Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Advent Begins this Sunday!!!

Happy New Year!!!!!  No, this is not a very early New Year's wish.  The First Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the Christian Year, so this Sunday is like New Year's Day of the Christian Church.  We begin a new phase of our three year lectionary cycle so we are now in Year A, back at square one after traveling through all of the cycles and this year we will have Matthew as our main Gospel of focus.  All that many not mean much to the average church goer but for pastors it makes sense.  We are beginning again on our travel through the Christian Year.

The First Sunday of Advent marks the season of waiting, watching, and hoping for the return of the Messiah.  Advent offers us a two prong perspective--we wait for the Messiah to come at the End of the Age (whenever that may be) and we wait for the Christ-Child to come once again into the manger on Christmas Eve and into our hearts daily.

Advent reminds us of the familiar stories connected to the birth of Jesus, taken mainly from the gospels of Luke and Matthew.  Those stories give us two perspectives taken from the points of view of Mary and Joseph as they hear the good news of the birth of the Messiah.  Of course, at first it is  not good news to them.  Mary is a teenage unwed mother and Joseph is her fiance who is considering calling off the wedding because he thinks she has been unfaithful to him.  Luckily, God intervenes and both are convinced that this is a special gift sent by God to the world.

This week's readings are not as cheery or holiday mood inducing.  Matthew gives an apocalyptic portrayal of destruction coming to Jerusalem with the warning to "stay awake" and "watch" and "be ready" because you do not know when it will happen.  Paul warns the church at Rome to "wake from sleep" and to live honorably because the end could be near.  Isaiah is not as foreboding, however, and promises that a day is coming when throngs of people will stream into Jerusalem learn the ways of peace, putting their weapons aside in favor of farming implements.  All of humanity will learn to walk in the light of God.

This First Sunday of Advent prepares us for the future.  The end is coming, indeed!   One day God will right every wrong and all will live in peace and safety.  We do not know when that may happen but we are to be ever vigilant, on guard, watching for the signs that will point us toward this reality.  It also teaches us to watch and wait, and stay busy doing what Jesus taught us to do while we wait.  Jesus did not want people just to sit and wait idly while the rest of the world evolves into evil and sinfulness.  He taught us to minister to those who needed us and to spread the good news of his love throughout the world.

The revelation of God's grace may not happen in a large dramatic way in our lifetimes.  It may take eons before it comes to pass, but we are urged to be on guard and ready, for we do not know when it may happen.  God's vision of peace and harmony among the nations is something that only God can make happen but we are God's messengers of peace and until it is a reality we are to be proclaiming that vision for all to see with eyes of faith.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Zusammengehorigkeitsgefuhl- What does it mean to you?

The German language contains many compound words that are tongue twisters to be sure for those of us who are native English language speakers.  Some words are fairly easy to pronounce and we often have fun with them bantering around the few German words that we may know.  Each year our community has a festival that has a German name--Gedenke!  In German it has a pronunciation of something like "Guh-dunka" but our little Texas town chooses to call it "Guh-dinky".  It translates into "remembrance" or "thankfulness".

The word that I put in the title to this blog posting is a real German word.  It is a long compound word that has a meaning of "togetherness, communal spirit, or sense of a common bond".  It is the feeling one gets from being part of something much bigger than what we are alone.  I learned about this word from reading an article that our son had written for the latest edition of the magazine for which he is editor, Zymurgy, which is the journal of the American Homebrewers Association.  David has been editor of that publication for almost a year and it provides informative and interesting information to people who brew beer at home, perhaps in their garage or basement.  The journal gives recipes for brewing, announces events for homebrewers to attend, and features articles that appeal to people who love beer and like to brew it.

David's most recent article in the latest edition of this magazine concerns German words and the meaning they have because he is fascinated with German words and is bilingual in German.  He spells out that long German word given above and says, "It's the sense of inclusion and kinship you feel from being part of a group."  Being part of something much larger than who you are alone definitely has a feeling that goes with it.

Many of us have known the feeling of what it means to belong to a church, to be part of the local body of the worldwide body of Christ.  We belong to a church because we need that connection that we cannot get alone.  We may claim our Christian experience on an individual level but that experience is made real in relationship with other Christians who share a vision of the world that we embrace.  We may search for a place where we "belong" as a Christian, where we "feel at home" and settle on a place where we enjoy worshiping and fellow-shipping and working beside other Christians.  We experience that Zusammengehorigkeitsgefuhl each time we are there with others.  It cannot be experience alone, by ourselves.

This shared experience is something that we must support in many ways if we value it.  We ask members to support the church with their prayers, presence, gifts, and service and to be faithful members of this local congregation.  Without members fulfilling their vow to be faithful and to give of themselves in their time, talent, and treasure the church will not be able to continue into the future.  This week at our church is Stewardship Sunday, when we think about what it means to be faithful in our vows toward our church and to be good stewards of all the gifts that God has given us.   If you are a member, we need you to be present.  If you are thinking of being a member, we need you too.  If you are not a member, you are very welcome to come anytime and worship and fellowship and work with us.  God's Kingdom is wide and large and includes all who will be included in it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

All Saints Day, 2016

Today is called All Saints Day on the Christian calendar.  It is the day that follows Halloween, which is also called All Hallow's Eve.  People in the ancient world would dress in a costume on All Hallow's Eve so that the spirits that they believed inhabited the earth could not recognize them.  That is one of the reasons why people dress up on Halloween besides wanting to have fun at a party or give out candy to kids who come by dressed in costumes.

On the day following Halloween, today, All Saints Day, we think about the spirits of those who have departed the earth since last year at this time and we remember them and the lives they lived.  This next Sunday, will be All Saints Sunday, or in our church, since it has German roots--Totenfest or Festival of the Dead.  This Sunday we will read aloud the names of those members of our church who have died since this same time last year.  We have 11 names to read this year.  As we say each name, we will light a candle in their memory and ring our church bell one time.  Then those present will be invited to say aloud others whom they remember who have died this year.  We will ring a bell in their memories also.

The Gospel lection for All Saints Day and for next Sunday will be from Luke's Gospel 6:20-31.  It is the reading of Jesus giving the "Sermon on the Plain", Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount that is found in Matthew's Gospel, only in Luke's account, Jesus is down on the plain at eye level with his audience rather than sitting on a hillside with people scattered here and there.  Jesus in Luke's account emphasizes the present time status of people living rather than the Kingdom of Heaven.

"Blessed and you who are poor" (not in spirit, but really poor)...and "you who are hungry" (really hungry, stomachs growling), and "you who weep".  And the reason these people are blessed is because Jesus says their situations are just temporary and soon they will find blessings and food, and laughter.  But those who are already rich and well fed and laughing will have a time come when their situation will change also and they will need help.  Jesus was talking to poor people who struggled just to have food on a daily basis and they needed encouragement.

Then Jesus in Luke repeats what he says in Matthew about loving your enemies and doing good even to those who mistreat you, giving your shirt away even to those who beg.  Then we find the Golden Rule to sum it up..."Do to others as you would have them do to you."  (Luke 6:31)

This section from Luke is appropriate for All Saints Day and for All Saints Sunday as it gives us something to think about as we remember the lives of those who meant a lot to us on earth and now reside in heaven.  In many ways, those whom we honor on this special day or Sunday exhibited some of the ways of living that Jesus encouraged, giving to others as they could, treating others with respect, and even sacrificing on behalf of others.  We call them Saints, not because they were perfect, but because they were striving daily to live in such a way that their lives would be pleasing to God.  They attempted to live by the Golden Rule as much as they could too.  So, their lives are meant to be an inspiration to us who are still living so we will live holy lives in every way we can.

The word "Saint" has had a meaning that is not actually biblical.  Perfection is not something that is necessary for an earthly being to be called a Saint.  The term is used in the epistles to refer to those who were members of the early church who were continuing to be faithful to the church despite encountering difficulties such as persecution and social ostracism.  Paul often praised the members of the churches he had helped to establish for their faithfulness and devotion, despite things happening in their social setting.  The word "saint" was used by Paul and others to refer to these people because they continued to try to live as Christians despite the hindrances they may have in their lives.

So, we are encouraged also to try to live as saints in this world, not relying upon our ability to be perfect but upon our devotion and faithfulness to the Christian message and to the church we have been called to support.

May those who come behind us find us faithful!  Amen.