We continue in the Epiphany Season, highlighted by the call of Jesus to follow him and become his disciples. None of us has chosen to be a disciple of Jesus; we each responded to his call. He chose us first. Some disciples in those early years were personally invited by Jesus. Others were welcomed by other disciples. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be given the task of inviting others to join the fun and mission. We don’t have to follow Jesus; we get to! We might not know everything it means to be a disciple. But, hang on. Along the way of discipleship, Jesus promises to gradually open our eyes to who he really is and what he really wants. I have long said that I don’t always need answers. And, I don’t always need advice. But I do need Jesus always. If all we needed in life was knowledge, then God would have just given us a gift card to a Barnes and Noble bookstore. Like those first disciples, you and I came to Jesus. We took a risk. We didn’t understand all there is to know about Jesus, but we bet our life on what we little we did know. Put it this way: we want more than just knowing about Jesus; we want to know Jesus. We don’t need to be informed; we need to be formed. Think back over your own faith journey. Think about your earliest memories of your first days as a Christian. Now think of all those wonderful, perhaps even scary, moments when you learned something new about Jesus, or when you heard some challenging scripture, or when you noticed a fresh light that shown on your faith. We are just like those early disciples, aren’t we? We came to Jesus, and we saw. That same dynamic energy continues. In our life, we grow closer and closer to Jesus. And as we do, he comes closer and closer to us. Peace, Pastor Gary
As a pastor, I spend a good deal of my time with people who are trying to figure out their lives. Who am I? What ought I be doing? For the Christian, the question will always be “Who am I in relationship with Jesus?” In these early days of Epiphany, the church would have us consider our identity and purpose through the lens of Jesus. God often calls unlikely people to do God’s work. Surprise! God calls who God calls, and uses who God uses, and blesses the world in ways that God chooses to bless. That means you and me. Isn’t it great to know that our lives are really not our own? The uncalled life is such a bore. Those who are summoned, called, commissioned, and examined know what a gift it is to serve Jesus. We don’t have to. We get to! God’s intrusions among us are life giving. They are usually disruptive as well! If we want to avoid change and newness, then hide from exposure with God. As you’ve heard me say many times, Sunday worship is the most dangerous time of the week. Who knows what God will do to us! Our questions of God are not as interesting as God’s questions of us, however. We read the Bible, just as the Bible is reading us. When we put down the Bible, will we become the Bible? For the next several Sundays, the Biblical texts will have us remember the recruitment of the first disciples. Take heart! God’s redemption regards no barriers of rank, position, or prestige. God made us common people into instruments for transforming the world. So, don’t disregard yourself. Don’t be bashful about your faith. It’s been said that a great leader trusts the followers. Well, God must trust us a great deal because God gives us great work to do. What a treat! Blessings,
Note: Pastor Gary had one last week of vacation under his contract for 2018. He is out of the office until January 29. The last day that there will be regular office hours is January 31.
These days of Epiphany give the church the time to reflect upon the significance of Christmas. Leading up to Christmas, we concentrated on the stories of the birth of Jesus and the witnesses who came from all over heaven and earth (think angels and wise men and animals, etc.). Now, here in Epiphany, we engage in the theological meaning of what we have celebrated in story and song. Jesus is the “God in the straw.” What does that say to you and me? And, in what ways have our lives changed?
God is revealed to us in Jesus. The magi came to worship the babe at Bethlehem. The star lighted the way. In what ways has the revelation of Jesus lighted our paths? The Apostle Paul years later wrote all those letters in the Bible because he had seen the light of God. Our faith, too, rests upon God’s loving willingness to reveal the nature and determination of God. For there to be a relationship between God and us, then God must communicate. God must reveal. And we must receive and act upon the Good News.
Since Jesus was born among us, little is the same. We just can’t get back to normal. We can’t “climb up” to God. God comes to us. Somehow and someway, God got a hold of you and me. Call it a mystery; call it a miracle. Or call it the star of Epiphany. God is made manifest to us in the love of Jesus. We are “Epiphanied!”
Well, Christmas is now officially over since today is the 2nd day of Epiphany. Most of us have already put away the ornaments and have dragged the tree out to the curb. Now, it’s time to get back to normal. The heavenly hosts have departed. Mary and Joseph and their little one have made their way back home on the long, dusty road to Nazareth. Seems so easy to be a Christian when we have out the candles, and the wreath, and the cookies, and the presents. “We need a little Christmas, right here this minute,” goes the song. Guess we’ll have to wait another year to have Christmas again.
Yet...I have some Good News for you today! Something has happened in our world since that 1stChristmas long ago, and that Christmas just a few weeks back. Jesus has been born! God has come among us, and injected into us a babe known as the Christ child. This baby has brought a new kingdom, and a new rule, and a different sort of sovereignty. As John 1 informs us, “The Word has become flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Creator’s only son, full of grace and truth.” No fake news here!
If you believe all this, then you believe that God is working to bring this world to its fulfillment. It means it’s time to start practicing living like you’ve been made new. Every person we meet is being molded for glory. So are you! God is in the business during post-Christmas of perfecting all there is, and all there will be. You see, after welcoming Christ into our lives, there is a sense in which none of us can ever go back to normalcy. Epiphany, here we come!!
Peace, Pastor Gary
Yesterday, churches lit the 3rd candle of Ad-vent. By tradition, the 3rd candle is the color pink and the other candles are purple. The 3rdcandle is known as the candle of joy. We re- member that the greatest power of God is inGod’s stooping down to our weakness. It takesa strong, secure love for anyone to stoop down. If you have ever been in love, and if you have ever reached out to someone be- cause you want to give that person your love, you know how vulnerable you can be. I mean, sometimes we are rejected. When that hap- pens, we know pain. The joy of Christmas isthat God took a chance on us accepting God’slove. We can say yes to God, and that makes all the difference in the world. What joy! Christmas is never over. In fact, it’s just the beginning of our relationship with God. It is a beginning for God who took on human flesh to dwell among us. The question for each of us is what begins for us at Christmas? This is the moment of genesis...the start of fresh possibilities and the birthing of unexpected joy. You and I can’t hear the story of the baby Jesus without thinking of our own call to follow God. Like Mary, we must say yes to the often-times strange and mysterious matters of God in our lives.We know that nobody is born Christian. Our faith is not genetically engineered. Faithin Christ doesn’t just fall down from the sky.Someone must have had a hand in our faithjourney. You and I wouldn’t be in churchduring Advent if somebody had not been our angel or our shepherd or our wise man. And you were that special somebody to someoneelse. That’s why we speak of joy on the 3rdSunday of Advent. We have heard the call of God in our lives, we have responded, and we have profound happiness. Such joy!!
Glenn Neske is hospitalized at St. Joseph's Hospital. He has had a series of strokes. A decision will be made soon whether he is well enough to go to a rehab center.
Yesterday we held our last Sunday worship at DAPC. The attendance was good (around 80), the music was special (thank you Darlinda, Allie, and Cynthia), we lit hand-held candles as we sang Silent Night, Communion was served, the Deacons led the prayers for the people, and I gave a sermon centered around the image/meaning of the nativity set. We had Christmas early! Even amidst the tears of grief as we said goodbye to the building and each other, we also held our heads high as we thanked the saints of all ages who kept the lamp of faith burning in times of darkness and who saw visions of larger truth and dared to declare it.
The truth about we humans is that we grieve. It is part of humanity. It is proof of humanity! The larger truth is that we heal. And the even larger truth is that we heal each other through our strength in Christ. We are channels ofGod’s higher power to those who are broken. The miracle isn’t the healing. The miracle is that people just don’t stand by and stay away from other’s hurt. The wonder of healing isthat we are so deeply loved into health. Life is the love and faith that keep us moving for- ward even when we experienced the bad mo- ments. God will not let us be so bitter that we miss out in life.
So, we say “God bless you” as we depart DAPC. The Christian gospel is rooted in his- tory, but is always future-leaning. Who knows what God has in store for us! Webend toward God’s vision of the kingdom to come. “Thy kingdom come,” we pray. The kingdom is not yet. That’s why we pray the Lord’s Prayer. But thank God we are given aforetaste. And that is just what we got yester-day in worship...a foretaste of what is tocome. You will be a blessing to the new churches you attend. The DAPC spice will add flavor to the other congregations. This Christmas season please know that there is a divine future that God wants for you and me. It’s out there waiting!
Peace, Pastor Gary
Advent is a season of preparation. You know that. We ready our homes, our hearts, and ourfaith for Jesus’ coming at Christmas. What joyand comfort to know that Jesus will soon be here. We also know that Advent is a season of change. I mean, how can Jesus come withoutus doing some “housekeeping” in our souls?His advent among us awakens us from slum- ber, stirs us to action, and encourages us to stretch and grow. I love that scene in Matthew where Joseph bolts up in bed from a dream that reveals he is to be a daddy. Talk aboutchange! Think about Advent as God’s greatawakening and an opening of our eyes. This Christ of ours tells us to wake up!
Jesus tells us in our Advent texts that God is afoot this time of year, dismantling the status quo, with big and cosmic moves, all signs of the redemption that is drawing near. I do not know what to do with texts like these. How can I explain what’s on God’s mind? Ratherthan me attempting to do something with these words, we should just let the words dosomething to us. God is coming; what ineach of our lives needs to be redeemed? So much of practiced Christianity is too tame, too timid, and too tired. Our God is a living God who comes among us in strange signs and wonders to reign. This is our Adventhope...that God is Lord.So, this is Advent...the season of visions, and visitations, and the intrusions of Christ in our lives. Keep awake. Be expectant. Christ loves to appear among us in ways wedon’t expect. And in times we haven’tplanned. There will be a knock on our door. It could be you know who, and he is looking for room at the inn. Or in our manger. What a wonderfully, strange gift!
Peace, Pastor Gary
The most moving moment in Sunday morning worship for me is when people come forward to the communion table and hold out their hands in receptive gratitude. I am moved to think that all of us are hun- gry for the gift of grace. It’s all so very humbling, and yet so very uplifting. We are all needy of love, aren’t we? Can we ever say that we have too much love in our lives? There at communion our out- reached hands are empty. We need something. We need Jesus.
In our Mark 13 passage this past Sunday, we had the story of the widow’s mite. Here is a woman who places all the money she has into the temple coffers. Even in her poverty, she somehow has enough to honor God. Those in the Bible who are humble are those who receive the greatest praise. They are the ones who
recognize God’s kingdom and power. Not the ones who strutted in front of the temple with their fancy clothes and rich purses. As I said on Sunday, the widow who at the start of the story is the farthest away from the altar, is at the end of the story the one closest to the heart of God.
Jesus said that “I’ve come to seek and save the lost.” That is, he has come to call the sick and the sinner. We call it grace...the unmerited, amazing grace. It’s free. Don’t worry about what we ought to say to God. Listen to what God has to say to us. Don’t trouble ourselves about what we think we must do for God. Let God do for us. What’s strange from the world’s point of view, is welcome from the Christian way of life. Peace, Pastor Gary
The evangelical activist Jim Wallis is clear that we are to follow Jesus as he is “on the way,” and it is not about following Jesus to “get our way.” That is to say, not only are we to believe in Jesus; we are to walk with him. Jesus comes to us to heal us, to help us, to save us, of course. But he also comes to us to make us his disciples. We have a job to do, we Christians. To stress only the benefits of Christ, without also stressing his demands, is to turn the Gospel upside down and inside out. Faith was at the heart of Sunday’s lesson from Mark 10. It is a faith that leads to new life. In Mark 10 we meet Bartimaeus, a blind beggar sitting by the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. He hears that Jesus is passing by and cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (10:47). Jesus stops, senses the man’s trust in Jesus to do good works, and asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus answers, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus restores the man’s sight and then he gets up and follows Jesus to Jerusalem. The man’s friends encouraged Bartimaeus in this encounter with Jesus to “take heart, get up, and follow Jesus.” That’s a great formula for any of us, at any time. Sometimes we get blinded by our fears. Sometimes we lose sight of hope. The book of Hebrews tells us the though we might not see everything, we certainly can see Jesus. He’s right there before our eyes! Doesn’t the old, old song tell us that “once I was blind, but now I see”? To know, to see, and to believe in Jesus, is to follow him on the way. He came not simply to be praised; he came to be followed. Peace, Pastor Gary
One of the most exciting days of the year for me is Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday when Dr. Lloyd would read a speech by Dr. King. Even today, Dr. King’s words rings with truth and grace and Dr. Lloyd becomes Dr. King for us. The following forward to Dr. King’s words that Ernest presented to us is worth reading again. Sunday Morning Service, October 21 Dr. Ernest Lloyd Perhaps you have heard it said that one of the most important positions in life is to test your fortitude, your belief systems, and how you Move Forward from broken relationships, failed marriages, drug addiction and alcoholism. We have a common bond. That is the love of Jesus. We have done some marvelous work at DAPC when helping families, individuals and DAPC members cope with such trials by opening the doors to emotional, spiritual and well-being support groups. DAPC ministry – practiced over the many years we have been open and coupled with our call of social justice and peace align with the servant leadership taught by our Lord Jesus. As we eventually move forward from this place of worship at 217 Mackubin, folks will usually reply, oh, I know where that is. You are that radical church; you guys open your doors serving the needs of support groups. You have the Clothing Center where anyone is welcome and at no charge. It is about faith and hope for the future. We will carry with us these ministries that make us unique. Regardless of our physical space, we take forth with us the beloved community. As you move forward from this building, Proverbs 4:27reminds us, do not turn right nor to the left; most important it says turn your foot from evil. Ezekiel 1:12 tells us that each person went straight forward; where the spirit was about to go, they would go, without turning as they went.
Joshua 1:7 writes that for you to only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to the ways which Moses my servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. Likewise, Deuteronomy 5:32 tells us “so you shall observe to do just as the Lord your God commanded you, you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left. You must embrace this challenge with a spirited heart and an opened mind; thus defining who you are. John 5:8 – Jesus said to him, “Get up, take your bed and walk”… Jeremiah 29:11, reminds us, for I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Hebrews 12:1, therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which set before us. Sisters and brothers in Christ, we have walked this far by faith landing on the Lord. Just trust in His very word because He never failed you. You don’t have to preach like Peter or pray like Paul and to walk forward the way of the Cross to know that there’s a Balm in Gilead. Because all is well with my soul, there IS a Balm in Gilead! As you prepare to face tomorrow because He lives. Simply, walk forward the path of righteousness for His name sake. Walk onward til tomorrow. Let us all move forward to our new church home together.
At the benediction, Dr. Lloyd recited a portion of the “I Have a Dream” speech. He is exhorting us all to have and keep our dream and not forsake the Lord or our Community. (Any omissions, and mistakes are the responsibility of the MoA, Chuck, and shouldn’t reflect on the honesty and faith of Dr. Lloyd.