Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Blessed are those who care

Matthew 5:1, 7-8   
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

When people hear that I have taken a trip once again to the Holy Land, the first question that I am asked is always:  Did you feel safe --- and my answer is an emphatic YES.  The most dangerous part of the trip, statistically, was getting to the airport!

The next thing they always ask me is:  WHY?  Why do you keep going back?

This was my 13th trip to Israel, my 10th leading a group from the local church.

Why do I keep going back?
The answer is simple --- yet also complex and very nuanced

I go because it continues to impact my understanding of the Bible
·       I learn something new every time I go
This trip we visited Magdala --- a recently discovered site on the sea of Galilee and home of Mary (of Magdala) that I had never been too before
Priest had served at Mt Comfort Indiana (even thought he was from Ireland
We celebrated the healing of those we loved --- as we remembered the story of the woman who touched Jesus robe
         It was a powerful experience
·       I get to experience Israel through the eyes of first-time visitors
It is hard to explain the thrill I get when a light bulb goes off for someone
         Tom being blown away by the topography

Experiencing again the first sighting of the old city of Jerusalem and singing along to the song Holy City (gives me goose bumps even recalling it!)
·       Getting to know a group of very special people in a whole new way

If I am honest, my favorite trips have been the ones where I am not responsible for a group
         When I spent a month in Israel by myself while I was on a sabbatical
                  Instead of spending an hour on Masada --- I spent an entire day!

         When I was invited to join The Jerusalem Center as an adjunct faculty member
I was able to visit the archeological sites with the archeologists and get in-depth insights into what they were doing and finding

When I went with a group sponsored by the Masons with pastors from all over the country

And while I have enjoyed every one of those tours --- there is nothing like seeing the Holy places with friends.

This trip was special because I have been so immersed in the ministry of Jesus lately

As I have been telling you --- my goal this year is to help change the filter that you see the world through

Instead of seeing it though the filter or lenses that most of us wear every day
         Our privileged 21st Century North American worldview
         The lens that our political affiliation puts over our eyes
My goal is to help you begin to see Jesus --- through the lens of the Biblical story and the biblical worldview
And that filter is a very different one from the ones that we often use to see the world through

As we have been talking about this past month --- there is no place to see this upside down filter of Jesus than in the message of the Sermon on the Mount

         Blessed are the poor
         Blessed are those who mourn
         Blessed are the meek
         Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
         Blessed are the merciful
         Blessed are the pure in heart
         Blessed are the peacemakers
         Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake
         Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you

None of those would make the 2020 top ten list of things to aspire to in the USA

Eugene Peterson in his translation "The Message" always has a knack of cutting through some of the clutter of scripture.  He translated our key verses today:
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

But still on face-value --- these are not things most of us strive for.

Verse six takes us to a cross-road: Jesus us asks us, are you really hungering and thirsting after righteousness? 
         Are we seeking God above all else?
                  Is God first priority or somewhere else on the list?

If God is truly #1, and you are really hungering and thirsting for God's righteousness then the beatitudes are a test to prove your integrity.

You tell God that God is #1 in your life, and almost immediately you find yourself tested

And how does that test happen?

It is often with a person who has hurt you, or let you down, or maybe has said unpleasant things about you and seems to want to dirty your reputation.

How do you respond?

Do you do what seems to be the way of the world and seek revenge or do you follow what Jesus is saying here go a different way --- the way of mercy?
         Most of us choose to "get even" and fail to show mercy

The Greek word for mercy is eleos --- which is the opposite of ogree (which means wrath)

In the New Testament, eleos is a gracious action
It is not giving justice (what someone deserves) but rather showing mercy (what they don't deserve)

This is not a new idea --- It is the same lesson that is found in the golden rule
         At the end of this Sermon on the Mount Jesus reminds us:
Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.   Matthew 7:12  (CEB)

Instead of mercy --- we might use another word: empathy

Jesus constantly shows us that empathy is the better way --- and he does it by sharing stories about empathetic people
·       Like the Good Samaritan who interrupts his trip to show mercy
·       The story of the woman caught in sin --- when Jesus invites us who are sinless (truly righteous) to throw the first stone --- and we all must walk away
·       Or as we learned in the Letter of James when he challenged the abusive treatment of the poor in the synagogue
·       And maybe the most challenging one --- when, just a little later in this Sermon, Jesus says:
“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.   Matthew 5:43-48     (CEB)

         Who shows mercy to their enemies? --- Jesus!

And to whom are we supposed to show this mercy?
         Those in need
         Those suffering injustice
         those who are poor
         those who are oppressed
         those who have failed

This is tough stuff --- and I don't see any wiggle room (even though we wiggle all the way through these)

And if we haven't had enough --- Jesus gives us the sixth beatitude:
         Blessed are the pure in heart

I believe that the order the beatitudes are presented in is very intentional.
         They flow from one to another seeking to help us pursue God's will for our lives

What this beatitude seems to be asking is: what are our motivations?
         Do we love God for personal gain (ie. getting into heaven)
         Do we love God because it enables us to love others?

         Do we do good deeds to be praised and honored
         Do we do good deeds because God loved us first and modeled this way of life?

I am not sure we really want that answer to that . . .

The entire Sermon on the Mount is brilliant, because Jesus constantly expands upon the themes in the Beatitudes
In chapter 6:1-18, Jesus tells us that the pure in heart are those whose religious actions are not done for the praise of others but in order to be in a relationship with God
and then a little later, Jesus reminds us that
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.    Matthew 6:21 (CEB)

Where is your treasure?
Where is your heart?

There is a cost to not following the teachings of Jesus --- Eldridge Cleaver summed it up nicely when he reminds us:
         "The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less."

Kindness makes all the difference in the world.
         Blessed are those who care!

Why do you keep going back to Israel?

Because each trip I encounter God in a new way.

Our very first day, Carolyn, in her devotion, asked us to share what we needed to leave behind --- to metaphorically unpack from our suitcases --- and she invited us to do this so that we would have room for something new.

I couldn't articulate what baggage I needed to unload, at that moment.

But as the time wore on, it became clear

It is what I have been searching for my whole life
         How do I make room for God?
                  Really make room for God
                           What do I have to let go of?

And the answer was ME

I needed to let go of my glasses --- my filters --- my expectations for what I wanted God to do and be and instead pick up Jesus

And this because clear in Egypt

Our group of 14 in Egypt was joined by groups from Ohio, Missouri, Atlanta and Iowa

We became a group of 31 --- and while we started as five individual groups that were thrown together --- we quickly became family

And nothing demonstrated this more clearly that the example of Randy from Ohio

Egypt is hard
         It requires a lot of challenging walking

And we had a couple --- Tom and Denise who were both challenged

Within a day --- Randy adopted Tom and Denise and was helping them get on and off the bus and helping them along the way

Randy didn't have to do that
         He had never met them before

But Randy just had an air about him
He seemed to understand the message of the Beatitudes --- that it is in caring that one is blessed

And he modeled that message with joy and conviction

That is why I go to Israel
         Sure I love the sites
                  I love being where Jesus was
                           Where Moses was
But more than anything else --- I love being with people who are beginning to change their glasses by talking off the lenses of the world and putting on the glasses of Jesus

I hope that you have noticed the paradox of the beatitudes

They way of Jesus is NOT the way of the world

The way of Jesus means putting Jesus first
         Putting others second
         And recognizing that we are third (at best)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."

May God begin to create in us clean hearts --- so that we can experience the blessing of really caring for the other in this world.

Blessed are the poor and those who mourn

Matthew 5:1-12     
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

This morning we are going to begin our deep dive into these twelve verses of the Sermon on the Mount that we call The Beatitudes.

And before we begin, I want to reiterate something that I said last week --- because I want to make sure that we are clear about this.

Jesus’ sermon --- which begins with these Beatitudes --- are meant for the HERE AND NOW

This is not some pie in the sky that God wishes that we might simply strive for --- but God really knows that it is beyond our grasp.

This is how God wants us to live --- NOW

It is here --- in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus tells us what being a follower of Jesus is all about.

if these words are not for us today --- then they are irrelevant and Jesus wasted his time in uttering them.

As I said last week --- I believe the Sermon on the Mount is the greatest moral document of all time.

As you read the Sermon on the Mount this week I imagine it made you rather uncomfortable.

I would go so far as it say that if it did not make you uncomfortable --- and I mean really uncomfortable --- then my guess is either you have attained perfection or you really didn't read it.

And I know NO-ONE that has attained perfection

In the Sermon on the Mount, the contrast between Jesus' vision for our life and our actual way of life as disciples is all too often revealed.

Friday night I attending the funeral of Frank Ricketts' mother Helen.  It was two weeks to the day that we had gathered to remember his father Rev. Ronald Ricketts.
         And what kept running through my head was:
                  "Blessed are those who mourn"

Yesterday, instead of attending the funeral of Bishop Mike Coyner, Nancy and I drove up to Munster so that I could officiate at the funeral of my best friend's mother-in-law who died earlier this week.
         “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
Before we get there --- we need to look at that first Beatitude --- and it is equally tough:
         “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Being poor in anything in our society is looked down upon
         Who wants to be poor?

According to Emmet Fox, in his book: The Sermon On The Mount:
To be poor in spirit does not in the least mean the thing we call "poor spirited" nowadays.  To be poor in spirit means to have emptied yourself of all desire to exercise personal self-will, and, what is just as important, to have renounced all preconceived opinions in the wholehearted search for God.  It means to be willing to set aside your present habits of thought, your present views and prejudices, your present way of life if necessary; to jettison, in fact, anything and everything that can stand in the way of your finding God.

In other words, this person who is poor in spirit comprehends that they must be faithful in the midst of oppression
         And they recognize the plight of other oppressed people

As we celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King this weekend --- remember that it was the Sermon on the Mount that influenced his theology more than anything else

When one is poor in spirit, they love God enough to trust God
This love --- this trust in God helps them form alliances of hope, compassion and justice

The opposite of poor in spirit is the rich oppressor
         We saw that clearly when we worked through the Book of James
                  Which was equally challenging

Do you see the contrast between the kingdom values of persons who put their trust in God and in the vision that most people have of the world?

The world values people who are self reliant and full of apparent greatness
         great intellect
         great pride
         great possessions
         great prestige

Emmet Fox goes on:
The poor in spirit suffer from none of these embarrassments [great possessions of intellect, pride, possessions and social prestige], either because they never had them, or because they have risen above them on the tide of spiritual understanding.  They have got rid of the love of money and property, of fear of public opinion, and of the disapproval of relatives or friends.  They are no longer overawed by human authority, however august.  They are no longer cocksure in their own opinions.  They have come to see that their most cherished beliefs may have been and probably were mistaken, and that all their ideas and views of life may be false and in need of recasting.  They are ready to start again at the very beginning and learn life anew.

Kingdom people --- Jesus seems to suggest are those who put their trust in God and not in stuff.
         Later in Matthew Jesus will tell us that the rich will struggle to enter the kingdom

Matthew 19:23-24 (The Message)
“Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Can you imagine me (or any pastor) beginning a funeral by saying:
         Do you know how lucky you are!
                  You are so lucky that you are mourning because we can comfort you!

I just can't even imagine

Mourning is terrible

C.S. Lewis, when his wife Joy died described it as an amputation.

In his powerful little book: A Grief Observed Lewis said:
“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.”

Even C.S. Lewis came to understand the power of grief.

I think that we have this passage all wrong.

We need to ask ourselves --- what are these people that Jesus is referring to --- what is it that they are mourning over?
         Is it loved ones?
         Israel's exile and oppression?
         The lack of love, people, holiness, and justice in the land?
         Their own sins?

I think the context for this Beatitude is found in Isaiah 61

Isaiah 61:1-4           (NRSV)
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

These words were familiar to Jesus and clearly it suggests that the mourners are those who grieve over their exile (personal and Israel's)
         They long for the restoration of Israel and the temple
         For God to look favorably on Israel

Jesus seems to be promising that God will comfort them by satisfying their longing

And while I think that is the context of this passage --- and God wants us to mourn and seek God's kingdom --- I also believe that there is a message here for us who grieve the loss of a loved one

As I sat in the Lyndhurst Baptist Church the past two Friday nights and listened as Frank and his niece eulogized Ronald and Helen, I experienced this passage in a whole new way.

And I experienced it again; as I listened to Kevin eulogize his mother-in-law

When we pause and reflect on the impact that people make on our lives --- when we recognize the power and grace that they have had --- even though we mourn --- we feel great comfort.

I have shared this before --- but I am convinced --- that I would not still be a pastor if I had not experienced the death of my younger brother Stewart.
         Not that he needed to die to bless me

         But that in his death --- I was able to find and experience a blessing

And I hope and pray --- that the blessing that was given to me --- has been shared with you.

As Frank shared about his mother and father --- I realized how blessed he was --- and that in the midst of his great pain --- God was reminding him again of his presence and promise.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

While we were driving to Munster yesterday, we listened to the Podcast: Finding Fred

It is all about Fred Rogers' and his amazing neighborhood.

I am a little too old for Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, so I never really watched it --- but as I have been listening, I realize that we were blessed with an amazingly loving person, who saw the opportunity to be a blessing to others.

But in the episode we listened to, it was all about a young woman who was born with a terrible disease that Mr. Rogers befriended.

And if you need a GOOD cry, I highly recommend you listen --- but the part I want to share with you today is something that Mr. Rogers would often do when giving a speech.

He would ask people to "take a moment and think about someone who helped become who you are today --- someone who has helped you along the way.
Take a minute to honor those who have cared about you along the way."

So lets do that . . .

He ended the silence by saying:
"Whoever you are thinking about --- remember how grateful they must be that during this time you remembered how important they are to you."

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

MPOW FLAME PRO True Wireless Earbuds

I just received the MPOW Flame Pro, I have been using MPOW Flame wireless sport ear buds for some time, but was eager to try them without the wire behind my neck.  I have often found that wire distracting when I run because it will shift and pull to one side.  When I was given the chance to demo these truly wireless ear buds I jumped at the chance. 

I took them for a three mile run this evening and was amazed at how comfortable they are.  I was listening to a podcast and it came through crisp and clear.  I then tried them with music and was pleased with how well they sound considering the cost.  Sure you can pay hundreds more and get better sound, but for $80 these are great.  The bass is better than I expected.

What really surprised me was the quality using the phone through these ear buds.  Generally I have found that the microphone is terrible at picking up my voice and the person at the other end has a hard time hearing.  That was not the case at all.  The phone quality was crystal clear.

I received the MPOW FLAME PRO for free with the promise of a fair and impartial evaluation. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

What Does It Mean To Be Blessed?

Matthew 5:1-16     
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Scot McKnight begins his commentary of the Sermon on The Mount with these words:
"The Sermon on the Mount is the moral portrait of Jesus' own people.  Because this portrait doesn't square with the church, this Sermon turns from instruction to indictment." 

I think of almost all the stories in the Bible --- the Sermon on the Mount has been pasteurized and homogenized because we find the message so challenging.

Pinchas Lapide, an Orthodox Jew of all things, in his commentary writes:
the history of the impact of the Sermon on the Mount can largely be described in terms of an attempt to domesticate everything in it that is shocking, demanding, and uncompromising , and render it harmless.

Yet at the same time, the sermon on the Mount has been called the greatest moral document of all time.

But one of the questions that we must wrestle with is: just what is this document?
·         Some have argued that The Sermon is just Moses on steroids, designed to show us just how wretched we are --- and how much in need of the righteousness of the Christ.
·         Others argue that the teachings in the Sermon are meant to be lessons on how to live privately as a Christian and not how we live publically
·         Still others say that they are meant only for the most committed disciples --- like Monks or “uber”-Christians
·         and others would say that they are only for those who have been transformed by grace and see these demands not as law, but rather a grace-filled ethic for those whom grace has transformed

So what is this “sermon”?
Is this simply a collection of moral virtues?

Stanley Haurewas wrote:
"Virtue may be its own reward, but for Christians the virtues, the kind of virtues suggested by the Beatitudes, are names for the shared life made possible through Christ. . . . Christians are not called to be virtuous.  We are called to be disciples."

If there is a theme for this coming year that Mary and I are going to zero in on it is this: What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?

In everything we do this year, we are going to center around that question.

And considering what is going on in the United Methodist Church I believe it is more important than ever before.

We are going to try to answer that question (What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?) in two ways
1.    What does it mean personally?
2.    What does it mean for Meridian Street UMC?

You and I have absolutely no control over what happens in Minnesota when the United Methodist Church gathers in May at our General Conference.

What we do have control over is: who we are, and how we live as followers of Jesus.

And for me --- who we are --- and how we live as followers of Jesus is found right here --- in the Sermon on the Mount.

We may not like what it has to say
We may argue and do our best to minimize the ethic that Jesus presents

But it is here --- in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus tells us what being a followr of Jesus is all about.

Listen for a moment at how this "Sermon" begins and how it ends.  Because this is the frame we need to hear what Jesus has to say to us.

It begins with these words:
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. He sat down and his disciples came to him.  (Matthew 5:1  CEB)

And ends with these:
 “Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock. But everybody who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It fell and was completely destroyed.”

When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were amazed at his teaching because he was teaching them like someone with authority and not like their legal experts.

Now when Jesus had come down from the mountain, large crowds followed him.  (Matthew 7:24-8:1   CEB)

This Sermon is a microcosm of the message of Jesus --- it is his ethic --- his moral vision
          Chapters 5-7 Matthew seems to be saying --- Here is Jesus message
          Chapters 8-9 --- Here is his actions
                    NOW --- YOU DECIDE

So, for the next few weeks, Mary and I will go through these nine beatitudes and try to help us understand exactly what it is that Jesus wants from us.

But before we do that --- Let me try to put this Sermon on the Mount into some kind of context

While the Sermon is found it two places, Matthew and Luke, we are going to focus mainly on the version that is found in Matthew.

When we talk about Matthew, we need to understand a few things.

More than likely Mark is the first Gospel written, it, along with an unknown collection of stories of Jesus that scholars call "Q" were probably written in the early to mid-60's.  Most date Matthew to the late 70's or maybe even early 80's and believe that Matthew had access to both Mark and "Q" and possibly even other written and oral sources.

But to be honest, the dating of Matthew is not real important.

What is important is who and why Matthew wrote his Gospel
While Luke is written primarily for a gentile audience --- Matthew is clearly written to a Jewish audience

Matthew expects you to know the Hebrew Bible
Matthew is constantly quoting from the Torah and Isaiah (along with various other books)

The structure of Matthew is quite interesting
          It can be divided into 5 distinct sections --- just like the Torah

And it is constantly trying to demonstrate that Jesus is not a New Moses who supersedes the Moses of the Hebrew Bible --- but rather that Jesus is the fulfillment of Moses and re-iterates the law in a new way.

Think of Moses’ birth and Jesus’ birth --- the parallels are striking

But if we just focus on our story, we can see numerous parallels as well.

How does the story begin?
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. He sat down and his disciples came to him.  (Matthew 5:1  CEB)

          Who also went up a mountain to receive the law?

And like all good teachers HE SAT DOWN
The posture of a lawgiver is sitting --- we are reminded in both Matthew and Luke that those with legal authority sat in the seat of Moses

Jesus is teaching a new law as the new Moses for the new people of God.

And as we try to understand this new ethic, we need to keep one important thing in mind.

This new ethic that Jesus is teaching is unique because it is based around the understanding and assumption that Jesus is the Messiah
          This ethic that he is presenting is quite simply a Messianic ethic

And nothing about the Sermon on the Mount will make sense until we understand that it is a messianic vision --- and only once we understand the messianic nature of this ethic will we be able to embrace it --- especially its more radical elements.

N.T. Wright described it this way:
"The Sermon . . . isn't just about how to behave.  It's about discovering the living God in the loving, and dying, Jesus, and learning to reflect that love ourselves into the world that needs it so badly."

This ethic is not simply about some future time or place --- it is about NOW and how we are to live with God.

But let me say one more thing
We cannot live this ethic on our own.
          Of that I am certain

The only way we can begin to embrace this ethic --- this life of Jesus --- is through the Holy Spirit.
          Without the Spirit --- we are sunk

The Holy Spirit is, as Scot McKnight describes, able to take "human abilities to the next level and human inabilities and turn them into new abilities."

Joachim Jeremias wrote:
"What Jesus teaches in the sayings collected in the Sermon on the Mount is not a complete regulation of the life of the disciples, and it is not intended to be; rather, what is taught here is symptoms, signs, examples, of what it means when the kingdom of God breaks into the world which is still under sin, death, and the devil.  You yourselves should be signs of the coming kingdom of God, signs that something has already happened."

Augustine said the entire Sermon on the Mount was the "perfect standard of the Christian life."  And it leaves us with one question that Jesus seems to be asking:

Or as John Stott said in his commentary:
"Jesus confronts us with himself, sets before us the radical choice between obedience and disobedience, and calls us to an unconditional commitment of mind, will and life to his teaching."

Next week we will begin digging into these beatitudes or blessings that Jesus proclaims to us.

Joachim Jeremias wrote:
The instructions of the Sermon apply to everyone who is a disciple of Jesus. They direct his way to the narrow gate, to the reign of God.

Take some time and read Matthew chapters 5-7

While we are going to focus on just a few verses in chapter 5 --- we need to see the entire context of this sermon.

As you read --- ask God to open your mind and heart
          So that you might hear the invitation of Jesus.
                   The invitation to COME and FOLLOW him.  Amen.

Let's Go!

Matthew 2:1-12       (CEB)
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
        by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
            because from you will come one who governs,
            who will shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

Today is the last Sunday that we will be in the sanctuary for some time.
          Sometime in the next month or so --- we will also be out of the Chapel

It has been over 30 years since the Sanctuary and Chapel have been painted.
          And it is past time

The Trustees have been working hard to make sure that as we draw closer to our 200th anniversary that our facilities look beautiful
All of this began a number of years ago with the refurbishment of the classrooms down in the Children’s Day In program area
          Next the upstairs and sports fields were upgraded
          That was followed buy the construction of the Welcome Center
          And then the Fellowship Hall kitchen
This past summer they had the exterior painted

I have not been here for all of this --- but it has been amazing to see all the wonderful enhancements made to the physical structure and the increased use of the building

The Welcome Center has changed this church
          Thank you Ann for your leadership and vision

It has been interesting seeing how many of you have reacted to the Trustees decision to paint the rooms
Many of you have expressed excitement over the sanctuary and chapel getting a facelift and look forward to the journey we will be on the next few months

Others have not been as excited --- I was even told
"all this is going to do is give people an excuse to stay home"
                   If you need an excuse to stay home --- I can offer quite a few better ones

Regardless --- following this service we are heading off on an adventure and will be using the fellowship hall for our worship service

It seems appropriate that our scripture today is the story of the Magi

They leave the comfort of their homes in search of some --- not completely known hope

What exactly drove them to go is not certain --- other than they sensed that something was going on in the celestial bodies that suggested that a unifying king had been born.
          And not everyone is excited by this news

They did not fully know where they were going --- or whom they were seeking but they went --- filled with hopes and dreams for a better future

I decided to open up some boxes that were stuck in a closet that I had not opened since we moved here 3 ½ years ago

They were boxes of letters and notes of encouragement that I have collected over the past 35 years

At a former church --- they had in the pews --- paper that said: NOTE OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Each week people were invited to write a note and the church would sent it to the appropriate person

I had to chuckle at the creative way that people criticized the journey that the church was on these notes

My favorite by far was one that went on for two paragraphs complaining about this or that in the worship service and ended with this phrase
          “My encouragement is that you will do better and change”

The Magi had no idea where the “star” was leading them --- they had to stop in Jerusalem and ask for directions.

I can hear some in their entourage saying --- WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?

Remember what Jimmy Carter said:
None of us can know where our journeys with God will take us even tomorrow - let alone a decade from now - so it's a good idea to spend a few moments each day to connect with God and ask, "Well, where do you want to take me today?"

And that is exactly what the Magi seemed to do

But not only did they seek --- the Magi came prepared --- they brought with them gifts.

Interesting gifts --- gifts that theologians have debated about for 2000 years ---


They brought those gifts --- seemingly --- symbolically because the understood the nature of the king they would find
          Gold --- symbolizing royalty
          Frankincense --- worship
          Myrrh --- death

And the story implies that they were gifts of great sacrifice

I love the story of The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke
          If you have never read it --- I encourage you too
                   (It is a very short read)
          If you have --- read it again and reflect on the importance of what we bring

As we get ready to begin this journey together, we need to ask ourselves a few questions
          Why do we come?
          What do we want to find?
          What gifts are we willing to bring?
                   What are we willing to sacrifice for King Jesus?

In a few moments we are going to gather at the table

After you receive these gifts from God --- I want to invite you to go to the side walls and take a pencil and write your hopes and dreams for Meridian Street for the coming year.

This story of journey --- of intrigue --- birth and death --- seems so relevant in today's United Methodist Church

Where do you want God to lead us?
          Give your dreams to God as we prepare to journey in a new way.

What If?

I don’t know about you --- but by this time every year I am pretty much done with Christmas!

We have been hit with Christmas music since Halloween --- and as much as I love Bruce Springsteen singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town --- I am over it!

Even Target is done with Christmas already --- I saw Valentines displays already up.

It is as if we feel like we must rush from one season to the next and not really paying attention to the season we are celebrating.

A few years back there was a fascinating article in the Chicago Tribune about a Chinese immigrant named Su Zhu Yuan.

Su Zhu Yuan thought Americans celebrated Christmas as part of our patriotic duty.
Relatives gave gifts.
Neighbors prepared feasts.
Storefronts in Chinatown advertised sales.
She had been in the United States for eight years, but no one told her the real story behind Christmas – the Biblical one that we gather to remember tonight.

The sad truth is --- for most of us --- Christmas has less to do with celebrating the incarnation of Jesus than it does with:
·         Santa
·         Black Friday
·         Cyber Monday
·         And the annual silly and pointless debate about “Happy Holidays” vs. Merry Christmas

So “the Church” created a period for us to slow down so that we can prepare ourselves for the Incarnation

During Lent we set aside six weeks of preparing for Easter

Before Christmas we set aside four weeks to prepare for the incarnation.

And the question that seems to come to mind is
·         What exactly are we preparing for?
·         Why did God become incarnate in the world in the first place?

Not questions that most of us really want to ponder

We would rather crank up the Christmas music and dance along with Feliz Navidad and avoid the hard and deep questions about WHY Jesus came.

Do you remember the movie Talladega Nights?

Ricky Bobby has gathered with his friends and family at the dinner table and he begins to pray saying "Lord, baby Jesus" and "tiny, infant Jesus" and "8 pound- 6 ounce- newborn infant Jesus."

He can't hasn’t even finished his prayer before his wife chimes in— "Hey, you know, sweetie, Jesus did grow up."

Ricky responds, "I like the Christmas Jesus best and I'm saying grace. When you say grace, you can say it to grown up Jesus or teen-age Jesus or to bearded Jesus or whoever you want."

That’s the challenge of Christmas right there.

Most of us want to keep baby Jesus in the manger and just have a birthday party celebration.

What if Jesus had remained a baby?

Let me go back even a little further --- what if Mary had said “NO” to the angel?

What if the shepherd’s ignored the angel choir?

What if the Magi had decided to stay home?

What if Herod had succeeded and managed to kill baby Jesus?

What if --- when we leave here tonight --- we walk out unchanged --- unmoved by this baby --- unwilling and unable to share his light because we leave it behind?

We don’t want to have to wrestle with the darkness of our world
          We don’t want to sing advent hymns that are in a minor key and feel maudlin

We want the little baby Jesus – who is cute and the amazing animals who surround him who don’t seem to have any stinky smell

But we have to go through the darkness --- we must tell the story again and again --- so that we can experience the Joy that the Lord has come!

Remember Su Zhu Yuan who thought Christmas was a patriotic holiday?
          She though it was about giving gifts
          And huge feasts
          And sales galore

But she didn’t know about Jesus and why we celebrate his birth.

When Su Zhu Yuan finally heard Jesus story she celebrated his birth by immersing herself in the baptismal waters at Chinese Christian Union Church.

She emerged a newborn Christian. “I have peace in my heart and joy,” the 41-year-old seamstress said through a translator. “I’m giving the heavy burdens to Jesus.”

Su Zhu Yuan donned a white gown and with bare feet ascended a narrow staircase to the church's baptismal pool. Gripping the pastor's arm with both hands, she let him plunge her into the water. As she resurfaced, she wiped the water from her face and smiled.

She said, “Today is like a holiday. It's like having two Christmases.”

In a few moments --- we are going to turn out the lights --- and we are going to be surrounded by darkness

As the room becomes dark --- take a moment and think of the dark places in our world today --- in our city today --- in our homes and lives today.

I want you to allow the darkness to become REAL


Much like today, 2000 years ago the world seemed to be a very dark place
Were all a part of the reality of Judea long ago

God saw the darkness and decided to do something about it

God sent a small light into the world
          God sent --- not an army
                             Not a NGO or even a government
                                      God sent a BABY

A baby who was dependent upon others to keep that child alive

Friday, December 20, 2019

Mpow IPX7 Speaker

I recently purchased the Mpow SoundHot R6 Bluetooth Speakers, IPX7.  I have not been able to confirm all of their claims (particularly that it is waterproof) but I have been pleased with the quality.  I first tried it out by using it as an external speaker when I ran on the treadmill.  I figured this would give me a good chance to check out the volume and clarity since the treadmill creates its own unique level of noise.  I listened to a podcast and was very pleased.  I was able to listen clearly to the presentation and understood all that was being said. 

And while I enjoyed that test, for me the most important was the ability to play music.  I listened to a number of albums and was surprised by the quality --- it was much more than I expected of a speaker of its size and price.  I listened to an early Genesis album, figuring that might really push the envelope; but again I was pleased.  I mean the bass is not huge, but I did not expect it to be.  This is not my Bose home system, but I did not expect it to be.

The speaker is small and lightweight and has played extremely well.  I can see taking this with me on trips in place of a large portable.

My biggest concern was what would happen when a phone call came on my Bluetooth paired phone.  The speaker did not make the call speaker phone (which made me happy).  Instead it paused the music and allowed me to take my call as normal.

I am very pleased with this small and mighty speaker and would recommend it.

I am being compensated with a free unit for my review.