Sermon, January 6, 2019
At the beginning of this new year we might need to remind ourselves that the Bible, and Jesus, are more than 2000 years old...yet if the bible is a living document, and Christ’s spirit is still active in our lives, then the stories in the Bible about Jesus are still relevant today. Now, again, you are free to believe anything you choose to believe. But this morning, I would like you to consider, just consider, an interpretation about the Magi, also known as wise men and kings, that makes sense today.
Two things you need to remember as we talk about this story: In 70 AD, 70 years after the birth of Jesus, Rome and its armies totally and completely destroyed Jerusalem, the holy temple, the synagogues, fields of grain and people’s homes. There was nothing left of the Jewish way of life in and around Jerusalem. And the second thing to remember is that stories in the Bible were oral stories for years before they were written down. Today’s story was told as an oral story from about 71 AD until it was written as gospel in the year 80 AD.
The reason this story was written was to attempt to unify, unite, and urge the Jewish people and the new Jewish Christians to keep the faith, stay together, don’t go off looking for other gods to worship. This was an earnest plea by Matthew to try to save the Jewish faith and the people. Matthew did so by reminding the Jews and Christians of the Biblical heroes who have saved them throughout the centuries. Six of the most popular Jewish characters were Noah,Moses, Joseph one of Jacob’s twelve tribes, Queen Esther, Daniel, and King Solomon.
I ask you to keep an open mind and consider the characters in Matthew’s birth story of Jesus.
1. Jesus was put in a manger. In Hebrew the words basket, manger, and ark are all the same word. Noah and his ark saved the Jewish race from a massive flood. Moses as a baby in a basket grew up to be the second savior of the Jewish people through his rescuing them from the cruel Pharaoh of Egypt. Jesus in a manger came to save both Jewish people and Gentiles...meaning every one, all people...including you and me. That is he saved us to live his life and to know the spiritual power of love, forgiveness, compassion, and joy.
Next in the birth story Matthew mentions a man named Joseph, whose father he named Jacob, as Mary’s human husband. The old Joseph was guided by God through dreams and interpreting them. In the birth story, Mary’s Joseph was guided by God through dreams and his interpretation of them.
Next came the story of the wise men, also known as Magi, and Kings, coming from the east guided by a star. Have you ever wondered why these three strange men are called by three different titles? Well, apparently Matthew went back to the Old Testament to use the stories of Esther, Daniel and Solomon to further cement the importance of the birth of Jesus and to continue to urge his people to keep the faith.
Here is where the Wise Men originate, through the story of Queen Esther: Esther became the Queen of Persia...her husband King Xerxes was confused about how to save Esther’s Jewish people from an edict that demanded all Jewish people be killed within three weeks. Wise Men who knew the Jewish faith and the terrible temper of the times came to the king giving him the gift of wisdom and problem solutions. Consequently through the gift of wisdom from the Wise Men and Queen Esther the Jewish people where saved from the plan to mass murder all of them.
Then Matthew uses the character of Daniel to promote the importance of magi. Daniel, who had served as a slave administrator to the empires of Babylon and then Persian, was known as Rab-Mag, meaning he was chief of all the magis. Magi were astrologers who studied the stars and prophesied about the future. Daniel’s claim to fame is that he told a certain group of the magi’s a messianic secret...that is he foretold of a time when a Messiah, the anointed one, would be born and magi’s around the world would know when that happened because a strange star would appear at that time. This prophecy by Magi Daniel is a perfect story to accompany the story of Jesus’ birth.
Lastly, Matthew turned to a favorite Jewish king, King Solomon the son of King David. It seems he was known from near and far for his wisdom. There is a biblical story of the queen of Sheba, from Yemen and Ethiopia, coming with a number of kings from the countries she ruled, to meet with Solomon. Her caravan carried many camels toting bags of gold and spices of every kind. These gifts she laid at the feet of King Solomon. The story continues that while Sheba stayed in the palace with Solomon she became pregnant with a child by Solomon. When time came for her to return to Yemen Solomon sent hundreds of Jewish people with her to help raise his son as a Jewish man to ensure the Jewish race of faithful people would people the known world. To this day there is a large Jewish population in Ethiopia, Yemen and other countries that were ruled by Queen of Sheba.
This story, told orally for 5 to 10 years before it was written as gospel, is Matthew’s efforts to preserve the very foundations of Judaism through Biblical characters, proving Jesus is who they say he is, and asking Jews and Christians everywhere to keep their faith...because elements everywhere try to destroy it.
My question to you: of what value is this story and its history to us as 21st century Christians? This is one extremely important value: if we don’t know and remember our historical and spiritual past we are condemned to repeat the ills of it!” If indeed we desire to follow our Christ and live by his tenants we need to know what the tenets are and where they came from. The Bible was good enough for Shakespeare to base his plays and characters on so it should be good enough for us to desire to know who we really are and why we really exist as spiritual people. The Bible was good enough for our founding fathers to use it as a base to create a nation of laws and freedom. It should be good enough for us to desire to know what it says about us.
I urge you to read and learn the Biblical characters on your own, or come to Bible study and know your own history as a guide. You might just find yourself among characters who have lived with us for thousands of years. We must keep them alive in our day and beyond. We all need to be enlightened if Christianity is to survive past these current and upcoming generations. Matthew’s plea for unity is as needed to today more than ever. Please keep the faith, learn more, live into the power and majesty that is ours, stay with us, bring your loved ones...it is as essential today as it was in the days of the gospel writers.
Sermon, January 13, 2019
The Dali Lama is a holy man to Tibetan Buddhists. He is recognized by most other religions as a wise and spiritual person. Even though he is in exile in India he is still considered the leader of the Tibetan sect. Every day he sends messages to his people, and he usually includes this quote every time: THE purpose of our lives is to be happy.
We hear that from Jesus as well. He taught “rejoice, rejoice always, rejoice even though we face challenges to joy. So, how many of us act on this tenet? Do we rejoice always? Do we know we are meant to be happy?
One of the many ways we can be happy, we can rejoice, is through emotional intelligence.
Now, we all know what mental intelligence is...being smart, being wise, making good and right decisions for ourselves and others.
We also know what physical intelligence is...how to care for our own bodies through eating right, exercising, sleeping well, and avoiding drugs and alcohol.
But what about emotional intelligence? What is it? It is the ability and willingness to be empathetic with others and yourself. It means recognizing all others experience the same moods, responses, and needs that you do, and then be aware when those experiences happen to others. To have empathy you are willing to understand and to share the feelings of another person. It also includes the ability to put yourself in another’s position and frame of reference. The native Americans said it like this: do not complain about another until you walk in his moccasins.
Emotional intelligence is related to a higher consciousness. Higher consciousness is that part of being human that is capable of transcending our animal instincts. In comparison, lower consciousness is an awareness of and focus on our animal instincts of hunger, thirst, pain, pleasure, as well as basic drives for safety, security, and a sense of belonging. A higher consciousness is also aware of these instincts but it does not focus on them. A higher consciousness leads us away from a self-centered existence to a spiritual existence where our God, and our God’s core values, direct our behavior. Higher consciousness is the next ladder up in human existence which makes us eager to seek and experiece spirituality. In other words, when we develop our higher consciousness we know and can relate to a power and an energy that is larger and longer lasting than we are; we call that God. All humans, who can willingly put aside self-interest at times for the benefit of others are in truth seeking a higher or a God consciousness.
To further our God consciousness, our higher state of being, involves sharing. For example, we come to church to share the joy of communion with each other and our shared God. It also involves each of us living each day, and encouraging others to live the primary universal God morals of love, kindness, compassion, gentleness, and peace. These living traits have far more to do with God than do dogma, doctrine, creeds, formulas, or literal readings of scripture. If we are true believers in God and the risen Christ spirit, then we should want and desire to nourish the minds and hearts of one another so we grow and change together toward a higher existence for us all.
It’s not hard. Every simple act of kindness, especially to others we often deem unworthy, are the most powerful actions we can take on behalf of our loving Lord. Every single act of kindness leads directly to and adds to our own divine-ness, our God consciousness, our higher state of being.
We only need to have loving attitudes towards all, and to act on God’s rightness, to experience God’s kingdom on earth right now!
Are you happy? Do you rejoice always? If not, try living a different way. It is a choice.
Sermon, January 20, 2019
Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell stories about Jesus, his life, his way of dealing with others, and most especially about his relationship with his God. These three together are called the synoptic gospels. They have a common view about the life and works of Jesus. The gospel of John is different. It takes a different view of Jesus and his life...but adds in more detail the meaning of his life, the eternality of it. For John it’s almost like saying, so Jesus lived, loved, forgave, and died...but so what. He then tells us the so what. His gospel is known as the spiritual gospel.
The gospel of John was written at least 100 years after the birth of Jesus...within those 100 years Rome had destroyed the Jewish nation, torn down the great temple, and scattered many of the Jewish people to other areas and countries. Also, during this time Christians were being persecuted and killed by the order of the Roman emperor Nero and his successors.
Because of his strong belief in the Christ figure of Jesus, and promoted him as the true Son of God, John himself had a compelling desire to encourage all Jewish people to grow from Judaism into Christianity. He did so by writing stories like this one today….the Wedding at Cana.
Look at the story. The very first phrase, “on the third day” we immediately know this is a story about spirit...on the third day is not the number 3… it is a phrase used throughout the bible to indicate a special significant event that leads to a new direction, a new a better way to live…The next phrase tells us this story is about a wedding, meaning a story about love and commitment. The story tells us Jesus’ mother is there...but she is not named at all. Mary is never used in this story. So what mother is the writer talking about. Well, we know from other sources, it was common to refer to a man’s mother being his homeland, his city, his place of residence, or even sometimes his God...like son of…. So we assume the writer is talking about Jerusalem and Israel as Jesus’ mother. Jesus and his disciples were also at the wedding, or involved in something having to do with love and commitment.
The story then says, when the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother (Israel or Judaism) said to Jesus “there is no more wine” meaning there is no Jerusalem, no temple, no Jewish people left here. In other words, “Jesus, do something.” And he wasn’t quite ready yet. But the mother Israel says to the servants...that is the followers of Jesus...do whatever he tells you. In other words, here he is, the leader of your new faith so obey him.
Nearby stood six stone water jars the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing or purification. Jesus said to the servants, fill these jars to the brim and take a cup to the master of the banquet. They did so and he realized it was new wine, better much better than the old wine. Which tells us John felt Christianity was better than Judaism because the Messiah had come and it was all about love not just the Law and Prophets. Faith had taken a new direction where people did not have to take baths of purification because God made all people pure through the resurrection of the Christ spirit. The master of the banquet said, you have saved the best for last.’
Now in Jewish tradition, the bridegroom was totally responsible to house, feed, and serve entertainment and drink to wedding guests. When Jesus provided the new wine he became known as the bride groom. So who was the bride? The people gathered there...or the church. Us. The church universal is known as the bride of Christ.
So this story is vitally important because it recaptures in spirit form the very beginnings of Christianity. The Christian church welcomes all people with love and compassion, and honors and worships Jesus the Messiah or in Greek the Christ who is the full human representative of the Almighty God.
Two thousand years later here we are together in the church, which is the gathering of people who love the Christ and who have made a commitment to live as he did and as he does.
The gospel of John reminds us Jesus was the one who saved them from oppression and the heavy limiting Law by which they had to live. Jesus also was the one who broke every barrier of prejudice and led the way for us to live in love.
That is the so what. We are descendants of that developing faith and like in ages old we are responsible as believers to love our God and obey his tenets. By so doing we keep the Christ Spirit and the church alive.
Those are our greatest needs, and our greatest deeds.
Sermon, January 27, 2019
What do you want to hear today?
Do you have worries? Problems? Challenges? What’s on your mind? What’s on your heart? What keeps you from being joyous, glad, thankful always? These are questions that haunt us and rob the joy we are meant to have as being children of our awesome God.
Years ago I had a teacher who told me something I haven’t forgotten. She said to me, in almost every human thought about self there is a kernel of doubt hidden within that thought. For example, she said there is a stream of consciousness running across the back of our minds like elevator music...always present and irritating. That little kernel of doubt tries to diminish the image we have of ourselves. As we grow up and have life experiences we meet people who seem to have more gifts than we do….some people are smarter than we are, more attractive than we think we are, more capable, more fun, have more advantages….and so these little niggling kernels tend to make us feel bad about ourselves...they destroy our natural, God given self worth. We are so busy comparing ourselves to others we forget how special and unique God made each of us. You exist because God asked you to and made it possible for you to be here.
It is hard for us to admit that most of what we think about ourselves have come from others...beginning with our birth families, then our neighborhoods, then our friends and acquaintances through our young, middle, and older years. Even the concept of love and whether you feel loved or not, has been taught to you by someone until you allow yourself to experience it for yourself. Your self doubt was created through a life experiences involving others people. These ideas of self-hood are usually in direct conflict with the authentic truth of who you are...a gift to universe.
So to attack and destroy any negative images or thoughts you have of yourself you must, absolutely must, accept certain truths that neither life nor death, nor experiences can change.
Scriptural truth number one: You are made in the very image of God...meaning you have God’s traits of the power to choose love or hate; peace or worry, generosity or selfishness, joy or grief, forgiveness or guilt, and freedom or imprisonment of self at any moment of time in any situation. You have that kind of power. Do you use it to encourage yourself and others?
Truth number 2: You are worthy no matter who you are, what gifts or talents or skills you have or don’t have , and you are no better or worse than any other human on the planet...you are equal in the eyes of God. Each and every one of us is God’s favorite. Is it possible for that to become absolute truth for you?
Truth number 3: To accept your unique being, you must see your life through the loving, grace-filled eyes of God and not through human comparisons. When you think someone is better than you in any way, stop. Don’t tell yourself another lie. Someone may seem to have more possessions than you, or more positional power than you, but that does not make that person more important than you are. You are just as essential and influential in the place God has placed you. So enjoy who you are with NO regrets….that is a choice you have every minute of your life.
Truth number 4: All of the above have to do with your relationship with your God. How sad that many of us do not know which God we truly worship: the condemning, punishing God or the God of love and forgiveness. You need to know which God you worship. And when you make that decision you will better realize that God has something special in mind for you and each and every other individual. So don’t let anyone tell you and don’t tell yourself that you lack anything or that you are different or less than. When you doubt yourself you are doubting God. But when you trust God’s teachings then you know who your are...a reflection of God. Also as the book of Jeremiah teaches, “”For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Truth number 5: Because many of us are not accustomed to using our intellect, we rely on visualizations….therefore, God put a very human Jesus on this planet to help us see how to live everyday to the full expression of love and acceptance. To love yourself, to extend that love to all others, to forgive even the worst done to you, makes you like God and molds you into one of the most powerful people in your realm of existence. Enjoy who you are now. Only than can you grow and prosper.
In closing, you were created by the parents that birthed you. Yes, but God himself directed that birth. Why do you think God says even the very hairs of our head are numbered. You have the potential to be the child God has always wanted. You just have to act on what you trust about God, then choose to trust who you are..., and never ever again will you want to express a poor self-worth. In Scot Peck’s book “The Road Less Traveled” he taught us what someone else thinks about you is none of your business. In reality, some people you concern yourself with probably don’t think about you very often anyway...we just imagine they do.
In 1st Corinthians we read, “Don’t let anyone tell you different. Your future is bright, beyond anything the eye can see or the ear heard, or has entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him.”
Is that what you wanted to hear today? Or am I just talking to myself?
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