Worship Where You Are

The Worship Where You Are blog contains what we think of as "first drafts" of the sermon for each week.  They are prepared mid-week for people who might not be able to be present on Sunday morning but wish to still participate in the worship experience.  They contain scripture, the sermon text, a few questions to ponder and a closing prayer.  May they help you in your faith journey.

All Bible verses come from the Common English Bible

Baptism of the Lord

Luke 3:15-17

Responses to John

15 The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ. 16 John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.”

Luke 3:21-22

Jesus’ baptism

21 When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

 

Thoughts on the passage:

I loved playing outside as a kid and running around barefoot. My brother and I wore out bases and a pitcher’s mound in vacant lot next to our house playing baseball with each other. After a day of playing one-on-one baseball or running around the yard and the nearby lane, my feet would often be covered in dusty dirt. In variably my parents would then want me to wash my feet at the end of the day. I remember there was something satisfying about washing the dirt away with water and a rag and having clean feet.

At least I thought the feet were clean. The reality, as any nurse or doctor would tell you, is that simply using water to wash away the superficial dirt does not make something clean. It might make it look clean, but beneath the visible dust and grim there is a deeper level of dirtiness that comes from germs. To really get your feet clean you need soap, water alone is not enough.

When it comes to baptisms, water alone is not enough either. John the Baptist makes the clear point that while he baptizes with water, one who is coming, Jesus, will baptize with the Holy Spirit. John is offering a temporary forgiveness from our sins. What Jesus offers through a baptism of the Holy Spirit is something much greater. Water alone will not change our fundamental nature as broken people who sin against God and each other.

In his sermon, John talks about Jesus as a thresher who separates the wheat from the chaff. Maybe it is because of the images of fire, but I am reminded of the refining process that happens with metals. Heat is used to purify the metals separating the noble metals like gold and silver from the base metals like lead and copper. The process is used to pull out the undesirable metals and leave behind a precious metal that can be used to create a thing of beauty. In the same way, the winnowing fork is used to separate the chaff, which is worthless, from the wheat that can be used for food.

Through baptism, Jesus wants to separate the wheat and the chaff in our lives. Through baptism, Jesus wants to draw out the impure metals and leave behind that which is beautiful and precious. In baptism, the Holy Spirit creates a change in us and makes us better. Sometimes we cannot see the difference on the outside, but on the inside, in our soul, something amazing has taken place. Through baptism we have been made new. The chaff has been removed, the impurities stripped away, the germs cleaned. No metaphor is perfect to describe what happens at baptism, but they all try to point to the same idea, in baptism we are made new, we become a better form of ourselves than we were before.

The story we heard today about the baptism of Jesus has two parts. The first is John’s teaching on the difference between the baptism that he performs and the one that Jesus will offer. The second part is to talk about what happens when Jesus himself is baptized. Despite his reluctance, John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River. As Jesus emerges from the water, the Holy Spirit comes to rest upon him, and God’s voice comes from heaven, saying, “You are my son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

The second part of the story is important because of what it tells us about Jesus, but it is also important because of what it tells us about ourselves. First, it is the public declaration of who Jesus is and the beginning of his public ministry. In his baptism, Jesus is heralded as the Son of God. His oneness with the Spirit is made plain to those who witness him. The power and connection that he has to God is revealed to all those who are gathered there.

I think we need to remember what this passage tells us about ourselves as well. Baptism was not an uncommon thing when John began his ministry. The idea that a person would repent of their sins and be ritually cleansed through water was not a novel idea. Rather, John is merely following in the footsteps of other prophets and religious teachers who called upon people to repent, atone, and lead a better life. This is not the sort of baptism we believe in. This baptism is temporary, lasting only so long as we can live a good life, free from sin, and we all know how hard, if not impossible that is.

Christian baptism is a one-time event. Once we have been bathed and blessed by the Holy Spirit, we are made clean. It is not something that we can tarnish or lose through our actions., Rather it is a change that God’s grace and love has affected on us. Baptism does not merely wipe away the superficial sins in our lives, but instead makes a substantive change to who we are. It is not something we can never undo or lose. Its mark will be with us always.

Something else happens in baptism. Through baptism we enter the family of God. While a divine voice does not speak out form the heavens, nor does a dove come to rest upon us, in our own way, we are baptized into a new life in Christ. What that means is that just as God recognizes and celebrates Jesus in his baptism, so too are we celebrated in our baptism. When we are baptized, God claims us as children of God, restates God’s love for us, and celebrates us for who we are. It is an amazing and special gift.

It is important to remember our baptisms. Baptism is a one-time event, that we cannot recreate when we find ourselves needing more grace in our lives. It often takes place before we are old enough to remember. For these reasons it is important to stop often and remember our baptisms. In this church we have a tradition of remembering our baptism at least once a year when we celebrate the baptism of our Lord. It give us a regular opportunity to remember what it is that God has done in our lives.

We remember our baptisms by touching the water and using it as an outward symbol of the deep spiritual transformation that occurs in our baptism. Just as water can wash away dirt, so the waters of our baptism wash away our sin, but they do more. They change our hearts and refine our souls so that we might reflect God’s love and grace in our lives. When we touch the waters and recall our baptism we remember that like Christ we are loved. Like Christ we are children of God. Like Christ, we bring God joy. This is something to remember and celebrate. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What does baptism mean to you?

What is another image you might use to talk about the change that occurs in baptism?

What does it mean to be called a child of God?

Prayer:

Ever-loving God, your grace washes over us in our baptism. With warm and welcoming arms your draw us into your family. You strip away our sins and our failings and make us whole. Thank you for your love and grace that strengths us all. Forgive our sins and help us to remember the love we first knew in our baptisms. Amen

Epiphany - Are We There Yet?

Matthew 2:1-12

Coming of the magi

2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 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.”

3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 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.

7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 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.” 9 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. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 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. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

January 6th is celebrated as Epiphany on the Christian calendar. It is the day that marks the arrival of the wise men, or magi, or kings on their visit to see Jesus. The name, Epiphany, comes from the Greek, to reveal. It is meant to mark the day that Christ was revealed to the Gentiles. In English, we have come to use the term more broadly to denote any sort of realization that occurs in our lives, but its origins come from this moment, when the wise men realized who Jesus really was.

Or did they?

A lot has been made by pastors over the years, about the journey the wise men took to find Jesus. We all know, thanks to the Christmas songs, that they followed the star to find him, but we can forget until we read the scriptures that this was in fact a long journey. It was also one that involved some wrong turns and detours. They did not immediately go to the house where Jesus was staying, rather they first traveled to Jerusalem, assuming that was where Jesus would have been.

The epiphany moment for the wise men is that Jesus is not born to power and nobility in the big city, but instead to a humble family in a small town. Despite their early misconceptions, when they encounter Jesus, they recognize him and worship him. They also give him their gifts, blessings that are befitting of the king of kings. Then, having seen him, they return home.

It is that last part that makes me wonder if they really understand Jesus. Encountering Christ is not a one-time event. You do not simply experience Christ once and then the journey is over. Rather, meeting Christ is usually the beginning, not the end of the journey. Unfortunately, for our wise men, who drop out of the story after this, it is not clear that they really did know that more was expected in their life than simply the worship of Christ. Instead, they, like us, are called to be Christ’s disciples, and that is a journey that does not end.

Over a year ago, our congregation set a goal of becoming a community of love and celebration. It was initially conceived of as a focus for the end of 2017 and then 2018 as well. Since we are now in 2019 it is perhaps fitting to ask the question, “Are we there yet?” There are lots of ways that we could mark the progress of our congregation on this journey. Like the wisemen in their long trip, there are landmarks we can find along the way. We transitioned to one worship service to help bring our members closer together. We established a fellowship time following worship to help us get to know each other. We have taken part in several different studies, and now Connexion Groups as a way of deepening our relationships with each other and with God. We have also become more intentional in our practices of recognize the gifts that we share and celebrating our successes. We have done some great work.

Are we there yet? Unfortunately, I would say we are not there yet. I do not say this because I think that there is one clear problem we need to fix, but rather because I believe that like seeking Christ, the process of becoming a community of love and celebration is an on-going journey. We always have further we can go in reflecting the love and joy of God to each other and the world. There is still more work to be done.

One of the things we are doing to continue this work is the study group “What are we fighting for” that is being led by Jon Saunders. You have probably heard of this group and I encourage everyone to consider being a part of it. I say this because I believe that this is an important part of becoming a community of love and celebration. We want to build a culture in our church that knows how to handle conflicts and differences. Sometimes churches fight about stupid things like the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. Sometimes churches fight about big messy things like our understanding of scripture as it relates to topics like abortion, gay marriage, and immigration. Even if we are not fighting in the church, we are in a community that is divided between the left and the right, conservatives and progressives, rural and urban, black and white, the list of dichotomies goes on and on. We need the tools to help us handle these sorts of conflicts. We live in a world that needs us to show them how to turn to love instead of hate. The world needs us to be a community of love and celebration for their sake as well as our own.

If you are like me, the start of the new year is a time of thinking about goals for what the coming year will bring. As a person I want to eat healthier, as a pastor I want to be more organized, as a husband and a father I want to do more to support my family, as Christian I want to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ. If you think about this goals, I will never be done. I can always eat healthier. I can always be more organized.  I can always do more to be a better husband and father and I will always need to work at being a better disciple of Jesus Christ. These are not journeys that start on January 1st and end on December 31st. The point is not the destination but the process of getting there.

If we look at the story of the wise men, we think about how they follow a star and it leads them to their destination, but that would be missing the second part of the story. When they leave the house and return home, they are guided not by a star, but by a dream. Instead of returning back to Herod, like they had promised, they are guided by their dream to take a different way home. Even when they are not lead by the star, they are still lead by God.

I believe that God wants to lead us in our lives too. We do not always have big burning stars that guide us to Christ, but that does not mean that God is not leading us. Sometimes those promptings come as small voices in our heads, or a feeling our in gut. Sometimes God leads us through the words and actions of a wise friend or a loving family member. And obviously, we have the scriptures and the life of Christ as a guide to us in our journey. With all of that, who really needs a star anyway?

I would invite you all on a journey of becoming a community of love and celebration this year. We will do it through studies like the one that Jon is leading, but also through studies that help us grow in our faith and become better disciples. In the coming weeks we will be talking about the meaning of love and how we can be better at loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves. Throughout the year we will look at ways to celebrate what we are doing through our mission and ministry in 2019, but also to celebrate the legacy of what we have done in the last 125 years in Willmar. Through it all we will seek to be guided by the one true star that burns in each of our hearts, the star that is Christ, the Light of the World. So, let us worship and follow him. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What are your hopes and goals for 2019?

How have you grown in your faith in the last year and what do you hope to do this year to grow in your faith?

What does it mean to you to be a better disciple of Jesus?

Prayer:

Loving God, may your light and love shine in our hearts and lives this day. We give you thanks for your presence with us in 2018 and we pray that you might watch over and be with us in the coming year as well. Help us on journey of becoming a community of love and celebration. Grant us the wisdom to see your presence in our midst and the courage to follow you. Bless us as we seek to be better disciples of you in the coming year. Amen

From Nazareth to Bethlehem

Luke 2:1-17

Jesus’ birth

2 In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. 2 This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. 3 Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. 4 Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. 5 He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. 6 While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Announcement to shepherds

8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said,14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

Christmas usually is a time of great planning. For my family it means orchestrating the schedules of five families, including seven young kids. On top of getting the times right, we need to balance the dietary needs of people including, several with food allergies. Even with all of this, in many ways we are still lucky since we are only dealing with one other extended family and do not have to navigate the challenges of step-families or extended travel needs. I am sure many other people’s plans are far more complicated and stressful than ours. The biggest problems with and plan is that things never go the way we want them to.

My first year in ministry, Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday. This meant I would be taking part in four worship services, one in the morning and three in the evening. Fortunately, I was only going to have to lead two of them. For the other two, I would be assisting Rory Swensen, the senior pastor at Park. On top of all of that, this was my last day in Baxter before I headed to the Twin Cities to celebrate Christmas with my family and then I was going to get married and go on my honeymoon. As you can imagine, it was a busy day.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, it was also a day that did not go according to plan. The morning worship went fine, and I spent the afternoon packing and getting ready to be gone. I left my apartment in the middle of the afternoon, planning to go to Park a little early so I could meet with Rory to figure out how I was going to help with the 5:00 service. I was more than a little surprised that I got a call from Rory while I was on my way across town. It turns out that Rory become ill during the morning worship services. So ill, in fact that he had left in the middle of worship at the first service. He had hoped to go home, sleep it off and be ready for the evening. He was not sure that this was not going to happen.

Now, instead of getting ready to maybe say a prayer and read some scripture I was in charge of the whole service. This was not how I planned on things going. Not only did I need to figure out what to do for worship. I also needed a new plan for eating since I was supposed to go to Rory’s home for dinner that evening. Fortunately, the rest of his family was in the same boat since none of them wanted to get sick either. After the 5:00 service we all trooped over to Perkin’s for dinner. Luck continued to not be on my side. My food was the last to arrive and came only minutes before I needed to leave. My next service was at Cragun’s Resort, a place I had never been before, and I left with barely enough time to get there on time. I then had to find my way through the winding catacomb of stairways and hallways to find the room where the service would be held. It was an interesting experience.

The story of course does not end there. Rory had started a tradition of preaching two different Christmas Eve sermons, one for each service. Since I had used my one sermon already, I then had to dig a little deeper and come up with a second sermon to give at the later service. While I might have enjoyed having more time to eat, the waiting at Perkin’s did have one blessing to. It gave me enough time to put together some ideas for my second sermon. When I got back to Park, I had enough time to scratch a rough outline onto a piece of paper. Rory’s wife, Beth, still thinks it was a better sermon than my first one.

I bring up the story of my first Christmas, the reality of Christmas planning, because our gospel lesson today is all about a plan that had gone totally wrong. Mary and Joseph get engaged and begin to make their plans for marriage. Then Mary gets pregnant by the Holy Spirit and Joseph decides to break off the engagement. When Joseph is visited by an angel, everything is back on again, only now it needs to be rushed to take place before the child is born. If that is not enough, after the wedding, but before the birth, a decree comes out from Rome that everyone needs to return to their home town. Mary and Joseph are forced to leave the comforts of their new home and make the nine-day trek back to Bethlehem to be with Joseph’s family. Not only does Mary need to make this long journey while pregnant, she will be leaving the support systems they would have had in place in Nazareth to help her with the birth. To add insult to injury, when they arrive in Bethlehem, the home is so full of people that they get put in the stables. So much for the best laid plans of Mary and Joseph.

Of course, the whole history of the Bible is the story of watching people’s plans get all mixed up when God gets involved. God calls the young and the old, the rich and the poor, men and women; puts aside the plans they have for themselves and instead gives them a new plan to follow. God does it for us as well.

Mary and Joseph think that they know what their life has to offer, until they let God be in charge and then everything changes. They are not the only ones whose plans go up in smoke. Caesar Augustus thinks he has everything under control when he calls for a tax, but little does he know that the actions he takes out of greed God is using for something more. Herod thinks that he has it made as the local ruler of Israel, but he is also in for a surprise when a new king is born, not in his palace but in a stable in Bethlehem.

How do you react when the plans change? I know there are times that I get upset and frustrated when things change. I like to know what is coming and find it hard when my expectations are not met. Sometimes there are parts of a plan that I have really been anticipating and find myself off-balance when they do not happen as I had planned. Usually my struggle then is to accept things as they are and not as I wished they could have been.

One of the things that made those first Christmas Eve services manageable is that I was not attached to the way things had to happen. I was able to accept changes because I was willing to give up the control I had over things and instead to react to what the world was bringing me. I was able to navigate the sudden changes because I was willing to let go of the plans I had and make new plans instead. I think there is wisdom to be found in this. I think we all do better when we are able to recognize that part of following God is letting go of what we want and instead listening to what God wants.

Mary and Joseph do this and so they take the journey from their home in Nazareth to a stable in Bethlehem. They leave the comfort and safety of their own space for a strange and new place that God is calling them. They let go of their own hopes and expectations and instead follow God. When they do this, something amazing happens, they give birth to a child, who is born in the city of David, who is heralded by angels and greeted by shepherds and worshipped by kings. When they let their of their own plans they begin to take part in God’s plan, which is working to save us. Surely that is glad tidings of great joy to all people. Let us also journey to Bethlehem and worship this newborn king!

Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What does it feel like for you when you have to change your plans?

When is a time in your life when nothing went according to plan and it still turned out alright?

What plans do you think God might have for your life that are different than your own plans?

Prayer:

Wondrous God, you come into our hearts in small and simple ways, like a child, born in a manager. As we get ready to explore again the miracle of your birth among us, prepare our hearts and minds to let you rule them. Take away from us all of the distractions and temptations to follow others instead of you. Help us to be faithful to you. Amen

Mary's Visit to Elizabeth

Luke 1:39-45

Mary visits Elizabeth

39 Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. 40 She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.42 With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry.43 Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”

 

Thoughts on the passage:

When I started in ministry, I was appointed to two churches. One of them was a small, struggling new church that was organized ten years ago and have not yet grown enough to support itself. The other church I was appointed to was Park United Methodist Church in Brainerd. At Park I was the part-time associate pastor. My role there was to support the senior pastor, Rory Swenson, in the work that he was doing. It was a great first appointment for me because it gave me the chance to work in my own space at the smaller church but also to continue to learn from Rory in what he had to teach me.

As I mentioned the smaller church was struggling to be self-sufficient. I remember one year, after doing our fall pledge campaign and looking at the budget we were going to have a significant budget shortfall. I do not remember the exact dollar amount anymore, but I would be willing to guess it was easily between 10% and 20% of the total budget for the congregation. I was at a loss at what to do. I called Rory asking for help and he dropped everything and met me for coffee to go over the numbers and talk about what options there might be. He did not have some sort of magic answer for me. What he did do was provide a listening ear, a calm presence, and a quiet wisdom to the situation.

 We are not told exactly why it is that Mary heads to visit Elizabeth. We know that Mary has just learned two huge pieces of news. The first is that Mary is going to give birth to the Son of God. The second is that her relative, Elizabeth, against all odds, is also pregnant and already getting close to giving birth. There could be a number of reasons for her journey. As an older woman who previously was childless, it is possible that Elizabeth had been like a second mother figure to Mary, offering her support and care. It might be that Mary felt she had a duty as a family member to be present with Elizabeth and help with the birth. It might be that Mary felt overwhelmed with what she had learned, and she needed someone to talk to. After all, who was going to believe her if not another woman who was also experiencing a miracle.

When we face challenges in our lives, we often turn to people in our lives who can offer understanding and support. When I am struggling with what to preach on a Sunday, I turn to my mother, and not my father for help. When I am not sure what to do with a home repair project, I am calling my father instead. I love both my parents and often turn to them for advice, but I usually tailor that request to the person I think is going to better understand what I am going through. The greater the need the more likely I am to seek a person who could understand me. When the little church I was serving finally did need to close, I did not call Rory, but instead called my friend who had just recently closed her first church as well. I wanted to talk to someone who had been through what I was going to go through and could offer me that support.

I really think that this is why Mary rushes to go see Elizabeth. She undertakes this journey because she needs to be near someone who will understand her. Mary could certainly talk to her mother about the process of giving birth and would have likely gotten some good advice. She might have also gotten a stern lecture on having sex before getting married. Mary might have avoided telling her parents because she was not sure they would believe her. After all, the idea of God fathering a child is a lot less likely than the idea of a woman getting pregnant outside of marriage. If your child came to you and said they were pregnant with the Son of God, would you believe them.

Desperate for understanding and longing for support, Mary rushes to the only woman she can think of who might be able to really believe her. In Elizabeth she has someone she knows has experienced God’s miraculous power. When she meets Elizabeth, this is only further confirmed. Before she can even say something, Elizabeth can already tell that God’s spirit is upon her and knows she is pregnant. Elizabeth then becomes the first person to recognize Christ as Lord. The experience that both Mary and Elizabeth have had brings them together.

Who is the Elizabeth in your life that you turn to when you need help and support? Who is the Mary in your life that you have helped mentor and support when they were going through something difficult? If you think of my examples, it probably depends on what the problem is. Who is the person you turn to when you get bad news and need to process it? Who is the person you turn to when you have a spiritual experience and you are trying to understand it? If God called you to do something new and different, who would you reach out to?

We are not islands unto ourselves. We are not meant to survive in this world alone. When Mary gets this awesome and life changing news, she needs to talk to someone about it. We need to make sure that we do the same when we are facing challenges in our lives. Unfortunately, our society does not always make that easy. We lift up the self-made person as being the epitome of the American dream. We prioritize and celebrate the individual rather than the group. We teach our children, especially our boys, to stuff their feelings inside and to deal with things on their own.

We need look no further than the appalling rates of suicide and depression in our country today to know that we are not helping anyone with this advice. Would a 21st century Mary been willing to confide in Elizabeth or would she have hidden her secret in shame, afraid of seeming too weak, afraid of she would be judged? Do we create a climate of love, trust, and support? Are we too quick to leap to judgement and from there to condemnation?

I know what I think the answers to those questions are. I think yes, as a society we are too quick to judge that which we do not understand. We are too quick to cast out those we disagree with. We forget the lesson of Luke’s gospel, that to be blessed is to be loved by God, not by the world. We fail to see those around us with the eyes of God and know that they are loved like us. Instead we judge them, for their political beliefs, for their gender, sexuality, tattoos, clothing, music choices, country of origin and so many other things.

We need to be more like Elizabeth, open and ready to greet Christ in whatever form he comes in our door. We need to be more like Elizabeth, creating a home for those like Mary who are confused, afraid, and seeking understanding to come in the door. We need to do more to love the least, the last, and the left out, because in them we will find the Son of God.  Amen

Questions to Ponder:

When is a time you have needed to turn to someone else for understanding?

When is a time you felt judged for the problems you were dealing with?

What can you do to see Christ in those around you who need help?

Prayer:

Wondrous God, you come into our hearts in small and simple ways, like a child, born in a manager. As we get ready to explore again the miracle of your birth among us, prepare our hearts and minds to let you rule them. Take away from us all of the distractions and temptations to follow others instead of you. Help us to be faithful to you. Amen