Best Day Ever

John 14.1-7

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.

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Dear Teagan Leigh…

We are the stories we tell. Stories make up the very fabric of our existence here on earth. As you grow older your parents and grandparents and teachers will tell you tales and fables in order to teach you lessons about the world around you. When you mature enough you will be told stories about the past in order to avoid the mistakes of those who came before you. And when you get old like me, you’ll start telling stories in order to comprehend the events of life and in attempts to derive meaning out of the mundane.

We are taught by stories, we are convicted by stories, and we are entertained by stories.

Teagan, when your parents got married, I stood in front of them and their friends and their families and I told them about the importance of stories. After listening to them describe their love and commitment to and for one another in the months leading up to that moment, I knew that their stories were coming together in that holy space as I pronounced them husband and wife.

I told the story of how when your Dad, Tucker, was 4 years old he went shopping with your great grandmother. The whole trip was planned around your Dad finding something for his mom for Mother’s Day. He was given complete and total freedom to pick out whatever he wanted from the store, and sure enough he found the perfect Mother’s Day gift. They went home and wrapped it and then you’re grandmother, Lisa, opened her gift to discover that your 4 year old father, out of all the items he could’ve pick in that store, chose for her a broom and a dust pan… Your grandmother mustered up all the strength she could to accept her gift with pride, though she couldn’t help herself from asking, “Tucker, why the broom and the dust pan?” To which your father replied, “Momma, they’re green, just like your eyes!”

Teagan, I also told a story about your mother, Jess. When your Mom was about 5 years old, she started playing tee ball. She practiced and practiced and then the first real game finally arrived. When your mother got up to the plate for that first at-bat, she swung as hard as she could and she started running. By the time she rounded second base she was beaming with pride thinking about how she was about to score her very first run, and when she was closing in on third base, her coach yelled, “Home Jess! Go home!” but instead of rounding third, your mother ran straight into the dugout and, if her friends and parents hadn’t been there, she would have literally kept running all the way back to her house.

I told those stories at your parents’ wedding because we are the stories we tell. You’re mother is a remarkably loving friend who takes people at their word. Her trust for others is such that she would go to great lengths for the people in her life, even if it meant running all the way home. And your Dad is easily one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met in my life; he will tell you exactly how he feels rather than waste anyone’s time and he knows how to make the best out of any situation, even if he bought your grandmother a broom.

At your parents wedding, I stood before them, their friends, and the rest of your amazing family and told stories. I told those stories to show how your mother and father were about to have their stories join together and you, sweet precious Teagan Leigh, are one of the wonderful results of that union.

And frankly, I would like to take a little credit for your existence. Had I not been there to marry your parents together, had I not joined them in holy matrimony, you wouldn’t be here this morning for your baptism. So, you’re welcome.

I’m just kidding, but there is someone else we need to talk about, someone else whose story makes possible your story. And you might think that I’m going to start talking about Jesus… nope (or at least not yet). We need to talk about your grandfather Marshall.

At your parents’ wedding, your grandfather stood up at the reception and gave one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. To be honest, I was a little disappointed when I was listening to it because I realized that no one would remember what I said during the ceremony, but everyone would remember what your grandfather said. And, if I may be so bold, I can condense his 45-minute speech into one phrase: Best Day Ever.

Your grandfather Marshall went on and on about all the memories he had of your Dad and your Mom and how every day was the best day ever, all the way up to the wedding day, and that throughout their marriage they would continue to experience the best day ever.

It was perfect.

What made it perfect was how faithful it was. Because marriage, the joining together of two people is based on an assurance of commitment, what we like to call a covenant. Your parents covenanted to love and cherish and remain with one another recognizing that life will change, that circumstances would move them into strange and unknown places, and yet they believed in the power of God to hold them together in spite of the great mystery we call marriage.

Which brings me to Jesus…

Teagan, your parents are crazy. In their marriage they looked into the abyss of the unknown and jumped right in, and they’re doing it again today in your baptism. Bringing you forth to be baptized is one of the craziest and most faithful things that you parents will ever do, because in doing so they are recognizing that you don’t belong to them.

            You belong to God.

Teagan, there is this profoundly awesome moment in the gospel of John when Jesus was talking to his disciples about what it would mean to follow him. Jesus went on and on in attempts to strengthen his friends and provide for them a glimpse of the kingdom of God on earth and Thomas responded by saying, “Lord how will we know the way?”

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Thomas’ question is all of our questions. Throughout your life Teagan you will encounter this question in its many forms: Who should I sit next to at lunch? What should I get my mom for Mother’s Day? What school should I attend? Who should I marry? What kind of family should I raise? What kind of job should I pursue? What kind of church should I attend? How will I know when it’s the right time to retire? All of these questions are predicated on the assumption that we do not know where we’re going and we need all the help we can get.

Thomas wanted to know how to get where Jesus was going, he wanted an answer to his question, he wanted to know the way. And Jesus responded like this, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Teagan, there are many ways that you can live your life, you can find a great number of answers to your many questions. But Jesus is THE way, and THE truth, and THE life. And unlike many of the means by which the world will try to entice you with a great number of choices, attempts at making you the author of your own story, Jesus is the one who acts upon your behalf.

There might come a day when you’ll look back and regret the choice that your parents made for you. You might wonder if you would’ve made the same choice for yourself had they waited until you were old enough to make it. Your experience of the baptized life might be such that you’ll even be mad at me for being the one who doused you in water. But this thing we call baptism doesn’t really have anything to do with you, or your parents, or even me. Instead it has everything to do with God revealing THE way through THE Son.

In your baptism, something you won’t remember outside of stories and photographs, God is the one acting on your behalf. It is the Spirit that moves through the water and calls you forth into a new life, it is God who has worked in and through the waters of so many who have been grafted into the church, it is Jesus who makes possible the kind of radical transformation that takes place in the water.

When your parents got married, they stood before the altar of the Lord and asked for God’s help to navigate the difficult and challenging covenant of marriage. And in your baptism they will do much the same, and we will all join them in their covenant. The people of God’s church, and not just the people of St. John’s but all Christians everywhere, are making the promise to raise you in the faith, to support you when you falter, to congratulate you when you succeed, and to call you out when you wander from THE way.

In a sense, we are making the public proclamation that you are a gift to us from God.

For many of us Teagan, this is the best day ever. When we look up to see you at the font surrounded by such love it will give those of us who have followed THE way a great deal of hope. In the water that will cover your head we will be reminded of THE truth of what Jesus came to do for the world through THE life of God offered on the cross and resurrected from the grave. And Teagan, I hope that one day you will look back at this day, the day of your baptism, as the best day ever.

But even that would be a disservice to the living God who breathed the breath of life into you, the living God who called your mother and father to live in holy matrimony all of their days, and the living God who revealed THE way and THE truth and THE life in his Son. For to follow Jesus on THE way as THE way is to know that every day is the best day ever. Because every day is another opportunity to encounter the incredible grace of God in the laughter of a friend, in the tear of a spous e, in the smile of a stranger. Every day offers us a chance to live into THE truth that God is the author of our stories. Every day presents an occasion to give thanks for THE life that reorients all of our lives.

Teagan Leigh, you are a gift. You are a gift to your mother and father and to your family. You are a gift to the church. You are a reminder of what God’s grace actually looks like. So today we give thanks to God for you, for making this the best day ever, and for THE truth that even greater days are yet to come. Amen.

Calming the (Political) Storm

Mark 4.35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

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On Tuesday morning, Lindsey and I woke up early to hit the polls before work. We were expecting long lines so we made sure to plan for enough time and double check our voting location. When we arrived, we were both a little shocked to discover the limited number of participants but we walked into the building with excitement.

I went over to the table to receive instructions and eventually went over to the machine to cast my vote. Lindsey, however, was forced to reregister because of a filing error, so I stood off to the side and waited patiently.

I really try not to eavesdrop, but sometimes it feels impossible. When people walk into to a building and start shouting things, it’s hard not to notice.

The first man came in wearing bib overalls, dirt all over his boots, with his hair going every direction. When he arrived at the table the volunteer asked, “What party will you be voting for?” The man stared blankly back and then declared, “Well, I ain’t no socialist so I’ll be voting Republican.

The second man came in wearing a perfectly pressed suit, with a tie clip, and an expensive looking watch on his wrist. When he arrived at the table the volunteer asked, “What party will you be voting for?” Without taking time to think about his answer he said, “I can’t trust Hillary but I’m still voting Democrat.

The first woman came in wearing a completely coordinated outfit, her hair and makeup looked perfect, and her heels were so high they started giving me vertigo. When she arrived at the table the volunteer asked, “What party will you be voting for?” I don’t think the woman was really paying attention because she filled the next few minutes trying to convince the volunteer that our country is in a mess and the only good option we have left is the Christian Ted Cruz.

The next woman came in wearing a sweat suit, with spit-up on her shoulder, while making a comment about her baby waiting in the car. She was clearly in a rush so when the volunteer asked, “What party will you be voting…” She interrupted and yelled, “Anyone but Trump!

It didn’t take long for me to notice that all of the people coming in to vote were doing so out of fear. None of them were particularly satisfied with any of the candidates, they represented different walks of life, and the one thing that united them was fear.

On that day, when the evening had come, Jesus said, “Let us go across to the other side.” As the sun was setting in the distance, darkness was hovering over the waters, and Jesus suggested that it was time to go across the Sea of Galilee. And this was no simple journey; Jesus had been ministering to the Jews in the Jewish territory, but now he wanted his disciples to go across to the other side, to the gentiles.

This is probably Jesus’ first foray into dangerous territory, his first opportunity to proclaim a sense of inclusion that still mystifies most of us today.

And while they were out on the water, making the journey from their side to the other side, a great windstorm arose, smashing waves against the boat so hard that it was being swamped with water. But Jesus was asleep! So the disciples woke him up and asked, “Teacher, do you not care that we are going to die?

Jesus woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” and there was a dead calm. He turned to his disciples and said, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?

They were definitely afraid; afraid of the wind and the waves crashing against the boat, afraid about the journey to the other side, afraid for their very lives.

And notice that Jesus does not say, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” There are plenty of things for Jesus’ disciples then, and now, to be afraid of: isolation, pain, illness, losing one’s job, money problems, failure, death. Instead, he asks, “Why are you afraid?”

            Why are you afraid for your lives when I’m here on the boat with you?

            Why are you afraid of rejection and failure when I’m here with you in life?

            Why are you afraid of death when you know that I rose from the grave?

What a fitting text for this political season in our lives. While many of us grow tired of the countless fights and arguments that break out on the news, while the chain of endless debates rattle with sound bite after sound bite, while people go to the polls to vote against someone rather than for someone, Jesus asks, “Why are you afraid?”

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We are afraid. We are afraid of the wind and the waves that assail our fragile ships. We are afraid for our lives, our church, our cities, our politics, our country, our world. We fear disapproval, rejection, failure, meaninglessness, illness, death… We are held captive by the power of fear.

And perhaps our greatest fear is of anything that differs from us. We are so contented in life that we fear death. We are so rooted in our Republicanism that we fear Democrats, or we are so Liberal that we fear Conservatism. We are so constantly surrounded by white middle-class Christian America, that we fear anyone who is black, or Hispanic, or Muslim, or Atheist. We are so used to seeing the traditional family unit of a husband and wife with 2.5 children that we are afraid of anyone who is lesbian or gay.

And Jesus is the one telling us its time to go to the other side. Jesus is the one who knows, even better than us, that there is plenty to be afraid of, but those things do not have the final word.

What we fail to remember and realize, is that we were once the outsiders that Jesus welcomed in. We were the gentiles waiting on the other shore for an incredible Messiah to show up and graft us in. If it were not for the incredible inclusiveness of Jesus’ ministry, none of us would be here in this place, none of us would have been blessed with grace, and none of us would have received the gift of the cross.

And now we face a time with other outsiders, people for whom many of us are afraid of, people who will rock our boats. And as we get closer, as the scales begin to fall from our eyes, as we begin to see others as brothers and sisters instead of enemies, that’s precisely when the storms start billowing in, playing toward our fears.

“If we start working with the Republicans, we will lose everything we once deemed sacred…”

“If we let another Democrat into the White House, God only knows what kind of terrible things will happen to us…”

“If we start changing what we do on Sunday mornings, the church will die…”

“If we start affirming their relationships, the traditional family will die…”

“If we start opening our borders, our country will die…”

Jesus knows best of all, that we cannot have resurrection without crucifixion.

The call to not be afraid bookends the gospel. It is there at the beginning when the angel Gabriel shares the news of the coming Messiah with Mary, and it is there at the end when the disciples encountered the angels on the first Easter. Not because there are no fearsome things on the seas of our days, not because there are no storms, but rather, because God is with us.

That night on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus brought peace in the midst of the storm. This kind of thing happens all the time when people are willing to look past their fear and remember that Jesus is in the boat with us.

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It may be at the polls while people are arguing about the fate of our country, it may be at General Conference when people are arguing about homosexual relationships, it may be in our own families when people are arguing about anything under the sun.

We will face strong winds and huge waves in the middle of a storm. Jesus wants us to remember that he will always be in the boat with us; that we can rely on his strength and mercy when ours runs out; that the prince of peace will always calm the waters.

On Wednesday night I had the youth of our church read the story of Jesus’ calming the storm. We discussed the types of storms that we have witnessed in our lives and then we started to talk about fear. I gave each of them a permanent marker and a plate with the instructions to write down their deepest and truest fears. I promised them that whatever they wrote was between them and God, but they also talked about fears they felt comfortable sharing…

“I’m afraid of death.”

“I’m afraid of our government.”

“I’m afraid of being alone.”

Then we went out into the back parking lot and we smashed the plates into tiny pieces. After we collected all of our broken fears, we started to glue them back together in the shape of the cross (you can see it right here).

Christ’s cross shatters our fears, it breaks down the moments that haunt us, and remind us over and over again that we are not alone. To wear a cross around our necks, to see one in the sanctuary, is a witness to the fact that the cross shatters our fears. The cross is a reminder that God is with us; with us in on the seas of life, with us in our most frightened moments, with us when we need him.

This part of the sanctuary is called the nave. The word comes from the Latin navis, which means “ship.” If you look up at the ceiling, it looks like the inside of a boat. In this place we are bombarded with images of the cross and the ship on the sea as a reminder of how God is with us.

Every week we gather here into this boat, with Christ as the captain, calming the wind and the waves of our fears.

Every week we hear scriptures, and hymns, and prayers that help to remind us who is our real hope and salvation while the world feels like it’s falling apart.

Every week we gather in the boat to remember that Jesus promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age.

Don’t be afraid. Amen.

The Gifts of God – Hope

Isaiah 12.2-6

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

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Over the last few weeks we have been going through a sermon series on The Gifts of God. This has been particularly fitting considering the fact that Advent is usually a time when we fret about what we will be purchasing for everyone else. However, this Advent, we have been reflecting on what God has given us. Today we continue the sermon series with God’s gift of Hope.

When I was a kid, even when I was as young as some of our preschoolers, I loved Star Wars. We had the old VHS versions of “A New Hope” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” The covers were so worn from use that you could barely read the writing, and the film inside the VHS tapes was starting to crackle from excessive usage. But I loved them nonetheless.

Some of the themes were lost on me as a child but I loved the light saber fights, the fundamental battle of Good vs. Evil (The Darkside vs. The Light), and that a kid from a Tatooine moisture farm could go from bulls-eyeing womp rats in T-16 to saving the entire galaxy.

Star Wars taught me that, with the right cause, even the weak could triumph. Star Wars taught me that we are not defined by our past and are given opportunities to change. And Star Wars taught me about hope.

In the beginning of Episode IV, aptly titled “A New Hope”, the galaxy is in disarray and the evil Empire continues to exert its power over the powerless. For a generation, people of all shapes and sizes cowered under the rule of the emperor and started to forget the way things used to be. However, a group of people held onto the hope of a new future, they called themselves The Rebel Alliance, and they believed that things could change.

Isaiah 12 is about hope for the future. Like the rebels from the Star Wars universe, Isaiah fundamentally believed that a day would come when everything would be turned upside down and salvation would be delivered.

With confidence, Isaiah declared a profound trust in the Lord, a trust without fear. With hope, Isaiah envisioned that future day when all of God’s people would give thanks to the Lord and make God’s deeds known among the nations. With joy, Isaiah could hear the songs of the future praising the mighty works of the Lord, for he would have done gloriously.

And on that day, God’s people will draw water from the wells of salvation.

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The man felt empty; like something was missing from his life. He had parents who loved him, he had gone to the right school, he had a good job, but things didn’t feel right. Whenever the holiday seasons came around he did not have the energy the call his parents, he resented the happy families at department stores purchasing gifts, and he abstained from the holiday radio channels.

He couldn’t explain it but one day he lost his patience with his family when they kept asking him about whether or not he was happy. One day at work he screamed at a customer after losing his patience. And one night, while he sat in his apartment, he realized how empty and lonely he felt.

He continued like this for some time. Living a dry and empty life, until he met her. She was everything he could have hoped for; smart, pretty, funny. They immediately hit it off, and in her he believed he found the solution for his emptiness, in her he thought he found the one thing that could fill him again.

The beginning of their marriage was wonderful; they saw the world with hope and expectation. They both were not filled, but they had more than they had in a long time. But it started to fade. Arguments with the in-laws, shouting matches in the living room, and nights spent sleeping in other rooms emptied them of the joy and hope they once felt.

They were at a crossroads in their relationship and were unsure of how to move forward. Both of them were too proud to try counseling, and definitely too proud to apologize, so they just continued with the thinly veiled frustration with one another. But then they had an idea: “Maybe if we have a child, it will fix all our problems, it will bring us closer together.”

They had some stability after the first, but when things reverted back to the pre-baby days, they decided to have a second child, and then a third. What they didn’t know, but what many of should know, is that even the perfect child cannot fill the emptiness within us. No child should be expected to make up for our baggage, and no child should be expected to heal our brokenness.

But this habit and rhythm in the family didn’t stop. After the kids, the parents tried to fill themselves with experiences and material possessions. They went on vacations they couldn’t afford, they took out a loan on a house they could never pay back, and every Christmas had to be better (and filled with more gifts) than the last. But all of these things failed to fill the emptiness they felt.

And on that day, God’s people will draw water from the wells of salvation.

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Jesus once met a woman at a well and confronted her emptiness. She had attempted to fill her life with man after man and yet there was something missing. Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

Many of us are broken. Actually, the truth is, we are all broken. Most of us just don’t want to admit it. We have good days, but there are times that we feel dry and empty inside. We seek out the wrong objects to validate our lives: a spouse, a career, a child. And none of those things are strong enough to hold our identity together.

Yet, God offers us this living water, water from a well that never runs dry. When we start to see the hope that God has given us, when we rest our identity on the fact that we are first a child of God, when we drop our buckets into God’s well of salvation things starts to change.

God knows our thoughts and minds. God witnesses our brokenness and sinfulness. And God still loves us anyway. God’s love is truly unconditional. God’s love is unmerited. God’s love is filled with hope for our futures.

I’ve only been doing this whole pastor thing for two and a half years, but two and a half years is long enough to know that most of us, if not all of us, are looking for love and validation in all the wrong places. We expect our children to makes our lives better, we expect the presents under the tree to make our lives fuller, and we expect our spouses to fix all of our problems.

Jesus offers us something totally and wonderfully different. Jesus offers us hope from the well of salvation. A hope in a future not defined by our past. A future not limited by the mistakes we make here and now. A future not corrupted by the powers of death.

Jesus offers us hope, a hope unlike any other, a hope that can truly fill us.

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When we find our hope in the Lord, we can stand up to the intolerance and injustice in our midst because we know God’s sees the world differently.

When we find our hope in the Lord, the presents under the tree will not leave us looking for the next fix because we will know that the greatest gift we’ve ever received is Jesus.

When we find our hope in the Lord, we can confront the brokenness in the world and know that life here on earth is not the end.

Isaiah had hope, hope for a day when God would show up, hope for a time when God would make all things new. Isaiah prayed for a future where people would sing praises for the glorious power of the Lord. Isaiah dreamed about a day when God would offer the wells of salvation to the world.

That hope became real on the first Christmas, and that hope is still real and available to you and to me.

Jesus calls to each of us today and says, “I can fill you. I can fill you with the living water that never runs dry. I can bring you to the well of salvation. I can fill you with hope, and love, and validation. I can fill you with joy, and peace, and purpose. I can fill you and turn your life around.

Amen.

 

(With thanks to the Tamed Cynic, Jason Micheli, for inspiring parts of this sermon)

Devotional – Mark 1.7

Devotional:

Mark 1.7

He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

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I was in the middle of a short homily when I started worrying about whether or not the water would be too cold for the baptism. You never can tell how a child will react to the living water; some laugh as if it is tickling them while it trickles down their hair, some scream in fear as the cold water seeps into their clothing, and others remain stupefied by a grown man wearing a long white dress pouring water onto their head. I stood in front of the local community hoping that this baptism would go smoothly, rather than be remembered for the blood curdling cries during the sacrament.

I had picked the beginning of Mark’s gospel for my baptismal homily; John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan. I love the text because it is concise and too the point while remaining profoundly theological. I shared with gathered body John’s ability to bring in the crowds for the repentance of their sins out in the wilderness when Sawyer began to squirm around in his mother’s arms. Without really thinking about what I was doing, I walked over to the family in their pews, reached for Sawyer, picked him up, and continued preaching. For a few moments I continued with whatever I was saying but it felt as if everyone had disappeared and Sawyer and I were the only ones remaining in the sanctuary. I was unsure why I had felt God push me to pick him up, but as I held him close I felt the words of John come alive for me: “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” Here I was holding a precious baby boy, who kept smiling as he stared at the hair growing on my face and I was struck by his preciousness. When I baptized him with the living water I felt unworthy to do what I was doing, and then became profoundly thankful for God’s presence in that beautiful moment.

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Through the waters of baptism Sawyer, and all of us, experienced a new beginning. Like the event of John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan, everything would be different from that moment forward. We covenanted to raise Sawyer in the faith, to pray fervently for him, and to be abundantly present for him in times of need. The church is at its best when we make good on the promises we make to the children we baptize, something I look forward to participating in during Sawyer’s life.

In this season of Advent we are reminded of the new beginning that took place in Bethlehem in a manger. Moreover, in our baptisms we had the privilege of being incorporated into God’s cosmic story to be God’s children. While we prepare for Christmas, I encourage all of you to be thankful for your baptisms, and remember that God came in the form of a baby, just like Sawyer, to dwell among us.

 

Devotional – Isaiah 55.1-2

Devotional:

Isaiah 55.1-2

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 

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I stood behind a table filled with enough food for a feast. We had completed our service and work in Beckley, West Virginia and now we were hosting a community meal for the many families that we had worked with during the week. The room was full of exhausted middle-schoolers sitting next to the children they had been reading with all week in addition to the parents and relatives that were invited as well. The meal was free for all in attendance and there was a steady line for 45 minutes as we served and ate together.

Offering food and drink without a cost is a remarkable gift that the church has to offer to our communities. In two weeks our church will be hosting a Community Cook-Out for the people in our neighborhood for free. Like the prophet Isaiah we are inviting everyone who thirsts to come to drink from our waters, to eat what is good, and delight themselves in rich food.

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However, we recognize that (as Paul said) “food will not bring us close to God” (1 Corinthians 8.8). Without a willingness to build relationships with the people we serve and dine with, food will remain an ordinary element of life. When we served the food to the people in Beckley, West Virginia it would have remained a simple and nice gesture unless we were willing to sit side by side with our brothers and sisters and foster new relationships. Even with all the greatest and most delicious food it would have meant very little without our youth sitting down and laughing with their new friends. It is my hope and prayer that everyone in attendance that night will remember the joy of conversation rather than the food that we provided.

Offering food and drink is a wonderful thing to do as Christians. Hosting a meal at our homes for neighbors and friends reflects the goodness and abundance that God has provided in our lives. Yet, if we are not willing to offer our friendship with our food than we have neglected to take the necessary step to live out God’s Word in the world.

This week I challenge you to think about someone in your life who could benefit from receiving a free and delicious meal. Perhaps you have someone that you could take out to lunch, or invite over for dinner. But more than that I encourage you to think of how your willingness to love them and offer your sincere friendship will have a greater impact than any food or drink you could ever offer.