PURE JOY!

Luke 3:7-18

As a young mother, I used to say, “I just pray that my children grow up to be good citizens, believe in the Lord Jesus, and be happy.  I am very blessed because for the most part, all four of our children have met that criteria.  However, as I have gotten older and wiser, I think I may have missed the mark in some respects.  Happiness is very important, but there is something greater – And, that is to experience JOY!

About four years ago, our youngest daughter, Megan came to me on Thanksgiving night.  She was crying.  What is wrong, I asked her.  And, she told me how depressed she was and while I listened to her, all I could think about was why?  I couldn’t understand at the time.  We had provided everything for her!  She was in college, had an apartment, she had nice clothes, food to eat, a car to drive, and she knew that she was loved.  It was more than I ever had at her age!  I felt frustrated because I didn’t know what else I could possibly do!

Well, at the time, little did I know that she could join about 3.3 million other adults who suffer depression in the United States.  And, that number continues to grow at an alarming rate.  Not only is depression a real thing, but often leads to drug addiction, alcoholism, and suicide. 

Today is known as GAUDETE Sunday.  In Latin, it means, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!”  On this third Sunday of Advent, we light the pink candle on our advent wreath.  This candle represents joy!  Notice that the other candles are blue – but this candle is different. It stands out from the others and I believe because it just may be the most important of all.

However, how do we find joy?  How in the world can we experience joy in our daily lives when there is so many things to be depressed about in these agonizing days of suffering, hatred, and oppression?  How can we rejoice in the Lord when we are feel like the world is crumbling down around us?

In Luke 3:7-18, John the Baptist has been proclaiming all over the Jordan River to “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  This Baptism of Repentance is gaining popularity.  People are curious in knowing what he is talking about and the he crowds are growing.

But John sounds a little frustrated.  He calls the people snakes!  In the Bible “The Message,” the translator puts it this way, “What do you think you are doing slithering down her to the river.  Do you really think a little water is going to keep God’s judgement from you?  And, do really think just because you are child of Abraham that you are exempt from the wrath of God?”  

These are not bad people.  They are people just like you and me.  They too are living in agonizing times.  Rome is powerfully in charge.  The poor are suffering, people are hungry, taxes are high, and many are living in fear. Just like us, they want the world to be a better place!  They want life to be more than just going through the motions each day.  They want the status quo of just existing to be different.  And, so they ask the same question that you and I may be asking today: “What should we do?  How do we experience this Baptism of Repentance? How do bear fruit that is worthy of Repentance?”  In other words, “How do we experience JOY in this agonizing world that we live in?

John gives them a list:

  • If you have two coats, give one away 
  • Tax Collectors – collect no more than prescribed
  • Do not extort money from anyone – Be content with what you have.

 For me, I question why do we need to be baptized to do these things?  What is this baptism of Repentance?  What is the point?  Then John comes out with it.  This is only water.  Jesus is coming and He has something that will change you from the inside out. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and Fire!  He will ignite a Kingdom Fire within you!  Everything will be different within you! You will be changed!  Your life will never be the same!  You will experience joy!

Through this baptism, the focus is no longer on you!  You will begin to see the world differently. You begin to realize that you are difference in the world.  You are the one who changes the status quo because you can now see the needs of the community, the church and the world. This will become natural. It will become the new normal within you.  

You are not just a child of Abraham.  You become a Child of God!  This will bring you great joy! This Joy is knowing that God is present!  This Joy is knowing that God diverts evil. This Joy is knowing that through Jesus Christ, God cancels out judgement on us. This Joy is only found in the Life of one whose Life now belongs to Christ!

And, so you see, happiness can be found in the gifts we will receive on Christmas morning.  But it will be only a fleeting feeling. We can have everything that could possibly make us happy, however, if we don’t have the joy that can only be experienced through Christ, we are missing out!  

Over 3.3 million people in this country alone are missing out! I cannot help but to think, is there a correlation between depression and knowing Christ Jesus?  Is it possible that while the number of depressed people is growing at an alarming rate, so also is the decreasing number of attendees in the church also growing at an alarming rate?  Is it possible that the church family, fellowship, reaching out to others, loving one another, and the love of Christ is the difference in this world?

It wasn’t too long after that Thanksgiving, that our beautiful daughter, Megan, began to remember her baptism and to whom she belonged.  God changed her focus to help other people and her life began to change.  In all honesty, she has never been the same!  Every Thanksgiving, she reminds me of that day she came to me so depressed. It was true.  There was nothing else I could possibly do for her.  It was the Spirit of God who began to work in her and through her that continues to bring joy to her life!

We have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and Fire!  We have been saved!  Not by anything that we have done, but what Christ has done in us and through us!  So many people in our world think that they can make themselves happy!  And, they can – temporarily.  But it is only through the suffering that Jesus did for us on the Cross that will bring us Complete joy!  

The implications of our repentance and baptism of the Holy Spirit and Fire is God’s spirit that cleanses us, refines us, and makes us worthy and able to bear fruit of merciful justice, radical and sacrificial generosity, and vocational integrity!  We can never be truly worthy for God to enter our lives on our own and the fruit we bear will never be enough for all that Jesus has done for us. 

But God comes still.  God prepares our hearts, forgiving us and cleansing our hearts.  It is God who prepares the Table for us and welcomes us!

It is Gaudete Sunday!  “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!”  The question, “How do we experience joy in this agonizing world that we live in?  Only Through Jesus Christ, the one who is coming!

Amen!

Megan Landers currently serves at Lutheran Chapel Church in Gastonia, North Carolina as a Family and Youth Director.  For over two years, she has proclaimed Christ to children and young adults, growing the number of Youth in her congregation.  On Sunday, December 16, 2018, her children performed a Christmas program.  About 200 attendees participated in worship that day to “Rejoice in the Lord!”  

How Will You Respond?

Matthew 9:35–10:23

As part of my training to become a pastor, I was required to participate in “Clinical Pastoral Education” – In other words, I had to be a chaplain in a hospital for 13 weeks, 40 hours a week.  Many soon-to-be pastors were looking forward to this work.  But, for me, I was scared to death.

What would I say?  How do I pray for those who are so sick?  What if I say the wrong thing?  These people don’t know me!  Besides, many people in the South don’t think women should be pastors – How do I deal with that?  I mean, after all, isn’t that like being persecuted?

I did not feel equipped or prepared in any way for what laid ahead.

However, to prepare us for our journey, we had about three days of training in the classroom.  I was doing ‘pretty’ well and feeling more confident until…

We were told that we would be completely on our own on the weekends.  No other chaplain or persons in authority would be there.  And, on top of that, we would be given a beeper.  I thought to myself…A Beeper? Why?  Well, if a patient was dying, I would be “beeped” to come and be with the family. I was horrified! By myself?

Therefore, our responsibility, especially on weekends, was to take care of the families whose loved ones had passed away.  We were to make sure that all paperwork was filled out, the coroner called, and the desired funeral home was notified.  Our main job was to console the family that everything was taken of and they did not need to worry about anything because that was my job as the chaplain!

On weekends, I was given the authority to carry out the duties of a chaplain in every sense of the word.  I was mortified when I was told this and even began to cry. This is way too hard, I said – I am not equipped for this kind of work. I am not able to do this.

And, so I wonder about the 12 disciples when Jesus told them He was sending them out – on their own – without HIM! Their training had consisted of going with Jesus as they went from town and village – teaching all – as he went and told others the Kingdom News…

But, it as if on this day something happened…Jesus was doing what he always did – but on this day, this particular day – Jesus looked out into the crowds and it was as if his heart began to break – He saw the hearts of those who stood before him, broken and bruised – harassed and helpless – Like sheep without a shepherd…

And, so Jesus said it was time…The disciple’s training period was over at this point.  He needed them to go into the crowds of people, the towns and the villages of Israel, (not the Gentiles – the non-Jews or the Samaritans) and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. And so, Jesus says to his disciples as they are gathered around him:

I’m sending you out – You are to go and proclaim the good news that the kingdom of Heaven is near – cure the sick, raise the dead, get rid of the evil spirits and to care for the bruised and hurt lives –

And from there Jesus gave them very specific instructions:

  • Go to the towns and villages right here – those who are here in your neighborhood
  • Live generously – do not take payment from anyone
  • You don’t need any tools – just you. Travel light.
  • Don’t take an extra change of clothes, no money, or a bag.
  • Be courteous. If they welcome you let your peace come upon them.
  • If they do not welcome you, leave in peace – do not make a scene and keep moving.
  • Stay alert because this is hazardous work – You will be like a sheep among the wolves –
  • In fact, you may even face persecution before the authorities. But, don’t worry about what you will say…I will give you the words.

Jesus tells them, “I am giving you authority over every evil spirit and to cure every disease and heal the sick.

Honestly, I would be mortified if Jesus told me this!  I would be scared to death.  I am not equipped to heal the sick, raise people from the dead, or kick out evil spirits.  I am afraid of being persecuted.  I don’t want to be sent out like sheep amongst the wolves.  I am afraid.

Seriously, if Jesus said this to me, I would probably just start crying…

But, yet…this is what Jesus is calling us to do…to get out of our comfort zone – so much so that it may even make you sick on your stomach at “just” the thought of what we are being asked to do…

We are being called to witness to the risen Christ in such a profound way that we may even be persecuted and feel like we are sheep among the wolves.

We are being called to “Go” into our neighborhoods, invite others to worship with us, share our stories of how God is working in our lives, and begin the healing of broken, harassed and helpless hearts through our words and actions.

We are called to have “compassion.”  We are called to have compassion for others because Jesus has compassion for us –

As a chaplain, I had the authority to enter the ICU at any time.  I was given a special card that just by swiping the card over a pad, I had access.

The first time that I went, I walked in and was immediately hit with this gut reaction of sadness – and the tears came.  These people are so sick.  They are hooked up to machines to help them breathe, catheters, and feeding tubes. I had to walk right back out, go sit down and get a hold of myself. I prayed for God’s strength to help me do what I needed to do.  These people needed to hear the good news!  They needed prayers of healing. They needed hope!  It is what I was called to do.  It is what we are called to do in this hurting and broken world.

But, here is the thing…We are not called to do something that we cannot do!

Through our baptism, you have been given the power and the authority to do the very things that Jesus Himself has done…and even greater things than those…

Mind blowing?  Seem impossible?  Afraid?  Feel like crying or even sick on your stomach?

I want to share an evening as Chaplain of the hospital: I had the shift of working to midnight on a Saturday night – the weekend with the beeper and all alone.

About 8:00pm, I get my first beep.  I get on the elevator and I am told that there is an African American woman whose 24-year-old son is in critical condition from AIDS.  I go to find her in the waiting room and immediately I am persecuted because I am white – and here I was worried about my gender!  She doesn’t want to talk to me, but I stay anyway.  As she begins to open-up, I listen to her stories as to why she doesn’t like the color of my skin.  However, she also shared stories about her son whom she loves.

While I’m talking to her, I get another beep.  This time I am called up to another floor.  The family had been with their father/husband.  He had been doing well from his surgery and was eating ice cream with his family.  Suddenly, he drops his ice cream, while they are sitting there with him, and his heart stops beating.  Just like that.  They had watched their beloved father and husband pass away.  They were devastated.  I was devastated.  While I am talking, and praying with them, I get another beep…

I’m called back to where I was speaking with the African American mother.  I don’t know it yet, but her son is in cardiac arrest.  As I am getting off the elevator to head to the ICU, I see her coming towards me…saying to me, “The Lord told me to get up…my son is dying…”

I tell her to wait there that I would go find out what is going on – I learn that her son has passed away.  I now must go and tell her that her 24-year-old son has passed away.

While this poor mother is on the floor crying and I am trying to console her, I get another beep.  The family upstairs needs me.  The nurses and the doctors are wondering where I am and why I am not there to take care of things.  I find someone else to be with this mother and I leave to go and help the other family.

Meanwhile family members begin to show up for the 24-year-old boy who has passed away – hearts broken and angry at the same time. I reached out to give the brother a hug and he pushed me away.

It was a nightmare of a night and I was so happy when it was midnight and the other chaplain showed up to take over.  I cried all the way home that night. But, there was one thing for sure…I could not have gotten through the night without Jesus.  We cannot do what we are called to do without the Holy Spirit. The disciples could not have done what they had to do without the Spirit of the Lord.

We are not called to do anything that we cannot do without the help of our Lord.

The harvest is ready and there are few laborers.  You know what I think?

The harvest begins right here in this place – we don’t have to go far to show our compassion and love for one another. Hearts are broken. And, many of us feel ‘harassed and helpless.”  Our stories of love and compassion start right here, right now, – But, they aren’t a story until we tell others.

We are supposed to feel overwhelmed; our hearts afraid, but at the same time, open to change.  We are supposed to feel uncomfortable if we are being stretched beyond what “we think” are our capabilities. I cannot imagine that the disciples that day felt like “Oh, this is a piece of cake!”

But as Christians, we are set apart from the rest of the world – Our compassion and love for others will speak volumes with a story to tell that will blow the minds and seem impossible to others.

The harvest is ready…Jesus is calling us to harvest his field for new believers and to proclaim the Risen Christ.

The harvest is plentiful; therefore, ask the Lord to send out laborers into his harvest. And, then Jesus calls his disciples – each by name and giving them authority to do the work of the Lord.

How will you respond? How will we respond?

Amen.

Abundant Life

Sermon: John 10:1-10

Many of us here remember when computers and the internet began – I really don’t remember exactly when I figured out email, but do remember signing up for my email account.  I can even remember thinking and wondering if I would even get an email!And now, email sometimes consumes my time!  I try to set aside time to make sure I have properly answered my email. Email now has a way of sucking up my time!

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