Somehow his assurance, “Your mother will not mind at all if I do,” fails to convince them. The pet fish speaks up,

“No! No! Make that cat go away!

Tell that Cat in the Hat you do NOT want to play.

He should not be here.

He should not be about.

He should not be here when your mother is out!”

The kids try to choose between the Cat saying, “Your mother will not mind at all,” and the fish saying, “He should not be here when your mother is out!” And it’s kind of like the dilemma we are faced with this time of year.

On the one hand, our culture from Thanksgiving forward is pushing Christmas on us—the holidays have begun! It’s as if our culture is saying to us, “Come and celebrate! Your Savior will not mind at all if you do!”

But the church is a bit like the fish, saying, “No! No! You should not celebrate when Advent is about!” The church is urging us to slow down, to wait, to keep watch, to prepare for Jesus’ coming.

Maybe our culture is a little bit right, our Savior may not mind terribly…but maybe the church is onto something in asking us to wait…

Still…waiting is hard.

And it takes vigilance.

In our Bible reading from Mark, chapter 13, Jesus compares this vigilance to a doorkeeper’s watch—waiting for his master’s return from a journey. “Therefore, keep awake,” Jesus says in verse 35, “for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.”

There was then another time Jesus said to “keep awake.” In the garden before his death on the cross, he invites the disciples to “keep awake” while he prays. He then returns to find them fast asleep. They couldn’t even keep awake a single hour!

Waiting is hard indeed.

But also…it kinda doesn’t make much sense to “wait” when we already know how the story goes! We know there’s a Messiah born and he lived and preached and helped people and then he died on the cross for our sakes and then he rose victorious over death.

We know the story. And so, we might rightfully ask what it is that we’re waiting for anyway?

Well, for one thing good stories deserve retelling. And our Savior will not mind at all if we keep telling it. In fact, that is part of what we are called to do—to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world—to keep telling the story.

And the best stories are the stories in which we want to take part. Our Savior will not mind at all if we do! Indeed, it is precisely when our stories are touched by Jesus’ story that we can be salt and light for the world.

So, the invitation of the church year, which begins today, is to hear the Jesus story once again, bit by bit, week by week. And there are some slow parts—like now with the waiting. And there are some high points with all “glory to God in the highest!” And there are some sad parts with dissension, denial, and death. And there is the victorious part of Jesus triumphing over death.

Again though, it seems like it’s all wrapped up neat and tidy, so what are we waiting for now?

Well, the thing is, the story isn’t over. And the story isn’t over because we’re still here! And even though Jesus has already conquered death, his reign on the earth is not fully established. There are still wars and rumors of wars. There is still brokenness in the lives of God’s created people. And there are still people who need to hear the Good News of God’s love in Christ Jesus.

So, this Advent, we begin again retelling and rehearing the Jesus story—which begins with waiting for that baby to be born! And we remain vigilant, spreading God’s way of love in all we do and say. That which we are waiting for is the full drama of the greatest story ever told—and our Savior will not mind at all if we get caught up in it all over again.

Want to Simplify this Christmas?

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The pressure is on to find the right gifts for everyone on your list, to prepare the perfect holiday meal, and to make it to every party. With all the obligations of the season though, can anyone remember what Christmas is all about? Something about a baby—Oh no! I forgot to put the Smith family’s new baby on my shopping list!

Oftentimes we lament the consumerism of the season, but we can’t quite seem to back our sleigh ride away from that slippery slope. Over the years I’ve dabbled with various ideas of simplifying my celebrations to focus on what is most important to me: faith, family, and friends.

In my latest post at Life & Liberty Online Magazine, I wrote a sampling of ideas to help you be more deliberate about how you spend your time and money this holiday season. You can read the full text of the article over there, but here is the basic list broken down by three categories, gift-giving, cooking, and celebrations…

 

Put Joy (Back) Into Gift-Giving

  1. Shorten the gift-giving list.
  2. Make gifts using a craft or skill that is truly enjoyable.
  3. Create gift baskets.
  4. Make a music mix.
  5. Give a copy of a favorite book.
  6. Give gift cards/certificates.
  7. Give a membership.
  8. Write an original story or poetry collection and give it as a gift.
  9. Give yourself permission to give the same gift to more than one person on your list.
  10. Give family gifts.

For more on any of these gift-giving ideas, read my full commentary on my post, “Tis the Season to Simplify,” at Life & Liberty.

 

Cook Up some Holiday Spirit

  1. Consider potluck.
  2. Say “yes” when someone offers to bring something.
  3. Choose simpler preparations for at least some of your dishes.
  4. Stick with what you know.

For more on any of these cooking ideas, read my full commentary on my post, “Tis the Season to Simplify,” at Life & Liberty.

 

Keep the Merry in Your Merry-Making

  1. Rethink “White Elephant” parties.
  2. Make kits to give away to charities.
  3. Enjoy the arts together.
  4. See the lights!
  5. Serve together.
  6. Make a special treat or meal together.
  7. Reschedule your celebration for a less-rushed time.

For more on any of these celebration ideas, read my full commentary on my post, “Tis the Season to Simplify,” at Life & Liberty.

 

Pick and choose from this list, take or leave what works for you and helps you have the most joy this holiday season.

Is God on the Side of the Oppressed?

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The question “Is God on the Side of the Oppressed?” came up in one of my favorite 0nline discussion groups. My simple answer is “yes,” but there is much more to say about that…

God is always turning things upside down on us: greatest is least, lose your life to gain it, last will be first, caring about the least of these, and so on.

As far as my brain can understand it, when it comes to power struggles, God is not interested in our human determinations about who “deserves” anything. As soon as we decide to pick favorites, God subverts our arrogant ordering and picks the opposite.

The pecking order is not God’s idea though because God loves all people! But those who seize power are “feeling the love” in some way whereas the last-chosen are not. So God takes the side of those who are being dishonored–even to the point of dishonoring Godself to do it–because their needs for love, acceptance and whatever else are the least met.

One tricky thing about the human pecking order though is that it can change on a whim when someone new seizes power or when those in power decide they want to give or take status. It’s like that one time when all of a suddenly a new Pharaoh came along who didn’t know Joseph, you know? So, who is “on top” in human pecking orders isn’t necessarily static–so God readjusts, because God doesn’t take kindly to any of God’s beloved people being oppressed.

Also, our “place” in human pecking orders can vary from one group to the next. As a pastor’s wife in a small church and trained church worker, I’m a “big fish in a small pond.” But if I were in a very large church next door to a Lutheran college or seminary with lots of students and professors attending, I would be a relatively “small fish in a big pond.” I’m the same me, but my “place” would be different. Okay, lame example, because there’s not oppression involved, but you get the idea about different groups and different pecking orders. But, again, God readjusts and ministers to us at our point of need when we are feeling lowly.

I don’t think any of us are all one thing–either always oppressors or always oppressed. And yet, I think we are all both capable of oppressing in more ways than is comfortable to admit and vulnerable to oppression in some degree or another.

God loves us all the while—all of us, all the time, no matter what.

But God is setting things right—dismantling our human pecking orders, welcoming the outcast, giving hope to the poor, washing feet, and all that. God is subverting our expectations with a prodigal love that won’t quit.

Of course, the ultimate expression of God’s subversive love is through God’s coming to be one of us in the person of Jesus. Through Jesus, God embodied the most excellent way of love, love so selfless that Jesus didn’t even consider his divinity as something to be exploited, love so complete that Jesus endured suffering and death, love so powerful that Jesus rose victorious over death itself.

And…God wants our partnership—to wash one another’s feet, to flatten the pecking order, to smash the patriarchy (I just love that phrase, so I had to throw that in there), and to proclaim the Good News of God’s love to all people.

God calls us to align ourselves with God’s purposes, with God’s way of love. It is not easy and we can’t do it on our own because on our own those crazy pecking order ideas keep creeping up on us! Rather, the Spirit of God brings us to trust in the Good News of God’s love in Christ Jesus, and we are transformed by our victorious Lord to spread God’s love to all people.

And so, in Christian freedom, we are called to serve the least of these and in so doing, serve Jesus. We are called to help the poor and oppressed, bring good news to the captives, love children, welcome the outcast and show God’s love in word and deed to everyone everywhere.

We are called to live in such a way that we are Jesus to others, that they will know we belong to Jesus because of our love.

So, yes, God is on the side of the oppressed when we start making sides. But God would rather us not make sides at all. And God would rather that none of God’s created people be either oppressors or oppressed. And God continues to work to draw us all to God’s side—to God’s way of love.

New Sermon from Good Shepherd Sunday

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Check out my latest sermon that I preached on Sunday, May 11, 2014 for Good Shepherd Sunday! Thanks to my publisher at Life & Liberty for hosting this and several other of my sermons. Click the photo above to listen. Or use this link: http://www.davidhousholder.com/good-shepherd-sunday-0549-jennifer-clark-tinker/

Can an Untimely Death Bring a Shine? Good Friday Reflection

 

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Today is “Good Friday,” the day we as Christians commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus. For a dramatic narration of the story by Nashville’s Charles Esten (aka “Deacon”), click here.

But it is hard for me to get my mind around the idea of an untimely death being a good thing.

I don’t talk about this much, but in the past several years I have lost two twenty-something cousins. The young men, Michael and Phillip, were the only two children of my aunt and uncle. They died about two years apart, both in car accidents.

Growing up these were the cousins that I saw most often. Even after I was married we would spend holidays together whenever possible. I’d say we were pretty close.

I’ve been reflecting lately about how I’ve felt especially dysfunctional in terms of things like housework. I’ve always been a little lax, but there was a time if company was coming I could step up my game and get my house to a shine.

Now though, I just can’t care about that shine anymore.

As I thought about what changed–or rather–when that change occurred, I realized there was a distinct shift when Michael died (he was the first one to die). It hit me hard.

Just nothing was the same anymore without Michael’s shining smile in this world.

And then when Phillip died too, it was grief upon grief, tarnish upon tarnish.

Shiny, happy housekeeping held no meaning for me anymore.

I still don’t have nearly as much company or as many dinners and parties as a once did. But even when I do, I just figure you’re willing to enter my mess then we can really be friends.

And maybe it’s a protection.

To love like I loved (still love) those little cousins of mine…and to lose them both? I mean, that kind of loss makes it hard to want to love that hard again.

It always seemed to have hit me harder than it should have–I mean, I’m just the big cousin. I don’t even know how my aunt and uncle–the parents–get up every morning.

And then there are the questions upon questions…Why them? When then? Why death?

So you see why I have trouble thinking of an untimely death as a good thing?

I don’t accept that God wanted it that way. I can’t embrace a God who wills people dead for some larger purpose. Or at least I won’t if that’s the kind of God our God is.

So then, the untimely death of God’s own son? Am I supposed to accept that? To accept that God gave up what no parent should ever have to give up?

This is where our language about God and our understanding of God’s nature get confusing. See, all the God there is came to us as Jesus. God didn’t send an agent that was somehow apart from Godself. God is Jesus. Jesus is God.

Our very God gave up God’s own shine to be one of us.

The cruel fate of an untimely death was not something that God did to someone else. No, God submitted to human punishment & sentencing. God endured humiliation and death for our sakes.

The untimely death of God is the most baffling of all. But if anything could ever shine despite death, then it would be because God conquered the very death that threatens to overshadow our world.

We know that God did not stay dead. He rose victorious from the grave and conquered death itself.

Death does not get the final word.

And whether we feel shiny, happy, or we’re still grappling with some kind of grief, we know that love wins. God’s love shines through for us always, all the time, no matter what.