Saturday, December 26, 2009

More Than a Baby

Well, here we are, the day after Christmas. And I think I can safely say that all my Christmas shopping is done. And I learned an important lesson. I should have gotten Debbie those wiper blades I had my eyes on a couple of days ago, but I guess I procrastinated too long...again. Now, it's time to get the wrapping paper bagged, the clothes for our annual haj to Indianapolis packed, and the toys piled on one side of room. All the special services are done and even the specific day of celebration is history. Christmas 2009 is in the bank.

And as we leave this day, I think it's important for us to remember one very important fact: Jesus Christ came to be more than a baby. Now, I think this is something that we all need to keep in mind, because for some believers, Jesus never seems to leave the manger. In other words, he stays an infant in the straw, surrounded by lowing cattle and admiring shepherds. You see, he stays cute and cuddly, innocent and innocuous, someone who makes you all warm and fuzzy inside, the spiritual equivalent to a cup of warm cocoa. You see, I think that’s exactly what Jesus is for many Christians; therefore, it should come as no surprise that for them faith has more sentiment than substance.

And I’ll tell you, it’s for that reason, before we move forward, I think we need to consider why Jesus came. You see, as Isaiah reminds us, he came to save. Just listen to what he wrote: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. You see, Christ came to lift the yoke and the bar that weighs us down and to break the rod that's so oppressive to his brothers and sisters. He came to burn up the boots that crush our spirits and the clothes that have been soaked in the blood of the innocent. He’s the one who comes with divine authority and who replaces human hatred and intolerance and greed with divine peace, a new reality that’s a lot like a mustard seed: something that’s hard to see until you plant it and watch it grow. And that’s what I mean, when I say Jesus came to save.

But I’ll tell you, he did more than that, because he also came to challenge, to challenge some of those fundamental values and assumptions that we allow to dominate our lives. And you know, I think that’s something we see in the birth story itself. I mean, this description, its sheer simplicity, forces us to rethink how we define power and authority. But then, so does what Jesus said about his ministry, and I’m talking about when he said, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and then later when he said, Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. ...But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Now this is what Jesus said, and if we accept it, it’s got to shake up not only our view of the world, but also how we’re called to live. In other words, it throws before us a challenge that we have to accept or reject.

Well, Christmas is over. But before we move on to the new year, let’s remember that Jesus didn't come to stay in the manger. Instead he came both to save and to challenge. You see, even on the day after Christmas, we can remember that Christ came to be so much more than a baby.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sermon: Who Is the Christ in Christmas

Luke 1:39-55 - 39And after Mary set out, in those days, he went into the mountainous country with haste into a town of Judah. 40And she went into the house of Zachariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41And it happened, as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped within her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the holy spirit, 42and she called out with a great cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And how is it to me that the mother of my Lord might come to me? 44For behold,
when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the infant in my womb leaped in exaltation. 45And blessed is the one who believed that there will be an accomplishment of what had been spoken to her concerning the Lord.”

46And Mary said, “My self magnifies the Lord 47and my spirit exults in God, my savior, 48because he looked upon the humble state of his slave, for behold from now all generations call me blessed, 49because the mighty one did great things for me and holy is his name, 50and his mercy is to generation and generation, to those who fear him. 51He showed might in his arm. He scattered the arrogant in the designs of their hearts. 52He pulled down the strong from thrones, and he exalted the humble. 53Those who are hungry, he filled with good things, and those who are wealthy, he sent out empty. 54He took in hand Israel, his son, remembering mercy, 55just as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.”


I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but there’s a little movement that’s become popular this year, and it’s centered on the slogan that’s on the cover of the bulletin: Keep Christ in Christmas. Now, I first saw it on FaceBook. I had some friends, maybe even a couple of people from this church, send it to me as a cause I should support. And a couple of days ago, I was coming home from work and listening to the radio, and I heard a commercial talking about the exact same thing. As a matter of fact, I got an e-mail from a colleague just the other day who wrote Christmas as two words: “Christ” and then “mas.” Of course, to me, that sure seems to be taking Christ out of Christmas, but I’m not an idiot; I get her point.

Of course, based on some of the other stuff I’ve heard, I think a lot of this is a knee jerk reaction against people who abbreviate the day by writing “X-mas,” something that really seems to set some folks off. And although I appreciate their passion, I’ve got to tell you, I think it’s misplaced and this is why. The letter that they call “X” is really not an “X;” it’s the Greek letter chi, the first letter in the title Christ, and that particular letter looks like an “X.” And you know, we see this “X” it in other places around the church and in other Christian symbols, like when it seems to cut across the bottom part of what looks like a big “P,” actually the Greek letter rho. You see, chi, rho are the first two letters in Χρίστος/Christ. Therefore, a lot of energy may spent on a misunderstanding.

But you know, even if this one letter isn’t the best thing over which to lose sleep, I tend to agree that it’s really important for us to keep Christ in Christmas. You see, from where I stand, for many folks within our society, Christ has taken a back seat to a lot of other stuff, in fact, to a lot of other people. I mean, it’s not hard to see that when it comes to how we celebrate Christmas, Jesus has taken a backseat to Rudolph and Frosty and of course Santa. And when he does, even though the name’s the same, the meaning is very different. And for that reason, I think it makes sense to make sure we keep Christ in Christmas, if not in name certainly in spirit.

Of course, as soon as that becomes our goal, a question immediately arises, one that every Christ-keeper is going to have to answer, and it’s really simple yet incredibly profound: who is the Christ in Christmas? Now that’s something I think we need to ask, because it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to say that we’ve decided to keep Christ in our Christmas if we have only a vague idea about who Christ is and what he came to do. And yet to be honest, that may be the way it is in our country now-a-days. I mean, just think about it, for most American Christians, who is the Christ they want to keep in Christmas? I’ll tell you something, if we really had the guts to ask it of ourselves and others, I’ve got a feeling we just may get more than a couple of different answers. I mean, give me a break, for a lot of believers, the child of Bethlehem never leaves the manger. My goodness, he never really grows up, does he? He just remains a baby: cute and cuddly, sweet and soft, demanding but basically harmless. And so long as you feed him when he’s hungry and play with him when he’s lonely and of course change him when he needs to be changed, man, you can pretty much do whatever you want, especially when he’s taking a nap. Now, I think that’s how a lot of folks see Christ.

But you know, even if they let him grow up, well, often he ends up looking more like an absentee landowner who spends most of his time in his mansion and has only a passing interest in the peons who’ve been left to run his estate or maybe like a self-help, feel-good guru of some kind of warm and fuzzy New Age philosophy or possibly like a less-than-honest politician who looks at the polls before taking a stand and who would never even consider rocking the boat or demanding anything that might damage his popularity or the sales of his book.

And that’s just four, I think there’s all kinds of Jesus’s out there. And whenever a new idea crops up, people just organize a new church so that no matter what you believe you’ll always find a nice, comfortable Christian home. And so, that’s why I think it’s a pretty good idea, before we run off and put bumper stickers on our car, I think it a pretty good idea to ask who is the Christ we want in Christmas?

And although, like I said a minute ago, there’s all kinds of answers floating around our society, some good and others that make no sense at all, when we open the Bible and take the time to read it, well, the answer seems pretty clear. I mean, just think about what Mary said, you know, during her visit with Elizabeth, right after the infant within her cousin leaped causing his mother to say, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how is it to me that the mother of my Lord might come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the infant in my womb leaped in exaltation. And blessed is the one who believed that there will be an accomplishment of what had been spoken to her concerning the Lord.”

Now remember, after Elizabeth said that, establishing that Mary’s child was going to be something special, Mary let loose with a little song that really summed up not only what she was feeling but what God would do through her son. And this is what she said, “He showed might in his arm. He scattered the arrogant in the designs of their hearts. He pulled down the strong from thrones, and he exalted the humble. Those who are hungry, he filled with good things, and those who are wealthy, he sent out empty. He took in hand Israel, his son, remembering mercy, just as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.”

Now that’s Mary said, and isn’t that what her son Jesus did? I mean isn’t that how he described his mission when he read these words from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And isn’t this why he taught: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. ...But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” No wonder he told his disciples that “...those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”

Now, that’s the Christ of scripture, and I want to ask you, if a guy running for public office said this kind of stuff, would you vote for him? I’ll tell you, if we take him at his word and avoid saying things like, “Well, that’s what he said, but he didn’t really mean it,” Jesus came to shake the structure of society at its very foundation and turn upside down all those little values and assumptions that have allowed people with power to feel comfortable from the beginning of human history. I mean, like it or not, Jesus wasn’t a conservative nor was he a liberal. According to Luke, Christ was a radical.

And if we look to keep this Christ in Christmas, it’s got to change not only what we do on December 25th, but also throughout the year. I mean, if this is true, then we pretty much have to put aside all those plaster Gods we find comfortable worshiping and reject those weak and incipient anti-Christs who only tell us what we want to hear. You see, we’re going have to recognize that the baby grew out of the manger but instead of becoming a detached aristocrat or a spiritual Dr. Phil or a spineless politician, Jesus was a mover and shaker, who changed forever the way things are done and the future that we can expect.

And I’ll tell you, because everything thing changed, so must we. In response to the Christ of Christmas, and I’m talking about the Christ revealed in Scripture, I think we’ve got work to build a Christian community where we’re all on a level playing field. And we’ve got to look at those who have less than we as people who need our help not our judgement and neglect. And we’ve got to reach out to every man, woman and child with the good news of Jesus Christ based on their needs and not secular prejudices and acceptable social intolerance. In other words, as soon as Christ is secure as the center of this day, man, our lives have got to change.

I’ll tell you right here and now, I want to keep Christ in Christmas, but not because using the Greek letter chi as an abbreviation is a sign of disrespect. I want him there because without Christ all you’ve got is mas. But before we start printing flyers and t-shirts, I think we need to be clear about who Christ is. I mean, in my book, we’re not only wasting our time but actually doing damage to the truth if Jesus is anything other than the one revealed in Scripture, the one who came to change the way things are seen and done and the one who must change our values and opinions. You see, that’s going to happen when we’re serious about answering the question: who is the Christ in Christmas?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Remembering Our Brother - Richard Bails

Richard L. Bails
Born in Weirton, WV on Dec. 17, 2009
Departed on Dec. 17, 2009 and resided in Weirton, WV.

Visitation: Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009 & Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009
Funeral: Monday, Dec. 21, 2009
Cemetery: Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens

Richard L. Bails, 79, of Weirton, died Thursday, December 17, 2009, at the Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA.

Born on September 3, 1930 in Weirton, WV, Richard was a son of the late Dr. E.L. and Lillian (Hubbard) Bails.

With over 29 years of service, Richard retired from Weirton Steel Corporation where he worked in the railroad transportation department.

He served his country in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. He was twice past president and treasurer of the Weirton Lions Club, where he received the Lion's most prestigious award "The Leonard Jared Award." Richard also served on the Lion's Club Eye Conservation Committee.

An avid sportsman, who loved to bowl and golf, Richard was a member of the Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton Steel 25 Year Club, American Legion Post 10, B.P.O.E. 1801, the Pleasant Valley Country Club, A.A.R.P., and a life member of the V.F.W. 2716.

Richard is survived by his wife, Shirley Lightner Bails, a son Larry Bails and his wife, Sandie of Weirton, WV; a daughter Debra Bails Parker and her husband, Buck of Cross Lanes, WV; one brother, Jack H. Bails of Yuma, AZ; one sister, Bernadine Harris of Bethlehem, WV; three grandchildren, Zak Bails, Jeff and Megan Parker; and several nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be 6-8 PM Saturday, and 1-3 and 6-8 P.M. Sunday, at the Greco-Hertnick Funeral Home 3219 Main St. Weirton, WV, where funeral services will be held 11 AM Monday, with Rev. Dr. Ed Rudiger, officiating.

Interment will follow at Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens, Weirton, where military services will be conducted by the American Legion Firing Squad and The West Virginia Honor Guard.

A Lion's Club memorial service will be conducted 1 PM Sunday in the funeral home.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Weirton Lions Club, 3534 Williams Drive, Weirton, WV 26062.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Coming in for a Landing

Now I don't know about you, but I feel as though I'm turning the corner and heading into the home stretch. And you know, that tends to happen when you enter the last week. Of course, I still have a lot to get done. As a matter of fact, I'm about at the same place I was a couple of weeks ago. There's still decorating to be finished, things to be bought, and presents to be wrapped. In fact, the only thing that I can say with certainty is that I've gotten all my baking done, at least all the baking that I usually do. I feel that instead of sprinting, I should break into a run.

Of course, I don't think I alone in feeling as though having another week would be nice. I recognize that we're all busy. But you know, we should be careful not to let the "busyness" cause us to forget the focus of this day. Christ represents the beginning of Christmas; therefore, I believe we need to fight to keep him at the center. But in so doing, we also need to be clear about what Christ came to be and to do. And so, on the last Sunday in Advent, we'll consider exactly who the child of Christmas was and is. And I'll tell you, that's important to brave a few snow flakes.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sermon: Easy to Follow Instructions

Luke 3:7-18 - 7Then he said to those who came from the crowds to be baptized by him, “Offspring of serpents, who pointed out to you to flee from the future wrath? 8Now bear fruit in keeping with repentance, and don’t start to say among yourselves, ‘As a father, we have Abraham;’ for I say to you that God is able, from these stones, to raise up children to Abraham. 9But already even the ax is lying upon the root of the trees. Then all trees that don’t bear good fruit are cut out and into fire are cast.”

10And the crowd began to ask him saying, “Then what should we do?” 11And he answered and said to them, “The one who has two tunics, let him share with one who doesn’t have, and the one who has food, similarly let him do.” 12And even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13And he said to them, “Nothing more than you’re commanded collect.” 14And those in the army also asked him saying, “And we, what should we do?” And he said to them, “You should extort nothing and you shouldn’t accuse anyone falsely, and be satisfied with your wages.”

15And because the people were waiting and they were all debating in their heart concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16John answered and said to them all, “I myself in water baptize you, but a person is coming who is more powerful than me, who’s sandal thong I’m not worthy to loosen, he himself will baptize in Holy Spirit and fire, 17whose winnowing shovel is in his hand to clean thoroughly his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his storehouse, but the chaff will be burned up in fire unquenchable.” 18Then also with many other appeals he brought good news to the people.


Now, this morning, I’m going to make a special request, but you can relax, it’s not from y’all. No offense, but it’s to someone much more important than anyone here this morning. In fact, in the minds of the faithful, he’s someone who literally transcends time itself, someone who sees all and knows all, one who’s coming is, for much of the our world, the true reason for this holy season. And of course, you know who I’m talking about: Santa Claus, right? And with him in mind and with all of y’all as witnesses, I’m going to make a request of the big guy: that this year he leave Maggie only toys with easy to follow instructions, and please, written in English, not Korean. Please.

You see, I really feel that I need to make this request, because I’ve got to tell you, some of the things he’s brought in the past, my goodness, they had instructions that are way above me. I remember, I guess it was three or four Christmases ago, he left this “My Little Pony” water park. I swear it had five hundred pieces, and they all looked pretty much the same. And on the instructions, they had all these dotted and dashed lines going through and around lettered pieces stamped with letters so small you needed a microscope to figure out what they were. And if you couldn’t understand the English directions, that I swear must have been written by someone for whom English was a second language at best, there was always the Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Japanese, and some other one that was pretty much unrecognizable. I guess it was Esperanto or something like that. I’ll tell you, it was not a pleasant experience. And for that reason, I’m humbly asking Saint Nick to bring stuff with easy, and I mean, really easy to follow instructions.

And I don’t know about y’all, but there are times I’d like ask the same thing from God, but not about toys. I mean, when it comes to living the Christian life, I’d sure like some easy to follow instructions too. I mean, give me a break, this is pretty hard stuff. But it’s like not there’s no body telling us what to do. Man, sometimes it seems like every minister and his brother is telling us something different you know, that we should be doing, and even though some of the stuff is so shallow and empty of meaning that it involves little more than making a couple of vague promises, they change from church to church. The “what’s” a mess.

And then, there’s the “how,” I mean, how am I suppose to give my life to Jesus? Well, does that mean I have to change jobs, change friends, change my spending habits, change my socks? Does that mean I have to change what I eat or where I go or whom I’m with? Man, I don’t know. All I know is that I’m suppose to give my life to Jesus. That’s the how, right?

And why am I doing it? Well, I guess it’s to get into heaven or maybe to be more blessed which also means more successful at work and home or maybe to heal my sore hand and the gap that’s developed between my sister and me. It sounds a little like a multiple choice test: is it A or B or C or maybe it’s D, all of the above. Man, I don’t know why. And although I know we have the Bible, give me a brake, the one I use has one thousand, five hundred, seventy-eight pages, and no index in the back. That’s almost as long as the directions for the “My Little Pony” water park. Easy to follow instructions, I think not.

And I’ll tell you, for that reason I believe we can be grateful for what John the Baptist had to say in this passage from Luke, and I’ll tell you why. Right here he gave them and gives us a Reader’s Digest version of the Christian life, sort of a Christianity for Dummies, something for which, speaking for myself, I’m sincerely thankful.

I mean, just look at what he taught and notice that he told us exactly what the Christian life is all about, and he did it by giving two clear commands. You see, after calling the crowd a bunch of son of snakes, first, John said, “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” Now, since the word “repentance” literally means to change one’s mind or thoughts, what John was challenging us to do was to change the way we think. In other words, instead of saying to ourselves that God loves us because we’re so good or that we’re good because we obey most of the commandments, at least the important ones, or that we’re certainly not as bad as those sinners over there, I mean, instead of assuming that no matter how I put it, I can do it by myself, repentance may mean saying to myself and to God, “I can’t: I can’t be good or obedient enough, because I’m a sinner too.” Maybe it’s like recognizing that the first step in one of those twelve step programs applies to me, “that I’m powerless and my life has become unmanageable;” therefore, I need help. You see, I think that’s repentance.

But more than that, John said we need to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance,” which means this change in attitude and perspective is not to be kept private, you know, between me and God, hidden away from the world. Man, it’s got to be seen in the lives we live and the relationships we build. That one thing Christians need to do.

And second we should never “say among [ourselves], ‘As a father, we have Abraham.’” You see, for John, I shouldn’t see myself as more important than I am. In other words, I just can’t assume that I’m something special, because Abraham is my father. Therefore, maybe I shouldn’t assume I’m on the inside, because I’ve accepted Jesus as my personal savior. Man, trusting in Christ is the first step, not the last. And maybe I shouldn’t assume that I’m a spiritual big deal, because I’ve been a member of this church my whole life or because I’ve had family member here since the ark hit dry land. I’m telling you, if God can turn stones into Jews, he can do the same thing to born again believers and fifty-year members. And I sure can’t assume that I’m better or more spiritual than you because I’m clergy; I’ve known more than a few ministers who sure seem to have more in common with rocks than people. For John, bear fruit and don’t assume, that’s what Christians do.

But you know, he doesn’t stop there; he also says how to do it. I mean, when the crowd asked, “‘Then what should we do?’ ...he answered and said to them, ‘The one who has two tunics, let him share with one who doesn’t have, and the one who has food, similarly let him do.’” In other words, how can we live the Christian life? It all seems to come down to one word: share. Share what we have with others. Share with folks who aren’t as fortunate as we. Share, but not just when we have a lot; even if we only have two, share one. Man, that’s how you do it.

But just in case we can’t figured it out, John got specific. And when he talked to the tax collectors and soldiers, I’ll tell you, they was just about as far from the kind of people who would feel especially close to God as you could get. In fact, think about the lowest profession in Weirton, triple the negativity, and you’re about how tax collectors and occupying soldiers were viewed. And yet, these dregs of society still came to John, and John told them how to respond. And you know, it’s amazing, he didn’t tell them to quit their jobs, instead to do them honestly and humbly. Now, I wonder if we would say the same thing to people we don’t like and who have jobs of which we don’t approve. Probably not, then we couldn’t talk about and look down of them, right? No, according to John, when it comes to how, anyone can respond to Jesus Christ.

And finally, the why, why do we do what we do and why do we even care how we do it; well, that’s here too. Just listen to John: “I myself in water baptize you, but a person is coming who is more powerful than me, who’s sandal thong I’m not worthy to loosen, he himself will baptize in Holy Spirit and fire, whose winnowing shovel is in his hand to clean thoroughly his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his storehouse, but the chaff will be burned up in fire unquenchable.” You see, when you get right down to it, there’s only one reason for living the Christian life and it centers on that person who’s birth we’re going to celebrate in a couple of weeks, and I’m talking about the one who’s death broke the power of sin and who’s resurrection offers us hope, the one who baptized his people with Holy Spirit and tongues of fire on Pentecost. Just like he’s the reason for this season, he can and should be the reason for everything we say and do. That’s why we respond.

I hope Santa is as kind and as loving as I hear, because if he is, he’ll only leave toys with fewer than a dozen pieces and that are easy, and I mean really easy to put together. But even if it doesn’t work out that way, thanks to John, I have a much better grip on how to live my Christian life. You see, I know what to do: to bear fruit and to not see myself as more important than I am. And I know how to do it: simply to share what I have with others and to conduct myself in a way that’s honest and humble. In fact, I even know why I’m doing it: because Jesus Christ, the son of God, was born in Bethlehem and the whole world changed. That’s what it’s all about. And that’s what I call easy to follow instructions.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Dramatic Discovery

I hope y’all are having a great week. Now as most of y’all know, I generally use this mailing to introduce you to the topic I’ll be preaching on Sunday. But something happened a couple of days ago that was so dramatic that I felt that I needed to share it. I made a discovery that has already changed my life right now and will continue to change it as I move into the future. You see, I discovered that Hallmark ornaments were and are made for artificial Christmas trees. And how did I make that discovery? Well, that’s the dramatic part.

You see, on Sunday, Debbie, Maggie and I decided to buy a live tree, just like the ones I remember when I was a boy. We set it up Tuesday, during “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and we started to decorate it on Wednesday. But right from the beginning, I knew we were in trouble. Most of our ornaments are from Hallmark, and I guess so long as I was putting them on a tree with metal branches I never noticed how heavy they were. But on a natural tree, each one made it sag. It looked depressed. But we were getting them all on, until I hung one that showed the wicked witch melting, and I guess the weight was too much and the tree came down. Ornaments were every where; water was all over the floor; and I was mad. How dare that tree let me down! Needless to say, the evening was shot. And if I was really selfish and let it, so could the whole Christmas season.

And that seems to be the way it is with life in general. Little things happen all the time. People say things that upset us. Situations frustrate us. Problems knock us down. And if we let them, they can so dominate our lives that we lose sight of what’s really important: loving God with everything we’ve got and loving our neighbors as ourselves. And I think that's particularly true during this season of Christmas. It’s really sad if we let anything distract us from celebrating the birth of our savior.

Sometime this weekend I hope to put up the old artificial tree just like I’ve done the last eight years. And even if it’s not exactly like what I remember, as a family, it’s sure something that Maggie, Debbie and I can gather around as we look forward to the big day.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sermon: In Less Than Three Weeks

Luke 3:1-6 - 1And in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and the tetrarch of Galilee was Herod, and Philip his brother was tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, [the] word of God came upon John, the son of Zachariah, in the wilderness. 3And he went into the whole countryside of Judea, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, 4as it had been written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
A voice of one who calls in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
make straight his beaten path.
5Every ravine will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled
and the crooked places will be straightened,
and the rough ways smoothed,
6and all flesh will see the salvation of God.


This morning, I have good news and I guess you could say a little bad news. Which would you like to hear first? O.K., let me give you the good news: Christmas is in less than three weeks. And we all know what that means: strung lights and baked cookies and wrapped presents. Pretty good, right? And now the bad news: Christmas is in less than three weeks. And we all know what that means: lights have to be strung and cookies have to be baked and presents have to be wrapped. Pretty scary, right?

Isn’t it amazing? It’s the exact same news: Christmas is in less than three weeks! And for some of us, this news may get worse and worse the closer we get. Of course, I hope nobody here really sees Christmas, and I’m talking about the birth of Jesus, as anything close to “bad news.” My gosh, for humanity, it’s really the best news of all. Still, considering all the stuff that has to get done before the day comes, well, December 25th seems more like a deadline than a cause for joy.

And the reason I think is pretty obvious, right now we’re in preparation mode, aren’t we; that’s the situation that we face. I mean, in less than three weeks, we’ve got to get all the decorations out. We’ve got to get all the baking done. And we’ve got to get all the present bought and if necessary, sent. Now that’s the situation in front of us, right. Sure it is. And for that reason we have a lot to do, some of us more than others. I mean, we better start hitting the malls or maybe the internet, because those gifts aren’t going to buy themselves, and that’s only if we already know Aunt Mae’s size or if Uncle Phil still collects baseball cards. And when we start wrapping, good luck finding the Scotch tape not to mention to the paper we bought on sale last year. And I have no idea when we’re going to have time to bring all the Christmas stuff up from the basement. And if I were a betting man, I think it’s even money that we won’t do what we’ve talked about for the last few years, and instead of getting a live tree, I’m going to drag up the metal trunk and pipe cleaner-like branches of the cheap artificial tree I bought in 1998. And I haven’t even talked about untangling the light. And of course, there are literally dozen of cookies just begging to be baked, and I haven’t even mentioned the other turkey you bought at Thanksgiving and put in the freezer that’s going to be hard as a rock in the freezer on Christmas Eve or the ham that’s still over at Krogers. You see, all this stuff needs to be taken care of in less than three weeks.

And because of that, there’s really no surprise that a person told me the other day that he feels like he’s just staggering to Christmas. Like we talked about a little bit last week, all these activities can really become distractions and if we’re not careful, they can either drain our Christmas spirit or drive us to the egg nog.

But you know, all that’s going to change in about nineteen days, won’t it, because the time of preparation will be over. I mean, whether we’re ready or not, Christmas will be here. And regardless of who got what and in what size or when it was mailed or how it was wrapped, the presents will be out of our hands, and we can relax. And so what if all the decorations didn’t get up and you can still see the letters on the tape that’s wrapped on each branch that matches the letters stuck to the metal trunk tube and for another year, it doesn’t smell like pine, the house will look pretty festive. And who cares that most of the cookies will come from a box and the ham from a can, on Christmas day, man, it all tastes good.

And although we’ll still be busy, the busyness will be different. I mean, instead of pushing the petal to the metal, we’ll be collecting torn wrapping paper and we’ll be making some phone calls and in general, we’ll be kind of chillin’ until it’s time to go to the daughter’s for dinner. You see, because the situation will change on Christmas day, our attitude and actions will have to change as well.

And I’ll tell you something, I think we can say the exact same thing about the coming of Jesus Christ. I mean, as we can see in the passage we read this morning, back in the day, they were in preparation mode. My goodness, back then, the world was really a pretty sad place, a dark place with people content either to do whatever they pleased or to wallow around in guilt and shame. And in their world, there were haves and have nots, people who because of birth had everything while others could do nothing but look up. The mighty sat on their thrones and the lowly begged for the crumbs that fell from their tables. And hope, man, that was just a word that may have had a meaning but no relevance. My gosh, for what could the people hope, that things could change. I don’t think so, that was a pipe dream. Instead all they could expect was more of the same, and just endure until...

You see, that was the situation when John stepped on to the stage to fulfill prophecy and to become “a voice of one who calls in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make straight his beaten path.” You see, it was the job of this son of Zachariah to prepare the world for Jesus. And so when he proclaimed “...a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,” he was telling people that the time was coming when, on one hand, they would be held responsible for what they were doing; therefore, they needed to change their ways, they needed to repent. And yet on the other hand, he was also telling them that forgiveness would possible and that God was ready to wipe the slate clean. And when he pointed toward the one who would fill the ravines and level the mountains and hills, the one who we straighten the crooked and smooth the rough, he was announcing that the time was coming when the old system of uppers and lowers, those who are high and always would be and those who are not and always would be, he was announcing that this system was on it’s last leg. You see, someone was coming who would level the playing field and create a community where, using the words of Paul, there would be “ longer Jew or Greek, ...slave or free, ...male and female; for [we will] all [be] one in Christ Jesus.” And in this new world, people would see “the salvation of God.” They would see that their ultimate destinies were in his hands. And they would see that since it was nothing they worked for and earned, the hope was as eternal as God himself. You see, John’s job was to prepare the people for the first Christmas.

But that was back then. Now, things have changed, things have changed for us, because the day arrived. Jesus was born. The Lord came. And because of that, those old, dreadful attitudes and feelings, well, they’re just not appropriate any more, are they? I mean, if we know that Jesus came to offer both and direction and forgiveness, there’s no way we can feeling either rudderless and confused nor overloaded with guilt and shame. And if we believe that because he came, as Mary said, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly; he filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty,” in other words, if we believe Jesus turned on its head the structure of the world and the way things have always been done, there’s no way we can feel either enslaved or envious of those who we think are above us or judgmental or dismissive of those on whom we look down. And I’ll tell you, when we truly see the salvation of God, when we know that our lives are in his hands and that he’s going to lead us into the future, how can we have anything other than hope and joy. You see, with the coming of Christ, our attitudes have to change.

And I’ll tell you, so do our actions, and I’m talking about what we do each and every day. I mean, given the forgiveness he’s already given us, I’ve got to believe, if only as a sign of gratitude, we’re going to want to do what he’s called us to do. And I think we all know what that is: to love both God and neighbor. But more than that, since Jesus came to level the playing field, in other words to bring a new spirit of equality, how can we continue to separate and segregation people based on prejudices that lead to a atmosphere of intolerance, something that’s just, plain not valid any longer. As a matter of fact, if Jesus filled the ravines and leveled the mountains, if he straightened the crooked and smoothed the rough, than maybe we need to do the same. And finally, if we really believe that the salvation of God is a reality right now, man, you tell me how can we not share that tremendous good news with others. How can we not want the people we love to know about this? And how can we not do everything we can to get this message across? I’ll tell you, our actions have to change.

In less than three weeks, Christmas will be here. All the preparation will be done. And we’ll have the chance to celebrate what should be one of the best days of the year. But you know, in a real since, Christmas has already come because the Son of God entered our world about two thousand years ago. And for that reason, the world changed and so must our attitudes and actions. You see, when it comes to the arrival of the good news, brothers and sisters, the time of preparation is over.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Passing of Betty Bundy

Betty Lee Bundy, age 88, of Weirton, WV, passed Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at Weirton Medical Center.

Born on March 3, 1921 in Wheeling, WV, she was the daughter of the late Henry Borst and Dora Englehard Borst.

Betty was the wife of the late Albert Peter Bundy.

She was a member of Cove Presbyterian Church. Betty was a graduate of the University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY with a Masters Degree in Education. She retired as a school teacher in Martins Ferry, OH.

Betty is survived by her son, A. Thomas Bundy, M.D. of Hilton Head, SC; granddaughters, Melissa Marlene, Sarah Ann, Monica Lee, and Michelle Lynn; and sister, Ruthedda Knollinger of Elm Grove, WV.

In addition to her husband and parents, she was preceded in death by daughter, Paula Bundy in 2002, and sister, Wilda Pryor.

The family will receive friends on Friday, December 4, 2009 from 6-8pm at Steel & Wolfe Funeral Home, Inc., 380 Penco Road, Weirton, WV.

Funeral services will be on Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 10:00am at the funeral home with Dr. J.E. Rudiger officiating.

Burial will be at Greenwood Cemetery, Wheeling, WV.

21 Days

Today, December 4, is extremely important. In twenty-one days we’ll be right in the middle of Christmas day. Which means all the stuff we’ve done to prepare for the holiday must be done. It has to be, simply because you can’t prepare for something that’s already happened. Of course you can try to pretend, but that doesn’t change the fact that what's past is past. It’s sort of like recording a game to watch later. Although you can pretend that it hasn’t already been played, it doesn’t change the fact that one team has already won and the other has already lost. And any time you want, you can switch over to Sports Center or check the internet for the final score. You see, it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a holiday or a game, you always hit a point when the time of preparation ends. And when it does, we need to change, both what we feel and do.

And that’s what we’re going to talk about Sunday during our worship service. We’ll look at a passage from Luke that identifies John the Baptist as the one who prepares the way of the Lord, a the mission will shape his life. But that applies to him. For us, the prep time is over, because the Lord came; therefore, we face a new and transformed world, one that has got to effect our emotions and behavior.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sermon: If We Stay Focused

Luke 21:35-46 - 25And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth, tension among nations in perplexity at the sound the seas and waves; 26people fainting from fear and expectation of things which are coming upon the inhabited world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27And then they will see the son of man coming in clouds with power and great glory. 28And when these thing begin to happen, straighten yourself up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.”

29And he said a parable to them, “See the fig tree and all the trees. 30When already they put forth, because you see yourselves, you know that already near is the summer. 31Thus also you, when you might see these things happen, you know that near is the Kingdom of God. 32Amen, I say to you that this generation will absolutely not pass away until all these things happen. 33The heaven and the earth might pass away, but my word will absolutely not pass away.”

34“And pay attention to yourselves lest your hearts might be weighed down in dissipation and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day might come upon you suddenly. 35For as a snare it will come upon everyone who dwells upon the face of the whole earth. 36And be awake at all times praying so that you might have strength to escape all these things that must happen, and to stand before the son of man.”


Before we get started, since we may have eaten maybe a little too much on Thursday, I’ve got a little aerobic exercise. But before y’all panic, I think you can underline that word “little,” because it’s about as little as you can get. I just want you to raise your hands. That should burn off about five of the five thousand calories I consumed on Thanksgiving. OK, here we go, question number one: Since this past Friday was “Black Friday” and you could have shopped all night at Walmart, how many of y’all have done all your Christmas shopping? Just raise your hand. OK, since a lot of us had a long weekend, how many of y’all have gotten all the Christmas decorating done? OK, two more. Since Thanksgiving probably put you in the mood, how many of y’all have done your Christmas baking? And now the last one: how many of y’all raised your hands three straight times? Well, I’ll tell you, that’s probably good, because I really hate to see the season of Advent begin with violence. Of course, it wouldn’t be senseless violence, because anyone who’s done all that, well, they deserve exactly what they get.

I mean, even though Christmas stuff started going up in the stores when we were still wearing short pants, most people are, at best, somewhere in the middle of their Christmas preparations. And some of us, well, we’ve still got all kinds of time to get started. My goodness, Christmas is next month, and as long as gas stations are open on Christmas Eve, I’ve got plenty of time to do my shopping.

But you know, even if we’re calm now, the tension is going to build as we move closer to the big day. I know that’s the case around our house. My mother usually sends Maggie one of those Advent calendars that count down the days from the first to the twenty-fifth, and so every night we’ve got a reminder that we’re getting closer and closer. And you know, it seems that the closer we get, the more we become distracted by everything that’s going on. Sometimes I feel like that little girl in The Exorcist, with my head doing a 360 trying to keep tract of everything I should have done last week but didn’t.

The pressure just builds. It’s a lot like my plate on Thanksgiving. I mean, you start with the normal amount of stress, but then you start piling on all the holiday extras, you know like the sweet potatoes and the green bean casserole and of course the cranberry sauce. And by the time you eat down to the bottom of the plate, well, you’re probably seriously questioning why you started. All that extra stuff can really make you miserable. The distractions can interfere with your Christmas cheer.

And I’ll tell you something, I think the same thing can happen as we look into the future. You see, I think we can become totally distracted by all the things that are happening around us, in fact, so distracted that it can really interfere with how we live in the present. I mean, we’ve become addicted to things like CNN, which I heard a guy last Tuesday call “constant negative news.” Of course, if you watch Fox, it’s a lot more positive, right; especially after Obama was elected. Twenty-four hour news can be distracting.

But you know, you don’t even need to turn on the television to get distracted. Man, anyone who has a job or a family, who goes to school or even to church knows that we all have distractions to burn. Last week, Debbie was telling me about a conversation with a church member who hasn’t come much in the last year, and she asked him why we hadn’t seen him lately. He just shook his head and said, “Had to get away for a while. Too much drama.”

You see, I think it’s really easy to get distracted by the drama, and I talking about the drama of everyday living. And it’s interesting, when it happens, it interferes with life right now. For the guy with whom Debbie was talking, well, it’s kind of pushed him back from a place where he could hear the Word of God. And for others, it can drive wedges within families and between friends, even between brothers and sisters inside the church. And I’ll tell you, if you ever watch the news, I don’t care if it’s CNN or Fox or the Daily Show, and if the national debt and the environment, what’s going on in Iran and Afghanistan, the state of the economy and health care, declining morality or increasing intolerance, if that stuff doesn’t make you at least a little uneasy about the future, then I don’t think you’re listening. Man, distractions can drive you nuts.

And you know, I think we see the same sort thing in the passage we read from Luke. I mean, as he started to talk about the future, Jesus gave the people all kind of things that could distract their attention, you know, like “...signs in the sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth, tension among nations in perplexity at the sound the seas and waves; people fainting from fear and expectation of things which are coming upon the inhabited world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Man, this is scary stuff.

And if you don’t think signs of the end aren’t powerful today, just check out a typical Christian book store. I bet they have a whole case just on the end of the world, you know, the return of Christ. My goodness, Hal Lindsey has made a fortune writing books predicting the end, and even though he’s never been right, his books still sell. You know, you don’t have to be one of those people who go up to the top of a mountain to wait for the mother ship to come down, you don’t have to be like them to be distracted by this kind of stuff. Remember, 2012.

And I’ve got an idea that Jesus understood that, in other words, he understood human nature, and that’s why, right after he gave the signs, he said, “And when these thing begin to happen, straighten yourself up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.” Now I think that’s amazing; he was telling folks who, like us, would probably obsess on what’s happening, he was telling them that in spite of all these, all these distractions they should never lose their focus: their redemption was near.

And I’ll tell you what, I think the same is true for us right here and right now. I mean, regardless of what you think about the dangers of global warming or health care reform, I’m going to tell you right here and now, your redemption is near. And it doesn’t matter what you think your boss or your mother is trying to pull, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our lives have been rescued from whatever controlled them in the past and we’re right on the threshold of being totally and eternally free. And take it too the bank, regardless of the drama that always seems to creep into the Body of Christ and probably always will, at least as long as Jesus calls sinners into his church which means people like us, we can be certain that in the vast spectrum of things, the folks whom we assume are the stars of the show are actually bit players and the ones who keep things stirred up aren’t nearly as important as they think they are.

You see, because God has authority and power and Christ rules with mercy and grace and the Spirit is constantly moving around and through us, the distractions don’t call the shots; therefore, we can move into the future with confidence and hope. That’s is, if we stay focused on redemption. And you know, if we do, man, it’s got to change how we live right now in the present. And again, I think Christ understood this too. I mean, I want you to notice how he tied up what he said about the end: “And pay attention to yourselves lest your hearts might be weighed down in dissipation and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day might come upon you suddenly. For as a snare it will come upon everyone who dwells upon the face of the whole earth. And be awake at all times praying so that you might have strength to escape all these things that must happen, and to stand before the son of man.”

In other words, once we get past the distractions and our focus is clear, we can start living in the present. I mean we can start paying attention to ourselves and stop doing some of the stupid, self-destructive things we might do when our vision and our direction is all messed up. But more than that, we’ll also be awake and ready to live a life that’s positive, one that’s full of prayer and one that reflects the kind of life of which we can be comfortable when we stand before the son of man and hear his judgement of us. In other words, now that we’re not being controlled by the often petty little drama we all face and our attention isn’t being pulled in a half dozen different directions, we can start doing what we were called to do: as individuals, simply to love God with everything we’ve got and our neighbor as ourselves, and as the church, boldly to proclaim the redemption we have through Jesus Christ to anybody who’ll listen. You see, I’m convince that this is possible, if we stay focused.

And I’ll tell you something else, a little focus wouldn’t hurt our preparation for Christmas either. I mean, if we can remember that the one who’s birth we’re going to celebrate is also our redeemer, well, maybe the shopping and the decorating and the cooking won’t dominate our thoughts and drain our Christmas spirit. Instead, we’ll be able to get past the gift cards and the garland and the fruit cakes so that we can fully appreciate the reason for this season. In other words, we just might have the best Christmas ever, if we stay focused.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Keeping Our Focus

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. And for all y'all who are taking full advantage of "Black Friday," a term that "merchants and the media have used refer to the beginning of the period in which retailers go from being in the red (i.e., posting a loss on the books) to being in the black (i.e., turning a profit)" and you were waiting at the doors of JC Penny's at 4:00 so that you could hit Big Lots when it openned at 5:00, I have two things for you. First, you're in my prayers. And second, from what I hear, medication can really help.

But be-that-as-it-may, today we move from Thanksgiving to Christmas mode. Before we make that shift, though, I have one more thing for which we can be thankful, something that may help us put Christmas in the right perspective. I think we can be thankful for the redemption we have through Jesus Christ. In other words, we can thank God that through the life, death, and resurrection of his son, we have been set free from the power of death and fear, and we've been given the opportunity to live lives of mercy and hope. You see, as we'll talk about on Sunday, if we focus on redemption, I believe we'll be less distracted as we prepare ourselves not only to celebrate the birth of Jesus but also live the rest of our lives.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Christ in Christmas

If you’ve never been on Facebook, you may not realize that you can state your support for certain causes and encourage your friends to do the same. Lately, I’ve received a lot of requests for me to support a cause entitled “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Of course, the point of that is pretty clear. With all the secular and cultural stuff that’s crept into this holiday, the birth of Jesus can sort of get lost in the shuffle. As a matter of fact, sometimes it seems that the birth disappears somewhere between the coming of Santa to the mall and shoving the torn wrapping paper into big trash bags. For some folks, Christ has lost his place as we have a “Happy Holiday Season” and celebrate Xmas.

And although I certainly see their point, I’m less concerned about Jesus losing his place on December 25 than during the rest of the year. You see, I think Christ is holding his own around Christmas. I mean, so long as you can still buy nativity sets at Wal Mart and Charlie Brown learns the meaning of the day every, single year, I think the birth of Jesus will never get lost among the other stuff. In fact, I think most Christians, even those who voice the most concern, seem pretty content with the balance. Personally, I’ve had no one suggest to me that we have a special service on Christmas morning so that we can celebrate the real meaning of the season.

No, I’m not overly concerned about keeping Christ in Christmas. I’m far more worried about the rest of the year; because it seems as though, within our society, Jesus intrudes into our space only about twice every twelve months: once in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and again in the week before Easter. And so the more pressing problem, in my opinion, isn’t how to keep Christ in Christmas, but how we can celebrate his presence the rest of the year.

And although that may be more challenging than punishing a retail store for putting “Happy Holidays” on its ads, I certainly think it’s possible. In fact, I think we can remember three things associated with Christmas that will make it much easier to keep Jesus in our lives 24/7. You see, first, we can simply remember the reason for this season. In other words, after the ornaments have been packed away and we face the dog days of January and February, we can remember that the Son of God was born in Bethlehem. And as the flowers start to bloom and the snow birds begin to fly home, we can remember that God himself entered our time and space, in a way that we could see and understand. And when we’re all complaining about the heat and wondering whether we’re ever going to get a break, we can remember that because he was born and lived and died, our world will never be the same. And when the leaves finally start to turn from green and fall all over the yard, we can remember that baby in the manger became our savior. You see, throughout the year, we can remember the reason for the Christmas season. But that’s not all.

Second, we can also remember the joy and excitement most of us feel during this time of year. I think far too often, Christians take Christianity for granted, and maybe that’s understandable. Even though that new car may excite the pudding out of you for a while, eventually the smell fades and we pick up some unavoidable dings and dents. Even Christianity can become routine. But maybe if we can remember the joy of this holiday season and carry the excitement into January and February, than maybe our relationship with God will continue to be joyous and exciting. And more than that, maybe we’ll be able to communicate those feelings to others.

And third, if we want to keep Christ in rest of year, I think we can also remember the spirit of Christmas. I’ve read that charitable giving is highest during this time of year. Of course, that’s no surprise. Christmas is time for giving. But we don’t have to limit that spirit to just one day. Everyday we can look for opportunities to give: to give our time to help those who need our involvement and support and to give our talents so that as we work together we can become greater than any of us could be on our own and to give our money because that’s exactly what some folks desperately need. And the more we give, the more the spirit of this special time that we’re now entering will live and grow within ourselves and touch the lives of others.

I’m sure we’ll hear plenty of concern about how Christ is being removed from Christmas. And although I understand their concern, I’m far more worried about what’s happening the rest of the year. But you know, we can counter this by remembering the reason for the season and the joy and excitement we feel and the spirit that spreads with each gift we give. And when we do, not only will Christ remain in Christmas but in the other 363 days as well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sermon: A Reason for Thanks

John 18:33-37 - 33Then again Pilate went into the praetorium, and he called Jesus and said to him, “You, are you the king of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “On your own accord are you saying this or did others say [this] concerning me?” 35Pilate answered, “I myself am not a Jew, am I? Your nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What did you do?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If from this world was my kingdom, then my attendants would fight so that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.” 37Then Pilate said to him, “So then, you are a king, aren’t you?” Jesus answered, “You yourself said that I’m a king. For this I myself have been born and for this I have come into the world, so that I might bear witness to the truth. All who are from the truth hear my voice.”


As I’m sure everybody here this morning knows, later this week will be Thanksgiving. As a matter of fact, four days from this minute, some of us will be just about ready to sit down to eat or maybe desperately trying to find either the nutmeg which you know you bought or that stupid leaf for the dinner room table that you only use once a year. And people will be trying to decide where everybody’s going to sleep in a house that has only one guest room or to figure out why the daughter decided to bring her new puppy that isn’t quite house broken. And of course, since kick-off isn’t until 12:30, the Detroit Lions still have a chance of winning their annual turkey day game or turkey of a game, depending on how you look at it. Yes sir, in less than a week, we’ll be right in the middle of our annual commemoration to food and family and of course football. And I didn’t even mention the Macy’s parade.

And even though that’s what Thanksgiving is around a lot of houses, I know it was back home when I was growing up, I think most of us recognize that there’s something more important about this day than worrying about how you can stuff yourself at 4:00 and still work in a turkey sandwich before going to bed. Like the name implies, Thanksgiving is or at least should be a day for giving thanks. And you know, I think that’s something we really need to remember, because no matter how lousy the last twelve months have been, there are at least a couple of things for which we can be thankful. I mean, without minimizing or ignoring the genuine pain and heart-ache some of y’all have been through, right now, in this place, you’re surrounded by friends and neighbors who really care about you. And if that’s all you’ve got, that’s still a reason to give some thanks.

But you know, I think there’s another reason, one that’s even better and I’ll tell you, it applies whether your year has been wonderful or the pits. And it centers on the meaning behind this particular day. You see, today is the last Sunday in the church year. Next week we start Advent, with everything pointing toward to the birth of Jesus. And every year, on this last Sunday we focus on Christ the King. And although it’s only a coincidence that these two days are always in the same week, I think one really has a lot to do with the other. You see, I think one of the things for which we can be thankful is that Christ is not only our king, but one that’s so much more than anything we’d find on earth. For this, we can be thankful. But let me be specific.

You see, I believe that Jesus is without question our king. I mean, isn’t that the point of the passage we just read from John, and I’m talking about that conversation Pilate had with Jesus right before his crucifixion. My goodness, as you read just these verses, it sure looks like Pilate was moving to that conclusion. I mean, think about it. He started by asking Jesus, “You, are you the king of the Jews?” But then a little later in our passage he said, “So then, you are a king, aren’t you?”, to which Jesus replied, “You yourself said that I’m a king.” Now, to me, that sure sounds like Pilate is coming around. And remember, a little bit later, not only does he try to release Jesus, but above him, nailed to the cross, Pilate hung a pretty profound sign. And although the chief priests tried to get him to change it and to add the words, “This man said, I am...,” Pilate refused. And the sign he, himself ordered, well, it read in Hebrew, Greek and Latin: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” You see, the longer Pilate was with Jesus, the more convinced he became that Jesus really was a king.

And I’ll tell you, that’s just as true today as it was two thousand years ago. Jesus is still a king; he’s still our king. And I’ll tell you, he offers us exactly what we’d expect from a good ruler. I mean, he certainly demonstrates power. My gosh, right in the opening verses of his gospel, John wrote that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” You see, the divine word that “became flesh and lived among us” rules with the kind of authority than makes all those powers that scare us so much, you know, those people and groups that cause us to doubt the future, to give up hope; man, he makes them look like a joke. Jesus is a king who has power.

And I’ll tell you, he also rules with justice. I mean, even though we run into people all the time who are arbitrary and capricious, men and women who seem to base their decisions on their feelings and change their minds more often than their socks, there’s a consistency and a coherence to Christ. In other words, in an unstable world, he offers something you can count on. (And I’ll tell you, I thought about comparing this to Peyton Manning leading the Colts, but I thought that may be a little too much, you know, over the top.) But be-that-as-it- may, our’s is a just king.

But one that also rules with compassion, which I think is something we always need to remember. You see, unlike what we often value, Christ’s justice is neither blind or impartial. Instead, he rules with mercy and grace, giving us far more than we deserve. And even though we may not always want this quality in the people we elect to office, when you’re talking about the one holds our destiny and the destiny of the universe in his hands, and who can see what we’re doing and knows what we’re thinking, I don’t know about you, but personally, I want my lord to look at me with as much mercy and grace as possible. You see, like a good king, Jesus rules with power and justice and compassion, and for that I think we can all be thankful.

And if that were all there is, for me that’s enough, but you know, when it comes to his kingdom and his reign, Christ is so much more than anything we find on earth. I mean, that sure seems to be what he was getting at when he said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If from this world was my kingdom, then my attendants would fight so that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here” and then a little later, “You yourself said that I’m a king. For this I myself have been born and for this I have come into the world, so that I might bear witness to the truth. All who are from the truth hear my voice.” Now that’s what Jesus said, and although I think Pilate picked up on the king stuff, I’m not sure he ever realized how much more Jesus was than that.

But you know something, we can. I mean, we can recognize that Jesus’s kingdom is not from around here, because, praise the Lord, he does some things that would be impossible for any person, king or not, to do. You see, Jesus is the one who comes to us with the presence of God himself, as John wrote at the beginning of the gospel, “he was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” That’s what John wrote. And like Jesus said in our passage, “for this I myself have been born and for this I have come into the world.” You see, we don’t have to find him. Right here and right now, Jesus has come to us and he’s found us.

And more than that, he also gives us the ability to believe and to follow. What does the passage say; he bears witness to us. In other words, through his word and spirit, he bears “witness to the truth.” And you know, this is exactly what he promised would happen when he said to the disciples, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” You see, not only does our king come to us, he enables us to understand who he is, which in turn gives us the ability to believe. It’s an amazing. It’s just like he said to Pilate, “All who are from the truth hear my voice.” This is the one we recognize as our king.

And I’ll tell you, we can sure remember this fact on Thursday. You see, right along with the all the food and all the family and all the football, we can be thankful that Christ is not only our king, but one that’s different from anything we’d find on earth. In other words, we can spend a little time thinking about what it means to say that Christ really is our king, you know that he rules with power and justice and compassion, just like the best king the world has ever produced. But you know, even more important than that, Christ is a king to comes to us with God’s presence and actually gives us the ability to believe and to obey. And you know, when you think about it, if that’s not a reason for thanks, I don’t know what is.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Two Special Days

Within the next week, there are two very special days that we should all probably remember. Of course, one is pretty easy to guess. As a matter of fact, I think everybody receiving this message knows that Thursday is special. And although often we view it as the one day a year when you can justify shoving as much food as possible into your body, we actually have a much better reason to celebrate it. You see, Thanksgiving is a time that’s been set aside to remember some of the positives things that have happened in the last year and to offer thanks. Therefore, Thanksgiving is obviously a special day.

The other day, though, is not so obvious. You see, the last Sunday of the Christian year, in the fact the Sunday right before the beginning of Advent, has been established to remember Christ the king. In a couple of days, Christians all over the world will focus on what it means to say that Jesus is Lord, both of their lives and their world. And for that reason, Sunday is going to be important too.

And you know, if you think about it, there’s really a link between the two, a connection that we’re going to discuss during the service on Sunday. I mean, I can’t think of many better reasons to thank God than for the fact that Jesus is our king. In other words, because of who he is and what he did, we have hope as we look into the future and direction as we live in the present. And for that, I think we can offer God both thanks and praise.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Congratulations to The Children's Academy

It is with tremendous pride and excitement that the staff of The Children’s Academy, LLC announce the recent achievement of West Virginia’s Child Care Licensing Tier II standards status. This tiered system provides recognition and reimbursement to programs that demonstrate they meet higher standards of care in areas of program management, health, safety and nutrition, child growth and development, positive interactions and relationships, curriculum, child observation and assessment, and professionalism. The Children’s Academy, LLC is the only child care facility within the northern panhandle of West Virginia with this accreditation.

The Children’s Academy has been recognized for providing qualified staff who possess extensive training and/or bachelor and master degrees, as well as ongoing annual training credentials in early childhood and professional development. The Children’s Academy, LLC offers a broad range of resources incorporated into classroom Set up, cultural diversity, daily communication with parents and community and family ethics.

The dedicated staff of The Children’s Academy, LLC deserve special recognition for their consistent hard work and success in offering a comprehensive and compassionate developmentally based caring environment for all children enrolled in this facility.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Karen Vida's Resignation

It's with sadness that at Monday's meeting, the session received and accepted Karen Vida's resignation as Christian Education Director. Personally, I've appreciated her dedication and involvement during my time at Cove. She will be missed. The elders decided to begin looking for a replacement after the new session is installed.

Since we're about to move into the Christmas season, I think we all want to make sure our children have the chance to celebrate fully the birth of Jesus. To do this, we need to work together. We have a Christmas pageant scheduled for December 13 (program at 6:30, preceded by a dinner at 5:30). We've also discussed a parents day out for December 5. If you're willing to help with either activity or if you have an idea for something else we might do, please give me a call. Any time you can offer would be appreciated.

As a word of good news, TJ Smith has volunteered to work with our older youth. I know he'd also welcome any help you can offer and of course your prayers.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sermon: Facing the Future

Mark 13:1-8 - 1And as he was going out from the Temple, one of his disciples said to [Jesus], “Teacher, see what sort of stones and what sort of buildings.” 2And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Absolutely not one stone which shall be absolutely pulled down shall be left upon a stone.”

3And when he was sitting upon the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him a question among themselves, 4“Tell us when these things will be and what signs when all these things shall be accomplished” 5And Jesus began to say to them, “Watch out that you might be led into something that’s wrong. 6Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am,’ and many will be led into something that’s wrong. 7And when you might hear of war and reports of war, don’t be troubled. This must happen. But it’s not yet the end. 8For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places. There will be famines. These things are the beginning of birth pangs.”


The future is a pretty hot topic now-a-days, especially with the big budget movie 2012 having hit the theaters on Friday. Now, I’ve got to admit, that’s a movie I would mind seeing myself. Of course, a couple of days ago, I was reading some of the reviews on, a site for anyone who likes movies, and the reaction among critics, well, I think you could call it mixed. But who cares about them; what do they know? To me it looks really fun, with a lot of action and special effects. And just out of curiosity, has anybody seen it yet?

Of course, I think most of y’all know what it’s about, right? But just in case you don’t, it’s based on the fact that an ancient Mayan calendar ended on December 21, 2012. And instead of assuming that, like a cartoon I saw a couple of days ago, they just ran out of room on the rock, some people seem to think that marks the end of the world. And although for me, this just means three years from now I won’t be buying Christmas presents early, from what I understand, some folks are really freaked out about this stuff. As a matter of fact, this past Friday, I was talking to a colleague who was telling me about a member of his congregation who was all bent out of shape about this movie. I mean, they were really afraid and a little depressed as they thought about the future.

But when you get right down to it, you don’t need a movie to make you at least a little apprehensive as you look into what’s coming. I mean, give me a break, facing the future is always challenging, and you know, that’s the case whether you’re a Christian or not. My goodness, since none of us can be one hundred percent sure of what’s around the bend, tomorrow is always a little bit of a mystery and so is how we should respond to it. And yet, our response, well, it’s going to affect not only ourselves personally but also our relationships with God and with one another. And for that reason, we’re going to spend a little time talking about how we might better face the future.

And you know, I don’t think it’s a minute too soon, because I’ve got to tell you, the two ways we generally do it just don’t seem to work out for us very well. And again, Christians are at least as guilty as everyone else. You see, on one hand, an awful lot of people deal with what’s coming by trying to live in the future. And it’s really interesting, although folks do this kind of thing on both sides of the stained glass, they’re generally mirror images of one another. Let me tell you what I mean.

Often people who aren’t very religious are really negative as they try to live in the future, you know, always worried about the horrible things which they’re sure will happen any day. For them, every single silver lining is about to be surrounded by a dark cloud. O yes, they’re a joy to be around. But you know, it’s exactly opposite for Christians who are trying to live in the future, because all they can see is heaven and harps and angels floating around on clouds. For them, it seems that their whole lives are geared around what happens when they die. The dead seem more important than the living. You see, what I mean by interesting?

But you know, either way, these folks generally aren’t worth very much in the present. It’s like they say, they’re so heavenly-minded, or maybe overly pessimistic, that they’re no earthly good. But that’s what happens when you try to live in the future.

On the other hand, though, there are plenty of people who work as hard as they can to deny the future, you know, if you pretend that it can’t happen it won’t. Both inside and outside the faith, they’re kind of like my former brother-in-law who, even though he had heart problems all over the place in this family history and had a diet literally to die for, he wouldn’t see a doctor, because if he never heard about the risk he was running on a daily basis, he’d never get sick. That’s what I mean by denying the future.

And Christians who do this kind of thing sort of put their own spin on it by assuming that whatever happens, God will bale them out. Don’t worry about the consequences, live for the moment. The trouble is, if you deny the future, then you’re going to be pretty unprepared to deal with it when it comes, and trust me, it’s going to come. And so you see, it really doesn’t matter whether you try to live in it or to deny it, neither path really prepares us to face the future in any meaningful way.

But you know, we’re not limited to only two options, because I believe Jesus gives us another way to move forward without falling in the holes we’ve been talking about. And I’ll tell you, it’s right here in these verses we just read. I mean, just think about what Christ said in this passage. It’s pretty hard to deny that the future of the Temple was going to be pretty tough, right; especially after he said, “Do you see these great buildings? Absolutely not one stone which shall be absolutely pulled down shall be left upon a stone.” This was a future those disciple just couldn’t deny.

And yet, I think he was about as clear as he could be that this future wasn’t happening now, because remember he said, “Watch out that you might be led into something that’s wrong. Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am,’ and many will be led into something that’s wrong. And when you might hear of war and reports of war, don’t be troubled. This must happen. But it’s not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places. There will be famines. These things are the beginning of birth pangs.” Now, that’s what he said, and man, if we listen, it’s got to shape how we face the future.

You see, it seems to me that Jesus was saying that instead of trying to deny it, we need to accept it, which means doing two things. First, it means accepting that as we all move forward, things change: some things for the better but other things... And it happens whether we want it to or not. For example, here in the church, I wish things could be the way they were when I was a boy and everybody I knew went to the church because not only did the city but all the stores and actives shut down. For a kid to play some kind of organized sport on Sunday was absolutely unthinkable. And we all liked singing the old hymns. And men wore suits and women hats and gloves. You know, I can close my eyes and see Ocean View Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning.

But you know, if I try to deny that the world and people have changed in the last forty years and try to recreate that community right here, I mean, if I try to stop or worse, roll back the clock, we’re going to wither and die, because when you get right down to it, the only thing constant is change. Man, we can deny it until the cows come home, but the future’s going to come whether we like it or not. And that may not make us happy. First, it’s just suicide to deny the future.

But you know, second, as we brace ourselves for what’s coming, we can continue to trust that God is in control, that last time I looked, he hasn’t stepped away from his universe, and regardless of our last CAT scan or biopsy, our lives are still in his hands, and he will, not may but will lead us even through the valley of the shadow of death. This we can believe, and to me, believing it, man, it’s going to help us deal with what’s coming, even the stuff we’d much rather deny. You see, as we face it, we can accept the future.

But that’s not all that I believe Jesus wants us to do, because I also think he wants us to live not in the future, but right here, in the present. I mean, just like he warned his disciples not to be mislead by people who say that time has just about run out and the end is almost here, that same warning applies to us too. You see, none of us have reached the end of our story. And it really doesn’t matter how old you are or what the doctor said at your last appointment, and I’ll tell you, it also doesn’t matter how much you’re looking forward to heaven or what you hope to receive in the sweet by-and-by, God has given each and every person who woke up this morning a wonderful gift. He’s given us all the present, the moment we have right now, and he’s given us the freedom to use it as we wish. I mean, we can use it to look and feel miserable, to remember all the times we think we’ve been wronged and to think about all the reasons we have to be unhappy. I’m telling you, we can sit right here in the pews and never see beyond ourselves, or

...Or we can open our ears and start listening to what Jesus is calling us to do. And we can open our eyes so that we can see that the same kind of people that were touched by our Lord, those same kind of people are still here and their needs haven’t changed one bit. And then we can open our minds so that we can begin to entertain ways that we might do the Lord’s work, to sing the Lord’s song in a strange, new land. And then we can get up and start doing it. In other words, instead of just waiting for the future, we can begin working to make the world better in the present, something that I think Jesus wants us to do.

Some time in the next few months I’ll probably see 2012, but not because I expect the world to end on December 21. It may, but I’m not ready to bet the farm. And right along with that, I going to try as hard as I can not to deny or to live in the future. Instead I’m going to follow the example Christ left to us and accept the future while living in the present. Now that’s what I’m going to do, and so can we all, as together, we face the future.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How Can We Face the Future?

Back in August, I went to a financial seminar. And although I had several reasons for going, my primary motivation was age, and in particular, my age. You see, I’m 52. Now, that may not sound like a big deal to some of y’all, but for me it’s huge. I’ve hit the point when my most productive years may be behind me, and the amount of time I’ll be working for an income may be less then the amount of time I’ve already worked. Of course, I understand that may be "all out the window" depending on how much graduate education Maggie wants.

But be-that-as-it-may, I’m moving to the point in my life when I have to think about retirement which means I had better start thinking about my future and the future of my family. And let me tell you, that’s not a particularly comfortable thing to do. I mean, it’s a lot more fun to deny the future, you know, to pretend that it doesn’t exist, something that’s getting a lot harder to do every time I see all the hair in the brush after combing or try to convince myself that clothes actually do shrink as they’re hanging in the closet. Denying the future is sure better than facing it.

But then so is trying to live in the future, something that’s especially tempting for Christians. I mean, as I’ve heard people say, we can become so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. In other words, the vision of paradise can so dominate our thoughts that we really stop living in the real world with all it’s real problems and real needs. That’s living in the future.

And so, if we shouldn't deny it or try to live in it, the question still remains, how should we face the future? Well, on Sunday, we’ll use a passage from Mark to address that very problem. So plan to attend the service or read the sermon after it's posted on Monday.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sermon: The Importance of Stewardship

Mark 12:38-44 - 38And in his teaching, he said, “Look out for the scribes who want to go around in long robes and to get greetings in marketplace 39and to have the first seat in the synagogues and the first couch at the banquets, 40those who devour the houses of widows and for show, have long prayers. They will receive more abundant judgement.”

41And he sat down opposite the contribution boxes and began to watch how the crowd put copper coins in the contribution box. And many rich people put in many [coins]. 42And one widow who was poor put in two small coins, which were worth a quarter of a copper coin. 43And he called to his disciples and said to them, “Amen I say to you, that poor widow put in more than all those who put [money] into the contribution box. 44For they all from out of their surplus put in [money], but she from her poverty put in everything she had – her whole livelihood.”


This morning we’ve asked y’all to turn in those promise cards we sent out a few weeks ago. And, I guess, in a final push to encourage you to make some kind of pledge, I was asked to preach a stewardship sermon. And let me be absolutely clear about this, that’s the only reason I chose the picture on the cover of the bulletin. It has nothing to do with the fact that one or two people have sort of suggested that I look a little tiny bit like the guy on the one hundred dollar bill. Of course, I’d really like to know the church where that picture was taken. Man, that’s quite an offering, isn’t it; I’m talking about all that cash. Not like anything I’ve seen.

In fact, that reminds me of the old joke I sent out with the bulletin. Three old, worn-out bills were waiting to be incinerated: a hundred, a fifty and a dollar. And as they were waiting, they started to talk to one another. The hundred said, “Well, I guess I’m ready to go, because I’ve lived a wonderful life. I’ve seen the best restaurants, the best hotels, the best resorts. I can go in peace.” After he finished, the fifty started to talk, “Well, I guess I’m ready to go too, because I’ve also lived a wonderful life. Although I didn’t see the places you saw, I’ve seen some good restaurants and some good hotels and some good resorts. I think that I can go in peace too.” After he finished, the dollar spoke right up and said, “Well, I’m sure not ready to go, because I’ve lived an unbelievably boring life. All I’ve seen is church, church, church.” Such is the spiritual life of a one dollar bill. Poor George Washington.

But you know, that joke really says a lot about how we see stewardship. I mean, it’s something we might kid or maybe better, given the way things are now-a-days, worry about. It’s something that we may talk and ask ministers to preach about. I mean, we know it’s important, because I don’t think there’s a person here that doesn’t recognize that, like every single business and family, the church has bills to pay nor do I think there’s a minister out there that doesn’t feel sort of uncomfortable talking about it, because I know that I’m probably the single biggest church expense. My goodness, all this stuff I think we all recognize.

We may not be quite as clear about what this has to do with our relationship with God or with Jesus Christ. In other words, it’s not hard to understand how filling out that promise card is financially important to the congregation, but I believe for most of us, it’s tough to see how it relates to us spiritually. Although it may be important to Allegheny Power and my ability to pay my mortgage, it just doesn’t seem all that important to Christ. He’s more interested in me giving him my life or my heart or my mind than whether I put a Washington or a Franklin in the offering plate, right?

But let me tell you, even though I recognize that I may have a conflict of interest, I don’t think that’s true. You see, when you listen to what Christ taught, I think it’s pretty clear that what we think of as financial stewardship was important to him. As a matter of fact, if we use this passage as a guide, I believe that there are three facets of stewardship which Jesus considered really important, three aspects that if we take them seriously just might change the way we view the plate as it passes by.

You see, first, when it comes to stewardship as we know it, I think Jesus believed that money was important, and in particular, how we choose to use the money that we consider our’s. And I’ll tell you, not only do we see this in the passage just read, especially with the people giving money in the Temple, we actually see it all over the place in the gospels. As a matter of fact, if you read everything that he taught and said, Jesus spent far more time teaching about personal finance, you know, how to use your money, than about personal morality. Whether you’re talking about Jesus telling the rich man to sell everything he had, to give money to the poor and to follow him or Christ accepting a financial gift from Zaccheus, a tax collector who without a doubt got what he gave through corruption and intimidation, man, throw a dart at the Gospels, there’s a good chance you’re going to hit something that has to do with money. As a matter of fact, Jesus went so far to tell his disciples to “ up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” How we use our money was important to Jesus.

And I’ll tell you, because of that, it should be important to us as well. And although I think for far too long stewardship has been limited to cash or checks and that it’s a good thing to broaden it out to time and talents as well, I believe it’s wrong to pretend that money doesn’t matter, because it does. In fact, how we spend what we have may be a better of reflection of what we treasure and value and believe than what we say. And if the example of the rich man who couldn’t sell and give wasn’t enough, Jesus’s praise of that poor widow should probably eliminate any doubt that money was important to Christ, the first thing he can teach us about stewardship.

And second, I think we’re also pretty safe in saying our attitude is also important, and I’m talking about not only our feelings but also our motivation in giving. And as I look at it, this applies regardless of whether you’re talking about money or time or talents. Now, to me, this certainly seems to be what Jesus is getting at when he let the scribes have it. I mean, not only were they incredibly self-centered and proud, you know the kind of guys who never met a mirror they didn’t like, but when Jesus said that all this reflected what they wanted, what they desired, now he was also talking about their motivation.

And I think you can apply that same thing to stewardship. You see, I think some people use what they give to the church to boost their ego. Of course, we’re not talking about folks who work quietly behind the scenes and don’t want any one to know what they contribute. No sir, unless they’re in charge you don’t see them, and they have all kinds of subtle ways to let people know what they contribute. You see, just like the scribes, they really enjoy the recognition, even though sometimes people get pushed aside, maybe even devoured. And for them, what they offer is the way to get thanks and appreciation and praise. And that’s a problem.

But so are the folks who use their contributions to get their way. Their gifts always seem to have strings attached. If I give, then you should [fill in the blank]. And when they pull this kind of stuff, sometimes it almost sounds like blackmail. For example, a couple of months ago I was talking to a colleague who told me that he’d gotten a letter from one of the biggest givers in his church, and it said that unless the board agreed to do something he wanted done, he was going cut off his contributions. I’ll tell you, my friend had no idea what to do, and between you and me, I think it was unfair that he was put in that situation. You see, our motivation can be a problem too.

Therefore, when we sign our check or volunteer our time, I think it’s important to work as hard as we can to develop an attitude that’s as far from the scribes as possible, maybe one the reflects genuine humility because we’re just returning to God a little of what he’s given to us and that recognizes that in the Body of Christ there are a lot of different opinions and perspectives and needs. Humble, selfless giving: now I think that’s the kind of thing Jesus wants to see in his church, because, for him our attitude is important, the second thing he says about stewardship.

And third, if we take this passage seriously, we’ve got to recognize that when you get right down to it, what we actually do is important. And to tell you the truth, for me this is where the rubber hits the road. I mean, in the part of the passage that deals with the offering of that poor widow, Jesus sure seems to be offering an example of the kind of giving he wants all his disciples to make, one that reflects a genuine sacrifice made by the giver. With her, I think we see the ideal. But you know, I find it really interesting, although he certainly praised her, he didn’t condemn the others. In other words, even though her gift represented a bigger sacrifice, especially when you think about the fact that she put in two coins and she could have put in one just as easily, and because of that her contribution was greater, he never said that those who’d given out of their surplus had done something wrong.

And you know, I think that’s pretty good news for us, because let’s face it, I don’t think anyone here would drop their last dollar in the collection plate. Now, I may be wrong, but as I look at myself and what Debbie and I contribute, it’s coming from our surplus. And you know something, that’s O.K. Although we may not be like that poor widow, we can give a portion of what we have so that the work of God is accomplished in this community. It’s like I heard someone say years ago, “God loves a cheerful giver, but he’ll take money from grouches.” What’s really important is that we give something, and as we look at next year, maybe plan to give a little more. Because, there’s no two ways about it, what we do is important to Christ.

Now, stewardship will probably always be a tricky topic. And I’ll probably always feel a little uncomfortable talking about it. But you know, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, because regardless of how we feel, I think we’re making a big mistake if we try to avoid it. You see, Jesus didn’t, because he recognized that money and attitude and action were all important. You see, for him, I think those three things all work together to make stewardship important.