Modern Day Bethlehems

It’s Christmas Eve, and we’ve got all the makings for a most incredible night. Stars in the sky. Celestial choirs. Good tidings of great joy for the whole world.

But I want to talk about things less lofty, things more earthly than holy. I am caught by Luke’s description of Jesus’ birth. In just three verses practically the whole Christmas story—Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem, Mary’s pregnancy, the birth of Jesus, and where they stayed while they were in Bethlehem. What usually takes the majority of a Christmas pageant was done here in the economy of 3 sentences.

I don’t know about you, but I would have thought Luke would have written more. After all, we’ve imagined it a thousand times over. In story books, in carols and song, in the contemplation of our prayer life. Read more…

Mary’s Yes

Luke 1:26-56
Did you ever say a Yes that changed your life? I remember Jonathan, the guy in the horn section who was really a piano major, asking me over for a lunch of homemade spaghetti. I liked home cooked food, so I said yes. The sauce was so good, I thought, I have to figure out how to get more of this marinara. Little did I know I would marry the guy.

Or my friend Lynn, teaching English in Japan, who, on a lark, said yes to interviewing for an anchor position with NHK, the prestigious Japanese public broadcast network. She’d never been in the news business and was unexpectedly offered the job. She didn’t end up taking the position, but it planted a seed for what became her career as a TV news reporter and anchor.

Saying Yes can change your life, and it seems to me, that often we say yes without realizing all Read more…

Advent Plays the Blues

They call it stormy Monday/but Tuesday’s just as bad
Wednesday is worse/and Thursday’s oh so sad.

I am a dabbler in popular music genres, but something has always grabbed me about the blues. The Blues emerge from the Black experience of oppression and discrimination. But the repetition, the expressive “blue” notes, the story telling are popular because they communicate something fundamental about the human experience. Blues music contrasts the world as it is, and the world as it should be. It expresses the pain at how far the two are apart, and the longing for something better.

It seems to me that the blues are particularly well suited to the spirituality of Advent. Advent is not, after all, pre-Christmas; Read more…

Trust in the Slow Work of God

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go… That song always made the holiday trek to family seem so quaint. The reality in my family, however, was different. The eight-hour car rides to western NY state were long for my brother and I. We read and sang songs; we drew an imaginary line down the middle of the car and argued about who crossed it; we played endless rounds of the alphabet game. And about every 20 minutes we would ask, “Are we there yet?”

“Are we there yet?” was the question in Peter’s community, too. This is one of the latest letters of the New Testament, probably written by a follower of Peter, around the year 100. Jesus had promised that he would return to usher in God’s reign of righteousness.
Sure, he had warned that there Read more…

The Baker’s Dozen

“The Baker’s Dozen” – Advent 1

This is a picture of the original St Nicholas, whose feast day is this week.  The Santa Claus we know of today comes from this real-life saint who was born in Greece in the 3rd century.  But he doesn’t look like Santa Claus, does he?  But some people remember Santa this way, including the Dutch. I am going to share with you an old story from when the Dutch came to America two centuries ago, and how they kept the traditions of St Nicholas alive.  (Read The Baker’s Dozen, a Dutch folktale, retold by Aaron Shepard.)

“Why not give more?” The question, inspired by the generosity of St Nicholas, echoes in my heart each time I read this book. And it fits the legends of St Nicholas. The story goes that Nicholas was born to a wealthy family, but both of his parents Read more…

The Anti-Stewardship Sermon

Matthew 25:1-13

Back in the day, I was a stewardship preacher—congregations would have me come and preach their Commitment Sundays. I took up the challenge of using the lectionary, the three-year cycle of assigned readings. It meant that instead of picking texts for the day, I had to connect the assigned bible passage to faith and money.

One time the lectionary text was where Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his only son Isaac. I was stumped at the stewardship connection at first, but then I realized that in ancient times, children were considered a form of wealth. Abraham’s leap of faith to let go of his own son made a provocative connection the leap of faith we take every Read more…

Three Little Words

Romans 3:19-28

It is said that a good marriage depends on the number of times you say three little words… “You’re right, dear.”

OK, that’s not what you were thinking, but doesn’t it feel good to be right? So often our assessments are wrong, our memory fails, or our reasoning is faulty. So isn’t it a delicious pleasure on rare occasions you can think to yourself, (inside your head), “I told you so.” Love may make the world go round, but when push comes to shove, we love to BE RIGHT.

But it isn’t always easy to get things right. Remember when they used to ask you in the grocery stores if you wanted paper or plastic bags? It seemed like a simple question, but doing the calculation proved otherwise. Plastic is made with Read more…

Give to God What Is God’s

Matthew 22:15-22

Fridays are my day off, so this week, I went about my usual day off business: yoga class, visiting my mother, and stopping by the grocery and the library. I also looked over two bids I have on some house projects. I talked to my brother about whether we will pay for some extra services for our mom. A typical day off.

When I sat down to write my sermon, I remembered my activities. And I realized that for each thing I did, there was a price tag: the membership at the gym, the taxes paid to the city to provide for services like the library, the cost of ongoing things like groceries and caregiving, and planned investments like home renovation, not to mention the unseen costs of housing, insurance, and utilities we pay for that we utilize each day. I had thought that when I sat down to write my sermon on “Give to God the things that are Read more…

God’s Vision of Life

Matthew 22

When I was six, I was thrown out of my own birthday party. We had been playing pin the tail on the donkey, and I lost. I don’t really remember why I had such a temper tantrum. All I remember is my mom whisking me out of the kitchen and to the bedroom where I was given a good talking to and a spanking.

Perhaps it’s the weeping and gnashing of teeth that I did that day, but something reminds me of the guy who shows up to the wedding feast without a wedding robe in Jesus’ parable. The wedding robes were the expected garment at these celebrations; whether borrowed or owned, you had to wear one. His flagrant disrespect for the occasion deeply offends the king. He banishes him to the outer darkness. Jesus ends the parable with the ominous words, Read more…

A Meditation on Judgment

Matthew 21:33-46

I have to confess: I have never liked the Gospel of Matthew’s emphasis on God’s judgment. It is a theme that appears throughout the Gospel where Jesus tells that at the end of time, God will determine the truth, whether people were faithful to God or not. Those who are faithful are welcomed to God’s kingdom, but the unfaithful are “thrown into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Perhaps it’s because I was a chatty kid in school and got put on the “bad citizen’s list;” maybe it was that time when the teacher made me throw out my paper of apples because I had colored the whole page red before cutting them out instead of staying inside the lines. I wanted so much to be good but couldn’t quite accomplish it. And when I was reprimanded, I felt that outer darkness. So when I Read more…