Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pic Stitch

PicStitch Hebrews 2:10-18
As we sit here nestled between Christmas Day and the start of the New Year, we are surrounded by memories. They may form a pretty collage or they may be jagged at the edges torn in half to delete a person, or with some blacked out faces or places we would rather forget. In the age of computers, that is the joy of apps such as pic stitch. With this app, on the fly, I can sort through the photos taken on my phone, make my image skinnier, prettier, bigger or smaller and blot out that ex or the person photo bombing my favorite picture deleting the unwanted background or person from a shot that was supposed to show special time with a best friend.

Magazines and media review the year in pictures. We review highlights and biggest news events and look forward with hope of what is next. Even though we are still in the season of Christmas, Christians quickly move past the baby in the manger. As Theologian Johnny Hill puts it we have shifted our attention from the manger and the baby and can now “truly marinate in the glory and mystery of incarnation.” So perhaps it is fitting that the scripture today is a collage of images for Christ – an overview from his life on earth – what he meant to us. Stitching together images/different roles Jesus held for us in a collage of sorts What does it mean to follow Christ? How do we marinate in the incarnation? The author of Hebrews summarizes well what the incarnation means by weaving together pictures/images of who Jesus was and is:

We are brothers and sisters. Christ was one of us, desiring relationship, wanting to be with us. Rather than sitting on a mountaintop and viewing human lives from afar, Jesus came into our world as a human in the muck and struggle embracing the average and underprivileged. This means to us that we are never alone. Throughout our lives in times of darkness, we are promised a light. If you have siblings, you know that not being alone doesn’t necessarily mean things are a bed of roses. A life of ease is not what this promises. Brothers and sisters, challenge and prod as often as they support. Yet, Jesus as the ideal brother will never abandon us. We are never alone. Jesus claims us and praises us in the midst of the congregations. The brother who deeply loves us.
A second part of the picture is Christ as the pioneer. Yet this Greek word meant a bit more than we give it today – it is translated differently by the major translations of the bible – meaning captain, author, leader or pioneer. Yes, he will lead the way. He leads the way in life through turmoil, suffering as a human alongside us. As author, he is still writing and re-writing the scene. And as captain he is part of the team not simply giving instruction and watching others carry it our but travelling alongside us. He leads to the goal.
When we think of perfect, we think of things being orderly and organized without flaw. Perfecting here is more like accomplishing a goal. Jesus came among us to accomplish a goal of reconciling us with God. Christ does not lead the way by getting out front and telling us what to do but rather pushes from behind and holds our hands in our midst with parables and as an example. He was a pioneer in forging into new territory, an author rewriting the story encouraging us to see things differently. Dwelling among us and in example after example working with the poor and outcast to overcome lives of fear. Jesus turned the norm on its ear showing leadership by grace rather than law and obedience through fear.
But that is far from all: Christ shatters the biggest fear - hold of death on us. We tend to be ruled by this greatest of fears, what happens after? Especially in our modern culture, we work to do everything to postpone death with medical treatments and even extremes of life support. Once someone has died, we are largely uncomfortable talking about it using many euphemisms rather than saying the words he or she died.
By coming among us and suffering death, Jesus conquered death and led the way again. Death does not mean separation from God but the opposite of openly being with God. No longer something to be feared but a final comfort, a culmination of this precious relationship. In his Christmas Eve Mass, Pope Francis said, "On this night, let us share the joy of the Gospel. God loves us. He so loves us that he gave us his son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats, 'Do not be afraid,' ... And I, too, repeat, do not be afraid,'" the Pope said.
The pope continues, "Our Father is patient. He loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightened the darkness. Our Father forgives always. He is our peace and light."
My first call as a minister was to a church in West Fort Worth. To get there, I had an hour commute each day. Along the way, I saw many things. One of the most profound was one day when traffic we seemed to slow to a crawl for no apparent reason. Slowly I saw the reason why. One of those trucks that carry mirrors and windows had lost one of its windows – shattering the glass across the highway. Rather than just speeding along on his way, the drive had gotten out his push broom and was sweeping the lanes. All alone in the highway with cars racing by, this lone man was gathering up each piece of mirror.

For St B. Christmas Eve service, Tom Gibbon’s illustration spoke about how Jesus is the light, and we are the mirrors, reflecting that light into the world. The light is the most important, but each reflection has value too. Like the man out on the highway with a single broom, Christ carefully tends to each of us despite the odds or seeming impossibility of each piece mattering. In a world of millions of pieces with divisions constantly happening. God is gathering and holding us all together, melding us back into one big picture. Perfection, the goal is working toward unity in a world where that is not a priority or goal of the powers that be, unity with God and with others.
And, each and every scattered mirror piece is important to Christ, and has a job in how it reflects His light back into the world. Take the simple example of the man sweeping the street, he reflected God’s light into the world with something as simple as making the street safer regardless of how large the task. Look at Pope Francis. There was a record number of people lined up to attend his Christmas mass. He leads not by dictating, not from a platform on high removed from people but by speaking their language. Instead of staying behind protective barrier, he shuns many of the signs of his office and the glory of his position, By example he mirrors light in the world reflecting God’s love in his service - kissing the afflicted, washing feet of women prisoners and feeding the poor.
As we continue this Christmas season, we celebrate the miracle of the messiah. We sing and rejoice on the gift of a baby. We celebrate a brother, leader and conqueror. Moving into the new year, the light shines brightly conquering fear of death. And the Author of all creation continues to write the story reflecting off each of us We are the pic stitch woven and being woven together to reflect the light and love of Christ back into the world. Amen

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Xmas Time

Christmas Eve Sermon on Luke 2:1-20

I think it took maybe 5 minutes before there was a knock on my door after turning in today’s sermon title. Ever careful, our church secretary Carol wanted to just make sure that I really meant it when I put the sermon title down as Xmas instead of spelling Christmas out. Rightly so, she wanted to make sure that I knew what I was doing printing the title this way. Yes, it is on purpose!

With a husband who works retail, I am very aware of the retail side of Christmas. This year has been especially interesting watching the news and social media grab the argument and embrace the season in a so-called War on Christmas. News channels debate the reason for the season, comedians have a heyday picking apart their words, televangelists and even politicians – maybe especially politicians - all want to have their say on the importance of Christ and not letting our secular society heist the season and leave out Christ.

Rachel Held Evans notes that perhaps leaving Christ out may not be such a bad thing! What would happen if the Christian holiday was made distinct – completely separated from the consumerism and holiday hoopla? They can keep the candy canes, Christmas trees, Santa, frantic parties and commercialism. Maybe, just maybe then Christmas would be more authentic. In the time of Jesus it wasn’t a matter of forcing the mighty Roman empire to acknowledge this group as a force or power to be reckoned with – indeed, Jesus was placed in a manger because Augustus demanded a count of citizens so that he could get as updated a count for taxes as possible.

The important part for us is not the recognition or the authority of the group to be equally represented. The importance for us as Christians is to take the time to remember who Christ was and is in our lives. Christmas is a time of radical hospitality, amazing grace and love that defies all norms. Jesus the Messiah did not have to mandate equal time in the society with laws and representation instead HE was a magnet that attracted and amazed despite being so very counter-cultural.
As Frederick Buechner said, “Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one.… The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery …. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful.”

Why now is it so important to us that Christianity is a culturally accepted thing? Yes, I find it comforting, and I am not giving up my cookie exchanges, decorated tree or manger scenes. But Christmas is about more! Let’s take a fresh look at the words from Luke. A historian pointed out that the most important messages in the Christmas story in the gospels is not the history of the tale but the theology. For example, he pointed out that for a census, Joseph would most likely not have drug his pregnant wife across the land. He simply would have registered for her as the male of the family – he certainly would have had that authority to do so without her there in that day and age. So, why was Mary there?

Mary with Joseph is not only showing the loving support of family but also the protection that Joseph offered under the circumstances by keeping Mary close to him. It’s all about relationship – and that’s the theology. The main way we form and show our love in relationships is through our time – how we spend it, who we spend it with. Time, that most precious of commodities, seems in especially short supply in a season when we are called to be remembering and celebrating the wonderful miracle of Christ. The man who called upon us to turn our priorities upside down from what society expected. A God for whom relationship was so important that Jesus was born in human form to spend time among, with, and as one of us.

How was this gift of time spent? The Luke passage emphasizes suddenness and haste in the angels presenting their message and in the shepherds getting to Jesus to see. Amazement and awe were the emotions present. Here, presented to them, the common man - shepherds who weren’t the most desired of company – given to them to see was this amazing gift of a baby.

There was no room at the inn, but Jesus was born surrounded by a family who loved him. We lose the importance of this message when we try to plan everything and have it all be in an acceptable format – the main street with the proper banners, the highway with appropriate billboards accepted by society. WE want a Christmas party not a Holiday Party in our schools and workplaces. In trying to defend the faith, we are losing one of the most essential components. Jesus wasn’t about being accepted by the powers that be or the most popular message in town. Jesus was about taking the time to offer an amazing message of awe and grace to the least of these. Not the equals in power but the outcast – often the very people who nobody worries about how you talk to them! Are our inns full of trying to make sure everything is planned and fits with society? What do we need to make room for in our inn – in our banks of time, how are we spending this commodity? How are we using our time to further Christian relationship?

What does Jesus coming among us move us to in relationships? What do these relationships demand of our time? The significance of a humble birth demands central place – Christ fits into our messy chaotic lives more than into our planned, orchestrated moments. We like our happy, planned manger scenes with everything arranged just so – after all isn’t a part of this that there will be peace on earth? Maybe we have even tamed the word peace!

Our cultural understanding of peace definitely implies the absence of chaos. Yet Jesus had deep, abiding peace in his life and it was definitely chaotic. The Greek word used here emphasizes more a reconciliation between people rather than the absence of trials. This is the Good News of Christmas. The counter cultural, the use of that precious gift of time with all people in relationship of love not law. God took time to spend with us. In this birth story of Christ, the Messengers of God declared that through the birth of Christ, God and humanity would be united again. Amen