Baptism of Jesus 1-12-2020

January 11th, 2020

Several years ago (actually quite a few years ago) I was sitting at
one of those tables in front of the Cooper House in Santa Cruz (before
the earthquake.) It was a beautiful day, smell of sea in the air, colorful
people, and live music. Perfect except:
There was a young couple that came over and sat down at the table
next to me. They had a little three year old with them. His name was
Billy. I’ll never forget his name. Billy, said his dad, “You are a bad boy.
A bad boy. Bad, bad Billy.” Dad had to take a breath and then mom
starts in. “Bad boy Billy, bad, bad boy.” They were at him for what
seemed like forever; finally I got up and left.
Those parents had convinced me Billy was probably the badest boy
that ever lived. Worse yet, maybe they convinced Billy of that.
I was annoyed with those parents. Don’t they know children need
to be corrected but also reassured and told they’re loved.
Inside every boy and girl, and I suspect inside every big boy and
girl is a longing to be approved and accepted by their parents. When that
is missing there is like an empty hole there.
People used to talk about Arturo Toscanini. As a child he never
knew whether or not his mother loved him. When he grew up and
received the acclaim of vast crowds for his music, he never was quite
sure, never was quite confident, and never was really at peace.
How chilling, to read one woman in Fay Welden’s book, Female
Friends saying, “I felt a relief that mother died, now there is one less pair
of critical eyes to judge me.”
Thank goodness the father of Jesus was different.
Jesus as a human being needed support and affirmation much like
anyone else. And at his baptism, that wonderful father of his says; “You
are my beloved son, and on you my favor rests.”
And that’s not all. You might think; O well that was Jesus. No
wonder he was so positive. But the truth is, God said the same thing to
everyone seated here on the day of our baptism. We came up out of the
water and the spirit descended on us like a dove, and God the father said,
“Look at you. You’re my beloved daughter. You’re my beloved son. On
you my favor rests.”
I’m not sure why many people find it easy to be critical of
themselves and of others. It has often been noted that Jesus never called
people sinners. The woman was not an adulteress. She was a person of
worth who had committed and adulterous act. The man who stole is not
a thief, but a person of worth who committed a grievous crime. Jesus
could separate the action, which was bad and needed correction, from
the person, who was made in God’s image and worthy of love.
It would be good if we could all walk two steps behind ourselves
and listen to the remarks that come out of our mouths. Are most of them
critical, negative or positive…up building? Words are powerful. Tell someone they are ugly, stupid, bad, often
enough and they’ll start acting that way. Thank God the reverse is true.
If God were to speak to us again today, and whisper what He said
to us on the day of our Baptism, I believe he would say these words we
all need to hear:“I made you in my image. I love you. I’m crazy about you. On
you my favor rests. Don’t beat each other up, each other individually,
nationally, when you have differences. You’re much too smart for that.
You’re in my image. Don’t tear your neighbors down when they are
less than perfect. That’s my boy, that’s my girl you are talking about. I
made you with better manners than that. You’re my image. And if you
fall, don’t spend too much time kicking yourself. Get up, experience
forgiveness, and move on. You’re not just anyone. You’re my beloved
son, you’re my beloved daughter. On you my favor rests.

God Within 1-5-2020

January 4th, 2020

True story:
The congregation was very proud of their beautiful church, which
had stood proudly on the village common for generations.
But, one night just before Thanksgiving, a spark in the heating
system ignited a fire that destroyed the New England clapboard
structure. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the congregation was
devastated.
As soon as the fire marshal gave the all-clear, the stunned pastor
and parishioners combed the rubble to salvage the few things they could.
Then, interesting things began to happen.
A nearby church — a congregation that the displaced parish had
little to do with before — offered them the use of their religious
education building for services and meetings for as long as they needed
it. Churches from nearby towns offered hymnals and other supplies;
several churches took up a special collection for the congregation, At the first service following the fire, the congregation, who were
used to sitting in their “own” places at a comfortable distance from one
another, found themselves sitting side-by-side on folding chairs. After
the service, teams started to form to deal with insurance issues, organize
temporary arrangements for religious education and parish programs,
and to sketch out first plans to rebuild. The pastor tapped the expertise
of everyone in the parish to help — and everyone readily signed on.
Parishioners who knew one another only by name, who had, until then,
exchanged pleasant but perfunctory hellos on Sunday, were now
working together to rebuild not just their beautiful building but the
community they had taken for granted.
And, in their grief and loss that first Sunday morning in their
temporary quarters, they prayed and sang in a way few had ever
experienced before.
In the new journey they had begun as a church, they had
rediscovered the God within.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The Epiphany of the Lord is a story about seeking and finding the

God within, the God in our midst. As the magi undertakes a long and
arduous journey by the light of the mysterious star to find the newborn
king (encountering, among other things, a murderous tyrant along the
way), the suddenly churchless parish rediscovers, in their coming
together to deal with the catastrophe, the Spirit of God in their midst.
The Epiphany challenges us to slow down and check our own bearings
on our life’s journey, to focus on the “star” we should follow to make our
lives all that God has created them to be, to fix our lives on the constant,
eternal values of peace, compassion, mercy, justice, forgiveness that are
the unmistakable signs of God within our hearts and homes

Holy Family – God the Holy is there! 12-29-2019

January 3rd, 2020

At the end of one year and the beginning of another, it is
appropriate to step back and take a hard look at certain areas of our lives.
I would like to encourage us to focus for a few minutes on our families –
the ones we grew up in – the ones we may be in today. An important
point to remember here is families today come in all sizes, shapes and
varieties.
From being in a family myself and listening to the stories of many
families, I would like to share with you three brief thoughts to consider:
First, it is very easy to criticize the families we are part of as not
being all we would like them to be – it is easy to notice our family
weaknesses. We all have them. When was the last time we took a little
time to genuinely appreciate and affirm the good and positive things
about our families? If we are struggling in our families right now, this
may require a special effort. But, I believe it is worth it. I really noticed
that when I did it for myself that I had forgotten a lot of the good things
that I had received from my family – things that money couldn’t buy –
special time spent together, unconditional love and the many sacrifices
they made for me. You might be surprised at what you would find! A
friend of mine made a list of all the good positive things in his life and
kept them in his wallet. Whenever family problems came up he would
read them and they would help keep things in perspective.
Second point, I notice people who constantly blame their families
for all that has gone wrong in their lives. It is so easy to point the finger
of blame and fault at the parents, at the kids, at social or economic
status. Granted that our families have affected us – some for the good,
some for the bad and unfortunately some for the very bad. I believe a
real growth question to ask ourselves as we begin a new year is, “When
do I stop using my family’s weaknesses as an excuse in my life? When
do I take personal responsibility for my life?”
I close with a third and final point, in the midst of all the wild and
weird conflicts we may face in our families, God wants to be part of
them. In the midst of the shouting matches, doors being slammed,
people pouting and not speaking to each other, holding grudges, and in alcoholic or abusive situations GOD THE HOLY IS THERE! God is
not embarrassed to be there and God wants to help.
As we begin the year of 2020, I pray that as we face conflicts in
our families, when we feel overwhelmed and everything seems
impossible and we try to resolve our differences – that we will be
humble and wise enough to seek help for ourselves. Especially, the
comfort, the grace and the peace that God alone can offer our families.