The voice crying out in the wilderness…


 

Today we find ourselves in the second week of Advent, this time of waiting and anticipation of Christ’s return. A time to reflect on our own lives and prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of our Savior.
The scripture from the beginning of Mark’s gospel is titled, “The Proclamation of John the Baptist.” Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four gospels, it is direct, it is to the point and each verse is filled with meaning and purpose.
Mark is direct enough that he skips the nativity and baby Jesus account and immediately begins with the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark begins his gospel and account of Christ by going back in time.
Mark goes back about 600-700 years to the time of Isaiah. From the Old Testament account of Isaiah he quotes, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Make straight your paths, for the promised one is coming. In Isaiah’s day he spoke to a Jewish audience that had been exiled. In Mark’s account he talking about Christ and the messenger preparing the way for him.
Mark writes, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’
In this painfully hectic time between holidays, how much time are we spending preparing our hearts, souls and minds to meet and be present with our God? This time of year we don’t celebrate credit card debt or empty bank accounts. We don’t celebrate added inches to our waistline.

No, we celebrate the birth of our God. The mystery of the incarnation and the insane lengths our God went to, to reconcile us to him. To bring us closer to him.

In preparing for this sermon I read about and questioned why our God would need someone to prepare the way for him. Why would an all-present and all-powerful God need a man dressed in strange clothes – camel’s hair, and who ate weird things (locusts and honey) to prepare the way for him?

Is it because we all stand on the shoulders and accomplishments of those that have gone before us? We all stand on the ground that was prepared for us by others. All the hard work of our ancestors and their desire to see their children succeed have benefitted each of us.

Unfortunately, these bodies and minds of flesh that have short memories and are inclined to take credit for what has been accomplished.

Even our God, who emptied himself of all his divinity, needed someone to prepare the way for him. An all-present and all-powerful God would rely on a mere mortal to be the voice crying out in the wilderness.

Why would God need someone to prepare the way for him? And why would he pick a strange looking and acting guy to be that person?

….It would take someone with far more knowledge than I to fully answer that question. I think it has to do with the humility of our God. We celebrate, honor and worship a God that gave up the splendor and glory of heaven, all that beauty to come to this world riddled with sickness, disease, war, famine, acts of evil and death.

I think that I would rather look at that from a distance and bask in the beauty of heaven. But not our God. He saw the terrible consequence that sin caused and he decided that something had to be done about it.

He traded his mansion for a mud hut, he traded power for humility and splendor for suffering. He sent his messenger, John the Baptist, before him. John appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

In spite of his strange appearance people flocked to listen to him and to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. “Make straight your paths, prepare the way of the Lord.”

People came from the Judean countryside and from Jerusalem to see, hear and be baptized by John the Baptist. He had his own disciples and was popular enough or posed enough of a threat that even the Pharisees came to see what all the commotion was about.

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near, make straight your path, prepare the way for the Lord…….Repent……confess……..understand your own brokenness before your God……..ask for forgiveness for the kingdom of heaven has come near…….

What if each of us in our own way is John the Baptist? We may not go out into the timber or near the closest river and cry out or wear strange clothes, but what if each of us as we commit and recommit to our faith every day is living like John the Baptist?

Every time we commit to be read our bibles, to pray, to be a part of a small group, to do something for someone else, every time we chose to be intentional about our faith that we straighten our own path and influence those close to us.

Lives of faith can scream and proclaim the gospel without speaking a single word. Proclaim the gospel always said St. Francis, use words only when necessary.

People went to John the Baptist to repent of their sins and to be baptized. In his humility, John proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John the Baptist knew his mission was to prepare the way for the one that is coming, one far more powerful than he.

We have also been made aware that one that Christ, is going to return. Are we preparing the way for his arrival……

Are we proclaiming the good news of God’s action and arrival in this world, the coming of God’s kingdom, his ministry, death and resurrection?

As we celebrate and honor the second Sunday of Advent, let us remember all of those that have gone before us. Let us remember the spiritual giants in our own lives and Mark’s gospel does recalling the words of Isaiah.

Let us live bold, courageous lives of faith that speak to this world and those in it who we are and what we are about. In this painfully busy time of year, let us slow down and take time to reflect on what is truly important and why we celebrate with gifts, good food and precious time spend with family and friends.

Let us go with the knowledge and the truth that our God is coming back to this earth. It may not be in our lifetime, but he is coming back. If we don’t see him in the time each of us has left, that is no reason or excuse to be convenient or flippant about your faith.

Let us be about the work of the one that created all that is good and holy. Let us be about the work of a God that became the word incarnate. A penniless, nomadic preacher that come to save the souls of many.

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Pastor @ Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

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You did it for the least of these…..


 

We have arrived at the end of Christ’s public ministry in the book of Matthew. Matthew’s gospel was written in the last half of the first century with an emphasis on the fulfillment of Christ as the Messiah.
This passage of scripture opens with the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy from the book of Daniel, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, and then he will sit on the throne of his glory.”

Christ is in the last week of his life. He has spoken parable after parable of what it will be like upon his return and the work, we as Christians should be about until his return to this world. Christ gives fair and ample warning about what will happen come Judgment Day.

Today’s scripture is titled, ‘The Last Judgment.’ “All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.”

All nations means just that – all Jews, Gentiles, everyone from everywhere. Separating the sheep from the goats was a common practice for shepherds in biblical times.

Having mixed herds was common, at night sheep would be placed in an open pasture, while the goats needed to be protected from the cold. Sheep have more commercial value than goats do.

The bible oftentimes makes reference to the vocation of being a shepherd. God’s people are often times referred to as sheep, whether we like it or not. Have you ever wondered why………

Given the context and setting – 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, being a shepherd and tending to livestock was a common occupation – people could identify with it.
Sheep need protection, guidance and provision. It is also believed that sheep respond to the voice of their shepherd.

We share these things in common. We are also in need of guidance, provision and protection and if we take the time to listen we will also recognize the voice of our shepherd, of the one that provides, protects and guides.

A shepherd had to be willing to lay down his or her life for who and what they were protecting. Christ, our shepherd, was willing to and did the same when he laid down his life for us.

On that Day of Judgment, when the Son of Man returns in all his glory, the herd will be separated, like the parables of the past two weeks – the wise and foolish bridesmaids and the servants who were charged with investing their owner’s estate.

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.

I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Our God is omnipotent and omnipresent. He has unlimited power, he knows everything and is always present. Everywhere all the time, to everyone. The God we serve is a God for everyone.

Our God champions the poor, the marginalized and disenfranchised. Our God is a god of the poor, downtrodden and forgotten. A god of the hungry, thirsty, sick, lame and the incarcerated.

A God of the homeless, those in care facilities, nursing homes, the homebound and all those that can’t do for themselves. We do not need to look any further than Christ’s life and who he spent time with during his ministry.

He spent time with those that needed him most. He eased their suffering through his own acts of mercy. He gave sight to the blind, provided living water and broke the shackles of sin that enslave us.

After they have been separated the righteous answered, “Lord when was it that we say you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? When was it that we say you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?

When was it that we say you sick or in prison and visited you? The righteous seemed to be surprised and unsure how to answer God’s question. We don’t remember seeing you or we would have surely given you food, drink, clothing and visited you.

I am reminded of Mother Teresa’s life and example. Taking care of the dying, cleaning their wounds, teaching young children by writing the letters of the alphabet in the dirt with a stick.

She said that each person she interacted with was Jesus in a distressing disguise. Each person, every human being bears the image of the Creator and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.

The king answered the righteous, “Truly, I tell you just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” When you treated one of the least of these well, someone that could do nothing for you, you did it for the very God that we serve.

Then, Christ will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink.

I was a stranger and you did not welcome me. The accursed when into panic mode, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry, thirsty, as a stranger, naked or imprisoned and did not take care of you?”

Pleading their case they are. If we only would have known we would have stepped up to the plate. If we hadn’t fallen in love with everything that the world has to offer we would have taken care of you.

If they had only not fallen into temptation, if they could have only gotten past themselves, if they would have only taken to know our God and his heart the accursed may have had a different outcome.

The challenge of being a Christian in a world of commercialism, advertising and temptation. The challenge of living a spiritual life in a body of flesh and blood.
It can be very difficult. I think it would be hard, almost impossible to know the heart of our God without spending time with him, without reading his word or spending time with others that believe in him.

This chapter from scripture, the 25th chapter of Matthew gives another window into the heart of our God.

There is no mention in today’s scripture of church affiliation, tradition, attendance or giving. It is about how we treat others. It is about having compassion and spending time with those that are suffering. It is about living merciful lives and easy the burden of others.

This scripture speaks to the heart of a God of compassion, a god of mercy, it speaks to a god of love. May we always be about God’s work.

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

The parable of the talents…..


We are closing in the on the holidays already which doesn’t seem possible.  Soon we will be in the season of Advent in the church, a season of waiting and anticipation of Christ’s return. 

Like last week’s scripture, today’s scripture is about what we do while we wait for Christ’s return.  Today’s scripture is titled, “The Parable of the Talents.”

At this point in Matthew’s gospel Christ is in his final days.  He has returned to Jerusalem for the last time.  His final parables in Matthew’s account are about what we are to be doing while waiting for his return.

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.

 A talent was a measure of weight in biblical times.  The master of the estate was incredibly wealthy.  A talent is about 75 pounds of precious metal.  75 pounds.  An ounce of gold today is worth around $1,300. 

If you do the math a talent or 75 pounds of gold today is worth around $1.5 million dollars.  That is one talent, the first servant got five and the second servant got two. 

What does scripture say that the master of the estate did after giving this large amount of money to his servants…….He went away.  He didn’t give them any instructions.  He just gave it to them.  It seems apparent that he trusts them to be wise with it.

Helluva nice guy isn’t he.  What if I were to tell you that the master in this parable is Christ, he left but not before giving a bounty to his people?  What if I told you that the servants in this parable were you and I? 

That we have been given a treasure or a talent in the form of intellect, knowledge, life experience, talent, time, our ability to earn and a ton of his grace to boot?

And what if I told you that someday we will have to account for what we did with our God-given talent?  I will come back to that.

The master of the estate, he just left.  No directions, no instructions.  The servants were free to do what they would with what they were entrusted with, much like we are.  I want to talk about this for a minute.

Our God, the God that we serve limits himself in this parable and he does this often.  He limits himself so that others have an opportunity to lead and flourish. 

Christ, being of the same spiritual substance of The Father, came to this earth in the same limited manner that we exist, in flesh and blood.  Bound by time and space among other things. 

He limited himself as a penniless, itinerant carpenter turned preacher who emptied himself of his divinity to take on our broken condition.  He goes beyond limiting himself, he completely emptied himself.

He lived like the poorest of the poor with the poorest of the poor and spent his time with the lowest of the low.  Now, Christ did heal people, he performed miracles, he brought people that were dead back to life. 

But he lives his time on this earth consistently restrained.  And why would he do that………Is it because he hands the keys to the kingdom over to us, to each one of us?  That he wants each one of us to be about his work.

Is it because we are in his final days in the book of Matthew and he is making sure to make his point that he is leaving and these are the expectations for those who profess to know him?

God calls us to lead in one form or another.  Leadership isn’t about titles, we are called to lead our families, our church, our community, our school and many other things.

We weren’t made to sit on the sidelines idly watching the world go by.  Here is another window into my cynical and twisted mind.  In my experience in different leadership positions those that sat idly by, not only did they not help, they consistently attacked, smeared and hurled insults at the ones trying to get things done. 

Enough of that.  We are called to lives of service.  He are called to lead, we are called to be in ministry and we are called to be the light in this world.  We don’t retire from Christian service.  As long as there is air in our lungs we are called to be of service to the church.

After leaving his servants to do what they would with his money, the master returned.  “The one who had received the five talents had gone off and traded and made five more talents.”  He had doubled his master’s money.

“In the same way, the one who had been given two talents made two more talents.”  He also had doubled his master’s money.  Pretty impressive, do you know how much time it would take to double your money – legally?

“But the one who had received one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”  After a long time the master, or Christ in this example, returns.  He is anxious to see what his people have done with what he has entrusted them with.

The one given five talents had pleased his master, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant, you have been trustworthy in a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.”  Enter into the kingdom and splendor of God’s presence.

The one given two talents had also pleased his master and is greeted the same, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant, you have been trustworthy in a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.”

The servant given one talent had to give his account of what he had done with what he had been given.  This servant’s response appears to be more of a reflection on his own character than the nature of the God we serve.

“Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, gathering where you did not scatter seed, so I was afraid and I hid your talent in the ground.  Here you have what is yours.” 

The third servant, the one given one talent sat idly by.  After many years, maybe even a lifetime he had not been about his master’s work.  I envision this servant shrugging his shoulders as he hands the money back and then goes on the offensive about how it isn’t really his fault.  It is the master’s fault, it is God’s fault that I didn’t do anything productive with what he gave me.

The master was not happy.  “You wicked and lazy servant!  You knew, did you that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received it with interest.”

“Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten talents.  For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 

“As for this servant, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

A warning parable about the accounting we will have to do when Christ returns.  Everyone is gifted whether they think they are or not.  The gifts we are given vary from person to person, no one gift is better or more important than another.  Those gifts are not to be wasted or to sit idle.

In this season of Thanksgiving, as we approach Advent and the celebration of Christ’s birth, let us be about God’s work in this world.  Let us feed, clothe and minister to the poor.  Let us be the church.  Let us be the light, the city on a hill that give sight to the blind and ears to hear for those that need to know our God.

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

 

Give to God the things that belong to God…


In today’s reading two groups that were normally opposed to each other come together in an effort to trap a poor, itinerant preacher named Jesus.  The Pharisees I have talked often about. 

They were the religious leaders of the day.  They studied scripture, laws and customs and were quick to point out the transgressions of other with little awareness of their own sin.

The Herodians are presumed to be followers of Herod Antipas, the Roman leader.  The Herodians were a political group, not a religious one.  Acting as an extension of the Roman government.

Political and religious groups jockeying for position is as common today as it was in Christ’s day.  Israel was essentially a colony of the Roman Empire.  The Jewish people paid a tax to the Roman government that probably went to fund the Roman troops, guards and governor that occupied their country.

There was much bitterness over paying this.  Life was hard.  Large families in a rural society mean long hours of work on the farm, planting crops, tending livestock and praying for God’s provision.

How many of you hear today enjoy paying taxes?  How many of you celebrate when you property tax comes due?  Or when you buy a vehicle, only to be assessed several hundred dollars more….

I do not enjoy paying taxes, but it is the duty of a citizen of this country to help pay their share.  I don’t build the roads and bridges I drive on, plow snow from them or home school my children.

The Pharisees and Herodians approach Christ, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.

They flatter Christ and try to butter him up.  Teacher we know that you are a good guy, you are the man, you don’t show favorites and are abundantly fair.  They patronize him for what is coming next.

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” they ask him.  Should we pay the Roman tax? 

Keep in mind that we have religious leaders that oppose the Romans peacefully and an extension of the Roman government present.  Here is how this is a trap.

If Christ says yes if it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor then he would be seen as sympathizing with the Romans and betraying his own Jewish people.  A yes would give the Pharisees something to run with and undermine Christ’s credibility.

If he says no, it is not lawful to pay tax to the emperor then he could be accused of treason, sedition and be subject to the brutality that the Romans were famous for.

Further, endorsing the Herodian position, their tax and the currency used which hinted at the divinity of the Caesar.  How is Christ to do……….We’ve all been in a position where our choice was the lesser of two evils.

What does Christ do……..How does he find a way out of this well played trap? 

Christ did what he always does.  He saw the condition of the hearts of the men that were questioning him.  He knows the condition of the heart of each of us here today and all those that are not here.

He sees through the deceit, the trickery and the trap.  “Why are you putting me to the test you hypocrites?’ he asks.  Show me the coin used for the tax.

The group brought him a denarius.  The denarius spoke of both Romans oppression and blasphemy.  Farmer’s harvest were taxed, Jewish possessions were taxed.  A denarius was the usual wage for a day’s worth of work.

“Whose head is this and whose title?” Christ asks.  It is the emperor of course, the Caesar.  “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and give to God the things that are God’s.”

Give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and give to God the things that belong to God.  Fulfill your obligations as working law-abiding citizens to you government, whether you approve of it or not.  Like it or not, it is the obligation and duty of every person.

Give to the government the things that bear the image of the government and its leaders and those that have done great things for their country, but give to God the things that bear the image of God.

So, where is the image of God found, who or what bears it…………Each of us do.  Every human being in every corner of the world does.  All of humankind was made in his image. 

It is us, ourselves, our being, our lives that we are to give to God.  But, do we do that?  Do we trust in God enough to do that?  Do we trust in God at all?

As Christians we have both earthly and heavenly responsibilities.  We are responsible to support our families, to be good parents to our children.  Nurturing and supporting them as them grow.  To respect our parents and elders. 

To work, pay our own way, our fair share.  To be responsible stewards of all that God has given us.  We have heavenly responsibilities as well.  A level of detachment has to exist in our lives.

We have to be able to detach from busy lives and spend time with our God.  We have to separate the wants of the flesh from the life of the spirit.  The wants of the flesh are overwhelming and can only be tamed by the spirit.

You are all probably familiar with the scripture in Matthew 25 – I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me.

Heavenly responsibilities.  Give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and give to God what belongs to God.  Christ reasserts God’s ownership, sovereignty and rule.  A God so powerful, yet peaceful, fierce, but loving.

So peaceful and loving that he allows each of us to choose what do to with him.  We might complain how much tax we have to pay and how poorly those dollars are put to work sometime.  Roads full of potholes, spending large amounts of money on things we don’t think are needed.

I’m sure you’ve thought about this……You know how lucky we are to live as freely as we do.  There are people, many people, that live in danger for worshipping our God.  Many people in this world don’t have the freedoms that we have.

Give to the emperor what bears his image and give to God what bears his.  We have to find a balance between our obligations here on earth while fulfilling our obligations to God. 

We are to be about the work of the church.  When I say that I’m not talking about the self-preservation of the church.  I’m talking about growing and investing in people.  In relationships with one other, about being a deep group of people with purpose and vision.

Praying for guidance for this community of believers and how we can better reach people.  Better serve people.  Easy their suffering and bring them closer to God.

Give to the emperor, give to our government the things that belong to it and give to God the things that belong to God.

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

Narcissists Who Cry


A  certain someone in my life makes me feel guilty, somehow I am never good enough. Granted that I am not perfect; but I have to wonder and ask myself – am I that bad?  I feel like I cant seem to catch a break… no matter how much I try,  it doesn’t feel like I have done enough.

I feel distraught and lost. Like the world would be a better place sans me. I wonder if I am Narc myself. Maybe I am…

While looking up on the net, I came across a piece in an article, that seemed to resonate with my situation. (https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/03/29/narcissists-who-cry-the-other-side-of-the-ego/)

Here goes….

“Another way that the narcissist’s ego gets special attention is through the role of being a victim. Welcome to the victimized extreme narcissist. Most persons recognize ego as arrogance. At the same time they fail to see the subtle deception of ego when it takes the role of a being a victim. As kind and compassion-driven human beings, we easily are fooled by this form of extreme ego. We are constantly hearing the voices of the needy in the media through a variety of forms. The disenfranchised, the poor, the homeless, the hurting, the refugees, the abused, and the list goes on. What we often do not see is that we are many times shamed by these voices for not doing enough for them. All along it is easy to be manipulated as we respond from our hearts. The deception of the ego is that the narcissist can hide behind misfortune and victimization in order to shame you into feeling and believing that they suffer more than you do. They will say that you don’t care enough for them. They will make you feel that you have not done enough to help them. The ego wants attention, control, gain, and power over others by positioning itself as a “poor and helpless” victim. It does this; all the while it soaks up the attention and control over others. In the eyes of an extreme narcissist, their situation is always right and totally justified. Instead of taking responsibility for self and consequences, the extreme narcissist tries to make others feel responsible for their plight. Because extreme narcissists are incredibly adept at the game of manipulation, they will always find a way to turn the tables on you. They will try to make you responsible and feel guilty for not helping them or taking their side and cause.”

The thing is, I don’t know how to help myself or the object of my concern. I am not even sure if I have a good conscience anymore. I have to think twice and constantly doubt myself.

word-salad-narcissistsI feel lost and emotionally bereft, like I had fired all the rounds and they were all blanks and I don’t have anymore…

There was a time in my life when I was extremely selfish and did not care for anyone else, because addiction is a terrible thing…

I guess it’s payback now… I just have to bite hard, and wait for the pain to subside.