Sermon by Pastor Linda
The slogans of this season are "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas" - but for many people the holidays, particularly Christmas, are anything but happy or merry. Holiday depression is a huge problem in our nation. For one reason or another this season brings nothing but sad tidings instead of great joy. For many the reason for their depression revolves around difficulties with family. Many of us have been ostracized by our families, cast out of the holiday cheer of family gatherings and holiday celebrations. Instead of joy, this season brings tears, a sense of loneliness and feelings of being rejected by the very people who are supposed to love us the most - our family.
Often we're forced to build families of choice when our biological families abandon us. We turn to our friends to fill the role of brothers and sisters, or mothers and fathers. This web of friends often becomes our surrogate families where we spend holidays or birthdays, or just lazy days hanging out.
I've been thinking a lot about family this year. The family that I was raised with is all in Ohio; while I have been here on the west coast mostly since 1971. I always call either my Mom's house or one of my sister's houses on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day; as I now they will all be there and with one phone call, I can talk to both of my sisters, my brother, and my Mom. While I love hearing their voices and catching up on what has been happening in their lives over the last year, it still leaves me with a feeling of lonliness and homesickness.
Some might say that I am lucky, in that I actually have 2 families. I was raised in Ohion by my Dad (now gone to be with Jesus) and my stepmom. That is where my 2 sisters, Pam and Gail, and my brother dave that I talk to every holiday season come into play at. Then I also had my birth Mom (died in 1980) and my stepdad (also has since passed on); my 2 brothers Ricky and Randy. Ricky is no longer living either. So, here in Ca. it is only my brother Randy and I. True, I can see him whenever I want to... I talk to him on the phone and even will soon be renting a house from him. But this family, that I had traveled clear across the United States to get to know... Just does not understand me at all. My brother Randy and I were raised so very differantly. Rick and Randy were never taught to respect their parents, as I was and consequently treated Mom terribly; cursing her and their Dad out all the time, making demands on them, and just acting like spoiled little brats! When I tried telling them they were wrong, I too got a tongue lashing. They just could not understand where I was coming from at all.
I think that is why many of us turn to our friends and look to them as sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers..... Because our own are such a hug dissappointment sometimes.
Jesus understood this concept. His family did not understand him and he found he could not perform miracles in his hometown so he left his biological family to build himself a surrogate family consisting of 12 disciples and some friends, many of them women like Mary Magdalene and Martha. When his family came to visit him once he asked, "Who is my mother and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples he said "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:48-50)
Jesus had created a surrogate family that he relied on, not only to spread his message of love and grace and fight injustice, but to anchor him emotionally. I contend that without the disciples, Mary and Martha, Jesus would have been crushed by the overwhelming weight of his crusade.
So, how do we handle family dissappointments; feeling of lonliness and depression?
The good news comes to us from Paul's words in Galatians 3:26-29. Just like those 12 disciples and Mary and Martha, we are part of Jesus' surrogate family. We have been adopted into the Holy Family - a family - that seeks to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.
"… in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise."
We are heirs according to the promise! We are in Christ's family - called children of God through our faith. This family is not grounded in moralistic laws, but in grace and in grace there are no human barriers - there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female - we are made one in Christ Jesus!
Before our adoption into the holy family, Paul says we were under the law, but now we are under grace. By grace I mean God's unconditional, unfailing and radical love for us, no matter who we are. When I say grace I don't mean something that is earned or something that is a reward to the few or the chosen, but when I say grace I mean something we all can receive. Grace means that God loves us all and is committed to reconciling herself to every single one of us.
It's amazing to me how many people who claim the title Christian still don't get that. They have a long list of "thou shalt nots" that they say we must follow or else we will not earn, or be worthy of, God's grace. They limit God's grace by talking a lot about morality and how we should live our lives.
I did some researching on the net and found this very fitting here and oh so true!
As Episcopalian priest Lesley Northup in Coconut Grove, Florida, said in a recent sermon:
"Jesus very seldom talked about 'thou shalt nots' - about terrible things you weren't supposed to do. His morality was about what you were supposed to do. He was crystal clear about 'thou shalts.' Here is what morality is, according to Jesus: Feed the poor (there are about 12 million people in our country who worry daily about whether they will have food); comfort the prisoners (probably includes not torturing or shooting them); accept the outcast (the queer, the single mother, the street person, the Muslim); shelter the homeless (and stop creating more of them); be good stewards and shepherds (stop raping the environment); depend on God, not on wealth (and don't collect it at the expense of the poor); treat others as you would have them treat you. And FIGHT for justice."
That's our call, our inheritance - to fight for justice wherever we see injustice taking root whether it is in our world, our church, our jobs, our homes and especially in our government (whether that government is led by Democrats or Republicans).
Perhaps we should stop here and define exactly what kind of justice we're talking about. When we hear the word justice we're most likely thinking of retribution. I think of a popular super hero - Batman. His idea of justice is retribution - seeing that the wrong-doers get theirs. But, God's idea of justice has little to do with retribution. Instead, God's justice is outlined in Psalm 82:3-4:
"Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked."
Justice means the fair and equitable distribution of God's blessings on earth, which would not include writing laws that intentionally block people from gaining equality.
Isaiah, who is also an adopted member in our holy family, gives us instructions on how to conduct ourselves as those who fight for God's distributive justice. "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest." Centuries later, the Apostle Paul echoes Isaiah's words in 2 Corinthians 4:13 - "we too believe, and so we speak." For the sake of not just our nation, but the whole world, as believers we cannot keep silent, we must speak out.
Whether we like it or not, we cannot rest until we see God's justice spread throughout the world. We must speak truth to power. We must publicly resist injustice when we see it. We must take our place among the holy family of justice seekers and spend our time, our talents and, yes, even our money, on fostering equality, justice, peace and harmony in our world.
We can do this in many ways. Get involved with organizations that seek to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and visit the prisoner. Get involved with organizations that seek to protect the environment.
But, most importantly, every single day of your life practice the golden rule - do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Do not keep silent, do not rest! We too believe, and so we speak. Fight for justice, for peace, for a renewal of Christ's message of unity and equality. Fight for God's inclusive, radical love to come into the world.
We always escape the ensnarements of our enemy when our hearts are pure - when we are focused on seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. Sometimes it may look like we're done for and that the enemy will win, but take heart, my brothers and sisters, God's justice always prevails.
Whenever the times seem dark always remember that as God's adopted children we are the light of the world and we cannot hide that light under a bushel. Shine your life like a light - embrace your place in the holy family - a family of justice seekers.
I love poetry and this is one of my favorite poems:
Take these words from Jim Strathdee's poem, "I am the Light of the World," with you this week:
I am the light of the world!
You people come and follow me!
When you follow and love
You'll learn the mystery of what you are meant to do and be.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the magi and shepherds have found their way home
The work of Christmas is begun.
To find the lost and lonely one,
To heal the broken soul with love,
To feed the hungry children with warmth and good will,
To feel the earth below, the sun above!
To free the prisoner from all chains,
To make the powerful care,
To rebuild the nations with strength of good will,
To see God's children everywhere!
To bring hope to every task you do,
To dance at a baby's new birth,
To make music in an old person's heart,
And sing to the colors of the earth!
So, as this holiday season comes upon us; and thoughts of family that you cannot be with, or family that might have hurt us or have been hurt, or finances are too tight to do all we want to do...Let's remember that nothing is too big for God. Take ALl our cares to him and he will restore the joy to our hearts. Remember that JESUS is the reason for the season. We are celebrating his birth as a tiny baby coming into this world human and going through all that we humans experience. The joys, pain, trials and temptations. He has been there, done that! If it were not for him, we all would be lost in our sins and forever doomed to burn in everlasting fire! So, instead of being gloomy over things we may have no control, let our hearts be glad and rejoice! Rejoice that God sent his only son to die for us that we might be saved! That tiny baby; on which we celebrate the birth of every year.... That baby is our saviour! Praise God!
Dear Heavenly Father....
As this holiday season comes on us...help us to remember the reason for the holiday and the sacrifice you made because you love us so much! Restore the joy in our hearts as we once had when we were young children..... anxi9ously awaiting the "big Day". But we know, Lord..that the big day is the birth of your son and not the gifts and the wordly pleasures we might receive.... But the best gift of all...Your son going to the cross that we might have eternal life with you! Go with us and walk with us always, dear heavenly Father...
In Jesus; holy name we pray...