Lectionary Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

Malachi 3: 1-4 The Compassionate Correction of Christ

This is the second Sunday of Advent. The candle we lit is often referred to as the candle of love. I believe above all else Christmas is about love. John 3:16 the most quoted verse in all the Bible states, “For God so loved”.

Love is the reason Jesus entered this world in the first place. During this season (during every season) our lives should reflect a growing compassion love. It should be out of love, not entitlement or expectation or any ego needs that we give gifts and send cards. It should be out of love that we celebrate the birth of the baby in Bethlehem. It is so easy to love Jesus during this time.

The baby in the manger is so innocent, so cute, so non-threatening. However, love is more than warm fuzzy feelings and a sweet sense of security. Love is commitment. Love is accountable. Love has responsibility and sometimes love must be corrective. Sometimes, to borrow a phrase, love must  be down right tough.

“Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.1 (Job 5:17 NIV)

It is easy midst of the busy-ness that is the Christmas season to forget the reason Jesus came was because of a great human need. We were all going the wrong way. We were all headed away from God and toward an end without hope. Jesus came to give us a chance to be called and corrected. He came to point the way to the way things were meant to be.

But there is a problem. The way things ought to be often conflicts with the way we want things to be. When this happens, love must take corrective action.

In the passage we have read from Malachi, God lets the people know God is going to come and bring correction. God is going to clean and purify. God is going to set things right. Just as a parent who loves a child will correct, even punish the child, to try and change disobedient behavior, so is God is coming to bring correction. God is going to make us righteous. Not because God is an angry, vengeful, hard taskmaster, but because God knows our conditions better that we do and God desires to bring us to an understanding of what we really need.

God seeks to bring us to this state because of his love. Proverbs 3:12 states, “for the LORD disciplines the one He loves, just as a father, the son he delights in.” (Prov. 3:12 CSB)

How does God, the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit go about preparing us for what is to come? There is a process.

First, because God has loved us, Jesus has come to let us know our lives apart from God are wrong. Jesus’s words have the power to convicts. When Jesus came to Peter and demonstrated the power of God was with him, do you remember Peter’s response? Peter stated, “Lord go away because I am a sinful man. Jesus’s presence convicts us when we are not walking with God.

In helping people with spiritual direction one of the rules of discernment is that when we are in sin, the Holy Spirit troubles our conscience. When explaining the ministry of the Holy Spirit Jesus again tells us, “When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: (Jn. 16:8 NIV)

Conviction is a call to change. There is a classic hymn, Love Lifted Me, that goes, “I was sinking deep in sin” and that is our condition until love lifts us out of the pit into which we sink.

Our Lord’s word is truth. It is the truth that frees us and restores us.

Why are you alive? Why were you born? To work for a company who could care less about you other than what you add to their bottom line? To be a consumer so you by all the things that advertisers have created a desire for? Are you here just to become a client, a patient, a statistic, or number?

You have been created for God. Jesus seeks to bring us to this understanding.

Jesus states to the disciples, “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. (Jn. 17:11 NIV)

Did you catch that? That “they may be one as we are one. “We are meant to be one with God. We are not just animals. We are not just employees, consumers, or numbers but the beloved of God.

Jesus lifts  us up so we can see our situation, our real need, our true purpose. He lifts us up and encourages us.

A lot of people live with deep guilt because of what happens in their lives. Guilt is not from God. Conviction that leads to contrition yes, but not guilt, For every verse of Scripture that reminds of our sin there are verses of Scripture that remind us of our destiny. For every recollect of our imperfection there are promise we will be made whole. For every defeat an offer of victory, for every thou shall not there is a but you will. Some think the Christian faith is about restriction, but it is about release.

It is a faith in and for love 1 Cor. 13:4-8 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Jesus lets us know that he will accept us because he loves us. Even when we make a mess of it we can turn to him. But please understand this, Jesus will not force himself on us.  The decision to trust is always our choice.

Jesus told a parable about a prodigal son. The son’s actions caused him shame and suffering. But the we are told he came to his senses.

God will let us walk down the path we are going till we come to our senses.

There is a Christmas song about the coming of Santa Clause.

It goes, ”You better not pout, you better not cry, listen here I’m telling you why, Santa Clause is coming to town”. The song is to remind children they had better’ be good.

I have written a different line.

You had better not doubt, you had better comply, listen here I’m telling you why, Jesus Christ is coming-to town. He knows that we’ve been sinful, he knows how much we ache, he know how hard it is to be good so he gives us the gift of grace.

Jesus came to this world the first time to show people how to love and be loved by God through example and explanation When He comes again it will be hold this world accountable to how we have loved. The question is will we be ready? Who can endure when he comes? Those who have accepted his discipline, those who have trusted his love, they will endure.

What Have You Done for God Lately?

“Perhaps we do not know what love is, nor does this greatly surprise me. Love does not consist in great sweetness of devotion, but in a fervent determination to strive to please God in all things, in avoiding, as far as possible, all that would offend Him, and in praying for the increase of the glory and honor of His Son and for the growth of the Catholic Church.” 
— St. Teresa of Avila, p. 54-5, Interior Castle

(Disclaimer-I believe in the catholic (universal) church, not catholic just in the Roman Catholic Church)

What have you done for God? This may seem like a strange question but I believe it is a question we should be asking ourselves every single day. 

God gives us the commandment to love our God and our neighbors. When we do acts of kindness and compassion to others and our motivation is to love as God loves, then we are doing something for God. When we seek, out of love for God, to do what God requires (He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly1 with your God. Micah 6:8 NIV) we are doing something for God.  When we study the Bible for the purpose of knowing God in a deeper way, we are doing something for God. When we give generously (not legalistically) above what is asked of us we are doing something for God. When we seek to nurture and support faith in others then we are doing something for God.

So, again I ask myself, “What have you done for God lately?”

 

It is Getting Colder

The University of Michigan did this big study on 14,000 college students and what they found was, with the rise of social media and technology, there’s actually a sharp decline in empathy and compassion. The study shows that we as a society care 40 percent less about other people than we did in the 1980s. That’s shocking: we care 40 percent less![1]

The study lists three theories why:

One is that we are more obsessed with ourselves.

Two is that when we are not interacting personally, it makes it easier for us not to care.

Three is that social media exposure to hard times actually desensitizes us.

And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. (Matt. 24:11-12 NRS)

Many, many people in this country were taken in by the deceptive message given by the former president’s words about “America First.” This includes far too many who claim to follow Jesus. Either they could not see the selfish intent of these words or else they did not care.

Jesus said the second most important commandment was to love our neighbor as ourselves (this command did not have an exclusion clause for immigrants). Jesus also gave a rather pointed parable to explain who our neighbor in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

I have discovered that the enemy of humanity is more patient, deceptive, clever, and hateful than most of us understand. This enemy is committed to separating us from God and each other. It seems like this horrid foe is succeeding in its plan. Love does seem to be growing cold.

I do not know if the church has the will or the desire to counter this trend. Currently, I am looking for a new church home. Even though I have been wounded time and time again by institutional local churches and denominational leadership I still believe in the one catholic church. I will seek the Lord’s discernment as to where I will find community. One of the major factors in making my decision will be, “Does this church demonstrate compassion?”  I will look for churches that are not seeing numbers but nurture. I will look for a church that participates in issues of social justice and community care. I do hope I find such a community.

We are not likely to prevent the coming coldness, but a least we can be a small candle that helps slow it down.


[1] https://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/technology-killing-relationships/

I Cancel Culture-d Myself

I decided to make what some might call a radical choice in my life. I made this decision after a time of discernment and evaluating the circumstances in which I live. It has been over a week since I removed myself from the majority of social media in my life by closing my accounts rather than just pausing them. In fact, the only online presence I have kept is this blog. No more Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Linkedin, or Reddit. So far, I feel wonderful and thankful for my decision.

Why did I do this? I did it for my own spiritual and emotional health. I found that social media had more negative effects on my life than positive. I found I was tempted less with anger, frustration, and grief without all the political backbiting, likes, hates, sick jokes, the if-you-love-Jesus repost this, and the often-offensive suggestions and pictures. In fact, I feel, cleaner, less anxious, and even (dare I say it) happier.

I know my choice to go this course is not for everyone. I basically have “cancel cultured” myself. But what about my 600 followers? I don’t think they will miss me very much and even so, I really don’t like the idea of having followers. I don’t mind readers. I don’t mind contacts. But followers, no.

I have not stopped using technology, I just want to be sure the technology I use is helpful to my desire for Kingdom living rather than a hindrance. I fully understand that I need to be connected to others, but for now, I will try and do it the old-fashioned way by building relationships that are based on actual contact rather than just virtual.

A Christmas Lament

I have developed a view of Christmas that is different from the one held by most people (I am making an unqualified assumption here). I do not see Christmas as a happy time by as a time to lament. I know that the angels sang joy to the world when Jesus was born but when I reflect on the come of God-with-us I do not see joy but sacrifice and sorrow. Let me describe why.

The reason for the first coming of the Son of God was to save human beings from the consequences of their sins. If human beings did not sin, then there would have been no reason for Jesus to have left the intimacy of the Trinity and become one with humanity. I cannot think of an analogy that would even come close to the sacrifice of the Son.

I do not think any of us would like to trade places with a garden slug. Would you want to give up your ability to think as we think? Would you like to be limited by a body that moves slowly in the dirt leaving a trail of slime behind? Would you do this knowing you would end up crawling through a patch of salt and would experience the pain of dissolving slowly? This would not be a choice any of us would make. Even if we loved slugs and knew that if we did this, other slugs might not have to crawl through the salt I doubt there would be many takers. As I said before, not a very good analogy.

We do not get a choice about our being born into the human race. If given this choice, some of us, including myself, would have said no way. Jesus made the choice. Jesus made the choice knowing he would not be accepted but rejected. He would be mocked, attacked, beaten, and eventually killed in the most horrible way. Any takers for this kind of destiny? So please forgive me if I do not necessarily jump on the merry bandwagon. Instead, I will add a lament to my Advent focus.

Oh God, hear my cry as I come to you in sorrow and shame.
I grieve that I and my race sin again you. 
I know this causes you pain.
Our hearts are drawn away from you and thus despair and depravity are our common spiritual currency.
We push you away and thus find ourselves the authors of our own corruption.
It is hard to understand why you would tolerate us at all.
We know when you come again you will bring a sword.
None will be able to survive by their own will.

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent 2021

Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

On the first Sunday of Advent we light a candle which is referred to as the candle of hope. It is also called the Prophets candle as it is to remind us of the prophecies given to God’s people, prophecies of promise of a Messiah, a Savior who could lead humanity back to where we belong, into a relationship of Love with God.

The word advent means arrival or coming. Advent, for those who believe in Jesus, is a time of focusing upon an expectation, an expectation that God’s promise will be kept. A time of remembering a promise.

And what promise is that? The promise and prophecy found in Acts 1:11, “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who as been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same you have seen him go into heaven.”

God made this promise and no matter how bad things get, no matter about wars or rumors of wars, no matter about how much immorality, how much crime, or Covid or poverty, or prosecution that comes, God will keep his promise. In just four weeks we are going to celebrate a promise kept.

Christmas was the first advent of Jesus. The advent which was the fulfillment of a promise made by God to the nation of Israel. A promise spoken of in our passage.

The prophet Jeremiah was not well-liked by the people of his time. His message was not one of compromise but of conviction. He did not speak to comfort the people but to bring conviction and contrition. His mission was not to make people feel good but to feel God.

Jeremiah spoke to the people at a time that the people were under attack. Jerusalem was under siege. The people thought just because they had the temple, that they had the Scripture, that they were the chosen, so God would have to come to their aid. The people did not realize their avarice actions, their arrogant attitude, and their acceptance of the amoral had alienated them from God. Jeremiah spoke the truth while other “prophets” told lies. For speaking the truth they threw him into prison.

Poor Jeremiah, he is in jail. He is afflicted, isolated, feeling downright entitled to a huge pity party, and then God comes to call.

If there is one thing I deeply believe is true, God never abandons his own. God never lets the faithful face more than they can endure. And when we need God, God is there whether we are aware or not. As it states in Psalm 145:18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. And, as Jesus told us in Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” God keeps promises. In fact, that is what God came to do for Jeremiah.

God came to Jeremiah to give him a promise. This gives us insight into the nature of God. God is committed to giving us human beings hope. Even though we do not deserve it, even though we often abuse it, that fact is God loves us so much he is always reaching out to us his rebellious children.

A fact made so clear by Jesus and the Scripture which tell us in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Those of us who believe have a wonderful promise, God promised one would come who would bring salvation and safety. This promise would be very comforting to those who we still faithful considering what was about to happen to the nation. For they were about to lose their land, the homes, their freedom as they would be taken captive and exiled to Babylon.

This promise would give them the strength to maintain and to endure during very difficult times. For those who are faithful there is power in such a promise.

What kind of power? The three ABC’s of power, the power of an Anchor, the power of a Base, and the power of Conviction and Courage.

The power to anchor us in the midst of affliction is a power to give us a different perspective, a way to see beyond difficulties and sorrow. There are those days when we do not feel very spiritual. Days in which we are tempted to just give up, to say what the use. We try and be faithful, we try to do what is right, but because of circumstances that are overwhelming we don’t feel we can go on. What can we do?

These are times we need God’s promises to anchor us in our faith. These promises are not some speculative, pie in the sky idealism buy experiential promises backed up by human experience and history. God does what God says God will do.

Not only does a promise have the power to anchor us, it builds a base for our faith. A foundation we can trust. Many of us have been let down by people who have made promises to us. Sometimes we make promises hoping to keep them but then something happens, and we do damage to relationships because we cannot keep our word. This erodes trust.

However, when God makes a promise you can count

on it to come true because God is not limited by human frailty or circumstances. When God spoke to Abraham and told him to pack up and go to a land which God would give him, Abraham responded and God kept his promise. When God told him he would have a son even though both he and his wife were old sure enough God kept his promise. When God told Abraham that God would bless him sure enough God did. So when God asked Abraham to offer his Son,

Abraham was able to trust God enough to believe that even if his son would die, God could bring him back to life.

Promises kept builds trust that can face even the most challenging demands of life. I have seen this in hospitals, jails, nursing homes, and any place where there are those who know God and trust God’s word

Something else a promise can do. The power of a promise can give us the Conviction and Courage to stand strong. A promise that is trusted, believed, and held to can create within us character that knows there is hope and thus gives us strength and assurance to face those challenges which seem hopeless.

As today is the beginning of a new church year, there are many things we could worry about. We have Covid, inflation, racism, brazen and often violent crime, the division of red states and blue states, increasing tension between nuclear-armed nations, consumer driven churches, and a morality based on what brings me pleasure. It is a very frightening world.

But remember, we have a promise, a promise affirmed in a statement of faith, “Christ has died Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. When we make the choice to embrace faith in Jesus, this promise is ours. It is a promise of hope and hope is the one thing that we all really do need.

Is this hope in you? It’s your choice.

The Day after Thanksgiving…Black Friday

For businesses, today is black Friday. Such is the name given to the day after Thanksgiving. For businesses the idea of black is good. Black to a business is when their profit sheet goes from red to black, or so they say.

It is a black Friday for me as well. My view of black (and for goodness sake, it has nothing to do with race) is not as good. For me, black Friday is a day to remember the tragedy, hostility, adversity, and stupidity of the last year.

I try to base my life on the church year rather than the secular one. My new year begins this Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent. So instead of reminiscing on December 31, I do so on black Friday.

This past year has not been a good one for spiritual direction. This last year I was forced to leave a memory care center because I report abuse that was happening there (maybe, just maybe I will quit charging windmills so day….no, not likely). It was a year I had to sit back and watch my wife pushed out of her ministry because she was more about nurture and the pastor was more about numbers. We are now looking at the possibility (only the possibility so far) of being homeless. Well, Jesus was homeless so maybe it will not be the worst thing to happen to us).

This past year was also black due to anti-vax people, trumpites (I will not capitalize this man’s name), gun violence, more revelations of racism in our country, and terror threats. So, my black Friday will be a time of contrition for any part I had such terrible things, repentance for the things I have done and not done, and prayer for forgiveness, guidance, and discernment for whatever is to come.  

I do not know what this next year will bring. Maybe, hopefully, Jesus may return. If not, I hope this next year I can find ways of service to make next black Friday a little less dark. Amen.

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5 NRS)

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays I look forward to every year. I really do not care about the cultural wars’ perspective on this holiday. I really don’t care about the history of this holiday. I care about this day because of its title, thanksgiving.

I practice the examen prayer (or at least try to whenever my alarm goes off on my watch reminding me to do so). The beginning of the examen prayer involves gratitude to God (thanksgiving). When I am reminded about being thankful it brings me a sense of spiritual pleasure.

Spiritual pleasure, what is that? 

Spiritual pleasure is a warm, happy, sense in my soul that arises within me binging with it a moment of joy. It comes when I am reminded to think about my Lord, about my Lord’s love for me and the promises he gives to me through his word.

I often feel this pleasure several time on Thanksgiving Day.

On this day I am glad I am alive.

I Do Not Want to be Called a Preacher or even Pastor

Over forty years ago I deeply believed, felt, agonized over, and finally said, “yes” to the “call” to ministry. I tried not to follow this “calling” for a few years but eventually, I was persuaded (at least I believe I was) by the Lord to follow this path in life. I began a path of education that would include learning the languages the Bible had been written in, learning the theologies, philosophies, and catechisms of the denominations I was affiliated with. I studied how to help people through acts of “ministry” and encouraged them to seek out the expections I believed God had for them as disciples (followers) of Jesus.

The culture of Christianity has radically changed in the past forty years. I watched as the office of pastor changed from that of a trusted position of caring into a profitable “second career for some, a means of meeting ego needs for others, and a place for all kinds of liars, sociopaths, frauds, political hacks, and mental patients to work. I have watched churches allow this to happen and even encourage and empower behavior that is far from the teachings of Jesus.

I am retired, not. If one is called one cannot retire from a true calling. One can be blocked, ignored, discounted, and not “employed”, but the calling of God remains (one of the deep pains I must daily live with at the unemployable age of 67). I know, even when God is silent, that this was my purpose in life.

However, I do not want to be called a preacher or even a pastor because of the derision and depravity that has now been linked to such titles. The enemy has done its demonic work well.

I watched individuals in the last denomination I served work to try and outdo one another in order to get a better-paying church/position. I watched lazy, unethical individuals use the position to promote people like donald trump ( I will not dignify that moniker with capital letters) as the savior of conservative Christianity. I watched them promote anti-vaccination myths, fight against most things related to social justice, and promote a different kind of gospel rather than the Good News of the kingdom of God. So please do not call me by the title they claim. I want no part of it.

Take Two Bibles and Call Me in the Morning

“Can there be a more fitting pursuit in youth or a more valuable possession in old age than a knowledge of Holy Scripture? In the midst of storms it will preserve you from the dangers of shipwreck and guide you to the shore of an enchanting paradise and the ever-lasting bliss of the angels.”

St. Boniface

The above quote reminded me (or better yet brought me to a state of contrition) how important it is to continually read the Scripture when in a state of long-term desolation. This is a basic truth that the enemy usually tries to get us to cease engaging in during the beginnings of its attack on us.

The Psalmist states in Psalm 119:11, I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you. (Ps. 119:11 NRS). The problem for me is that no matter how much I read the Scripture, study the Scripture, and pray the Scripture, I still sin. I likely sin less, but I still sin.

The Scripture does give me spiritual strength. It does give brief reprieve from the suffering that comes with desolation. It does give me a least a sliver of hope that provides a short-term sense of calm and peace. It is not a magic book that can take away all my troubles, sorrow, and pain. Too many people  try and use the Bible in this manner. You will be disappointed if you do.

I am not the Psalmist. What give him peace may not give me peace. What provides direction for him might be confusion to me. Still, the prayers of the Psalms and the reading of Scripture is by far a better choice of help than anything the world offers.