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Behold God is in Our Midst 1-17-2021

Friday, January 15th, 2021

The character of John the Baptist is someone we usually meet
around Christmas but over the last two weeks he has played a major role
in launching Jesus on his three-year mission. Some scholars say John
the Baptist’s role was to point people to Jesus… “Look! There’s the
Lamb of God…Look! God is in our midst.” Pointing people to Jesus
and then getting out of the way and letting Jesus work in people’s lives.
I believe that this Sunday reminds us that as baptized Christians it
is our role to point people to Jesus and to get out of the way like John the
Baptist. We may do this in very different ways than John the Baptist,
but we need to do it each in our own way.
An eight-year old boy is facing surgery. He asks his doctor,
“What’s it like to die?” Neither the doctor nor anyone else on the
medical staff can answer this question directly – but one hospital
employee can. She isn’t a doctor or nurse or child psychologist. She
cleans the floors. One night the boy asks her, “Are you afraid of
dying?” She puts down her mop, looks up from the floor and replies “Yes, I am, but I do something about it.” She talks to the boy as an
equal, not as a superior. She tells him that she believes in God and finds
comfort in the words of Jesus. The two talk for a long time. She has put
the boy at peace simply by listening to him. Behold, the Lamb of God…
A high school student is struggling with his algebra homework.
The frustration builds and the teenager slams the book shut. His father
comes into the kitchen and asks if he can help, but the teenager says,
“They didn’t even have algebra in your day.” Defeated and angry, the
boy goes off to bed. At 4:00 A.M., his dad shakes his son awake and
sits him back down at the kitchen table. The father, who works two jobs
as a janitor and a chauffeur, sat up all night to read the algebra book
from cover to cover. He worked the problems through until he
understood them enough to be able to explain them to his son. With his
dad tutoring him, the student finally grasps the equations and completes
his homework. That night, a father taught his son much more than
algebra. Behold, the Lamb of God…
Within a month, she had lost both her father and her mother. It was something neither she nor her husband knew how to deal with. She was devastated; getting through the days was often more than she could
handle. He thought he might be able to lessen the blow by being a more
attentive spouse or more romantic husband. He felt more and more
inadequate at not being able to do something to alleviate her grief. Then
the night came for them to see the musical Wicked. The tickets had been
bought months before. The two lead sang a song that always reminded
her of her mother. That’s when he realized his role: to be there to hold
her hand, to have Kleenex at the ready, to let her know he would be
there when the music ended and the lights came back on. Behold, the
Lamb of God…
I close…
In every act of selfless generosity and humble compassion, the
Lamb of God walks in our midst. Everyone of us – of every profession
and age group, possessing every talent, skill and ability – has been
called, as the Baptizer was called, to point to the Christ, the Lamb of
God, dwelling among us and walking with us in our doubts, our hurts,
our fears. John declared his witness in preaching and baptizing at the Jordan; our witness can be declared in less vocal but no less effective vehicles: in our compassion for others, in our uncompromising moral
and ethical convictions, in our everyday sense of joy and peace.
Behold, God is in our midst! Amen.

Baptism of Jesus 1-10-2021

Saturday, January 9th, 2021

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 1-3-2021

Saturday, January 2nd, 2021

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