Christmas Shoes

sandals2

John 1:6-8, 19-28 NRSV

Regarding the gift of Christmas, the gift of God’s enfleshed self to the world, John said, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

It was written in Jewish law that “pupils should do everything that is commanded by their teacher with the exception of unlacing the teacher’s shoes.”  The subservient task of kneeling to the ground and unlacing another’s shoe was something only a slave should perform.[i]

This means that John not only regarded himself unworthy to be a disciple of Jesus, he believed he was unworthy to even be a slave of Jesus. When he compared himself to the one wearing the shoes of Christmas, John regarded himself as lower than the lowliest lowly.

And who could blame him? John was talking about God, the Holy Creator of all that is, the Divine One who has come down to earth wearing shoes. John was talking about the great sovereign of the universe from on high, miraculously and lovingly stooping  low enough to the earth to kneel down to the ground,  put on, lace up and wear shoes. John was talking about heavenly feet accustomed to walking on celestial streets where angels trod that have put on earthly shoes in order to walk the same roads each one of us walk.

Although it was John’s plan to make our windy and rocky roads straight and smooth for these holy shoes, the purpose of these shoes was to walk every crooked path, experience every twist and turn, identify with every bump, every dip, every rut. The Lord of Hosts stooped down, knelt down, and laced up shoes to walk down snaky roads; travel down uncertain roads; journey down long, lonely, and desolate roads.

God knelt down and put shoes on feet that would grow weary and sore from those roads. God laced up shoes that would cause great suffering when Jesus’ feet would swell, blister and bleed.

Those shoes ran down fearful, foreign roads to escape Herod’s sword. Those shoes would journey down dark, dangerous wilderness roads that try the soul. Those shoes would travel down desperate roads to bring good news to the poor. Those shoes would travel down neglected roads to give dignity to those marginalized by a religion that had been hijacked by evil. Those shoes would walk roads lined with the hypocritical and judgmental to defend and forgive the sinner. Those shoes would move down roads paved with suffering to heal and restore the sick. They would go down tear-soaked roads to comfort mourners and raise the dead.

And near the end of his road on this earth, those holy shoes, worn, frayed and tattered by life, would lead him to a table with his friends. After supper, he would get up from that table, take off his outer robe, and tie a towel around himself. He would then pour water into a basin. And like his humble beginning in a lowly manger, he would once again stoop down, kneel to the ground, and lovingly, empathetically and subserviently untie the shoes of each one at that table, even the shoes of the one who would betray him and of the one who would deny ever knowing him.

Now, in the historical and cultural context of the day, the disciples’ shoes would be removed long before they reclined at the table. However, figuratively and theologically speaking, Jesus untied their laces and removed their shoes.[ii]

Relief, respite and release overcame them as they realized that none of their unworthiness prevents their Lord from graciously taking their feet into his hands and washing away all of the dirt and grime from every road they had ever traveled. None of their filth is too offensive. There are no stains too deep. The fresh water from the basin that restores, refreshes and relaxes their wearied feet is miraculously transformed into living water that saves their wearied souls.

The good news of Christmas is that the Holy One, whose laces we are unworthy to untie, comes to us, stoops down, kneels before us, and unlaces our shoes, freeing us in the places we have been too tightly bound.  He empathetically takes our feet into his hands and washes our dirty, sore and weary feet, and makes us ready for the road again.

That is the good news of Christmas. Now, listen to the good irony of Christmas.

John believed he was unworthy to untie the shoes of Christmas. However, because of those Christmas shoes, John is not only worthy to untie and remove those shoes, John is actually worthy to put on and wear those shoes.

Through the gift of Christmas, through the gift of the God who has walked where we walk, through the gift of the Divine who stoops down, unties and removes our shoes, washing our feet and our souls, we are made worthy to not only untie the shoes of Christmas, but to wear the shoes of Christmas. We are worthy to put on Christmas shoes to go where he went, to do as he did, to include as he included, to forgive as he forgave, to love as he loved, to bend ourselves to the ground to touch the places in people that most need touching.

It is believed that fourteenth century saint Teresa of Avila once said:

Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world, and yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.

The Apostle Paul has written:

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news (Romans 10:15).

Don’t worry. It is perfectly natural to feel unworthy to untie those laces, wear those shoes, to be the feet, the body of Christ.  And if you believe you are unworthy you are in very good company.

Abraham and Sarah did not believe they were young enough to be worthy (Genesis 17:17). Jacob was not truthful enough to be worthy (Genesis 27). Moses was not articulate enough (Exodus 4:10). David was not faithful enough. (2 Samuel 11:2-4). Rahab was not pure enough (Joshua 2:1). Jeremiah was not mature enough (Jeremiah 1:6). Mary was not rich or powerful or old enough (Luke 1).

Yet, God makes the unworthy worthy to be God’s enfleshed presence in this world, to be God’s body, hands, eyes, and feet in this world. As the Apostle Paul reminds each of us:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).

William Willimon tells a wonderful story about a visit to a fraternity house one night while he was the campus minister at Duke University. The reputations of the fraternity houses at Duke were getting so bad that the University Dean required each fraternity to have a certain number of religious programs each year to give them at least some semblance of respectability.

One of the fraternities invited Willimon to lead one of the programs. He was to come to the frat-house and give a lecture on “Morality and Character on Campus.”

On the appointed evening, Willimon went to fraternity and knocked on the door. When the door opened, he was greeted by a young boy who appeared to be nine or ten years old.  He thought, “What in the world is a little boy like this doing in a frat house at this time of night?”

“They are waiting for you in the common room,” the little boy said politely. Willimon followed the boy back to the common room where all the young men were gathered, glumly waiting for the preacher’s presentation.

Willimon says for about an hour he talked about morality, responsibility, character and faith and how the frat houses on campus gave little evidence of any of those things. When he finished his talk he asked if there were any questions. Of course they were none. So he thanked them for inviting him and headed out.

One young man got up and walked him to the door. Before they got to the door, Willimon overhead him say to the little boy, “Hey buddy, you go and get ready for bed. I’ll come up, tuck you in and read you a story in a few minutes.”

When they got outside, the fraternity boy lit a cigarette, took a long drag on it, and thanked the pastor for coming out.

Willimon turned and asked, “Who is that kid in there, and what is he doing here?”

“Oh, that’s Donny,” said the young man. “Our fraternity is part of the Big Brother program in Durham. We met Donny that way. His mom is addicted to drugs and is having a tough time. Sometimes it gets so bad that she can’t care for him. So we told Donny to call us if he ever needs us. We go over, pick him up, and he stays with us until it is okay to go back home. We take him to school, buy his clothes, books, and stuff like that.”

Willimon stood there dumbfounded. He said, “That’s amazing. You know, I take back everything I said in there about you guys being immoral and irresponsible.”

“I tell you what’s amazing,” said the college boy as he took another drag on his cigarette, “what’s amazing is that God would pick a guy like me to do something this good for somebody else.”[iii]

In other words: “What’s amazing is that God, the Holy Creator of all that is, would make an unworthy guy like me worthy to not only untie, but to wear the shoes of Christmas.

Let us pray together.

God, continue to remind us that you have made each of worthy to untie and wear Christmas shoes to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Amen.

 

INVITATION TO THE TABLE

The angel announced to the shepherds that they were bringing good news of great joy for all people. All people.

Thus, all people, those who belong to this church, those who belong to other churches, and those who belong to no church, are invited to gather around this table and receive holy communion. All people.

This means people of great faith and people of great doubt. All people.

May all prepare for communion as we remain seated and sing together.

 

COMMISSIONING AND BENEDICTION

Go now into the world as the enfleshed presence of God, the body of Christ wearing Christmas shoes on your feet.

Go remembering that Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.

Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world, and yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.

And may the love of Christmas, the grace of Christmas and the communion of Christmas be with us all. Amen.


[i] Alan Culpepper, Smyth and Helwys Commentary: Mark, 2007, p. 47.

[ii] From a sermon by J. Will Ormond entitled Advent on a Shoestring preached during Advent in 1987 at the Columbia Theological Seminary.

[iii] From a sermon by William Willimon in Pulpit Resource, January 2006, p. 19.

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We Need a Little Christmas Right this Very Minute

john the baptist

Living in a nation where greed, racism and bigotry make Christians blind to all kinds evil, even overlooking accusations of child molestation, I cannot help but to think that what we need more than anything else is a little Christmas, right this very minute!

The gospels tell us that in order to get a little Christmas, we first need to get a little John the Baptist, a voice crying out in the wilderness telling people the God’s honest truth.

They tell us that “multitudes” went to hear the truth, even though they knew that sometimes the truth hurts. However, they instinctively knew that it was the truth that was going to set them free.

John preached something like: “You are not right. Some part of you needs to be cut off; something inside of you needs to be burned away.”

From his prolific sermon illustrations, “the fire, the ax, and chaff,” John was preaching that before something can be born anew, something rotten has to die. Before healing can take place, something sick has to be removed. As the “Me Too” movement has taught us in recent weeks, before something can be restored, someone needs to resign.

And as John preached with brutal honesty, the eyes of the blind were opened, and the first thing they saw was a little Christmas.

As we prepare this place of worship for Christmas, making a way for Christ, may we search our souls, asking what we must we do to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.

As we decorate this place with poinsettias, remembering the star that signaled love being born in a town called Bethlehem, may all indifference perish, may silence in the face of evil pass away, may all complacency be banished, as we stand up and speak out for the inclusive love of Christ to be born in right here in our town.

As we decorate this place with wreaths signifying the never-ending reign of Christ, may all despair and resignation die, as we resist to fight hate and persist to do justice in our world knowing that the love of God never ends.

As we decorate this place with mistletoe known throughout the world as the plant of peace, may the fear that divides us be removed, as we do what we can, where we can, however we can, to work for peace on earth.

As we decorate this place with holly and ivy, may all self-righteousness and spiritual pride and any feelings of superiority be cut off, as we cling to divine strength.

As we decorate this place with the fire of candles, may all prejudice be burnt away, as we light up our world with grace.

May our lights shine honestly, pointing out all of our failures and flaws, yet giving us the mercy to be better and do better.

May our lights shine so brightly that the eyes of all people are able to see a little Christmas.

Room for Christmas

hope

Isaiah 64:1-9 NRSV

It was a dark time in a dark world. The prophet Isaiah prays a desperate prayer asking God to rip open the heavens and come down and heal the nation, to bring peace on earth and joy to the people; a prayer asking God to establish a new order that will override the destructiveness of those in power. It’s a prayer of hope that God will come in the same liberating way as God had come in the past.

However, the mood of the prayer changes. Hopeful expectation turns into dreadful despair as the sins and transgressions of the people are considered.

The term “unclean” means “ritually unacceptable.” It is not believed that Israel is a community where God’s presence is willing to come. Like a “filthy cloth,” the nation is so impure and contaminated that no one would dare touch it.

Like “a faded leaf,” it’s in danger of rotting away. Because the people have called on false gods, there seems to be no room for the God of truth. Because they have turned their backs on social justice, there seems to be no place for the God of mercy. Because the people have chosen a way of violence, there seems to be no way for the God of peace. There seems to be no hope.

But then, the mood changes once more with one of the most hopeful words in the scriptures: “YET!”

YET, you are our Parent. YET, you are our potter. YET, we are all the work of your hand. YET, we are your people.

Isaiah hopefully asserts: YET, you made us, you own us, you are responsible for us, we belong to you. Thus, we trust that you will indeed come again to love us, to save us, just as you have come in the past.

Advent is a time of celebrating this hopeful: “YET!”

It was a dark time in a dark world. The sick and injured were passed by on the other side by prominent men claiming to be religious. The poor were unfairly taxed. Foreigners, scapegoated. Women, objectified. Victims of abuse, stigmatized. Anyone different, marginalized. The entire nation, demoralized.

YET, a peasant girl named Mary carries hope in her womb and a song in her heart:

 ‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…

..he has scattered the proud…
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

This is the hope of Advent! The world seems dark, YET, the Light of the World is coming!

Later, the parents-to-be were on the road to pay taxes to a puppet king of an occupied land. The road was long, and being with child made the road especially difficult. And to make things more difficult, when it was time for the baby to be born, they discovered that there was no room in the inn.

There was no room. Sounds like the desperate prayer of Isaiah.

There was no room. There was no place. There was no way. There was no hope.

YET, as God had proved over and over throughout history, from the covenant of Abraham to the great Exodus, there is nothing in all of creation that can separate the world from God’s love. For God, would once again come! In spite of every demonic power that tried to thwart God’s coming, God came.

And the good news of this Advent season is that we know that God still comes. And there is nothing in all of creation, nor things above nor below, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor life nor death that can stop God from coming.

A church once presented a Christmas play. You know the kind. I used to be in one every year when I was growing up. Three boys playing shepherds are carrying long sticks wearing bath robes with towels wrapped around their heads. And three more boys playing wise men wearing cardboard Burger-King crowns wrapped in Reynolds Wrap are carrying boxes decorated with left-over Christmas garland. They all walk up on the chancel, greet Mary and Joseph, and bow down before the baby Jesus.

Well, during one particular play, after the wise men and shepherds came and bowed before Jesus, a spokesperson for the wise men made the announcement: “We three kings have traveled from the East to bring the baby Jesus gifts of gold, circumstance and mud.” Of course, laughter filled the sanctuary.

But you know what they say: “out of the mouths of babes.”

In the circumstance of being told there is no room for you, there is no place for you, there is no way for you, and there is no hope for you, through Christ, God came to Mary and Joseph and God comes to us and says: “YET!”

The good news of Advent is that God comes to us in all of our circumstances and offers us the assurance that there is no circumstance on earth or in heaven that is beyond God’s amazing grace.

And coming as a human being, coming into the world as a fleshly body, a body made up of dust and water, God comes and joins us in our mud.

Through Christ, God came into and still comes into our muck of pain and sickness and offers comfort and healing.

Through Christ, God came into and still comes into our muck of loneliness and fear and shares divine presence and a peace beyond understanding.

The world says there is no room; things are not going to get any better. The world says there is no way; the good old days are long gone. The world says there is no place; evil will get the best of you. The world says there is no hope; peace on earth and good will shall never happen.

YET, a young woman named Mary goes into labor as God says: “I am working all things together for the good!”

YET, a baby is born in the darkness as God says: “The best days of life are always before you.”

YET, a child cries in the night as God says: “Although you cannot go back to the good old days, good new days are coming!

The world says: “There is no room. You will never amount to anything.”

The world says: “There is no way. Sin will always get the best of you.”

The world says: “There is no place for you. Nobody really cares about you.”

The world says: “For you, there is no room, no way, no place, no hope.”

YET, a baby is wrapped in bands of cloth born to underserving, unwed teenagers in an occupied land, as God says: “I love you just as you are, and I come to wrap you in my mercy, clothe you with my grace. I know your sins and I forgive you. I will always be with you and never away from you. I will always be for you and never against you. I will always stay by your side fighting for you, even if it means dying for you.”

The world says: “Racism will never end. Bigotry will not cease. Misogyny isn’t going away. There is no way this country will ever come together. There is no room for diversity. There is no place for equality. There is no hope for unity.”

YET, a brown-skinned baby’s birth to a Hebrew woman is announced by angels: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for ALL the people. For you, ALL of you, a baby is born who is Christ the Lord, and through him there is no longer Jew or gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one!”

The good news of Advent is while the world often seems dark, YET the light of God will not be diminished.

Fake news seems to divide us, YET the good news that unites us will not suppressed.

The poor always seem to get the raw end of the deal, YET the justice of God will not be defeated.

The sound of gun violence is deafening, YET the Word of God will not be silenced.

Our leaders rule with fear-mongering, YET the Prince of Peace will not be conquered.

The powerful lie to push their agendas, YET truth cannot be hidden.

Hate seems to have its way, YET love will not lose.

Sin seems to get the best of us, YET grace will not fail.

Despair seems to overwhelm, YET hope will not die.

The nation feels like a faded leaf that’s about to rot away, YET the kingdom of God will reign forever and ever.

It’s Advent, and our world grows darker; YET, it’s Advent, and the Light of the World is coming!

And the darkness will not overcome it.

It’s Advent. God is acting. The Spirit is moving. Christ is coming. Hallelujah.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: One Shepherd’s Story

 

Written for the children’s Christmas program entitled “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” for First Christian Church, Fort Smith, AR. 


AngelShepherds

 

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the dark,

Not a light was shining, not even a spark.

Yet, people were hoping for some kind of sign;

That something would happen, that God’s light would shine.

 

The children were hungry, so afraid and tired.

It was joy. It was peace and love they desired.

Mama was worried, and I was such a mess.

Neither one of us could sleep, nor could we rest.

 

When out in the fields we both heard a loud sound,

We went outside to take a good look around.

We met friends who were watching our flock by night;

Up in the sky, we saw a heavenly sight!

 

Angels singing about good news of great joy

For every woman and man, girl and boy.

They sang about God coming down to the earth.

They sang about the promise of a new birth.

 

All barriers broken, even religion and race—

With unconditional love and unfettered grace!

The love was unearned and the grace was so free,

All we could do was drop down to our knees.

 

Down on the ground, I pondered the intrusion,

I thought that this might all be an illusion.

‘Twas hard to believe, much harder to behold!

The world was so scary, so dark and so cold.

 

But it wasn’t a dream! It was all very real!

And the angels had more good news to reveal!

“To you is born in the city of David,

A Savior for whom the whole world has waited!”

 

“The child will be wrapped from his head to his foot

In bands of cloth. In a manger he’ll be put.

Although he’ll look like an ordinary kid,

The light he’ll give can never ever be hid.”

 

Without hesitation we knew we must go!

We all went together, the children in tow.

We found God’s gift, just as the angels foretold.

The world no longer seemed dark, nor was it cold.

 

His eyes—how they twinkled! His dimples—how merry!

His brown skin so pure, his nose like a berry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.

This baby loved me. Somehow, God told me so!

 

The shepherds, my fam‘ly, they felt the same way!

Could this be the answer to all we had prayed?

He was so precious, so humble and so mild.

We bowed at the manger of this holy child.

 

He was tiny and meek, but he was no elf.

I cried when I saw him, in spite of myself!

But a wink of his eye, a turn of his head,

Let us all know that we had nothing to dread.

 

He spoke not a word, but the babe said so much;

Lifting not a finger, our hearts the child touched.

Laying in the straw, he closed his eyes and slept.

We turned toward each other; to our feet we leapt!

 

We sang, we danced for all that had taken place:

The angels, the baby, the amazing grace!

And to all we exclaimed with all of our might:

“Into the world’s darkness shines forth a great light!”

Jesus Is the Answer

Jesus is the answer

Ephesians 1:15-23 NRSV

On this Sunday after Thanksgiving, I am most thankful for Jesus, for I truly believe with all of my heart that Jesus is the answer.

Now, I know how cliché, cheesy and bumper-stickery that sounds, but I can’t help it. It’s the God’s honest truth. Jesus is the answer.

And you must know that I dislike few things more than bumper-sticker theology! It tears my nerves up when people try to reduce something as miraculously mysterious as faith in the Holy Creator of all that is into a few pithy words to slap on the back of a vehicle.

As Jimmy Buffet sings about some of the Fruitcakes who have hijacked Christianity these days, “The god’s honest truth is it’s not that simple.”

“Jesus is my co-pilot.” If Jesus is merely your co-pilot, I suggest you switch seats. Because Jesus wants to be your pilot, the one who makes the decisions, charts the course, and steers the ship.

“Honk if you love Jesus.” Please don’t do that. If you truly love Jesus, please, never toot your own horn. If you really love Jesus, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, love the outcast, forgive the sinner, care for the dying and be a friend to the lonely.

“Got Jesus?”  We need to learn Jesus cannot be “got.”  It is Jesus who wants to get us. He wants to get us to deny ourselves, pick up a cross and follow him. We don’t get Jesus to meet our needs. Jesus wants to get us to meet the needs of the world. We don’t get Jesus as some sort of ticket to heaven. Jesus wants to get us to bring heaven to earth.

“Jesus is the reason for the season.” Shouldn’t Jesus be reason for all of the seasons? Jesus wants to be the Lord over every season, every month, every day.

“Keep Christ in ‘Christmas.” Why don’t we first try to keep Christ in “Christian?” The reason so many people are turned off by Christians today is because many Christians act nothing like the Christ with whom they identify themselves.

I am thankful that faith in God cannot be condensed into a few simple words that will fit on a bumper sticker. Yet, this Sunday after Thanksgiving, I still am most thankful for the truth that Jesus is the answer.

On this Christ the King Sunday, I am thankful for these beautiful words of Ephesians:

God put this power to work in Christ…far above all rule and authority and power and dominion…And [God] has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Jesus is above all and is the head over all things.

That is why we celebrate this “Christ the King Sunday” on the last Sunday of the Christian calendar. In the end, when it is all said and done, in the final analysis of it all, it is all about Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the answer.

This is particularly good news for me as I am one who readily confesses that, when it comes to faith and theology, when it comes to this grace that we call life, I have far more questions than I have answers. In fact, over the years I have discovered that the more I know the less I know.

For me, life is as mysterious as it is miraculous. The very existence of God, and the specific revelation of God through Jesus Christ, is even more miraculously mysterious. God, the creator of all that is, is so incredibly large that I will never be able to wrap my mind around God. I will never understand the height, the depth and the breadth of the love of God.

My mind is not only very small, but I believe it is also very flawed. Whether one blames it on “original sin” or “the Fall of Humankind” or just “being born in an imperfect world,” we can agree that all of creation is seems to be fragmented. Consequently, as a creature on this earth, I will always understand God and God’s will for the world and my life as “seeing through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13). My understanding will always be limited, imperfect and incomplete.

The other day, someone asked me if I thought we were “living in the last days.”

Honestly, I don’t know much about such things. All I know is that life is precious and fleeting and none of us are guaranteed that today is not our last day.

On the days before Halloween someone asked me about the role of Satan and demons in the world. Again, I know very little about that. I believe demonic evil is real and personal. I have experienced it. But I don’t really know where it comes from or exactly why it exists in this world.

People have asked me the same questions about angels. Some people believe they have guardian angels that have intervened in their lives, sometimes saving their lives. Again, I don’t know much about that.

People ask me if God created it all, then who created God? Who was Cain’s wife? How did that fish swallow Jonah? How can God be both God and Jesus? If Jesus was God, how does God pray to God? Why do some people seem be blessed and others seem to cursed? Why are some people healed while others suffer and die? Do all people who do not accept Christ as their Lord and Savior go to Hell? What about people who have never heard of Jesus? What about two-thirds of the world’s population who were born and raised in another faith? What really happens to us after we die? Does the soul leave the body immediately and go to heaven? What does the Bible mean when it talks about the dead being raised on the last day?  Again, I know very little about such things.

And there are many people who agree with me on this. And they say that this is one of the reasons that they find faith in God so difficult. They don’t have all of the answers. Consequently, they call themselves agnostic. I respect that. In fact, I can oftentimes get along better with an agnostic than a Christian who believes they have all the answers.

However, for me, living in this fragmented world, I cannot imagine life without faith. Without faith, it’s difficult for me to understand how my life would not be devoid of meaning. There would be nothing to define my life, steer my life, fulfill my life, to give my life hope other than my own selfish desires. So to give my life meaning, I choose to believe that God is not completely mysterious.

After all, I do know some things. I know that I did not do anything to earn or deserve my life. I know life is in an inexplicable gift of grace. And I am compelled then to express gratitude for this gift. And the only way I know to do that is through a life of faith in the Giver. Therefore, I have chosen a meaningful life of faith in God as opposed to a meaningless life of agnosticism.

Furthermore, I have specifically chosen a life of Christian faith in God. I have chosen to make the God, that is revealed in Jesus Christ, my God and my Lord. I often wonder if I would have chosen this faith if I was born to parents in another part of the world. Nonetheless, I am very grateful that I have had the opportunity and the grace to make this choice, and I am grateful for the way that this choice informs my beliefs and enriches my life.

Consequently, my limited understanding of who God is, how God acts and what God desires is derived from the words and actions of Jesus as revealed in scripture. In other words, Jesus is the answer.

I don’t know much. I don’t have all of the answers. However, on this “Christ the King Sunday,” on this Sunday after Thanksgiving, I am very grateful that for me personally, Jesus is the answer. The revolutionary way of Jesus recorded in the Holy Scriptures—the radical way Jesus elevated the status of women, lowered himself to wash the feet of others, befriended the lowly, welcomed the stranger, learned from the foreigner, sought justice for the poor and the marginalized, brought wholeness to the disabled, fed the hungry, defended and forgave the sinner, embraced the untouchable, welcomed the children, told extravagant stories of grace and love, healed the sick—the scandalous way his selfless love for others led him to suffer and die on a cross, the way he sacrificially gave his body and inclusively poured his life out for all people, is more than enough to build my life around, to give my life purpose, meaning, direction and hope.

Question: Jarrett, what if we are living in the last days? Answer: I am just going to keep serving Jesus, keep doing the things that Jesus did, keep loving the people Jesus loved.

Question: Dr. Banks, how real and powerful is the demonic? Answer: Not as real and as powerful as Jesus.

Question: Rev. Banks, do you believe angels can save you? Answer: I believe Jesus saves me and that is enough for me.

Question: Rev. Dr., why do people suffer? Answer: Jesus suffered, thus when we suffer, I believe Jesus compassionately and intimately understands, and that is all I really need.

Question: Preacher, where are we going when we die? Answer: We need to be more concerned about where we are going while we are living, to the places and to the people Jesus went.

Question: Clergyman, what is the meaning of life? Answer: Jesus said that the greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Question: Minister, what will it take to make the church relevant in the 21st century? How can the church be revived to make a positive impact in the community, throughout the region and around the world?  Answer: Jesus. Jesus is the answer.

I know it sounds like a bumper sticker. But you know something? I really don’t care. Because for me, and I believe for every one of you, for people in every land, in every place, in every time, Jesus is the answer.

Jesus is my king, my lord, my savior, my friend, my guide, my hope in life and in death. I pray he is yours.

Let us pray together.

O Christ, may you reign in and through our lives, our church and reign in our world forever and ever. Amen.

Invitation to the Table

This is not my table or even the church’s table. This is the table of Jesus. Therefore, we invite those Jesus invited to his table. That’s everyone! And we exclude those Jesus excluded. That’s no one. Let us now prepare ourselves to receive this grace and experience this love in such away that it will give purpose, meaning, direction and hope.

Thanksgiving Day Collusion

Turkey

Like many of us, after a big Thanksgiving meal, the only thing I want to do is take a nap. It is like I am in some drug-induced coma!

Several years ago, we were told that the culprit behind our Thanksgiving afternoon slumber and subsequent Advent hangover was too much Tryptophan!

Although scientists are now telling us that the amount of Tryptophan found in turkeys is no greater than the amount found in chicken, there still seems to be something about Turkey that makes it difficult to keep one’s eyes open watching the Dallas Cowboys Thursday afternoon.

Do you know what I think?

[warning: satire ahead]

I think there might be some type of criminal collusion afoot here, some type of evil conspiracy to make Christians sleep through the next four weeks that we call Advent! In addition to the Tryptophan, perhaps our turkeys have been inserted with some drug to make Christians miss the real reason for this most wonderful of seasons!

We essentially sleep through Advent and Christmas each year and miss the good news that the God who created the heavens and earth loves all of us so much that God humbled God’s self and became one of us, suffering for us even to the point of death, even death on the cross.

How else can one explain the number of Christians who believe God calls some people “abominations” simply because of the way they were born? How else can one explain the number of Christians who defend men who brag about molesting women or prey on fourteen-year old girls? How else can one explain how many Christians believe that God is behind hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and fires? How else can one explain Christians who dehumanize and scapegoat others for living a different faith, speaking a different language, or having a different skin tone? What else explains the apathy of so many Christians towards the poor and the marginalized? What explains the failure of so many Christians to love their neighbors?

Maybe Christians have eaten so much turkey at Thanksgiving that they’ve slept through countless Christmases!

Christians go through the whole month of December with their head in a fog, their souls numb to the good news that God is with us all and for us all, always working all things together in our world for the good. Every year, wearing turkey goggles, we somehow fail to see the good news of Christmas.

Now, I know I am not going to convince you to skip the turkey this year. Therefore, I urge all of you to plan to detox your souls by participating in our Advent Services of Worship leading up to Christmas Eve. Fight the terrible turkey withdrawals! Stay awake! And see the good news that God is Emmanuel, God with us!

Prophetic Persecution

roy moore.jpg

Roy Moore recently defended himself with the words of Jesus: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

What must be said is that the prophets were not persecuted for displaying the Ten Commandments on government property.

The prophets were not persecuted for supporting state-sanctioned prayer in school.

The prophets were not persecuted for advocating for the governmental control of the bodies of women.

The prophets were not persecuted for protecting the rights of every citizen to own assault weapons.

The prophets were not persecuted for protecting the religious freedom of bigots to discriminate against minorities.

The prophets were not persecuted for stirring up fear and hatred of the foreigner in their midst.

The prophets were not persecuted for supporting legislation that blessed the rich and sent the poor away empty.

The prophets were not persecuted for fighting for the liberty and justice of the privileged.

No, what must be said is that the prophets were persecuted for supporting the moral values that has always made America great.

The prophets were persecuted for pointing out how any proposed legislation might break the greatest commandment to love our neighbors and may cause some of our neighbors harm, especially our poor neighbors.

The prophets were persected for standing up for justice for our most vulnerable citizens, such as the right of every child having equal access to an equitable and quality education.

The prophets were persecuted for elevating the status of women and protecting their freedoms and well-being.

The prophets were persecuted for promoting healing, health and peace for all people, especially for those living in poverty.

The prophets were persecuted for defending the rights and freedoms of those marginalized by the state and extreme religion.

The prophets were persecuted for always welcoming and accepting the stranger in their midst.

The prophets were persecuted for blessing the poor and sending the rich away empty.

The prophets were persecuted for fighting for the liberty and justice of all.

So, although Roy More may feel like he is being persecuted right now, he is not being persected like the prophets before us.