Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Snowy Sunday

The snow this Sunday morning is beautiful. So, what happens at church this morning?

We will follow the plans for this Sunday after Christmas that we already have. There will be only one service.

8:30 am - No service.
9:30 am - Sunday School gathering for adults in Parish Hall.
Youth join the adults for this gathering time.
Children follow a one-room schoolhouse approach.
11:00 am- Worship in the Nave.

We would love to see you at church this morning, but be safe.
If you need to stay at home, join us for Rejoice! at 8:30 am on WVLT-TV.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday, December 14 - Snow Report

As you know, the policy of the church is to cancel meetings and classes on days that Knox County Schools are closed due to weather. As such, all meetings and activities are canceled today. If you have an appointment with anyone at the church today, please check with that person before coming to the church today.

December 12, 2010 -Child of the Holy Spirit

Child of the Holy Spirit
        Matt 1.18-25, esp. v. 20: "Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,
        for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
"

    There is holy mystery in the Christmas story. We rightly savor it at this season. One of the mysteries of Christmas is how Jesus came to be born.
    Too often this subject zeroes in on the question: “Do you believe in the virgin birth?” Some of us will immediately answer, “Oh, yes!” Others will answer just as quickly, “Not at all.” Most folks in the middle hesitate a moment. Is this a matter of curiosity to explore OR a position we should be prepared to defend? I have found myself in both situations.
    I want to think aloud with you today about how Jesus came to be conceived and then born. I want to think with you out loud about what it means that Jesus was born. And I especially want to think about the movement of God in the birth of the Christ Child.

   
I. So, what does it mean to Matthew when he writes:
    "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,
        for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.".


Across the years of Christian history, the Church has read this passage and determined that this means that Jesus was born of a virgin mother named Mary.

    The “Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church” which is one of the foundation documents of our United Methodist Church says this more fully, so I will share this with you:

    Article-II: Jesus Christ: We believe in Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, in whom the divine and human natures are perfectly and inseparably united. He is the eternal Word made flesh, the only begotten Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. As ministering Servant he lived, suffered and died on the cross. He was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to be with the Father, from whence he shall return. He is the eternal Savior and Mediator, who intercedes for us, and by him all men will be judged (1).

This statement of doctrine says more than we can find in our short passage from the Christmas story. I include it because our doctrine about Jesus Christ is important. As we are delving into the details of this particular passage, we must not lose sight of the great doctrine of Jesus Christ to which it points. Keeping this in mind, let’s look more closely at this detail in the scripture before us.

    If the full statement of doctrine had not yet been given, which of course it was not when Matthew wrote, what would it mean for Joseph to hear God’s angel say: “For the child conceived in [Mary, your wife,] is from the Holy Spirit”?

    First, let us remember that Christian doctrine springs out of the work of God.
    +God spoke and a world was created;
    +God called and led Israel out of slavery into the Land of Promise.
    +The Lord is my shepherd.
You might say it this way: the subject of every theological claim is “God.” The main focus in understanding Matthew’s statement is on the work of God through the Holy Spirit; Mary, like any one of us is servant and therefore second. We begin with the Holy Spirit at work in the conception of the Christ Child.

    Second, the best place to begin our exploration is the Bible. Are there other occasions and other births where God intervened for the conception and birth of a child? Actually, there are several places where this occurred.
    +Samson was born after his parents encountered God while they were in worship.   
    +Samuel was born to Hannah, who was barren until she poured out her desire for a child to God.
   +Sarah was 90 years old and childless when God visited Abraham, who was 99, and promised them a child. Clearly, she was well beyond her child-bearing years.
        +There is evidence that the popular literature of Jesus’ day told of God’s attention to the conception and birth of Moses.
        +Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was also beyond her child-bearing years and became pregnant only after her husband Zechariah met God in the Temple.

There are two elements in these stories that we should keep in mind; one they share with the Christmas story; the other they do not.

    1. The element these OT stories of miraculous birth do not share with the Christmas story is that these OT women were married, living with their husbands, and conceived in roughly the usual manner. I say, “roughly the usual manner,” because Sarah at 90 was not expected by anyone to have a child. Special circumstances attended each of these other births. The difference is that Matthew reports when Jesus was conceived, Mary and Joseph were not living together as husband and wife:
    When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child...

As Matthew says of Mary: “She was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” The biological details of how that conception took place by the Holy Spirit are not spelled out any more than they are spelled out in the OT stories of God’s intervention in the conception and birth of other children. While the ancients knew where babies come from, they knew nothing of the microscopic biology of conception. We must be careful lest we read our biological knowledge into the Biblical story. The words I just quoted from Matthew are, in fact, all that he reported about it.

    2. What all of these stories have in common is the *intervention of God*. In every case, including the Christmas story, God intervened for the conception and birth of a child. That intervention varies from situation to situation.
    Still, in every case, God’s intervention through the Holy Spirit promises a remarkable destiny for that child: Samson, Samuel, Isaac, Moses, John the Baptist, and finally Jesus. This will be a child who serves God in ways that bring God’s promises and blessings to humankind in ways not seen before. This is a child of destiny – whose destiny it will be to reveal the power and work of God in human history and human lives.

    This is a destiny so great that Israel was called to come, to see, and to believe as they had never believed before these children of destiny:
        – like the children of Isaac who came to understand themselves as a people of divine promise;
        – like the Hebrew children who followed Moses to the Promised Land,
        – like the kings who were led to build a nation with the guidance of the great prophet Samuel,
        – like the people of Judea who came out to repent at the preaching of John the Baptist.
Every time God intervened to provide an exceptional birth, God called the child which was born to a tremendous destiny and purpose. Each of these children, conceived and born through the intervention of God, brought Israel to a new and richer understanding of God.//

    This is the foundation for our understanding of Jesus’ birth as well. It was through the Holy Spirit that the child Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb. Matthew’s claim is that Jesus’ conception pointed to a distinct life, of course. And that distinction was only made stronger as Jesus
    +began his ministry,
    +taught with power,
    +worked miracles that healed bodies and lives
    +and revealed the presence of God.

That difference was only made stronger as Jesus
    +broke the bread at the Last Supper,
    +as he went to the cross,
    +as he died there for the healing of the world,
    +as he rose again from the dead on Easter.
We know Jesus was not just another prophet-in-Israel by telling the rest-of-the-story by which our hearts burn within us at the telling. Jesus was not just another great leader; Jesus was the living presence of God among us.

III. By telling Joseph that Jesus would be born by the power of the Holy Spirt, God began a new step in His presence and work among humankind. God was telling Joseph and everyone of us who celebrate Christmas, “Behold, I am doing a new thing. Can you see it?
    It is only by faith that we can see, you know. Thus, the story of the birth of the Christ Child is a call to every one of us to believe: Do you believe that God was in Jesus? Do you believe that you must put your faith in Jesus if you would see God? The destiny of all humankind is made clear and set upon a new path by this child born to Mary and to Joseph. To believe is to join Jesus Christ in seeing and working for the vision of God among us.

    Ann Weems caught this call to believe in her poem: “The Cross in the Manger” (2):

If there is no cross in the manger,
there is no Christmas.

If the Babe doesn’t become the Adult,
there is no Bethlehem star.

If there is no commitment in us,
there are no wise men searching.

If we offer no cup of cold water,
there is no gold, no frankincense, no myrrh.

If there is no praising God’s name,
there are no angels singing.

If there is no spirit of alleluia,
there are no shepherds watching.

    If there is no standing up, no speaking out, no risk,
there is no Herod, no flight into Egypt.

If there is no room in our inn,
then “Merry Christmas” mocks the Christ Child,
and the Holy Family is just a holiday card,
and God will loathe our feasts and festivals.

For if there is no reconciliation,
we cannot call Christ “Prince of Peace”.

If there is no goodwill towards others,
    it can all be packed away in boxes for another year.

If there is no forgiveness in us,
there is no cause for celebration.

If we cannot go even now unto Golgotha,
there is no Christmas in us.

If Christmas is not now,
If Christ is not born into the everyday present,
then what is all the noise about?

[CONCL]
    Now, we must return to the story of Mary. You see, when the power of Jesus’ birth is in the Holy Spirit, then Mary is allowed to begin this story as an ordinary young woman, called to be a servant of God. As such, she is just as we are: Standing before the greatness and power of God, we are just as surely called to be servants of God.

    We began with the mystery of Christmas. Think about the mysterious possibility that Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe, might enter our lives in such an immanent, intimate way. Think about the mysterious possibility that God might attend and watch with you and me at our most human moments. Think about the evidence in this that God is still moved with love for the world that we call home. If God would call on a young woman named Mary and a husband named Joseph, God might include us in His Christmas as well. Imagine!



Notes:
1. “Article II–Jesus Christ,” “Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church,” The 2008 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, para. 103, p. 67.
2. Weems, Ann. “The Cross in the Manger,” Reaching for Rainbows.

Monday, December 6, 2010

December 5, 2010 - Sketchy Women

Sketchy Women
Matthew 1.1-17 - The Genealogy of Jesus

    In the early days of Jesus' ministry and later at the beginning of the church, there were people who wanted to discredit him. People heard the story about his miraculous birth. Those, who did not want to believe in him, seized on his birth as the way to undermine his message and his work. Even back in Biblical times, people knew where babies come from, and those who did not want to believe in his miraculous birth went looking for other explanations. In modern times, the supermarket tabloids are evidence that we enjoy a good sex scandal just as much as our ancestors did.
    Matthew knew about all this whispering. As he wrote his gospel for the Jewish people of Israel, he addressed the whispers about Mary head on. So, starting with chapter 1, verse 1, Matthew uses the genealogy of Jesus to defuse all this talk of a scandalous birth.

    Most family trees focus on the fathers; this one is no exception. But there are mothers included, too. I want you to notice the women who are sprinkled through this list of generations. Five women are included on this list including Mary.
    +Tamar;
    +Rahab;
    +Ruth;
    +Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah;
    +and Mary.
What is interesting about these women is that each one of them is clearly part of the family tree of the Davidic line and each has something questionable about her past. It is as if Matthew is challenging those who would criticize Mary as a mother by pointing to the genealogy of all Israel. “If you want to raise questions about the kind of person who gave birth to Jesus, then you’d better deal with the questions about the rest of your family tree.”

    1. Tamar was married to one of the sons of Judah. When that son died, the next son of Judah was supposed to take her home and give her children in the name of his brother. Thus, she would be provided for and that brother would have heirs. Well, the first brother wouldn’t do what he was supposed to do. Then, her father-in-law, Judah kept her away from his third son. Tamar was a good woman, a young widow, and she was about to become an outcast simply because her brothers-in-law wouldn’t do the right thing. So, taking matters into her own hands, she dressed as a prostitute and went to sit beside the road where her father-in-law, Judah, was sure to travel. When he came that way, he offered her money for sex. Basically, he was willing to have sex with a prostitute but not willing for his sons to do the right thing for his daughter-in-law. Well, when word got around that Tamar was pregnant, they hauled her into court on the way to a stoning. But, she brought the cord, the staff and the ring that Judah had left behind the night he was with her. Everyone expected to see her condemned. But, when she arrived she said, “The father of my child is the owner of this ring, this staff, and this cord.” And as soon as he saw them, Judah recognized them as his. He had to admit that he had done her wrong, so then he took her home to give her children in the name of his son. Tamar is one of the heroes of Israel because she took a risk to honor her husband with children, and one of her children became an ancestor of King David and thus an ancestor of Jesus.

    2. Rahab began as a prostitute. When Israel came into conquer the Promised Land, it was Rahab the prostitute who welcomed the scouting party that went to figure out how to invade the land. Now, ordinarily “good, upstanding, church people” aren’t supposed to celebrate prostitutes. The Bible is very direct about this. But, Rahab the Prostitute helped Israel do what God had sent them to do – to take the Land of Promise for their very own. Thus, Rahab is one of the heroes of Israel because she believed and risked her life for God’s purposes and God’s people. Later, one of her children became an ancestor of King David and thus an ancestor of Jesus.

    3. Ruth was a foreigner in Israel, a nation that was very suspicious of foreigners. She first married a young man from Israel. When he died, she went back to Israel to seek the same tradition that Tamar counted on – that one of her husband’s relatives would give her children so that her deceased husband could have heirs. Sadly, everyone knew the tradition about taking care of the widows who have no children, but it was widely ignored. In Ruth’s case, the connection between her deceased husband and any man she met in Israel was going to be very weak.
    Ruth is honored because this foreign widow, with little claim on Israel, held onto Israel’s tradition. She acted honorably and decisively to keep Israel’s tradition and to honor her husband. Thus, Ruth is one of the heroes of Israel because she took a risk in trusting God’s purposes and God’s people, and one of her children became an ancestor of King David and thus an ancestor of Jesus.

    4. The fourth woman in the genealogy is Bathsheba. When Israel was at war, David was at home in the palace. One day, he went up on the roof of the palace. While he was there, he looked out and saw a woman doing the ritual bath of women. He sent for her (he was the king, after all), knowing that she was married to one of his own soldiers, one who was fighting for him and for Israel at that very moment. When Bathsheba became pregnant, David tried to cover it up. He brought Uriah home from the front, hoping he would go home to stay with his wife, but Uriah was too honorable to rest while his comrades were in the heat of battle. So, David sent him back to the battle carrying the message to put Uriah at the front of the battle where he would be killed. Uriah’s death happened as David asked, and he took Bathsheba into the palace as his wife. It was a great cover up until Nathan the Prophet confronted him one day. Today, we would call David’s actions “sexual abuse by a person of greater power and authority.” Bathsheba was powerless to refuse the king, but she was faithful in doing what was required of her and in raising her child. Thus, Bathsheba is one of the heroes of Israel because she took a risk to work for God’s purposes and God’s people. One of her children was the son of King David and thus an ancestor of Jesus.

    Now, let’s look back over this list of women before we move onto Mary. According to tradition, Matthew’s audience would have seen these four as women of *doubtful character*. We have been taught to expect the same. But, as we have looked closer today, each of these women showed herself to be the hero and the person of greater character than the man or the society of men who finally fathered their children.

    5. Now, Matthew watches as we run our fingers down the list of names in the genealogy. He looks at us closely as we pause at the name “Mary.” He knows that we are expected to find fault with her, to whisper about her doubtful character. We are expected to search for something in her that would diminish the character of her son, Jesus.
    By outlining these four women before her, Matthew has prepared us for Mary. The world whispered to us as we took up the story that she, like so many others, is of doubtful character. But, Matthew puts the list in front of us and calls us closer to examine their stories and their character. What we find is that on closer examination each of these doubtful women has proven to be *heroic* in character, risking their honor and dignity to do what was right, risking their honor on the distant promises of God, and, without ever seeing it themselves, trusting God to bring a Messiah to the hurting world.

II. So, what do we learn from the Genealogy?
    A. We learn that God has purposely woven men and women into His purposes. Imagine! God could have cast a miracle: Stop all wars! Clear up all disasters! Show the nations how to live in peace! With a little flash and a lot of thunder, God could have settled the whole problem in a matter of minutes. But God has chosen a different way. God has chosen to write the work of healing through the lives of faithful people. By God’s grace, humanity is chosen as necessary to every aspect of the work of God.

    B. Further, we have learned that God made a *necessary place* in the work of divine grace for these women of doubtful character. They are not just *allowed* or *tacked-on*. The prostitute and the sassy, back-talking daughter-in-law were made *necessary*. The young wife who was claimed as the King’s plaything and watched her husband be killed to cover up the crime was made *necessary*. And Mary, who knew that no one would understand, took the risk that God meant her good when he asked her to bear the Christ Child. All of these are, by God grace, made necessary to God’s act of grace. If they had not taken the risks that put their own reputations on the line, the next generation would not have been born, the Promised Land would not have been settled, and the Savior would not have found a home.

So, hear the Good News.
    A. The grace of God is not reserved for the righteous, the washed, and those who got it right the first time. Let every woman, every man, with a past that you want to keep out of sight hear the news that you, too, may become *necessary* to the healing work of God’s grace. Despite your past (or perhaps because of it), God may use your story as a step along the way to the healing of the nations.

    B. The grace of God is not reserved only for those who have stayed out of the clutches of abusers. People who have been damaged and abused, like some of these women, can find themselves not only healed, but standing at the center of God’s grace.

    C. God is not afraid of our pasts nor our doubtful reputations. In God’s hands, our futures are open and brimming with possibility. [CONCL] On Christmas, God gathers up our broken, damaged lives to weave them into God’s gift of hope. The birth of Christ Child is not just a random act of kindness on the part of *God the Divine Stranger*. The first Christmas was not prepared on some distant planet and only then delivered fully formed to the manger in Bethlehem. In the birth of the Christ Child, God has taken the broken pieces of many lives and placed them one by one until they make the most beautiful work of art. What our ancestors did in desperation, God turned into courage and hope. What our ancestors did in blind trust, God turned into joyous faith. Christmas is all about faith that one day greets God now among us in the birth of Mary’s baby.
    This is the courage and the loving risk-taking that we celebrate at Christmas. God was moving during that time. Christmas is our reminder that God is still moving to heal the earth, the bind up the broken, to bring peace to the people and families and nations.