A Message from Pastor Dave – 4/26/19

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the religious leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. John 20:19-31

I suspect most of us who gathered here on Easter morning have not lived with a trumpet-choir and Hallelujah-Chorus faith, nor met experiences of death and loss or struggle and disappointment with a sudden reversal that made everything back to the way we wanted. But, like Thomas, we had some pretty honest and real questions. Perhaps some anger and doubt. From our own places of woundedness, maybe we were looking for a superhero bathed in supernatural light, and what we got was a Savior who put His hands on our wounds. And when new life began to emerge or we started to see it unfolding, it was most likely a solitary candle of hope and a whisper of grace that grew over time. I have shared about my own doubts and skepticism growing up and how grateful I was to be in a faith community that did not fear or shame my questioning, did not attack or denigrate my doubts. But a faith community that had a God big enough and a Jesus real enough and which understood that doubts and questions are most often faith seeking understanding, faith seeking to find its way amidst uncertainties and wounds too deep to be brushed aside with dime store theology and religious arrogance. 

So let’s do this. Let’s bring our questions, struggles, doubts and questions along….because it isn’t by eliminating them that we have found faith…it’s by owning them, being humbled by them, and each-and-every day of our lives CHOOSING to follow Jesus and invite Him into our hearts and our work. Let’s look carefully when we think we’ve got this Jesus relationship all nailed down, because that’s been tried before. He doesn’t stay there. He’s gone on ahead of us. On ahead where there are more questions, more needs and sorrows and hungers, more doubts that crawl in alongside your faith at night. On ahead where there are more joys, epiphanies, discoveries and huge hopes. More places where we plant the Cross of Jesus as the signpost showing that we fully intend to make of it a place of hope and life. It’s what disciples do. It’s what Thomas, doubts and all….Peter, fears and all…..Paul, thorn-in-the-flesh and heartaches and all….did…and the world is changed. Not perfect, not yet showing God’s power in every place…but changed and stirring and alive with the Spirit of Jesus. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! (excerpted from Easter Sunday sermon)

A Message from Pastor Dave – 4/12/19

As Jesus rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Luke 19:36-40

There is word that the streets of Jerusalem are abuzz with talk of Jesus being their new king. Finally, after three years of toiling and teaching among the sick and the wounded, the needy and the nosy in the small towns of Galilee—it’s time for Jerusalem—the City of Kings. The City of Peace. 

Jesus is out ahead several yards riding on the back of a young donkey. He is looking quietly at this city on a hill, just as many had looked on it with awe as they made their Passover pilgrimages for hundreds of years. “If only you knew,” he says to no one in particular. “If only you knew, Jerusalem, the things that make for peace. If only you knew that this was the time for your visitation from God.” And looking back at his disciples, primping and posturing for their triumphant entrance, he says again, “If only you knew.”
You and I already know that Jesus is not about to live happily ever after, and that no one in power is about to yield their throne. We know that teeming below the surface of this joyful celebration there is a poisonous mass of political and religious intrigue. The powers that be are scared senseless by the power of Jesus and the wheels have been set in motion for his betrayal and death. For a few moments, Jerusalem is a little bit of heaven as it welcomes Jesus and his primping disciples with open arms. But in a few short days, all hell will break loose and the powers of darkness will burst forth from beneath the surface to take his life. Gone will be the palms and the pageantry. Gone will be the adoring crowds. Gone will be even the disciples and his closest friends. He will die alone among strangers and enemies. Something is terribly, terribly wrong in God’s world, and only an act of God could change it. That act of God is humanity’s greatest hope.

The awesome thing about hope is that no matter what it encounters in and around us—it digs deeper, stretches higher, and surrounds any challenge with the strong, welcoming embrace of Christ’s love. It is ours to keep, to nourish, cherish and share. It is what Jesus knows as he rides at the head of that parade into Jerusalem. It is what makes Him our King. It is what makes Him our Savior. It is what makes us God’s own.

A Message from Pastor Dave – 3/8/19

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. Luke 4:1-13

It is for Jesus a time of preparation and discernment before going out to teach, preach, heal, and lead. Part of that preparation, we learn, is a challenge. Can Jesus say NO to the devil’s temptations to follow an easier road? People are looking for a Messiah and a religion that works for them…. feeding their hungers, asserting their superiority over others, and putting God-given miracles at their daily disposal. Can Jesus say NO to the offer of being able to lift His finger and proclaim His number one-ness over everything and prove his equality with God? Can Jesus stay true to and focused on what He has come out of the wilderness having learned…. that God’s offer of one more grand, amazing and grace-filled YES to the world REQUIRED Jesus to be able to say NO?

In this story of the Temptation, Jesus is making it clear to us that when we say YES to following Him we are also clearly saying NO to three alternatives. The way before Jesus is clear and it’s NOT about using power to feed our own appetites or trying to make God respond on our terms and creating some protective, angel bubble around us, or achieving power over others through the use of our faith. It is about a power, Spirit-driven and Spirit-filled, unleashed to serve and feed others, to trust God in all times and in all circumstances, and finally to take our place humbly in His kingdom alongside all those whom God names as His own.

One of the great ironies (and sadnesses) of contemporary American Christianity is that the most rapidly growing segments of the Christian community believe that God exists to address our financial wants and needs through miraculous providence; that God provides a protective bubble around us through prayer and angel visitors; and that assertive use of our majority power to set the agendas for schools, textbooks, and legislation is pleasing to God. Ironically, it is precisely these temptations Jesus resists and the opposite of the life of faith he describes in the Sermon on the Mount. While we can attempt to justify or explain away this conflict by saying that we’re asking for such things from Jesus and not from Satan, I don’t buy it. And the more I see it portrayed by television evangelists and megachurch pastors extending their own kingdoms, the more I am aware of such desires and temptations within me. I do understand the tendency to set aside the essences of Gospel and discipleship because a message of prosperity, protection and superiority has greater appeal. 

Jesus could easily have justified submitting to any one of the three temptations under the claim that He was only doing it for God’s sake. For God’s kingdom. To show God’s power and authority. But he did not. He chose instead to follow the way that the Apostle Paul called “the foolishness of God.” Power with and under people instead of over. Awareness and attention to the greater hungers and cries of humanity instead of the growling in my own belly or the bottom line in my checkbook ledger. Praying for God’s care and providence to assist me in serving others rather than carving out my own preferential treatment through Club Jesus. Laying down my life and loves for the loved one, neighbor and stranger as though laying it down for Him.

That is what Jesus taught and that is how Jesus lived. On His way to the Cross, it proved to be too much for the many who had claimed to be His followers and they deserted Him. Pray, people of God, that the Spirit that drew them back comes again. Pray for the Spirit who brings forgiveness and renewal to blow through our beloved Christian communities today and direct us on the paths of discipleship and a clear proclamation of grace for all. The temptation to follow a different way will surely come. Just say no.

The Joy of Being Found

The Joy of Being Found
by Pastor Brenda Legred

My nieces and nephews loved to play hide and seek. They could never get enough of it. “Let’s play again – just one more time!” I asked them why they liked the game so much. Now I would have expected them to say that it’s fun to hide. Instead they said, “Because it’s so exciting to be found!”

The Bible tells us the story of a shepherd who goes in search of a lone, lost sheep. Scripture tells us that heaven rejoices when this sheep is found. I imagine the lone sheep was glad too.

About 30 years ago, I was stranded in the Superior National Forest in a horrible snowstorm. My car was stuck and I had tried to walk as far as I could, but I just couldn’t make it in the storm. This happened before there were cell phones; at least I didn’t have one yet. So I went back to my car and waited there for about 9 hours. A pastor had suggested I take the road I was on as a shortcut. Later I learned that he was new in town and didn’t know the road was closed in the winter. Anyway, no cars went by. I was going to conserve my malted milk balls, but I ate them in the first 10 minutes. When a day had passed, I got out of the car, got down on my knees in the snow and prayed that God would rescue me.

After a few hours, a massive truck came through the woods. Two men who I remember were really good-looking, tall and broad-shouldered, said they were Canadian Mounted Police and gave me their business cards. Rod and Bob tied a rope to my car and towed me to the nearest highway. When I returned to Minneapolis, I called the office number on their business cards so I could thank them. The staff member said,

“We have never had mounted police with those names.” Angels? I believe they were either angels or angelic humans. Some people have said they may have been dangerous people and that I was fortunate. Either way, it was good to be found.

As a community in Christ, we rejoice in being found by the God who considered us so beautiful, so potentially authentic and faithful, that we were worth living in the world and dying for. Amazing grace!

A Message from Pastor Dave – 2/15/19

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. John 15:9-17

This weekend we are in our fifth of six weeks exploring the different ways God calls us to love. There is friendship love philia, romantic love eros, family or nation love storge, and sacrificial love agape. There is also the radical love that Jesus calls forth from his followers: love of the stranger and love of the enemy. Our focus will be on agape, the most commonly used word for love in the New Testament and used to describe the love of Jesus and the love that Jesus commanded, and others wrote about for those of us who follow Him. Agape is used over 250 times as a noun or a verb, nearly 5 times as often as the word for friendship love.

I chose this passage from John for a preaching text on agape because of Jesus’ command to ABIDE in this love. This passage is part of a longer piece and follows Jesus’ comparison of their relationship with Him as being like branches being connected to, abiding on, a vine. “I am the Vine, you are the branches.” (John 15:5) Living with Jesus, living in Jesus and Jesus living in us is living in agape love. Living and dwelling and making our home in the love Jesus has offered and gives freely. This passage and the other passage I chose for this weekend from Colossians 3:12-17 describe lives abiding in such love and both are often chosen as texts for weddings. Agape is the type of loving that makes you both strong and vulnerable, it is the most courageous and compassionate of loves, and it is the kind of love that should be the spine of every family, community and congregation. I described it this way once as I concluded one of my wedding sermons:

Side by side, you are pledging to stand with each other in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, for as long as you both shall live. Side by side, you are pledging to run the race and be there to urge each other on wherever the roads may lead. Today, God promises to run that race with you….to bless it and strengthen it and call it sacred. One family, one promise, one joy. 

 We all know that there is no relationship quite like marriage where love matures and is tested, where loyalty and faithfulness is given and returned, where prayers are fashioned around the ordinary struggles of life, and where two individuals become family. There is no place like this love, when you are wounded or weary and longing to be comforted and held. There is no place like the one you stand in together, wherever that may be, when it is a place filled with laughter, playfulness, faith, love and hope. It is a home where husband and wife share their visions, values and dreams, and that Jesus creates a family which will stand the tests of time.

It is towards such a home that we now send you forth. Go in this love. Go, carrying in your hearts the love we have for you. Go, in the grasp of Jesus, towards a love that will bend, but not break; towards a love that will grow stronger, deeper and wider as days become years; towards a love that will enfold you with the arms of God, and not let go.”

This way of loving is powerful, risky, exciting, and Christ-like. This way of loving allows hope to grow where it otherwise might not and allows trust to develop when it seems improbable to imagine. This way of loving and living and abiding together is perhaps the only way we might stretch to those improbable loves towards the enemy and the stranger. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” Make your home in my love, Jesus is saying. There is NO place, NO place, like that home.

When Love is Found

When love is found and hope comes home, Sing and be glad that two are one.
When love explodes and fills the sky Praise God and share our Maker’s joy.
(When Love is Found, hymn by Brian Wren, Copyright 1983, Hope Publishing Company.

We have begun our six-week sermon series God Expects Us to Love and continue throughout this month to explore the different types of love described by the Greek words philia (friendship), eros (romantic), storge (family and nation), and agape (Christ-like, sacrificial and unconditional). We will also reflect upon the two love commands Jesus gives regarding strangers and enemies. What we know is that
this word, so easily spoken if you are not Scandinavian, can be paper thin or ocean deep.

Composer Brian Wren wrote the words above as part of a hymn composed for his brother’s wedding and also the wedding of a friend. The first verse exudes the joy of love newly discovered and taking root in a couple’s life together. It also calls out our gratitude to God for a gift so wondrous and reminds us of God’s delight when two of his children
bring this added depth to their relationship. Fireworks!

But as the hymn goes on, Wren gets down to the nitty-gritty reality of love being put to work. In verse two, he describes this romantic explosion maturing into the building of trust and care, about love daring to reach beyond the comforts of home to go out into the world to serve God and neighbor.

And then in the third verse, Wren writes about those heart-wrenching times when love is tested and both love and loved ones change.

Hold still to hope though all seems strange, Till ease returns and love grows wise
Through list’ning ears and opened eyes.

And then the most powerful verse of all.
When love is torn and trust betrayed, Pray strength to love till torments fade,
Till lovers keep no score of wrong But hear through pain love’s Easter song.


Love found, built, tested, torn. If love is paper-thin, a word lacking will or an emotion lacking commitment, hope may be hard to come by and wisdom elusive. But if love is deep and you know it requires the best of who you are (even if it is hard to verbalize), you will offer listening ears and opened eyes. Rather than holding onto regrets or regressions, you
will hold to hope and work to hear what you need to hear and see what you need to see. You will stop keeping score as though relationships are a competitive sport and pray without ceasing for the strength to love when you may not like and to forgive what you can’t forget and to believe that there is resurrection song when it seems love lies dead.

Whatever love one might be offering to friend, family, country, spouse or God, our prayer is for a love that is ocean-deep and Spirit-fed. Our prayer is for a people who work at love and whose template for love is the One who is the greatest expression of God’s love. Our season of
focus on the expectations God has for our many loves is embarked upon with the desire that our faith moves us to “hold still to hope and pray strength to love” in all times. A faith that reaches, stretches, listens and loves even when the challenges are daunting and long after the fireworks have faded into our long-term memory.

People of God, we are loved by the Source of all love. We are loved ocean-deep and Jesus-strong, held onto even when we are hapless and hopeless. Gospel truth. We begin there. Ocean-deep and Jesus-strong. Loved. And then, God willing, we mirror that love to friend and foe, spouse and louse, neighbor and stranger, child and parent. We mirror that love for a world torn by betrayals and breaking of trust and we sing Easter songs when least expected. It’s who we say we are. It is, I pray, who we hope to be. And I know in my deepest knowing that when love brings healing, when people stop keeping score and start keeping faith, hope comes home and unpacks its suitcase. And, God willing, never leaves.

A Message from Pastor Dave – 1/18/19

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46

Deeply embedded in the faith story of Jesus’ people is the memory of the times they have found themselves as strangers in a strange land. When Abram and Sarai leave home for economic opportunity in a land they have never seen. When Jacob and his family leave a famine-stricken homeland for Egypt and survival. When Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt after 400 years of slavery and repression. When they find themselves exiled by war into Babylonia and then generations later return home to a land now inhabited by others. Numerous times in the Hebrew scriptures, God says “Remember you were once the stranger, the foreigner, the alien in someone else’s midst. When you encounter the stranger or foreigner in your midst treat them with hospitality.” Exodus 22: 21 says “You shall not wrong or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:17-19 says “For the lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. “And Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the lord your God.”

So, no surprise that Jesus continues the call to care for and welcome the stranger and others who are vulnerable. The twist Jesus adds in the parable above is that how one treats the stranger, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned is how we are treating him. That statement is a lot to reflect upon, discuss and debate, plan and act upon. And while it doesn’t propose any specific policies or procedures, it does command a certain spirit in which such things are considered. In a portion of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-48), Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, big whoop! If you greet only those folks you know, how does that set you apart? How easy is that? I say to you that you should even love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

On this weekend before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I consider how wrong it is that after many generations, people of color are still treated as strangers and aliens. I consider how wrong it is that we forget the stories of our ancestors, biblical and genetic, who were once strangers and aliens hoping to encounter hospitality, opportunity, patience as they learned a new language and new customs, and respect for the customs and traditions they brought with them. I consider how the narrative might change if we looked at the stranger in the way the Bible and Jesus taught rather than simply as a problem to be solved or a fear to be driven away. And I cannot help but think of Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 where he turns around a man’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” to instead ask “What does it mean to BE a neighbor to the stranger we meet on the road, to the broken one whom others are content to walk on by?” 

Remember, scripture says, we are all resident aliens on this planet (Hebrews 11:13-16, Philippians 3:20, John 17:16). It’s a good place to start.

A Message from Pastor Dave 1-4-19

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Matthew 2:1-12
Happy New Year! The quirky little story about the three dignitaries from the East who follow the star to the manger of Jesus is among the more well-known stories from Jesus’ life. Perhaps because of all the Christmas pageants, perhaps because of the Christmas Carols (“We Three Kings,” etc.), even those who are least familiar with the story of Jesus have heard the story of the wise men who come to visit the baby Jesus.
They are not, however, kings. The Greek word that describes them (magi) can be translated either as “wise men” or “astrologers.” They were likely part of a Persian or Babylonian group of priests who studied the heavens looking for signs from the gods. They interpret the appearance of a star to signal the birth of a new, world leader and they set out to find who and where. When Matthew elected to include them in his telling of the story of Jesus’ birth, he is calling attention to the truth that the gift of God’s Son is a gift for the whole world! These non-Jewish leaders are drawn by God’s initiative through a means of God’s choosing to draw them to the Christ. What we know is that they come, they worship, they leave their gifts, and being warned of the harm King Herod intends to do to this newborn king, they return home “by another road.” After they leave, we never hear about them again.
In a wonderful vignette from the book The Shack, fictional character, Mac, asks Jesus if it is true that all religions are the same and that all roads lead to God. Jesus responds, “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.” I believe that. I believe God chose one particular road and one particular life through which to make Himself most fully known. Jesus is that Way and Jesus is that Life. But I also believe that God never ceases in His efforts to gather and love the people of this planet and is at work in ways we would have never imagined. God is there on whatever path or road you may be walking this day and eager to hold your attention and finally your heart. Be alert and aware, people of God! When God draws you in, it is never the same road home. Make it a blessed and faithful New Year!

A Message from Pastor Dave 12-28-18

Now every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. Luke 2:41-52

Just a note. The boy Jesus did not stay in that Temple. In fact, if you follow the story throughout the Gospel of Luke, you will find Jesus spending most of his time in places other than a place of worship. You will find him on a hillside feeding a crowd of hungry people, where his disciples say, “Let’s move on, what can we hope to do among so many hungry folks?” And he responds to them the same way he did to his parents, “Didn’t you know, I need to be here?” You will find him eating with sinners, touching lepers, healing the sick, forgiving the ones no one else would forgive, while the people said again and again, “What are you doing? Why are you so concerned about such people?” And he answers, “Didn’t you know, I need to be here?” In Luke’s Gospel, you will find Jesus face to face with his enemies, forgiving those who tortured him and hanging on a Cross. And as his followers and foes alike look on him with growing questions and disbelief, he says, “Didn’t you know? I need to be here.”

I need to be here in such places, Jesus teaches, because this is where God stands. And when people come looking for me, I want them to know that I can be found in God’s house. And I can be found among the hungry and those needing to be healed. And I can be found toe-to-toe in those encounters with my enemies and in the experience of suffering and death. I can be found on hillsides, lakesides, streetsides, bedsides, in your homes, in your church and where you work. I need to be in such places, Jesus taught us, because that’s where God’s people are. That’s the view we have looking out the windows on our world, and we need to know that He is with us. Standing on the unmerited love of God. Standing on the unmerited, free gift of life. Standing on God’s Word, uttered from the first moments of creation until now.

Following yet another Christmas and entering another new year, times it seems that many of us are given to a little more reflection and introspection than usual, I ask you, do you know where you stand? In your own seeking after Jesus, or searching for meaning, truth, or purpose, do you know what supports you and holds you up? When you consider the view out the windows of your life at this moment in time, do you know where you stand? And do you know the One who stands with you?

And in those days when your faith is such that you feel like Mary and Joseph frantically trying to find the son they fear they have lost, do you know where to go to find Jesus? Perhaps a good place to start is in those places he said he must be. 

Pastor Dave’s Message 12-14-18

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38

In a small rural town far north of the King’s palace, a town called Nazareth, a teenage peasant girl was visited by an angel. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, who traced his ancestry all the way back to King David. Joseph, however, was not royalty. He was a carpenter, a simple laborer who was about as likely to see the inside of the royal palace as any other peasant. He was proud of his ancestry, but in real terms it meant nothing. The angel, Gabriel, brought some unsettling news. She was to have a baby. God was going to use her womb as His dwelling place. And the son, Jesus, was to be the long-awaited Messiah whose kingdom would last forever. And do you notice that the angel doesn’t ask her “Are you up for the challenge?” He doesn’t ask her if she is willing or not to take this project on. He doesn’t ask her how her schedule looks for the next nine months. Nor does he promise her that Joseph will stick around after he finds out she’s pregnant. He doesn’t reassure her that the people of her town and her parents will be understanding, that her pregnancy will go smoothly, and the labor will be easy. He says simply, “Mary, God chooses you. The Son of God will dwell within your womb. You will name him Jesus.” And Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be just as you have spoken.”

God will dwell where God chooses. God will come in the ways God chooses. God is not a God who dwells in temples and cathedrals, but in and among His people. And at this very moment, God is still choosing. God is still fashioning you and me and this community of faith as dwelling places for His Son and Spirit. And he doesn’t come on tiptoes asking if now is a good time for us. He doesn’t come asking if we could carve out a little time for Him nor does He promise that everything will go smoothly. Jesus, the Son of God, is not coming soon to a sanctuary near you. He’s coming to you. And you can either live with reality and align yourself with the will and workings of God, or you can try to live around it and deny that God has anything to do with you. Mary, for her part, despite whatever fears, misgivings and uncertainties raced through her mind, said “At your service, God. Here I am. Let it be with me according to your Word.”

Gabriel stood before Mary and said, “You, favored one, will be the dwelling place for Jesus, Son of God, Savior of the world.” Mary said “Whatever that means, wherever that leads, however that is to come to pass, yes. Here I am. A servant of the Lord.” If by chance this Christmas you should encounter just such a messenger, I hope that you would be given the grace to respond like Mary. I hope that you would recognize all the reasons you should be afraid and yet heed the angel’s words, “Fear not.” And I hope that you would lift up your eyes from your shoe-tops and look square into the face of God and say, “Here I am Lord. A work in progress. Your dwelling place. Let it be with me, also, according to your Word.”