“And remember I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
It has been about 2,000 years since Jesus walked the dusty roads of the Middle East. Cultures have come and gone as have kingdoms and principalities. How is it then that the ministry of Jesus the Christ has endured for so long? How is it despite the lament that the church of Jesus Christ is no longer relevant to the society in which we live, the Word of God that Jesus proclaimed is still the most important message that people need to hear? What we are called to let people know about transcends societal norms of the day and rises above cultural relevance. The most counter-cultural message the world has ever heard is the most enduring because it is the most needed. Jesus offers a message of hope and calls us, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, to relate to one another with “hearts filled with grace.” We are called to witness, to let them know, that they are not alone and that they do not need to depend on their own will but the will of God, which promises to be with them, in spite of a world darkened by self-centeredness and judgment, “even to the end of the age.” People need to know that they are loved by God no matter where they find themselves in life. The Word of God endures because it is counter-cultural and because it is irrelevant to cultural norms. There are only two expectations God has for you; to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul, and to love your neighbor;” on these two “hang all the law and the prophets.” By the way, in the realm of God which has no end, there is no “them” and “us,” only “we.” We have been offered a promise that nobody else can offer; the promise of eternal life. We need to remind ourselves every moment of the eternal affirmation through the promise made to us by Jesus; “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The Word of God endures forever because it has been from the beginning and will always be the “Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” Witness this message of hope and love with a heart “filled with grace” to a world in desperate need of the healing presence and saving grace of Jesus Christ, the most relevant and powerful message the world has ever known. Thank you Jesus for the privilege of witnessing you.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
There is an old hymn that goes something like this; “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…” It is comforting that in our opinion-laced, judgment-centered world that Jesus offers each of us something that is in short supply; grace. Jesus wanted to let his disciples know that they are not servants or employees that clock in and clock out, rather they are friends that are cherished and beloved. The gift of friendship Jesus shares with us allows us to be ourselves around God, to unwind and bear our heart and soul to the One that redeems us and calls us God’s own. “O what a friend we have in Jesus….” As Jesus reaches out to us and gathers us in, we are called to witness the same grace as Jesus offers to us. God knows people need someone who they know cares and is invested in them, just for being who they are or where they find themselves. Grace is all about truly being invested in the well-being of somebody else. You are needed by someone because you are needed by God to share the Good News of Jesus Christ that offers grace upon grace no matter the circumstance or your opinion of how a person should be, look like, or how they may dress. Jesus was far more concerned about people then programs, procedures, or decorum; more concerned about their needs than socio-economic status, academic achievement, political affiliation or neighborhood in which they live. The love of God transcends the judgment of others and offers friendship; the last breath of Jesus hanging on the cross befriended a criminal who was hanging next to him. You are needed by God to share the grace of God with all of God’s people. Jesus defines us as “friends” because we are needed by him. You are needed because somebody else just needs a break and understanding that they are not alone in this life and in the life to come; you need to let them know, for the love of God…. Thank you Jesus for the privilege to serve.
“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
II Corinthians 9:7
It is truly a rare person that takes joy in paying their bills; bills are a reality of living in our culture. Sometimes we worry if we will be able to pay our bills, other times we can, still other times we know we cannot pay some of our bills at all. All this worry about bill paying can, and does, adversely impact both our physical health and emotional well-being. Giving to the ongoing ministry of Jesus is profoundly different; our giving is not bill to pay but a thanksgiving to God for the blessings we have received. God doesn’t force us to offer gifts to the church nor does the church pressure people to give, as St. Paul wrote, “give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion.” The gifts we offer to God are purely given out of gratitude for all the grace God continues to shower upon us. The joy of giving is the knowledge that our faithful stewardship truly makes a difference in somebody else’s life. Think of giving as a commitment to the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ, using what God has entrusted to us. The spiritual discipline of giving is like any other discipline, the more it is practiced the more a part of life it becomes. When our priority is serving God through our Risen Savior Jesus Christ, our giving becomes an absolute joy. We promised God to participate in the ministries of Jesus Christ through our giving; the resulting miracle of our faithful stewardship is an increase in God’s blessing in our lives and in the lives of others. Giving is a joy that lightens our load and increases our commitment to God. No matter how large or small the gift, the heavens celebrate in your generosity and shares in your joy. Thank you Jesus for all the gifts we have received and the privilege of joyfully giving back to you.
“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home at ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”
Have you ever ventured through an attic or basement and noticed how much stuff accumulates that we cannot remember where it came from or why you still kept it around? At one time it was probably special and maybe a special person gave it to you as a token of affection or in hopes that it would provide some type of comfort or enjoyment. It is not the gifts or the cash however, that is the longest lasting gift, it is our gift of time to somebody else. Though things fall from memory, someone who stood by us through a difficult time will never be forgotten. In the early church everything was a celebration; food, drink and especially the gathering of the faithful. It is no wonder the “Lord added to their number” day by day because truly that is what is yearned for; a community to laugh with, cry with, and be with. In our baptism, we promised to serve by our “presence.” In other words, as God is “there” for us at every turn of our lives, we are called to be there for others. The more we serve, the more our Spirit-enlivened presence is felt, celebrated and appreciated. Someone told me a few weeks ago that we should “worship like our life depends on it, because it does.” Worship brings the people of God together in one place for a few hours a week to just let go and let God into our lives. We are called to serve with our “presence” because you are needed by someone else to come along side to give support and comfort, especially in times of uncertainty or loss. Be there for somebody who is alone, tired, abandoned, hurt, unsure, dying, cast aside; the list is endless. Be present with the love of God; the time is now to be present, especially for those crying out, “precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn…” (Thomas Dorsey, “Precious Lord, Take my Hand.”) You are called to be the presence of Christ in the life of another because within you abides our Living Lord. Thank you Jesus!
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
At the time of our baptism, we promised God to pray. Our prayer is our connection to God and is a lifeline to those we have been called to serve. Prayer is no trivial act to do before meals and during worship; prayer is the power that transforms lives. Consider the grand prayer of Jesus for us according to John chapter 17. As he prays for his disciples he prays for us that God sanctifies us in the “truth.” The truth that Jesus refers to is not our own truth, which is counter-intuitive, rather it is the truth that sets the prisoner free, the truth that has the power to transform lives. Our prayers are intended to impact the lives of others in significant ways because in our connection to God we are empowered to reconnect and deepen not only our own relationship with God but especially to be the catalyst for others to truly know the power that will offer them hope and comfort no matter the challenges they may face. We are charged to pray for one another in a concert of prayer that celebrates the reality of God’s presence alive in the world. For Jesus, prayer was not a second thought or a ritual to be performed; it was a lifestyle to lead. King Solomon had everything he ever needed and a kingdom beyond compare. God told him pray for anything you want, “Ask what I should give you.” (I Kings 3:5) This could have been like winning the lottery for Solomon, he could have asked for great riches for himself and God would have given it to him. Yet he did not pray for himself, he had a heart for those he served; “give your servant therefore an understanding of mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil…” (I Kings 3:9) When we are “sanctified in the truth” no longer is life just about us, it becomes about those God has called us to serve. Jesus prayed that each of us are “sanctified in the truth,” which has equipped us to be the holy people of God, set apart to witness a love and power far beyond our wildest imagination. When you pray you are offering someone else an eternal gift that can never be taken away or outgrown. Pray without ceasing; the power that God has graciously offered to you through Jesus will be a lifeline not only to you but to the world around you. Thank you Jesus for the gift of prayer.
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Our world ultimately was transformed when Jesus was baptized. Jesus’ baptism was just not about him just as our baptism is not just about us. It is said that baptism is an “outward sign of an inward grace,” and that is true. From the time of our conception God has been working in us and offering grace upon grace to give us a gift that can never be taken away. Baptism represents a moment in time for us to understand that we have graciously been received into something far greater than we could ever imagine; the eternal gift of salvation. Through the sacrament of baptism, we recognize that some of the things we do, say and think (sin) are actually keeping us away from living life in true God-given abundance and grace. Baptism is a life-transforming act of God in you. Just as the heavens opened at the time of Jesus’ baptism to hear God proclaim, you are my Son, “the Beloved,” at your baptism the heavens rejoiced as well. You are the beloved of God and God wants nothing short of offering you eternal life and believing that through Jesus the Christ your life can be profoundly transformed. No matter the journey you are on, know that God, through our Risen Savior Jesus, is with you. You are not alone. Baptism is more than a chance to wear nice clothes and a ritual to perform, it is a gift with temporal and eternal implications. Remember your baptism, celebrate your baptism because truly you are God’s beloved. Thank you Jesus for your eternal gift.
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you born this day in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10,11)
Celebrate the joy of salvation through Jesus Christ. May this Christmas season be a time of discovering and rediscovering the wonder and the presence of Jesus in your life. Merry Christmas to all and a blessed and Spirit-filled New Year!
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”
Have you ever thought about the depth of God’s love? Our human definition of love does not come close to what we are offered through the birth of Jesus. At the moment Jesus was conceived God said in essence, “I love you so much that I want to know everything about you, your joys, your sorrows, your pain, and your celebrations. I am not only your creator, I want to be your redeemer, your Savior.” When Jesus was born, God’s love was no longer only theory and speculation passed down through the ages but God’s Word that “became flesh and dwelled among us.” The fact is Jesus is just not another prophet with some good things to say here and there, Jesus IS THE SON OF GOD and that fact changes everything we ever believed about the world or ourselves for that matter. What is so unbelievable about the reality of God’s love is that it is unconditional and eternal. When Mary heard the news about the baby she was carrying she not only wondered how the conception was possible but I am sure the words, “why me?” permeated her thoughts. “Why me, I am just a poor woman…Why me, I am not worthy…. Why me, I do not deserve God’s love…” To all of her questions, and ours as well the answer is simple; God loves you completely no matter who you are and what your past or even your present may look like. God looks beyond our soiled lives and our perceptions of unworthiness and sees a soul worthy to be saved. God, through our Lord Jesus Christ has promised to love you, “even to the end of the age;” and that fact is the unbelievable joy of faith. Thank you Jesus for the unbelievable gift of your love.
“Be aware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”
We check out five-day weather forecasts; we count the days before special events; we wonder when our bus will arrive. We plan, and we wonder, we wonder and we plan. Have you ever stopped to think that the Lord has given even the moment you are now experiencing as a time to savor? O it could be a hard time or an uncertain time but God is still in the mix. Maybe the greatest gift we could give ourselves is the awareness of God in our lives, now! The Bible calls us to be ready and prepared to receive Jesus into our lives at any time and to celebrate each moment we have been given by God. You have been given a gift today, right now. To be occupied with the uncertainty of the end of our mortal lives robs us of the joy of the moment and knowing that this “is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24) During this season of Advent, as you prepare for Christmas, open your heart to the “now” of faith and celebrate the time that God has given you. Live your faith today as if there is no tomorrow; may each of us lives our lives as “God’s story,” full of expectations and excitement for today, seeing the God moments that are continually around us. Thank you Jesus for the gift of life today.
“Remove the scandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
‘Tis the season to decorate our homes, our church, and our souls in preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. It is a holy time to be sure! The story of Moses standing on Mount Horeb listening to God speak to him through the burning bush was the first story I remember hearing in Sunday school. Have you ever visited a place and it just felt different? Moses certainly knew where he was standing was far different than anywhere else had visited in his lifetime. The presence of God makes ground holy, and more importantly, makes us realize that all that God has created is holy, including and especially you. God’s definition of holy ground and holy lives transcends any worldly definition. Holiness, or being set apart, occurs any time we are face to face with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. For Moses on the mountain, the presence of God was made manifest through a “burning bush” which was not consumed. For us it may be anytime we feel the presence of God in our lives maybe through a word or just somebody crossing our path when we need them the most. No matter where we decorate for the Christmas celebration, the presence of God makes all things holy. Remember you are a holy person of God, cherished and loved so much that the presence of God is not only now, it is forever. So when you prepare for the Christmas season, whether with lights and the stuff of the season, or just adorning your soul with the affirmation of God’s love, look down and remember you are standing on holy ground, and then look up, and know that the One that has created you and the incredible place you are standing will never let you go and has promised to be with you, even to the end of the age. Thank you Jesus for the incredible gift you have given us.
Rev. Tom Joyce, pastor