Sunday, December 18, 2016

Joy, Love

Focus: Joy and Love
Function: Advent preparation
Form: Story

Intro: Well, praise God, it looks like we are promised a white Christmas. For me, a white Christmas is another part of my Advent.
This year, Advent has been especially meaningful for me. Maybe it was the task of trying to refocus myself and us on to something more positive, more community orientated after the election cycle so that we can continue the work of Jesus Christ.
All though you missed last Sunday’s worship, the delight of preparing it in the presence of the Lord kept me focused.
We started with how hope helps our Advent. We moved to Peace. And since last week we were to focus on how allowing the emotion of Joy affects our Advent, today we will focus on both Joy and the effect of doing Love. Doing Love.
Christmas Eve, we will focus on Jesus, the Light of the World.
Which leads me to today’s passage.
My morning devotional calendar breaks the book of Isaiah into 2 of its 3 sections. The book was not compiled chronologically, but by themes. I love that because it starts what I call “The Restoration Section” at the beginning of Advent and continues until the end of the calendar year.
But today’s passage comes from the judgment section. Some of the passages are very bleak.
But I noticed something this year while reading. I remember, it was mid October and I was seeking some real hope in my morning prayers and I read Chapters 34-36 on the same day.
In Chapter 34, Isaiah starts listing off just how bad Edom and Judah are going to get it. In Chapter 36, the sad story of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem begins.
And right in the middle of it is this chapter about the future restoration of Israel.
I still have verse 9 memorized in the King James because it picks up the exciting cadence of the joy that is there in the song: “Therefore..., the redeemed... of the Lord... Shall return…,”
There is a garden road blooming right in the middle of a desert to nurture and succor God’s people.
In the middle of all that tragedy, God, God the Holy Spirit, And since the Jews referred to the Holy Spirit in the feminine, I think we need to be more biblical and get used to the idea so, God Herself stops and reminds us of the path to holiness is right there in the presence of God Herself.
The scene described is an impossible scene of a desert blooming as the people whom God rescued are lead home to their peace, rest and security. In the middle of the journey, the desert blossom for those who are not sinners.
There is a contrast in the passage between “the sinners” and “the rescued.”
The popular Christmas song “Mary Did You Know” includes a line from this song written by the prophet Isaiah as well. I wish I had that kind of tenor voice as he gets to a crescendo and shouts out in the song: “The Lame will walk…, the Blind will see…,”
And, it is the next line from verse 5 that sort of places the whole thing in perspective for me when the Holy Spirit promises that “those who cannot speak will shout for joy!”
I think this one fits the most. This imagery is about how the we, the Church, the Kingdom of God that is still here on planet earth and not yet gone to heaven, have the power to create a garden in the middle of a desert when we continue the work of Jesus Christ.
I love Psalms 22:3, “Yet You are Holy, You are enthroned on the praises of Israel.”
We are called to reconnect with the Divine through worship.
Through our joy we rejoice in the presence of God and live in a divine community together.
That is the image that Isaiah creates here.
But there is more.
Now we apply the passage with the theme of Love.
Isaiah speaks of this great community of Love that is so powerful that its effect can create a garden in the desert.
He speaks of our Christian community who also strives to build a garden in the middle of a desert.
It is our motto. We do this in community. We do this together.
And remember, we do that (say it with me) “simply, peaceably and together.”
Now back to the passage, “The Blind will see...”
We do not have the physical power to make the blind see, but we do have the power to inform people about a different way of living.
We don’t have the power to open the ears of the physically deaf, but we do have the power to share good news instead of judgment, fear and hopelessness.
Christians are not greedy people. If one falls into the temptation of greed, it most likely sprouts from listening to all the reasons why we should be afraid and think only of ourselves instead of our community.
Remember the message from John the Baptist about repentance: Sincere repentance, the thing that separated the sinners from the people of God, was that the poorer people appeared to be the only ones who were willing to trust God enough to share.
And this idea, that those who cannot speak will Shout for Joy is important to this morning’s theme.
In the verse, the prophet tells us that the deaf will hear. But he does not say that the mute will speak. The idiomatic expression switches gears and instead of speaking about physical impairment, the Holy Spirit speaks about giving voice to the powerless.
This is something that we have the power to do!
To me, this is a prophecy about hope and the power of our love in the middle of a desert.
Yes, God Herself is the One who makes this road for the righteous, this road of celebration, this road of holiness, this road of redemption but it is with the people of God.
We get this Supernatural image in the prophecy of this holistic place that brings redemption to God’s people.
It might be an image of heaven. It might be an image of the millennial age when the Lion lays down with the Lamb, or...
...It might be an image of the power of the Church to create a new and better world.
It might be the hope of the Christmas story. The hope and revelation that God sees our need, to our weaknesses is no stranger and that we can respond this advent with the simple emotions of Joy, hope, peace and love as we allow the revelation that God did not forget humanity when God became Jesus the Nazarene.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Focus: Peace
Function: To help us be peacemakers.

Intro: John the Baptist was the forerunner to Jesus. He came to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. He was the original Advent calendar.
John was an oddball. His diet consisted solely of grasshoppers and wild honey. He made his own clothes out of camel hair, which is hot, and he wore it in the desert. He was an enigma. He was weird.
John came at a desperate time. And perhaps such an oddball is exactly what they needed. The people were seeking peace and listening to this odd prophet seemed to help them. He did have God’s true message and God’s Spirit was opening their eyes.
And here is what I see about the people’s reaction. The People were sincere (verse 6).
They confessed their sins. Remember JTB’s message was simple living, if you have an extra coat, give it away to the poor and insure your business dealings are honest and etc.
His message of repentance was a message of repentance from greed and selfishness to sharing vital resources because people around them were freezing and starving.
The People repented and confessed the sinfulness of the greed that comes from fear. John told them to trust God again.
They believed him and were getting ready for Jesus to come.
JTB, they do not know, has the dual role of prophet and the first evangelist to call people to come to Jesus Christ. He is literally the first ever Baptist preacher and his version of Christianity is still to be invented because this is before Jesus Himself begins to preach.
He is getting the people ready for the new Kingdom of God which is coming.
His job is to get their hearts prepared spiritually and to convince them that their hope is not in vain.
And it is working!
By the thousands the crowds are leaving the comfort of their homes, traveling into the desert to look at this man who is dressed so oddly simple that he has become an event in history himself. Exciting things are happening and the people, who are desperate, are sincere in their desire to live in a new kind of kingdom where people share resources and love each other as much as they love themselves.
This is pretty exciting. The Christmas Spirit is catching on among the populist.
God’s Spirit is moving and people are responding in a positive way. Hope is reborn, and because of hope, love begins to flourish in little outbreaks of sincere generosity and sharing.
And it is happening everywhere among all peoples near the region. Even Roman soldiers are hearing the words and are so moved that they are willing to lay down their arms and join the movement.
And then the religious leaders are afraid that they cannot control the population anymore.
(hold 2 fingers up) The religious leaders were not sincere. And somehow, John the Baptist, the prophet, sees through their insincerity and shouts a warning to them that we read in Vs 7 “Who warned you that you could escape…?”
Why does John the Baptist make such a blanket statement about these leaders? isn’t that prejudice?
Both Nicodemus and Gamaliel were from this group and they were sincere. Why this judgment against them?
I am going to have to stretch this on the principle that pre-judging people based on their class or occupation is a sin. We label it prejudice when we refer it to race, religion, and gender identity. This is also prejudice.
So why is John prejudiced against the group of people when we have later evidence from scripture that some of them were sincere?
Based on that stretch, I am going to surmise that it is the system that John is decrying.
It really is not that big of stretch because John the Baptist is talking about the Kingdom of heaven. This is huge. This is the introduction to the Jewish people that God is not really that interested in the Jewish nation, or any nation state, God is interested in an heavenly kingdom that refuses to place any earthly kingdom above the command to love one another as much as we love our own selves, our own families, and our own nation.
Again, that is why most Churches of the Brethren do not have American Flags in them. That is another reason why Brethren have refused to take up arms in support of any human kingdom.
And John is laying out the structures, the principles and the looks of this new heavenly kingdom to God’s people.
He says it almost as succinctly as Jesus when Jesus said in the upper room said: A New Command I give you, Love one Another and then, The Holy Spirit is coming.
Although John says it in a negative way, John does say this: “bear good fruit” (verse 10) and let the Holy Spirit change your heart (verse 11).
I don’t know about you, but I rejoice that Salvation, the Salvation, the healing that God has for the world is no longer dependent on the blood sacrifices offered day after day and year after year for 4,000 years.
Instead, the healing and salvation comes from when people are living out the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their Christian lives.
And that is what was happening right then during the ministry of John the Baptist.
There was a revival in Israel going on in the desert. It was indeed a great awakening and a popular movement.
It was healthy, holistic and genuine. It was a picture of what should and could happen when God’s people start living out the love for others that God has given them.
And those religious leaders at this time were concerned that this was a revival that they could not control.
John warns them sternly and in so doing he warns the systems of the world that reinforce selfish living. He condemns greed, especially when others are harmed by ones greed.
Let me put this in perspective.
About 10 years ago I posted on the Internet that I was preaching this passage from the gospel of Luke that emphasizes “he who has two coats should give one to the one who has none.”
My daughter, in complete sincerity asked the group this question: “But what if my coat does not match my outfit?”
The bible says, If you have 2, give one away. Her response, “But what if it does not match?”
That is the perspective we have to approach that scripture with. It is one of privilege that those people could have never imagined. Two coats for a commoner? Impossible!
Of course, I have several hats so that they do match my several coats.
It begs the question. When do I have too many? Of course, we can always point to someone who has more and justify ourselves as not as greedy. But we have to remember this: To the person who has none and is freezing, I have one too many.
It kind of put this whole repentance thing in perspective. The people had a sincere repentance. But those who were accustomed to privilege, in this case, the religiously wealthy class, their repentance reflected their greed. The poor were sharing everything so that they could all survive and the upper class was still hoarding their excess because they believed that somehow they were entitled to more because of what family or class to which they were born.
The elephant is the room is that we too, historically and currently, are in the World’s upper class.
Here is the question for me: What if sharing costs me to much? What price is to much for sharing? Is it the color of my outfit or is it my neighbor’s survival?
The consumerism of our culture is indeed an indictment because I want my daughter’s coat to match her outfit.
These are hypothetical questions for a moment. Indulge me.
Would it have been a sin if my vote was indeed “America first” when the whole system of greed that excuses basic care for the least of these in exchange for my convenience or excuses turning my head away from the poor because serving them would inconvenience me?
Is nationalism a sin?
Well, if it comes before the command to love one another, then yes it is.
I cannot save the world entire. We know that. We also know that we are indeed sincerely generous people who care when others are struggling. We are the kind of people that would sacrifice to help another. Many of us would even give our lives for another.
And Jesus Himself knew that there were sincere religious leaders. I know many!
So I assume, John’s indictment is indeed against systems and not specific people.
John reminds them that it is okay to be good. It is okay to share. It is okay to love the other, the stranger. It is even commanded that we do good.
He preached this message to desperate people in desperate times and started showing them how individually caring for others is the true form of Godliness. It is the gospel fleshed out in their actions.
And that leads us to peace, today’s theme.
Peace comes in the individual nature of our salvation as I stop worrying about how others are doing and renew my commitment to trust God for my resources and continue to share Jesus.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Focus: Advent Hope
Function: To help people hope in the power of Christ to change the world.
Form: Bible Study

Intro: I think I used this as an intro to my first Advent sermon last year, but I just can’t get the idea out of my head.
I love the 4 Themes of Advent because they all focus on the 5th theme from their own particular perspective. The 5th week, Christmas Day or Eve, the focus is on Christ alone. The rest of the weeks focus on Christ from these 4 perspectives:
1st -Hope. 2nd -Peace, 3rd -Joy and the 4th -Love.
We know that great scripture from 1 Corinthians 13: There are three things that remain, Faith, Hope and Love and the greatest of these is Love.
Paul describes emphases on three aspects of our Christian faith as if they are three legs to a stool, the kind of stool I used to use when I was a drummer, it has one strong weight bearing leg and two more for balance.
Hope is one of those other legs that provides balance and support to our faith.
Without hope, faith sort of dies.
But without hope, love is hard to muster.
I believe that Christ Jesus is the source of our faith, hope and love through His Holy Spirit that dwells inside of us.
So again, Brother Paul instructs us to stir up the Spirit of God inside of us.
Today, let us stir up hope.
Our lectionary text goes back to the apocalyptic literature of the time.
We touched on this theme a two weeks ago when we read that there are always times when people are saying that the end is near and most of those events are merely the common stories of tragedy that have occurred during the history of humanity. Don’t panic, seems to be the message that Jesus is preaching.
But here, we read different aspects of the account from Matthew. The scene is Herod’s temple. It was indeed a tremendous wonder. It had a solid gold roof. It was the Roman’s attempt to appease the Jews. They built this incredible temple that took 46 years to build for the Jews, but they also attached the Roman seat of government there to remind them of their domination.
However, the temple was indeed opulent and a fantastic building and it gave the Jewish people a great sense of pride and national identity.
And the disciples are marveling at it when Jesus tells them that before this same generation has died off, there will be a total destruction of this great building.
And tragically, in the year 70, the Israelites rebelled, the Romans came and destroyed all places of worship in Jerusalem, sowed the fertile fields with salt and ruined them and that was the end of the Jewish nation until 1948.
This passage is a prophecy about those events.
Taken at face value, there isn’t a lot of hope offered in this passage. In order to use it to tell us to wait in hope as a symbol for the coming of Christ celebrated at the first Advent of Jesus takes it way out of context.
But, look specifically at verse 42, out of context: 42Watch out, then, because you do not know what day your Lord will come.
In a very real sense, the verse itself is out of context. Jesus is explaining the coming terrible tragedy and then He tells the crowd to watch out for Him in the midst of this calamity.
In the midst of hard times, focus on Jesus. We do not which direction or what source God will use to send us the answer we are hoping for. We do not know if God will send us reprieve. We know this, focus on Jesus.
Jesus is explaining the calamity and He tells them that in the middle of it, stop and look toward Him and for His coming.
What is God doing in the world through this?
What does God want me to do in the middle of this?
And again, by looking at Jesus, we can get some sort of idea.
Jesus tells them that no one knows God’s plan for when God will arrive. God keeps that a mystery. My guess is because it builds faith.
So God, knowing full well that 74 years later, in the year 70 AD, the entire nation that Jesus came to save will be destroyed.
A Jewish/Roman historian, Josephesus, said that they ran out of wood to build crosses because they crucified almost the entire Jewish population. The destruction that Jesus is prophesying about was more brutal than Auschwitz.
I think about that. I read a book written by Rudolf Vrba, an escapee from Auschwitz. The title was “I Cannot Forgive.” In it, the author concludes that there cannot possibly be a God because there is no way any loving God could permit such evil.
And yet, out of that tragedy, the Jewish nation was reborn.
So, back to Jerusalem, AD 30, 40 years before the events of this prophecy and the book of Revelations take place.
Jesus is prophesying a coming tragedy that we know from history was worse on the Jewish nation than the Nazi’s.
People then, just like Mr. Vrba, were wondering where God was and why God was letting this happen.
We, however, from the hindsight of history we could literally answer when they say: “where was God?” with the statement: “God was actually right there, 40 years before.”
Of course, that might not be much comfort, but the point that Jesus is making is this: In the midst of your life, look toward Me.
And that time, the Church was born and the Western culture reset its clock to year 0 to celebrate the first coming of Jesus Christ.
God is at work in history.
And there is much more to this passage.
There is the hope in this passage of deliverance.
Although this part of the story is included in the prophecy about the destruction of Israel in 70 AD, there is also a reference, unique to the Matthew account of this sermon, about the Second coming of Christ.
One of the things I love about Advent and the celebration of Hope and how Jesus taught us to love one another and Jesus’ teachings, if they are ever applied across the world, will indeed bring peace and the coming of God’s kingdom of love, mercy and grace instead of man’s kingdoms of dominance, oppression and exploitation.
I call that “the Christmas Spirit.”
But the other part of the celebration, the hope that still keeps us alive is that Jesus is still coming to us. This prophecy is about Jesus coming again and again into our lives, into the situations of the world, of God having God’s own hand in history.
Jesus is coming again. Maybe that will be when the teachings of Jesus change enough of humanity that we will beat our weapons into plowshares.
Maybe it will be a miraculous Kingdom after a Millennium where Satan is bound in a real live pit somewhere. Only God knows.
But the fact is, Jesus is here. (point to heart).
Jesus is in the face of these children right here. Jesus is in the face of (start naming people).
And Jesus says it like this: One will be taken and one will be left. Taken by whom? Taken by the enemy? Raptured into heaven? The only idea here is that one will be in safety and one will not.
There is a subtle message in it which is “do not be taken unawares.” Apparently our own watchfulness has something to do the outcome or he would not have told us to prepare. But then, Jesus says that we can not be adequately prepared unless we are constantly vigilant.
Is it a warning of fear like “The thief is always there, so you better not sleep tightly, live in fear?” Or is a warning of faith, “keep your eyes focused on Me, Jesus?”
I hear this from Jesus:
Look for Me. (pause)
Look toward Me. (pause)
Look at Me. (pause)
It is Advent, let us look in hope at Jesus.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Seeing the Invisible

Focus: Christ The King Sunday
Function: To help Hope COB interpret Jesus to this culture.
Form: Bible study

Intro: I guess in one sense, next week, it would be appropriate to celebrate the New Year since this is the last Sunday in the Church year and next week starts Advent, already!
Today, the last Sunday in the Church Calendar year is titled “Christ the King” Sunday.
Today, is a day set aside for the global Church to focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Our highlighted verse of Scripture also ties in to the theme of Christ the King, the idea of Thanksgiving celebration.
I love a feast. Feasts are a biblical act of worship. They are a time for us to remember that God is the one who provides. I love the faith and spirit of that first Thanksgiving when after a brutally hard winter where many of those first immigrants arrived and the American nation welcomed us so generously by sharing that feast with us. That feast was an act of faith that even though the last year winter was extremely harsh, their trust was in God for this next winter.
And it was in the faith of Christian love as we, the foreigners were welcomed by people of a different religion and given succor.
Praise God when people live our Christian values across the faiths!
So, I have this dilemma this morning to prepare us for the worship celebration that we will share with loved ones on Thursday so that we can all have more meaningful worship celebrations as we feast together.
By worship celebration, I don’t mean coming to church and singing songs, praying and giving. No, we worship God by living just and grateful lives. We can worship by our attitude of gratefulness and that is why Thanksgiving celebration is so important to us.
And we know the history. I preached a community Thanksgiving service over 30 years ago with the title “Our most Christian Holiday.” I preached it because it was initially a Christian witness to people of a different religion to show them how we as Christians believe in the value of sharing and community for the welfare of everyone instead of for our own selfish interests.
It was the age of modernity and people were laughing at the idea of believing in God. Christians were spending more time defending the idea of God to a skeptical world than they were today. And my thesis was “to whom are you grateful?” It must be a god, so why not join one of our Churches on Sunday? Of course, at a community Thanksgiving service, one is already preaching to the Choir.
I don’t need to preach that message any more. When I preached last year in Hastings, I preached a message about relationship. People don’t want to know if there is a God, they want to know, based on what they hear, if God either loves the world, or if God hates the world. Or, more importantly, people outside the faith want to know if people in the faith will welcome them. The premise came from whether or not we would be as welcoming today as the Native Americans were that first Thanksgiving. I compared how we are supposed to be a Christian nation and they were not.
So, I get President Lincoln’s precedent that we Christians have a witness to those who serve Christ in name only when he called Christians to lay aside the feast and pray for healing.
We didn’t know, at the time, that the Native American culture valued community to the extent where almost everything was held in common by the community. All tools, food and community resources belonged to the entire community. It was a different and very Christ like way of living.
We also know that Thanksgiving celebration started around the time of the Civil war.
The nation was bitterly divided and President Lincoln instituted a national holiday, the last Thursday of November as a day for prayer for our nations healing.
And here we are, half way into the sermon about Christ the King Sunday and all we are talking about is US history and the issue with worship on this morning. Do we join the entire world and celebrate Jesus Christ, the King of heaven? Or, do we join the faithful in our own nation and either commemorate the faith of our forefathers and the generosity of the first Americans or spend the time in prayer for healing?
Can we do both?
And maybe that is the problem with empire and confusing faith with patriotism.
Or, we can frame the question this way, Christian community over Patriotic community?
What happens when both are calling for a good thing?
Like many, over the last several weeks, I have had to examine my own priorities about the second line to the Lord’s Prayer.
Let me remind you, It starts with “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy Name,” and then it is: “...Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done...”
God’s will, not mine.
God’s Kingdom, not any kingdom of men, not even the US.
God has reminded me that as a Christian, I can never vote “MY NATION first” if it causes hardship in another country or damages the planet.
Our first priority is that we constantly pray this: “God, establish the Kingdom of heaven on earth.” This is our regular prayer. That is what Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer.
Based on that prayer this is, or should be, if not explicitly stated, at least implied in the spirit of our requests to God: “God, establish Your love, mercy and justice on this earth.”
That is why President Lincoln asked for a Thursday to be set aside to pray for healing and or worship with a feast.
When the Church focuses on Jesus Christ, the King of Heaven and remembers to place Christ at the position of supremacy, then politics and the fears related to it begin to pale.
We do not know what God is doing in the world.
But, it was a reminder to pray.
We do not have to compromise the Christian calendar to continue to pray and be a blessing to our nation. We use this Sunday to remember that Jesus is King of heaven and no nation state, no matter how powerful is going to change that.
So, let us focus a little bit more on Jesus Christ this morning. Let me re read our text starting at verse 15: 15Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. He is the first-born Son, superior to all created things.
The visible likeness of the invisible God. When we hear the words: “The Word of God” we find a big change in the New Testament. Up until the gospels, it was the OT scripture. After the gospels, whenever they preached “The Word of God” it meant that they were preaching about Jesus.
You see, John calls Jesus “The Word made flesh.” Jesus is God’s self portrait. We cannot comprehend the infinite God, so God gave us a sort of finite picture of God’s own self when God became the man, Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus is the Supreme description of God
Let us read on as we read that Jesus is supreme in all of His own creation:
16For through him God created everything in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen things, including spiritual powers, lords, rulers, and authorities. God created the whole universe through him and for him. 17Christ existed before all things, and in union with him all things have their proper place.
Different translations render these verses different ways. The Jehovah Witness bible says that Jesus was the first thing created and is a created being. But the context seems consistent with the rest of scripture that Jesus, there at the beginning of creation, was in partnership with the rest of the Trinity in the creation of the world.
Jesus is supreme in Creation because He too created the universe and all that is in it.
And then we read how Jesus is supreme in the realms of the Church:
18He is the head of his body, the church; he is the source of the body's life. He is the first-born Son, who was raised from death, in order that he alone might have the first place in all things.
Perhaps more focus has to be on this verse for us to keep proper perspective. Jesus is the head of the Church and the Church must reflect the Spirit and love that Jesus showed to humanity.
We live because of Jesus. And we place Jesus first.
Christ is supreme in the Church.
And Christ is supreme in the universe:
19For it was by God's own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God. 20Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son's blood on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven.
Through the Son, then God decided to bring the whole universe God to Himself.”
God’s purpose was to make peace and reconcile the world to God and each other.
It was so simply put to Jesus, what is the greatest command and Jesus answered with a twofold answer that He equated as one answer:
Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.
In John 13, He said it like this: “A new and singular command I give you, Love each other.”
Jesus said in very plainly in Matthew 25 when He says that when we love the worse of humanity, we love Him. We love God by loving others.
And my thesis this morning is that we can better do that when we focus on Jesus and His calling in our own lives. His calling? Love one another.
When people see us do that, then they too will see the invisible God.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Text: Luke 21:5-19
Focus: Persecution
Function: To prepare Hope to be a sanctuary for the world around us.
Form: GOK

Intro: I learned 1 Timothy 1:7 from the King James Version. It reads like this: 7For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
One of the ways that we can tell we are being led by the Holy Spirit could be a consistency with that verse. When God is leading us, we are not overcome with fear. We do not react out of fear.
No, the Scripture tells us this promise, that God does indeed give God’s Spirit to those who trust in Jesus to save them and that this Spirit of God leads us in faith, not fear, leads us in power, not the weakness that a lack of courage causes and it gives us the wisdom to do it well.
The Spirit God was present when God formed the heavens and the earth, and the Spirit of God is still here today, with us and is still here promising us to be with us so that we can continue the work of Jesus Christ with simplicity, with peaceableness and in our community, together.
Because of the outcome of the election, I am tempted to say that we need the Spirit of God now more than ever. But that would not be true.
In order for us to be and to remain faithful when times are good and also when times are bad, we have always had to depend upon the work, leading and power of God’s Holy Spirit.
God’s Spirit is still leading.
And that introduces us to the theme from today’s gospel Lectionary Text.
We read it in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew has the most complete accounting of it with more detail about the destruction of Jerusalem that happened in 70 AD.
Now the translation that I read this morning is a little bit more accurate than the one I heard it from the first years of my life.
Many of us have heard the line: “when you hear of wars and rumors of wars” as an omen that the Apocalypse is coming.
But right there in the King James verse 9 it says, “But the end is not by and by.” Or the end is not yet near.
I love the way Eugene Peterson tells it in The Message. It is what we read, but these are just routine things, no sign of the end.
The end will be much more than that,” is what Jesus is saying.
Or in other words, there are always going to be people who point to how bad things are, creating a panic in order for you to follow them and you Christians are to remember that the one you are to be chasing after is Me, Jesus.
Do not be afraid.
But the reason that we are not to fear is not because the contract we have when Jesus saved us was also a contract for us to have no problems for the rest of our lives and when we do, we have some sort of Genie in a bottle to magically make them go away.
Jesus then goes on to make it clear that the path forward may also include suffering, but do not be afraid, Jesus is always with us.
So go to verse 12. Jesus reminds Christians that persecution is not a sign of the end times because starting right here He explains that BEFORE the end times, they will arrest you.
The point is this, make up your minds to be faithful. We say it this way: Count well the cost of following Jesus.
So, let us focus all that fear verses faith rhetoric on the events of last week. The fragile balance of power in a two party system that seemed to be gridlocked was indeed fractured last week and that leaves many of us feeling insecure because the status quo, as much as we have complained about it, was at least somewhat predictable and now it no longer is.
Our election system produced two candidates that apparently did not appeal to the population to such a degree that no one could predict the outcome.
And that can be scary. But remember, God is still God and Christians have endured tremendous difficulties in the past. It is actually in those times that we have grown the most and have been the most faithful because at the end of difficult times, we see how God is in control.
I am not saying that we are going to face difficult times, but what did happen is that our sense of security has been shaken.
And it has been shaken much more for people of color, people who were born on the wrong side of some arbitrary line, people of differing sexual identities, and for over half of us in the room, the women. There is also the concern that their voice will be heard even less in cases of violence and abuse.
Those times may be difficult, even for us.
But God has called us as Christians to rise above the vitriol and hatred of this world.
God has called the church to be a sanctuary. Who knows, these walls may literally be sanctuary for a refugee family in the near future?
So, how can we be a sanctuary now?
I think one of the first things to remember is that we are called by Christ Jesus to take up our own crosses to follow Jesus.
We have enjoyed relative safety our entire lives, but that is not what is promised in this scripture.
Who knows what will happen?
We do not.
The Bible tells us that God exists outside of time itself. God does know the future. We can trust and rest in God regardless.
There is no cause for alarm, ever, because Jesus is still Lord of the universe for all eternity.
So how do we become a safe place?
Again, we have to remember that we too, are crucified with Christ and the lives we live no longer belong to us.
Every change is a chance for us to remember to keep faith with our forefathers and mothers who loved Jesus and His cause more than their own lives.
Early Brethren provided Sanctuary for runaway slaves, maybe we will do the same for those who face a deportation that will either cause their death or destroy their families. We want to live and be together with our families, then we must love the other as much as we love ourselves and sacrifice our own property and lives to follow Jesus if necessary.
Many of you have served Christ your entire lives and know that service for Jesus is not easy. We tend to follow Jesus’ teachings more than the teachings of a modern Christian religion that has suborned itself to the doctrine of Empire and Nationalism over the global community of the body of Christ Jesus.
That different view has earned us the accusation that we are somehow unpatriotic. That is not true, we just love Jesus more than country because the Bible tells us to.
Those teachings that focus more on the words of Jesus in the gospels than the doctrine the Empire from the 4th not the 1st century that valued community over everything else have earned us the unfair moniker of being socialists, communists or anti-capitalists.
Those teachings of Jesus where He spent His time with those who were cast out of the society by their race, their physical health, their gender, their past, their present and the sins that they did which were somehow worse than the sins of the religious leaders have earned us the unfair accusation that we do not care about sin. We do, it is just that the teachings of Jesus and the OT prophets call sin for what it is, injustice, exclusion and evil, not condemnation for things like the person we love.
We are following Christ and it has earned us some persecution. Thank you for your faithful testimony.
Kathy and I have learned that following Jesus means accepting the circumstance at the moment that God has presented us.
Jeanie knows, we are selling a beautiful home to move here and live with you. And we are doing it happily because following Jesus requires sacrifice.
Would we not rather be right in the middle of doing the work of Jesus, Simply, Peaceably, Together instead of hunkered down in a corner afraid of the future?
No fear! God is in control.
So how do we provide sanctuary? We need to make up our minds that our lives, our possessions and even this building really do not belong us, they belong to Jesus Christ who bought us with the very precious and dear price of His own blood sacrifice.
Today, we are witnessing to Jesus by focusing on His blood sacrifice as we share bread and cup communion.
However, we have one other witness opportunity for you this morning.
(show safety pin)
You may have heard of a common symbol of hope that people are placing on their bodies. It is given to both sides of the aisle. There are many who voted for the President who are not racist, who disagreed entirely with the way he got elected but were frustrated enough with the system to vote in the one person that they thought could shake up the status quo. Bully for them. It might work. Remember, God is indeed in control and that is where our rest is.
Those people as well have a need to let everyone else know that they adamantly disagree with the racist/fascist comments that have happened both before and after the election.
Whenever change happens, fear rises. And because of the speech and violence that has occurred since the election, America does not feel like a safe place to them.
But Christians on both sides of the aisle are indeed willing to take a stand for a different way of living.
And so, the symbol of the Safety Pin, Safety for “safe” person, or as we are focusing this morning, Sanctuary. It means the same thing. For us, the Church, as the Institution Hope Church of the Brethren and as individuals, we want everyone else to know that we are safe people who will never participate in any violence.
But, this safety pin also symbolizes more. It also symbolizes that if we see an act of injustice, we will intervene.
I lost a very good friend on an airplane ride. We were traveling together about 10 years ago when 9/11 was still fresh in the American Psyche. There was a Buddhist family traveling who were obviously Middle Eastern.
Anyway, Kathy and I witnessed the man and the Stewardess have an altercation. Kathy noticed the man acting misogynistic toward his very pregnant wife. I told her that Middle Eastern cultures are still emerging on Woman’s rights and have a long way to go.
It was a very short, early flight that probably should not have had beverage service. But it was early and passengers were demanding coffee and going to the bathroom a lot.
That man took their toddler son to the bathroom as soon as the bell rang permitting it. The beverage service started. The back of the plane was completely full. The cart was advancing down the aisle and the man with the son in his arms was returning and could not get back to his seat. The Stewardess was right beside Kathy and me.
We saw her permit a passenger to pass her by backing up to the one empty aisle seat, letting the woman in, and then proceeding. It took 10 seconds.
She did this right before the man and his son tried to return to their seats.
But she refused the man who was now holding a crying child that was now screaming for the mother 5 aisles ahead.
The man literally had no where to go and the stewardess rammed her shoulder into the man who was trying to let her pass.
Then, the stewardess accused him of assault.
I spoke up and decried her attitude by saying “but ma'am, the child just wants his mother” and as I was getting ready to point out that she just accommodated another passenger, she pointed her finger at her and threatened to charge me with a felony.
I shut up.
God forgive me.
And we had to wait 15 minutes when the plane landed for US Marshalls to escort the family off the plane.
I started this story with “I lost a friend.” My traveling companion said something about Muslims ought to know their place and obey federal law by complying with the instructions of the flight crew.
But God gave me another chance and it cost me dearly. Because of an earlier delay and the wait for the family’s humiliating escort off the plane were were slated to miss our connection. We had to traverse two concourses to get to our next plane which was already boarding.
As we finally deplaned we saw the family being interrogated by the US Marshalls. And to stop and defend the family was going to cost making our connection, we were in a tight spot.
But here was the actual choice: A vacation in Mexico? Or the incarceration of this innocent family? My pleasure? Or permitting a whole lot of pain?
I chose the family, stopped, explained to the officer that this man was completely innocent, I was right there, the stewardess assaulted him and it appeared to me to be an obvious case of racial profiling. As I was beginning to remind the officer that they were Buddhist and not Muslim the wife bust into joy and tears at my speech and said: “Finally someone had the courage to speak up for us and tell the truth.”
They let the family go and because they were also on our connecting flight, they held up our flight for them.
So what did this cost me?
It cost me my friend. But, I would rather have Jesus.
I am not proud of this moment.
Not in the least and I will tell you why.
The family of color was completely vulnerable and humiliated by the fears of a white person.
And, they were not believed and released until me, a white man, spoke up for them.
White privilege is not something of which I am proud. But if I can use it to be a sanctuary, if we can use it to be a safe place, no matter what it cost, then that is what Christ Jesus has called us to do.
So, come and share the bread and cup of Jesus and if you are willing to be the safe place for others and testify to it with this pin, the so be it.

Luke 21:5-19 (MSG 5-8, NRSV 9-19)

5-6One day people were standing around talking about the Temple, remarking how beautiful it was, the splendor of its stonework and memorial gifts. Jesus said, “All this you’re admiring so much—the time is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble.”
7They asked him, “Teacher, when is this going to happen? What clue will we get that it’s about to take place?”
8-9He said, “Watch out for the doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One,’ or, ‘The end is near.’ Don’t fall for any of that. When you hear of wars and uprisings, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history and no sign of the end.”
9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.