Agnus Day

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Sunday, March 12

Bonus Time

Here is the text from my sermon on March 12, 2017. The lesson is Luke 13:1-9, 31-35.

Last Monday was a day of remembrance for me.

Thirty-two years ago, on that day, on March 6th, I had a cold. I know this because my cold caused me to sleep in my room at the fraternity house I was living in at Alma College. Normally, I would have slept in the unheated attic, along with most of my fraternity brothers. The attic would be whatever temperature it was outside, and we would see who could stay up there and endure the cold.

We were in college, but that doesn’t mean we were smart.

I had a cold that day, so I slept in my room, along with my roommate. Around 7 am, we heard someone’s alarm clock going off. We assumed that someone got up early, or had hit snooze and had gone to take a shower, and we complained about their insensitivity.

Then our door was broken down. It wasn’t someone’s alarm clock. It was a smoke detector. The house was on fire, and we were oblivious to it, until someone realized we hadn’t gotten out of the house. If I had been in the attic, I would have gotten out minutes earlier, when most everyone else was awoken by the smoke detectors. Instead,  Pat Byrne broke down our door to get us out. Actually, he didn’t break the door. Ours was one of the room that still had a wall standing, and we went back into the wreckage days later. He snapped the deadbolt in half. 

If you are ever the last ones to get out of a burning house, it is good to have an all conference defensive end come to get you. Fortunately, everyone survived the fire; only two people had minor injuries.

I’ve also survived two car accidents in which both vehicles, mine and the other car, were totaled. I’ve been hit by cars twice when I was growing up. I almost fell off of a cabin cruiser into Lake Huron, and held onto the hand rail long enough for others to pull me back on board. My dad and I were on Saginaw Bay the day that the Edmund Fitzgerald sank, the storm caused us to take hours to get back to shore. Only years later, I found out how scared my dad was that we wouldn’t make it.

I know I’m on bonus time. Anyone of these incidents, and probably more I haven’t realized, could have ended my life.

In the first part of today’s lesson, Jesus is asked about a tragedy that had happened. For some reason, Pontius Pilate took the blood of some people from Galilee and mixed it with the blood of animals they had sacrificed. Jesus also mentions a recent incident about eighteen people dying from a tower collapsing in Siloam. Jesus assumes the crowd wants to know if these people had sinned, and that their deaths were punishment for their sins. He tells them the victims of these incidents were not terrible sinners, but unless those that he is speaking to repent, they too will die.

When a tragedy occurs, there tend to be three schools of thought. One, they got what they deserved. Two, God is punishing us for something. Three, God let this happen to undeserving people. It’s their fault. It’s somebody’s fault. It’s God’s fault.

Think about a tragedy, any recent tragedy. Lord knows, there is a wide selection to choose from.

In the aftermath of the disaster, someone will blame the victims. They shouldn’t have been there. They shouldn’t have done whatever they were doing.

Some will say God is trying to get us to change our course, to call us to repent, by showing us what could happen if we do not repent, and continue in whatever sinful behavior this person thinks we are persisting in.

Or others will wonder where God was in this tragedy, and why God didn’t stop it from happening. This theory becomes more prevalent the closer to home the tragedy strikes, and the closer connection one has to those who are effected by the tragedy. Because, if we know those involved, we are pretty sure they didn’t deserve it, so it is either that God did it, or God didn’t stop it.

I would like to propose another option.

People die. Things break. Nature is uncontrolled.

We are beings that will be on this world for a relatively short time. Some way too short. But our time on earth is limited. I saw a sign Friday with a morbid, but valid point. Play with your kids today, because tomorrow you are one day closer to death. While that isn’t greeting card material, it is absolutely true. Today, we are all one day closer to dying. It is a fact.

Many people, when they are confronted with their mortality, create a bucket list – a list of things they want to do before they die. These come from a sense of urgency, often because they have been told that their number of days that remain are small, and countable.

But we don’t know if the number of days that remain for us are in the tens of thousands, or in the tens.

In the parable of the fig tree, a landowner and his gardener are discussing a fig tree. For three years since it has been planted, the fig tree has been given everything that it need to bear fruit. As of yet, it has not. The landowner has had enough. He tells the gardener to rip it out. The gardener asks for one more chance, for one more year.

That’s my other option. Life happens, and where life happens, death is sure to follow. But rather than blaming God for either causing, or not preventing, tragedy, what if we give thanks to God for the second, and third, and fourth, and more chances that we are given.

I know I would not be here today if not for the grace of God, my father drilling into me to always wear a seat belt, for the sturdy construction of two General Motors automobiles, my father’s quick hands and sure rowing ability, as well as the explosive power of number 99, Patrick Byrne. And I wouldn’t be here without the love of my mother, the wisdom of two other wonderful women who mentored and guided me, the blessings of dozens of friends, and the insight of a couple of little old ladies of the church.

So I choose to focus on the unknown number of days ahead, and not on the missed out days of the past. Yes, I would have loved for my dad to have lived to see me graduate from Seminary and see me ordained. Yes, I would love to still have my mom around. But I trust in God’s promises that I will see and be with them again. Because I will have all eternity for them to brag on me and tell me how proud they are.

And I choose to focus on taking these bonus days to focus on trying to repent each and every day of my life; to turn away from myself and turn back to God; to turn away from my will and turn back to God’s will. Each day I ask, “Lord, what wouldst thou have me do?” and each day I try. At the end of each day, I ask for forgiveness for not loving the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my strength and all my soul, and my neighbor as myself. Then I try to do the same thing tomorrow, and for each of the unknown number of days I have left.

Jesus knew how many days remained for him, and he went to Jerusalem, knowing his life would end there. But he went hoping that many would, because of his words and actions, be moved to repent.

If we can focus on the days ahead and not the days behind, if we can let people know it is not too late to repent and keep repenting, if we trust that there are days beyond the days that remain, then we are doing the work of our Lord. And blessed are the ones who come in the name of the Lord. AMEN. 

Thursday, March 9

Mustard Seed Revolution

This is my sermon from our mid-week Lenten Soupper Service on March 8. Since we use the Narrative Lectionary, all of the Sunday lessons include a Lukan parable. So, I decided that we would use many of the rest of Luke's parables during Lent. 

This is in outline form, which is how I write most of my sermons. I hope it isn't too distracting.

Luke 13:18-19
      (Jesus) said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

·      Jesus gives a short parable comparing the kingdom of God to a mustard seed that becomes a tree, providing a home for the birds of the air
§  Take a moment – I’m going to use reign of God rather than kingdom of God for the word basileia
·      First, it removes the patriarchy
·      Second, a kingdom is a place. A reign is not only a period of time, but it is a sphere of influence
o   Reign goes beyond space/time, but includes attitudes, decorum and values
o   One of the shortest of Jesus’ parables
o   Which fits in speaking about a small seed
§  Matthew’s telling of this parable includes Jesus saying the mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds
o   Which fits, because this is can be read as a parable of hope – from small things great things come
§  It’s the Cinderella story –version of the Rocky saga
§  An underdog that no one gives a chance turns out to be a world beater
§  Hope of the Church – the followers of Christ
·      Original hearers of the Gospel, huddled together, afraid of being persecuted – would have heard this as hope, as that this little movement would overcome all obstacles and become this giant tree
o   And so to us as well, this parable can speak of hope & perseverance – that we can overcome the obstacles in our lives and achieve great things

·      Except it means none of that
o   Why would Jesus describe the kingdom of God, the reign of God, as starting small and overcoming?
§  Kingdom of God will come not because it is a plucky underdog, but because God is God & God said so
§  Besides, look at the story
·      Mustard isn’t a tree. It can be generously called a bush or shrub, growing to maybe 10 feet, but more like 4 feet. If it didn’t produce a useful spice, it would be called a weed
o   Steals water & nutrients & chokes other plants
·      Why would someone “sow” a weed in a garden?
·      For you with gardens, really want birds around?
·      Modern re-telling: The kingdom of God is like crab grass that somebody introduced to your lawn. It took over and the Asian beetles feasted on it.
·      The kingdom/reign of God is subversive
o   Jesus tells this parable in response to being scolded for healing a woman on the Sabbath
§  Jesus tells the dominant cultures – the Romans & the Temple leaders – the reign of God, the overthrow of your power will come, and you can’t stop it
§  It will subvert your norms and your power
§  It comes whether you want it or not
·      You can try to stop it or slow it down, but you’ll fail
§  It comes whether you help or not
§  It will bring undesirables with it
·      In the reign of God – the hungry WILL be fed, the poor and the sick WILL be taken care of
§  It demands attention, annoyingly so
·      It speaks of values that run contrary to what is understood self-interest
o   It calls for refugees & immigrants to be welcomed & taken care of in a time when anyone different looking is demonized
o   It calls for taking care of the least, the last, the lost, the little ones and those who are alone, when the concern is over those who produce
o   It reminds that the first shall be last, and the last will be first; that the high and mighty will be stuck down, and it says that to those in power
o   It is a declaration of an invasion against those who are apathetic or content with what they have
§  Think of the battles against an aggressive weed or invasive species
·      Kudzu, Asian Carp, Zebra mussels, Gypsy moth, Emerald Ash borer, Asian beetles
§  It is a new order to the world, one that is the reign of God, not with will of humanity
o   It says resist to a world that says conform.
§  The parable of the mustard seed isn’t a message of hope to those feeling
·      It is a declaration of revolution
·      The reign of God is coming – which side will you be on?

Wednesday, March 1

40 Questions

This is my Ash Wednesday message, based on the lesson from Luke 9:51-62, where Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. I've always some issues with this lesson, especially the "Let the dead bury their own dead" (see So I started writing questions, hoping to have some answers. Then I realized my questions, while not having answers, had a message, and that, I though, was enough.

What does it mean to set your face to go to Jerusalem?
What does it mean to accept your fate?
If Jesus accepted that his fate was to die on a cross for our sins, can we accept that we are sinners?
Can we accept that our only hope of redemption and salvation had to come from God, and not from anything that we could do?
Knowing this, how do we NOT love the Lord our God with all our heart, and mind, and soul and strength?
Can we admit that we are sinners, no better than, but no worse than, anyone else?
Can we still love others knowing this?
Can we confess that we are rightly damned with out the death of Christ on the Cross?
Can we still love ourselves knowing this?
How do we make decisions for our future when “the days draw near” for us?
Are our decisions different when we think that our days are not yet drawing near?
What do we do when we realize that we have no idea if are days are drawing near or not?
What does it mean to be ready to lay down your life?
Does laying down our lives mean that we are ready to take up our Cross?
Are we ok with carrying the Cross for someone else?
What does it mean to lead a life in the kingdom of God, to live under the reign of Christ?
Is heaven a place to go when we die, or is it a goal to work for here on Earth?
Are we just supposed to wait for it to come?
Can we work and act to create it here and now?

What does it mean to follow Jesus?
Does it include going to some places and doing some things that you don’t want to go and do?
Are we willing to give up our home and separate from our people to follow Jesus?
Are there some people with whom we don’t want to work or serve?
Can we love those who do not welcome us?
Do we get to decide who is in God’s kingdom?
What if we’re not ok with God’s decisions?
Are we willing to accept those who are different from who we are?
Are we willing to accept help from them?
Why do we focus on what Jesus is calling us from doing, and not on what Jesus is calling us to do?
What do we need to let go of to follow Jesus?
What are we holding onto that keeps us from giving myself totally over to Christ to command?
What are we waiting to have happen?
Do we think someone else will answer the call?
Who do we need permission from to act?
Why do we want to act on our own schedule rather than to live in Christ’s immediacy?
What has to happen in our heart, in our soul, in our mind or in our life for us to let go, and let God?
Are we willing to follow if we have no say in the destination or assignment?
If the help of the helpless abides with us, why do we not answer the call?
If we fear no foe, and our tears have no bitterness;
if we trust that God abides with us, why do we hesitate to answer?
Can YOU use these 40 days during Lent to examine what you value more than serving and surrendering to God?

Sunday, February 5

What To Do - Presented in Small Bite Sized Chunks

Below is my sermon text for February 5, 2017. This is what I worked from, what I actually said at the three churches may, and did vary somewhat.
The lesson text is  Luke 6:20-38a, 46. I deviated from the Narrative Lectionary because, given the political climate, I wanted to preach on the Beatitudes, which those who follow the Revised Lectionary heard from Matthew's version last week. 
I arranged the reading to be read responsively by the congregation, based on the translation from the Common English Bible. I include the reading in this post. 

P      This is the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke, the Sixth Chapter.

All   Glory to you, O Lord.

Gospel                            Luke 6:20-38a, 46

Please read the lesson responsively as marked, by or All,
the (R) Right Side of the Sanctuary, or the (L) Left Side of the Sanctuary.

P      Jesus raised his eyes to his disciples and said:

R      Happy are you who are poor, because God’s kingdom is yours.

L       Happy are you who hunger now, because you will be satisfied.

R      Happy are you who weep now, because you will laugh.

L       Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and condemn your name as evil because of the Son of Man.

R      Rejoice when that happens! Leap for joy because you have a great reward in heaven. Their ancestors did the same things to the prophets.

L       But how terrible for you who are rich, because you have already received your comfort.

R      How terrible for you who have plenty now, because you will be hungry.
L       How terrible for you who laugh now, because you will mourn and weep.
R      How terrible for you when all speak well of you. Their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets.
P      But I say to you who are willing to hear:
ALL          Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. 
L       Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. 
R      If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well.
L       If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. 
R      Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. 
ALL          Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.
P      If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. 
L       If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. 
R      If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. 
P      Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.
L       Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged.
R      Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned.
L       Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
R      Give, and it will be given to you.
ALL          Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say?

P      This is the Gospel of Our Lord.
All   Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace, Peace and Mercy to you from God, our Creator and Jesus Christ, God’s Son and Our Savior. Amen.

How many of you have ever coached a sports team? Any sport, baseball, basketball, football, softball, soccer? If you have, you’ve probably realize that you know so much more about the sport than your players know. So you try to get them to learn things that they can remember during the heat of competition. Stay low. Move your feet. Keep your head up. Small statements that you hope come back to them when they need it.
I tried to teach my players everything I knew about football, but it was too much. I needed them to learn what they needed to do, but to remember what is going on during the chaos of the game. So I taught in little bites or nuggets they could, hopefully, remember.
I taught my offensive line a blocking rule called GOOSE. If someone is in the Gap between you and the next lineman closest to the ball, block that guy. If not, is there someone On the line across from you; block him. If not, is there someone lined up Over you, but off the ball, block them. If not, is there someone in the seam between you and the next lineman away from the ball. Gap-On-Over-Seam. GOOS. The E stood for Eleven. There are eleven guys in a different color jersey out there. Block one of them. I didn’t care if they went through the letters and pointed out who they were supposed to block. Then I knew they knew what to do.
That is what Jesus is doing in this, his giving of the Beatitudes during the Sermon on the Plain. Beatitudes is Latin for happy or blessed, and this is called the Sermon on the Plain because Jesus came down a hill to speak to the crowd. In Matthew’s telling of the Beatitudes, Jesus goes up the hill, and so it is called the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus raised his eyes and proceeded to tell his disciples and followers that those who are poor, hungry, mourning or rejected for His sake should be happy. My New Testament professor at Gettysburg, Dr. Carlson, jumped up and in his best game show host voice said the best translation is “Congratulations!!” “Congratulations! You're poor! Congratulations! You're hungry!” He explained that they deserved to be congratulated  because these people are totally dependent upon God. They aren’t trying to do it themselves; they can’t do it themselves. They totally trust God to provide for them.
But this is confusing. These people, the poor, the hungry, the mourners, the persecuted, are the most vulnerable in society, be it during the time of Jesus or today, and Jesus says to them, “Congratulation! Blessed are you! You should be happy.” But Jesus calls them out to get our attention as well. Because if they are dependent upon God to help them and to take care of them, then we are the ones who need to do it. We are the Church. We are the Body of Christ. It is God’s work, but our hands.
Luke’s Gospel continually points out that the marginalized and forgotten matter. The poor matter. The hungry matter. Those who mourn matter. The persecuted matter. They matter because they are suffering. They matter because they need help.
There is a cartoon that I’ve seen hundreds of times online. It depicts Jesus giving this sermon, and when he says, “Blessed are the poor,” someone from the crown yells, “No. All Lives Matter.”
God loves all of us. But God has a special place in God’s heart for the poor, the hungry, the mourners, the persecuted, the least, the last, the lost, the little ones and those who are alone. And God wants us to have that special place for them in our hearts.
So, if there is a community, or section of the population where the rates of poverty, hunger, death and incarceration are dramatically higher than other segments of the population, shouldn’t we care about them? Shouldn’t we do something? Can we say that while everybody’s lives matter, their lives matter as well, and we should draw attention to them and their problems?
When we lift up one group of people, especially a population that is in trouble, we aren’t saying that only their lives matter, or that they matter more. We are drawing attention to them and their situation to remind everyone that their lives matter.
Jesus is saying “Poor Lives Matter. Hungry Lives Matter. Mourning Lives Matter. Persecuted Lives Matter.”
One of the parts of the Beatitudes that Luke includes that Matthew does not are the “Woes” or “How terrible.” How terrible it is, and will be, for the rich, those who have plenty, those who laugh and those who people speak well of, because you have been blessed, you have been fortunate.
That may hit close to home. Jesus is saying be happy now because you won’t be happy later. What are you doing with those good things? How are you sharing the blessings God has given you? Are you using them to take care of you and yours? Are you helping those whom God has a special place for in God’s heart, and that God hopes has a special place in your heart?
Just in case you’ve tuned me out, give me the next 30 seconds please. Think about the last time that you did something to help someone in need. You gave money. You gave clothes. You helped someone. Think of how good that made you feel. Hold onto that feeling for a moment. Now, while thinking about that memory, how long ago was it? Were there, are there, other opportunities you’ve missed?
When I was playing football for Alma College, my position coach, Jim Cole, knew how to motivate me. When I messed up, which was often, he would stand next to me, and put his hand on my helmet. On that hand, he wore a National Championship ring that he won in his playing days. He wouldn’t hit me in the head, but put that hand there and I could hear and feel that THUNK. Then he’d say, “Campbell, I thought you were better than that.”
That was my button. That motivated me. That challenged me.
The Beatitudes, the “Blesseds” and the “Woes,” the “Happy’s” and “How Terribles” are meant to shock and grate at us. Jesus expected to upset those who heard these words. That is why when he continues, he says, “But I say to you who are willing to hear.” Jesus’ words are meant to make us think of what we are doing and to try to do as he tells us. Just as a coach will challenge their players to motivate them during a game, Christ challenges us to lead lives worthy of the gifts and grace God has given us.
After words to chafe and challenge us, Jesus gives us crazy talk.
Jesus calls us to do good things to those who want harm to come to us, to be generous to those who want to hurt us. Why would we do that? It makes no sense.
Except that is EXACTLY what God does through Jesus Christ. To a people and a world that has rejected and denied God and God’s commands, God sends the Son to suffer and die for their sake. To a people who self-identify as His followers, but who do not follow his commands and teachings, the Crucified and Risen Son tells them, “You are forgiven."
Jesus came to describe a way of life radically different from the way that we lead our lives. He calls us not to focus on ourselves, to not look out for number one, not to love only those who love us and to hate those who hate us. But to love one another as Christ loves us. He calls us to show mercy and grace to those who do not deserve it, just as He has done for us.
The only way to get away from being inward focused, loving and caring for ourselves and our circle of loved ones is to love someone outside of that circle. Not doing so to earn anything or receive anything, but because they need to be loved.
That is what God does. God doesn’t need our love. We’ve done nothing to earn or deserve God’s love. But God gives us love, grace and mercy. God gave the Son to suffer, die and be raised to show us that even crucifying Jesus cannot take away God’s love. So as God loves us who are unworthy, we should share and give that love to those who do not care for us.
Jesus’ warning against judging is common sense. We tend to get back what we give off. If we aren’t judgmental, we are less likely to be judged. If we are friendly, we may have more friends. This isn’t a threat, but a promise. If we share God’s love, we will be loved in return.
Among the greatest joys I had in coaching is when a player finally ‘gets it.’ It’s usually toward the end of the season, and a player has something that they just haven’t gotten right. It might be an assignment or responsibility on a play. It might be a skill or technique that they haven’t mastered. Then, all of a sudden, they ‘get it.’ It become natural to them. Seeing that is the joy that I found in coaching. I think that is the rejoicing that goes on in heaven when we finally ‘get it.’
When we ‘get it,’ when we love those who don’t love us, when we care about the lives that matter that are in jeopardy, I truly believe the celebrations in heaven will put any touchdown celebration you see in tonight’s Super Bowl to shame. Can you imagine what a high five looks like when you start to add in an angel’s wings?
When we stop being inwardly focused, and focus on the wider world. When we stop being selfish, and begin to pay attention about those who are marginalized. When we stop worrying about what matters to us and care about whose lives matter to God. Then we get it. Then we do it. Then we live out the name given to us in our baptism when we were called “Child of God.”
A coach wants their players to remember what to do in the heat of the game. Christ wants us to remember what to do in the heat of life. That’s why the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Plain/Mount was given in little nuggets or sound bites. That’s why I had you read them responsively. Because I’m hoping something you said, or something you heard sticks; not just sticks with you, but sticks under your skin, and bothers you. Because that will cause you to act and to do.
Just in case, Jesus closed the Sermon on the Plain with one more challenge, one more push. He says one more thing to try to inspire you to action. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say?”
I pray that you hear and heed this call to action. I pray that you show love to the lives that are in jeopardy and that matter. I pray that you show love to those who need to know they are loved. I pray that your actions set off a celebration in heaven. Amen.

Saturday, February 4

Pastor Brian's (Auto) Biography

At my Mom & Dad's 50th Wedding Anniversary Party.
  I was born in Saginaw, Michigan to Robert and Charlotte Campbell. I was their only child. Dad (Bob) worked for Chevrolet as a set-up man and supervised a series of machines that made disc brakes. Mom (Charlotte) was the librarian at the elementary I  went to school.
    I graduated from Saginaw High School and attended Alma College, and graduated from Alma with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration. I worked for seventeen years for the Saginaw Public Schools in the Community Education Department coordinating after school activities, youth sports, academic competitions and summer recreation.
    I felt the call to ministry, left Saginaw and attended the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. I graduated from there in May of 2011 with a Master's degree in Divinity, and was assigned to the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin. I was ordained and called to serve Our Savior's and Emmanuel in August of 2011.
    I am a dedicated fan of the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings, and despite the efforts of the good people of Wisconsin, the Detroit Lions.
    I am also the proud butler to Ananias, the bulldogge. Ananias writes a column in the parish newsletter and destroys toys with alarming speed.

Saturday, December 24

One Thousand Words on Home for the Holy Days

This is the text of my Christmas Eve sermon. It is based upon Luke 2:1-7. In editing it, I finished a set of corrections, and saw that the word count was exactly 1000 words. So I decided to stop right there.

Merry Christmas - Enjoy your home, where ever it is.
Quick survey. How many of you travelled “a distance” to be here? I don’t mean here, as in church – by the way, thanks for coming - but here as in Longwood/Withee /Greenwood? You’ve come here to celebrate Christmas.  How many of you are back after spending time away, such as in college, or your work takes you away. Hands up please? Thank you. To all of you, welcome home and Merry Christmas.

Joseph and Mary headed to the town from which his family came, Bethlehem, not so much for the holidays but because In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. … Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.
Joseph has come to Bethlehem, the city that his family is from. But when they get there, there was no place for them in the inn.
We think there was no room for them at AN inn, a hotel or boarding house. But the word, translated here as inn, is translated elsewhere as the guest room, or upper room. Houses in Israel at this time had two floors. You had the second floor where the family would live, and guests would stay. The first floor was for animals, a barn. Think of a house with a ground floor garage and the living area above it.

For those of you who have come home, what have you come home to? Are you coming home to the house you’ve lived in? Is your room still your room, or has it been “repurposed?”

What if you come to “your own home” and there is no room for you? Your grandparents & cousins have taken over your old room and you get the fold out sofa bed with the bar across the middle of your back. Maybe you get a sleeping bag on the floor. Maybe the room for you is the garage.

Joseph’s family couldn’t find a place for them to squeeze in on the second floor, so they got the garage/barn. They weren’t turned away, but got the very last space available. They found a way.

Now to those of you who are “locals,” imagine this. You have last minute “bonus” guests. Those who you didn’t think were coming showed up, maybe with at plus one or two. You’d find a way. You’d find room. It may not be great, but it’s a place to stay. You can’t turn away family who came home for the holidays.

I bring this up, because as Perry Como sang, “There’s no place like home for holidays.”

No matter how much family friction your family has, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. You love them. There are times you don’t like them, but you love them. You may want, or need, some alone time, but you want to be with the people whom you love on this special time of the year. They are the ones you turn to when things happen, good and bad. They are the ones you want to share your joys with. They are the ones who comfort you in the midst of your sorrows. “There’s no place like home for holidays.”

Despite all of their flaws, you love them.

Despite all of our flaws, God loves us. Especially you.

God’s people were disobedient and rebellious. God loved them still. We continue to be sinful, and reject and defy God, sometimes denying God. And God loves us still. God wants us to share our joys with Them. God wants to comfort us in our sorrows.

So into the mess of human life, God went home.

God found a way. God chose to be born in an occupied territory, to a teenage mom, to a family that consigned them to the garage/barn, with a feeding trough for a crib. A family that soon would be refugees, fleeing from King Herod.

Suddenly, your home for the holiday doesn’t seem that bad.

One of my favorite theologians, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: In the body of Jesus Christ, humanity has been accepted by God. Out of God’s mercy, we are accepted as part of God’s family.[1] We are with Christ, part of the body of Christ, claimed in our baptisms, baptized INTO Christ. We are fed by Christ, when we receive his body and blood, the bread and the wine, given for us. We are with Christ because Christ is with us, Emmanuel, God with us.

God took the people who have rebelled and wandered away, and has brought us home through Jesus Christ, the child savior, whose birth we celebrate tonight.

We go home for the holidays. We celebrate Christmas by coming home because that is where we know we are loved.

God came home on this Holy Day because we needed to know that we are loved. And that divine love cannot be broken or lost.

As you celebrate being home for this Holy Day, find a way to remember the gift of love given to us by God, in the form of a child, wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.

Remember that Joseph’s family found a way to make room for the Holy Family. Remember that God’s love extends beyond our families, beyond our friends and make room in your heart for those who in need; the least, the last, the lost, the little ones and those who are alone.

There are those who have no place to celebrate these Holy Days. Remember those who experience abuse. Remember those who are rejected because of their race, religion or sexual orientation. But don’t just remember them. Find a way to help them.

I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.

Welcome home. Merry Christmas.

[1] Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, page 214.

Friday, December 2

This is the Article From Ananias for the December 2016 Newsletter.

I am SO excited about this time of the year.

My Big Guy has gotten out a lot of decorations to put up around the house. He hasn’t put them all up yet, but is working on them. I’ve offered to help, but everything is too high for me to reach. So I mostly just help by smelling them to make sure they are ok to put up.

One of the things he had out that I was sniffing was what he called a Nativity scene. He could tell that I was curious so he stopped putting things on that little tree and told me a story.

It seems that God decided that the best way for people to understand how much God loves them was for God to become a people. That way, God could show them how to love one another.

It makes SO MUCH sense. If My Big Guy could become a dog like me, I’d understand him so much better, and he’d understand me better too.

God didn’t want to be a part of some rich or powerful family. Instead, he chose to be born to a couple who just got married. And the girl who would be his mom, Mary, she was a young girl. My Big Guy said she was probably the age of the girls in his C+LIFFE class. That surprised me. They are barely out of their puppyhood!

But when Gabriel the Angel told her that she had found favor with God, and that God wanted her to give birth to the one who had been promised, she said, “I serve the Lord.”

I am SO proud of that little girl. She was so brave.

But then My Big Guy told me about the journey that she and Joe had to take because of some scents for us. I didn’t understand that. I mean, I smell all kinds of stuff, but I don’t think the government has any business in smelling everybody.

When Mary and Joe got to Bethlehem, nobody would give them a place to stay. So they stayed with the animals, which I understand you people may not like, but I found that to be amazing.
Think about it. God decides to become one of you peoples, but the first ones in creation who got to witness the birth were animals like me. We got to see first hand how much God loves not only people, but all of creation.

I was a little disappointed that in his Nativity scene there wasn’t a bulldogge, or any kind of dog at all. Cows, yes. Sheep, yes. Even camels. But no dogs.

But now that I know the story, I can imagine myself there, seeing God in the flesh. And that is the most wonderful thing ever.

Even if I have to wear a silly hat.

Love and Licks, Ananias