Choosing Jesus

January 5, 2020

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC

2nd Sunday after Christmas
Matthew 2:13-15 & 19-23

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Today is the second Sunday of Christmas. It is officially the 12th day of Christmas, the last day of the Christmas season, and it’s one of those rare times when the lectionary gives several options for the gospel lesson, so I had a choice to make.

One of the options was the story from Luke’s gospel about Jesus, when he was 12 years old. Having traveled with his parents to a festival in Jerusalem, the parents left, not realizing that Jesus wasn’t with them. When they realized it, by the time they returned to Jerusalem several days later, they found Jesus among the Scribes and Pharisees in the temple. I don’t know about you, but having just celebrated baby Jesus, I know they grow up fast, but 12 years old in a week felt a little quick to me.

Another gospel option for today was the story of the visitation by the Magi, but I thought we would save that for tomorrow.

The first option given, which usually means preferred, was the reading we heard today. It’s a continuation of the story from Matthew’s gospel. It’s a little strange to have it today, considering it takes place after the wise men have left, and yet here we are.

If you attended any of the Sunday classes Phil Stine led, that compared the birth story told in Luke’s gospel and the one told in Matthew’s gospel, you are fully aware that Luke’s gospel emphasizes Mary and Elizabeth; the census and the trek to Bethlehem; the manger and the shepherds. By contrast, the Matthew version hardly mentions Mary by name. I think only once. Even in today’s reading, the focus is on Joseph. Mary is simply referred to as the mother of the child, not by name.

And so this story in Matthew’s gospel focuses on Joseph, the man who would raise Jesus from an infant to adulthood. The story today shows the lengths to which Joseph would go to defend this child. Joseph is warned in a dream to take Jesus to Egypt to protect him.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to picture the conversation between Joseph and Mary. Having been awakened in the middle of the night, having had this dream, and Joseph says, “Honey, we have to pack everything and move to Egypt. An angel told me so.”

But perhaps if Mary balked at all, which isn’t included in the story, Joseph would have simply reminded her of the first dream he had. Having learned Mary was pregnant, Joseph was ready to quietly dismiss her, and instead said “yes” to the call that God had given him – to be the one to walk alongside Mary and to raise this child who would be born the Messiah. Having that little reminder was probably helpful to get them up and moving to Egypt in the middle of the night.

That initial “yes” that Joseph gave showed his level of commitment. It made the subsequent calls that we heard in today’s story easier to hear. Not necessarily easier to do, but after the first “yes,” the calls are easier to hear.

Once he made that first commitment before Jesus was born, Joseph realized that his vocation was to put Jesus first. That’s the Joseph we have in Matthew’s gospel. We only hear about him in these first few chapters of Matthew’s gospel, and at every turn Joseph takes, he puts Jesus first.

As I reflected on this, I wonder what we put first in our lives – in our personal life, in our home life, in our work life, in our spiritual life.

What do we put first?

Sometimes it’s hard to know what you put first until you have a particular decision that has to be made, and then you do the work of discerning what’s most important.

I will tell you that I spent much of my life avoiding those big decisions, because it was easier to just go with the flow. I took a safe job path. I moved up the ladder, so to speak, thanks to my boss, who, as he moved along his career path – since he and I worked really well together – I moved along with him. I was in a relationship that was predictable and stable. Then, I got to a certain point in my life and I looked at it and I thought, “I have chosen safe and easy.” There’s nothing wrong with choosing safe and easy, as long as you know that’s what you’re doing. But I finally realized that “safe and easy” wasn’t good enough. That realization, like Joseph’s first “yes,” changed everything, and the decision I made then, and that I continue to make, is to put Jesus first (not the church first).

Putting Jesus first. Not a Jesus that gets mischaracterized as anti-this or anti-that, but the Jesus who calls us to love God and to love everyone else. The Jesus who shows compassion and mercy to outsiders, and the Jesus for whom safe and easy never existed.

Putting Jesus first is about being open to hear and respond to God’s call. What that looks like for me landed me where I am, and in what I do.

It won’t look the same for any two people. It didn’t look the same for Mary as it did for Joseph. And, putting Jesus first is a choice that each of us can make.

When we do that, it reveals itself in small things and in big things. In reveals itself in how we respond to that person that gets under our skin. It reveals itself in how we react when somebody reaches out and says they need our help. It also reveals itself in our big decisions like, “Do I have to move to Egypt in order to follow the call that God has placed on my heart?”

When we put Jesus first, our lives can become a little bit unpredictable, perhaps a little bit uncomfortable, but that’s not a good reason not to do it.

Putting Jesus first is what we are called to do.

As I think about this last day of Christmas and this first Sunday in a new decade, I hope that each of us will consider what it might mean for us individually, or what it has meant for us, each day when we decide to put Jesus first.

For me, it changed everything.


Being Seeds

November 17, 2019

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC

Proper 28, Year C
Luke 21:5-19

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Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and, `The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Lead with Kindness

November 3, 2019

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC

All Saints’ (transferred), Year C
Luke 6:20-31

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Luke 6:20-31

Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Increase our forgiveness!

October 6, 2019

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC

Proper 22, Year C
Luke 17:5-10

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