Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:1-7 How refreshing it can be to spend time in prayer just reflecting on all of the blessing we have. One big thanks that I have is that I live in a place where we still continuously remember this holiday. Though often we forget why we gather I know that this one day is the day that truely sets us apart from the rest of the nations. Why you may ask? This holiday is an American tradition! Sure Canada celebrates it but it is something that began in the American colonies. When I was in Ukraine they asked about 2 days, July 4th and Thanksgiving. The 4th of July was asked about only because it was a holiday that we celibrated while I was there in Ukraine, but all the students sat in awe as I spoke about thanksgiving. What does it mean? We give thanks for what we have been blessed with, and we honor those around us that have helped make us who we are. We remember our leaders and praise God for being blessed with a country like ours were we are free seek, explore, and invest in our dreams. But the greatest thing that we should remember is God. We have blessings because God gave us the imagination, desire, hope, and drive to achieve. We were made the way we are, allowed to experience what we experience, because God wants us to be a blessing to those around us. He set His son to be our mediator, to stand in our place between mankind and God. We praise and thank Him because it is through Jesus that we can boldly seek God, ask for help, and through Him we receive our blessings. When we remain thankful those around us see a different type of life. A life that is not dedicated only toward selfishness but of blessing. These past few weeks have been stressful weeks for me personally. I have felt like I have been streched thin, and nearly ready to break. But as I pray today I realise that I have One that can meet me where I am and help me walk through the trials to safely reach the other side. It is through Jesus I have hope and strength. Through Him I ca fail and still have hope and acceptance. Today I am thankful for my friends, my family, my Church, and most of all my Lord and Savior Jesus. Without all these people and God, I would be a broken and bitter man. Thank God that I am not what I coul be but who I am in Christ, a ransomed sinner saved by Grace. Remember these things as we walk through this day sharing our feasts and enter into the advent season.
Scripture: Hebrews 9:24-28 There is something to be said about artistic expresions of worship. They help us imagine the greatness and beauty of God. One of my favorite stories to hear is how the Russian Orthodox Church came about. Now if you know the actual story and I do not tell it correctly then please feel free to correct it in a comment below. But the leader of Russia began to see people coming into his lands with different faiths and he was concerned. He wanted a unified people, a united nation, under one leader and one faith. So he interviewed leaders within these faiths: Jewish, Islam, and Christian. I wouldn’t be surprised if he also interviewed Hindu and Buddists as well since all of these faiths in some form are in the current lands that were once and still are Russia. During the interviews he like what many of these faiths had to say, but there were several rules involved that the Russian people would not be so fond of, I guess they liked meat and bacon. So he investigated one group further sending three men to visit Constantinople to learn more about the Christian faith. When they returned they said that they had seen heaven! Shortly after that all of Russia became Christian and remains the largest Christian nation in the world (contrary to what many people believe.). These men saw heaven! This is not literally true, what they saw was the great churches of the Eastern Roman Empire, churches that were awe inspiring. They also saw and heard great men leading these people as well as serving them. They saw the greatness and beauty, as well as the humility and service. These men quickly became Christian and were ordained and sent back to Russia as priests. To these men the church was heaven on earth. It was where God met man in a very real sense. Do you feel this way when you enter a place of worship? As a Quaker, I grew up in a very plain Meeting House. I love the simplicity of it, but I also understand that in our simplicity sometimes it is harder for many people to be lead into that state of awe. When I first entered into ministry I was involved in a ministerial alliance that would have a community Thanksgiving worship service. Since I was the new guy in town I was asked to present the message, and like an excited new pastor I jumped at the chance. The service was going to be held for the first time in the Catholic Church. The Quaker minister was about to preach in the Catholic Church, simplicity was about to meet ornate. I requested a time of open worship, or silent worship after I presented the message presenting to them that communal corporate prayer was a form of Communion that all faith traditions could unite under, they agreed that that would be great. So for the first time there was an Evangelical Friends Meeting for Worship in a Catholic Church. I will admit that it was one of the most powerful Meetings for Worship I had ever participated in. I stood before the group and spoke my maybe ten minute sermon, and we began to reflect and pray together as a comunity of Catholics, Baptists, Quakers, Penticostals, and Methodists. We looked at the statues of Mary and Jesus, the stations of the Cross surrounding us, the various Saints of old, and, the saints of contemporary times. I find it hard to say but in that beautifully decorated worship space I felt more like a Quaker than I have ever felt, I felt the presence of God in a way that I had not felt so strongly before. In that Catholic Church I felt like I had seen and sat in heaven. Art has a way of facilitating the spiritual senses. As a Quaker I believe that we should not go crazy in investng in art but I also do not want to say that God cannot and does not speak through art. My wife is an artist and I know that God speaks powerfully through her work, at least to me. But as a Quaker I know that te beauty of that Catholic Church, and the beauty of the Icons and the pottery of my wife are not the reality, they are empty without God. They are copies of the reality, not the real thing. Can you imagine that? The beauty of the worship space is just a cheap copy of the real deal! Even the most beautifully clad church, is a cheap copy. And this passage was written to a group of people that understood beautiful worship spaces. The temple of the Hebrew people was considered the greatest and most beautiful place of worship in the empire! the worship inside was scared it could cleanse your life of all wrong and put you right with God again. It was said that in the inner most room God actually sat on the mercy seat. But even that was a mere copy of the reality of what Christ has done for each of us when He took on His role as our highest of high priests and sacrificed His life so that we could be reconciled with God. Imagine that image, imagine the sights and smells temple sacrifices and also the disgust and beauty of it all. The most disgusting sight within the most beautiful place on earth. The greatest and most beautiful work of human artistic talent is a cheap copy. The greatness of the tallest building on earth, or the engineering marvel of th Hoover Dam are both just cheap copies. God’s kingdom is greater than al that, heaven is so great that to even come close to describing it John in his Revalation had to say that what we find important and valuable, no better than the sand and rocks used to make roads. Gold being used as asphalt. I cannot imagine it though I try. But what is even greater than that is that Jesus walked out of that place to come to earth, to be born as a baby, to grow up through the awkard age of puberty, to work in the family business, to teach and to serve. He experience a totally normal every day human life yet He was of heaven. He did all that for one reason, to bring God to mankind and to bring mankind to God. To complete this He willingly went to the cross. Done to once for all redeem and restore all of creation. Imagine that. The greatest temple ever built was just a cheap copy of the reality. It makes no sense but it inspires me. I still sit and wonder why did it have to happen, but in the end I accept the grace. You see that is life the digusting and the beauty. We can only see one or the other right now but on the other side of the vail we will see things differently through the grace and redemption, through Jesus for all people, the digusting and the beautiful will be seen in the reality of what they are works of art created by the hand of God. As you pray let us remember this.
Scripture: Psalm 127
I sit reading countless news stories and a few blogs speaking about various aspects of the recent election. Many saying they know why things went the way they did. Let’s be honest about what we are seeing, we have a contemporary clashing of the pharisees and the saducees. Both of which say they are the one that is for us, the truth they are about as much for us as your boss is.
I say this because so many of us that call ourselves followers of Christ have become consumed by these factions. I like many of you have my own opinions about which way the country should go, but I do know that God does not give any points to us for political affiliation. I don’t mean to speak politics, but the scripture I read today and the news of the past few days is coming together into one crazy thought processes that will probably upset everyone that reads it.
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build labor in vain. Unless the LORD guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. This really hit home with me today. How much time,energy, and money have the “Christian Right” and “Christian Left” spent on issues? Only to have their efforts come up short and empty? We boldly say that God is on our side and we give several points and proof texts to prove our cases.
Unless the Lord builds the house, unless the Lord guards the city; what does that mean to us today? Are we confusing our labor and watch with that of God’s? We worry, watch, and work but we seem to forget that it is God that allows us to do theses things. Jesus says, do not worry because it cannot add a day to our life. In contrast, the Psalmist tells us, “Happy is the man whose quiver is full of [sons].”
The family is a place of comfort and safety, a place where you grow and are encourage. Well at least ideally. But the family has been skewed in our ever changing culture. It is no longer surrounded by white fenses with a dog happily barking as the father comes in from work at a scheduled time. Once a family was parents, siblings, grandparent and cousins all living in the same comunity, now our families are spread across the nation if not the world. We as humans need a family of some sort, we need that support, comfort, encouragment, and safety so we find it else where. If we were to rewrite this passage in our current culture instead of sons it might read friends. Friends built around something in common.
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. God is building these communities of friends all around us. They are being built wherever people gather, share their faith and encourage each other. I have seen these communities and families being build everywhere I go, that might be because I am a pastor. But I am sure you have seen aspects of this where you go as well. I have had a meeting of friends around the cheese cooler in the local grocery store, where God was praised and people encouraged. I have participated in a cross-cultural meeting around a breakroom table while sharing sacramental coffee. The church and the family are both changing in this cultural shift. But God is building a house. We saw very similar in the second and third centuries, where families were fractured and new families were built in Christ.
As we look into the future what do we see? Are we filled with excitment or dread? When I look forward I am filled with hope and anticipation. I am excited because we no longer live in a “Christian” culture. This may strick you as odd, but I see is as a great opportunity God is building something. Just as He built, guarded, and filled communities with friends in those early years of the church. God has put us here for such a time as this! Let us seek Him, let us build with Him, and let us fill our quivers with friends and dump the out the arrows of division. Let us as we pray and look foward into our collective futures get excited about the many ways we can serve God and love our neighbors.