Sunday, March 31, 2019

Which Character Am I / Based on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 / Delivered on March 31 to CCH in Hudson, WI 
Hymns: Amazing Grace, May the Mind of Christ My Savior, What Wondrous Love Is This


Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.
15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
15:3 So he told them this parable:
15:11b "There was a man who had two sons.
15:12 The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them.
15:13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
15:14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
15:15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.
15:16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
15:17 But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!
15:18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
15:19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."'
15:20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
15:21 Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
15:22 But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
15:23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;
15:24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.
15:25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
15:26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.
15:27 He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.'
15:28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.
15:29 But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.
15:30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'
15:31 Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
15:32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"


Good morning.  My name is Darci Strutt McQuiston and I am one of the Lay Servants of the United Methodist Church up on the hill from here.  It is my honor to be with you this special day.  I missed you last month because of the February blizzard.  I’m glad the weather is settling down!

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is a long one but don’t worry; I measure my sermons by word count including the scripture, so you’ll make it to lunch in time.

This scripture lesson is most likely familiar to many of you.  Because of this familiarity I’m not going to repeat as much of the scripture during my message as I normally do.

I’m going to look at this parable from three perspectives:
The younger son
The older son
The father

The younger son
The beginning of the story is one of insulting the father.  Dad, I’m tired of waiting for you to die so give me what’s in your last will and testament now.  Crazy insulting as that sounds the father does it.  The older son gets his share early too.  Verse 12 says “he divided his property between them.”

The younger son sells the land which would have also been insulting.  Jews did not sell family land.

The son has a good time spending the money but comes on hard times when a famine hits and he has no savings to fall back on.  He sinks as low as he can go by feeding pigs, which is an animal considered unclean by the Jewish people.  He’s hit bottom.

The only thing he can think to do is humble himself and pray his father accepts him as a servant.

The older son
The eldest would have received the larger share of the estate.  He continued working the family land.  He hears the party and finds out from a servant it’s to honor his lazy no good brother.  Now he’s angry.  The father appears to be picking favorites and it’s not him.   It’s obvious he still respected his father from his response, though he still comes across as ungrateful.
Verse 29: “listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.”

I find it interesting the younger son is coming home saying he’s willing to be a servant, and here the older son says he feels like he’s been working like a slave.  His father reminds him in verse 31, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”  The eldest son could have thrown his own party.

The father
My first thought is that the father failed at parenting 101.  Both sons are disrespectful.  The first made a mess of his life with his poor choices and brought embarrassment to the family name.  Then the father acts in ways which make no sense within the Jewish culture of the time.  The response should have been, “Sorry kid you’ll have to wait until I die to get an inheritance.”  If a child acted in the way the younger son did, he more likely would have been disowned.  Then you have the way he acts during their reunion.  The leader of the family would not have run to anyone.  The father acted inferior to his son by falling on his neck.  That was something a servant did to his master.  The father hosts a huge party, then he leaves his responsibilities as host and goes outside to talk to his older son.  That was not a normal thing.  You didn’t leave your guests.  His willingness to focus on reconciliation was acting crazy.

I can imagine the reaction of the Pharisees; that’s crazy, inconceivable, ludicrous.  They would have been outraged at the father’s behavior.  Kind of like they were outraged at Jesus’ behavior.

There are many great lessons in this parable.  If you look at the younger son, you can take away the lesson that if you recognize you’ve chosen the wrong path in life it is best to acknowledge it humbly and face your consequences.  He demonstrated repentance. 

If you look at the older son, the lesson might be that it is important to recognize what you have and not be jealous of what others have.  The parable ends before we see him repenting, but that’s the happy ending of the story I make up.

However, I don’t believe those two characters are the focus of the story.  The story was prompted by the Pharisees judging who Jesus was showing love to.
15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

The example Jesus was giving us to follow in response to their statement was that of the father’s love.  You think tax collectors are bad, just imagine a son that asks for his inheritance before you’re dead and then sells the family property!  Yet the father showed him not only mercy but outrageous grace. 

His other son refuses to come inside, and the father leaves his role as host to go reach out to him.  That’s outrageous love.

In past readings of this passage I’ve sought to find myself in the brothers and saw the father as God.  Studying it this month I’ve come to believe that the father is the character of the story that Jesus is asking us to identify with.

Love completely.  Offer forgiveness freely.  Focus on reconciliation. 

The father is an example of God’s grace.  I believe Jesus was reminding the Pharisees and us that we are to offer grace to each other.  Love each other like God first loved us.  Jesus was demonstrating that love for us to follow.

We are halfway through Lent.  It is a time of self-reflection and repentance.  I believe it is also a time to meditate on the kind of love we have been shown.  Love that is outrageous.  Forgiveness that is not earned.  Reconciliation to God once more.  That is the gift at the end of these 40 days.  It is also our example of how to love.  We are to show amazing grace to each other because of his wondrous love.


Amen


Here’s my ukulele song based on this scripture.

https://soundcloud.com/darci-strutt/what-kind-of-child

What Kind of Child
By Darci Strutt
Based on Luke 15:11b-32

The younger son couldn’t wait for his Daddy to die
He demanded what would be his then he said good-bye
Before long life turned tough, he feared that he would die
Then I had to ask myself what kind of child am I

Am I like the young son
Wishing I was free
Am I like the older one
Filled with jealousy
Neither son’s the character Jesus dreamt for me
The father full of love is who he’d wish I’d be

The older son resented working in the field
His disrespectful language was anger he concealed 
His unloving nature needed to be healed
Am I sometimes like him, would it be revealed

Chorus

The Pharisees asked Jesus how he could love a sinner
He seemed to hang around them and even go to dinner
So Jesus taught a lesson about outrageous grace
Love like God the Father sends to the human race

Chorus

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Love is Not Fair / Based on Luke 6:27-38 / Not delivered because of a blizzard

Love is Not Fair / Based on Luke 6:27-38 / Not delivered because of a blizzard
Hymns: His Eye Is on the Sparrow, I Then Shall See, We Are Called


Luke 6:27-38
6:27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
6:29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
6:30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
6:32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
6:33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
6:34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
6:35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
6:36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
6:37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;
6:38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

Good morning and Happy Sunday to you.  My name is Darci Strutt McQuiston.  I am one of the Lay Servants of the United Methodist Church up on the hill from here.  It is my joy to be with you here today.

The scripture for today is a continuation of Jesus message which is sometimes called the Beatitudes and sometimes called his message on the plain.  The first section told us all how blessed we were if we were poor, hungry, weeping, hated, and insulted. 

Now in the section for today we are told we need to love our enemies.  Not easy scripture to deal with, but the passage from 1 Corinthians today was on explaining the details of resurrection so I leaned toward Luke.

The three ideas I want to pull out from this passage are:
Love isn’t fair
Love doesn’t worry about equality
We don’t want love to be fair

Love isn’t fair
What ever happened to “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”?  Instead Jesus said we’re supposed to return mistreatment with love.
6:27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
6:29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
6:30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

This is a hard scripture to me.  It feels unfair.  I like to think that karma is real and if someone makes me feel bad they will get pain in their life as payback.  That isn’t how God treats us and that isn’t how God wants us to treat his children, whether they be friend or foe.

Instead this is describing how a child of God should act.  It is defining what God wants our relationships to look like.
6:35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
6:36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Our relationship with our fellow humans should mirror God’s relationship with us.  God doesn’t treat us as we deserve.  He doesn’t write us off as we make mistakes.  He patently instructs us in ways that are better and brings us to him to continue to correct our errors.

Love doesn’t worry about equality
We feel good about ourselves when we do good to others.  We expect to be treated nicely and then we’ll be nice back.  Jesus says there’s nothing special about that.
6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
6:32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
6:33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
6:34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

So much of our interaction is with people who will honor the saying “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”  Sometimes it is simple things.  We send out a birthday card and expect one on our birthday.  Sometimes it’s picking up the tab when we eat out knowing the friend will pick up the next time.  Over time if the friend doesn’t reciprocate our willingness to put ourselves out there for them decreases.  To be fair the scales need to stay even.  Jesus says – then don’t feel like you should be honored for that behavior.  Keeping things even is not giving.

We don’t want love to be fair
6:37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;
6:38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

This part of the passage makes it a little more equal but still quite hard to do.  It’s hard to remember that we are not so great ourselves.  The saying “people living in glass houses should not throw stones” was used a lot when I was young.  It was a reminder that my behavior needs forgiveness because it at times is condemnable. 

As I read and studied the lesson today one preacher reminded his listeners that there is a big difference between justice and judging someone.  God is very pro justice.  We are called to come to the aide of those that are being mistreated. 

Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Judging is holding a negative opinion of someone for who they are or what they do.  Maybe they are making different mistakes that we think are worse than the mistakes that we are making.  This sort of judging is more like prejudice.  We feel the person is unworthy because of who they are.

It isn’t in our lesson for today but Luke goes on with these two verses.
6:39 He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?
6:40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.
6:41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
6:42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

We are reminded that we all have much to learn before we can love the way God loves, which is our calling.  We are all students here.  We are all struggling to reach the level of love Jesus demonstrated.  We all fail in different ways.  Comparing how well we’re doing between each other is like the old joke asking what’s the difference between murder and stealing in hell?  The answer is 60 degrees.  It is dark humor but a reminder that without God’s mercy and compassion we are all in trouble.  It doesn’t matter how little or much we fail.  We fail.  We depend on God’s grace.  Our brother and our enemy depend on God’s grace along side of us.

Love is unfairly given to us.  We get much more than we deserve.  Jesus asks us to not expect equality as we give it away.  Love extravagantly without thought of return from the individual you share it with.  The relationship between you and your brother isn’t the measure.  It is really the relationship between you and God that is shown in what you give away.  Can we trust God will keep us safe or do we think we need to take care of ourselves?

Matthew reminds us:
10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.
10:30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
10:31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Yes we can trust God.  We can learn to love unfairly in response to that trust.  We love because He first loved us.  Remember this lesson as we go into lent next month.  Love isn’t fair.  Let go of the tit for tat and work to love like God.  Just maybe the lesson here has less to do with our enemy getting away with bad behavior, and more about us being taught how to love.

Amen

  

Song – Love Like the One You Serve
By Darci Strutt 2019
https://soundcloud.com/darci-strutt/love-like-the-one-you-serve


Dear Lord did you see
Just how poor he’s treated me
You want me to love
I just want to push and shove

Pre-chorus
My child you’re looking the wrong way
When you focus on your enemy
The relationship to care about
Is the one between you and me

Chorus
Give without thought of receiving
Love though that’s not what they deserve
Remember how I first loved you
And love like the one you serve

Dear Lord did you see
All the things he stole from me
You want me to ignore
And when he asks to give him more

Pre-chorus
Chorus

It’s not easy to love
Like my Father from above
But because he first loved me
A loving child I’ll try to be

Chorus








Sunday, January 27, 2019

Being the Body / Based on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a / Delivered on January 27, 2019 to CCH


Being the Body / Based on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a / Delivered on January 27, 2019 to CCH
Hymns: Here I Am Lord, The Church’s One Foundation, They’ll Know We Are Christians


1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
12:13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
12:14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.
12:15 If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.
12:16 And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.
12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
12:18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
12:19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?
12:20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body.
12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."
12:22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
12:23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect;
12:24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member,
12:25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.
12:26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
12:28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.
12:29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?
12:30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
12:31 But strive for the greater gifts.


Good morning and happy Sunday to you.  My name is Darci Strutt McQuiston and I’m one of the Lay Servants of the United Methodist Church up on the hill from here.  It is my joy to be with you this morning.


This is a wonderful illustration of how an organization should operate.  I’m going to explore our role in the body of Christ in these three ways:
Being Unique
Being Valued
Being Interdependent


Being Unique
12:14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.
12:15 If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.
12:16 And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.
12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
12:18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.

I believe Paul is telling this early church to embrace their differences.  Don’t all try to be an “eye”. 

I love the quote, “Be Yourself.  Everyone else is already taken”, by Oscar Wilde.  Don’t wish you were someone else.  I can assure you the world doesn’t need two of me.  I’m betting you feel the same way about yourself.  The mix of talents and experience you carry within you are your gift to the world.  Nobody else can give that gift.

In Esther there is a moment when Mordecai responds to Esther’s fear for her life in approaching the king to save the Jewish people from a plot to kill them.

Esther 4:14
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

God’s will is not prevented by us not offering our gifts, but it may be that we are where we are for a reason.  Mordecai’s comment was a reminder of the consequences of not acting when it is within your skills to do so.

You are important just by being you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work to be the best “you” possible.  As verse 31 says:

12:31 But strive for the greater gifts.

These verses are a reminder that your unique qualities are what God wants to work with.  Having role models is fine but embracing who you are and what your own gifts are is what this passage speaks to me.  We are chosen to be where we are, because the gift we have to offer is what is needed.  So, develop and continue growing as a person and at the same time embrace the person that is uniquely you.


Being Valued
12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."
12:22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
12:23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect;
12:24a whereas our more respectable members do not need this.

The church needed diverse talents just as the human body needs diverse body parts.  Being a cookie-cutter congregation meant you didn’t function as highly.  Strength was in embracing your differences and seeing them as assets.

These verses don’t go into more detail but I’m thinking of sporting gear protecting the heads and more sensitive parts of the body in rough activities.  When it comes to our bodies, we care about what happens to every little part.  We need all parts of our body to function fully.  We need all parts of our community to function fully as the body of Christ too.

While I was working in the Corporate world in a large bank, we often had working sessions where they attempted to pull in as diverse a group as possible when doing problem solving.  There was strength in diversity.  Problem solving needed many unique points of view to see a problem fully from every angle.

Diversity was also greatly valued when doing product development.  The customer was a diverse population and to reach them we needed a diverse team working on design.  Jesus told us to go into all the world.  That means the people the church is trying to reach is as diverse as it can be.  Following from my lessons in corporate life, that means the body of Christ needs to be diverse to reach them.


Being Interdependent
12:24b But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member,
12:25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.
12:26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

While I was reading about the scripture for this Sunday one writer mentioned that there was a controversy when our country was born.  The controversy was whether to use the word “is” or “are when referring to our country.  Should it be “the United States are…” which indicates the separate unique nature of the states that make up our country.  Or should it be “the United States is...” which puts us as a single unified country.  It was determined the unity was more important to highlight.  We are a group of diverse people and states, but this country “is” the United States of America.

We, as a set of unique individuals, form the body of Christ.  Our hands “are” used, but the body “is” God’s hands in our world.  We must work together and support each other for the body to remain healthy.  We need to find the balance between being an individual and being connected to each other.  Recognize that we are united as a single body.  The failure of one part means the entire body is weakened.  Strength and healing of an individual part means the entire body is stronger.

This service itself, brings the ideas within this passage into action.  Gayle helps schedule a speaker and a pianist each week.  The scheduler, the speaker, and the pianist are important roles, yet you can have a service if someone passes out your bulletins and song books so that role is important. There’s also the person who sets up the microphones so you can hear the speaker.  We’ve sung without the piano before.  You’ve had a leader step up from the chairs to the podium when the speaker couldn’t come.  That says those two roles, while important, aren’t showstoppers.  Then there is the role you play.  The service couldn’t continue without you attending.  Your attention and reaction to what the leader says gives them feedback and encouragement to continue.  We each bring something to this time together.  It has lots of little parts that cause it to become worship.  Many members bringing different skills becomes one body of worship.

This scripture is a reminder to honor the gifts you bring to any situation.  Always work to be the best “you” you can be.   You have been gifted with different talents and can develop them and then share them as your act of service. Nobody else brings what you have to the table.  I’m in a group of songwriters and we say it this way.  Other people may be more talented in aspects of songwriting but nobody else can sing your song but you.

There is great value in diversity.  Every gift is woven into the whole of the body of Christ like a giant mosaic that becomes beautiful in its complexity.  It can be a challenge to recognize that differences are a strength and not something that should be expelled.  Sometimes we struggle with the unfamiliar.

Honor our differences.  Learn to rejoice in the success of another and care for the other that is suffering.  We are interdependent.  You strengthen the whole when you strengthen the individual parts so they can be their best.  It takes all of us bringing our best unique selves to this work to succeed in being the body of Christ. 


Amen

Saturday, December 29, 2018

What to Wear / Based on Colossians 3:12-17 / Delivered to CCH on December 30, 2018


What to Wear / Based on Colossians 3:12-17 / Delivered to CCH on December 30, 2018
Hymns: The Gift of Love, Spirit of the Living God, We Are Called to Be God’s People


Colossians 3:12-17
3:12 As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
3:13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
3:14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Good morning and Happy Sunday to you on this first Sunday after Christmas!  My name is Darci Strutt McQuiston, and I am one of the Lay Servants of the United Methodist Church up on the hill from here.  It is my honor to be with you today.

The three thoughts I’m pulling from this scripture are:
Doing our part
The Spirit doing its part
The result

Doing our part
The first three verses are based on our decisions and actions.  They answer that age-old question many of us have in the morning as we look in our closet.  What to wear, what to wear, what to wear?

Starting with verse 12:  As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love.

Mark Twain said, ‘Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.’ 

When I was in Corporate America, I was advised to dress in the manner of the position I desired to move into.  If I wanted to be treated as an upwardly moving professional, it was important to dress and act like one.  Clothing was an outward sign of an inward attitude.

We’ve just celebrated Jesus coming to Earth in human form.  He dwelt among us.  As a post Easter people, he now can dwell within us.  So how do we dress for becoming the dwelling place of Christ?  We dress ourselves in love, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience and have an attitude of forgiveness.  This is dressing for success if our goal is to be the people of God.

I think our final verse today is also part of our effort.
3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I listened to a speaker recently that spoke about stress and anxiety being caused by not acting according to what you wanted to be as a person.  The speaker used the example of his desire to be a respected teacher on health and wellness, yet he would go drinking and partying late into the night with friends on weekends.  He was living two different life-styles.  He experienced anxiety until he chose what he wanted to be his future which was the health and wellness coach.  Once he lived his life consistently as that person his anxiety left him.

That speaker resonated with me.  If I want to strive to be God’s child and God’s dwelling place, then my actions need to come into alignment with that goal.  In word or deed I need to consider if my actions represent Jesus.  It reminds me of the slogan “What Would Jesus Do?”  If we want to become God’s hands in the world then that is exactly what our actions should align to.  We need to act in such  way that we are willing to associate Jesus name with it.

The Spirit doing its part
It’s winter time up here in the north.  Even though it’s been mild we still need to dress for the weather.  We make the decision which coat to put on and our bodies warm accordingly.  We choose the coat, but the warming part is just how the body works.  If you’ve taken the steps to work toward putting on the right “clothing” described in those first verses then what is the spirit’s work?

Verse 15 tells us: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.  16a Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

The peace that Christ promised as he left his physical earthly ministry is the Spirit’s gift as a result of our choice of clothing.  Our choice also invites Christ to dwell within us.  You’ve heard me say before that we have free will.  The Spirit does not act without our invitation.  Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and knocks.  He doesn’t break the door down even though he knows what he offers is best for us.  He waits for our action first. 

If we choose to put on this Christian way of living, then the peace of Christ will rule our hearts.  That is the warmth we’re given.  It helps us to go out into this world that can be cold spiritually and still maintain that peace in our hearts.

The result
Clothing yourself with love 3:14b “binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Having Christ dwelling within you lets you, 3:16b “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”

I am a musical person.  These verses make my singers’ heart happy.  There is power in singing together.  Singing in harmony requires a close listening to your fellow singers.  It also involves trusting you know your part. 

This Christmas Eve I sang a complex song with my family.  My sister-in-law and I had what I would call the percussion of the song.  We sang an “ooo” to the tune of “sweet silvers bells all seem to say throw cares away”.  We sang that one measure melody for six pages.  Other people were doing different supporting harmony on “ooo” or “doo”.  My son sang a melody line of “O Come O Come Emanuel” over all this crazy “ooo” and “doo” random sounding stuff. 

We rehearsed it in a line and sang standing in a line at my home Methodist church.  We sang it again at the Catholic church in town later that night but this time we were in a tight block of three rows in the choir section.  I was lucky enough to be in the front.  The harmony came together so powerfully that I nearly lost my part.  It took hearing it blended to understand how these odd parts all fit together in a lovely way.  Singing it without hearing the other parts well was OK, and I trusted it was right, but hearing it blended brought me to tears.

When we sing hymns together, we breath together.  You don’t even need to sing in tune for this to be true!  Singing together joins us as one voice.  Singing together even causes our hearts to beat in rhythm.  There was a study in 2013 that monitored the heart rates of a choir while they sang.  The singers' heart rates became synchronized very quickly after they started singing together. It’s no wonder our faith communities sing hymns together in worship.  It physically joins our hearts as one.  There is great wisdom in this scripture that advises us, “with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”

There is a need to continually grow toward the goal of becoming the people of God.  That is the gift of being able to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom.  John Wesley called this work toward holiness in conduct, Sanctifying grace.  It is the inner change that brings us closer to becoming the loving people Jesus taught us to be by his example.  It makes this scripture circular in that our attempts to put on love bring in the working of the Holy Spirit which teaches us how to better put on love.

This message hits as just as we’re about to enter a new year.  This time of year, many of us make resolutions to live a better life.  We may write them down formally or just hold them in our hearts.  We may want to lose weight so our clothes fit better so diet and exercise is often on our lists.  

This scripture takes a different angle on that thought.  Perhaps this year you can resolve to instead change your clothing choices.  Chose to clothe yourselves first with love, then with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Your life will fit better with the goal to become the person God wants you to be. 

If we take those first small actions the Holy Spirit will meet us where we are and guide us to help each other grow in our faith.  Growing in holiness is a life-long process.  I believe we need each other as teachers.  We need to sing our songs together.  This scripture gives us the assurance that the word of Christ will dwell within us.  The Holy Spirit will guide our understanding.  What an amazing new year this could be!  It all depends on what we choose to wear.

Christmas blessings to you each, and I wish you a Happy New Year!


Amen









Saturday, December 8, 2018

Joseph / Based on Matthew 1:18-25 / Delivered December 9, 2018 to UMC-Hudson

Joseph / Based on Matthew 1:18-25 / Delivered December 9, 2018 to UMC-Hudson
Based on a CCH message I created from 20161218 and added poetry from a 1998 service on Joseph.
Hymns: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Joseph Dearest, Love Divine All Loves Excelling.


Matthew 1:18-25 (CEB)
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:
23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
        And they will call him, Emmanuel.
(Emmanuel means “God with us.”)
24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.


Our scripture today gives us a view of the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s side.  We often think of Mary and how this event would have been experienced through her eyes, but Matthew gives us a chance to pause and examine the man who would adopt the Son of God and raise him as his own son.


The three ideas I am pulling from this scripture passage are:
Trust during the unexpected
Choose love over law
Claim Jesus as your own


Trust during the unexpected
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

I think we can agree that this was quite unexpected.  Joseph was set to marry this nice, righteous, young woman and then she turns up pregnant.  The human response could of easily been “why me?” which is more of a statement of “poor me” than it is a real question.  The verses do not show Joseph thinking in that way.  Instead it shows him taking steps to do the next best thing he can.

Joseph’s response to this unexpected event is to decide to do the most loving thing he can think of, but then God gives him another option.  His dream told him to risk trusting God was in this situation.  He had to trust Mary had not been unfaithful and risk his own reputation in the community.

By taking a pregnant Mary as his wife he would appear to be admitting he had sex before completing the wedding vows.  The words, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife” were appropriate given what he was facing.  It would have been scary.  He was a carpenter and relied on people’s business.  If his reputation was tarnished it could affect his livelihood and his ability to provide for his family.

Then there was the faith needed to believe Mary had not been untrue to her commitment to him.  In the case of all other pregnant young ladies around, there had been a man involved.  Being pregnant as a virgin was quite uncommon to say the least.  Joseph had to have faith in the angel’s words and faith in the fidelity of his betrothed.

Joseph’s final response was total trust.  1:24 “When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife.”  He didn’t need a day to think about it.

Choose love over law
19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly.

Joseph was called “a righteous man” which means he knew the scripture.  To be engaged was equal to marriage except you didn’t live together yet.  That meant if Mary was pregnant by someone else she had committed adultery.

Here’s the law per Deuteronomy 22:  If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.  If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you. But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.

Joseph was planning to claim that final scenario happened to Mary.  That was choosing love over law.  He took what little wiggle room he had to spared her life as well as her reputation.

Claiming Jesus as your own
24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

Matthew doesn’t give the birth of Jesus a lot of explanation.  The key words out of this verse is that Joseph named him.  That indicated Joseph claimed him as his own.  The beginning verses of Matthew contain the genealogy of Jesus.  It traces back from Abraham to Joseph.   Joseph accepted the role of Father.

The name Jesus is the Latin version of the Hebrew name Joshua which translates as “Jehovah saves”.  It was Joshua that led the Israelites into the promised land.  Jesus would carry on that responsibility as savior and lead us into the promise of life with God.

I sometimes wonder about Joseph’s Fatherly influence over Jesus as he was growing up.  Jesus was in trouble often for choosing to love over obeying the law.  Healing on the Sabbath comes to mind, as well as his disciples harvesting grain to eat on the Sabbath.  It may have been first taught by seeing Joseph’s example.

Pulling a little farther back in my archives I came upon this two-character play between Joseph and the Angel I wrote when Pastor T. Thom wanted to do a service about Joseph.  It touches on the similarities of Jesus teaching with Joseph’s profession as a carpenter.  It is more from my imagination than scripture, but it speaks to our human sense of unworthiness when we think of inviting Jesus to enter our lives.  Here it is again for those that may have been around in 1998.


What guidance can I give the Son of God?
I am a simple man with a simple trade
There is little I can do to prepare him for his life
Joseph, why do you doubt the Master’s choice?
You were chosen you know

I’m tired – it’s time for a break
A man can’t put in quality work if he doesn’t take time to rejuvenate
Mistakes can be made if you don’t step back from your work now and then
The importance of rest
A good lesson to pass on to your son

You’ve separated some wood pieces apart from the others
This pile is wood I can’t use – it’s too weak
It looks fine on the top but see how the inside has been rotting away
Could have fooled some, but you can’t judge wood by its outsides only
The importance of examining what’s inside
A good lesson to pass on to your son

And these planks here – why are they set apart?
They may not look like much because they appear a little rough and dark
Their beauty will be brought out after some sanding and a little stain
Yes, the grain is beautiful on those pieces if you take the time to look and work with them
The importance of recognizing potential
A good lesson to pass on to your son

Are these little pieces ones you’re discarding?
Goodness no – those will be used for backing and shims
It takes a lot of little pieces to create a large project
A house can’t be built with just a brass knocker you know
The importance of respecting the part each one contributes
A good lesson to pass on to your son

I think I understand what you’re getting at
I can share with him the simple things of my trade
Like how important it is to have a solid foundation before building higher
Yes Joseph
Sometimes the simplest lessons are the best



What can we learn from the example of Joseph?

We can work toward trust in the face of unexpected circumstances.   This isn’t easy.  When I first started studying scripture my pastor taught that “why” wasn’t a meaningful question to ask.  “Why” was most often associated with whining.  Why did this happen to me?  Or questioning the authority of the person causing the situation.  “Why did you do this?  A better question is “What do I do now?”

There are times when it is good to determine the cause of a problem and attempt to modify things, so the problem doesn’t reoccur.  However, there are many times we are given a path where trust in an unknown master plan is our better option.  Moving forward in the face of an unexpected reality is a better choice than dwelling in “why me?”.

I have a motto for my tougher days that is “do the next right thing.”  We don’t know where our path will lead far into the future, so taking the next right step is sometimes as far as we can go.  We can trust the wisdom of Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” and work toward discerning that next right thing.

We can follow Joseph’s lead, as well as the teachings of Jesus, and choose Love over Law.  You may say, “We don’t have religious laws like that in our post-resurrection time.”  Let me use another quote to give you a little different perspective.  Anne Lamott said, “It's better to be kind than to be right.”  I knew a person that held up a line in a fast food restaurant and made an employee feel like a failure because she shorted him 25 cents when she gave him his change.  He was a person that was on the upper end of the income bracket, but he was “right” about the amount of change he deserved even though the emotional cost to the cashier was far more negative than him missing a quarter.  William James put it this way, “the art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

There are times when a situation needs to be set right.  There are other times when the emotional cost to the people involved is more important than correcting a misstep.  In that case it is far wiser and kinder to lead with love and forgiveness and let the misstep be overlooked.  Your life and the lives of those around you can experience more peace if you don’t feel the need to correct every wrong.  To be righteous and know right from wrong is a good thing, but if that slides into being self-righteous, which is believing you are morally superior, it is a negative one.

We daily can choose how we accept Jesus into our lives.  I am asking you to claim that baby in the manager as your own just as Joseph did.  We are to name him Jesus / “Jehovah saves” and Emmanuel / “God with us” and know that we are the “us”.   We say in the Apostle’s Creed that we believe in Jesus “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.”  To believe means we accept it is true.  Joseph believed that what the dream explained was true.  He took it one step past belief and acted in faith by claiming Jesus as his own.  Faith can be defined as “complete trust or confidence.”  It is the difference between calling Jesus a savior and claiming him as my savior. 

My little play brought out a risk we have as humans.  We may not invite Jesus into our lives because we feel unworthy of welcoming him in.  Jesus words, “your sins are forgiven”, was given to many coming to him for healing. 


Psalm 103:8-12 tell us;
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.


Jesus said he’s standing at the door knocking.  He has chosen to make his dwelling within us.  He believes we are enough.  We have free will.  He’s not going to knock the door down and come into our hearts without being invited in. 

Our world needs God’s love today.  Our world needs God’s peace.  His love came down two thousand years ago as a child and Joseph took Him into his heart and into his home.  Today his love comes down when we say “welcome” and open our hearts to receive him.  This must be an active choice.  It must come from your heart. 

For those of you hesitating because you don’t know what you could contribute toward this relationship, my advice to you is to be yourself and give yourself to Him.  You have been chosen.  You are God’s child.  You are enough.  Accept yourself as worthy of acting as His dwelling place, and then accept Jesus, who is waiting to enter, into your heart.

In our first hymn we sang Jesus was “born to reign in us”.  In our final hymn of the day we will sing “fix in us thy humble dwelling” and “enter every trembling heart”.  Own those words.  God will work with you on the rest.  Trust Him in faith.  Live in love.  Claim Him as your own.

One more little piece I wrote in 1998 on the influence of Joseph.


Jesus
was indeed
influenced by a carpenter

For at the close of his life
with wood and with nails
and his own two hands

he formed a gift
no other craftsman
could equal


Amen