Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Thinking Towards Sunday; January 14, 2018

Scriptures for this Sunday: John 1:43-51

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

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Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; New Year’s Eve; 12/31/2017

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Today is December 31st; New Year’s Eve. Today is a day when we reflect on everything that happened in 2017 and celebrate the start of 2018.

Traditionally it is a time to make new promises and set new goals. A time to look ahead and think about what we can do to change things for the better. A time to look back and acknowledge that mistakes have been made, and what we can do to make amends. A time to start new and renew old friendships. A time to ask for forgiveness. It is a joyous time because it feels like we are given a clean page in a notebook that we will fill with our notes and memories throughout the coming year.

Earlier I said that it is a time to make promises and set new goals. Anyone who was not born yesterday knows that some of these promises will be broken, some others will be kept.

I want to make it clear that I do not believe even for a second that any of us make promises that we know ahead of time will be broken. Unfortunately circumstances change, or what we promised becomes irrelevant, or more urgent or more important tasks claim precedence. It is fair to say, however, that all of us do everything in our power to carry our lives forward, to move toward accomplishing our goals. All of us strive to live the “abundant lives” that God envisions for us.

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While I do not compare the importance of the calendar date of “January 1st” with the First Advent of Jesus 2000 years ago (his birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection), the incarnation of Jesus (the time that God spent among us) also ushered in a new period in the history of humanity.

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On this eve of 2018, I hope that all of us make a commitment to a New Year that carries Christmas forward, that aligns us with what God is doing in the world. “…  if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

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With the birth of Jesus, God gave humanity a new start, a clean notebook in which to take notes. “… do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

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Throughout the history of the Church, that notebook has wonderful notes that showcase our accomplishments, and unfortunately some notes that are less than complimentary. To give an example, throughout its history the Church helped to advance arts and sciences, and at the same time was instrumental in advancing faith-wars. 

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Life is messy. That is why we sometimes feel that we just want to leave our past behind and start fresh.

{Illustration}

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I wish I could stand before you today and say that it is that easy. Moving halfway across the world will not wipe away our memories and experiences. If we build a new building today, we will find that tomorrow it will become outdated. The point I am trying to make is that the promise of every “new year,” the promise of every new period in our lives, is built on our past accomplishments, mistakes and achievements.

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Jesus himself taught, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). God takes our past experiences, redeems them on the Cross, and builds on them to offer new possibilities on the journey of our lives.

As our worship comes to a close today, let us remember that God makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17). God helps us to keep the hope alive in our hearts (Psalm 71:14) and cause our souls and spirits to be born again (John 3:16) every day.

God comes to us disguised as life (Fr. Richard Rohr). God brings to us the newness of life today, in this world of ours. The boundary between the old and new year, the man-made distinction, is a perfect time to reflect on the presence of God in our lives and the newness and potential of life that comes with God.

 

Something to think about…

… there is a time for everything under heaven.

When we’re thirteen and getting ready to graduate from eighth grade, the world is our oyster, but when we get to our mid-forties, like me, and we’ve cracked a few of those oysters looking for the pearl of great price only to find a mouthful of gritty sand, we get jaded and cold and cynical.

But a new beginning is waiting right around the corner. Life is change. It’s never too late to learn something new, to go on a date, to start a new job, to embrace the hope of life anew.

God sent His only Son to be our Savior that we might have life, and have it to the full. Now.

Today . . . God doesn’t want us just to suffer in this life, so that we can get some delayed payment plan in heaven. God wants us to know the newness of life today, in this world of ours.

~~ Fr. Mike Boutin (http://www.patheos.com/resources/additional-resources/2010/06/new-beginnings-weekly-reflection#4Z5DEZWGXF2K2Idt.99)

Thinking Towards Sunday; New Year’s Eve 2018

Scripture for this Sunday: Isaiah 40:28-31

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Approximate Notes for the Christmas Eve Message; Christmas Eve 2017

This Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Advent and it is also the Christmas Eve.

< < < 4th Sunday of Advent >>>

Scriptures for 11 am worship service are Luke 1:26-56

You can read these Scriptures here {NIV and ESV}

< < < Christmas Eve > > >

Scripture for Christmas Eve service at 7 pm will be Isaiah 9:2-6 and Luke 2:1-20

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

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I am stunned by the simplicity and elegance of the story of the birth of Jesus. A couple of weeks ago, on December 3, 2017, we talked about the socio-political environment in Judea into which Jesus was born. {Here is the link to that sermon: Click Me to go to Pastor Asher’s Blog}

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We saw that Jesus was born into a world torn by ideological bickering and civil wars. Judea was divided into warring factions; everyone had an opinion about everything and nobody cared to take the time to understand what others thought or wanted to say.

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Some Judeans were hoping for a military resolution: they hoped for a leader – a general – who would lead them to victory and independence.

Some others were hoping for a political resolution: they hoped for a philosopher – a wise man – who would help the warring factions find common ground.

Others wanted a priest who would inspire respect for the Temple.

Others wanted a Rabbi who would give them a blueprint for how to navigate their lives.

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Because everyone was so self-absorbed with their own agendas (Luke 22:24), the birth of Jesus was largely unnoticed. But if we listen to the story of Jesus’ birth, if we listen to the story of Christmas, it is easy to see how this story offered something for each of the different factions to relate to.

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Those who wanted a general, a military leader that would lead them to victory and political independence, heard the story of a baby that was born under incredible circumstances. There were Angels foretelling his birth and interacting with Zechariah, Mary and Joseph. This child had to seek safety in Egypt before returning to his own people and inspiring their hearts with hope. And when they heard that story, they could not help but draw parallels with their favorite military leader: young Moses who led the Hebrews out of Egypt.

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Those who were hoping for a philosopher, a wise man who would find a political resolution to all their woes, heard about the Magi, the wise men who saw the light of a star no bigger than a pinhole, and were able to discern from what they saw that something wonderful was happening in Judea.

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Those who wanted a priest that would inspire respect for the Temple, heard that the Wise men came and as a sign of respect brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

{Also: significance and symbolism of gold, frankincense and myrrh as presented to the Messiah}

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Those who wanted a Rabbi that would give them a blueprint for how to navigate their lives heard a story of lowly shepherds who were practically given turn-by-turn instructions taking them straight to the manger.

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The story of the birth of our Savior had something for everyone because he came for everyone. Jesus was born among us, to be one of us, to touch our hearts and souls, to make God personal and to inspire us to be better men and women no matter our station or political beliefs.

The good news is that Christmas is a story about fallible humans who, having been touched by God, sought to spend the rest of their lives striving to live up to God’s revealing presence.

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My hope is that this Christmas we all become the characters in this story: whether we are unkempt and tired like the shepherds, privileged like the magi or Temple priests, anxious political leaders or harried parents. God has a dream for all of us. We all have the chance to hear the message, and to be transformed through experiencing God in our own hearts.

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Approximate Notes for the Message for the 4th Sunday of Advent; Luke 1:26-56

This Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Advent and it is also the Christmas Eve.

< < < 4th Sunday of Advent >>>

Scriptures for 11 am worship service are Luke 1:26-56

You can read these Scriptures here {NIV and ESV}

< < < Christmas Eve > > >

Scripture for Christmas Eve service at 7 pm will be Isaiah 9:2-6 and Luke 2:1-20

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

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We don’t spend much time talking about the Holy Mother. I think that we talk about Mary on the fourth Sunday of Advent, and then she gets an honorable mention here and there (i.e. the miracle of turning water into wine (John 2:1-11).)

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The nativity story begins with a visit by Angel Gabriel to a young woman, on the verge of marriage. We are not told that she is sinless or overly pious. She was a child of a mortal father and mother who shared in the challenges and ambiguities of human life, and faced their own mortality just like everyone else. As a matter of fact, they are so insignificant that we know nothing about them. Lots of ink and emotional energy was spent on doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Virgin Birth, and today I am not here to argue against or for those. But I also realize that a sinless and immaculate Mary does not provide either inspiration nor a role model for a wretch like me or for the rest of humankind. She was human. She was called by God to be the mother of God’s Messiah, but at the same time she is also “every woman” or “every person” who lived, who lives and will live on the face of the Earth. All of us are called by God, all of us live in challenging times, every one of us is a catalyst of the continual process of creation that God orchestrated from the beginning of time, and all of us are called to be God’s hands and feet as we serve God by serving the world in which we live.

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The Gospel account is clear that Mary was perplexed by Gabriel’s visit. “How can this be?” she asked when she learned of what God called her to do. All of us have said the same thing at one time or another when we were challenged to step out from our comfort zone. Am I the only one to doubt or even argue with God when called to do something that I do not particularly look forward to or feel capable of doing?

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Mary’s uniqueness is not her perfection; her uniqueness lies in her willingness to say “yes” to the humanly impossible task. She aligns her life, her actions, and her will with God’s will. Her whole life demonstrated that everything is possible when we are with God, what we see or understand as impossible may be part of God’s plan taking root. For all we know, there could have been other young women who said “no” before God came to Mary, but we do know that Mary said “yes.”

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The life of Mary is a challenge to all of us to consider where and how God is working through us. God is still active in our world and in our lives; God still calls us to be God’s agents, hands and feet in God’s Creation. God comes to us countless times each day, challenging us to be the best version of ourselves, to respond to challenges of life with creativity, patience and love, to imagine alternative possibilities for our lives, inviting us to seek peace, hospitality, and justice, and seeing the face of Christ in all.

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The life of Mary reminds us that although salvation is always personal, it is never individual. The call of Mary reminds us that when we explore God’s vision for us, the resulting actions benefit the whole universe. Because all of us are joined in the intricate body of Christ, all of our destinies are interwoven together. When Mary said “yes” to her call, her reply started a chain of events that transformed all life on earth – past, present and future.

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In preparation for Christmas, it is easy to neglect the voice of God amid all the busyness of shopping and partying. “While we are still sinners” (the Liturgy of the Holy Communion) God is challenging and inspiring us, God is seeking to impart something new in our lives; God is always challenging us to look beyond ourselves and to embrace the Holy around us.

When we do that we discover that we are part of something bigger than us; we are a part of a work in progress known as God’s revelation.

Ordinary people (like you and I) can do extraordinary things when we open ourselves to God’s presence in our lives, and say “yes” to God’s vision for us. Mary discovered a new life that she could not even imagine, and because of this her life touched all of our lives.

Are you saying “YES” to God’s calling for you, or are you hemming and hawing trying to find reasons to avoid God’s vision? Tomorrow is Christmas, all of us have our hands full with the festivities and obligations of the season. I want to challenge you to take time during this season to pause and listen for God’s messengers bringing God’s call to you. You will discover a world of wonders in which God whispers to each of us, inviting us to be catalyst of God’s creative birthing and rebirthing of our world.

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Thinking Towards Sunday; Sunday, December 24, 2017

This Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Advent and it is also the Christmas Eve.

< < < 4th Sunday of Advent >>>

Scriptures for 11 am worship service are Luke 1:26-56

You can read these Scriptures here {NIV and ESV}

< < < Christmas Eve > > >

Scripture for Christmas Eve service at 7 pm will be Isaiah 9:2-6 and Luke 2:1-20

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Caroling Is Cancelled due to snow — 12/15/2017

Today is Friday, December 15, 2017 and I am sending this e-mail at approx. 3:45 pm

The Christmas caroling party planned for tonight has been cancelled due to the snow.  Roads are getting slick and we don’t want to take unnecessary chances.

We have rescheduled this event for next Friday, December 22 and hope that you can join us then.

Thinking Towards Sunday; 3rd Sunday of Advent

This Sunday our Choir will present a Cantata.

We hope to see many guests and visitors at church.

After the Cantata, there will be a lunch served in the downstairs fellowship hall.

Cantata

  • A Word from our Choir Director

  • Voice 1: (*) Isaiah 7:13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

  • Voice 2: (*) Isaiah 11: 1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— 3and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

  • Hymn – Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”

  • Voice 2: (*) Luke 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

  • Voice 1: (*) Luke 2: 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

  • HymnIt Came Upon a Midnight Clear”

  • Voice 1: When Mary learned that she is to give birth to the Messiah, her response was powerful and humble in its simplicity:

  • Voice 2: (*) My soul glorifies the Lord” she said, 
    “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
    From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    49 for the Mighty One
    has done great things for me —
    holy is his name.
    50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
    51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those
    who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
    52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
    53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
    54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
    55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”
    (Luke 1:46-55)

  • Song of Mary and Joseph – Duet

  • Voice 1: Worship starts in a heart that has experienced the saving grace and presence of God. Worship is our heartfelt response to the Love of God who emptied Himself of Divine Glory and became a human so that he could take upon Himself the sins of the world.

  • Hymn – O Come, All Ye Faithful

  • Voice 1: (*) Luke 2: 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

  • Voice 2: (*) Luke 2: 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
    14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those
    on whom his favor rests.”
    15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven,
    the shepherds said to one another,
    “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,
    which the Lord has told us about.”

  • Hymn – “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”

  • Voice 1: Something happens when we are in the presence of the Holy. We may not be aware of that presence at the time, we may not know what is happening at the time, and all of sudden we realize that we have reached a new understanding, or we see something from a different perspective and we grew as a result. We are not the same that we were just one day ago, because of that experience we are different. Instead of a storm we see an opportunity, instead of desperation we feel hope and instead of incapacity and inability we feel empowered, and our spirits are renewed.

  • Voice 2: Simeon was moved by the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:27) to come to the Temple Courts and there he was blessed by holding a baby, and as he held that baby he realized that he was looking into the eyes of God. Can you imagine how it felt to look into the eyes of God?
    Prophetess Anna was a penniless widow; she lived in the Temple Courts begging strangers for charity… She saw lots of babies, and many parents would toss her a penny or two as a way to share their own joy and hopes for new additions to their family… Prophetess Anna sensed the Holy in the baby that Mary and Joseph brought into the Temple according to the custom of the day. She too was blessed by seeing the Glory of God as she held that baby to her chest.

  • Voice 1: The presence of the Holy is all around us. Our impact on the world that we live in depends on how we experience and react to that presence in our lives, and how we allow that presence to renew and refresh our spirits.

  • Choir Anthem – “When I Kneel at the Manger Tonight”

  • Voice 1: In Psalm 46:10 (*) we hear, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” There is an obvious irony in any attempt to talk about silence.  It’s like trying to describe the indescribable or to illustrate the invisible.  The task itself is inherently impossible.  Silence can only speak for itself: not through words, but through experience. 
    Voice 2: Countless generations of Christians struggled with stillness and silence. Stillness and silence calls us to listen. We listen for the words of love and compassion, for the healing presence of God in our lives. In the silence of our hearts, there are words that God addresses to each of us. In that silence, God makes known His infinite love for us, His passionate desire to lead us from brokenness to wholeness and from death to eternal life.

  • Voice 1 and 2 in unison: (*) “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation” (Psalm 62:1)

  • Hymn  – “Silent Night”

  • Choir Anthem – Sweet Jesus in the Manger”

  • Choir Anthem – “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice,  Rejoice Believers”

  • An Afterword from our Choir Director


PARTING WORDS AND BENEDICTION

Approximate Notes of Sunday’s Message; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; 2nd Sunday of Advent

Scripture for this week 2 Peter 3:8-15a

You can read this Scripture here: {NIV and ESV}

“I know he came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man who one day died for you and me
My sins would drive the nails in him
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath he drew was Hallelujah”

 

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It is the Advent Season; Christmas is just around the corner and we want to think about baby Jesus, cute reindeer with jingly bells, singing angels, and shepherds rejoicing in the fields.

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Today’s Scripture does not seem to tell any of that. Today’s lectionary reading says things like, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”

Pretty drastic. How could it be that Jesus’ second coming is compared to the coming of a common thief?

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Last week we saw that Jesus was born into a world torn by ideological bickering and civil wars. Judea was divided into warring factions; everyone had an opinion about everything and nobody cared to take the time to understand what others thought or wanted to say.

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Some Judeans were hoping for a military resolution: they hoped for a leader – a general – who would lead them to victory and independence.

Some others were hoping for a political resolution: they hoped for a philosopher – a wise man – who would help the warring factions find common ground.

Others wanted a priest who would inspire respect for the Temple.

Others wanted a Rabbi who would give them a blueprint for how to navigate their lives.

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Because everyone was so self-absorbed with their own agendas, the birth of Jesus was largely unnoticed. In today’s Scripture reading we heard that “the day of the Lord” – the Second Coming – “will come like a thief.” Any thief hopes to come and leave your house unnoticed. The man who wrote today’s Scripture makes a point that Jesus came and left largely unnoticed because the world that he was born into was too busy bickering. In the Gospel of John Chapter 1 verse 11 we read, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

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Those who do not learn from history will repeat its mistakes.

All of us are busy getting ready for Christmas — shopping and decorating, baking and cleaning, writing cards and invitations. There’s a lot of pressure this time of the year for things to be {“} “perfect”; we search for the perfect gift, we make sure that the house is ready for visitors, we fuss, we hustle and bustle to make sure that elusive “perfection” is captured, stabilized and anchored in the spot where we want it to be.

That pressure of perfection is exhausting. With all that busyness it is too easy to lose sight of the real reason for our activity: “the Word made flesh coming to dwell among us” (John 1:1-5).

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The hustle and bustle of preparation around us can extinguish the light of God within us.

This year I want to challenge all of us (myself included) to trade the hustle and bustle, trumped-up habits, personal traditions and expectations of ourselves and others for a little more peace in your heart and in your home. Let the recognition that God came to be among us fill every nook and cranny of our souls. May the Light of God that John talked about shine all around you this Christmas season. With all the busyness, let us not forget to prepare a peaceful place in our hearts where Jesus is welcome to come and to dwell.

In our shopping and baking, let us remember that not everyone has the resources to shop and bake and decorate their home. What needs to change in our society so that more families can make ends meet, and what can we do as a church to facilitate that societal change?

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Today’s opening song asserts that Jesus’ whole life was Halleluiah! What is your “Halleluiah?”

May you be the personification of the mind and the Spirit of Christ (Phil 2:5).

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Thinking Towards Sunday; December 10, 2017, 2 Sunday of Advent

Scripture for this week 2 Peter 3:8-15a

You can read this Scripture here: {NIV and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; 1st Sunday of Advent; December 3, 2017

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Malachi 3:1-4, 6-7a, 17-18; Malachi 4:1-6; Galatians 4:4-6

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

This Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent.

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Today we heard some of the last words that were written in the Hebrew Bible and some of the first words written in the Early Christian writings.

The ministry of Malachi took place sometime around 420 BCE; it was the last canonical book written in the Hebrew Bible.

John the Baptist’s ministry took place early in the 1st Century CE. The Book of Galatians is the first canonical book that was written in the New Testament, written by Paul around 49 CE.

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The gap of time between the period covered by the Hebrew Bible and the period covered by the Early Christian Writings is known as the Intertestamental Period.

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“In the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of the woman…” (paraphrase of Gal 4:4). I was always intrigued by these words; what does the “fullness of time” mean?

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Jesus’ first Advent took place “in the fullness of time.” To understand what these words mean, we need to look at the history of Israel leading to the birth of Jesus – His First Advent.

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In 586 BCE King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon conquered Judah. He destroyed the Temple built by Solomon and exiled the Jews to Babylon. The Jewish King Jehoiachin was eventually released by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 52:31; 2 Kings 25:27) and according to the Bible, the Judean royal family (the Davidic line) continued as head of the exiled community in Babylon.

In 538 BCE, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon and took over its empire. Cyrus issued a proclamation granting subjugated nations (including the people of Judah) religious freedom (See Ezra 1). According to the Hebrew Bible 50,000 Judeans, led by Zerubabel, returned to Judah and rebuilt the temple. A second group of 5,000, led by Ezra and Nehemiah, returned to Judah in 456 BCE.

In 333 BCE, Alexander the Great defeated Persia and conquered the region. After Alexander’s death, his generals fought over the territory he had conquered.

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Judah became the frontier between the Seleucid Empire and Ptolemaic Egypt, eventually becoming part of the Seleucid Empire in 200 BCE at the battle of Panium.

In the 2nd century BCE, Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes tried to eradicate Judaism in favor of the Hellenistic religion and traditions. This provoked a revolt lead by Judas Maccabeus in 174–135 BCE (the victory of this revolt is celebrated in the Jewish festival of Hanukkah – in 2017 it is observed December 12 – 20).

A Jewish party called the Hasideans opposed both Hellenism and the Maccabean revolt but eventually gave their support to the Maccabees. That led to a civil war between Hellenized and orthodox forms of Judaism. As a result of this civil war the Hasmonean dynasty was established. Between approximately 140 and 116 BCE, Hasmoneans ruled semi‑autonomously from the Seleucids in the region of Judea. When the Seleucid Empire disintegrated in 110 BCE, the Hasmoneans became fully independent rulers.

They ruled Judea with the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes as the principal Jewish social movements. As part of the struggle against the Hellenistic civilization, the Pharisee leader Simeon ben Shetach established the first schools based around meeting houses. This led to Rabbinical Judaism. Justice was administered by the Sanhedrin, which was a Rabbinical assembly, and law court whose leader was known as the Nasi. The Nasi’s religious authority gradually superseded that of the Temple’s high priest.

The Hasmonean Dynasty and their followers continually extended their control over much of the region. In 125 BCE the Hasmonean tribal leader John Hyrcanus subjugated the territory of Edom and forced the population to convert to Judaism. Hyrcanus’ son Alexander Jannaeus established good relations with the Roman Republic; however there was growing tension between the Pharisees and Sadducces and a conflict over the succession to Janneus, in which the warring parties invited Roman intervention on their behalf.

In 64 BCE the Roman general Pompey conquered Syria and intervened in the Hasmonean civil war in Jerusalem.

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During the siege of Alexandria in 47 BCE, the lives of Mark Antony and his protege Cleopatra (a.k.a Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) were saved by 3,000 Jewish troops sent by King Hyrcanus II and commanded by Antipater. As a reward for saving his life, Caesar made Antipater a king of Judea.

From 37 BCE to 6 CE, the Herodian dynasty, descended from Antipater, ruled Judea; they were appointed and protected by Romans. Herod the Great considerably enlarged the temple, making it one of the largest religious structures in the world. Despite Temple fame, it was in this period that Rabbinical Judaism, led by Hillel the Elder, began to assume popular prominence over the Temple priesthood. The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was granted special permission by the Romans to not display an effigy of the emperor, becoming the only religious structure in the Roman Empire that did not do so. Special dispensation was granted for Jewish citizens of the Roman Empire to pay a tax to the Temple in Jerusalem. They were also granted freedom from conscription to the Roman Army.

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Today is the first Sunday of Advent. All of us want to think about the baby Jesus, the empathy-lacking innkeeper, noble Joseph and obedient Mary. The reason I am giving you all these dry facts is because Jesus was born in the “fullness of time.” We just heard what this meant, a tumultuous 400 years, filled with strife, revolts, civil wars, invasions, intrigue, confusion and frustration.

Jesus was born into a world plagued not only by the darkness of individual pain and sin, but also by the darkness of oppression. Jesus’ own people, the Hebrews, were brutally oppressed by the Romans and by their own leaders jousting for influence. Jesus was born into a world where the darkness of long-standing oppression and strife had extinguished any hope for the future and made daily survival an ordeal for ordinary people like you and I.

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In the past, when the Hebrews were in a similar predicament in Egypt, God sent a general and a lawyer. I am talking about Moses, of course. Moses led the Hebrews through the strife of Exodus, through the squabbles in the desert, through tribal fighting, and brought them to the Promised Land.

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Now, “in the fullness of time,” some of the Judeans were hoping for a military leader – a general – who would lead them to victory and independence. Some others were hoping for a philosopher – a wise man – who could bring all the warring factions together. Others wanted a priest who would inspire respect for the Temple. Others wanted a Rabbi who would give them a blueprint for how to navigate their lives.

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Instead, Salvation was born as a baby. His modest birth was overlooked by the powerful. His parents were forced to run to Egypt to protect His life when Herod decided to kill all the newborn boys. He was raised as a peasant, and learned to read and write in one of the Rabbinical synagogues that were packed with common people.

Yet, in spite of his humble beginnings, his life, his ministry, his death and resurrection changed the world. It still reverberates through the history of humanity changing lives and inspiring countless men and women to achieve, to accomplish and to serve God by serving the world in which we live.

{Transition to the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

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Thinking Towards Sunday; December 3, 2017; 1 Sunday of Advent

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Malachi 3:1-4, 6-7a, 17-18; Malachi 4:1-6; Galatians 4:4-6

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Christ the King Sunday Message; November 26, 2017

NIV2010 Numbers 13: 21 So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. 22 They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. 25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.

26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.

NIV2010 Numbers 14: 1 That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

May God Add God’s Blessing

to the Reading, Hearing, Understanding and

Living of God’s Word

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Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), the leader of the Indian Independence Movement, is quoted as saying, “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny [future].”

I am not going as far as to say that this is a universally true statement, although it sounds correct. What I know from my personal experience is that there is a direct correlation between my past thoughts and my present life.

Last week we saw the Hebrews confronted with the reality that their recent freedom also meant facing hardships of survival in the desert. They had not thought that far ahead while they were still in Egypt. We saw that although they did not like being oppressed in Egypt, they knew how to handle that oppression. It was familiar to them, they knew what to expect. By contrast, in the desert they did not know how to survive, how to search for food or water, they missed their creature comforts and familiar tastes.

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I understand that it would take about two weeks to walk from the traditional place of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds to the boundary of the Promised Land. The Hebrews were new to living in the desert; let’s assume that it took them two months to get to the Promised Land. Before entering, two spies were sent to see what was on the other side of the border, and we know that the spies spent forty (40) days there (reference). That is where we find the Hebrews today.

The spies came back with “a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes.” It was so large that it took the “two of them [to carry] it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs” (Numbers 13:23). They observed that, the Promised Land, “…flow[s] with milk and honey! … 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large” (Numbers 13:27 – 28).

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That brings us back to the quote from Mahatma Gandhi. “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny [future].”

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Listen to the response from the community on the spies’ report.

NIV2010 Numbers 14: 1 That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

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Today is a special Sunday on the Church Calendar. It is known as Christ the King Sunday. As such, today lends itself to reflection on our journeys in the past year (both individually and as a community) and to an evaluation of how we made a positive difference in God’s Creation. It is an opportunity to reflect on what we have learned, on the world that we live in, how God has been present in our lives, what God is doing in God’s world and what we can do to serve God in the future.

The easiest thing for me to do today would be to deliver an inspiring message about mission and outreach, the importance of tithing, to thank everyone for their faithfulness to this church and for sitting in the pews every Sunday, to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy, and then give the benediction and everyone would go home happy.

But if I were to do that I would be doing all of us, including myself, a huge disservice. It would be a disservice because we live in complicated times and because our lives are filled with choices and difficult decisions. Our future depends on the decisions that we are making or not making in the present.

Today’s Scriptures offer us a glimpse of what it means to have a relationship with God, and how God influences all of us.

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God took the Hebrews out of Egypt and we heard the Hebrews cry something like, “I don’t want to grow up, I am a Toys-R-Us kid, I want to go back to Egypt.”

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But God did not take the Hebrews back to Egypt. God also did not destroy them. Instead, God took the Hebrews on a 40-year journey in the desert. By doing this, God allowed those who did not have the mindset to enter the Promised Land to live out their days, while raising the new generation.

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In Numbers 14:33-34 we hear, “33 Your children will be shepherds here [in the desert] for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.”

In Joshua 5:6 we hear, The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

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I believe that we are created to be the best version of ourselves. That means that we are meant to grow in our relationship with God, and in our relationships with others. The period of time that God led the Hebrews as they wandered in the desert gives us a glimpse of what it means to us to have Jesus as our King, as our Mentor, as our Guidance.

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Jesus, our Mentor, challenges us to reflect on our journeys (both individually and as a community) and to evaluate how we have made a positive difference in God’s Creation in the past year.

Jesus, our Redeemer and Messiah, asks of us these questions, “Are we closer to God today than we were a year ago? Do we see God clearer than we did a year ago? Do we love God dearer than we did a year ago? Do we follow God nearer than we did a year ago?” (Prayer of Richard of Chicheser).

Jesus, our Guidance Counselor, asks of us a question, “How will our past inspire and inform our future as we strive to be the best versions of what God created us to be?”

{Illustration}

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Deuteronomy 8: 2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

Christ the King Sunday asks us to reflect on what we have learned, on the world that we live in, how God has been present in our lives, what God is doing in God’s world and what we can do to serve God in the future.

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Paul described what he hoped the outcome of such reflection would be in Ephesians 1:17-19:

17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him [God] better [“to see thee more clearly, to love thee more dearly, to follow you more nearly” – Richard of Chichester]. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the HOPE to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

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Am I the only one who has found myself in the “desert” sometime during my life? Am I the only one to have cried in the past that I wanted things to stay the same.

Am I the only one to recognize that as a church (big C) we are in the desert? We want to protect what we know and love, but in doing so we also prevent new life from taking root.

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Thinking Towards Sunday; Christ the King Sunday; November 28, 2017

Scriptures for this Sunday is: Numbers 13:21 – 28; Numbers 14:1-4

You can read these scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

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