Monday, December 23, 2013

It took place in this way

Matthew 1: 18-25, NT page 1 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. Sermon I love to carry up the boxes from the basement that contain all our Christmas decorations. These boxes are not touched and are hardly thought of during most of the year, but every December I love to open up these boxes with my family to unpack the special things they have inside. You wouldn’t necessarily know that any of these things were special upon first glance, but of course they are. There’s a little wreath my mother knitted when I was a child and that she gave Sara and me to put on our first Christmas tree in our first apartment. There are new ornaments that our daughters Lily and Cece have made at preschool with glitter and felt, and there are old ornaments that my wife Sara made with those same materials when she was just about their same age. There’s also a nativity scene that we unpack from those Christmas boxes that Martha Boone gave us, and Mrs. Boone, in her infinite wisdom, gave us two baby Jesus’ for this nativity so that our girls wouldn’t have to fight over just the one. In some ways this is absolutely the height of irony. It would seem to most people that the baby Jesus in the nativity shouldn’t cause conflict, baby Jesus is supposed to bring peace on earth and not disputes between siblings, but sometimes it is better to face facts – baby Jesus, maybe his birth especially, has an effect on people that is often more conflict than peace. It’s true. I’ve seen it, having been to Walmart more than once this December. And yesterday, because I’ve been trying to tackle a home improvement project, I drove to Lowe’s on James Campbell twice, and each time was impressed by just how many people were rushing from one store to the other, rushing with such urgency that I noticed four wreaks. The people standing outside their cars didn’t look filled with joy. Their expression was not so much peace on earth as how am I going to pay for this on top of everything else, and that’s a sad reality this time of year. There’s a look on peoples’ faces in Kroger as well. It’s not panic exactly, but as they go from aisle to aisle, you can tell what they’re thinking. They’re worried about dinner – high stakes dinner – dinner where everyone will gather at one big table with placemats and cloth napkins and unrealistic expectations. They’ll be expecting perfectly smooth mashed potatoes, buttery yeast rolls rising just enough, and turkey. There’s a Christmas turkey that I’ll never forget at a Christmas table several years ago. It wasn’t store bought, but had been shot not long before it was served. It looked perfect on the outside, and only as it was carved did anyone realize that Uncle Al knew enough about killing turkey to kill it himself but didn’t know enough about killing turkey to have cleaned it properly. There was grass still in the craw, and thinking of things that should have been cleaned properly before they were cooked reminds me now of some chitlins I had with Ron Neal last week, but more than that I think this turkey also acts as a symbol for Christmas – sometimes we anticipate so much that reality becomes a notorious disappointment. The baby Jesus is to be born, but like his reproduction in the nativity that we unpacked from that big Christmas box, sometimes the birth of Christ causes more conflict, more anxiety, more pressure than peace. For this and many other reasons it’s important to remember that “the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child.” Can you imagine that? Maybe you can – after all, it happens more often than you might expect. For Joseph, this news of Mary’s pregnancy was no doubt a shock, and more than a shock, it’s a horrible disappointment, possibly a heartbreak if there was real love between them – this new reality that she was pregnant and the baby isn’t his. But Joseph isn’t a cruel man, if anything, his kindness towards this woman is profound, for while it was his right under the law to have her humiliated publically or even killed, Joseph instead decides to have her dismissed quietly. I don’t think anyone could have asked for anything more than that. He’s a good man – because while he could have acted out of his anger or his heartbreak, dismissing her loudly and cruelly, exacting the same hurt on her that he believed she had exacted on him, instead, what he could have done loudly he seeks to do quietly and with compassion. An ideal has been destroyed – his expectations are shattered – but still, Joseph is a kind man and wants to act kindly which is miracle in and of itself. He’s like a child who doesn’t get anything that he want’s on Christmas, but still he is nice about it, still he thanks Santa Clause and forgives him for his mistake, assuming that his letters weren’t written clearly or there was some kind of confusion at the North Pole. He looks under the tree and sees nothing but educational toys and politely smiles anyway because he is a kind young boy, not wanting to appear ungrateful or rude. Could any more be expected? Certainly it would be nice if more people acted this way, certainly being quietly disappointed would be an improvement to being loud and rude and classless, but the Lord requires even more of Joseph than kindness, the Lord expects him not only to be kind, but faithful. The Lord expected him to see that more than his disappointment and more than his failed expectations were at work so many years ago. The Lord expected him to believe that it is when everything does not go according to your plan that God’s plan unfolds. This is a hard lesson for you and for me. So often it seems that Christmas is the time when everything is supposed to be right in the world – that Christmas should be the one day when everything is perfect – when the children are happy, when the family gets over their grudges, when everyone settles down to watch It’s A Wonderful Life with a perfect fire in the fire place. No one should have a drinking problem on Christmas. No one should get divorced No one should be fighting, and I’m sure that Joseph was thinking that Mary should not be pregnant – but it’s here that he is an example, for rather than throw up his hands proclaiming that “Christmas is ruined,” instead he remains faithful – and it is in this way that the birth of the Messiah took place. And it’s that same thing that is required of you – to be faithful enough to believe that Christmas can survive a roast turkey still full of her last meal. To be faithful enough to believe that Christmas can survive some harsh words and some damaged relationships. To be faithful enough to believe that when your plan falls apart, God’s plan holds a broken world together – for the birth of the Messiah took place this way – not the way Joseph wanted it to – it took place this way. I was thankful to talk with Lucy Scotty Kuykendall this weekend. As the wife of an obstetrician and as the mother of another, Lucy Scot has heard more incredible stories of childbirth than most. She’s heard many stories of men in the delivery room who took one look at the baby and realized only then what Joseph was told in a dream, and while there have been those who walked right out of the delivery room or fainted on the spot when faced with this harsh truth, more often the birth of a child is such a profound thing that even the most betraying details become simply details. I pray that the same will be true for you this Christmas. I pray that in witnessing the birth of the Christ child you will realize that nothing else – not the imperfect turkey, not the senseless arguments, not the un-received gift or the broken expectation will matter so much as the birth of a child. Joseph managed to do what so few people ever achieve – to look at life and to accept it for what it is rather than what you had wished it would be. He witnessed the birth of a child and realized that nothing else really matters, for this child, “he will save his people from their sins.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Help me to sing

Luke 2: 39-56, NT page 57 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. Sermon Something that I’ve learned is that you kind of have to know who you are talking to, before you go and tell them just anything. You need to know about who you are talking to, because, at this point, how you talk about President Barak Obama depends on who you are talking to. How you talk about health care, even what you call it – Obama Care or the Affordable Health Care Act – that depends on who you are talking to, and if you misjudge who you are talking to you may end up not in a conversation but an argument. You know who Paige Chamberlain is – he is one of my favorite members of our community, one of our most well-known and respected – and I went out on a limb the other day and told him that I had recently been to a yoga class. “Yoga?” he said, “That hurts me to hear about.” And that is just reality – if you want to talk about yoga you have to choose wisely who you are going to talk to about yoga or the conversation may end up being even shorter than that. Fortunately, for Paige and for the sake of our lunch together, there are many other things to talk about that spark his interest and mine, and, on which, we can stay on the same wave-length. Over lunch at Christy’s with Bob Towler last Thursday we talked about all kinds of things that interest all three of us – who lived in what house and when, who is still alive and who isn’t, and can you trust Bob Duncan’s account of such and such event or can’t you. While we were talking about this kind of thing we were interrupted, as one often is when it comes to lunch with Paige Chamberlain who taught English to nearly half our community, and there engaging Paige was a man wearing a San Francisco Giants jacket and shorts. “It’s a little cold for shorts isn’t it?” Paige asked him, and then I stopped really listening assuming that a man in a San Francisco Giants jacket and shorts in January might not be talking with Paige about anything that I really wanted to hear about until this man asked Paige whether or not he’d like to go with him and his wife to see the opera. Unlike yoga, Paige loves to talk about the opera, and so they went on talking and talking about Puccini, Strauss, Stravinsky, and whether or not Gershwin qualified. Paige finally came to his senses, reconciling the appearance of this man and his great knowledge of opera. The man seemed to realize this and said, “It’s amazing the music you’ll start to love if you just give it a try.” It was at this point that I introduced myself to Peter Hudson, realizing that the former owner of Sam Hills is much more than meets the eye – but that’s just how it is. We look for people to share ourselves to – we look for people like us – and we trust our likes and dislikes, our passions and hobbies, our politics and our religion, mostly to people who we hope might understand. So Mary goes to Elizabeth. Because Elizabeth is the one who just might understand, after all, she’s pregnant too. You see, they were already whispering about Elizabeth in the streets and at the luncheons. Mary wasn’t the only one who had gotten pregnant when she wasn’t supposed to. “At her age,” they were saying, “at her age people will be mistaking her for this child’s grandmother,” and they were saying that because she was older than she was supposed to be. Zechariah and Elizabeth had been waiting and their barrenness had defined them during those years that normal people start their families and went on defining them far beyond those years, so when an angel came and told Zechariah that Elizabeth would be having a baby he no more believed it than Mary’s mother would have believed that she was still a virgin should Mary have been foolish enough to tell her mother about this pregnancy. And can you imagine that – being pregnant and not being able to tell your own mother for fear of how she would react? Of course you can – it happens all the time. If your father wants you to grow up and be a doctor like he is, then you don’t rush home to tell him that you got the lead in your first off-Broadway play because he will be incapable of giving you the congratulations that you want. If your sister hates him, then guard yourself before you tell her about your engagement. And if your mother will see that pregnant belly and will only think about how you’ve just lost any chance of a proper wedding – how Joseph now has every right to walk away once he finds out – if you’ll want sympathy for your swelling ankles know that all she’ll be able to focus on is the lack of a ring on your finger – if you want her to be happy when she’s afraid that you’ll be stoned for adultery – then you are going to have to go to see someone else – you are just going to have to go and talk to someone else who might understand. So, “in those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Do you know how much that meant to her? Do you have any idea what it must have felt like to finally have someone who wasn’t ashamed to have her in her house, to finally have someone who would believe her story, and to be able to sit down in her kitchen so that Elizabeth might share in Mary’s joy? A large portion of our scripture lessons for this morning is one of the most well-known passages of scripture in the Bible – it’s known as the Magnificat. The Magnificat is Mary’s song of joy, of faithfulness, of hope. She sings: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” It’s important to read this passage in its context, because she doesn’t sing right after the angel comes to see her to tell her about this pregnancy. No, she sings in Elizabeth’s house, and I’ll bet you know exactly why. She sings then, because it’s not always possible to sing when you are alone. In the funeral services at our church we often sing hymns, but rarely is the family able to sing out the words, so overwhelmed by loss and sadness. And I stand here and watch as the congregation carries them, singing with and for mourning families when they’re not able to sing alone. You do the same thing for parents when their children are baptized. I’m standing next to them and I know they’re not singing the words to “Jesus loves me” that we sing after every baptism, and they’re not singing because they aren’t thinking about singing – they’re thinking about finally getting their baby who has been on the brink of crying for the entire service up until this point out and into the nursery where she can have her pacifier and get into some clothes that aren’t family heirlooms, and can cry as loud as she wants. They can’t be expected to sing in that moment – so you sing for them – and they can’t be expected to raise that child on their own either – so through the liturgy of baptism you promise to help them raise their child in the faith as well. And children can’t always be expected to sing either of course. I watch my own daughter stand during the hymns next to Susie Baxter, standing just how Ms. Susie stands, holding her hymnal just like Ms. Susie even though it’s upside down. And Ms. Susie helps her to sing you see. Last Sunday during communion I watched as John Satterwhite walked down the aisle, and he stood right beside Ava Corbin who was serving as an acolyte. I watched as he put his arm around her so they could share her hymnal – and I don’t really know who was helping who to sing, but it was a beautiful image that I won’t soon forget. Mary sings – but Elizabeth is there to help her sing those words when her own mother was tied up in worry as mothers sometimes are. Elizabeth is there for the girl to help her to sing, just as you must be there to help the children of this church sing faithful songs in a world where so much happens that they’ll know neither how to explain nor accept. This world of ours is full of tragedy and miracles, so stand beside one another, and stand especially beside the children and the teenagers who you have promised in their baptism to nurture in the faith – and help them to sing. Help them to sing songs of hope when the world as they know it comes to an end. In that moment help them to sing about God’s constant presence for when the Lord might have seemed to be clearly absent Mary sang, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” Help them to sing songs of trust when life’s path takes an unexpected turn and everyone it seems is against them for “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” And help them even then to sing songs of joy, for with Elizabeth, Mary sang in what might have been her darkest hour, “He has helped his servant Israel, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” This Christmas give thanks for those who have been Elizabeth to you, and sing, out of praise to God just as Mary did so long ago. Amen.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Let Us Walk

Isaiah 2: 1-5, OT page 631-632 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; All the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! Sermon I’ve told you before about my grandfather, my mother’s father, who grew up in a place called the Caw-Caw Swamp in the Low Country of South Carolina. He was born into a world I have to work to imagine. In the time and place of his childhood things were different than what they are now. You couldn’t just run to the store to get what you needed, there were no stores to just run out to, so mostly what you didn’t have you learned to do without. There was no access to Spanish or Italian wine in the Caw-Caw Swamp, so my grandfather’s mother made her own in the bathtub. And when my grandfather was born, several weeks premature, there was no specialist to refer him to if there was a doctor present at all. Nor was there an incubator to put him in where he might slowly make up for lost time in the womb, he was born and his only chance of survival was his mother’s ability to make due. It’s a well-known story in my family, that when my grandfather was born premature, my great-grandmother put bricks in the fire place, and once they were good and warm she used those hot bricks to fence in the pallet she made on the floor for my newborn grandfather. There he stayed warm, and there, by the grace of God and his mother’s ingenuity, he survived. Now that I have children of my own I have gained a small sense of what this must have been like for her. Before the baby is born, the dreams and the worries can be big. There are bikes and worries over elementary schools. There are thoughts of college and how it will be paid for. For the parents of little girls, there might even also be thoughts of marriage and how much the wedding will cost, but somewhere in the hospital other possibilities become so real and the dreams become smaller. Parents hope, as nurses hover around and monitors chart a little heartbeat, not for Harvard, but simply for another heartbeat. In the delivery room, there is no thought of the perfect wedding, but just for a baby who keeps breathing. So, I imagine my great-grandmother, in one scene feeling her pregnant belly and dreaming big dreams, but then I see here there, warming bricks in the fire and stacking them around her newborn son, just praying that he’ll stay with her another hour, maybe another day. Her dreams became small surely, as sometimes dreams have to. The dreams of the Israelite people had become small at the time the prophet Isaiah saw the vision that our second scripture lesson is based on. They were a small nation, no longer the military power that they were at the height of King David’s reign, and during the prophet Isaiah’s lifetime they had to fear the great power of Assyria, who will eventually force them out of Jerusalem and into exile. Their dreams had become, not big dreams of greatness and strength, but simply of survival. You can imagine the hope that they had for their children – maybe that they would have the chance to leave home and work in one of the Assyrian cities where they would have the chance to do something with their life. They hoped small hopes for their daughters – that she would marry well, marry a man who could scrape together a living – thinking little of love and even less of happiness. Israel – what hope had Israel? But the prophet saw a vision. A vision in which people will not stream out of Israel for some place better – no, that is too small a dream – the prophet sees a time when all the nations shall stream to Israel. They will not go somewhere else to learn something worth knowing – for – that is not aiming high enough. The prophet sees a time when all people will seek out the house of the God of Jacob to learn how to walk in paths of righteousness based in the word of the Lord. And the Lord shall judge between the people, bringing forth righteousness and justice – the time of frustration and futile hope will be over. Even those who are bold to hope for a time when Israel might defeat Assyria haven’t hope for enough for the time is coming says the prophet, when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” But maybe you think that’s dreaming too big? Or maybe you’re not dreaming big enough. On Thanksgiving Day a man in Culleoka killed his wife over a pair of shoes. This event causes me to wonder – have we hoped for enough? Is there no more to life than a pair of shoes? Surely this Christmas there are those who will settle for small hopes. Rather than dream big dreams of happiness, there are those who will settle to hope for the things that the world has told them to hope for: a new television, some video game system, while others will go so far as to dream for a new Lexus parked in the driveway with a bright red bow – but I tell you, none of them has dreamed for enough. Just think about the world we live in – just think about what God has done already. Our own Beth Himes now oversees a floor in our local hospital that can do things for premature babies that my great-grandmother would never have dreamed of in a million years, so why then would you underestimate the power of God? The commercials tell you to want the kinds of things that are possible, but I’m telling you today that Christmas wishes should not have so much to do with what is possible according to human power. By human power there is a chance of all kinds of gifts and delicious food, and all it will take is a maxed-out credit card. But as I consider the prophecy made in Isaiah I realize that our dreams have become too small. Too often we leave the notion that swords will someday be beaten into plowshares to the foolhardy idealists who don’t understand how the real world works – but in dreaming too small, have you failed to understand how God works? The Lord can change what you cannot. The Lord can bring peace to the very heart of war. The Lord knows your inmost desire – that hope so fragile that you wouldn’t dare speak it much less actually hope it – the Lord knows what you really want for Christmas and I tell you that you should not be so quick to settle for the same thing you asked for last year. Have you given up on the idea, the dream, that everyone would give up fighting this season – that your children and grandchildren would calm down long enough to get along - and have you resigned yourself to something less? Have you given up on the idea that there would not just be a full house, but a house full of love? Have you started to dream of something smaller because your heart has gone hopeless? Have you stopped dreaming of a better life and just started hoping for some better channels on TV so you don’t have to think about it anymore? Have you stopped dreaming the big dreams? If you have than remember that Isiah is talking about a day when war will be no more – and if the Lord is about doing such work as that don’t you imagine that God can handle something more than a stocking full of Lifesavers? Dream big dreams. And until they come true, “let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Walk in the promise, not of what is, but of what will be. Walk in the light that shines forth from the God of heaven and earth, and know that no darkness will ever overcome it. Walk towards such a future, such a dream, greater than what you have dared imagine, and know that the Shepherd of Israel who is to be born in a manger will lead you there. Amen.

Jesus, remember me

Luke 23: 33-43, NT page 89 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leader scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Sermon There are at least two ways to look at something, and maybe you could so far to say that there are as many ways to look at something as there are people to look at it. Last Thursday during Disciple Bible Study, a three hour Bible study course that includes all kinds of homework but that gives anyone who takes the course a true knowledge of scripture, Lee Brown, one of the participants, told the class about a friend of hers who never went to church and who never brought his family to church. There are a lot of ways to look at this situation which is becoming more and more common. You can accuse these people who never make it to church of not taking their faith seriously, you can say that they are missing out on the joy of being with other believers, there are more than two ways to look at their situation, but when Lee asked her friend why he doesn’t have his young children in church, he told her that they were home churched. Things have changed in the world, and while home schooling wasn’t an option you heard much about 20 and 30 years ago, the rise in home schooling shows that there is more than one opinion when it comes to education just as there is more than one opinion when you look at all kinds of things. Take my grandfather’s goat for instance. My grandfather was raised in a place called the Caw-Caw Swamp, a rural part of the Low Country of South Carolina filled with alligators and deer. And where there were alligators and deer so there were hunters, both legal and illegal, and that’s where my grandfather’s father came in. My great-grandfather was a game warden in the Caw-Caw Swamp who arrested poachers among other things. And that’s where my grandfather’s goat came in. It was my grandfather’s job as a young boy to raise goats that his father would use as bait to catch poachers. The goat would be tied to a tree near the road, and whenever a truck pulled to a stop to shoot the goat from the road my great-grandfather the game warden of the Caw-Caw Swamp would be there to arrest him. You can tell a lot about the Caw-Caw Swamp based on the fact that pulling over on the road to shoot animals from your truck was such a problem that my great-grandfather spent all his time preventing it. There are at least two ways to look at something, but in this case there are not, the Caw-Caw Swamp was that kind of a place, so my grandfather’s job was to raise these goats. And he knew that these goats would be used by his father as bait. That was the sad reality – in order for his father to do his job of stopping illegal hunting, something had to be sacrificed, and in this case it was a goat. I’m sure my great-grandfather saw it as the necessary sacrifice of doing this kind of job, but my grandfather as a young child didn’t see it that way. He raised these small goats, and he would talk to them. Out there in the Caw-Caw Swamp there weren’t many friends to be made, so he told his goats everything he had to say. When he was sad, he told his goat why he was sad. When he was happy, he celebrated with his goat, and there was one particular goat that he went so far as to name Daisy. When my grandfather knew the time was drawing near when his father would need to tie Daisy up out by the road, my grandfather couldn’t face it. Instead he developed a plan – he would take Daisy away from the house to some place where neither one of them would ever be found. This place had green grass for Daisy to eat and my grandfather would watch her eat that grass and he would live on the milk that she would produce. You see – to one person this goat was just the cost of doing business – no poachers would be caught if a goat didn’t die. But to the other person, this wasn’t a goat at all, this was a friend. The same is true for all kinds of other things in our world. I am convinced that there is so much disagreement in our society simply because we aren’t seeing anything the same way. There are those who look at education differently – and because we look at education differently those who are for private schools and those who aren’t can’t begin to have civil conversations about education because while they are both looking at the same exact thing they do not look at it the same way. The same is true for simple things, like the question any of you are asked at Bucky’s when you go through the line: “roll of cornbread?” My answer is both, but not everyone looks at even bread the same way. To those with wheat or gluten allergies, a roll looks like an upset stomach but to me it’s just delicious. Then we have abortion, birth control, and gay marriage - there are those who call the death penalty justice while others call it murder, and in our second scripture lesson for this morning, here we have a man sentenced to death – and some saw this event as his great humiliation while we call it part of the greatest event in human history. The cross itself is a symbol that you can look at differently. To the Romans, that cross was their electric chair, it was how they exercised capital punishment. But it was more than just that because they always did it publically – when you rode or walked in to a Roman city, instead of a great sign from the Chamber of Commerce saying, “Welcome to Galilee, we’re glad you came to see us,” a visitor would ride into town and would know by the men and women hanging on crosses on either side of the road that this was a place where one should not step out of line. The cross was the symbol or order, what they called the peace of Rome. It was a symbol of justice to them as well, and more than that, the cross was the great symbol of their power. But there are at least two ways to look at something. Today we consider the cross and do not see Rome, as those who crucified him are not as important now as the one who was crucified. Nor do we look at the cross and see a victim, a powerless criminal – for God has taken this symbol and made it into something else. God has taken this symbol of humiliation, of powerlessness, and made it the great sign of God’s strength. While the citizens of the Roman world saw this symbol and thought of Roman power, we all here look at this instrument of death and see nothing if not a throne for the King of Kings. And this is the power of God – to take something as humiliating as death on a cross, to take something that was so clearly the end, and turn it into something else completely. Today is Christ the King Sunday, so today we consider the cross, not as a symbol of Roman power but of divine power – we see it today not as a symbol of death even, but as a symbol of everlasting life. We celebrate Christ the King Sunday and we acknowledge him as Lord of all, but we also acknowledge that because of who Christ is, there is always two ways to look at something. Consider the choir’s anthem, for they sang it well. Christ is a paradox of sorts, just as life has become a paradox because of Christ. Today you can look at divorce and see the clear end. You can look at your divorce and see failure, but if God took an instrument of death and made it an instrument of life, why would you not look at your divorce with new eyes? It could just as well be a door opening, so why call it anything else? Then there are those with depression, even those who have, because of their depression descended into the deepest sadness. And there they lye convinced of their humiliation, convinced that their failure has been made clear and that worthlessness is certain. But if Christ can take the great symbol of humiliation, the symbol that Rome used to show their people that the power of Rome was greater than all other power – if Christ can take that symbol and make it not a sign of humiliation but a sign of victory, why not look at depression through the same lens. A cry for help can get you the help that you need, so why look at it any other way? Don’t you see that bankruptcy doesn’t have to be the thing that they say it is? Because of Christ, don’t you see that nothing has to be what the world has told you that it is? And you are not who they say you are even. Because of Christ, because he is King, the powers that seem to govern this world have lost their power over you. You are no longer who they say you are nor are you defined by their terms that the world imposes. If the world has been telling you that you are too old to be beautiful, too fat or too thin, know that you are not defined by who they say you are but by who God says you are – and to God you have been made in the image of divinity. If the world has been telling you that it is too late, that you are too far gone, that it is over, know that the great Roman tool for silencing dissenters and bringing their power to an end became to God the great sign of new beginnings – where Rome preached death God preached life so why would you give up now? If you are sure that sin defines you, that hopelessness has overcome you, and that sadness has swept over you and covered you up – look here and know that no power is as great as the power of God. Christ is King. He is Lord of Lords – and you are not who they say you are - no more than he was who they said he was. Halleluiah. Amen.