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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Second Sunday of Advent: Peace

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:8-16

While Simeon watched the sun go down in Jerusalem (remember the story from last week?), little Benjamin huddled close to the fire. As soon as the sun had slipped below the horizon, the wind started. It was a cold, biting wind and Benjamin quickly grabbed his cloak. His father, James, looked across the fire at Benjamin: “Getting cold, son?” he asked.

James was a rugged man. His hair was tossed and his beard tangled. And he smelled like sheep. But Benjamin didn’t notice—his dad always smelled like sheep… or did the sheep smell like his dad? “Benjamin,” his dad called again, “are you dreaming already?”

Benjamin shrugged his shoulders. “Just a little cold,” he said. His father nodded. “It looks as if it will be a cold night tonight. Why don’t you go look for more firewood? We’ll be out here until the sun comes back.”

“Ok.” Benjamin said quietly.

Have you ever been in a dark place where the wind howls and there are no electric lights? Benjamin hated the dark. There were coyotes out there, and maybe even wolves. His friend Simon, the son of another shepherd, even saw a bear one time. Benjamin did not go far, picking up dry twigs and sticks from the shrubs in the field. He wished he wasn’t so afraid all the time.

Benjamin was afraid of spiders, ants, flying bugs, and big fish. He was afraid of being in tight spaces, swimming, and being alone in the dark. But most of all Benjamin was afraid of the Romans. Big soldiers with huge swords and tall helmets. They weren’t very nice to his people, especially a shepherd’s kid like himself. One time he was taking food out to his dad in the field and a soldier took it away from him. Another time he was laughing on the road with his friends and a drunk soldier got angry and started throwing rocks at them. One of the rocks had hit him and knocked him to the ground. He touched his shoulder where the bruise still smarted.

Benjamin was pretty sure he had enough wood now—maybe one more stick. His back was to the fire, and he bent down to pick up one last big one.

But just when he was bending down, his shadow grew long, and he could see everywhere. Something bad was happening. He wanted to run to his dad. His dad always knew what to do. But if he turned around, he’d have to see what was making the light. He could hardly breathe – he turned to run. He saw two things at once. The first thing he saw was his dad on the ground covering his face, and second, a huge person in shining armor with a huge sword on his back was somehow floating in the air. Benjamin couldn’t breathe. He could feel the fear in the tips of his fingers and the bottoms of his toes. He heard his heart pounding in his ears. And just when he thought he could take a breath, a voice boomed across the field with a voice so loud he could feel it in his chest…

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
              “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
(Lk 2:10-14 ESV)

And then, as suddenly as they had come – they were gone.

Discussion Questions:
What is something you are afraid of? What is something you worry about? (fear and worry are close friends!)
What do you do when you’re scared and/or worried?
The angels brought a message and a blessing: what was the message? And what was the blessing?
The Messiah was to be the Prince of Peace. Peace from violence and evil, but also peace from fear, worry, and anxiety. What do you think our Prince of Peace wants us to do when we’re afraid?

Song: Angels We Have Heard On High

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Hoping and Waiting - First Sunday of Advent

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 7:14; 9:2-7; Luke 2:25-26

Simeon was young when the Romans had come. But even now in his old age, he could still hear the pounding of feet on the street, the ringing of the swords; the shouts of the guard;, the groans of the wounded. And the smell of blood--oh how he wished he could forget. His people was a conquered people. For a hundred years they had scratched out freedom, but it was short-lived. Now even as he walked through the city some forty years later, Simeon could feel the eyes of the Roman guard boring into his back.

Simeon loved this city. Once the seat of glory and conquest, now a symbol of resilience and of the faithfulness of God. It refused to be permanently destroyed. They would always keep on rebuilding. 

Oh, his knees. They creaked with every step Why so many stairs? Slowly, one at a time, up, up, up to the temple. When he was a boy he used to run up these steps – sometimes two or three at a time – always with his mother calling for him to slow down--it was, after all, the house of God! The great temple that had been erected while the Persians ruled them. Babylonians. Persians. Greeks. Romans. They all blended together now. And somehow, even after 500 years of being back Jerusalem, it still felt like they were not yet home. When would God really bring back the kingdom? Like the days of the David the Great: Slaying giants, routing thieving marauders, keeping those pesky Philistines in check. Those must have been the days! Could you imagine the celebrations of King Solomon the Wise? Banners fluttering in the breeze, music laughing through the air, wine flowing freely, people worshiping Yahweh without the sneers and snickers of the Romans.

Suddenly Simeon realized that he had reached the top of the steps. There he was, lost in thought again. Maybe today would be the day.

“Peace, Simeon.” It was Caiaphas, the young priest. “Coming to watch again?”
“Peace, Caiaphas. God has promised that I shall see him with my own eyes. I will not stop coming until I see his face.”

“If you say so. Do you think he could really overthrow the Romans?” Caiaphas’ voice lowered to a whisper. The Romans did not tolerate insurrection. Caiphas’ friend Simon had been tied to a post and whipped only last week just for rolling his eyes at the guards. He couldn’t be too careful.

“Need I remind you of the great escape from Egypt?” Simeon wasn’t as quiet as Caiaphas would have liked. “Pharaoh’s army was the strongest in the world. Nothing stood in his way. And our people were only slaves. The whole world saw that day that nothing is impossible for God. My young boy, with God, anything is possible. Never forget to whom you offer sacrifices, my child. Even under Roman rule, the LORD is God, and we are his people. He will not forget us. He will be true to his word. I just hope he comes soon”

That night, after another long day of waiting, Simeon watched the sun dip below the horizon - fiery clouds lighting up the sky in a fearsome display. “God of Abraham and my Fathers. Do not be far off. Do not wait forever. I put my trust in your promise, my hope in your goodness”

What was the promise given to Simeon? What was he waiting for?
What did Simeon do (something what God’s people often do in Scripture) when Caiaphas questioned God to Simeon?
What is it that we, as the people of God, wait for today?
Do you sometimes doubt or question God?
What things can we remember in history to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness and power?
How has God shown his faithfulness and power to our family?

Just as the Jews waited for the Messiah to come, we too wait only now for his second coming. 
Sing together: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Commencement Speech for Silas, June 11, 2017

“Guard the deposit entrusted to you”

We’re here to celebrate Silas’s graduation. But Silas, you haven’t accomplished much.
In a fact, everything we’re celebrating today is a gift that has been given to you. There have been sleepless nights devoted to your arrival at this moment. Thousands and thousands of dollars spent. You love to read. But that didn’t come from you. It came from hours and hours of books upon books being read to you. You love to learn and love knowing things. But that love of knowledge and learning was imparted to you from someone other than yourself.

You have not scaled an impassible wall, nor have you swum the breadth of the ocean. You have actually accomplished little in the grand scheme of things. You were simply given a gift. You have been entrusted with an upbringing and an education that had at its climax, this ceremony: which signifies an end not only to your secondary education, but to your childhood.

But your upbringing and education is not all that has been entrusted to you. You have been given a gift much more valuable than this. You have been given adoption papers, an inheritance of kings.

And now you must finally address the question: who are you going to be. Not what, but who.
Silas, you might be one of the smartest people I know. But being smart doesn’t ensure success. Nor does wisdom, with all its virtue. Even the wisdom of Solomon in all its splendor was not enough: “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.” (1 Kings 11:4)

Silas, You have been entrusted with much more than an education towards knowledge and wisdom—you have been entrusted with the treasure of knowing Christ. In addition to the two pillars in your life, there have been many others cheering you on in your race pointing you towards the finish line.

Run, Silas, run! Run your race with wholeness of heart! Run with character and integrity! Run forgetting what lies behind. Run without a word of complaint. What more would we expect than that the road be filled with danger?

In his final letter to his dear friend Timothy, Paul writes a phrase which I leave with you:

"By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you." (2 Tim 1:14)