Archive for the ‘Isaiah’ Category

2nd Sunday of Advent

Matthew 3:1-12, Isaiah 11:1-10

1. Way In

Reflecting on the Christmas decorations in the church

significance of hauling the traditional decorations out


family and friends

remembering as liturgy

comfort, familiarity

Theological, scriptural significance and symbolism




good reminders in the Advent season of preparation and expectation

that’s “Advent waiting” as we discussed last Sunday

Christmas decorating at my house

hauling boxes up from basement

decorating tree, etc.

My family memory growing up

We called it a “Manger Scene,” fancy word – Crèche

this church have one?

we did, but I never heard this word for it

crèche, from French for “infant bed”

Hinds Manger Scene

had it as long as I can remember

maybe Joy has it now

definitely a reminder of Jesus’ humble birth

sort of a sad lot, as I remember, no telling how it looks now.

Old age, I guess. Not made to last forever. Certainly not made to withstand handling of my sisters and me (probably mostly me) for over 40 years


three-legged donkey

had to lean against the back wall of the barn to keep from falling over

camel that also lost a leg somewhere along the line

better shape than the donkey

pipe-cleaner leg

even found one that more or less matched his coloring

at least the camel could stand on his own

fleecy, cottony sheep and lambs

except for large bald spots

where they looked more like hairless cats


in pretty good shape

stood there lowing

whatever that means

baby Jesus

porcelain infant

treated with respect and care over the years

“You better be careful. That’s Jesus!”

but the manger …

repaired with popsicle sticks and bread bag ties

Mary and Joseph

kneeling beside the manger

looking holy and serene

like baby Jesus …

they enjoyed the care and tenderness over the years

such as one would expect for the members of the holy family

Mary looked terrific …

considering she had just given birth to a child in a barn


in a little group

one kneeling, two standing

also placed near the manger

chips and cracks gave their beards and cloaks kind of a mottled look

and the one with any arms left at all

was holding a staff

striking resemblance to the camels leg

also made back in the day when pipe cleaners were really used to clean pipes

not sold at Michael’s for crafts

Wise men

huddled around the manger with the shepherds

never mind the scriptural evidence for their arrival 12 days after the birthing night when the shepherds got there


looking down from atop the barn

lacy wings were shamefully tattered and dingy

but her little face was still sweet and … well, angelic

shining brilliantly above was the star

if not brilliant, at least earnestly shiny

or as much so as so-many-years-old aluminum foil could

Humble and worn as this manger scene was …

setting it up meant “getting ready for Christmas” to me and my sisters

it was comfortable and familiar

I remember

putting my face at eye-level with the manger scene on the table where it sat, surrounded with pine straw

… thinking about the journey of the wise men on camels and the shepherds on foot

…thinking about a new-born baby like one of my sisters in a manger

in a barn with animals around stamping their feet and snorting

… each repair job on the aging figures in the scene

the ones my father fixed

and the ones I fixed or re-repaired as the years went by

Manger Scene (I feel pretentious calling it a crèche)

surely you have, or have had one at your house or in the church

as I describe my family’s does it spark any memories for you?

preparation of your home

how that preparation prepared you spiritually


now imagine that humble and serene manger scene being invaded


imagine peering in at that holy scene and seeing something irreverently out-of-place

like one of Pauly’s Power Rangers standing among the shepherds

or a Polly Pocket sitting in the barn by Mary

how would that make you feel?

disrespected, angry, insulted

sort of how I think about the account I just read from Matthew’s gospel about John the Baptist

as we are preparing for the birth of the Christ child

… in the middle of the familiar stories and songs

… in the middle of our comfortable and familiar manger scene…

in the middle of all our reverent preparations …comes some kind of nut

in the middle of preparation, prayer, lighting candles, decorating, and sending greetings …

comes John the Baptist, preaching fire and brimstone

while we’re putting up Christmas trees, he’s preaching about chopping down trees

while we’re lighting Advent candles, he’s preaching about blazing fire for a sinful world

while we’re planning holiday meals and cooking treats, he’s eating locusts

while we’re cleaning and ironing our festive holiday outfits, he’s wearing camel hair and leather

and I don’t think we’re talking about the fashionable came’s hair like some men’s blazers are made from

we’re thinking of nice things to say in Christmas cards and he’s calling religious leaders snakes and sons of snakes

J.t.B. doesn’t fit here

this hell and damnation sermon doesn’t belong in our manger scene

maybe at Lent when we’re supposed to be all repentant …

but not during Advent

not in our manger scene

let’s get back to comfort food

back to the familiar manger scene

back to familiar decorations and symbols

Or does he belong?

Does J.t.B. understand Advent in ways we miss?

Can we listen to John with new ears?

Can we consider that God knew what he was doing when he put this part in the Bible?

What is John teaching us about preparing the way of the Lord?

2, Tell the Story

John says to prepare for the coming future of the Lord

do we prepare for his coming as God’s word instructs?

or do we prefer to shape our future based on how we think the world ought to be?

who’s in charge and who benefits?

us and people like us?

or the strangers and aliens among us?

check back with Deuteronomy for how God describes a “Godly nation”

J.t.B. sees a group of religious leaders coming for a baptism he calls them a brood of vipers (now that’s hitting close to home). “Who warned you,” he asks, “to run away fro the wrath to come?”

he warns them against claiming right and privilege because Father Abraham is on their side

J.t.B. scoffs at this, religious heritage doesn’t save you or guarantee your future

God could raise up a whole generation of children of Abraham from a pile of rocks

Do we look at security the same way as those Pharisees and Sadducees?

are we over-confident in the fact that we came from good, God-fearing, church-going people?

doesn’t that make us a little better?

but John would say, phooey, God could raise up a whole generation of church-goers from a pile of rocks – or a pile of snow

Do we think too much that we have it all sewed up? Or all figured out?

Do we?

or do we believe that the future is in God’s hand?

J.t.B. gives us clear instruction – Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near

repent, he’s telling us to turn our lives around

not just a small turn

talking about really cranking the wheel around

the Greek word we try to translate and tame into English is metanoia

“change or shift” “perspective”

in other words, a complete reordering of life

change of heart

Clarence Jordan, preacher, integrationist, Greek scholar and author of Cotton Patch Gospel says,

“repentance isn’t just being sorry for something you got caught doing…repentance is a complete transformation of heart.

I can relate to that

sure, we’re sorry when we get caught

that’s not repentance

when we allow God to work in our lives through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as witnessed in scripture…only then can we be transformed

J.t.B. challenges us to turn away from the future as we try to create and control it; and look to, and live for

the future God creates

to get there, we have to metanoia

reorder our living

open up to God’s transforming power

this can be difficult, even threatening to us

because it means exposing our own triflings

and struggle for control

releasing that requires a change of heart, a reordering, a repentance

I heard a preacher say that “we don’t bring in the kingdom by changing, but we receive the kingdom by going to our knees in repentance and turning our backs on the way we were before”

these are positions of submission not power

because we never stand as tall as we do when we are on our knees before God

and we never look so well as when we turn our backs on the way we were before

John’s words are urgent, and he is right

if we don’t’ turn and follow him, we’ll be sorry

the new future/the kingdom of heaven is breaking in on us and we must be ready

John is calling us to prepare the way of our Lord, prepare him room

by turning from ways that separate us from God and others

and to meet God in our repentance

J.t.B. uses simple words, and my mind appreciates that

he says the axe is laying at the foot of the tree

and every tree not bearing fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire

we are not saved y our works…we are saved, by grace, though faith

but our life and salvation is wasted when we don’t live lives worthy of God’s intentions towards us

We prepare the way for the Lord when we turn to God and start bearing good fruit

we don’t prepare for the kingdom of heaven by withdrawing fro the world

we are called to be fruit-producing trees

our lives produce fruit when we honor God by the way we live

Think of someone you know who is a fruit-bearing tree

I was reading about Brother Bryan, a Presby. minister in Birmingham, AL during the depression

he opened up his church to give bread and soup to hungry families

I may have told you before about the statue of Brother Bryan in BHM

and how his old church now runs a women’s shelter, transitional home, daycare, and medical clinic

Brother Bryan bore fruit

and that seed continues to multiply

3. So What?

We are called to prepare, to make ready.

God takes us seriously.

God takes our sin seriously and calls us to take it seriously too

God has made us for a better way, and wishes for us the best

G. grieves when we turn our backs on the future that can await us.

God breaks into the winter of our lives and says,

“Look at the new growth. See the shoot coming from that old dead stump. Catch my vision fore the future.”

Maybe John the Baptist is not such an unlikely Advent character.

Not that after some study he’s any less intrusive.

still looks out of place in our manger scene.

delivery is fire and brimstone,

but his message is one of hope for the ones who will listen,

and be transformed by the Lord who’s on the way.

His message is that God cares about our sin so much because he cares about us so much.

Dr. Shirley Guthrie, a beloved seminary professor of ours, liked to say, “God loves us the way we are, and God loves us too much to want us to stay that way.

John the Baptist is crying urgently in the wilderness that God has a future in store for us.

Advent is the time to catch the vision, to catch God’s vision.

Advent is the time to bear fruit worthy of the name of our Lord

Be filled with his Spirit

and live as if we believed that our lives were bought at a great cost.

In that we bear fruit

and live for the sake of God’s kingdom which has already come near

So may it be with us. Amen.

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1st Sunday of Advent

Matthew 24:36-44; Isaiah 2:1-5


1. Way In

Waiting, by Debra Ginsberg

about her 20-year career waiting tables

“fancy dining clubs, dingy diners. and nearly everything in-between”

read from the book

read from pp. 105-107, 116-117

Conclude with, “A recently hired coworker noticed my despair and shook his head. ‘It’s bad tonight, he said.”

“Like every Saturday,’ I replied”

“…How long have you been doing this?’ he asked”

“Twenty years. I’ve been doing this for exactly twenty years…It’s been twenty years and I’m still waiting.” (Waiting, pp. xi-xii)

First Sunday of Advent

first Sunday in a new year on the church calendar

“Advent” from Latin, advenir – adventus “arrival”

preparation for Christmas

not just “pre-Christmas”

season with its own focus and message

preparation and expectation

proclaim the coming Lord

prepare him room

Comparison of non-Advent waiting


“This, my friends, is not Advent waiting”


Waiting, as in the title of the book I read from

I have never waited tables, maybe you have

But I have seen how hard waitresses and waiters work

wondered how many miles they walk in a day

between dining room and kitchen

reflect on irony of such a hectic job being called “waiting”

2. Tell the Story

If Advent is a time of waiting, it’s active waiting. It’s expectation and preparation. In Advent we proclaim the coming of the Lord, and we make preparations. The reading this morning from Isaiah is about the promised reign of God that will completely transform the way things are.

Nationalism and conflict will be replaced by unity and peace

people “won’t study war anymore”, they will transform their weapons into tools for planting and harvesting food.

In this day, all nations will come to Jerusalem to know the one true God.

This vision seems too far away today.

seems unreachable and shimmers like a mirage

in the light of the news of war and conflict these days.

Isaiah’s vision of peace and satisfaction seems to far away

as people go hungry and homeless

as women and children search for a place to eat or sleep while a nation calls them too lazy to work.

Isaiah’s vision seems to far away when hard-working people try to stretch what’s left of a paycheck after taxes.

true in the early 20th century depression

as it is in the 21st century

fallout still from the sub-prime mortgage debacle


homelessness and hunger

Isaiah’s vision of enough seems unreachable

when those who make too much money are seen as evil

and those who work for a pittance are looked at with disdain

as those who will do the dirty jobs nobody else wants to do.

But that’s the promise we proclaim today.

In this traditional Advent text

the prophet proclaims the day of the Lord.

Isaiah also prophesied of Immanuel, “God with us,” the promised Messiah.

And this is the promise we proclaim as we read and live lives touched by this text.

We proclaim the birth of the Lord, which has already happened.

We celebrate the day of his birth

and proclaim the fulfillment of prophecy,

that he came just as God said he would.

Out of the faith we have in fulfilled promises we proclaim the promise of God’s kingdom to come,

the fulfillment of creation that has not yet come, but has been promised.

So we are waiting. We are waiting for that which has been promised, but has not come, not yet. But we wait with the expectation of those who have seen promises fulfilled, already.

So we wait, somewhere between already and not yet. …Somewhere between Immanuel, “God with us,” and the day of the Lord when we shall beat our swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

So how do we wait? What do we do in the meantime?

We prepare. We make Him room. Our waiting is like the parable Jesus tells in our reading from Matthew. Be sure to pay close attention to what Jesus says here. He is talking about his Second Coming when he says, “about that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Every era since the time of Jesus has seen war and unrest that match some of the prophecy in Revelation. …examples of previous events over millennia that coincide with prophecy, and religious fiction about end times … We have enough trouble following the teachings as they are written, let alone when some writer overlays a fictitious narrative on top of the scriptures.

The essential things about the end times are in the Bible, and we shouldn’t be surprised to find them difficult to understand. Remember, God’s plan does not depend upon us understanding or even agreeing with it.

Jesus said that only God knows when that day will come. Nobody else knows, not even Jesus. The answer isn’t written in code anywhere in the Bible or answered in any scriptural riddles. God knows we have a hard enough time following his Word and doing what is plain in the scriptures. Why would God try to trick us with riddles and codes? God’s plan for us is no secret.

Right before his Ascension, Jesus said, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7) That’s what he is saying here, in Matthew’s gospel, too. The time is uncertain, and during those uncertain times the faithful should be watchful and prepare. He mentions the flood, but his focus is on the lack of preparation not the wickedness destroyed in the flood.

In the image of one taken and one left, Jesus points to the suddenness and finality of the coming of the Son of Man. The parable of the thief in the night urges us to be watchful. If you knew your house was going to be broken into at 3:45 a.m. what would your waiting look like? Would you just sit and wait on him to come or be ready, already having called the cops and so forth. Would you wait like me, idling at the door waiting for the alarm not to ring, or like Debra Ginsberg waiting on 4 tables of hungry, demanding, and self-important people?

Be prepared, he says. Wait watchfully. Wait actively.


Let’s remember this Advent is about the practice of preparation – that is, active waiting, which is holy waiting.

Don’t be put off by holy waiting. Don’t think because I call it holy, only a true saint can do it. Holy means “set aside,” as we are God’s people, set aside to live as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we were challenged to make an Advent practice of preparation. To make Him room.


How will we make Him room?

  • Is there anything taking up space in our house that we need to move to make Him room?
  • Is there anything in our hearts taking up space, that we need to get rid of to make Him room?
  • any attitudes that crowd Jesus out?
  • any habits that keep us from making room for Jesus?
  • any old junk lying around from how we used to be that makes it hard for us to find a place for Jesus?

The innkeeper had no room for Joseph and Mary to rest – even with Mary being “great with child”

  • Is there anything blocking our vision that keeps us from seeing Christ in others?
  • anything getting in the way of our outlook that we need to move out of the way to make Him room?

We are the sheep of his pasture and live by his commandments laws and statutes, guided by the law of love: To love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and all our souls, and all our might. And to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Remember, Advent is not just pre-Christmas. It is a time of proclamation and preparation. Make time for Him, prepare Him room. In a culture where the media wants you to shop ’til you drop in the shopping days they count down for you to Christmas.

Instead of “shop ’til you drop,” won’t you stop and drop to your knees, giving thanks for the good gifts of God, remembering His mighty acts, and pray that His transformative will be done in your life.

Think of this as a time of renewal, to get reacquainted with Jesus Christ. Prepare Him room by keeping the true meaning of Christmas in your heart. Prepare Him room by moving everything else out.

Renew, reacquaint, know the truth, and move the things out that get in the way of Christ in our lives.

How will you prepare Him room?


So may it be. Amen.

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Christmas Eve 11pm

On Christmas Eve, the advent candles have all been lit.

            The Christ candle is lit

            Carols have been sung and lessons have been read.

At home, food has been prepared and shared.

            Family is near, or is coming near, or is remembered with love.

            Decorations are out, wreaths and evergreens are hung.

            Ornamennts, garland, maybe popcorn and cranberries are hung.

            Presents are exchanged and wrapped or under the tree.

                        Your homes are decorated,

                        and you have found the places in town

                                    that have the best decorations to drive by.

At church, we have enjoyed special music

            and greeted old friends

            We have prepared our hearts for communion

                        and for the coming of our Lord

                        even as we acknowledge his presence among us.

The gospel account of the birth of Jesus has been read and re-read

            And favorite Christmas stories have been shared.

What then is left to do?

            What remains to be preached?

            Well, by now, if there are Christmas preparations you have yet to make –

                        I don’t think they’re going to get done.

            But the good news to proclaim – that’s what preaching is,

                        is the coming birth of the Christ child;

                        the good news of great joy proclaimed by the angels.

                                    Of the shepherds who came to see this promised savior.

            Let us hear the words and be amazed

                        Let us hear the words,

                                    treasuring them and pondering them in our hearts with Mary

                         And let us return with the shepherds

                                    glorifying and praising all that we have seen…

                                                and praising God.

A preacher has written an affirmation  for Christmas Eve that I would like to share

            I believe in Christmas.

          I believe that God sends light into the dark corners of our lives.

            That in then lonely and cold moments,

              God comes with a message of good news.

           I believe that God’s good news sweeps away all of the world’s bad news

                 like a broom sweeps away dust.

                  God brings hope in the midst of despair.

                  God brings healing in the midst of illness.

                  God brings peace in the midst of strife and solace to the mourning.

                  God brings power to the weak.

                God brings companionship to the lonely and family to the forgotten.

                God brings justice for the oppressed and liberty for the captive.

              Most of all, God brings new life in the midst of death.

          I believe in Christmas.

            I believe that God continues to work in our lives today

                    through this story of Christ’s birth so long ago.

We are like the shepherds,

         startled to hear the good news of the angels,

         but eager to go and see for ourselves.

We are like Mary,

       aware that somehow God is using us

      to accomplish things too big to imagine.

 We are like Joseph,

     not understanding fully what God calls us to do,

     but following as faithfully as we can.

We like the innkeeper,

    busy and frazzled,

    but making some room, somehow, for God to be born.

We are like the Wisemen,

   on a journey of discovery,

 bearing gifts to be given to glorify God.

Let us also be like the angel,

      proclaiming in our own lives,
      the glorious good news

       that God has come into the world

       and we shall never be the same.

  I believe in Christmas and with our lives today

       and throughout the year to come,

       let us proclaim that Christ is born,

        that Christmas is here,

      God’s kingdom is here

      and God is with us! Amen

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Christmas Eve 7pm


      playing in the house early one morning with Pauly

            Mommy left the room for a moment

            P. went to find her

            you know how 2 year-olds, once they’re mobile

                       they don’t walk anywhere – they run

           Pauly tripped and fell and hit his lip on a sharp corner

           when I got to him and picked him up –

                    he looked like  a train wreck

                       his lip was bleeding

           at first he cried a little

               then when he saw the blood

                     (and probably my face)

                          he started really crying, bawling

That’s how it goes sometimes,

            going along, minding your own business, looking for Mommy

              Boom!  you fall down

                and it hurts

                    then there’s blood

                      even Daddy seems scared


many times in scripture, somebody cries out to God

       God “when you cry out, I listen”

              God cannot help but hear the cries

                   God is close to the brokenhearted

There’s a mistaken idea that:

          God is for people who have e it all together

              Christians have it all together

          salvation means I’m perfect

          but scriptures say that we cry out, we don’t have it all together

             I will take on your burden

             I’m not looking for the healthy, I came for the sick


  from Pauly’s perspective

           the hurt is  all he knows

              that is all his reality

  what he doesn’t understand is that I will do anything for him

            take him and pull him close

                hold against my heart

           whisper assurance

             over and over

                  “You’re going to make it.  I love you.”

             I know that I will do anything

                   Did you get hurt?  Are you injured?  Is it not going like you hope?

do you  wonder about God

           how God let you go through that

            how God let you fall down and bust your lip open

                      so you had to take an ambulance ride

            how God allows the hurt?

That’s the time God is closest

              Like Mommy or Daddy holding Pauly close

                  We love you, we’re here

            How either of us would trade places in a minute

                to take on his pain

                 to calm his fear


That’s what it means to think of the birth of Jesus Christ

            (like the song) sweet little Jesus boy

                  we can go on all night, talking theologically about the nativity

                      the miracle of Jesus’ birth , the miracle of Mary

             But this is what it comes down to

                God has visited us in the person of Jesus Christ

                    so that humankind can know the human face of our Lord

                        and the tradition of faith that has continued since

              the ones who knew our Lord face-to-face

                 is the assurance that

                   we are all God’s children

                       each of us, in our own condition

                          we don’t have it all together

                 maybe we look like it

                       or spend a lot of time trying to look like we do

          more likely there is a part of us that feels broken,

               abandoned, confused, angry

On this night, which is full of the spirit of love and joy, anyway

           allow yourself to get caught up in the moment

              imagine yourself as a 2 year-old child

                  you fell and cut your lip

                     it’s bleeding…real bad

                           and it hurts

                    now imagine being taken up by the one who loves you best

                       mommy, daddy, nanny, pop, grandmommy

                          …. you know who it is

                      remember this is the person who would do anything for you

                              trade places with you if they could

                                or hold you close to their heart,

                                   rub your head, hold your hand

                                     and say

                                           it’s okay

                                           I love you

                                           I’m here

So God sent his son, a child of  a woman, a child – born in a barn

         born to take us in and make of us a family

                sent to call us together as a family made complete by his love

                     and has called us to reach out with love and forgiveness

                          so that the world may be changed

                               into a place of peace and love

             And when the task seems too much

                  or we feel alone and confused

                     may God – the Creator of the universe

                        take you up

                             into everlasting arms of love

                                and hold you near to his heart

                                    just as the most loving parent you can imagine

                                          it’s okay

                                          I love you

                                          I’m here

Because there’s no guarantee you won’t fall down

   that you won’t get hurt

             But there is a guarantee that when you do

                    you’ll never fall alone

                         “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy

                          to you a child is born this day …

                         a Savior who is Christ the Lord

                        This will be a sign for you

                          you will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes

                             and lying in a  manger.”

        May we always remember what it means to be

                the precious child

                       taken up into God’s loving arms

                              And may we always remember

                                   to respond as faithful children

                                      spreading the same good news

                                            to everybody we meet

                                             by the way we live our lives,


                                                So may it be with us.  Amen

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Isaiah 43:19

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.



1.  Way In

Are you   happy   angry    satisfied    frustrated    excited     confused ?

are you some of each

mostly one or two

Do you wonder what I’m talking about?

maybe I better back up

Maybe you haven’t heard

that Kazy and I are buying a house

and if you haven’t heard before now

it’s because I messed up

you see, my family made a big decision about buying a home

and our decision was a surprise to you

as I told the session Thursday night:

I know the value of process and communication

I have even practiced  both of these

but in this case I didn’t

I let you know after the deal was done

and that’s not a good kind of surprise

Especially in this case – and I am very sorry

because we are buying a house in Piqua

we decided to buy a house in the school district that holds the most promise for our child

and we have decided that that district is in Piqua

I could take a lot of time and tell you about my family’s decision and our thoughts

But all I will say is that I felt the commitment to buy a home as a commitment to the community

the larger community, that I see as only separated by 14 miles of highway

but you don’t want to know about that right now

I have already heard some of your concerns

for me, living 14 miles away, even in the next town is not unusual

I’ve done it in 2 of my previous calls without an issue

colleagues here and in other places do it as well

but it’s not the same for you

you’re used to your pastor living in the manse

or at least in town

you’re not used to your pastor’s spouse being a minister who serves another church in another town

you wonder how I will be able to be part of the community

you are mostly interested in what that means for SFPC: the church and the members of the congregation

So this is what I covenant with you

I will keep the same hours at the office

I will be available to you in the same ways

here in the office

cell phone, e-mail, other ways like FB (you know who you are)

my availability for meetings after hours will be the same

remain involved in community

YMCA (Childcare committee, plus the one I was invited to serve last week)

SCMA (these guys live all over, but their churches are all in Shelby CO)

schools and school activities

Agape, Alpha, Compassionate Care, etc.

work even harder at visiting in your homes

I will listen to your individual concerns


preaching at DLRC at 2:30

attending Hispanic worship at 4pm

but there are other opportunities during the week for you to contact me

and I will  provide an opportunity for a community conversations

otherwise you may contact me anytime

I am used to living in the suburb and working and ministering in the city

in SYR I was involved in the urban areas where my churches were

known and involved there as I was in the suburban neighborhood where we lived and Pauly went to school

in my marriage, at least one of us has always commuted between house and parish

and we have been able to make that work

Just gave you a synopsis of the discussion we had at session Thursday night

I want you to know how proud I was to be at the table with the elders

some of whom were hearing all this for the first time

we acknowledged the challenges in this news

people were honest about their feelings

what made me feel best was that we all stayed at the table

each one took an opportunity to express themselves

the church was well represented

and I am certain that your concern was voiced by at least one of the elders

And I accept the challenge from the Session that:

it will be my responsibility to prove that this arrangement can work

and I pray that you will be encouraged as I begin to do just that


So why preach about this?

After all, this format doesn’t give you a chance to respond

but I want to get this news out there

and for as many as possible to hear it from me

as I said, there will be opportunities to talk about this together

There are lots of things changing lately

we live and work differently than some ever believed we would

was a time when not living in the town where you work was unheard of

but we see it more and more

I think the boundaries of what’s considered local are changing

but this may not make change any easier to accept

for some here it may not make much difference where I live

as long as I’m available

for some it may seem like a deal-breaker

so I hope we can acknowledge where we all are emotionally

deal with that where it’s necessary

then move ahead

we can do this

2.  Relate to scripture

Read Isaiah verse


we are moving towards Advent

this is a traditional Advent text

God is doing a new thing

every day – since the beginning

God didn’t stop doing new things when he stopped writing the Bible

but every day is a new leg of the journey

and it’s different every day

It’s easier for us to stay comfortable

not take chances on a new thing

to assume:

if it’s new it’s bad

if it’s different, it’s going to mess everything up

I know it’s scary

but we’ve got to step out

and trust that God steps out with us


Rear Admiral, Dr. Grace Murray Hopper

b. 1906

PhD Mathematics

led development of COBOL programming language

US Navy ship named for her (USS Hopper)


“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for.”

I’m not saying that God has pre-ordained our buying a house in Piqua

or that this has any connection with biblical prophecy

God has way more important things to think about

But God’s way is a new way

God’s way never lets us languish in what’s familiar and comfortable

furthermore, I am aware that our decision to buy a house in Piqua comes at an awkward time

today is pledge Sunday

this may seem like a gamble to you

well, as somebody reminded me

I have 1½ years left of a 3 year Designated Pastor Call

and I can do my best to make this work…or not

3. So what

talk about reaction to some changes (pick a few)

“A great invention but who would want to use it?”  President Rutherford B. Hayes after a demonstration of A.G. Bell’s telephone 1877


according to a British Parliamentary Committee in 1878, Edison’s light bulb was “good enough for our transatlantic friends…but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific man (sic.)”


“the horse is here to stay, the automobile is only a novelty – a fad”  President of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co.


“That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.” Scientific American 1/2/1909


“While theoretically and technically, television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is impossibility, a development of which we should waste no time dreaming.”  Lee De Forest, inventor of the vacuum tube, 1926


“Where a calculator like the ENIAC today is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh only 1.5 tons.” Popular Mechanics March 1949


“The world potential for copying machines is 5,000 at most.”  IBM, to the eventual founders of Xerox, on how the photocopier had no market large enough to justify production,  1959


“With over 15 types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself.” Business Week 8/2/1968


“Remote shopping will flop, because women like to get out of the house,”  Time magazine, 1966 – writing off e-commerce before anybody ever heard of it

When I was in college (the 2nd time – mid 80s) I was a commuter student

lived at home, married with children

used a computer to write papers and other assignments

saw a notice at the library

that I could access the catalogue of the university library collection at home – on my computer

got an access code

took forever, eventually, at my desk, I could search for books in the library

around that same time, I got AOL and was soon able to e-mail

opened up a new world – way of being in touch

who knew that in 2009 people would be saying that

e-mail is becoming passé, even phone calls are going by the way

don’t believe me – get in touch with a teenager or young adult

call them, voice mail will probably pick up, they might call back today

but text them, or FB message

you’ll hear back instantly

Is it right?  Is it what you want to hear?

maybe, maybe not

but it’s a fact

if FB were a country with users as citizens, it would be the 5th largest country in the world

they thought HS and college students would be the biggest users, followed by young adults

but the fastest growing segment of users are over 40

Don’t get me wrong

none of this will ever replace the power and intimacy of personal contact and connections

but I am telling you that there is a new way of networking and connecting

and it’s on-line

and it is not a fad

there is a fundamental change in the way we connect with the world we live in

and Luddites may have a point – by holding on to low tech ways

but if we want to make a difference for the church of Jesus Christ’s sake

we deserve to use the best tools we can get

would you set out to build an office building with sticks lashed together with rope, notched logs, sod, or adobe bricks?

or would you consult an architect or engineer about the current safest, most endurable, strongest materials to use?

the scriptures are timeless, God’s word is alive and fresh to us as it was when it was first told and later put into writing

and the Good News of the Gospel deserves our very best in telling it

we are paying attention to the best tools out there

working at

keeping office equipment up-to-date

keeping up with curricula, books, topics

and current doesn’t mean expensive

internet technology and access is cheaper than many previous ad campaigns

full years web hosting and e-mail service costs less than many yellow page and other term print ad campaigns

and it’s current

not static and cast on paper

we can change it at a moment’s notice

so if you are in this

interested in making a change, getting connected

come to FFF this Wednesday night at 6

not asking you to be on a committee

not a long-term commitment

I want to brainstorm with you about how we can move ahead

and if you have never attended such a session here

I especially want you to come – just one night

bring your ideas – how do you want to connect

with the church?

with the community?

conclusion  (a free-style wrap up followed)

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As I was putting today’s sermon together, the narrative flowed into a manuscript form better for the thought process than an outline so I kept it that way.  Probably easier for blog readers to read, but not the form from which I am used to preaching.



World Communion Sunday

Isaiah 2:1-4

What if we never tried?


            My father was born in Mississippi.  He and my mother raised my sisters and me there until we moved to Alabama when I was in junior high school.  In later years, after my parents divorced, my father and stepmother started spending more time in Colorado where they have grown to love snow skiing ever since.

            After my father retired around 1999, he and Jamie became year-round residents of Colorado.  My family has been visiting there in the beauty and sport of winter.  My achievements on the ski slopes are nowhere near the accomplished level of my father, stepmother, and teenage sons, but I have a good time and can get down the slopes without breaking anything – yet.

            My father’s house is near Vail, Colorado in an area called Bachelor’s Gulch.  The home is beautifully constructed of lodge pole pine beams, and designed to embrace magnificent views of the mountains and valleys all around.  In the morning you can put on your skis on the back porch, point your skis across the backyard and ski onto the freshly groomed slopes and reach the bottom of the mountain as the lifts begin to carry skiers to the top.

            My father is an excellent cook who enjoys preparing meals for his family and friends.  There are wonderful aromas from the kitchen, and a warmly windowed dining room, where we gather for delicious meals and family stories.  Every year Daddy cooks gumbo for his neighbors who all swear it’s the best food they ever had.

            Daddy and Jamie’s home is a welcome place for visitors.  There have been times that my family, my sister’s family, our aunt and uncle, and friends from Alabama have been staying there all at the same time.  Even with such a crowd we find plenty of beds, bathrooms, and space to feel comfortable.  They offer hospitality and welcome all year.  Every time I call it seems that visitors are there, on their way, or just leaving.

            Our reading from the prophet Isaiah also tells of a house on a mountain.  It’s the house up on the mountain of the Lord, the house of the God of Jacob and Rachel.  I am not saying that this is the same house on the mountain of the Lord about which Isaiah speaks, but the space and hospitality offered in my father’s home in the majestic Rocky Mountains is a place from which my imagination’s image can begin as I read this passage from Isaiah.

sermon 1            The house on the mountain of the Lord can be imagined as the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. describes, “This is the great new problem of (human)kind. We’ve inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together—black and white, Eastern and Western, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu—a family…separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.”

            Isaiah tells of his prophecy of the days to come when the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established as the highest place, and all the nations will stream to this house.  This is the place where the people will gather so that God may teach God’s ways do that we may walk in that path.

            And from this place will go the Lord’s instructions, and God will judge between the nations, arbitrating for many peoples.  God will vindicate or reprove. Settle the disputes, decide the issues.  Then the people will beast their sword into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall the study war any more.

            Isaiah’s prophecy tells of the day when all the people will dwell in the house of the Lord where God’s ways will be learned – ways of justice and mercy.  When God’s ways are followed for settling disputes, humankind’s implements of war won’t be needed.  When that day comes, metal from swords and spears will be made into plowshares and pruning hooks.  There will be no need for war, people can pay attention to providing food and shelter for themselves and their families.

            Isaiah describes a world where people live free from injury and attack at the hands of others.  There will be places of hospitality and welcome, and the people will be fed and clothed from the bounty of God’s creation, freed from humankinds’ tendency to take from one another, hoarding for themselves.

            By now you’re no doubt thinking, “This is all fine, Pastor Joe, it sounds all sweet and churchy.  But what does it mean for me today?”  Thinking again of Dr. King’s message about the challenge for humankind, of how we are to live in this big world house; black and white, eastern and western, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu.  He says that we have to live together; we have no choice, although we are separated by ideas of culture, interest, and even religion.  And since we can never live apart, we must learn to live together in peace.

            Can we bring about this change to peaceful world coexistence?  Can you and I change the world today?  What about tomorrow, or next week?  Probably not.  So what can we do?

            Think back to my father’s house with me for a moment.  Think of the place where I described many different people living under one roof, and think of the world like that big house on the mountain in Colorado.  I imagine myself sitting in my room, or at least the one assigned to me that week.  Not that this is like my family, but I can imagine that as my private corner of Dr. King’s world house.   Imagine a place from which I can point out corners of the world where people are behaving badly; a place where I can spot corners of injustice and brokenness, and identify people who are stealing, killing, taking away from others.

            But the text from Isaiah calls the people to peaceful coexistence, and I think back to myself in my corner of the world house.  What about when I stop looking at everybody else and see how I am doing?  Am I doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with my God? (Micah 6:8)  What am I doing with my sharpest tools?  If not actual swords and spears, maybe I’m sharpening the unkind and cutting words, as if they were steel weapons.  Am I sharpening these tools to finely honed edges to carve out criticism or negativity, especially when I feel like my needs are being met?

            Or do I dare put these uses aside?  Do I dare unlearn habits of reaching for weapons first, if not swords and spears, perhaps the sharp-edges of sarcastic words or snide comments?  Maybe they’re not words at all, but passive-aggressive tools like the silent treatment, pouting, or withdrawing into myself.

            Do I dare take the risk of Isaiah’s challenge to fashion implements for feeding and caring from these hard materials, or behaviors?  Do I have the courage to transform these weapons that seem like the best ones to protect me and my interests into tools for reconciliation, friendship, hospitality, feeding, welfare, health, soundness, and safety … characteristics of shalom.

            What can I learn from Isaiah’s message?  What can we learn?  Can we, on this day, commit ourselves to “Let peace begin with me?”  Maybe we can’t change the world today, but we can change the way we act.  And our behavior can impact our friends and neighbors, and even strangers with whom we come into contact.

            I can’t change the government of the U.S. or any other nation today, but I can support the ones who believe in justice and mercy, and I can work to hold the ones we elect or appoint accountable.  Maybe this won’t change the world tomorrow, but what if I never tried?  What if I never did what I could?

           sermon 2 There is a statue in a plaza at the United Nations in New York City, a metal figure of the Isaiah text, “making swords into plowshares.”  This statue stands as a reminder to the delegates and visitors.  Maybe their work or presence won’t change the world today, but what if they never did what they could to work for justice?  What if they never tried?

            “God grant me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change, courage to change those things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”  Reinhold Niebuhr’s familiar prayer does not call us to withdraw in hopelessness, but to seek the things we can change.  In this case, a reminder that we – ourselves, are about the only people we can change.  And we can change our behavior, we can learn to make new tools for ourselves.  What if we never tried to do better?  What if we never worked with our new tools for justice and peace?  What if we never did what we could to wage peace?  What if we never tried?

We can’t change the world, at least not today.

            Can we?

We can’t change our country

            Can we?

Can we change our community, our neighborhood?

            Can we?

            We have to start somewhere

                        And ourselves – that’s a pretty good place to start

            Where can we start?

            What can we do to make a difference for God – right here, right now?

                        Let us not be afraid to try

                        To reach out in our own way

                                    To make a difference to a child, or a grown-up

                                    in our own life, and through the ministry of our church

Let us trust in God’s ways of justice and peace,

            that can make a way out of no way

            What if we never tried?

So let it be with us.  Amen.

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We have a guest preacher this Sunday, April 26.   Rev. David Fleming, the Interim Director of Kirkmont Center.  David will deliver a message on Living Water from Isaiah 55 and John 4, and reflect on the opportunities for refreshment and restoration at our Presbytery’s wonderful camp and conference center – Kirkmont

Sarah Steenrod, our creative and all-around-wonderful Program Coordinator, has put a campsite in the sanctuary to promote the camping minstry of Kirkmont Center – Presbytery of the Miami Valley26apr09

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