Annunciation

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When we first read this passage we hear and see the excitement of the coming of Christ into the world. The power and the awe of God’s angel appealing! The fear and courage of listening to the angel’s words. The excitement of being the chosen one to be the mother.

We are control freaks – we like having control, especially about us. We like to bury ourselves in our Disciple heritage and talk about laity leadership. And all of that is well and good with people dealing with people. However, God is not democratic at all.

God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Philemon: A Slave!

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The Letter of Philemon is the shortest of Paul’s writings. It is a masterpiece of graceful, tactful and delicate pleading for a forgiving spirit of a Christian man.
Philemon was a member of the church of Colossae, who owed his conversion to the apostle Paul. Thus we understand the words “You owe to me even your own self as well”. The letter from Paul paints Philemon as having great character. Paul commends his faith and love, His benevolence and hospitality, and his docile, sympathizing, and forgiving spirit. He was a wealthy man and the letter appears to imply that his whole family were Christians. Tradition represents him as bishop of that city and as having suffered martyrdom.

Onesimus was a servant (or slave). Onesimus was a slave owned by Philemon in Colossae. Fleeing from his master Philemon, to Rome, he was there led to embrace the gospel through the instrumentality of the apostle. Roman law said that Philemon had the right to kill Onesimus for running away. Paul and Onesimus not only become fellow Christians but very close friends. Onesimus, accompanied by Tychicus, left Rome with not only this epistle but with that to the Colossians, A.D. 60.

Paul knew Philemon well enough to beg Philemon to forgive Onesimus for his is obedience. We want to yell, “Why does Paul send Onesimus back to Philemon?”
Slavery was wrong! Why doesn’t Paul say something about slavery? It is not that Paul wasn’t concerned about the issue of slavery. There were more people in the world who were slaves than free. Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. In the Church there was to be no distinction. But remember, time was running out, there were many people who needed to be saved. For Paul, all of us were slaves to something.

A recent Business Week poll listed inventions Americans said they couldn’t live without (by percentage): Automobile–63: Light bulb–54: Telephone–42: Television–22: Aspirin–19: Microwave oven–13: Blow-dryer–7.8: Personal computer–7.6.

Isn’t it amazing what we become slaves too? Have you ever noticed a vine growing and spiraling around a chain-link fence? The fresh growth, the young green vine, is easy to remove with a simple twist of your wrist. The old, brown, woody part of the vine is very difficult to remove. It takes a lot of time and effort to break it off and sometimes it won’t come off unless we are willing to also remove part of the fence itself. Bad habits are like a vine on a chain-link fence. The sooner we get after them, the easier they are to remove. But the old ones, the ones we’ve let remain in our life for years, are hard to get rid of. Sometimes they can’t be removed unless we also remove other parts of our life.

All of us are slaves to something. God sent His Son, Jesus, to set us free. Matt 5:29-30 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. I used one of those super adhesive glues to make a repair on Jonathan’s Jeep. In less than few minutes, my right index finger was bonded to the little piece. Have you ever tried to free yourself of something that you are stuck too?

I remembered that scene when I visited a new family in our neighborhood. The father of the family introduced his children: “This is Pete. He’s the clumsy one of the lot.” “That’s Kathy coming in with mud on her shoes. She’s the sloppy one.”
“As always, Mike’s last. He’ll be late for his own funeral. I promise you.” The dad did a thorough job of gluing his children to their faults and mistakes. People do it to us, and to those we love all the time.

When we don’t let people forget their past, when we don’t forgive, we glue them to their mistakes and refuse to see them as more than something they have done. However, when we forgive, we gently pry the doer of the hurtful deed from the deed itself and we say that the past is just that — the past — over and done with. God does what we are unable to do or what those around us don’t want to do or are unable to do for us. When we accept his forgiveness, he separates us from our sins. “As far as the east is from the west,” the psalmist says, which means as far as you can imagine, that offense will be wiped away, blotted out.

The Good News is that Jesus Christ came to set the prisoner free!

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Sweetness or Substance?

We had been in Honduras for six days and during that time we had been fed a basic nutritious Honduran diet. All of this happened at Monte Carmelo the retreat center for the Christian Commission for Development. Then we traveled to Copan and stayed in a hotel. Eating at the restaurant I discovered that they had ice cream. It was from a real cow. It was pasturized. It was homogenized. It was healthy, it was civilized and it was good. There are some things that we have difficulty in giving up.

Millions of years ago, God’s creative evolutionary process, gave us the craving for sweetness. Built deep within us is a desire for things that are sweet. Our craving for sweetness drove us to look for sweet fruits and berries which contained valuable nutrients. But something happened in this process that changed everything. We learned how to refine sugar.

Our craving for sweetness became a liability because we could get the sweetness anytime we wanted it. You know the results. Obesity, rotted teeth, etc. And we prefer it over good food, that is better for us. All because it became “too easy.”

We are able immediately, without effort, and far too easily to fulfill too many of our cravings. In many places today there is a huge explosion of gambling. Casinos are built, state lotteries take in billions. What is this except a public seeking to feed upon the sweet sugar of instant gratification without any long-term effort? We want something for nothing.

During the last century, the United States planned, financed, and built the Panama Canal. The Canal work began in 1904 and was completed in 1914. That meant there were many legislators in the House of Representatives who voted for the expenditure of funds (10 million), but were not in office when the canal was completed. It took five congressional terms to complete the project. Can we imagine politicians today taking such a long view, risking their careers on a project on which they would never reap the benefits?

I looked around at the many problems facing the Honduran people. Sewage running out into the city streets. Housing that is far less than substandard. Crime that is so bad that most places have hired security guards with machine guns. Poor medical care, poor education, poor transportation, etc. Where does one start?

In pushing for funds for elementary education in the state of Mississippi, the governor of Mississippi told a story about his father who was 80. Recently, his father planted about 1,000 trees on his farm. The trees will take about 40 years to grow. Of course, the father will never live to see those trees grow to maturity, and yet the trees were planted.

We want instant, immediate gratification. We want a payoff for our efforts now.
We want the sugar without the substance. We elect politicians who lie to us, telling us that we can have national health care plan or retirement without a huge additional expenditure of our taxes. Corporations seek instant payoffs through mergers and acquisitions, rather than investing in research and product development. Corporations seek short-term gain, gain achieved without great effort. Choosing the sugar over the substance.

Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. Anything worth doing takes time, effort, long-term commitment, struggle, correction, steadfastness.
This we know. Do we also know that about the Christian faith?

Perhaps we know this, we are all here. You are not lounging in front of the television this Sunday, hoping to get this faith through osmosis. You have made the effort. This may be your Sunday to gain clarity and surety in your faith. It may not. Things take time here. You have forsaken the world of the quick fix, the sweetness without substance, and have come to ponder. Some things take time.

Stewardship Of Time

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Many people hope to be elected to heaven who are not even running for the office.
I am amazed at the number of people I meet who want to go to Heaven but do little or nothing about trying to get there. Grace is a free gift but that doesn’t mean a free ride. Grace means giving us the gift of forgiveness without our ability to earn it. But there is a certain expectation of trying to live as God has called us to live. This lifestyle that I am talking about is called “stewardship.” We hear that in many messages as time, talent and resources.

Gen 2:2-3 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
The practice of observing one day in seven as a time for rest and worship was originated in creation, because God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh. By this act, God ordained a pattern for living that humanity should work six days and should rest one day a week. Moses reaffirms this in our scripture text this morning.

There is a rich history behind the Sabbath in the Bible. Starting with Seth , men began to call upon the name of the Lord in acts of worship. Thus, periods of seven days play a prominent role at crucial points throughout Genesis . The mention of a seven-day week and a seven-year cycle in the life practice of Laban, Abraham’s relative, is striking. Job worshiped God every seventh day . The keeping of the Sabbath was a sign that God truly ruled Israel. To break His Sabbath law was to rebel against Him-an action meriting death . Society was not to seek advancement outside of submission to God. Therefore, all work except acts of mercy, necessity, and worship were forbidden on the Sabbath. During the period between the Old and New Testaments, Jewish religious leaders added greatly to the details of Sabbath legislation. They made the law a burden rather than a rest and delight. Thus they reduced the Sabbath to little more than an external observance . At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread– which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Many Christians feel that God still expects His people to set aside one day in seven to Him. They argue that such an observance is a creation ordinance which is binding until this creation comes to an end and our ultimate rest as Christians is realized in heaven. That is Paul’s argument in the 4th Chapter of Hebrew. Christians of this persuasion usually observe Sunday, the first day of the week, as the Christian Sabbath. They note that Christ arose on the first day of the week and, thereafter, the New Testament church regularly worshiped on Sunday.

This idea is expressed by the Hebrew word for Sabbath, which means “cessation.”
The word means “rest” and is embodied in this idea. God’s people are directed to keep the Sabbath because God delivered and redeemed His people from the bondage in Egypt. Thus, the Sabbath is an ordinance that relates redemption directly to history.

Finally, the Sabbath includes the idea and practice of celebrating rest, or salvation (saved from the labor). To this end, God declared that His Sabbath was a day for public worship to signify their submission to His lordship. The idea of Sabbath celebration includes the Sabbath as a sacrament– a gift of God that allows His creation to enter into God’s rest (salvation).

The “Sabbath” is now for the Christian no longer a day, but a spiritual experience.
In the tithe we understand that 1/10 of our income belongs to God. In the Sabbath, 1/7 of our time belongs to God. We tithe our time just as we tithe our money. It doesn’t matter what day we give to God as long as we give a day to God.

The rest offered on the Sabbath is both physical and spiritual. Matt 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. To find 1/7 of our time given to God brings great rest. Paul writes, Heb 4:9-10 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.