Monday, December 15, 2008

Sermon: The Best Christmas Present of All

John 1:6-8, 19-28 - A person who was sent by God appeared, and his name was John. He came as a witness so that he might bear witness concerning the light so that many might believe through him. This person wasn’t the light, but so that he might bear witness concerning the light. He was the true light which sheds light on all people because he was coming into the world.
And this was the witness of John, when the Jews from Jerusalem sent to him priests and Levites so that they might ask him, "Who are you?" And he declared and didn’t deny, but he declared, "I myself am not the Christ." And they asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" And he said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" And he answered, "No." Then they said to him, "Who are you, so that we might give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say concerning yourself?" He began to say, "I’m a voice that cries out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the Lord’s way,’ Just like Isaiah the prophet said." And there were those who were sent from the Pharisees and they asked him and said to him, "Then why do you baptize if you aren’t the Christ nor Elijah nor the prophet?" John answered and said to them, "I baptize in water. Among you stands a person you don’t know. He is the one who comes after me, the one whom I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandal." These things happened in Bethany, on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.


You know, I think one of the most challenging aspects of this time of year, especially for a married man, is trying to figure out what to get your wife for Christmas. I mean, give me a break, how are we suppose to know, for crying out loud? I’ll tell you, this is one of the most important and potentially dangerous decisions a man may have to make in the entire year. My goodness, those inexpensive, "thrown together at the last minute" sort of gifts, you know, like a single rose from Krogers, man, that’s only work for the first couple of years. I’ll guarantee, by around year three, that kind of stuff isn’t going to cut it anymore and a guy has really got to start thinking or maybe listening, which is actually much more challenging.

And as you can probably figure out from what I said last week, you know, how I tend to put shopping off ‘til the absolute last minute and wind up buying Christmas at the Exxon, and I’ll tell you, there’s a reason why people don’t sing "Deck the Halls with cans of motor oil, fa la la la la la la la." That’s worst than Tylenol. Take it to the bank, finding the right Christmas gift for Debbie is really tough.

And you know, this past week, I was reminded just how unprepared I am. Some of y’all may not know it, but Debbie works part time at The Children’s Academy and evidentially they practice that evil, wicked custom known as a gift exchange. And this past week, the woman who’d drawn Debbie’s name came to me and asked a question, confident that I would know the answer. She asked, "What do you think Debbie would like for Christmas?" I’ll tell you, I was a deer in the highlights. Trying to buy a little time, I asked, "How much are y’all going to spend?" "Twenty dollars." My mind was absolutely blank, and so naturally I acted like I’d suddenly remembered something I had to do...FOR THE LORD and asked her to come back a little later. Now you see what I’m talking about?

If you’re a guy like me, and I sincerely hope every married woman here this morning feels a greater appreciation for your own husband and ever single woman should feel warned to be really careful before you say "yes," you could get stuck, now, I hope you understand why finding a descent Christmas present is such a difficult and potentially dangerous task.

But you know, I’ll tell you, that really shouldn’t be a problem for any of us, not when we consider what we, as Christians, can offer our community, and in particular those men, women and children who don’t know about Jesus Christ. I mean, isn’t sharing the good news, the good news of the glorious Messiah, the good news of the suffering Son of God; isn’t sharing the victory we have through our Lord and savior, isn’t that the best Christmas present of all? And isn’t that something we can offer the folks around us who desperately, and I mean desperately need to hear some reason to have hope, you know, like that in Jesus there is life and that this life is the light for all people and that this light shines in the darkness of human hatred and arrogance and fear and sin and no matter how black it is, the darkness can not overcome it? Isn’t this the best gift of all? Sure it is. And I’ll tell you what, how we do it, man, it’s not nearly as difficult as trying to guess your wife’s dress size, and I’ll tell you why. We can share the greatest present of all by simply following the example of John the Baptist and doing three things that he did so very well.

You see, we can do this by, first, accepting that this is exactly what we’ve been called to do. Man, each and every person who’s been touched by the Holy Spirit and decided to live, as best they can, in the light, every single one has received the same call that John received. Remember when the evangelist John wrote that "a person who was sent by God appeared, and his name was John. He came as a witness so that he might bear witness concerning the light so that many might believe through him. This person wasn’t the light, but so that he might bear witness concerning the light," remember that?

Well I’m telling you, that call also applies to us just as much as it applied to him, because like him we are called literally to be martyrs, the Greek word that we translate "witnesses," we are called to be martyrs of Jesus Christ. And like John, we can do that through the words we use, but maybe more importantly, through the lives we live. I mean, you tell me, what better shows the love of God to the hungry, words or food? And what better shows the forgiveness that we’ve received through Jesus Christ, a bunch of high sounding theology or making the decision to forgive one another? And brothers and sisters, what better shows the power of the Holy Spirit, hiding behind these walls and pretending that we are doing great things for the Kingdom of God by sitting in our padded pews or moving beyond the stained glass and reaching out to the lost and sharing with them that they are loved by the Father and saved by the Son and inspired by the Spirit? I’ll tell you, doing that with faith and courage and hope, that’s what it means to be a martyr of Jesus Christ. You see, that’s exactly what John the Baptist was and what we’re called to be. And that’s the first part of sharing the best Christmas present of all. But that’s not all.

Second, following John’s example, we also need to make sure that we don’t get in the way of the message that we share, something that I can tell you, is easy for us to do. And you know, when you think about it, it sure could have happened to John the Baptist, and I’m thinking about when those priests and Levites asked if he was the Christ or Elijah or the prophet. You see, if his answer wasn’t as clear and emphatic as it was, it could have completely distorted anything else he had to say. And I’ll tell you, that sort of thing can sure happen to us. I mean, we can say and do things that can jeopardize our witness, can’t we?

I’ll give you an example. When I was a little boy, my family attended a Presbyterian Church, and I remember one Christmas, the minister preached a series of sermons on how the birth of Christ had become too commercial and that we should all take a step back and refocus on the real meaning of the season. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, right? And he used as one his examples how much time and money we spend decorating our houses, time and money that could be used for something else, you know, something more lasting. Well, I’ll tell you, that minister had a major impact on my father, but not because of those sermons he preached. No, it was the open-house the minister threw and the huge white artificial tree, decorated with red balls and velvet bows he had in his living room. I’m not sure my father ever looked at the minister in the same way again, and in fact, a couple years later, Dad left that church.

I’ll tell you, if we run around talking about Christian love and then in the next breath, run down or judge or you know, pass along a little bit of gossip about a Christian brother or sister, well, frankly, I think the Kingdom of God would be better served if we kept our mouths shut about being a Christian at all. Better for folks to think we’re nothing at all rather than a Christian, because, let’s face it, when we do that kind of nonsense, we’re giving Christianity a black eye. Frankly, I don’t think anything does more damage to the proclamation of the gospel than a Christian hypocrite. Following in the footsteps of John, let’s not get in the way of the good news. And that’s number two.

And third, as we pass on this wonderful gift that God has given us, let’s remember to keep ourselves focused on the one we follow, namely Jesus Christ. I mean, like John, we need to keep our eyes on the light, the one whom a lot of people still don’t know even though he came and lived among us, I’m talking about the one who’s sandal strap we’re still not worthy to loosen.

As we go out to bear witness to Christ, to be his martyr, I think it’s crucially important to be in a growing relationship with him. And although, to a certain extent, we all do that in our own way, I don’t think you can beat things like prayer and mediation, attending studies and reading the Bible, drawing together in worship and then dispersing out into the world, man, in my book, those are the ways our relationship with Christ can become stronger and more meaningful. And I’ll tell you, right here and now, if this is something you want to do but don’t know how, come and talk to me after the service. I’m sure the deacons can wait a few minutes for something as important as that. And you know, it is important, because the closer we move to God and the clearer our focus on Christ and the greater the presence of the Holy Spirit, the more aware we’ll be of our call to bear witness and the more sensitive we’ll become to those silly attitudes and actions that nearly always get in the way. You see, that wonderful gift is a whole lot easier to give when Jesus is at the center of our lives and our vision. And that’s number three.

I’m still in a little dilemma about what to give Debbie, but you know something, on Friday, right when I was taking a little break from writing this sermon, Marcia and Misty gave me a great idea, something far better than new wiper blades or a roll of gauze. But you know, even though what they suggested is really good, it still pales in comparison with the good news of Jesus Christ, a message that we can deliver to our family and friends as well as to folks out there in the world the minute we decide to accept the call to be his witness and do the best we can to not get in the way of the truth and to keep our focus on Christ, our Lord. And I’ll tell you, if we decide to do this, we’ll be delivering to our community the best Christmas present of all.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Santa & Mrs. Claus at the Weirton Geriatric Center

Christmas Is Almost Here

Well, here we are, less than two weeks before Christmas. And if you’re like me, you still have an awful lot to do. I know, at my house, we still have to decorate our Christmas tree which we can’t do until I go over to Wal Mart and buy another string of lights. As a matter of fact, the only thing that we really have under control is Christmas baking, and for that, I’ve got to thank Katy, Mary Ola and all the other ladies who did such an outstanding job with the Soup and Cookie Sale. And a special “thank you” to the person who hung the bag of “damaged” snickerdoodles on my door. Now if anyone has any “damaged” prime rib... But I digress.

There’s no two ways about it, this is a busy time of year. But as we go through all the other stuff we need to get done, let me make a suggestion about one other thing you might want to put on your Christmas “to do” list. As we move through this season and enter the New Year, let’s all make the decision to bury whatever hatchets we may still be carrying and to do it for the sake of Jesus Christ and the unity of his church. Speaking from my own experience, it’s really easy to hold on to past hurts and disappointments. Unfortunately, when we do, they just continue to fester and distort what God has called us to do. In fact, they can even lead to hatred, an emotion that is incapable with faith. These feelings can also trickle down into the rest of the church, causing divisions and distractions. Of course, when this happens, it certainly puts a smile on Satan’s face.

And for that reason, this would seem to be the perfect time “to let go and let God.” In other words, let’s forgive the past and move into the future together. And even though there will probably always be folks who will never be our best friends, I think we can certainly stop criticizing and judging one another, understanding that whether we like it or not, Christ has called us all into this one body for a reason. In fact, let’s all make this Christmas promise: if we hear one Christian begin to criticize another brother or sister in Christ, let’s not only refuse to participate but simply turn and walk away. If we’re able to do this, I’ll guarantee we’ll be a stronger, more united congregation, ready to reach out to all those who need to hear and to feel the good news of Christ.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sermon: The Beginning, the End & Life In Between

Mark 1:1-8 - The beginning of the good news of Jesus, Christ, Son of God, just it has been written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold I will send my messenger before your face who will prepare your way; a voice of one who cries in the wilderness, "Make ready the way of the Lord, make straight his paths."

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all of the Judean country and everyone from Jerusalem went out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they publically acknowledged their sins. And John was wearing camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locust and wild honey. And he proclaimed saying, "The one who is stronger is coming after me, the one whom I’m not worthy to stoop and loosen the thong of his sandal. I myself baptize you in water, but he will baptize you in the holy spirit."


If you were here last Sunday, we’re kind of doing a revisal this week. I mean, during our last service, I preached about the end, and particular about how we can prepare ourselves by loving God and loving our neighbor. Well, this week, we’re going to go back to the beginning, namely the "the beginning of the good news of Jesus, Christ, Son of God."

And you know, as we go about our daily living in between, I think that’s a pretty important thing to do, because I’ll tell you, sometimes we can be so focused on the end that we totally forget the beginning. Take how we celebrate Christmas, for example. A couple of days ago, I was kidding Brandy, the woman who does the cooking for the Academy on Thursday and Friday. I told her that I wasn’t going to talk to her until the new year, because she told me that not only had she bought all her Christmas presents but they were all wrapped and under the tree. Isn’t that disgusting? Now understand, she was telling that to a person who considers getting a jump on Christmas shopping going out before 1:00 on Christmas Eve. Let’s just say that more than a few presents have been bought at Rite Aid after leading a candle-lite service. When it comes to shopping, I’m a procrastinator; I admit it. But you know, that doesn’t mean that I don’t worry about it. My goodness, I don’t think Debbie will put up with a bottle of Tylenol in her stocking, no matter how fancy it’s wrapped, for the second year in a row. Man, there’s a lot of pressure to get everything ready for Christmas.

But you know, isn’t that the way it is for us all, at least to a certain extent? I mean, we become so worried, almost obsessed about what we need to get done before December 25th that we either forget the reason we celebrate Christmas to begin with or at the very least, look like we’ve forgotten. My goodness, judging from some of the stressed out expressions I’ve been noticing, even around my own house, this sure doesn’t look like the season "to be jolly." I’ll tell you, sometimes we simply lose sight of the beginning.

And you know, that can happen with our faith too. I mean, we can focus a lot of time and effort on the kind of stuff we talked about last week, you know, what we may want to do before we meet Jesus either in the clouds or at the resurrection of the dead. Let’s face it, loving God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength and then loving our neighbor as ourselves, if we take it seriously, man, that’s a full-time job. In fact, it’s so big and so demanding that it can absolutely dominate our attention. And although that may lead to some great things happening, and you know things for God’s kingdom, it can also distract us from the reason we’re doing all of it in the first place, and now I’m talking about the birth of Jesus and the beginning of the Good News.

And for that reason, I think it’s absolutely essential that we slow down a little bit and refocus our attention on what both this season and our faith is all about, and I’m talking about what began with the coming Jesus: the Christ, the Son of God. In other words, as we try the best we can to live between the beginning and the end, we need to take the time to consider what really started when that baby was born in Bethlehem.

And I’ll tell you, that must have been important to Mark, because just think about how he kicked-off his gospel: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus." And you know something, those words, man, they were really important, maybe even more important than they appear on the surface, because you see, in Greek, the word translated "good news" was a very specific term used by the military. You see, after a battle, the victorious army would send out it’s fastest runner to go it’s city and tell the people who were probably shaking in their boots, he’d tell them about how the enemy had been defeated and because of that, they’d been literally saved from destruction. And the message that guy carried, it was called "good news," a word that is also translated "gospel." You see, why I said the words were important.

Because I’ll tell you, that’s exactly what began with the coming of Jesus, victory: victory over the power of sin and death and destruction, victory that was made up-close and personal whenever Jesus taught and preached and healed, and victory that we can see when we stand beside that Roman soldier at the foot of the cross and look up at the one who was hung on that tree to save the people who drove the nails.

This is the good news that began with the coming of Jesus, and no wonder Mark said about him, not John the Baptist, but about Jesus himself, "Behold I will send my messenger before your face who will prepare your way; a voice of one who cries in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’" You see, Jesus proclaimed and lived this gospel, this good news, this victory.

He was the one, because he was the Christ, the messiah, the anointed one, someone that the Jews believed would arrive right before the coming of God, a messenger who would prepare people for the Day of the Lord, a person Mark described in the first half of his gospel. And this Christ would be part prophet, reminding the people of God’s promises, and part priest, standing between the creator and his creation, and part king, defeating once and for all every power that can crush the children of God, and I’m talking the powers of separation and sin and death. You see, this good news is grounded in Jesus, the Christ.

But that’s not all, because this same Jesus was also the Son of God, something that Mark defined in no uncertain terms starting in chapter nine. And you know, it’s good that he did that, because often when we hear the title, Son of God, we kind of get the same mental imagines that the Greeks had two thousand years ago, that he’s some sort of spiritual Superman. "Look, is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the Son of God." Good night, Hercules was the son of the god Zeus. In other words, he was kind of an ancient super hero, with great strength and superhuman power. And it’s easy for us to get that same supernatural imagine of Jesus.

And yet, as Mark wrote, that’s not who Jesus, Son of God was. In fact, the first person who called him God’s Son didn’t do it right after he’d seen him cleansing lepers or walking on the water or miraculously feeding five thousand. No, according to Mark, "...when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God’s Son!" You see, Jesus, the Son of God, won the victory by giving himself. By experiencing the depth of human suffering and pain, he not only enabled us to understand the incredible love of God but also enabled God himself to experience what humanity feels on its worst days. And if that’s not good news, I don’t know what is.

And I’ll tell you, when this is something that we believe and feel, that right here with the coming of Jesus, Christ, Son of God good news began, man, it’s got to change us, doesn’t it? I mean, there’s no way we can look at the world the same way again, because all the garbage, the trash that we assumed had power has been defeated forever. And we will know that our ultimate future will not be shaped by hatred and greed and jealousy, but instead, it was and is and will always be determined by the will of God.

But not only will our vision change, so will our lives, and I’m talking about how we live each and every day. Have you ever seen those people on game shows who win the big prize; man, they are running around and jumping and waving their arms, because they’re so happy they don’t know what to do. Well brothers and sisters, I think the same things is going to happen to us. I’m telling you, when we understand and accept the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s got to fill us with so much joy, so much hope, and so much enthusiasm that I think we’re going to do the same kind of thing I did a couple of years ago when the Colts finally won the Super Bowl. Man, we’re going to stand up on our hind legs and shout from a roof top, if one’s available: "We have won!" "The victory is ours." "This is good news." And I’ll tell you something else, when we really accept the good news, church attendance won’t be a problem, because, get this, people are going to change their schedules so that they can worship God in a way that’s meaningful and empowering. And evangelism won’t be a problem, because we’ll be so full of joy and hope and enthusiasm that, when we’re talking about Jesus, it’ll be hard to shut us up. And personal disagreements and disputes won’t be problems either, because we’ll understand that all the crud needs to cleared away, if we really want to see the victory of Jesus, the messiah, God’s only Son.

And with that, I’m telling you, our work and service will change too. No longer will it be a burden. And no longer will we get gummed up with petty details and trivial disagreements that I’m convinced the Satan throws in our way, you know, to distract us from doing what’s really important. Instead, we’re going to be out there, on the other side of the stained glass, sharing the love and grace and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ to those around us, and I’m talking about to those senior citizens over at the Geriatric Center and to those kids in our community who without us may have no Christmas at all but also to that one person, that one young woman who may be strung out on heroin or crushed by depression or chasing a golden idol that we know will leave her ultimately empty and alone.

Man, working together, we can make a difference in her life. Through us, the Holy Spirit can change her in ways we can’t even imagine. Like I said last week, with his help, together, claiming a common vision and focus, we can change the world and we can do it one person at a time. You see, because nothing is impossible for God, we can do this. Do you believe me? We can do this, when we look not just at the end, but at the beginning, the beginning of the Good News of Jesus, Christ, Son of God.

You know, when it comes to Christmas, we’re living in the middle, aren’t we? I mean, what began about a week or so ago will end in about two and a half weeks. For Christmas, there’s a beginning and an end, and right now we’ve kind of living in between. And the same can be said about our Christian lives; we’re between the start and the finish. And as we prepare ourselves for the end, let’s make a conscious effort to remember the beginning, and I’m talking about the beginning of the good news, the gospel, the victory, of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.

Sermon: Staying Awake for His Return

Mark 13:24-37 - "But in those days, after that suffering the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will from the heavens fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send the angels, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, rom the end of the earth to the end of heaven.

"But learn from the parable of the fig tree. When already its branches are tender and it breaks into leaves, you know that the summer is near. Thus it’s also with you, when you might see these things happen, you know that he is near the door. Amen, I say to you, that this generation will absolutely not pass away until all these things have taken place. The heaven and earth will go, but my word will absolutely never go.

"But concerning that day or hour, no one knows, not the angels in heaven nor the son, only the father. See that you are awake. For you don’t know when the time comes. It’s like a man who’s away, leaving his house and gives his slaves authority, each with his own work, and to the doorkeeper, he gives a command so that he might be on watch. Now be on watch, for you don’t know when the lord of the house is coming (late or at midnight or at the cock-crow or early) lest when he comes suddenly, he might find you sleeping. But what I say to you, I say to everyone, stay awake."


Well, here we are, officially entering the season of Advent. And although, according to the calendar of the Christian year, the Christmas season doesn’t begin until Christmas Day, let’s face it, for most of us, once we put what’s left of the Thanksgiving turkey in the refrigerator, Christmas is here. And I’ll tell you, if we don’t start singing Christmas carols next Sunday, I know that some of y’all won’t be happy, because regardless of what a calendar says, right now we’re entering "the season to be jolly," right?

And you know, whenever this time of year comes around, I always sort of go back to childhood, and remember just how exciting it was to look forward to Christmas Day. Because you know, even back then, when I was small, and I’m talking about five or six, I was very aware of the reason for this season. Man, it was about Santa Claus, right? Now, understand, I was a good, church-going kid, and I knew all about the birth of Jesus and for my age, I guess I had as good an idea as anyone about who Christ was and why he came. But let’s face it, presents under the tree on December 25 is a whole lot more real and immediate for a six year-old than eternal salvation. Santa was the man, somebody you sure wanted to get to know, if you could.

And I can remember trying to do just that every Christmas Eve. You see, after we’d visited a bunch of my dad’s relatives, including Uncle Steve Mahalovich whom I’ve told some of y’all about before, and after we’d gone to my Grandparents McClannan and visited with my mom’s family, we’d come home with all our presents, neatly wrapped, and mom and dad would put my sister and I to bed (this was before my brother was even born). And as I lay there, I’d really try to stay awake, because if I did, I’d have a chance to meet Santa Claus right there in our living room. My gosh, it doesn’t get better than that. He might even let me pick my own toys, although he always seemed to know what I wanted anyway. And so I’d lie there, trying to stay awake...trying to stay awake...trying to stay awake. But you know, I never I made it. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t pull it off. I just was never ready, and so Santa would come and go and I never saw him under our tree.

And I’ll tell you, I think we have the same problem when it comes to Jesus Christ. I mean, even though we all know as sure as we’re sitting here that one day we’re going to met Jesus either because he’s come down to us or we’ve gone up to him and my goodness, we got a passage like the one we read this morning in which Jesus told us to, in no uncertain terms, to "stay awake," I still think it’s really easy for us to kind of doze off, sort of like I did after dinner on Thursday. And so when the time comes, we’re just not nearly as ready as we should be and we wind up meeting our savior with a lot of loose ends. All because it’s just, plain hard to stay awake.

Of course the reason it’s hard, well, that’s really not all that difficult to understand. I mean, whether we’re talking about our own mortality or the second coming, I think most of us assume that we have all kinds of time, don’t we; you know to prepare, to do the stuff we never seem to get around to doing. Sort of like one of my favorite poets, T.S. Eliot, wrote, "And indeed there will be time for the yellow smoke that slides along the street, rubbing its back upon the window-panes; there will be time, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; there will be time to murder and create, and time for all the works and days of hands that lift and drop a question on your plate; time for you and time for me, and time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions, before the taking of a toast and tea." My goodness, isn’t that what we often think, there’ll always be time.

And even if for some reason there isn’t, my goodness, a lot of Christians believe they’ve already done all they really need to do, you know, to be ready. I mean, isn’t it all a matter of accepting Jesus as Lord and giving him your life, which fortunately he hasn’t collected yet. And once that’s done, bango, we’re in like flin. And since that’s the case, why not take a little nap, we’ve already done the hard part, you know, the heavy lifting. I’m sure he’ll wake us up when it time for us to enter glory.

At least that’s what some Christians seem to believe. But unfortunately, that’s not what Jesus taught, now is it; not here, not when he said, "See that you are awake. For you don’t know when the time comes" and a little bit later, "But what I say to you, I say to everyone, stay awake." No, I think Jesus wants us to be alert right up to the time we meet him. And you know, I think that’s something we can actual accomplish, if we decide to do something that probably would have helped me stay awake on Christmas Eve, when I was six, which was what, thirty years ago...O.K. forty.

You see, if we want to stay awake and stay alert, we need to keep busy, don’t we? My gosh, that’s the way kids stay awake at a slumber party, they giggle all night. Man, just like them, we need to keep busy. And we can sure do that by doing what God has called and equipped us to do, which by the way is exactly what Christ is suggesting in the passage we just read, you know, when he gave his disciples that parable and said, "It’s like a man who’s away, leaving his house and gives his slaves authority, each with his own work, and to the doorkeeper, he gives a command so that he might be on watch."

You see, Jesus has left us, for a time, and not only has he given us authority but also our own work to do, our own job as individuals and as a community. And as we’ve been talking about over the past few weeks, I hope we all have a pretty good idea about what that work involves. I know this may sound like a broken record or maybe better a scratched CD, but aren’t we all called to love God and neighbor? I mean, aren’t we all called to dedicate to our heaven father who sent his son to be our savior and sends his Spirit so that we can understand and believe, aren’t we called to offer him our hearts and our souls and our minds and our strength and doesn’t that mean that worship and prayer and meditation must, not should but must be a priority in our lives and not just something we do when we have some free time? And what does it mean to love God anyway; now that’s the question we really need to answer isn’t it, and how can we get there, I mean, how can know what it means if we’re not willing to open our Bibles and study God’s word, both as individuals and a congregation? Another scratched CD. And I’ll tell you, I’m going to make you a promise right here and now, if you can’t do that because you don’t have a Bible, you tell me after the service and I’ll get you one. And if you’re not able to attend a Bible Study because of your schedule, I want to hear about that as well, because I’ll guarantee, we can work something out. Knowing the word is just that important. My gosh, how can you ever love God, if you don’t know how. But I’ll tell you, when you do, loving the creator of the universe, man, it’s almost a full-time job.

Now notice, I said "almost," because remember when our lord left us with his house, he also told us to love our neighbor as ourselves; I’ll guarantee that’ll fill up the rest of our dance card. And how we do that, well, I think that’s right where this business about our "own work" comes in, because let’s face it, God has given each one of us our own special gifts and abilities that we can use to help others. Let me explain.

Even though we all know that we’re suppose to be feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked, visiting the sick and going to the prisoner, I believe God has equipped each of us to do it in a different way. I mean, God has given some of us the ability to spend a little bit to feed and to clothe and to comfort. You know, money is an amazing thing. In and of itself, it is morally neutral; it’s just slips of paper or numbers on a page. In other words, it’s neither good nor bad. It’s all about how it’s used. And I’ll tell you right here and now, if it’s used to help others, especially the least of these who are members of Christ’s family, that money is good regardless of the source. Or so I think. And I’ll tell you what, I think Jesus thought so too. I mean, why else would he have accepted the offering from that tax-collector Zaccheus, a man who’s profession and fortunate was grounded on corruption and intimidation and violence? Man, we should be giving people who have it the opportunity and encouragement to help those who don’t.

But, since we’re not all wealthy in material things, God just may have given us some other things that we can use, and now I thinking about something like the time to do something as simple making a visit or writing a card or sending an e-mail. And he’s given each and every one of us talents, and I’m talking about skills and training and experiences that we can use to make the lives of those around us better and then pass those abilities on to our children and grandchildren. And you know what, these are just a few things we can use as individuals.

But I’ll tell you, when we bring them together, when we bring all that money and all that time and all those different talents together in the church and then use them to touch the lives of others, we can change the world. Do you realize that, we can change the world. And you know, changing the world, I think that’ll keep us busy and wide-awake until Christ comes again.

I’ve got to be honest, I don’t try to stay awake to meet Santa any more, because, you know something, if he wanted me to see him under my tree, he’d probably come some where around nine o’clock. And that’s really O.K. I guess, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve either come to respect his privacy more or hit a point where trying to stay awake just isn’t worth the effort. But when it comes to meeting Jesus, well, taking a long, winter’s nap, that should never be O.K., not for us. And for that reason I think it’s really important for us all to stay busy, busy doing the work God has given us to do which means loving him and our neighbors. I mean, this should be important for us all, because let’s face it, do any of us want Jesus Christ to come back and find us sleeping on the job.