Messages and Other Things

This is where we share our Sunday Worship and other videos of interest. Come back often to see what's new and/or to follow the worship series.


This week we are in the vineyard where Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and God is the gardener who cares for and makes the branches fruitful. Those fruitful branches are true believers who, by living together in Christ, the vine, produce much fruit. But those who become unproductive will be separated from the vine. Pruned if you will.
Unproductive followers will be cut off and tossed aside.
Jesus makes a distinction between the two kinds of pruning: separating and cutting back branches. Fruitful branches are cut back to promote ever more growth. In other words, God must sometimes make changes in us as we grow to strengthen our character and faith. But branches that don’t bear fruit are cut off at the trunk, because not only are they unfruitful, but they can also infect the rest of the tree. People who don’t work at bearing fruit for God by allowing Him to work in us, or those who try to sabotage the growth of others, even unwittingly, are pruned and set aside so the others can continue their growth. Sometimes we are set aside and yet still tended to until we are ready to be part of the vine again.
Being part of the vine means doing all the things God has asked of us. Think of the ten commandments and the beatitudes and that will bring you to being fruitful branches. Mostly, he wants us to be clingy. He wants our undivided devotion so that he can bring us to harvest along with all the other good fruit we have produced.
Many, many people try to be good honest people who do what is right.
But Jesus says the only way to live a truly good life is to cling to him, like a branch attached to the vine, every minute of every day, because apart from Christ our efforts will be unfruitful.
I understand that sometimes we get lazy or complacent. We come to church, we tithe, we pray for each other, and that covers Sunday. But, what about Monday through Saturday? Let me ask you this… if we were to water and tend to our little garden here on Sunday only, would it still be productive? No, absolutely not. Here is the proof of no one tending the new growth. So, there will be tending happening during the week to be sure this little garden remains healthy.

And don’t you think your faith needs the same care?
Tending to it only on Sunday isn’t going to get it to grow and be fruitful.
You have to nourish it daily, all week long.
I had a one-on-one meeting this week with the NH DComM of the United Methodist Church. This was a meet and greet with some of the committee, for me to meet them and for them to get to know me a little bit. They asked me questions about me and my background. They asked about my family history and wanted to know about my church history. The whole meeting took about 35 minutes, but it seemed like 3 hours. Ha-ha
But, what I realized when I sat down to write this message,
and I thought about the answers I gave to the DComM,
was how often in my life I have not wholeheartedly tended to my faith.
I mean big gaping holes of non-nourishment.
I used to just go along willy nilly, growing, or not, in my faith like those little Johnny Jump Ups. You know those little purple flowers? They look like tiny pansies and they grow anywhere and everywhere, but,
without a plan or a purpose?
Yup, that was me. No real deep roots and no real direction for my growth.
I was over here attending this bible study, and over there helping out with flood buckets, and upstairs with the youth group at my former church and out at the food pantry gathering turkeys in a pile.
Oh, and let’s not forget the times I said,
“Everybody knows I take a vacation from church in the summer.”
Yea, I knew you’d remember that.
I thought it was enough to be immersed in nature, surrounded by creation.
The problem was, all the immersion, and serving, and learning, and whatever else it was I thought I was doing right, wasn’t keeping me connected to Jesus.
So, when I would try to come back to the vineyard, I had no hold on any branch and thus I got no nourishment from the vine. I truly didn’t know how to do this.
Well, that’s not altogether true.
I knew God wanted me to give it all to Him. Every minute and every step.
I was in a place where I didn’t dare to give my whole life to Him.
What about all my stuff I needed to do?

I mean c’mon, do you actually mean every minute is for Jesus??
Trust me, I truly get how scary that is to even think about!
That was a thought I chose to run away from over and over again.
I told myself I wasn’t ready. I even told Pastor Sue one time that I wasn’t ready.
I am just grateful for God’s patience and that he didn’t choose to toss me out.
I eventually realized that all my stuff, was His stuff too!
It was just in the past couple years that I realized I needed to give it all up to him, to cling to that vine, to allow his love to cut away all the bad stuff I was holding on to, all the thinking of only myself, and allow his living water to help me truly grow into helping others grow.
I finally figured out what it took to be the fruitful branch. And it’s not a Sunday only kind of job. This is every minute for the rest of my life.
And I am in awe of the good fruit I am able to produce.
Both in myself and in others.
Had I realized that by staying wrapped in the vine,
I would be set free to flourish, well, I would have stopped
dead in my tracks a long time ago!
This doesn’t mean I don’t still need pruning. I mean really, not every grape is a good one but, by allowing God to snip away the bad ones,
it allows me to focus on nurturing the good ones.
His pruning has given me great hope, not only for myself as a faithful Christian,
but for our little church family and our little community here in the Conway’s, because it has shown me the good that comes from simply
letting Him be God in my entire life, not just in the parts I choose to let Him in.
In the Old Testament - Isaiah 5:7 - grapes symbolized Israel’s fruitfulness in doing God’s work on earth.
Indeed, Jesus teaches us that the grapes symbolize our fruitfulness when he says,
in John 15:5
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
This is a state of grace we must live into, wholeheartedly, holding nothing back.
There’s a motto they use in the recovery communities, “Let go and let God.”
It means submitting to Him in all things, at all times, and surrendering one's life to His will and for His purpose, by faith.
So, I challenge you today, do you dare?


We all are aware that Jesus taught the people and his disciples with parables and short stories using familiar ideas and scenarios to explain spiritual truth. This method of teaching requires the listener to think. It hides truth from anyone too stubborn or prejudiced or, dare I say arrogant, to hear what is being taught. Some people don’t understand God’s truth because they aren’t ready for it.
We hear with our ears, but there is a deeper kind of listening that involves the mind and the heart. Hearing this way is necessary in order to gain spiritual understanding from Jesus’ words. God reveals the truth to people who will act on that truth and who will make it visible in their lives. No hiding those lamps!
Mark 4: 11-20 NIV
11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’[a]”
13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
Our call to worship today challenges us to become the Sower instead of the seed and see if we can sow with wild abandon. That would mean putting Jesus first and telling anyone and everyone about Him and not just telling, but using His words!
Everywhere, all the time, relentlessly! Just like Jesus!
There was an old man who lived in Fryeburg and many of us have had the privilege of knowing him. Now, mind you, when you first encountered this man you wanted him to just be quiet and go away. But, as you got to know him, and really began to hear what he was saying, you kind of looked forward to seeing him again. And knowing him did become a privilege because you realized, perhaps too late, that he was sent to us as a Sower. His name was Mr. Moore and God took him home about a year ago, but while he was here, the past few decades were devoted quite literally to talking to everyone, everywhere, all the time, about God and His word. He told his personal stories of sin and redemption. He praised his wife and God for opening his ears to hear. PRAISE GOD! (hand up) The same way I did in last week’s message but, as I just said, he did this with everyone!
He and I had some fascinating conversations standing in the UPS Store around 5:30 in the evening. We would chat while I did my closing work and made him copies of prayers and hymns and poems and scriptures which he would hand out to everyone. He always had a pocket full of these scripture cards and readings and if the spirit moved, he would pull one out and hand it to you with a big “Have a great day! God Bless You!” Most often the message he left you with was one you needed to hear. That my friends is true evangelism. Now, I will most likely never carry around a pocket full of readings but, really how hard would it be to know a few verses or to be sure the words you choose to leave someone with were God’s truth?
Mr. Moore also taught the children’s story at his church until the day he passed. He was 90ish years old? Not quite sure, but it got me to thinking and I believe, were it not for our conversations over the past 6 years, I would not have a mind to be doing this ministry. God knew I was ready to hear, and Mr. Moore was my constant storyteller who taught my heart, mind and soul to listen. I mean really listen! He always left me with “You’re a good girl, Kell. God Bless You!”
Wouldn’t it be awesome to be a Sower like Mr. Moore?!
I’m quite sure God has rewarded Mr. Moore with much more than he ever could have imagined. I pray he has been reunited with his beloved Ginny.
God reveals His truth to people who are ready to hear, act on it and make it visible in their lives.
Now I believe when you talk to people about God you need to be aware that they may not be ready to listen and understand the truth. And only God knows if they are. But we need to just be patient and keep talking. Every chance you get tell them more, share a story, quote a scripture, and pray that the holy spirit will open their minds and hearts to receive the truth and act on it. This is how we transform the world!
Even John the Baptist told the Pharisees and Sadducees, if we are God’s people in name only, we are of no value. If others can’t see our faith in the way we treat them and talk to them, we may not be God’s people at all.
So, go out there and sow your seeds everywhere, all the time, relentlessly! Do it with wild abandon! This is how we are called to live! Just don’t ever forget that even the Sowers need nourishment and rest, so they don’t just survive, they thrive, wherever they sow! AMEN!?


Have you ever wanted to just get away from it all? Perhaps some of us would like to find a quiet stream deep in the woods so we could have peace and quiet. Oh wait… That is my daily wish! Ha-ha

At the time of Jesus, however, people had a negative view of a wilderness—a wilderness was generally thought of as a bad or dangerous place. There were snakes and animals that could kill you. Criminals were likely to lie in wait for victims in unsupervised areas. They still carried the heavy theological burden of the sins committed in the wilderness by the tribes who followed Moses. The Twelve Tribes grumbled against God, they refused to trust God to care for them, so God allowed ALL of that generation to die in the wilderness. The people at the time of Jesus had an anxiety about the wilderness that is unlike the peace and quiet many of us find in our forests.
Before the children of Israel were led into the wilderness, they were brought out of slavery by going through the waters of the Sea. Before Jesus was compelled to go into the wilderness, today’s lesson tells us that John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. After the Children of Israel went through the water of the sea, they remained in the wilderness for 40 years. After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River he was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. Water comes before the wilderness.

“Water provides the central symbolism for baptism. The richness of its meaning for the Christian community is suggested in the baptismal liturgy which speaks of the waters of creation and the flood, the liberation of God’s people by passage through the sea, the gift of water in the wilderness, and the passage through the Jordan River to the promised land. In baptism we identify ourselves with this people of God and join the community’s journey toward God. The use of water in baptism also symbolizes cleansing from sin, death to old life, and rising to begin new life in Christ.”
Rev. Martin Dale tells us that “in the fifth Century AD St. Patrick baptized King Aengus by full immersion. During the baptismal ceremony, so the story goes St. Patrick leaned on his sharp-pointed staff and inadvertently stabbed the king’s foot. After the baptism was over, St. Patrick looked down at all the blood, realized what he had done, and begged the king’s forgiveness. “Why did you suffer this pain in silence” St Patrick asked. The king replied, "I thought it was part of the ritual."
After baptism Jesus immediately was compelled by the Spirit to face temptations and difficulty in the wilderness. The English Standard Version of Mark 1:12 reads, “The Spirit immediately drove Jesus into the wilderness.” If we are to take Mark’s language literally, He was thrown out into the wilderness. He didn’t simply decide to spend some time by himself, after his baptism, in order to prepare for his public ministry. No. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. Isn’t that often the nature of wilderness experiences? We don’t always choose them. What compels us to go into the wilderness? Is the current “lack of leadership” situation a wilderness for us in the UMC? What about a conflict we may have at home? Is loneliness a wilderness that we face? Are some of us in the wilderness of physical afflictions? It has been said that when you discover that all you have left is God, then you will realize that God is all you need.

Sometimes we do choose them, of course. When you think about it, Lent is really a season when we choose to enter into a wilderness, a time of fasting, praying, and re-examining our lives of faith. But here’s the thing about these wilderness experiences. Whether we choose them or not, we can trust that God is going to be with us in them. All wilderness experiences contain within them an invitation to a deeper faith. They challenge us to rely on God more. God is with us in our wilderness, every single time. Of that, I have no doubt. Isn’t that what Psalm 23 teaches us? “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (the scariest wilderness of them all) I fear no evil, for you are with me.” God is with us in our wilderness, every single time. The angels wait on us in the wilderness, as they did for Jesus. We are not left on our own. And every wilderness experience, chosen or not, invites us to deepen our faith and trust in his promises.
Last week remember, I spoke about how evil is everywhere, all the time? Satan sneaks in wherever he finds an opening. He is relentless. There was a time - say the last 15 years - when I was walking with sinners, or no, wait, standing still with them. They all knew I was a Christian. They called me the church lady. Ha-ha. But they also questioned how I could be that if I was okay with having a few drinks around the firepit on a Saturday night, hanging out with unbelievers. It was confusing for them. To most of them my Christian life didn’t look any different from their secular one. I was simply a party person who went to church. So why bother believing in Christ if it wasn’t going to change anything? Quite honestly, I was asking myself that same question. Why bother? Now I was no longer a help to my church or my God but, a hindrance. Satan had found that opening in my mind with the sign hanging out that said, “come on in, sit a spell”. And boy did he! When you get to this point, you are no longer just standing with the sinners and scoffers, you are sitting with them. You sit in the church services picking apart everyone and everything, with your mind wrapped around everything BUT Christ. It was my wilderness.

Have you ever found yourself there? Or in a similar situation? Be Honest. Most people have their wilderness moments. Notice I said plural… moments. You and I aren’t the first people Satan messed with. Figuring us out probably took him about half a second. He knows our buttons and his fingers are always at the ready to push them. He doesn’t need to look for new temptations for any of us. He’s got ours on speed dial. If we let ourselves question and backslide even an inch, bam! That button gets pushed and we start trekking back into the wilderness. We have to be steadfast and prepared to face those wilderness challenges by digging our roots deep into the soil of sustenance, the Word of God. And don’t misunderstand… it is normal and right to question our faith and God’s ways, but that is when we need God most! We need to be able to hear His word guiding us through the questions. That is where we learn the most and our faith grows deeper! That is how we survive!
Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and Satan even tempted Him! The difference between Jesus and us? Jesus kept his mind focused on the Father and struck down Satan at every temptation with the Father’s words. It is important to hold on to the fact that Jesus was fully human so that he felt real hunger when he didn’t eat. He felt real frustration when he was tempted. Yet, even in his worst moments when he questioned why his Father would put him through such torment, when he couldn’t wrap his mind around the things he would have to face, did he give in to temptation? Did he run away from God’s plan? Did he take his own path? No! He may have been angry and hurt, resentful even, but he never wavered! God was his good Father and worthy of his respect and trust. Jesus had everything he needed in the wilderness. And the angels took care of him. I had everything I needed in my wilderness, and being right here in this sanctuary is where my angels were, helping me survive! Praise be to God that he allowed me to hear his words!!
After Jesus left the wilderness, he went into Galilee where he announced that “The Kingdom of God is near!”
So, let us journey through this Lenten wilderness experience faithfully, and willingly. Let us have ears to hear. But let us all look for that time when we can take action, with a renewed sense of purpose and call. Let us proclaim the good news and just as the angels of God, be ready to help others through their own wilderness experiences. Always with the help of God.


In our opening moment today, it was read that Lent starts from a real belief in the lavish abundance of God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace signified by Eden. This first week in Lent begins with creation and the planting of the Garden of Eden, and the trees in the garden, and the rivers that watered and sprung from it, and of man being put into it – to prune it and tend it – and was granted the fruit of any tree except one, which was forbidden under penalty of death.
So, in the beginning, there were two trees…
The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Have you ever gotten a vision in your head of these two trees? Did you ever stop to think what they may have looked like? My vision has always been that they were huge, full, gorgeous trees! Think lavish and abundant.
The Tree of Life represents God’s grace and love, and we know the overwhelming abundance of His grace and love in the world, so it would make sense that this Tree of Life would be rather ginormous. I also envisioned the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as being just as large. Something like “twin trees”. Of course, we know that this tree housed a snake, or serpent, depending on which version of the Bible you read. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was I think a test, a temptation tree, maybe named the way it was not so much that man could “know” good and evil, but so God could know if man could choose correctly when faced with good and evil.
Genesis 3:22 states the Tree of Life was given to man as a source of abundant nourishment in order to sustain eternal life.
Doesn’t that speak to you of Heaven on Earth? Eternally? Like that was God’s original plan? But, maybe, God needed to know for sure. So, that other tree was man’s test of his free will.
Revelation 2:7 and 22:2 assure us that the Tree of Life is eternal and still exists in heaven and is abundant with fruits for all God’s people.
But, here on earth, we must pass the test.
Now, trees have always fascinated me. If you ever looked at my Facebook page or in my phone you would find an abundance of photos of trees. It’s truly an obsession. It is something my sister Barb and I had in common. We could and did spend days, quite literally, just studying trees! I still do. The couple of things that always struck me was how trees can thrive in the harshest of conditions. I’ve seen trees hanging off some rocky, washed-out ledges, roots dug into the ledge and the tree trunk still reaching straight up to the sky. I’ve seen many trees that grow as a couple, holding onto each other, wrapping around each other, nourishing each other. Those trees always remind me of my Mum and Dad. And that always remind me of our connectedness and how we all depend on and need each other. And how we all can nourish each other. There is a tree in Abbe’s yard that has a smaller tree growing in one of its largest limbs. This is God’s grace in plain sight!
I am reading a book called “Thrive” by Mark Hall, and yes, he is the singer in our music video. He is also a Pastor down in the south and he does a lot of work with the youth in his congregation.
There’s a story he tells of a big old tree. He likes to take his youth and young adults on ministry tours. One of those tours is to see “The Tree”, as it has been named. He says, and I quote, “whenever someone tells you they’re going to the tree, everyone knows what you mean and, you know the tree must be really special when it sports a name like “The Tree” “.
The Tree sits at a spot in Geneva, Alabama named the Junction because it sits at the confluence of the Choctawhatchee River and the Pea River.
The Tree is a mammoth oak that is more than 300 years old. It has been around longer than the United States. {I may have to do a ministry tour and see this tree.} Sitting there at the banks of the Junction the two rivers have always watered it. It takes about 9 guys to stretch their arms out and circle the trunk of the tree. One person can’t even wrap their arms all the way around most of the branches, and some of its limbs are so heavy they bend almost to the ground. There were 60 people on one trip, and they took a photo of ALL of them sitting in the tree, all at once!
The flood waters of the two rivers have risen many times over the years, left mud lines around the tree trunk, and washed away just about everything around – everything but The Tree. There’s even a bike stuck up in the tree.
The Tree, watered by two rivers, has just as much growth underground as it has above ground. That is why it stands so strong.
Psalm 1:3 says this…
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither.”
This verse tells what happens when we are like trees. When we dig roots deep into God’s word and pray and learn from and with other roots, the natural occurrence is for us to then branch out and show God to people and exclaim His abundance of grace and love.
Think about this balance of existence that has allowed The Tree to thrive for hundreds of years.
If the tree (we) are all roots, then we are useless to everyone around us because we are not sharing our abundant knowledge and sustenance. If the tree (we) are all branches, then we are useless to ourselves because we are spreading our knowledge without being sustained. So, in either case when the storms blow in, and they surely will, what happens?
The tree topples over!
We (The Tree) must be firmly rooted and nourished in order to do the branching out that God expects of His perfect creation.
Let me share this from Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes. He starts with this verse:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Beloved,
continue to live your lives in them,
rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith,
just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
—Colossians 2.6-7
You are not a potted plant,
dependent on your little cup of dirt for faith.
You are planted in Christ, the roots of your soul
tangled with the roots of a thousand saints,
like the million hands of a whole tribe's memory
grasping deep earth, roots like a lover's arms
reaching down into that love,
drinking water from underground springs
gushing up, roots wound like lovers' legs
in fungal webs of trade and alchemy, each
providing what the other lacks, holding hands
beneath all that can be seen,
deep in the earth of Christ.
You pray and praise with branches of the Spirits hands,
passing news from bird to bird,
and life from sun to little mouths that sing.

Rooted in Christ you are not a tree.
You are a forest,
Let me ask you this…
How deeply do you believe Adam and Eve were rooted?
I don’t think very deep. At the first “storm”, even within the all-encompassing abundance of Eden, the perfect habitat, they toppled.
Both grace and evil are far reaching and ever present, everywhere, all the time.
However, God is also, far reaching and ever present, everywhere, all the time.
And He is just waiting for us to take root and Thrive!

SUPER SUNDAY - (No, not football)

Today was Transfiguration Sunday.
A day to remember Jesus and praise Him for all He does in our lives.

We did not have a sermon today, but testimonies of faith and hope through Jesus Christ our Lord.
These testimonies were provided by the guys at Adult and Teen Challenge NH. This is an addiction recovery program based in faith in God.
Hopefully you were lucky enough to hear them. If not, you can check out their stories at

"BUT I SAY..." - FEBRUARY 12, 2023

I just want to say that our scripture focus for this week and next would have covered the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount. However, we have guests speaking next week, never mind that the Sermon on the Mount took days to complete! To try to cover that amount of teaching in one day, today, would have meant scripture readings from Matthew 5:1 through 7:27 and then creating a message to cover the entirety of it! In true Methodist tradition… We would have had to plan a dinner!

So, today we are going to focus on love in honor of St. Valentine’s Day.
When Jesus preached this sermon, it actually lasted for several days. He spent the better part of a week encouraging and instructing believers, and non-believers, about many important issues like witnessing, obedience, prophecy, anger, lust, divorce, integrity, revenge, loving our enemies, caring for the poor, prayer, fasting, money, criticizing others, going to heaven, servanthood, and faith. Whew!!
Whenever He spoke of an Old Testament rule he countered his own statement with “But I say…” and gave us that rule as what would eventually become Gospel. He spoke of rules and procedures and systems. I can only imagine that this sermon was intense and overwhelming and fascinating all at once!

As for rules, well we live by rules and learn procedures everywhere in life, from washing the dishes to how to behave in the library or at church. In our jobs, in our clubs and groups we belong to, and even in our families. Listen, if your house has seven kids like mine did, my Mum needed the rules and procedures just to maintain the house and our behavior.
Jesus focused on the details of daily life and spoke of revolutions and transformation. Sometimes all in the same sentence!

I believe he wanted us to consider HOW our behaviors, choices and attitudes affect and influence the greater community.
Take for example the “Warming Station” here at the Center Conway UMC. It was an idea that was brought up actually a few weeks ago. Some of us chatted about it over breakfast fellowship two Fridays ago. That would have been the morning of the deep freeze. What is that called… a Polar Vortex? Anyway. There were a few questions tossed around about liability and safety. A little research was done regarding rules that should be followed and safe sanctuary policy and the proper wording of such a ministry. Because ministry IS what it was after all, loving our neighbors and providing shelter from the cold and wind. And a few of us got together and opened the church for the night with games, movies and hot beverages available.
Now, nobody took advantage of the “Warming Station” ministry. But the impact on the community was huge! So many people helped us get the word out and we received many thanks for making our space available. Gratitude came from fellow citizens to the local police and fire depts. When I say “we” I mean CCUMC.
Obviously, this response from the community is NOT the reason this ministry was provided.
Matthew 6:3&4 says, “When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it, quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.”
The reason it was offered was to actually Love our community, with no hidden agendas, just working to be “salt and light”! Good neighbors… Unconditionally! We had time and space and willing hearts ready to sacrifice a few hours, a little heat and a bit of sleep for the greater good. So, why not?!
Why not be like Mr. Rogers?

This sermon and its teachings was not just about avoiding doing terrible things – but actually loving even those who have hurt you.
It was not just about “killing” – but actually about not doing any harm to another’s life.
It was not just about avoiding adultery – but actually about being faithful in every way.
It was actually about living with and loving people, with integrity and compassion.

(READ Matthew 6:14&15 MSSG)

Or as Leviticus 19:18 God said, “Don’t seek revenge or carry a grudge against any of your people. Love your neighbor as yourself. I Am God!”

It seems that’s a pretty straightforward message.
Our salvation is bound together with our relationship to our neighbor.
The salvation of our church community is also bound together with our relationships with our neighbors.
Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes says it this way…
“All God’s love flowing through me, not mine!
All I do is get myself out of the way and let God’s love flow through.
Turns out I am not the salt of the earth.
I am the Salt shaker!”

Loving others without thinking of gaining anything. Just loving! Period!

Last week I mentioned to you that the Sermon on the Mount holds us to a “Higher Calling”. To put our relationship with God into all our relationships with others. We are called to find ways of creating a community that resembles the Kin-dom of God.

But I Say…
Who are you in this world?
Maybe it’s as simple as being a salt shaker!

YOU ARE - February 5, 2023

The nocturnal section of the Perth Zoo in Australia they keep dark for the animals & wildlife that only come out at night. Do you know there’s a glass case which has a large scorpion in it. While looking at the scorpion, the light in the case suddenly goes very dull & something very strange happens …. the scorpion begins to glow in the relative darkness of the glass cabinet! The information printed on the front of the tank explains that scorpion’s glow in the relative darkness of ultra violet light…. what has often been referred to as black light. That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it, one of God’s creatures actually glows in the dark!!!
So, how about you …… are you one of his creations that glows in the dark?
As Christians that’s exactly what we have been created & called to do… Glow in the middle of the darkness of this world in which we live.
Text: (Mat 5:16 NKJV) "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
(Isaiah 58:10 NIV) “… then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like noonday.”
Basically, what the Lord is saying is that if you are a Christian …. You need to be glowing in the dark!
(ABBE IN BOSTON) (12 weeks at BCH with Finn)
Abbe’s first comment about her surroundings in Boston was, “Boston is loud! I had forgotten how noisy and busy and distracting it is to live in the city!”
Loud, indeed. And all those other things too! The idea of Abbe wandering those streets on her own all those weeks gave me the shivers. Maybe next time she ought to just keep her head down and stay inside the hospital. Just to be sure. Just to be safe.
Safe is a good thing. We spend a lot of time and money on being safe or feeling safe anyway. It occupies our thinking quite a lot. Yet, it never seems to be on Jesus’ list of things to worry about. He has a list. OK, maybe it isn’t a worry list – after all he did say, “Don’t worry.” Let’s call it a list of things to pay attention to. And it is a long and involved list, full of significant and powerful ideas and moments and people. But nowhere does safety enter into it. If anything, he seems to be a risk-taking kind of guy. “Get on out there,” he says. Go and do. Or perhaps, go and be.
“You are salt,” he says. You are light. No one lighting a lamp, hides it. “Hide my light under a bushel, NO! I’m gonna let it shine.” Admit it, you are singing that song in your head, aren’t you? Or if you aren’t, then you should be. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. That’s what Jesus says to do.

Bob walked us through the Beatitudes last week. We were reminded who we are, though we often try to turn them into imperatives - get out there and be peacemakers, be meek, be hungry and thirsty for righteousness – but Jesus doesn’t present them that way. He is describing, not commanding.
Likewise in these verses that follow the first twelve in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus doesn’t say, “Get salty!” He doesn’t say “Light up!” He says, almost as a matter of fact, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”
Now if you’re like me, you can’t help but wonder, when did that happen? When did I become salt for the earth? When did I become light for the world? I’m just me. Just doing my best. Just watching out for me. Just trying not to get trampled underfoot. Jesus wants me to shine, to give light to the whole house?!
But, see, that’s the thing about light; it doesn’t exist for its own sake. The light is there to help folks find their way. It is about shining on the path, about revealing the hazards along the way, about getting where we need to be with a minimum of detours.
And salt, salt on its own, for its own sake is not really a good thing. But as an enhancer, as a preservative, it is invaluable. I’m not a farmer and can’t speak to today’s practices, but In Jesus’ day, it was a common practice for farmers to salt their fields to add in the right mix of minerals to help crops to grow. The word that we translate as earth is literally ground or dirt. You are the salt of the ground, the salt of the dirt. That’s not a fun job, perhaps, but it is one that helps things to grow. That’s our job: Not to be the center of attention, but to help things grow.
Yeah, it’s risky. No question about it. It is a loud and noisy world out there, and we might be safer just keeping our heads down. But we can’t! Jesus tells us that too. “A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” It is a reminder that we are the representatives of the faith whether we want to be or not. So, we might as well be good ones. We are the manifestation of Christ in the world today, whether we claim it or not. So, why not claim it? Why not live as though Christ were alive in us? Let them “know we are Christians by our love.” AKA… light and salt.
That is what he is saying here, “You are the salt of the earth, why not help things grow? You are the light of the world, why not help folks find their way? Why not mentor, why not lead, why not teach, why not guide, why not be what you already are, a sign of Christ’s presence in the world today?”
“Get out there,” Jesus says. Get out there in the world; the noisy, wonderful, scary, glorious world and let your light shine! Season the world like the salt that you are. Don’t worry about being trampled underfoot; that only happens when you stop being who you are called and created to be. You are light and you are salt. Let it shine on and flavor everyone you meet! AMEN!!

Have The Same Mind - January 22, 2023

In our increasingly contentious society and world, to consider that a sign of the kin-dom is that the community has the same mind might be a bit of a stretch. Yet here is the call from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In fact, this is the first call the Apostle gives us in this letter, so he clearly thinks it is important.
In the USA, we sometimes overvalue the individual, and many Christians say that it is all about “me and Jesus”. That it’s personal. I’ve said it myself and it is… to a point but, Paul argues for something else than that. Yes, of course, the individual is important, but so is the church, so is the community of faith. We are in this together. Again and again, the gospel indicates that we are not in this alone, that we are made to work this out together; we are meant to be reconciled; we are meant to be in relationship with God and with neighbor. We should want to preserve the community and not simply be right. Our early church leaders did just this. When there were issues and disagreements, they came together, face to face, to work them out. That is how we have the Nicene Creed. The early church wrote it with the earnest hope and prayer that it would serve as a unifying theological anchor for a strong church in their day and for generations to come.
We know the creed, but do we really live it?
Last week we celebrated our abundance, our “Lacking Nothing”. This week we give thanks for our relationships. We can celebrate the life of the community (and not just this community of faith but, the community of All believers) in fellowship, in learning together and serving together. We rejoice in our reach, which is always greater together than separately. There is an African proverb that says if you want to go fast go alone; but if you want to go far, then go together. We are in this for the long haul, all the way to the kin-dom of God. And along the way, we live by kin-dom rules, we show kin-dom values, we rejoice in kin-dom priorities, which sometimes means I set aside my personal preferences for the good of the whole. But many times, we realize that my personal good is fulfilled by the good of the whole community. Keep in mind when I say words like “our” and “community” and “they” and “we” I am speaking of ALL believers, from every denomination. This journey is always and will always be an ecumenical one.

So, we sing of the church and the joy that we have in communion and fellowship. We pray for the healing of broken relationships and misunderstandings so that our witness can be stronger. We give thanks for our leaders and teachers and pillars who have sacrificed much to help us be the church we are. And we continually look out for ways to be open, to invite and include those who are not yet a part of the fellowship of the church. We are making disciples of Jesus Christ, and there is always room for more.
So, “Have the same mind.” Okay, yes, well. Maybe we should look at some of the other texts assigned to this Sunday? Maybe there is something there that is within the realm of possibility. This “Unity” just seems so very far out of reach. Or maybe we’ve decided that this isn’t all that important. Or not as important as being right, standing firm, holding on to principles and doctrines. In our hierarchy of behaviors, “having the same mind” isn’t very high on the list, or so it seems. . .
Yet, just reading verse 10 will tell us how seriously Paul takes it as he makes his approach to all that is going on in the church at Corinth. How many times does he say the same thing in that single verse? “Be in agreement” and “no divisions among you” and “be united in the same mind” and “the same purpose.” All repetitions, or at best, nuances of the same idea. For Paul, what is tearing the church apart is the fact that they/we don’t agree.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be all that keen in telling us exactly what it means to be of the same mind. Does it mean that we have to agree on every single point of doctrine and ethics? Does it mean that we have to read the scriptures in exactly the same way every time? Does it mean that there is absolutely no room for differences or nuance? That you have to apply the word to your life in exactly the same way that I apply the word in mine? There are those who would insist that this rigid following of doctrine is exactly what Paul meant. But differences are inevitable when dealing with human beings who are made differently and who have different experiences and histories. So, where is the line, then?

What if we go back a moment and ask what Paul might have had in mind when he told the church in Corinth to “be of the same mind”? He uses a familial reference. “Brothers and sisters,” he says. Even when trying to correct their behavior, or at least their thinking about their behavior. We are connected, we are united, we are the family that was created by the life and witness and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even in a conflicted situation, there needs to be a sense of connection, a belief in community. So, might we say that being “of the same mind” is that we all agree that our primary effort is in building up the body?
So, does this mean that we surrender truth? Or right? In favor of just sticking together no matter what? Of course not. Paul is writing this letter to correct behaviors and understandings that he argues are not of Christ. Which also means that there are ways we will go about making our arguments; there are behaviors that we will not accept as we seek new understanding of one another. We won’t tear one another down; we won’t call names and point fingers; and we certainly won’t tell others not in the community what terrible people we are saddled with in the body of Christ. There is a call to a higher behavior, no matter how frustrated or upset we get. There is nothing here about giving up trying to find ways of coming to a common mind.
The next verses: “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Cephas” or “I belong to Christ”. (Wait, Christ? Hold on and we’ll come back to that one.) What this sounds like is what psychologists call “confirmation bias.” We listen only to the ones who confirm what we already believe. We aren’t challenged to look at something in another way. We simply repeat our understandings and our beliefs, rather than digging deeper into the source of those beliefs and being willing to be challenged to another way of thinking. Sounds about like the way the whole world is living right now, yes?
So, okay, Paul and Cephas, maybe. But Christ? Why did Paul include that name on the list? As if there was some problem with saying, “I’m following Christ.” I mean isn’t that how the song goes, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”? Actually, it seems as though that one should be the antidote to the problems, rather than a separate camp to follow. And that would be true in the best of situations. We can and should always call upon Christ to be the moderator of our disputes and disagreements and multiple interpretations. Except that too often, we claim Christ as one who always agrees with me, but not with you. And that to disagree with me is to disagree with Christ. The other side is not just wrong, but they are anti-Christ, which is about the worst thing we can think to say about them! Christ is not our exclusive property, no matter how “right” we might be. We cannot claim that only we follow Christ!
In speaking about the universal church, Francis Chan in the book titled “Until Unity” writes, “Let’s consider how our internal squabbles look to the wider world. They don’t get wrapped up in the detail of the theology behind the debate, rather they only see how we treat one another when we disagree, and that reflects badly on the universal church. How then do we make disciples? The call to watch how we live out our faith is clear. Even when we disagree, even when we have differences of interpretation, can we be “in the same mind” that Christ is the way of hope and of salvation? Can we come back to the core and find common ground even as we continue to move in different directions? Can we live in grace always?”
When we hear something of a different theology where do we go for help to understand why this difference is believed? Who do we turn to when we believe this theology is wrong? Well, of course we go to the ones who have taught us, the ones who are “in our camp”, the ones who will most always agree with us. And this makes sense, but it also means we really only ever get one side of the story.
You probably agree that scripture is the basis for truth? If we all agree on that, then how come we have so many theological differences? Because there are so many interpretations of scripture. So, how do we figure out who has the best interpretation of scripture? Is it the most intelligent? The one with the most education? The most humble and loving person? The one who seems most in tune with the Holy Spirit?
Paul explains in Chapter 2 of 1 Corinthians that a natural person cannot understand spiritual truth no matter how brilliant he or she may be. Now I don’t want to discourage you from studying and continually learning but to warn you to avoid arrogance. You might subconsciously, or consciously, believe that you’ve got everything right and the beliefs of other people and denominations is completely unfounded. You may believe to the point where having a conversation with someone about their opposing belief is not an option. “I am not going to discuss this with you!” Boy, how often have you said or heard that one? This pride is only going to prevent you from hearing the true Spirit of God. If God gives grace to the humble, it would be hard to imagine that the arrogant would be the most right.
1 Corinthians chapter 13, is a chapter that many of us know by heart. At the end of his famous description of love, Paul writes in verses 8-12: “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
Now if you’re having a hard time accepting your beliefs might be temporary, and you’re starting to feel defensive, stop right now and check your heart. Do you really think you have God all figured out? If so, that’s a scary place to be, for both of us!
Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, "I will build MY church", singular church, not your choice of many options.
1 Corinthians 1:11-13 Paul reminds us that Christ is not divided.
Christ does indeed want unity but not through diversity. He wants people to unite under His teachings, to draw near together to His throne of grace and mercy.
Unity is placing yourself in God's light, being in harmony with Him so we are united with all others in His light. We must strive for this kind of unity to bring us into the Kin-dom.
Look here… (CANDLES) You aren’t supposed to be a disciple of King Henry VIII, Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Knox, Joseph Smith, or Ellen White. None of these people died with ability to save you, none have risen to sit at God's right hand.
Christ is the only name by which you are saved. Christ Jesus is the only one we are to follow. AMEN?

God Has Equipped Us - January 15, 2023

Paul claims in 1 Corinthians that the church has everything it needs to be the church. That’s an amazing and powerful statement of faith. Too often, we spend time wishing – wishing we had more people or more resources or more volunteers or more activity. But what if, instead, we were simply thankful? Let’s be thankful for the gifts we have, for the people we have, for how they give of themselves and their resources and give thanks for the mission and witness that we are able to do week by week. Of course, we want to encourage more. But not because we are lacking. No, we encourage more because we don’t want anyone to miss out on the joy of being the body of Christ, the joy of serving, the joy of worship. We come from an attitude of plenty and not scarcity. We want everyone to see they have all the tools they need through their faith, to please God and build the kin-dom.
Psalm 40 could be used as a reminder that even when life is difficult, God is good. Sometimes we experience that abundant grace in surprising or even miraculous ways, but most of the time it comes through the generosity and caring of the community of faith around us. We are supported by one another. We are lifted up and rescued by one another. We needn’t fear trying, answering God’s calls, because we are part of a kin-dom.
Listen, John and Jesus had no instructions! They went and did, and prayed and did more, and learned and did more. Their faith was the toolbox they needed to step out in and do the tasks. They never thought, “Gee I don’t think I could do that!” They trusted their faith in God, and their faith in each other, and just did it! Whatever they heard Him say, they just did it!
When they felt inadequate, and yes, I do believe even Jesus felt not worthy at times, not fully equipped, so when they felt inadequate, what did they do? They prayed! They took a moment, a quick 15-minute break, and talked to God! Praising him, thanking him, asking for his guidance, seeking his answers. Did you ever notice how many times scriptures tells us Jesus left to pray or Jesus went alone to the garden to pray? Many times! Then when Jesus and John and any of the disciples felt strong and sure enough, they continued their service to God.
See, God gives us everything we need to step out in faith and witness and teach and serve his kin-dom.
Now it is tempting to want to have power and authority, to be admired and listened to. But Isaiah suggests that God’s servant won’t necessarily be glorified – but GOD will. When we offer ourselves up to serving God , and allow God’s spirit to work through us, good stuff happens… though we may never see the results. We might feel we have labored in vain. But the assurance is that in the big picture, our little works make a difference.
We frequently talk with others about Our hopes and dreams and aspirations, but we don’t often talk about being “called”. It’s not a call meaning we desire to be someone important or do something special, but that God calls us and gives us the tools to carry out His purpose in our lives. These callings are not necessarily what we want to do, but what the spirit, alive and free in us, wants us to do. (Though sometimes what the spirit is in you to do, is exactly the same as what you are drawn to do.) The key to knowing what this call is doesn’t require any special skill or ability, but discerning what God is telling you.
Remember the disciples who followed Jesus after being told by John that Jesus was the “Lamb of God”? Jesus asked them “what are you looking for?” That’s a question Jesus keeps asking us. Then they answer, “where are you staying?” I think for todays world the question would be “where should we look for you?” Jesus simply says ,”Come and See”. He doesn’t tell them ‘Here let me tell you what to think or how to act’. He says ‘Come closer. Pay attention. Notice what you see and hear!’
I had and still have very little clue how to be a minister! You have no idea how daunting the task is! How many times I have wanted to just say, I can’t do this this week! But what do I do when that happens? I pray. And I read and I journal and a host of other things to get me back to that place where I can see and hear God’s faith in me. And remember my faith in Him! That’s the place where I can re-open my toolbox and get back to work.
Remember as a kid and you thought for sure you were incapable of ice skating or riding a bike or playing that sport you so wanted to play? And for most of us there was some adult, a parent or sibling or teacher, who stepped up and looked us in the eye and said, “You CAN do this. I believe in you! I will be right here to help you!”
I remember at the age of 6, my neighbor taught me to ride a bike. I had been enviously watching her ride all week long. But she was 13! An adult! How could I possibly ever ride a bike like that?! Oh I so wanted to be able to ride that beautiful shiny bike with the handlebar streamers blowing in the wind and all my friends watching!
Well, she noticed me watching. It was like she heard my thoughts! She came and asked if I wanted her to teach me? Me! She was going to share her bike with Me! I was beside myself. Of course I wanted her help! And in one week, I was riding that bike like it was always meant to be. I had the desire, she had the knowledge, and God gave us the power, together.
That “parent” for a Christian is God. His work is All about this Kin-dom. This bringing together of the “family of God”. And unless we can be strong enough to act on our callings, this Kin-dom will not succeed. We will continue to be long lost relatives.
Paul tells us, particularly those of us who don’t think we measure up, that we have been blessed. Not that we will be or we could be or we might be, but that we have been. Not only that, he goes on to say that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift. We have all the tools we need to be the church that we are called to be. We don’t need to wait for anything. Okay, so we may not feel like we always know what we are doing. But like Kelly on that bicycle, we are learning on the job, learning to be the church.
So, what tools do you think you need to take up your cross, to serve your community, to be someone’s light? Because here’s the thing… You already have them! It’s just a matter of digging them out of the basement. Drag them up out of the muck and mire, with God’s, and your faith communities help, clean them off and use them, over and over again until they become sharp and shiny and comfortable in your own hands. But you have to start. Open your faith toolbox and start something! Anything, no matter how big or small, just start something! Soon, you’ll see that you’ve always had every tool you need to serve, to love, to preach, to witness, to be the kind of Christian who let’s their light shine, no matter how long that beam of light has been dimmed. God is always there to help you set it back up and shine so the whole world sees. And the Kin-dom, your faith family, is always here to help you as well. You only need to ask.
We also remember the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this weekend. His witness and call remind us that the work of antiracism and civil rights is not yet done, and we need to be engaged in the transforming work of the gospel, even in our own neighborhoods. Even here, we come not from fear or from lack, but from an abundance of grace that calls us into action to be a part of the creation of beloved community in which everyone is welcome, and everyone is honored. Let us celebrate the church we are and we are becoming.

That nudge, that’s God calling you, your Faith is your toolbox, your tools are whatever or whoever you need to help you serve the God who loves you. Come and be part of the Kin-dom! Every little thing you or I do helps towards building the Kin-dom stronger.
Verse 2 in the old hymn “HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW” says …
“let not your heart be troubled”
his tender word I hear
and resting on his goodness
I lose my doubts and fears,
though by the path he leadeth,
but one step I may see.

Since it is Martin Luther King Jr day tomorrow, I will end with this quote,
“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Baptism of the Lord Sunday January 8, 2023

The Message –
Epiphany, a word that means manifestation, ushers us into a season when we look at the ways God has entered the world, reaching out to all nations and all peoples. From the poor shepherds to the Magi, God calls. During these Sundays after Epiphany (Jan 5) the readings of the common lectionary celebrate the visit of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, the turning of water into wine. Each of these stories brings the presence of God into the world. Did you know today, Baptism of the Lord Sunday, in Ethiopia, pilgrims from all over the country come together in the ancient city of Aksum, where they bathe in a great reservoir of water that has been blessed by a priest. While we don’t have a great reservoir, we are celebrating Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord just as most other churches in the US do, with the star to guide us, the colors of white and green, the Font and the remembering of our own baptism and of the God who lives and reigns in our world.
The Magi have come and gone but God is always with us.
“No one enters the Realm of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3.5). The water of Baptism is a symbol of God’s Spirit within us. It signifies that we are ordained by God to a holy task: to spread God’s love. The Spirit enables us to do this, just as the Spirit descended on Jesus at his Baptism. Just as our bodies are mostly water, we ourselves are mostly love: the love of God is in us from the beginning, ready to flow out into the world. The Spirit empowers us to live out the Gospel, to live lives of gratitude, trust, compassion, and justice. The water of Baptism is an invitation to allow God to pour love out on us and in us and through us into the world.
“In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12.13). Jesus embodied the love of God, the physical presence of God’s love. As different rivers pour into the same sea and become part of one body of water, baptism symbolizes our lives all becoming part of Christ. God includes each of our lives as part of God’s salvation of the world. The water of Baptism is the river that bears us into the Church, the Body of Christ.
For this reason, Baptism is usually not performed privately, but in gathered worship. It is the sacrament of the community. The church acknowledges the person’s membership in the Body of Christ and covenants to provide for them a loving community where they can experience their belovedness, discover their gifts, and practice following the Way of Jesus.
Many parents wish for their children to be baptized “so they will grow up Christian,”. Baptism itself has little to do with this. Baptism is the symbol of the life-long relationship between the individual and the community —and that has everything to do with this.
It’s the ongoing relationship with the community that gives a person a nourishing spiritual environment and gives the parents the support and resources to provide for their children. The parents, not the church, are their children’s primary spiritual teachers. Baptism affirms the covenant between the church and the parents to help them “raise their children Christian”. Baptism is the doorway to the feast, but the real meal is what the child will experience in the love, teaching, worship, forgiveness, mentoring, companionship, and shared life of the church community over years. Whether you bring your child for baptism or yourself, you are entering into this expectation, this relationship, this covenant.
The Baptismal Vows: This is our “Thank you God; Yes.”
Baptism is a sacrament in which we experience the grace of God through water and the Word. In Baptism God promises: “I, your Creator, have made you. You are my image, and you are my beloved child. In Christ I will be with you in grace and truth and healing, and I will save you. I have sent you for a sacred purpose, and my Holy Spirit is within you to do this. I make you part of the Body of Christ, part of my healing of the world.”
This is God’s Covenant with us. God is always faithful to the Covenant, but we often slip and fall. We need continually to enter again into the Covenant, and to ask for God’s help. We don’t “re-baptize,” because baptism is a symbol of God’s action—and God got it right the first time. God’s faithfulness is absolute and constant. But we always need to renew our faithfulness to the Covenant.
To renew our Baptismal vows does not mean that we pronounce ourselves faithful or believe ourselves to be particularly worthy of God’s approval. It means that we are willing to let God love us. It means that we are willing to let God hold us accountable to this abundant grace; that we are willing to let God change us and make us into new people for God’s sake; and that we are here to serve God, ready to be sent into the world to love. The Baptismal vows are not a test or proof of our faith, but an invitation to deeper faith.
The Vows —United Methodist version (prayer cards) Follow along with me…
— We confess our need for the saving, healing grace of God.
— We renounce the spiritual forces of evil, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.
— We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
— We confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations and races.
— According to the grace given us, we pledge to remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representative in the world.
We confess our need for grace
We are all broken, incomplete, and bent out of shape. None of us has it all together. Baptism is an open doorway to a feast for which we all are hungry. This vow is our way of getting over ourselves and the illusion of our power and control, and saying, with gratitude, humility and an open and willing heart, “Yes, God, I need your grace. I would starve without it.”
We renounce our sin
Yeah, I know. Sin is a heavy word. But it’s a real thing. Sin isn’t being bad or disobedient. It’s our inability to trust perfectly. As humans with free will there’s an element of distrust, fear and self-centeredness built into our egos. It’s not a bad thing: it keeps us from walking into danger. But it prevents us from being able to trust God perfectly. It’s not that we do bad things but that we can’t actually see clearly what’s good and what isn’t. So sin isn’t something you do, like breaking a rule. It’s just the way we are. And society tends to evoke and heighten our fear, distrust, and self-centeredness. We need a lot of help to choose a different path. This vow is a way of being honest and saying “I have this tendency in me. I know its powers are all around me. Therefore, I renounce evil and the fear that generates it, and I ask God’s help to choose a different path, the path of love and grace.”
We resist evil and injustice
Following Jesus is about entering into God’s desire for the whole of Creation, including the transformation of human culture. Jesus spoke of it as entering the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ ministry worked on multiple levels: as he healed people’s bodies, he also healed the wounds of society. He stood against unjust power systems and hierarchies with the power of love and grace. Like the prophets, Jesus was not as concerned with individuals “doing bad things” as much as he was concerned with systemic evil, patterns of power baked into our societies that wound the wholeness and holiness of every person. Baptism compels us to join Jesus in resisting evil and injustice. It also reminds us we don’t have to be superheroes to do this: we “accept the freedom and power God gives us” to do this. And it reminds us that we resist evil “in all the forms it presents itself…” That includes systemic evil like racism and white supremacy.

We confess Jesus as healer and guide
This is the part that gets abused a lot. We’re accustomed to the image of the proselytizer demanding, in an accusatory way, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” As if you’re in big trouble if you don’t. Yikes. Forget that. This vow is not the secret code to becoming a Christian insider. It’s a humble, hopeful statement of what gives us life and directs our living. Jesus has embodied God’s love in ways that have given me life. Jesus has revealed God’s healing for my brokenness. Jesus has modeled God’s grace, forgiveness, love and mercy that has drawn me close to God and shown me my own divine nature— saving me from the life-distorting power of my ego and its fears and desires. In this way Jesus is my “savior.” I’d be sunk without him. And Jesus teaches me, guides me, and helps me choose the Way of Grace in great and small occasions. And I take his guidance seriously. I let the Spirit he imparts motivate me. He’s my guide, my leader, the “boss of me,” or, in old fashioned language, my “lord,” to whom I devote my loyalty and trust. So I gladly confess Jesus the embodiment of God’s Love, or “Christ,” as my “lord and savior.” It’s not the secret password, or the “right answer;” it’s an outburst of gratitude and trust.
We commit to a life of faith
Here it becomes clear this is not just a secret deal between you and God: this is about being part of the Body of Christ, and part of God’s transformation of the world. Whether we’re baptizing a child or an adult it’s not hit-and-run: baptism includes the person in the life of the church. Our faith is lived in out in community, and in the ecosystem of God’s Creation and human history. In everything we do, public and private, large and small, we are Christ’s “representatives in the world.” We are now, in Luther’s words, “little Christs.” We belong to God’s plan for human society, and for all Creation, and for the transformation of the world through love. The liturgy in the hymnal says we are “incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation.” And we do this in community. We couldn’t do that alone. We commit to being part of the church and its witness because the church needs us, and we need them. We accept that the church is imperfect, but like our family, we belong to it and serve to help make it better. Like God does for us in Jesus, we promise to be present.
Thank you. Yes.
In baptism God says, “I give you the power to live just like Jesus, in fact to be part of Jesus. Do you want to?” And in the vows, we say, “Thank you. Yes.” And the church joins in and says, “We’ll help you.”



The 4th Sunday of Advent we were talking about anticipation and “Are We There Yet?”. Now it has all come and gone, and we find ourselves asking, “Is it Already Over?”
Of course, it’s not!
This is just the beginning. The beginning of the reminder of living into whose we are and celebrating that God is with us! God is with us as we start the New Year and make resolutions to be different, to live better, to let go of the past, and to trust the future by living fully aware of the present.
This week also begins the shift into the season of Epiphany, the realization that God is alive in All places and with All people; if we only have eyes, hearts, souls and minds to see the many ways God appears, in our lives and in the world.
In Ephesians 3:12 Paul stated, “When we trust in Him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go.”
So, how shall we enter this New Year?
For most of us it is not a this road or that road clear choice. We usually enter filled with great expectations and some worry. We enter with a bundle of hope and a measure of doubt, a bold new plan and a few details still needing to be ironed out. We are a mixture of past and future, the old and the new, abundant joy and lingering sorrow. We strive to be fully present and alive, and we wake up each day with no guarantees. Except this one… We do not travel alone into this New Year. Christmas gave us the promise that God has bent low to be with us, in all places and situations, with all creation, God dwells with us.
Now, I know many of you might have long standing family traditions for New Year’s Day. But I don’t remember any in particular for my family. Usually, it’s just laying around in our pjs, watching movies or reading or playing games, and eating leftover Chinese from New Year’s Eve. And finishing off the baked goodies and Eggnog! Ewe!
One tradition for New Years is making resolutions. Many of us do this, some of us succeed but, mostly these resolutions are abandoned by the time we arrive at Ash Wednesday. This is because our willpower is what we rely on to accomplish these resolutions, when clearly it is our reliance on God and His influence and guidance we need for the long haul.
Remember the story about the tourist asking the New Yorker how to get to Carnegie Hall and the reply was “Practice, practice, practice.”? Well, this is true of any new resolutions or changes we attempt to make in our lives. Whether they be for health, spirituality or daily living, the changes need to become practices and habits. And that takes faithful effort, support of a community, family or friends, and deliberate planning and repetition.
Did you know to create a new habit science says the average is 66 days, but it can be as little as 18 days or as much as 250 days!
The radio station I listen to is KLove. It is a contemporary Christian music station. At Christmas they do the 30-day challenge. You sign up on their website and then simply listen to KLove and nothing else for 30 days. The website asks, “Can a small change in your daily habits impact your entire 2023? Begin 2023 with a fresh start and get connected to God in a whole new way!” I thought what a great idea! If you’d like to know more, see me later for details.
There are literally hundreds of habits that one could adopt to live more fully as a Christian, like prayer walking, sitting in silence, meditation, keeping a journal, working in a soup kitchen or food pantry, volunteering at a homeless shelter or animal shelter or for the forestry. But the first questions should really be What is your longing? What is your heart’s desire?
God leads us beside still waters and along right paths according to the Psalmist.
First comes the intention, the desire, and the trust that God is with us, then follow the habits of responding and remaining awake and open to the amazing love of God.
As we start our New Year, we always look back on things we want to store in our memory banks. The prophets of old consistently call the people to remember the actions of God, and His faithfulness, but also remind them not to linger there.
Isaiah 43:18-19 reads, “Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already – you can see it now. I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there.”
I am making the resolution to take this verse with me through 2023, to reflect on it and pray through it. I have a feeling it is going to hold an important message.
So, I suggest to you… make new resolutions or don’t, make personal changes or don’t, because God is moving into this New Year with us, whether we invite Him or not, and it is filled with wonders and experiences, both good and bad, but All for His purpose. This New Year is unfolding as it should. Psalm 118:24 translated into the present tense says, “This is the day the Lord is making! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”
Be faithful to our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Babe from Bethlehem. He is always with us! Whether we invite Him or not!
We began this Advent and Christmas journey with the companionship of Saint Francis, the little man of God, who was so in love with the Incarnation that he wanted the world to see Jesus and know the God who bent low to complete creation.
The world has been blessed by Saint Francis, this well-known follower of Jesus, who loved creation, embraced simplicity, and lived peaceably with all.
I love the stories of the living nativity and his preaching to the birds and the animals.
I love how he instructed his brothers, the friars, to live as peacemakers, during the Crusades, a time when the power of the sword was used more often than the power of the spirit.
Francis not only opened our eyes to see the humble Babe of Bethlehem and the God who bends low to be with us, but his life and witness continues to offer a guide to living faithfully in our constantly troubled and fearful world. It’s no surprise that we attribute the prayer, “Lord make me an instrument of your peace” to Saint Francis.
I might suggest we adopt a resolution to be more like Saint Francis. Listen to his words,
“We should not be wise and prudent according to worldly standards, but rather we should be simple, humble, and pure. We should never desire to be above others, but rather we should be servants, and subject for the Lord’s sake to every kind of authority. Upon all who do these things and endure to the end will rest the Spirit of the Lord…”
And one final word he gave to his brothers,
I share with you…
“I have done what is mine;
may Christ teach you yours.”



That’s a familiar question, isn’t it? Especially to those of us who grew up on day-long Sunday drives to nowhere!? And then at Thanksgiving it turns into “Is it Christmas yet?” Children and patience usually are like oil and water, right?
This is the week when the eagerness for Christmas is palpable. And the anticipation grows with each passing event… the children’s Christmas pageant, the gifts being wrapped, the out-of-town relatives arriving, the smell of freshly baked goodies. Each one is like opening another advent calendar window. Are we there yet?
This is the week we anticipate the arrival of the Babe from Bethlehem and some of the traditions that celebrate the Incarnation, the bending low of God to be with us. In our humble state, in the fields and forests, in the streets, lanes and underpasses where we live. Emmanuel comes.
Now I love to sing Christmas Carols, even if it is in private. Mostly you’ll see me in the car singing to myself, or my neighbor may hear me around my house. There are 2 Christmas songs I really love, especially for this last week of Advent. “Mary Did You Know?” and “A Strange Way To Save The World”. Have you heard it? If you haven’t, The song is sung from Josephs perspective and he questions why God chose a baby, a carpenter, and an ordinary girl to bring the Savior into the world. It asks haunting questions like the ones in the Mary song. Questions such as, “why me?”, “why her?”, “why here?”, and “why a baby?”. Indeed, it’s a strange way to save the world.
If we United Methodists were trying to save the world, would we have started with a baby? I think not. First, there would have to be a study committee to put together a plan for a fully detailed study, with sharp minds and people who know how to get things done efficiently. There would be lists of research and calculations of success rates and tools, strategies, funding, maybe a couple sub-committees, and there would have to be a church dinner somewhere in there, for sure!
But a baby?
Come to think of it, if we were trying to stir up Christians to remember that particular event of saving the world, would we have picked Francis, his donkey, and a cave with straw to start a worldwide way to remember and celebrate? Probably not.
But, for Francis, the Incarnation proves the intrinsic value of men and women. God created humans in His own image, and then, chose to be human, in all the fullness of body and soul, from birth to death, and with the limits of the human condition.
The Babe from Bethlehem had a profound impact on Francis. Let me say it again… God created humans in His own image, and then, chose to be human, in all the fullness of body and soul, from birth to death, and with the limits of the human condition.
God takes the long view. Starting with a baby means this is a lifelong project. Not our life, but God’s! That is profound!
Maybe poor shepherds will come and get a glimpse of the One who comes to be with the least and the lost, the forgotten and oppressed.
Maybe Magi, strangers, and foreigners, and yes, maybe even WE will see the hope for the new world order and come with our candles and carols and, kneel and find welcome. Are We There Yet?
Patience is not easy when the anticipation runs so high!
In the NLT Bible, Habakkuk 2:3 God states, “But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.”
I’m constantly learning and growing into this “Lay Minister” position but, I have to say that even in the midst of leading worship, there are moments of awe and wonder. A song the music team sang, a line or verse from a liturgy or scripture, the lighting of candles. Many times, my spirit is touched. Many times, I look up and ask, “why me?”.
I choose to believe Francis probably did the same.
And, when I am not feeling the spirit, I have also, remembered God’s instructions to be patient.
There is now a chapel over the place with the stone alter Francis used in the twelfth century, with a larger church nearby.
I’d love to travel there and see the place and feel the Holy surroundings that stirred the little man of God to begin this tradition of seeing and feeling something of the wonder of how God bends down to embrace who we are.
But, whether I, or you, ever get to Greccio in Italy, or not, you can feel the wonder of Christmas Eve in large churches and small, with a hundred candles lit or just a few, with trumpets and organ or with a simple guitar and piano (or accordion as the case may be), and always with voices lifted high in praise!
Oooo, are we there yet?
I have a short story. I remember when raising my girls, somewhere in my forties, I was trying to give them the “reason for the season”. There were many, many church plays and skits, directed, and produced by me and another good friend blessed with mounds of patience. We called ourselves and our band of teens the “Chestnut Street Players”. Why? Well, that made for good content in the newspaper ads, and it was the street the church sat on. All the parents loved it because we kept all those teens (about 16 of them from age 11 to 17) corralled and very busy that last week before Christmas. Listen now, I thank God I was the mom who started Christmas shopping in January and was done by August. That allowed me to be fully immersed in the “Chestnut Street Players”. But apparently, it kept me busy as well, and my daughters not quite busy enough. About 13 years ago my daughters, Kerri, and Abbe, told me a story on Christmas Eve about how they would peek at all their presents during that week before Christmas. I was like pshh… no way! Those things were all wrapped immediately and locked up in a closet... with a padlock on it! Well, they both laughed and laughed while they told me how they would take a screwdriver and hammer and take the hinges off the door. Then they would carefully unwrap each present to get a peek. And then put it all back together! I was floored! I don’t ever remember a Christmas that they weren’t totally surprised with each gift! Huh! I guess the anticipation got the best of them and they had the last laugh. Or maybe I will. Abbe now has 3 teenagers of her own after all. Oh Lord, Are we there Yet?!
So, back to the music of the season.
Music that stirs feelings and lifts our mood and points us to Bethlehem, to the God who bends low to journey with us.
The carol sing with Pastor Deb last Sunday was wonderful! Bob even sang Silent Night in German for us! And Pastor Deb played and sang a carol she wrote. It was a blessing to have that time together. I would say the spirit was moving. Santa songs are okay, but Hymns and Carols, they just warm our hearts!
Then there are “praises” such as Mary’s Song.
And the less well-known praises like Saint Francis’ “Praises of God”.
He wrote this later in life after spending some time with the Muslims and his friend, Brother Leo. The Muslims have a prayer with 99 names or attributes of God. Francis wrote his to encourage Brother Leo in his daily praising.
This week, may it help keep us patient and carry our joy for the God who gives us a baby to be with us, and for whom we love and care.
We are almost there!
I invite you to close your eyes and meditate on Francis’ words as I read the Praises of God
You are holy, Lord, the only God,
and Your deeds are wonderful.
You are strong.
You are great. You are the Most High.
You are Almighty.
You, Holy Father, are King of heaven and earth.
You are Three and One, Lord God, all Good.
You are Good, all Good, supreme Good,
Lord God, living and true.
You are love. You are wisdom.
You are humility. You are endurance.
You are rest. You are peace.
You are joy and gladness.
You are justice and moderation.
You are all our riches, and You suffice for us.
You are beauty. You are gentleness.
You are our protector. You are our guardian and defender.
You are our courage.
You are our haven and our hope.
You are our faith, our great consolation.
You are our eternal life, Great and Wonderful Lord,
God Almighty,
Merciful Savior.



Christianity celebrates the joy of the birth of Jesus with local flavor around the world. Over 2.2 billion people celebrate! And just imagine… the same way we all celebrate Worldwide Communion Sunday… we all celebrate Jesus for 24 hours!! Now just imagine the diversity of all those people!! Much of that diversity and traditions from around the globe, are finding a home in our current celebrations here in the US. I even heard something recently about a movement in the Jewish population to move towards believing that Jesus was in fact the Messiah! That means we are including the Jewish people in this celebration! Praise God!!
Even our Nativities have diverse colors of people now. I rather like that change.
However, as appreciation grows for other traditions, many Christians are longing for a quieter, simpler, and more prayerful way to prepare for the birth of that Babe from Bethlehem.
Saint Francis’ love for the Babe, the Christ Child, led him to deep prayer and a desire to follow Jesus humbly and simply. He became the image of the person he prayed for. He once wrote, “Where there is peace and contemplation, there is neither anxiousness nor restlessness.”
In the thirteenth century, walking was the usual mode of travel, and it offered time for reflection and conversation, either with a companion or with God as companion. I personally, use trail walking as my time for communing with God and discerning the direction he would have me go.
Today, there are Labyrinths being used for prayer and reflection. At the same time, pilgrimages – especially walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain – testifies to our desire to walk and pray without time pressures.
The Labyrinths have been found in many ancient civilizations, on walls, on coins, or in fields. Labyrinths found new interest in the work of Episcopalian Priest by the name of Reverend Lauren Artress, who discovered a labyrinth in the floor of a cathedral in France. In medieval times, when it was too long and dangerous to travel to the Holy Land, pilgrims could visit one of the great cathedrals and walk the labyrinth as their prayer.
Walking a labyrinth provides people with a way to take a meditative, prayerful walk to the center. This meditative walking helps focus one’s mind. Often people walk in to the center with an intention or question on their heart. Once in the center it provides a place to rest, pray and think, while walking out is an opportunity to release, let go, or make a resolve.
Advent provides a holy tradition of preparation, and the labyrinth invites people to slow down, place one foot in front of the other, and walk slowly towards the center. An Advent Labyrinth walk helps one let go of long lists and a constant flurry of activity.
Isaiah 12:2 encourages us to trust and not be afraid, for God is our strength and salvation.
Whether you walk a labyrinth or just take a long prayerful walk through your neighborhood or, like me and Saint Francis, through the forest along a river, a walk can be a fruitful time of reflection on the “Babe from Bethlehem” who comes to us where we are.
Another look at a different culture is the Mexican Tradition of Las Posadas. This tradition originally began as a celebration of the Christmas Story. The word posada means inn or lodging. This tradition took place over 9 nights, from Dec 16 to 24. The Mexican people remember Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to stay where Jesus could be born. They walked from house to house to house until finally on the last night they are invited in, offered food and drink and a celebration begins which includes a pinata! This pinata is a representation of Faith defeating Temptation with the help of Virtue. The fruit and sweets that pour out represent the Joys of union with God.
Today many Latin Americans and Spaniards from around the world celebrate a shortened version that happens on one night. There is even a Las Posadas Litany for this enactment. People gather with a man and a woman dressed as Joseph and Mary with half of the people inside the house or church and half outside. Then they read (or sing) the litany until the group outside is invited in and the joyous celebration begins, pinata and all. This litany is also included in the UM Book of Worship! That sounds like fun, yes? Perhaps next year we will try it!
Las Posadas is a direct link from what Saint Francis set out to do in Greccio. Each experience takes the story of Jesus’ birth and translates it into an interactive experience and a dramatization of scripture. The second manger at Greccio and the Las Posadas in Mexico make the Bethlehem story real to us. The story of the Incarnation takes root amongst ordinary folks
This joyous tradition highlights the precarious situation of a poor Holy Land family looking for a safe shelter in a country where the powers that be didn’t care about them. Many people in the margins – right here in our own community – know what it’s like to search for shelter and a place to call home.
Saint Francis would have understood the poverty and humiliation of having to give birth in a stable. He embraced poverty as a follower of Christ and crossed the line to the outcasts when he embraced the leper. It was a conversion moment for Francis, and it happens for us every time we remember our kinship with creation! Every time we feel compassion or empathy; every time we care for the least, the lost, and the forgotten, we embrace Christ. In Zephaniah 3:20 God says,” … “. (read)
The joy of this third week of Advent is found in the vision of coming home, finding safe shelter, and rejoicing in community.
There are many other diverse traditions including Advent Calendars, Advent Chains and Christmas Cards. These are all pretty familiar. I remember one year when we had a bunch of kids attending church and we made Advent Chains to decorate our sanctuary.
But I want to share a story. I recently became aware of something my sister Barb did over the 25 years she lived in California. She made a tradition of mailing Peace Letters. She sent them to people around the world, thanking them for their work to create a more peaceful world. You see, Barbara was always an activist. Sitting on the sidelines wasn’t a comfortable place for her. She was uncomfortably aware of the political posturing and the things a government will do to its own people for political gain. So, she sent letters out at Christmas to people like Maya Angelou, Desmond Tutu, Bono and even Jimmy Carter! And she kept copies!
Peace Letters… she sent them to anyone she deemed worthy of saying a simple “thank you for all you do, for all of us.” Now, Barb is not the most faithful person but, she does have the bones to be one of His Followers.
And isn’t that the message we should send to Jesus? “Thank you for all you do, for all of us.”
There is an understanding that the Babe of Bethlehem is for all people and the “angels we have heard on high” sing “Gloria, In Excelsis Deo”, Glory to God in the Highest. And Luke 2:14 in the Message says, “Glory to God in the heavenly heights. Peace to all men and women on Earth who please Him.”
There is a global, life changing, world changing context to this Birth in Bethlehem.
Many believe that the Incarnation is about God coming to save fallen humankind, but I believe it is more than that. I believe it was more a beginning to the completion of God’s original intention for Creation, not as payback for the sin of Adam and Eve.
The followers of Francis believed, and I quote Thomas of Celano, “the Incarnation occurs because of a positive – love – not a negative – sin.” The mystery for Francis was that God bends down low in love to meet us where we are.
Jesus was to be followed more than believed in!
Thomas says,” The brothers who live with Francis know that daily, constantly, talk of Jesus was always on his lips. He was always with Jesus: Jesus in his heart, Jesus in his mouth, Jesus in his eyes, Jesus in his hands, he bore Jesus always in his whole body.”
I say… what better way to say Thank You to Jesus, but by being just like Him?! Maybe letter writing is a forgotten blessing.
To send notes of appreciation for the good people do in the world, is indeed a blessing. I’ll confess it is easier to send a quick email or text, but there’s something extra special about taking the time to write.
If God could and does bend low to be with us, well just maybe we can share thanks and blessings and Joy with others.
And remember, God’s love in Jesus was for everyone. IS for everyone!



This week as we envision the joyous scene at the second manger, we will learn of some contemporary traditions that have their roots back in olden times.
We are travelling back to the town of Greccio Italy where Saint Francis gathered in the townsfolk for the reenactment of the Bethlehem moment. On that night the men, women and children prepared candles and torches to light up the night. I can just imagine that scene with people walking carefully over the well-known paths, in the twilight, toward a cave, with their flaming torches and high anticipation. Thomas of Celano never really tells us about the weather except it was cold. Maybe the weather wasn’t a factor in light of the joy surrounding the event? Hopefully it was a clear night with all the stars in heaven shining up above mingling with the glow of the villagers’ torches to light up the scene for the Holy man of God, standing before the manger, and telling the story of the birth of a poor King who would bring light, joy, peace, and love to the world. In that dark corner of the world, those in attendance surely experienced a festive night of light.
Little is really known about the origins of candles, but many believe that candles have been around for over 5000 years. After all, the cavemen invented fire. The Romans are generally given credit for the first wick candles. They dipped rolled papyrus repeatedly in melted beeswax of tallow.
Now the bible has many references to lampstands and candlesticks, most relating to temple worship, while bigger ideas of light and dark are spread throughout scripture. Psalm 119:105 reminds us that God’s word is like a candle. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” My favorite scripture verse comes right after Jesus tells us not to hide our light under a bushel but to let it shine. It is Matthew 5:16. Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
But I recently read the Message version and it goes like this… “Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in Heaven.”
The Advent Candle tradition we are using is fairly common. Some use the Christ candle in the center, others don’t. The wreath or circle represents the eternity of God. The four candles are usually purple or blue. Blue candles now are as common as purple, partly to distinguish Advent from the season of Lent and also to suggest a time of great anticipation and waiting. The third candle is usually pink or rose to mark the halfway point in the journey and to remind us of the joy that is coming. Advent candles originally brought light to a dark time of year and also provided a way to count the Sundays to Christmas. By the early 1900’s Advent wreaths and candles were used in churches in the US. Usually, the candles have themes or characters associated with them; hope, peace love and joy are the most common theme. But they also represent Isaiah, Mary, Joseph, and John the Baptist. Churches often create new themes and change music around to provide a way of telling the story of God’s great love for creation. Saint Francis was fond of befriending all of creation, claiming Brother Sun and Sister Moon as his kin. Maybe this year you could use your own advent candles to praise creation. Especially in these times of global warming.
At the second manger, there was also singing. Thomas (remember him?) wrote that the brothers of Francis were singing praises as the people gathered, and the whole evening was filled with great jubilation. We have already learned that Francis, in his younger and partying days, was not only fun to be with but also a good singer. On that torchlit evening he sang the holy gospel of the birth. I quote Thomas, “Here is his voice: a powerful voice, a pleasant voice, a clear voice, a musical voice, inviting all to the highest gifts.”
At the first manger, Luke records that the shepherds were the first to hear the news of the birth of a Savior. In Luke 2:13-14 he writes “and suddenly there was with the angels a multitude of heavenly hosts, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on Earth peace among those whom he favors!’”
It's hard to imagine Christmas without music, yes? Most people have grown up with favorite Christmas carols and hymns that they sing during the season. People are always eager to sing those Carols and Hymns. The challenge for us “messengers”, ministers and pastors, is to honor the season of Advent, with all its themes of preparation, while knowing that many of you want to sing “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” long before December 25th. Thank the heavens we are blessed with many wonderful Advent songs that easily enter into our hearts and souls, deepening our journey to that Bethlehem moment. These Advent hymns articulate our deep longing for the coming birth and for our world to be different, maybe even better, with the coming again of Christ. “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” by Charles Wesley, is always one that comes to mind when we prepare music for the weeks before Christmas. Wesley speaks of our longing for freedom, especially from our sins and fears. Followers of Jesus have recorded many times in the gospels alone when people heard the words “do not be afraid”. Angels tell Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds “do not be afraid”. It is repeated over one hundred other times in both the New Testament and the Hebrew scriptures.
There are certainly in our times many other things we long for. We long for kindness, respect and civility as a way of human interaction. We long for times when differences and diversities, disagreements and challenges, become new opportunities for calmly considering the welfare of others who have no power or voice. We long for weapons to be laid down and wars to cease. We long for all to be fed, that in this world of God’s abundance, we learn to share. We long for creation to be cherished as Saint Francis did, for rivers and streams to be clear and the air to be breathable. So many longings!
While our longing often points to something in the distant future, anticipation seems closer at hand, something that is going to happen and happen soon.
Francis asked his good friend John to prepare for that reenactment of the story of Jesus’ birth. And though no amount of wishing and begging by a young child can make December 25th arrive any faster, there are things one can do to prepare for the celebration.
We all have many traditions to prepare but, for a lot of us, it’s about the music. That music sets the mood for the change of seasons, ranging from monks chanting to carols from the Celtic tradition and even Orchestras!
For my daughter Kerri, her favorite Christmas CD included the “Carol of the Bells” sung by the Boys Choir. Our family knows that one by heart and we all still stop to listen and remember the peace and joy on Kerri’s face. For Abbe it was a 4 CD set that was given to us by some friends when we first moved here. They put together CD’s that included ALL the Christmas music from traditional Bing Crosby to Blues to New Age and placed between each song is a carefully chosen audio clip from ALL the Christmas movies. It’s great fun to listen to. I am glad to have a Christmas CD from James Taylor and another from Dean Martin. Dean was a favorite of my “crooner” husband Mike.
The Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” brings together the longings for wisdom and cheer to disperse the “gloomy clouds of night” and brings the assurance that our longings will be fulfilled. It has such a majestic refrain… “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” It reminds us what we prepare for, what we anticipate and pray and long for, “shall come.”
Remember that Francis loved God’s creation. His most famous prayer begins by addressing Brother Sun and Sister Moon and adds many other sisters and brothers of creation. Francis walked everywhere in Italy and found prayer places in the hills, caves, and the forests of Umbria. It made sense to celebrate the Babe from Bethlehem’s birth outside. Again, according to Thomas of Celano, “The people arrive ecstatic at this new mystery of new joy. The forest amplifies the cries, and the boulders and rocks echo back the joyful crowd.”
The evergreen tree has been a long-time tradition and symbol of life in the midst of the darkness of winter in northern climates. In pagan traditions, evergreens served as a reminder that the sun god and warmth would soon return again. The Celts and Romans decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs for the winter solstice. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas Tree tradition in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. It is believed Martin Luther was the first to place a candle on the tree as he tried to capture the brilliance of the starlight shining through the evergreens while on his evening walks. Queen Victoria made the gifts being placed under the tree a popular tradition. In the US trees were not as popular until President Pierce placed a tree in the White House and Clement Moore wrote “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.
Our family made a tradition of going out, usually during or shortly after a fresh snow to cut down a tree in the freezing cold. Of course, it always included a cup of hot chocolate and a stop at McDonalds for dinner.
Though the pagan sun god is no longer part of Christian celebrations at Christmas, the evergreen remains a symbol of everlasting life.
Francis is so taken by the image of Jesus in a manger that he wished to see with his own eyes the manger, the hay, the ox, the donkey, and the discomfort of the Holy Child.
Francis’s interest in the Nativity is not so surprising when you read about his life. He meditated on the words of Christ, spending long hours in prayer. He sought to live a life of simplicity so that no attachments would get in his way of joyfully serving the poor, the least, and the lost. Just like Jesus. His initial encounter and embrace of a leper forever shaped his compassion.
Francis, a joyful servant of God, attracted a following. The jubilant Christmas Eve service in Greccio forever changed the way many of us celebrate Christmas.
In Francis’s day, the Roman Catholic mass was said in Latin, so many churchgoers depended on visuals and storytelling to learn about the characters from the Bible. Mystery or Miracle plays were common. They were performed in churches and on town squares in the local language of the people. Francis’s visual display of the manger not only told the story but also invited people to identify with and emotionally connect with the Babe of Bethlehem born in a manger. God made flesh in an infant would need the people to care for and love the Holy One in their midst. Not long after that night in Greccio this popular type of theatre spread across Italy and far beyond.
It was not always easy to find cooperative sheep, oxen, or camels. The large outdoor dramas moved inside churches and often took on the characteristics of the local village with handcrafted figures in flowing robes in the style of the village. In the mid 1500’s the nativity sets became smaller and moved inside homes and sometimes remained on display year-round.
My collection of nativities is small but still holds special feelings as I gaze on them through the season of Christmas. My favorite one is one I recently purchased and I’m sure Saint Francis would be happy with giving his love for creation. I chose it because of my love for the forest and camping. This is it. I will leave it here for you to look at after worship. If you have Nativity sets you love and cherish… make it a point to share your stories of the special meaning they hold with visitors this Christmas season. Try to share with others how the nativity came about and how the birth of Jesus touches you and your life. Just like Francis! Amen?


(Listen to Special Music First -
Amy Grant / Breath of Heaven)

Wow! Imagine the weight of knowing you carry the Son of God, that you will give birth to the Son of God, that your life will forever be changed and wonderful and scary!! And then imagine that you are only a teenager, and you are betrothed to a wonderful man! How would you handle all that? Such a powerful song! Every time I hear it, it puts me in Mary’s head. It helps me imagine how it must have felt!!

That is exactly what happened to Francis when he thought of the birth of Jesus! He wanted something to experience that place, that night, just as it must have been, so he could imagine for himself the emotions of the event.
Most of us are familiar with St. Francis, Patron St of Ecology. (Yes, his distinction has been expanded.) But I bet not everyone knows that
St Francis, in the thirteenth century, is credited with creating the first live nativity, a reenactment of the birth of Jesus in a Bethlehem stable. And that even the rocks and boulders have a place in the story of God’s presence with humanity. All creation takes part in the unfolding of God’s love in Jesus as St Francis brings the story to life.
But, let me back up a bit and give you a little backstory on Francis, because he wasn’t always a Saint! He was born around 1181 or 2 to a well to do family in Assisi Italy. He enjoyed a good life in a prosperous home, was well liked and popular at parties. He tried his hand at becoming a soldier but ended up in prison and fell ill. Francis entered a period of prayer and confession. A chance encounter with a leper and a mystical experience when he heard God tell him to “go repair my house which is falling into ruins” are what turned his life towards compassion for all. He discovered a newfound mission for his life and a newly realized compassion for All creation and he began to preach of God’s grace, love and peace.
During his spiritual journeys he adopted a life of simplicity and poverty (which did not please his father). Still, others were attracted to him and his teachings, through his joy for life and following Jesus.
Now the stories of Francis of Assisi are many and inspiring but, the primary one for this Advent season is his creation of the Christmas Creche.
Pope Gregory IX commissioned Thomas of Celano to write the biography of Francis in 1228, the year that Francis was canonized and became SAINT Francis. Thomas tells many stories of Francis, some from firsthand knowledge, because Thomas was one of Francis’s followers.
In his stories is included the first ever outdoor Nativity celebration. In that chapter Thomas began with this passionate description of Saint Francis by writing, “His highest aim, foremost desire and greatest intention was to pay heed to the holy gospel in all things and through all things, to follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and to retrace his footsteps completely with all vigilance and all zeal, al the desire of his soul and all the fervor of his heart.” Sounds like
Francis was no halfhearted, lukewarm, casual, fair-weather disciple. No, he was consumed with the words and teachings of Jesus. Francis wanted everyone to see, in their own time and place, what the love of God looks like and the extent to which God will bend to restore humanity to His Divine image. The love of God, for Francis, looked like a baby!
In Greccio Italy, there was a friend of Saint Francis by the name of John. Now John was a nobleman. Yet, despite his nobility, Francis had a special affection for John, and he used John’s cave as a place of prayer whenever he visited. According to Thomas of Celano (remember Thomas?) as Francis developed his idea of recreating and celebrating the Nativity, Francis recruited John’s help with the following message, “Hurry before me and make ready the things I tell you. For I wish to enact the memory of that Babe who was born in Bethlehem: to see as much as is possible with my own eyes, the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and a donkey standing by, he rested on the hay.”
Once John, the good and faithful man he was, heard Francis’s request, he quickly gathered and prepared in that cave all the things his Holy man friend had asked of him.
This reminds me of the request Jesus made of his disciples in Luke 19:30-34. (read) The disciples didn’t even have a second thought… they just acted!
Isn’t it the same with Elizabeth and Mary? Well, there may have been second thoughts but, both women were pleased and humbled to serve God. Excited even!
So it should be also with us. When you get the “nudge” to serve… you shouldn’t question. It is our service that allows God’s will to be done.
I know many of us today live lives of distraction. We are constantly pulled in different directions and interrupted by phone calls, text messages, crying babies, sirens, to do lists and children’s or grandchildren’s schedules. It’s hard for us to imagine being so focused on any one thing the way Francis was, not only on Jesus’s birth, but Jesus’s entire life!
But Francis must have felt the same urgency as we sense in the gospels to prepare for the Babe of Bethlehem to come alive in a whole new way for his friars and all the people.
Even the rocks and boulders have a place in the story of God’s presence with humanity. All of creation takes part in the unfolding of God’s love in Jesus as Saint Francis brings the story to life.
Thomas (you remember Thomas?) writes, “The holy man of God stands before the manger, filled with heartfelt sighs, contrite in his piety, and overcome with wondrous joy.” He continues, “There simplicity is given a place of honor, poverty is exalted, humility is commended, and out of Greccio is made a new Bethlehem.”
These words of Thomas create vivid pictures in my mind of a night of wonder and joy and community and holiness. The people arrive ecstatic at this new creation of joy in the Babe of Bethlehem. The forest amplifies the cries, and the boulders echo back the joyful crowd.
Francis preaches the gospel to the community fo faith gathered in Greccio. Thomas says, “it’s as if he sings the gospel. He often calls Christ the “Babe from Bethlehem” whenever he means to call him Jesus… He seems to lick his lips whenever he uses expressions Jesus or Babe from Bethlehem, tasting the word on his happy palate and savoring the sweetness of the word.”
Evidently Francis was a good preacher! He persuasively drew people to him and the gospel. His former life-of-the-party personality turned into a passionate spokesman for Jesus. He was alive with joy, and people caught that spirit and left with a new commitment to joy and to the Babe of Bethlehem.
According to Thomas the preaching and celebration helped to multiply the gifts of God. One person had a vision of a child lying lifeless in the manger and Francis approached the child and woke him as if from a deep sleep. Thomas interpreted the vision as a commentary on the times with many people asleep to the Holy Child and the presence of God in their lives.
One always hopes that one's preaching is alive and fresh and connects people to the living God, the loving Jesus, and the powerful Spirit; but I don’t think I have ever seen anyone have visions during our worship services. Yet, the words, music, silence, and visuals all come together to create a moment or moments when we notice, feel, hear, and respond to God.
Thomas also wrote that in the days following the Living Nativity, happenings, some would say miracles came about. Some of the animals in the surrounding area who had illnesses were cured when they ate from the hay used in the Nativity. Women who had been suffering with long, and hard labor had easy deliveries when they placed some of the hay on themselves. And an entire group of people who had different ailments were relieved of their suffering.
No matter what happened there is still some mystery to life and more that we do not and will not ever understand.
Just like Elizabeth and Mary…
Just like Saint Francis…
We are on our path to Bethlehem,
mindful of distractions,
aware of wonders and angels singing.
But with Saint Francis and the scriptures to guide us,
perhaps we will encounter our Bethlehem moment.