Sermon: Baptism is Our Reminder

Today we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism. Why is baptism so important? We take the time to explore the importance of this sacrament and how it is “tied” to Jesus. I had the most moving encounter that brought this truth home to me this past week.

Article: A Bill in the House

Last year an anti-lynching bill passed on the floor of the United States Senate by voice vote. Meaning, it was not controversial and it passed easily. This bill intends to make the lynching of another human being a “hate crime.” This bill was sponsored by senators on both sides of the political aisle. 

If you are not aware, lynchings (or hangings) have been employed in our country for a very long time. They are not conducted legally and are executed outside of  the judicial system which provides “due process of law.” People who conduct lynchings are not only committing murder but they are also taking the law into their own hands. Historically speaking, most lynchings were conducted to enforce white rule and the flawed premise of white superiority. People who conduct such atrocities are often trying to establish or reinforce dominance and fear over another group of people. The U.S. Senate was correct in passing this bill in which it tags lynching as a hate crime. 

This seems like a non-news item doesn’t it? You would think just about everyone would agree that this bill is good and even proper. The United States Senate did and they don’t agree on much of anything these days.  As Americans we believe in due process  of law and understand that killing people is bad especially if it is to assert some sort of fear of the “dominant culture” on another group of people.

But someone objected to this bill. As this bill moves over to the House of Representatives an evangelical Christian nonprofit organization is asking lawmakers to remove language from this anti-lynching bill that also protects Americans on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity before the legislation becomes law. NBC News reported on Wednesday that the nonprofit group, “Liberty Counsel” is lobbying members of the House  of Representatives to remove provisions referring to sexual orientation and gender identity in this bill.

Whoa. I was beyond disappointed when I read about this yesterday. As you know, when people outside of the Church read that some think that all Christians are like that. Although it is not fair, it is human nature to generalize and group people together. But this is less concerning to me than this group’s agenda.

I cannot see how any Christian would want to remove any group of people from anti-lynching legislation. Is it a subtle nod to say these people are worthy of a “hate crime”? It is theologically bankrupt as a Christian to not see violence against vulnerable communities as a sin. Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) to remind us that we should not hate other groups of people. We often forget that it is surprising that the Samaritan man was actually good. Remember, Jewish people hated Samaritans back in Jesus’ day. So much so that one person used the worst slur against Jesus he could think of when he said, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” (John 8:48)

Jesus came and cared for the marginalized. Jesus sided with the outsider. He ministered to people who were discounted, ostracized and minimized. In other words, he lived into the thing he talked about repeatedly: love. 

Even Jesus told us to “love your enemies”(Matthew 5:44) and then he did exactly that from the cross when the religious authorities conspired to have him killed. Remember what Jesus said as they mocked him? “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) We have been called to follow the embodiment of love and share that love, not hate, let alone condone violence.

I can’t help but think about one other thing… evangelism. How on earth can we reach a hurt and broken world if we hate them? Our job is to love… love people into the Kingdom of God. The best way to reach people is to care about them. 

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Article: Being Judge-y

During the “Christmas break” there is always increased traffic by our home. I live in a national park by one of the most scenic and iconic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. Therefore at every holiday (and I do mean every holiday) there are literally thousands more people trying to enter the park and jockey for the best place to park their cars and take pictures. It wouldn’t be so bad if people obeyed the traffic laws and didn’t stop in the middle of traffic to take pictures from their car. 

I am not annoyed at the volume of traffic, I am annoyed at the lack of courtesy by those who delay my travel. It is as if the “rules of the road” apply to everyone else but not them. Now imagine many people acting like that in small space. Just yesterday I saw 3 cars going the wrong way on a one way street so they could get where they wanted go. Still others stopped on the road so they could take pictures and back up already congested traffic. 

I know, I seem like a traffic Pharisee (a religious teacher of the Law of Moses in Jesus day). I feel like one too. I think to myself, “just follow basic traffic laws and everyone (including me) will be much happier.”

Here is the deal… I know I should be more gracious to every person who comes to take to take in the gorgeous view I see every day (which I do not take for granted) but when some ignore the traffic laws for their own gain, I have a hard time feeling gracious. More often than not I say, “Where are the park police right now???”

That is why I like Saint Paul. He totally understands what I am talking about. Read this…

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.  Romans 7:21-25

Paul understands that we have two “laws” at work within each of us. One law, the law of goodness (think the 10 commandments) which informs us of the things we should be doing as a follower and disciple of Jesus. We all know that we should aspire to do good things as a person of faith as well as avoid other thigns. Most of us could make a list of laws or guidelines to follow Jesus and be a good person. If we take our faith seriously, we try to live by those “rules.”

The other law is the law of sin which has power over us all. We may want to do good but we often succumb to temptation and our temper. 

The image that comes to mind is the little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other whispering into our ear. Is this an oversimplified metaphor? Yes. It does reflect the conflict within all of us. 

Saint Paul feels trapped. He can’t live up to the law of goodness because he is also experiencing the judgment of being sinful. He is caught between two very real realities. 

Is there a solution? Yes! Here is what Saint Paul discovered…

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

Paul tells us this is not about the law of being good or the law of sin. Christ frees us from any law!! It is clear we are not able to follow rules very well and Jesus knows that. That is why God sent himself to us to remove the threat of the law (rules). We are forgiven and freed to respond to God’s love. No rules are needed!

I am glad that I am forgiven for my judgmental attitude this past week. I need to be reminded that we are fall short of God’s expectations whether it is my attitude or another person’s driving. I pray more for my attitude towards other to be changed more than the sharpening of other’s driving skills and obeying the rules of the road.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Two Kids in the Bible

We are still in the season of Christmas and we hear two stories about children in the Bible. These stories and stories like them point to a larger reality. Also the descriptions of Samuel and Jesus help us move forward in 2019.

Article: The Christmas Truce of 1914

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE, 1914 (Q 70074) British and German soldiers fraternising at Ploegsteert, Belgium, on Christmas Day 1914, Front of 11th Brigade, 4th Division. Copyright: © IWM.

Have you ever heard about the Christmas truce that occurred during World War I?

The fields of Flanders were no place to be on Christmas Eve in 1914. The air was cold and frosty, of course, because it was winter, and things were very quiet. 

Thousands of British, French, Belgian and German troops were dug-in and planning yet another day’s carnage. None of them would have guessed that the “War to End All Wars” would continue nearly four more years and ultimately cost more than eight million soldiers’ lives. 

So, when the entrenched British soldiers saw candle-lit decorations emerging from the enemy’s foxholes and heard the strains of faint melodies being sung in German they thought their enemies were taunting them and prepared to open fire. 

German soldiers were raising their voices to sing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht”… Suddenly, one of the British soldiers recognized the melody and started singing too — the same song that the Germans were singing — only in English. When the hymn “Silent Night” ended, the British soldiers replied with “The First Noel”. 

Back and forth, the singing went on for about an hour. Then there were voices of invitation to cross over to enemy lines. One German with great courage started walking across the “no man’s land”, and was soon followed by some of his buddies, all with their hands in their pockets to show that they had no weapons. 

When they’d crossed over to the enemy trench, one German soldier said, “I’m a Saxon, you are Anglo-Saxons. Why do we fight?”

For the remainder of that night and much of the next week the war stopped, as the both sides lay down their weapons and lifted their 18-20 year old voices to sing familiar Christmas carols in their own languages. They shared pictures of their families “back home” and even shared provisions. 

English soldiers started kicking around a soccer ball in a pickup game in no man’s land, between the trenches. Eventually England played Germany in a soccer match on Christmas Day in the middle of the battlefield in France in the First World War. (England won.)

An amazing spirit of peace fell over the battlefield that night as war gave way to peace in the Spirit of the Christmas child whose coming had been foretold by Isaiah. 

By New Year’s all sides would be back to killing as usual but, for a brief moment, peace came to one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history. That same Christ still offers peace to the bloodiest of conflicts in our lives. 

As far as I am concerned this was a miracle even if it was short-lived.  Today, I think about the ways I need the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) to enter my life. Not just calling for a temporary truce but lasting peace in my life and in the world. 

If God did it once, it can happen again. As we approach 2019 let us pray for peace in our lives and peace throughout the world. Amen. 

Pr. Ben 

Sermon: Getting Ready for the Holidays: Part 4

Today (on the last day of Advent) we finish the sermon series on “Getting Ready for the Holidays”! Just in time! What is the last thing on our list to get ready for the holidays (and our spiritual growth)? Listen and find out!