Sunday, January 27, 2013

January 27, 2013, "Begin the Work"

I Chronicle 22.15-16; Luke 4.14-21

In the Friday LA Times, a teaser for the Sunday edition, “Stories made for this Sunday.”

I can’t think of a better story for Sunday than Jesus preaching in his hometown of Nazareth … his formal introduction as a rabbi … when he returns from his baptism and his trial in the wilderness … where the Devil threw at Jesus temptation, to take the easy way out … take care of yourself first of all - feed your hunger, said the Devil to Jesus … and you can feed the world, too … and the world will be eating out of your hand - look at all these stones; you can make bread from them. To which Jesus, True enough, but human beings need more than bread; they need the word of God.

The Devil tries another tact - Jesus, you and I both know how hard this life is going to be … you’ve chosen a difficult assignment - here, I’d like to show you a shortcut … why not make things a little simpler … you want the world to know your Father’s love? Well, I tell ya’ what, just bow down to me, and I’ll give you the world, and then you can do with it as you will. Just bow down; it’ll be easy … no one needs to know; just you and me … to which Jesus replies, True enough, but it is written, plain and clear, worship the LORD your God and serve only him.

The Devil, if you will, plays his last and final card … Astound people with your holy power, do a few tricks, a little razzle-dazzle will go along way; people are suckers for the fantastic - jump off the temple pinnacle; you and I both know God’s angels will bring you down like a feather … and your fame will grow, and you’ll have the world at your feet … to which Jesus replies, True enough, but it is written, clear and firm, don’t tempt God with your own vanity and foolish desires.

With that, the Devil leaves, as Luke says, until the next opportunity … then Jesus heads home, in the power of the Spirit, to announce good news.

Jesus begins with the people he knows best - hometown folks - they know him and his family - they watched him playing in the streets with his friends, they watched him learn how to plane a plank of wood under his father’s guiding hand … they loved his mother and her faithfulness … they were proud of this young man now become a rabbi, commissioned by John the Baptist in the Jordan, at the age of 30, when a man ends his schooling and becomes a teacher of others - rabbi Jesus, in his hometown.

Jesus preaches an imaginative message … can you imagine what the world would be like if the reign of God were to hold sway over the affairs of men and women? … can you imagine what the world would be like if the reign of God could set the pace for government and commerce? … can you imagine what the world would be like if the reign of God governed the banking system and how we care for one another?

Can you imagine these things?

The power of imagination is great … science, art, religion … the greatest human ventures of idea and ideal are born in the fires of imagination.

The American Poet, Emily Dickinson said, “The possible’s slow fuse is lit by the imagination.”

Imagination is the energy of invention ...

Henry Ford imagined a better way to build a car …

The Wright brothers imagined a way to link a gasoline engine to a glider ...

Einstein, when but a 16-year old boy, dreamed of chasing after a beam of light … 

Abraham Lincoln imagined the United States free of slavery, a more perfect union … 

Gandhi imagined India free of British Rule …

Mandella imagined South Africa free of Apartheid …

“You can’t depend on your judgment if your imagination is out of focus,” said Mark Twain … 

Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love? We ask Deacons, Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders.

The key word is imagination … energy is good, and so is intelligence, but without imagination, energy and intelligence never spread their wings, never take off and go anywhere … and love? Without imagination, love cannot rise above itself, or go anywhere truly great … imagination sets love free, free to fly high, and reach far.

Frederick Buechner writes:

"To journey for the sake of saving our own lives is little by little to cease to live in any sense that really matters, even to ourselves, because it is only by journeying for the world's sake - even when the world bores and sickens and scares you have to death - that little by little we start to come alive."

William Barclay, one of the great Bible teachers of the 20th Century said: “There are two great days in a person’s life - the day we are born and the day we discover why.” 

Imagination is the way of discovery … imagination is the only way we can think big enough to imagine the love of God … big enough to see what we can be, what we can do for the glory of God.

Faith requires imagination … so does hope, so does love … faith, hope and love are always beyond the immediate reach of reality … of all the things that can be said about God’s people: “We don’t give in to reality, low down and dirty, as it is; we believe and we live things that cannot be seen by the physical eye … we believe and live in the greater reality of God’s reign, ultimate reality, true and lasting reality … we imagine what the world could be like if the reign of God held sway.

Paul the Apostle writes: God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear heard … things that have never crossed the mind … God has revealed these things to us through the Spirit [1 Corinthians 2.9-10).

Can we imagine the reign of God? … can we see it in our mind’s eye? … what love looks like? … all the fruits of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? … can we see these things? Imagine them? What the world would like if the reign of God held sway in the affairs of humanity?

Imagination sets the soul free to fly high and wide in the glories of God and the ways of Jesus … They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint [Isaiah 40.31].

When Jesus goes home to Nazareth, he invites his hometown people to imagine, to imagine with him, the world God imagines!

Luke says of Jesus, He went to the synagogue as he normally did … rhythm to his life, built around worship and learning, instilled in him by Mom and Dad … a faithful family set in the ways of God - to Jerusalem when they could, with all the other pilgrims, to celebrate the feasts of Israel’s life - to imagine a world made new!

The imagination was alive and well in his family … now, in his hometown synagogue, Jesus begins his ministry with one of the most imaginative readings of all, from the Prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me …
The LORD has anointed me ...
Can you imagine what this means?
Can you imagine good news preached to the poor? Those who have not enough, who are without hope in this world, for whom life is hard and mean?
Can you imagine release to the prisoners … prisoners of injustice - who wear the shackles of Rome’s brutality and human cruelty?
Can you imagine?
Can you imagine the blind receiving sight … when eyes can see the glory of the LORD … the majesty of God’s creation and the wonders of love. 
Physical eyes blinded by disease … spiritual eyes blinded by sorrow and sin … the eyes of the soul, the eyes of the heart … can you imagine?

Can you imagine what it would be like to liberate the oppressed … those who suffer under the iron heel of the powerful and the mighty, who rule the world for their own pleasures, and care not a whit for the lowly? Can you imagine the oppressed set free?

Can you imagine the Year of the LORD’s favor? When debts are released, when slaves are set free, when land given as collateral for a loan is returned to the original owner, whether the loan is paid or not, so that every family can retain its inheritance … the year of the LORD’s favor, can you imagine, when the world starts all over again … the Year of the LORD, the Year of Jubilee … a new beginning for the world … can you imagine this?

Luke tells us that Jesus hands the scroll back to the synagogue assistant and sits down … every eye is fixed on him; they’re waiting for him to teach … and to them he says, Today the scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.

It’s possible, says Jesus.

It can be done.

The way will be hard, that I know … the Devil tempted me to take the easy way, and I said no, because the easy way is no way at all … I have taken up the task of my Father in heaven, and I invite you to come with me, stand and stay with me, learn from me, dream with me, imagine with me, and go my way.

You have within you what it takes … now get busy, and get to it.

The reading from 1 Chronicles … David’s encouragement to his son, Solomon, to build the temple … you have all that need, now get to it.

Nothing more needs to be given; what has been given is sufficient.

Can we imagine it? Can see it in our mind’s eye?

What we see with our eyes depends very much on what we see with our soul … imagination fires up the soul, sets the soul free to imagine the goodness of God and the glory of God’s work … 

Like David to Solomon, You have what you need … look no further; no need to wait for another day … just get going and build it.

The marriage of imagination and reality … imagine the temple of God, then to build it.

Imagine the Year of the LORD’s favor and live it.

Imagine the reign of God in all things great and small, and apply ourselves to make it happen.

Can you imagine it? Asks Jesus!

Can you imagine this kind of a world with me?

Can you imagine walking with me,  to the far places, to the ends of the world, where there is darkness, so that we can bring the light of love to the loveless and the forlorn?

Can you imagine?

Can you imagine doing the great work of God with me, to salt the earth with goodness and peace?

Can you imagine a world made new?

Our hearts cry out to the Lord, Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can.

To the glory of God. Yes we can!

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

January 20, 2013, "Water Into Wine"

1 Chronicles 22.17-19; John 2.1-11

How strange … how curious … how wonderful …

The ministry of Jesus begins …

At a party … a shindig … a wedding feast … several days of drinking … lots of drinking … and the wine runs out …

Oh oh … someone miscalculated … too many guests showed up … or not enough wine was ordered … or maybe everyone was just feeling so good, they drank more than should have … 

The wineskins are flat … empty … the wine is all gone … and the host is about to be embarrassed … perhaps not his fault, but embarrassed nonetheless … it’s his party … and guests will talk about him … he’ll become the joke of the town … years afterward, folks will hoist a cup of wine, and say to one another, “Remember when we ran outta wine at the wedding party? What a cheapskate, stingy host … didn’t get enough wine for all of us … well, I’ll tell ya’ this much, if it was me, there’d be enough wine, enough wine for everyone. Wouldn’t run outta wine at my party! No siree, wouldn’t run outta wine at my party.”

But the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray, as the poet puts it … things happen … we plan carefully, we set our strategy, and then, the unexpected … the hiccup … the strange twist of fate and fortune … who knows where that came from … who knows why … and there we are, the wineskins are empty … we did our best, or thought we did, or hoped we did, and the best wasn’t good enough … and now we’re about to be pay the price … 

Life is full of blips and bumps … gaps in memory, lapsed promises, dreams ignored, promises made and forgotten, plans gone astray and maybe we did our best, and it still didn’t work out, and maybe we didn’t do our best, and we hoped no one would notice, and sometimes no one does notice … there is the unexpected grace in all life …  we breath a sigh of relief when we finally pile into bed that we made it through the day … it wasn’t as bad as we thought … or even it it was bad, really bad, and sometimes things get really bad … we made it anyway … we came out the other end, and it was okay … not that it was easy … very little about life is easy … but we make it through the day … we make it through the dark night of the soul … there is grace to be had, grace that comes our way, whether we ask for it or not …

Maybe someone else steps into the gap for us … for our sake.

Did the groom know that the wine was gone?

Did the host know how close he was to failure?

He didn’t know it … but others did … Mary’s mother was drinking her share of the wine, and when she held out her cup for a refill … the servant shook his head, and said, “Sorry, ma’am, we’re out … this has been one heck of a party; folks were real thirsty; there’s no more wine left.”

Mary tells her son, “There’s no more wine left” … and he tells her right back, “Woman, what’s that to me? My time hasn’t yet come yet; I’m not ready for this.” 

Was Jesus reluctant to get involved!

Did Jesus have an inkling where it would all go if he took the first step? … “If I do this now, then I’ll no longer be just Jesus the rabbi, Mary’s son, but a man destined for who knows what? … once I say, Yes, there’ll be no end to it … when the wheels of history begin to turn.”

Jesus is fully human … he’s not so sure he wants to say yes … does he know the fateful road that lies ahead of him?

Perhaps he did … and maybe he needed Momma to give him a gentle push to take the first step.

A little more wine for a wedding feast.

Do what he says, says Mary to the servants … and we know the rest of the story.

The wine made by Jesus is the best of it … 

There are so many things in this remarkable story …

I think of Mary ...

She’s an intercessor for the groom, for the party, for the guests.

She doesn’t waste time wondering if her son might do something … she tells him the deal …

I like that about Mary … she’s on the side of the host … she’s not willing to let things take their course … she doesn’t want the groom to be embarrassed … she doesn’t want the party to flop … 

She’s got compassion in her heart.

She’s got some courage, too.

She’s not afraid to put the question to Jesus?

Are you gonna do something about this?

Maybe when Jesus says to his Momma, You think I care about this?

Maybe it’s a rhetorical question … a good question put to all of us … Does God care about the stuff of our life? 

Right now, in our study of Job, that’s one of the big questions - does our life matter to God? Does God even care what’s happening to us? Is God gonna do anything about it, or do nothing about it?

Dear friends, this little story, the wedding at Cana, is a very big story …

Perhaps the story reminds us, that in all of life’s many difficulties and sorrows, there is grace.

And in ways we cannot even imagine, or see, God is at work, because others are at work, too … I wonder how many people are praying for us right now, and we don’t even know it … 

When the headwaiter samples the wine, he’s surprised - it’s the best wine yet.

He compliments the groom for saving the best wine for the last … most parties begin with the best; when folks have had they’re third or fourth cup, or fifth or sixth, then bring out the cheap wine; folks won’t even notice.

Perhaps the groom, already a couple o’ sheets to the wind, simply smiles and enjoys the compliment … the party goes on.

Only a few know the real story … the grace, the grace unexpected, that saves the day.

When I was in high school, I was the third or fourth car in a line waiting for a train to pass … I’m not sure if there were gates, or just lights, but when the train passed, the cars ahead of me crossed the tracks, and I did, too … I wasn’t very much on the other side of the tracks when I looked in my rearview mirror only to see a high-speed freight train rumbling through the intersection from the other direction.

I came close that day … close, but no cigar, as they say.

I wonder how many others moments I’ve had that I don’t even know about … when grace unexpected came my way.

How many times have we been saved, all of us, and we didn’t know it? … grace shown to us, and we didn’t see it? … folks interceding for us, and we haven’t a clue?

Life is full of grace … 

We don’t always see it … we can’t always see it … much of it behind the scenes … those who pray and those who serve … parents and teachers, friends and family … the saints of old, and the saints today … 

Water turned into wine.

The party goes on.

Amen and Amen! 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

January 13, 2013, "God's Son"

1 Chronicle 22.6; Luke 3.15-22

John the Baptist made quite a splash (yes, a bad pun, I confess).

Baptizing in the Jordan River … with a promise of God’s mercy, love and forgiveness.

John’s message caught the attention of the people … they came out in droves … hungry for hope, eager to hear good news.

John preached mightily … what he said was important, but where he said it was important, too.

Preaching in the Jordan River, where it all began centuries ago when their ancestors stepped out of the wilderness and crossed over into the Promised Land.

We’re starting over today says John … leaving behind the wilderness of sin … to find the Promised Land all over again.

Now get to it, and live a just and faithful life. It can be done; it must be done … and God will help you … more than help you … God lives through you … in you … and with you … God is making a fresh start with us, here and now … prepare the way of the LORD … your sins are washed away … give without hesitation … set aside your old ways … give thanks for what you have … acquire without being mean about it.

The people were expectant … Could John be the Messiah? … the Anointed One, who will save us, restore us, put all things to right, make it all good again?

John quickly reminds the crowds; It’s not me!

There is one still to come … I’m not worthy to loosen the straps of his sandals. I only baptize with water … he will baptize you with Spirit and fire.

Jesus comes to John for baptism - he’s 30 years old … the age when a man finishes his training and becomes a rabbi … 

Jesus prays, the Spirit comes down upon him … in bodily form … like a dove … 

Does the dove remind us of anything?

Noah and the Ark? … water, water, everywhere … Noah sends out a dove, and it returns to Noah in the evening, with a torn olive leaf in its beak … the flood waters are receding, danger passing, death ending, life beginning all over again.

Seven days later, Noah sends out again the dove, and this time, it doesn’t return … the dove has found a home in a new world.

The dove comes down to Jesus … the dove finds a home in a new world … and filled with the Spirit, Jesus builds the house of God.

A house not made with hands … the Most High doesn’t live in houses built by human hands [Acts 7.48].

Solomon built with wood and brick … God’s Son builds with Spirit and fire.

A voice from heaven says, You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.

Jesus is the Son of God … 

Now we have to think in terms of royal families … then, or now, the royal family is present in the sons and daughters, and even grandchildren … when Prince Harry visits South Africa, it’s the whole royal family who visits in his person … it’s the Queen whose presence is felt … Prince Harry is Great Britain, and Great Britain is Prince Harry.

To see the son of a king is to see the king himself … 

Jesus says to his disciples: If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father … I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.

The writer of Colossians says: the Son is the image of the invisible God.

John’s gospel says it well: The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

The Nicene Creed says:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
the only Son of God, 
eternally begotten of the Father, 
God from God, light from light, 
true God from true God, 
begotten, not made, 
of one Being with the Father.

Why is this important?

Because we can have some very strange gods … gods of wrath and vengeance, gods of anger and judgment … a god who hates gays and lesbians … a god who doesn’t like science … a god who loves one nation more than other nations … a god who loves some people and hates the rest.

What is God truly like?

Early Christians tried to clear the air … make the point … remove the dross and get to the gold!

If we want to know the heart of God … look no further than Jesus!

If we want to know God’s purpose and God’s intentions for creation … look no further than Jesus!

If we want to know how to treat one another  … look no further than Jesus!

If we want to know God’s ways, and what God desires  … look no further than Jesus!

If we want to know what God is like, and what we need to value  … look no further than Jesus!

If we want to know how to read Scripture and interpret God’s Word  … look no further than Jesus!

If we want to know the price that needs sometimes to be paid in order to follow the ways  of God … look no further than Jesus.

When we look at Jesus, we see God:

God, in the little cradle in Bethlehem town … fleeing with Mary and Joseph from Herod’s rage … in the temple, learning … 

God, in the Jordan with John … in the wilderness, hungry and tempted ... out and about in the hills of Palestine, on a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee … healing, teaching and coming under attack from those who resented his free-wheeling ministry to everyone and anyone … 

God, standing before Pilate, condemned and beaten … spat upon and mocked … taken to Calvary, crucified, dead and buried … because humankind is too blind to see, and too deaf to hear ...

In the strange ways of God, the Cross becomes the tipping point when a new world is birthed … and in three days of darkness, something profound and good is worked out … and on the third day, the stone is rolled away … 

Though it takes awhile, the first disciples come to believe, and cannot help themselves; they must tell the world - Go Tell It On the Mountain; What a Friend We Have in Jesus … He is the way, the truth and the life … believe in him, cast your cares upon him … walk with him, talk with him … abide in his word, and your heart is transformed, your life, no longer your own, but a life lived now for the glory of God … your light will shine, and you will be the salt of the earth.

Jesus builds us up and bids us follow him … though many a dark night come our way … though tears and sorrow remain for us all … there is light at the end of the tunnel, an undying hope greater than death… a promise that God never leaves us or forsakes us.

I close with some recollections - people I’ve known who have shed the light of Jesus upon my life … 

Pastors who preached with intelligence and imagination, with the fire of God’s love … unforgettable memories for a little boy sitting in church, legs too short to reach the floor, and sometimes counting beams in the ceiling …

Teachers who managed to capture my imagination when I was anything but a good student … I went to an excellent Christian high school and college, where religion was in the air, but never hammered … where love was large … where science and faith walked hand-in-hand.

Donna’s parents - faithful people, filled with kindness … Donna’s Dad, an elder with a large vision for the gospel … Donna’s mother, a gracious woman who always signed her name, Mrs. Ruth Geurkink, when it was customary for a woman to sign her husband’s name.

My mother, for whom life was largely difficult and emotionally painful, but it was her faith in Jesus that saw her through and kept the family together … my father died suddenly when I was 22 and six-months married … I recall but a few things of him, but what I remember was a man with integrity, who prayed that his sons would enter the ministry.

And a dear friend, since seminary days, who pursues truth relentlessly, an unstinting devotion to making this a better world, for only the truth can set us free.

The list goes on … those who made my life better because of their faith, and because of their faith, I can do no less than take their faith seriously … and live that faith for myself as best I can … failing much of the time to live up to my own standards, and sometimes, by the grace of God, finding the strength to live well and to love much, to strive in my own way for a world better tomorrow than it is today.

Dear friends, let us remember those who shed Christian light on our life … and promise now to shed that same light on others who come our way.

After all, it’s but a short walk between cradle and grave … it behooves us to be kind … to love one another as Jesus loves us.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

January 6, 2013 - "Everyone Needed"

1 Chronicle 22.2, Matthew 2.1-12

Went to the Rose Parade in Pasadena this past week …

A great time was had by all …

After the parade, walking along a very crowded sidewalk, here comes a young man with a loudspeaker, and loud it was.

Ranting on and on about sin … we’re all horrible and hideous sinners doomed to die.

Behind him, another young man, holding the loudspeaker, an embarrassed smile on his face; I felt bad for him.

But not for the big mouth, screeching away at the top of his lungs.

I stopped walking as they approached; it was a crowded sidewalk, and he walked right up to me, shouting into his microphone … he stopped for a moment ... I said to him, “You know nothing; you know nothing at all.”

He looked at me fiercely … not sure if he heard me … he was so busy listening to himself, so busy shouting, to hear anyone else … I know these characters … they behave like jerks and then go home and tell their friends how they were “persecuted for the sake of Christ.”

He stepped aside and continued on down the street, blaring away at the top of his lungs … condemning everyone with a message of hatred and judgment, all in the name of Jesus, of course.

Is this kind of preaching really in the name of Jesus?

We have to be clear dear Christian friends.

Not everything that glitters is gold.

Jesus says, Not everyone who says, ‘LORD, LORD,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. They may prophesy in my name, cast out demons and even do miracles, but they’re not a part of my work. To them, I say, ‘I’ve never known you.’ Get away from me you people who do wrong [Matthew 7.21-23].

And what’s the wrong here that Jesus is getting at it?

Is it murder, theft, violence?

Well, those things are wrong, but that’s not what Jesus is getting at.

The wrong is twisting the gospel, turning it upside down … it sounds like the gospel, looks like the gospel, but it is … something is wrong with it … kinda like spoiled milk: it looks good sitting in the bottle, but pop the lid, and we quickly smell that it’s gone sour.

This is what Jesus means by saying, Beware of false prophets … they may look like sheep, sound like sheep, walk like sheep, but are nothing more than vicious wolves.

Jesus is clear … religion attracts all sorts of folks for lots of different reasons; sometimes religion attracts profoundly unhealthy people … and that’s good, because religion can heal the sick and cure the soul; but sometimes people remain unhealthy, refuse the healing, and produce a “gospel” just as unhealthy as they are.

We need to be thoughtful about all of it … sort it all out … test the spirits
 as John says in his first letter.

Test the spirits … like smelling the milk before we drink it.

Jesus says, You will know them by their fruits.

What is the fruit of that young man strolling down the sidewalk, blaring away about how horrible and hideous everyone is?

The friends with whom we were walking simply dismissed the young man as a religious nut; they were not impressed, nor was I.

There was nothing thoughtful about what he said … he was full of fire, that’s for sure, and he was eager to burn everyone around him. Passion without intelligence; fire without a fireplace, burning everything down around it.

The young man is a hindrance to the gospel … Jesus preached with intelligence, compassion, concern and great wisdom … Jesus had harsh words sometimes, but only for the religious leaders of Jerusalem, the high and the mighty, those who wanted to lord it over others … to the people, Jesus speaks tenderly, with kindness in his voice and always with hope for a new and better day.

Yelling street preachers appeal to biblical characters like Jeremiah by the Temple, or John the Baptist by the Jordan, but that appeal doesn’t fly … social context, the nature of the message, the way it’s delivered, where and how and why - all very different than a screaming preacher with a megaphone marching down a busy Pasadena street after the Rose Parade.

The shouting street preacher in Pasadena knows nothing … he has a few words, a few ideas, but it’s all hatred and harangue, denunciation and damnation … the young man knows just enough to be dangerous; he doesn’t know enough to help anyone.

Believe me, Jeremiah and John the Baptist would stand in line to tell the young man that he knows nothing, and it would be better for him and the gospel, to hush up, go away and leave the world alone until he’s figured out who he is and what the real message of  faith, hope and love is all about.

What is the real message, the real message of faith, hope and love?

Think of everything Jesus does and says. How he says it, and how he does it.

Remember the New Year’s Resolution I’ve asked you to adopt? - to know Jesus through and through … to read the gospels with care, and read them often throughout the year.

What is message Jesus proclaims?

Can it be summed up easily?

Well, not easily, but if we read Jesus, we’re clear, crystal clear, about a few things:

Welcome to everyone.

No one turned away, especially those who’ve been turned away by organized religion … 

Jesus pays special attention to the ignored, the condemned, the lonely and the broken, the weak and the abused … the woman at the well, Zacchaeus up a tree, blind Bartimaeus by the side of the road, the woman with the hemorrhage, little children, the blind, the deaf, the lame and the dead.

Jesus makes a special effort to pay attention to all of them, to give them a second change, fresh hope and life … his words are gentle and kind and welcoming.

One of the finest descriptions of Jesus: He will not break a bruised reed, nor quench a smoldering wick.

If we’re down, he won’t smack us down … if we’re hurting, he won’t add to the hurt … if we’re guilty with sin, he forgives us … if we’re wracked with fear, he assures us … if we’re sad and frightened, he won’t add to the burdens we carry; he lifts our burdens and gives us rest.

That’s why we get to know Jesus … he sets the standard for all of us … what we say, and how we say it … what we do, and how we do it …

It’s open doors and Table fellowship … welcome and affirmation … second chances and then some … no one excluded; no one left behind; no one overlooked.

In our readings for the day, from the Book of Chronicles … a small verse and a simple phrase: David gives orders to gather together the aliens who were residing in the land of Israel … inviting them to be a part of a great public works project … the building of the temple. 

It wasn’t to be, of course.

The LORD says to David, You have too much blood on your hands … the one who builds my house needs to be a man of peace.

It will be David’s son, Solomon, who builds the temple.

But for our purpose here this morning, David’s desire to include everyone, even the aliens living in the land … because everyone has worth … value … importance … everyone counts … all are invited … all are welcomed … social status means nothing to the LORD; for the LORD loves us all.

The New Testament Lesson … the Wise Men from the East - Babylon, Persia … today’s Iraq and Iran … they followed a star and found a child.

The Wise Men are the stars of the story … yes, bad pun … but they’re the heart and soul of Epiphany, the Season of Revealing, when God makes it clear that everyone has a place at the Manger … not just God’s people, not just Israel, or a select group, but the whole wide world, from A to Z, top to bottom, and everyone in between.

Luke’s account of the shepherds standing watch over their flocks at night; who smell of sheep and sweat and campfire smoke … Matthew’s account of the Wise Men traveling from a-far - learned philosophers with gifts of gold, incense and myrrh … the point is clear and simple: everyone welcomed at Bethlehem.

‘Tis a kindly LORD we worship, and a gracious king who governs … he is the healer of our wounds and the balm of Gilead … he is the bright morning star and the rose of Sharon whose fragrance fills every heart with grace … his words are the truth, and his truth always set us free.

That’s the gospel, dear friends … the greatest story ever told, and the finest message ever heard.

Amen and Amen!