Sunday, December 27, 2015

It's not over yet!

Colossians 3:12-17   (CEB)

12 Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16 The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.


The birth of the Christ is such an important event in human reality that it can be found represented in every conceivable way.  And because that is true I have a small collection of Nativity sets from all over the globe.  It doesn’t begin to rival Liz’s collection, mind you.  But just as with her collection, each of my sets means something special to me.  Each depicts the birth of the Christ in a way that is consistent with a particular culture.  In both materials used and the appearance of the persons and animals present at the scene, each of my nativity sets is very different from every other one - some are made of straw, some of clay, some of glass, some of wood.  Some look like actual people, others represent people much less realistically.  Here in the sanctuary we have a set that clearly comes from the European Renaissance period and is representative of the realities of that place and time.  I’ve seen nativity scenes made up of various cartoon characters, and even some that include Santa Claus.  And on the screen, in honor of the new Star Wars movie that was released this week, we have a scene made up of Star Wars action figures, set in a small Galilee far far away.  

The Christmas Shopping Season is over, although some will have already started buying next year’s gifts at the massive after Christmas sales.  Although I am spared the incessant demands that I buy this or that because I don’t have cable, I do get lots of sale ads by email, so I know that all the stores are busy trying to clear their shelves of Christmas stuff so they can move on to the next Sale season.  Just to make it quite clear that in the secular world Christmas is effectively over, I even saw one cartoon on Facebook yesterday proclaiming that there are only 364 days until Christmas!     For a lot of people Christmas ends pretty much as soon as the presents are unwrapped.

And I have to admit that it’s hard to stay in the season when all the planning and hubbub have passed.  Like most other clergy people - and department stores - I am beginning to look ahead to the next season.  Yesterday I sent an email to Dee Anne asking her to pull previous year’s Ash Wednesday services so I can get an idea of what we have done here in the past.  I’m considering a Lenten sermon series, maybe even a Bible Study, or perhaps a Members Class aka what it means to be a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  I have had to keep reminding myself that it’s not over yet.  It’s still Christmas.

But as I mentioned last week, It’s not over yet.  All of those things that we sing about during Advent and Christmas, all the peace, hope, joy and love, don’t end when the Christ child is laid in the manger.  All our desire to help the helpless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, have compassion for the enemy . . . these things don’’t end when the angels head back to heaven, and the shepherds head back to their fields.  In fact, it is now that all those things begin.  As the hymn says, now that all those things have ended, the work of Christmas has begun.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written in response to a situation that had arisen in the congregation.  All his letters were, of course, but we know a little more about this particular situation because it was arising everywhere in those early days.  Some had begun to teach that it was necessary to add other practices to their religious lives.  Some were teaching that if you didn’t observe this festival or refrain from eating certain foods, you weren’t really a Christian.  Others were saying that by fasting and other ascetic practices Christians could attain a higher state of ecstasy than with mere prayer and worship, thus becoming closer to God than others who did not practice these things.  There were those, also, who claimed that there was a secret knowledge that would likewise bring a person into a deeper experience of and relationship with Christ.   Some of these teachings came from the continual disagreements between Jewish and Gentile Christians, some were imported from the secret religions some of the Gentile converts had practiced before finding Christ, some came from the more ascetic Jewish practitioners such as the Essenes.  

And who doesn’t want to be closer to God really?  For some, it’s almost a competition.  Take the story of the two church ladies, Mary and Joanna.  They were both involved in Sunday School and the women’s ministry, served on various committees and had their fingers pretty firmly on the pulse of the congregation.  Joanna had dropped by Mary’s house for a visit one Sunday after leaving church.  While Mary’s husband sat reading his paper, they proceeded to dissect the personal lives of every member of the congregation, including the pastor and his entire family.  Once they had convinced themselves of their own personal righteousness in comparison to everyone else’s sinfulness, Joanna took her leave.  After closing the door behind her dearest friend, Mary turned to her husband and said, “You know, dear.  Joanna is a good Christian woman, but I do believe I’m closer to God than she is.”  Her husband never looked up from his paper as he responded, “I don’t think either of you is crowding Him any.”

Paul said if you have faith and live your life in imitation of Christ’s life, then you will be close to God. Period.  You don’t have to do any more than this. Regarding those other things being taught he said,“If you died with Christ to the way the world thinks and acts, why do you submit to rules and regulations as though you were living in the world?  “Don’t handle!” “Don’t taste!” “Don’t touch!”  All these things cease to exist when they are used. Such rules are human commandments and teachings. 23 They look like they are wise with this self-made religion and their self-denial by the harsh treatment of the body, but they are no help against indulging in selfish immoral behavior.”   (Colossians 2:20-23)

All you have to do is live the way Jesus would have you live.  Give up those things you know are not pleasing to God.   “Take off the old human nature with its practices and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it.”  (Colossians 3:9-10).  And put on these virtues as if they were clothing - compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.   Be tolerant.  Forgive each other even as God forgives you.  And over everything, put on love, which is what binds us together in unity.  

And be thankful, people! . . .   Or is it, be thankful people.??

I love those cartoons that remind us just how critical it is to properly place our commas.  For example, writing; “Most of the time, travelers worry about their luggage” has a very different meaning from “Most of the time travelers worry about their luggage.”  Just as “let’s eat, grandpa” is completely different from “Let’s eat grandpa.”   

With Paul, however  . . . You may know that not all of the letters attributed to Paul were actually written by Paul.  Some were written in his name by students and followers after he died - which was perfectly acceptable behavior at the time.  One of the things that makes Paul’s authentic writing easily identifiable is his complete disregard for punctuation. He made run on sentences into an art form!  Later on, editors and translators would add punctuation as they thought best.  Which means that I really don’t know whether Paul meant “Be thankful people.” or “Be thankful, people!”  For that matter, neither do the editors and translators.  

Anyway - Paul told the people to be thankful, a theme he returns to repeatedly in his writings.  And to sing!  Go out into the world singing God’s praises in hymns and psalms and spiritual songs!  Sing with gratitude in your hearts, Paul says.  Sing all the time!  And whatever you do, everything that you do, do it in the name of Jesus the Christ.

These virtues of which Paul speaks don’t stand alone, but all relate to each other.  You cannot be compassionate and not kind. You cannot be tolerant and not patient.  You cannot love and not forgive.  Each of these virtues is intertwined with all of the others.    

Here is what we are told to do.  We are to go out from this place to live in imitation of Christ.  We are to act in all things with kindness, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, humility, and gentleness.  We are always to love one another.  We are always to be thankful to God, even when it’s hard to find something to be thankful for. If nothing else, we may be thankful that today we know Christ, and are known by God.   

I know how hard it is to be all those things simultaneously all the time.  I’m thinking it’s close to impossible, sometimes. Sometimes the best I can do is act as if these virtues are part of me.  You know?  Sometimes the peace of Christ is miles away from controlling my heart, because I am focused on the things in the world that bring dis-ease and pain instead of God’s grace.  

Paul said, “…live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way as you received him.  Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught.”  

The Good News is that it’s not over yet.  The work of Christmas is just beginning.  Although we only celebrate the birth of the Christ for these few short weeks, for the whole rest of the year will celebrate his life, his work and his resurrection.  For the rest of the year we reach back to these weeks to remember what that peace feels like, how that joy came into our lives, how aware we had become of God’s great love for us, and how hope filled our hearts.   

So come, all you faithful people, and together we will go forward to continue Christmas, to live as Christ’s family, to be one body together, serving God by serving the world God created, with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, with tolerance, forgiveness, and love for one another, doing all things in Jesus’ name, and above all, singing our gratitude to God.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Like New!

Psalm 80:1-7  Common English Bible (CEB)

 Shepherd of Israel, listen!
    You, the one who leads Joseph as if he were a sheep.
    You, who are enthroned upon the winged heavenly creatures.
Show yourself before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
    Wake up your power!
    Come to save us!
3 Restore us, God!
    Make your face shine so that we can be saved!
4 Lord God of heavenly forces,
    how long will you fume against your people’s prayer?
5 You’ve fed them bread made of tears;
    you’ve given them tears to drink three times over!
6 You’ve put us at odds with our neighbors;
    our enemies make fun of us.
7 Restore us, God of heavenly forces!
    Make your face shine so that we can be saved 

God, hear us, please.  Help us!  Restore us!  Make your face shine upon us!   You’ve put us at odds with our neighbors!  Relent and save us!

Did you notice what is different about this psalm?  Usually the people are crying out saying something like “God, save us, just this one time. Get us out of this and we promise we will NEVER EVER do that bad stuff again!”   The prophets spent a great deal of time begging God to relent and to forgive the people for the error of their ways.  They also spent a lot of time telling the people just where exactly they have gone wrong.  

But this passage blames God for their problems.  “You put us at odds with our neighbors.  Our enemies make fun of us [because you aren’t smiting them for us.]”  Strange, right?  

Because . . . listen.  You know that only some of the psalms are attributed to King David.  This isn’t one of them. David’s psalms always talk about how God had never abandoned him.  Even at the lowest points in his life, David always said “and You, my God, are always with me. You protect and embrace me.”  This psalm was written sometime after the death of King Solomon, after the tribes split, with most refusing to have anything to do with David’s family and the Temple in Jerusalem.  You can tell that because only the three tribes who stayed are the ones being named as being at odds with their neighbors.  This was written in the period when the Bible's writers said repeatedly of the kings in Jerusalem that they turned their backs on their people, lusted after foreign women and went up to the high places to worship other gods, and did what was evil in the sight of God. 

When Hezekiah came to the throne, he became known as a man who always did what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God.  He had the priests clean and purify the Temple, for it had fallen into disuse and disrepair.  The priests came back to him with the Tablets of the Law, which had been found totally forgotten in a back storeroom.  He ordered a time of national mourning and fasting, put on sackcloth and ashes and had all the people do the same, and then read the Law out loud to all the nation.  The nation returned to the ways of Yahweh and all was good - until Hezekiah died.  And then the kings did what was evil in the sight of God again.  They appointed prophets who would say what they wanted to hear and ignored the words of the real prophets, the ones God appointed.  Those they tried to kill.  They did what they wanted, whenever they wanted, and let the Laws go back to that dusty storeroom.  And as the kings and other leaders did, so did the nation.  

And when things started to go really, really wrong . . .  they blamed God.  They said, “God, you keep telling us that you are in charge of everything.  Well, fix this, because obviously you are the one who caused all these bad things to happen.  We are completely innocent, mere victims of your bad temper and inconsistent moods.”  They went looking for powerful allies among their neighbors, and when that cure turned out to be worse than the original problem, they blamed God again.  “They’re laughing at us!  You’re supposed to be all that and a bag of chips - you sit enthroned on cherubim and seraphim, for Pete’s sake!  If you really are powerful, if you really are our God, then do something!  Prove yourself!”   

Frankly, they sounded a little bit like Janis Joplin, 
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town. 
I’m counting on you, Lord, Please don’t let me down. 
Prove that you love me, and buy the next round.  
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town.”   

By the way, did you all know that Janis Joplin began her singing career in the choir of a Disciples congregation in Texas?  

Anyway, the leaders of Judah had the whole relationship with God thing seriously backwards.  God isn’t the one who broke the covenant.  God isn’t the one who stopped believing in them.  God isn’t the one who turned away.  God never promised to drop everything to save them every time they got themselves into trouble.  God never has to prove anything to anyone.  As a result of their bad behavior - as a result of generations of bad behavior - the people of Judah, the leaders, the wealthy and the powerful, were finally taken away to Babylon where they would languish in exile.  They were, as we know, eventually returned.  But frankly, things never got totally great for the people of Judah.  They would be independent for a bit, but then another powerful nation would defeat them.  And then that nation would be defeated by another, more powerful nation. At the time of Jesus’ birth Rome had been their overlord for about 60 years.  And the people kept remembering God’s promise to send someone to make their nation like new again.

Here is what God promised.
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.     (Isaiah 11:1-5)

And the people waited.  They assumed that God would send a powerful leader, a military genius, another David.  But what they got was exactly what God promised - a faithful follower of God.  A man of compassion and righteousness,  wisdom and understanding, whose words would defeat evil.  More like Hezekiah than David, really, because Hezekiah’s strength was in his faith, not in his military prowess.  His reign was one of reform and reconciliation. His greatest accomplishment was in bringing the nation back into covenant with God.  

They waited.  People aren’t very good at waiting.  We want everything to happen right now.  We want to go faster than the speed limit so we can get wherever we are going sooner.  We want the line we are standing in to move faster so we can go on to the next thing sooner.  If we apply for something, we want the answer by return email.   I’ve been seeing posts on Facebook lately of young people I know holding up college acceptance letters.  I know how long that wait seems.  Getting into the right school might very well determine how the rest of your life goes, so waiting for that letter is torturous.  And waiting for Christmas is . . . 

Well, you know what that’s like.  Everyone I meet asks me,”Are you ready for Christmas?”  I’m never quite sure how to answer that. I know that what they are thinking is, “Have you bought all your presents?  Is your Christmas dinner planned? Is your baking done?”  But what I am thinking is, “I have three worship services that week, none of which are quite completely ready.  I don’t have enough time to spend meditating and writing on Advent and the meaning of the birth of the Child.”  So I answer “Yes” to their real question and wander off wondering if I’ll ever really be ready for Christmas.

I’ve told you, I think, that I have to be reminded of events that fall outside of the liturgical calendar.  I was totally not kidding about that.  So the other day when Pat and Jennifer reminded me that this Sunday - today - is Christmas Sunday, I was truly surprised.  My immediate response was, “No, this is the Fourth Sunday of Advent.”  But yes, according to the Disciples Planning Calendar, it is also Christmas Sunday.  I’m not sure why, since it is before Christmas.  Maybe because Disciples don’t worship on Christmas unless it happens to fall on a Sunday.  The founders of the Disciples were serious about only doing what the Bible tells us to do, and Jesus never told us to celebrate his birth.  Baptism, yes.  The Lord’s Supper, yes.  The Resurrection, yes.   But Jesus never mentions remembering his birth. So we don’t.  The fact that we now observe Advent would probably have them spinning in their respective graves.  I suspect, however, that it might be because so many folks won’t be here the First Sunday after Christmas.  Some people don’t even realize that Christmas doesn’t end for another couple of weeks!  My first Christmas as a pastor I walked into the sanctuary the Sunday after Christmas to discover all the Christmas decorations had been taken down!  I was so disappointed!  I asked why, and was told that Christmas was over.  Not!  It’s only over in the stores.  Not in the church.  

God promised that he would send a Savior, a righteous, compassionate, wise man, whose words would have the power to defeat sin and evil.  God promised that the world would be made like new again when that Savior came.  What the waiting people didn’t realize is what we now know to be the Good News.  The world is made like new again, beginning with each individual heart.  As each of us embraces the love, peace, hope and joy that is brought into the world with the arrival of the Christ Child, each of us is made like new again . . .  and through us, through our actions, bringing God’s love, peace, hope and joy into the world, the entire world can be made like new again.   Go out, my sisters and brothers, and love the world.  Go out, and proclaim the birth of the Child, the Prince of Peace, our Lord and Savior, our All in All.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

I Just Want to Thank You

Philippians 1:3-11 Common English Bible (CEB)

3 I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. 4 I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. 5 I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. 6 I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. 7 I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel. 8 God is my witness that I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

9 This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. 10 I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. 11 I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.


Every time I read this passage this week I thought - how true.  I thank my God every time I mention you - this congregation - in my prayers.   You are all my partners in God’s grace.  I feel affection for you all with the compassion of Christ.   I have been welcomed and encouraged and fed with such love and hospitality.  I am grateful for the stories you are telling me and for your guidance as I learn my way around this new situation.  Thank you, so very much.  

Paul was also grateful.  He wrote this portion of this letter to the churches in Philippi because throughout the entire time he was in prison they sent messages to him, encouraging him by letting them know that they were still going strong, they were still making converts and teaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, as he had taught it to them.  They probably also sent food and money so he could survive in prison.  Prisons at the time weren’t places where you got three meals and a bed.  You got whatever corner of the floor you could claim for yourself and ate very little indeed unless you had money or friends and family who would send you food, maybe a mattress, warm clothing as necessary, or money to give the guards so they would go get you whatever you might need.  So they probably helped with those things.  But most importantly, they sent messengers and letters to keep him up to date on what was going on with them.

And Paul was grateful.  So very grateful.  Knowing that in Philippi the church was thriving was great comfort to him.  His arrests were intended, in large part, to keep that from happening.  The rulers of the land didn’t want to hear that the riffraff were being told not to worship the Emperor. It was one things when Jews didn’t - they had special dispensation, since they were the only people in the known world who worshipped only one God and that one not a part of any pantheon the rest of the world knew.  They didn’t have to add Emperor worship into their rituals.  But Paul was preaching to Gentiles, non-Jews, and teaching them not to worship the Emperor.   That was intolerable.  He was preaching to Gentiles, and converting them and teaching them not to worship the Greek gods or the Roman ones or the Egyptian ones.  The artisans who made religious images were losing money.  The temples in the cities were losing followers, and income.  That was perhaps even more intolerable than teaching them not to worship the Emperor.  After all, Rome wasn’t exactly next door, but it was never a good thing when the merchants and the local priesthood were upset.  So Paul and other church planters found themselves imprisoned with some regularity, in hopes that without the preachers the congregations would fail.  As we know, that didn’t happen.  But Paul wouldn’t know that, of course.  The letters he received and the support of his converts, his beloved congregations, kept him hopeful even in confinement.  He knew, he said, that they would continue the good work that had been started there.  And so they did.

The second paragraph in this passage is Paul’s expression of hope for the church as it moves into the future.  Hope - prayer - that they would be given insight and knowledge as they grow in faith.  Hope - prayer - that they would be able to make the right life decisions, to decide what was truly important and what wasn’t.  Hope - prayer - that they would become righteous, that is to say, that they would do the things that are right in the eyes of God. 

Hope is one of those words that seems to mean different things at different times.  There’s that phrase, “Hope springs eternal.”  We use that in situations like, when Bullwinkle the Moose announces that he is going to pull a rabbit out of a hat, saying, “This time for sure!” and once again, it’s not a rabbit.  His gazillion previous failures don’t faze him.  He just keeps reaching into that top hat over and over again.  It’s what my cat, Doofenschmirtz, feels when he is sitting at the sliding glass door crying to go outside.  He’s never been allowed outside, but he is certain that if he just cries enough I will relent. 

There’s the kind of hope that I had on Wednesday when the news came of the shooting in San Bernardino. I have a lot of friends in San Bernardino.  I have clergy friends and teacher friends and friends who work with the developmentally challenged there.  My initial reaction was Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God.  Oh God, please, let Samantha and Pam and Petra and all my other friends and all their people be ok.  I was hoping and praying and knowing there was nothing I could do but pray and wait to hear.  I gave thanks for Facebook later, when all my friends had checked in and were ok, although some were locked down and some were worrying about their kids in schools on lockdown. 

And there’s another kind of hope, one that is a powerful impetus to make changes.  In 1993 I had been sober a few years.  I had learned that the angry, judgmental God that I had been taught about wasn’t entirely true and I had come to believe in a loving, caring, forgiving God who would guide me to lead a better life.  I did all the things that I had learned how to do to improve my life and my relationship with God.  But something was missing - I wasn’t really happy.  Mind you now, I always thought of myself as Christian.  I always believed in Jesus as the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world. I just didn’t do church.  

After a number of other things happened - and I’ll tell you that story some day - I found a Disciples pastor who gave me hope.  Listening to Pastor Betsy talking about what it means to be part of a Christian congregation, I started to hope. I started to hope that, if I became part of a congregation, if I did more than just show up for worship but helped with their mission and ministry, and if I taught others what I was learning about living a Christian life, then I would feel better inside.  I would become closer to God and I would feel better inside.  I started to hope that if I showed up on Sundays and listened carefully to her message, and learned something from it, and then went out and used that something to change myself, then I could also change the world just by being in it in this new Christian way of being.   That hope is being realized.  It’s a life-long process.

I learned from Pastor Betsy that being Christian is more than belief.  It is more than following a list of rules.  It is a way of living and being that enlivens and encourages others.  It requires being part of a community, a Christian community.  Not part of an audience on Sunday morning, but part of a community of believers who work at making the world better in some small way.  I needed to become part of a community like this one, that works to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and find homes for unwanted dogs and cats, that springs into action when a member or even a stranger is injured or there’s a house fire or some other local situation comes up where they can be of help.  I needed to become part of a congregation like this one, that makes so many opportunities to help others available, whose members walk through the town living their Christianity.

The Advent Candles were lit this morning by two others who know that kind of hope, who chose this as the place to become part of a Christian community, who turned their lives over to God in a very real way when they entered the waters of baptism earlier this year.  I believe that their hope will be realized as mine was, and that this community will nurture their growth as the community at Treasure Coast Christian Church nurtured mine.

The community in Philippi that Paul was writing to was this kind of community.  It was one of many communities that grew out of the realized hope that is the Christ.  It was one of many that survived and thrived despite the attempts of Empire and competing religious leaders to squash it in its infancy.   

Strange thing, hope.  As most of us have learned on many Christmas mornings, we don’t always get exactly what we hoped for.  We hope for a pony and get a book.  We hope for a new bicycle and get underwear.   The Jewish people, too, hoped for one thing and got something totally different.  

They were a people despised by their rulers, taxed unmercifully, regulated rigidly, whose men and women could be taken and forced into labor, raped, beaten or even killed for no good reason except that they were Jews. They wanted to be liberated from that life, and looked with great hope for a Messiah who would be that liberator.  When the majority of the Jewish people prayed for the Messiah to come, what they hoped for was another like those whom God had sent before - another Samson, or another Deborah and Siserah, or another David, a great judge or warrior, who would lead them forward into victory against Rome and end the oppression they had known for so long.  What they got was something entirely different - a Messiah whose rule is over the hearts and souls of humanity.  What they got was a Messiah who was sent, not just to them, but to all the world.  What they got, what we got, was a Messiah who would act in a certain way and then say to us, “Go and do likewise.”  What they got, what we got, was a Messiah who cannot be defeated in battle, who cannot be defeated by imprisoning his followers, who cannot even be defeated by death.  

The Good News is that  . . . .

At this point, frankly, I got stuck.  A sermon is supposed to swell to a finish. It’s supposed to make a grand statement of what the good news is.  I don’t have a grand statement.  What I have is . . .  

We had an Elders meeting in my office this morning.  And everyone shared about things going on in their lives.  Every single story I heard today had a hope filled ending.  Every single story I heard attested to the power of prayer and community.  And what we decided, or determined or agreed upon is that being part of a congregation, being part of this community, being part of the body of Christ, part of his family on earth, really does make a difference in our lives, and in the lives of all those whose lives we touch.