December 17, 2017 – “Life”

Today’s text is from Isaiah 55:1-13.

In this season of Advent, we’ve been waiting. We’ve been preparing. We’ve been hopefully expecting the awaited arrival of our Lord and Savior. And for many of us here and across the world, we wait with heavy hearts.

We wait for a better tomorrow, a new day, a fresh start. We wait for the day when we’re reunited with our loved ones. We wait for something better. This is what the people of Israel were waiting for too. Something better.

We’ve been reading about their exiled lives in the city of Babylon. Far from home, long removed from their traditions – generations have now passed since their exile began. And now they’re receiving an invitation.

They’re hearing this word from God to come home. They’re hearing about buying drink and food without money. This weary and tired people, long lost in exile, hear this surprising word that food and water will be provided free of charge. That this food and drink, this word from God, will provide new life.

It’s quite the invitation to receive. On face value it sounds beyond incredible. Free food? Free water? Listen and live? Exile is over? It almost sounds too good to be true. In this day and age it certainly sounds like a fool’s dream.

We know that everything costs something. Food had to be labored over, cooked, produced. Water had to be pumped from the depths of the earth. You just can’t get these things for free. But in supermarkets they certainly seem easy to come by. Like the Israelites, it’s easy to become satisfied with things that do need feed us spiritually or emotionally.

But then God comes along and offers us an invitation. It’s an invitation that feels foreign and strange. An invitation that invites us to see the miracles of God all around us. An invitation that invites us to let go. An invitation that encourages us to seek life not in earthly treasurers, but heavenly ones.

It’s an invitation that seems so simple yet is so difficult to live out. To see the ordinary, the mundane, the daily miracles that surround us. To see the rain and the snow – this water that we did not pay for – to see this precipitation water the plants of the earth and provide drink for the animals that roam its surface.

To see that this snow and rain cannot help but water the earth. To see that without thought or hesitation every plant and animal receives its life-giving presence – free of charge. So, too, is it with God’s word.

In this season of Advent you are invited to witness God’s presence throughout all of creation. You’re invited to hear God’s voice on the wind, see God’s face in a stranger, feel God’s presence in the rain and snow that falls from the heavens.

You are invited to experience life through the richness and goodness of God. You are invited to be witness to Emmanuel – God with us. Because every day we wait and prepare for the arrival of Christ – and at the same time have the opportunity to witness this presence around us.

A presence, a gift, a life-sustaining and creating promise from the God of all creation. A gift that can never be taken away, lost, stolen, or destroyed. For no matter what exiles may come our way, we can know that God will deliver us. Sometimes today, tomorrow – other times, like the Israelites, we’re called to wait.

But as we wait we do so with the promise from our Lord and Savior by our side: The promise that when God forgives you, you are forgiven. That you are a child of God. That this day and always salvation is yours.


December 10, 2017 – “Hope”

Today’s text is from Ezekiel 37:1-14.

We’re getting to that time of the year where the air makes you catch your breath. Those frosty mornings when you step outside and the icy air burns your nose and your throat.

I’m not a fan of these days. Why we live in a place where it hurts to breathe is beyond me. And yet with each breath, with each passing moment that cold air rushes into our warm body, we’re reminded of God’s very presence.

See, for the majority of our lives breathing is something we don’t even think about. The oldest parts of our brain handle this basic yet crucial aspect of our lives.

So, it’s on the rare occasions where we’re reminded of our breathing, where we can actually feel the cold rush of air burning down our throats.

Because God is in the air. God is on the wind. God’s breath of life is on your lips. And with God’s Spirit, God’s breath, God’s life giving presence by our side, we have nothing to fear.

But that’s easier said than done. The people of Israel have grown weary in exile. They’ve lost their sense of purpose, identity, they’ve given up hope.

This hope piece is crucial. Hope of returning to Jerusalem. Hope of resuming their old lives again. Hope that God would rescue them now.

Hope is a beautiful thing. It motivates us. Encourages us. Lifts us up. Reminds us that tomorrow will arrive.

But then there are moments that catch our breath. Moments that would take the hope from us. Moments that can turn into days and weeks and months and years and lifetimes.

Moments that catch our breath and make us swallow in the icy air of desolation and fear.

This is the field of bones Ezekiel finds himself in. Bones that represent a people in exile that have lost all hope. Bones that represent a people who have been cast out, thrown into the fiery furnaces, and told this moment, this icy air, is going to last a lifetime.

But as Ezekiel stands there he realizes he’s not alone. The wind, the breath, the spirit of God fills the valley. And it fills Ezekiel, and the people, with hope.

Because we worship a God of reversals. We worship a God of surprises. We worship a God that turns everything we know upside down.

We worship a God that takes death and makes life. A God that is visibly, audibly, and physically present in every breath you take.

Now this wind, this breath, this spirit of God doesn’t promise to instantly reverse our problems. For the people of Israel there was no getting out of exile so easily.

The same often holds true in our lives. That sometimes no matter how much we pray the disease remains. Sometimes our family won’t get back together. Sometimes a job falls through. Sometimes we can’t afford to pay our bills and buy food. Sometimes it feels as if we too, like the Israelites, are stranded.

Stranded with no chance of getting out. The icy air has caught itself in our throats and these moments that can turn into lifetimes burn with each passing breath.

But know this: God is in the wind, God’s very breath gives you life. For it’s in these moments of pain, moments of exile, moments of fiery furnace, that we can have hope.

For you have the breath of God. You have the Spirit of God by your side. You are created in God’s image. And this spirit of God will give you new life.

For it is in these moments, the moments where we catch our breath, that we realize God was with us the whole time.

This is the promise we wait for in Advent: The promise of God with us. The promise that God’s spirit will never leave our side.

Sometimes that breath will be easy to take, yet oftentimes it’ll be as difficult as a cold and snowy day.

But you can have hope because our God turns death into life. Our God takes a valley of desolation and turns it into a mark of creation.

It’s not always easy. This vision shown to Ezekiel of dead bodies coming to life was not going to immediately change the fortunes of the Israelites. Exile couldn’t end that easily.

Just like how oftentimes pain and suffering remains in our lives. Not because we deserve it, not because God has ordained it, but perhaps because there is a season and a time for everything.

As we wander through this Advent season with snow on the ground and cold in the air we do so with a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

We hope, we wait, we pray. We hope for the promise coming of the Savior, and we wait and pray with the very breath and spirit of God by our side. For you are never alone: God is with you.

December 3, 2017 – “Defiance”

Today’s text is from Daniel 3:8-30

Cows. For every three Americans there is one cow in the U.S. – or should I say, bovine – the all-encompassing term for this species. Because you’ve got bulls, mavericks, calves, heifers, steers, oxen, beef cattle, dairy cattle, and of course, cows.

Nearly one-hundred million cattle roaming the countryside. Now, here in the U.S. we don’t consider cattle anything too sacred – of course farmers are going to consider them part of their livelihoods – but here in the city we don’t see cows too often.

Which makes the term “sacred cow” even stranger for our American ears. This idiom in English comes from the fact that for many religions and peoples across the globe cows are considered sacred. They’re simply crucial to sustaining life – they provide work in the fields as oxen, they provide meat as beef cattle, they provide milk as dairy cattle – they’re truly the lifeblood for many people across the millennia.

And so we get the term “sacred cow”; and according to the folks over at Merriam-Webster it’s something that is “unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition”. Unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have run into a sacred cow in today’s reading. As we heard last week the people of Israel are in exile in the city of Babylon. And the king of Babylon couldn’t care less about the religious beliefs of this exiled people.

These three won’t worship this sacred cow – this idol before them – this thing that wasn’t the Lord God.

And so there are consequences. We’re told they don’t care. They tell the king, “We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us. But even if he does not, we want you to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

But even if God does not. They’re defiant. They spit in the face of the king. They claim, on their lives, that nothing is more important than the Lord their God. That no matter what happens they will have faith; that nothing the king can or will do will remove their faith in God.

What a faith to have. It’s not a faith and trust that requires God to save them in that moment. It’s not a faith or trust that must be propped up by miracles. It’s a faith that is grounded in the deep foundations of God’s promise of salvation. It’s a faith that doesn’t waver in the face of adversity or fear. It’s a faith that doesn’t budge even in the face of death.

And so these three are free. They’re free to go about their lives living out the principles and foundations of their faith. They’re free to go toe-to-toe with the empire and their sacred cows because God has already taken care of them. So, they have nothing to fear.

But to have this type of trust in God’s promises is incredibly difficult. To live out God’s justice and righteousness in the world without fearing the consequences or retribution from those who demand allegiance to their idols and sacred cows is frightening.

Take the continued reckoning on the numerous men who have been accused of sexual harassment recently. Males in positions of power have always been unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition. Women across this country, and the world, have faced this idol and found themselves powerless. Even when they have come forward – when they’ve felt empowered and free to speak out they’ve seen the fires as a consequence – they’ve been called liars, threatened with lawsuits, told they should’ve spoke up sooner – all hell breaks loose when these men have found their idol status beginning to crumble.

And so, like the king, they turn up the flames, they dial up the heat on the furnace of deniability. And so many women are faced with a choice: Be called a liar, be told they’re political pawns, be told that sacred cows will burn up anyone in their path who dares oppose them; or, or, be thrown into the fire even if no one comes to save them – all in the name of justice.

Or take the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. In the spring of 1963, King was in jail. His disapproval rating hovered around 37% – but it would get worse – three years later, just two years before his assassination, it landed on 63%. 63% of Americans disapproved with Martin Luther King, Jr; a number today that stands at only 4%.

But back in that Birmingham jail, King wrote this: “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

“Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake.”

One week before this letter was written marches and sit-ins had been occurring in Birmingham. A week after these began a judge decided People of Color needed to remember their place – needed to remember they must bow to the idol of racism.

And so, an injunction against parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing, and picketing was implemented. Two days later, King was arrested; arrested for not bowing to the idols and sacred cows those in power demanded he follow.

The flames were fanned, the furnace set to high; because when sacred cows are challenged all hell breaks loose. A landscape that made 63% of Americans disapprove of Martin Luther King, Jr.

And so, as we enter this season of Advent with our focus of “Holy Darkness” we’re reminded that engrained in our minds as a society and culture are the ideas that light is good and dark is bad; that white is pure and black is bad.

We’re reminded of all the ways People of Color are still demanded to bow to idols of racism and white supremacy – sometimes even derogatorily told to stand – all to the gods we’ve created.

Holy Darkness reminds us that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Holy Darkness asks us to uncover the sacred cows and idols that exist everywhere in our culture. Holy Darkness invites us to walk with the oppressed into the flames of fury because there is only one god that we worship: The God of new and abundant life.

We’re reminded that civil disobedience is usually not accepted by the majority of society – by those in charge of the idols and sacred cows. We’re reminded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood in defiance to those in power and refused to bow to their sacred cows. We’re reminded that women across the world are unveiling the abuses and harassment they face on a daily basis. We’re reminded that acts of civil disobedience by Martin Luther King, Jr. were once as unpopular as Colin Kaepernick.

And so this day we pray for courage. We pray for justice and not silence. We pray for faith that can move mountains and faith that is rooted and grounded in the foundation of salvation found in Jesus Christ. A faith that cannot be moved come hell or high water or the fires of the hottest furnace when idols and sacred cows are thrust before us.

For our God has saved us. There is no doubt, no question, no reason to not believe you are redeemed through the death and resurrection of your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

And so we pray this day that like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego we have the courage to challenge the unchallengeable. To question the unquestionable. To face the fires of oppression and continue our march for justice anyway, for the God we serve will deliver us.

But even if, even if God does not, our ultimate deliverance has already been secured in the hands of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For nothing – not even the burning fires of death – can separate us from the love and salvation of Jesus Christ.