Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thoughts from the Pulpit

Pastor McCarty's Sunday Sermon
Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA
December 6, 2015 Luke 3: 1-6
2nd Sunday of Advent
Tags: Luke 3

The world is messy, you understand that reality. In the midst of this messy world, God has provided this worship service to remind you of his affection for you. I will return to that point.

First, I encourage you during this advent season to sit down and read the gospel of Luke from beginning to end. You probably can read it in two to three hours.

You know the best way to start studying the Bible?

This is a joke by the way. I tell you that so that when I give you the punch line you know you have permission to laugh.

My younger son brought home from school a random acts of kindness calendar for the month of December. Wednesday was “Tell a person a joke and make them laugh.” So we sat around the table for breakfast Wednesday morning and told a bunch of light bulb jokes. (How many charismatic pentecostal missionary children does it take to change a light bulb?) I will save those for Epiphany.

This joke is appropriate for today. What is the best way to start studying the Bible?

You Luke into it? You (Look) into it?

So again (anyhow, I will work on my delivery) I encourage you to break open your Bible during your preparations for Christmas and read the Gospel of Luke in the next two weeks. As you read the Gospel of Luke, you will get this sense that even as God works in the world, something bigger is about to happen.

God is at work setting something up and building anticipation.

The first chapter of Luke begins with the Angel Gabriel appearing in the temple to Zechariah and telling Zechariah that his and Elizabeth's prayers have been answered and they will have a son, who they will name John, and John will be great in the sight of the Lord. And then next Gabriel goes to Mary and calls her blessed by God, and she to will conceive a child. Then the pregnant Mary and the very pregnant Elizabeth get together and the child in Elizabeth leaps at the arrival of the mother of our Lord. And Chapter 1 of Luke ends with the birth of John and Zechariah's song of praise that we read in the place of our Psalm this morning.

A lot happens in Chapter 1 of Luke, 80 verses, 4 different scenes, three ordinary people that God chooses to work through—Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah. One extraordinary person, John the Baptist who leaps in the womb upon the arrival of Mary. And even this extraordinary prophet, pales in comparison to the one who is to come. A lot happens in Chapter 1 of Luke, but we have this anticipation that something even bigger is about to happen.

This brings us to Chapter 3, the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry. Chapter 3 begins with a litany of names of almost extraordinary people, almost extraordinary except for the fact that they behave in less than ordinary ways. And behaving in less than ordinary ways, they have made a bit of a mess of the world in which this story takes place. Almost like the start of a joke: an emperor and four governors were lost in the dessert. Or a father and a son went to church one day. (Annas and Caiaphas, the two high priests were father and son in-law. The story is that Annas was forced into retirement by Tiberius.) If this is the start of a joke, it is the start of a bad joke. The Emperor of Rome, the Governors, the high priest of the temple and the former high priest had the power and position to do something incredible. They had power to save lives. Instead the word of God comes to John in the wilderness, in the middle of nowhere and that gives start to something incredible. His words and the prophet's Isaiah words prepare the world to receive the Messiah.

And you and I know if the word of God is active in someone, something great is about to happen. When I set up the joke at the beginning of the message, you may have had this sensation, anticipation, that you were going to be either mildly disappointed or somewhat amused. When God sets things up, when you see God active, when God is active in someone and you know something great is about to happen, we call that hope. The hope of God acts as a powerful force in the world.

The world even two thousand years after Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Philip, Annas, and Caiaphas, (the world) is still messy. We can no longer blame that on them anymore. We find ourselves waiting for the next explosion or gunshots or frightening medical diagnosis. In this world God acts for good. His word is on the lips and in the hearts of thousands and millions of men and women. They gather for worship because they know God cares, and we refuse to live in a messy world without hope. This worship is a reminder that hope is for you as well. His holiness, his affection is for you. The coming Savior is for you. With everything going on in the world, be reassured that God is there sharing his love and offering his hope. And yet still, God is here with his hope and his affection for you today and always.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

First Sunday of Advent

Pastor McCarty's Sunday Sermon
Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton, VA
1st Sunday of Advent
November 29, 2015
Luke 21: 25-36
Tags: Peace, Quilts, Advent, Luke 21

This Sunday we have with us three peace quilts that were made by the people of Staunton as part of last years Peace Rally in Gypsy Hill Park. These quilts are the joint effort of children and adults, some adults parents, some adults grandparents and some of the adults who have yet to have or never had children. When I saw the quilts I recognized some of the names on them. [Read some children's names from quilts. Acknowledge two adults whose names are on the quilts]. I will read some of the quotes later, yet...

As you hear our scripture passages for today, you need to have the context of peace in your heart and on your mind. Because when you have peace in your heart and mind, then you will understand why Advent begins the first week with the anticipation of Christ's second coming. You celebrate this first Sunday of Advent in anticipation of the return of the Prince of Peace.

The attacks in Paris have made people uncomfortable, again. Heightened security surrounded the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. I would guess heightened security in our airports as well. People are nervous.

Closer to home, Chicago Illinois has been on edge this week as a 13 month old dash cam video of a police shooting was finally released. City residents and officials feared protests would turn to riots.

Before you lament how the world is changed, remember how on edge the world was before World War II, or at least what you heard about that time. The world was on edge when Nazi Germany was building military forces and annexing Austria and occupying Czechoslovakia and commandeering Jewish businesses and homes and destroying Jewish lives.

And before that worldly trauma, how the depression engulfed this country in deep poverty.

And also, for more of you, in your life how civil rights protesters were not always welcomed in communities where they marched.

It has been 150 years since Staunton experienced the ransacking and fires associated with war, which means not in our life times. And over those 150 years, this community has forgotten what that occupation and destruction was like. Though in other ways you have experienced the tribulation and uncertainties connected with having family members go overseas to fight.

Luke writes a gospel passage, the one that we read this morning, that is as fascinating as it is unsettling. Few Christians doubt that Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple. Even if Luke writes this after the temple has been destroyed, Christians do not question that Jesus prophesied the destruction as part of his teachings. None of Jesus' predictions however describe the horrible onslaught against human lives connected to the temple's destruction. In his book the Jewish Wars, the Jewish historian Josephus records the brutality of the siege by Rome by participants from both sides of the conflict as well as residents starved out during the siege. All I can say is worse than the destruction of the World Trade Towers, worse than Sherman's march on Atlanta, worse than Gettysburg or Antietam. When the first Christians heard what Luke wrote, they wouldn't need to be reminded of what happened in Jerusalem.

They had their Jerusalem. We have France, the World Trade Towers, WWII, the depression, civil unrest and discrimination. We have our own unrighteousness and slowly over the next thousand years these too will fade from memory. What will last? Verse 33 tells us what will last. “Heaven and Earth ill pass away,” Jesus says, “but my words [Jesus words] will not pass away.” These words proclaim truth and grace, reality, forgiveness, and hope. As your redemption draws near, as the second coming draws near, as peace draws near, the words of Jesus will stand strong. And these words, his words, will inspire.

Here are some of those quotes about peace.

Peace is when you are free of fear.      Nancy with drawing by Rony
Share your Birthday presents.      Camryn
Birds chirp a peaceful song.      Samantha with drawing by Lele and Nalia
If you chop down trees, plant new ones.       Sydney with drawing by Charlotte

All of us who live and have faith understand that part of our ministry is to work for peace that will only fully arrive in the return of Christ the savior. We will see fruits of that peace, like panels on these quilts and you will receive words of hope that remind you that you are not alone.

Knowing and Loving our Neighbors,
   even if we don't really like them.       Beverly with drawing by Julian
Peace is no fighting. Everything is Awesome.
   Everything is Awesome.       Carter with drawing by Emmitt.

I am fairly certain I have said this before. The liturgical church year begins right where it ends: with readings focused on the end times, the eschaton. In Advent, this focus reminds us as we prepare to celebrate Jesus nativity, that we also await his coming again. We want [desire] Jesus to come again. We want all of creation to experience the peace that God intended.

Peace is a new generation of children who are taught to choose love.
      Emily with drawing by Andrew.