Dec 27, 2013

Mary Sings!

Mid-nineteenth century brought to prominence a young singer and protégée of Felix Mendelssohn (who wrote the tune for our Christmas hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing). Jenny Lind came from a small Swedish village and was terribly poor and unskilled. She got by doing menial jobs, but she loved to sing. Despite her poverty, she dreamed of being an accomplished singer. She sang on street corners, hoping passersby would toss her a copper coin or two. She sang each day—and made barely enough to buy food. One day a true musician passed by and heard her. Entranced by her beautiful voice, he adopted her, teaching her how to use her splendid voice to its fullest. In time she became the toast of Europe and America. Everyone came to know and then love “The Swedish Nightingale,” as they called Jenny Lind.

We could describe Mary as “The Galilean Nightingale” and Jesus’ first disciple. From Jesus’ beginning to his end on the cross, Mary was there as a follower and a learner. Humanly speaking, her introduction to the things of God must have been terrifying. After all, Gabriel’s first words to her were, “Do not be afraid, Mary” (Luke 1:30). How would her parents, her synagogue, and her fiancé Joseph understand the unbelievable things that had happened? More than anything else, the text reminds us that she rejoiced in being the Lord’s handmaiden, regardless of the personal trauma.

Today, each of us has our own reasons to believe—or to not believe—in God’s promises. Are we able to follow Mary? Is she worthy of our devotion and dedication? Can we hear a young, unwed mother sing of the joy of salvation?

Martin Luther, in a sermon on this particular past Sunday, the Fourth of Advent, over four hundred years ago, said that when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, three miracles occurred: God became man, a virgin conceived, Mary believed. Luther said the greatest of the Christmas miracles was this: Mary believed.

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Dec 20, 2013

Words of Hope



This is one of my favorite stories about hope, which is the theme of Advent for people who call themselves Christian. Words of hope appropriated by people are what can change the world.
The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city of Chicago’s hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child’s name and room number and talked briefly with the child’s regular class teacher. “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now,” the regular teacher said, “and I’d be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn’t fall too far behind.”

The hospital program teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, “I’ve been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs.” When she left she felt she hadn't accomplished much.

But the next day, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. “No, no,” said the nurse. “You don’t know what I mean. We’ve been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live.”

Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they” (Bits & Pieces, July 1991)?

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Dec 18, 2013

Hope is the King



December 15, 2013 - Sanctuary from FUMC of Arlington on Vimeo.

Dr. David N. Mosser's sermon "Hope is the King" from December 15, 2013.

Sermon transcript available for download here.


iTunes

Dec 13, 2013

Malachi Speaks!

Our society has many kinds of rituals. Each ritual reveals our good faith intentions. Some rituals include the singing of the National Anthem prior to sporting events, shaking hands, or giving/receiving rings during a wedding. These rituals indicate our readiness to live in love and charity. These rituals may also show respect for our nation, our fellow citizens, or for those with whom we make sacred promises.

The time of Advent includes messages from the prophets who spoke of the coming of the Messiah or Anointed One of God. After God sends his messenger, the prophet Malachi, the prophet becomes like a refiner’s fire or like fuller’s soap. Then, and only then, will God cleanse the priests. Then, and only then, will those priests who represent the religious community receive the “offerings to the Lord in righteousness.” Then, and only then, will the people’s offerings please the Lord. These acts Malachi’s prophecy describes are functions of ritual cleansing.

In the prophets’ understanding of God, how people live and treat one another reflects their belief and covenant with God. We act on what we believe. Therefore, if one shows good faith toward God, then one likewise shows good faith toward his or her sisters and brothers. To engage in sorcery, adultery, false witness, oppression of workers, widows, and orphans reveals bad faith. And the wages of bad faith, at least according to Malachi, will be a swift bearing of witness against these.

Simply put, those who show good faith toward God will “fear the Lord.” This term fear of the Lord most simply means that we respect God and God’s word among God’s people. People who show justice and equity toward God’s children are people who fear the Lord.

Most preachers I know do not like to throw down a challenge to the people like Malachi did. We love our people. To throw people’s sin back into any congregation’s teeth is, at best, easier said than done. Yet as an old time preacher, Jay Darnell, who I buried one year ago this week once put it: “God created us for something much grander than to be left to our own sinful devices.”

Therefore, as Jesus himself once said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen” (Mark 4:9)
!

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Dec 6, 2013

What is in a Gift?

The tradition of giving gifts emerged from the gifts brought to the Christ child by the Magi from the East. Matthew relates the story by writing that as they followed the star they came to Bethlehem. Then “. . . on entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (2:11). Today, nearly twenty centuries later, we too pay homage to those we love by providing gifts that merely shadow the relationship, esteem, and love we hold for the other person.

The gift God gives the world is an opportunity to be freed from the exile of wars, rumors of war and all the rest of the world we live in and its anxiety producing fruits. Listen to this story, which turns out to be something of a divine Christmas gift.
The Cold War, says former Senator Sam Nunn, ended “not in a nuclear inferno, but in a blaze of candles in the churches of Eastern Europe.” Candlelight processions in East Germany did not show up well on the evening news, but they helped change the face of the globe. First a few hundred, then a thousand, then thirty thousand, fifty thousand, and finally five hundred thousand—nearly the entire population of the city—turned out in Leipzig for candlelight vigils.
After a prayer meeting at St. Nikolai Church, the peaceful protesters would march through the dark streets, singing hymns. Police and soldiers with all their weapons seemed powerless against such a force. Ultimately, on the night a similar march in East Berlin attracted one million protesters, the hated Berlin Wall came tumbling down without a shot being fired. A huge banner appeared across a Leipzig street: Wir danken Dir, Kirche [We thank you, church] (Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997, p. 135).

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