Saturday, December 16, 2017

Why We Celebrate - John 1:1-18

New Testament Lesson   John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[b]
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,[e] who is close to the Father’s heart,[f] who has made him known.

          There are 361,481 babies are born each day around the world. That works out to be 251 babies born worldwide per minute. Oh baby! Babies are popping up all over the place!

          The thing is, when these babies are born their birth is the most important event in the life of the parents, and of the relatives, and of a few friends.  It somewhat important to friends and co-workers and acquaintances.  The birth is largely ignored by the rest of the world.

          At Christmas we celebrate the birth of a child whose birth has become more and more noticed throughout the world. 

          And even though the whole world essentially gets involved in the celebration of this one birth, a lot of important facts get lost in the imagery we have of the first Christmas.

          I have a manger set in my house.  How many of you have one at your home?

          Joseph is looking devout, and clean, and well rested.

          Mary is looking devout, and clean, and well rested.

          The baby Jesus looks devout, and clean, and looks about one year old.

          When my wife and I were expecting the birth of my son, I told my Dad that I planned to be there for the delivery.  My Dad said, “Oh son, you do not want to do that.  When your sister was born the doctor came to the house and your mother was in bed.  She wouldn’t stop screaming.  My arms were scratched and bleeding from the scratches from your mother who was in such pain.  And when your sister was born, she was wet, and hairy, and was the ugliest thing I ever saw.  I asked the doctor what was wrong with her, and he said this was normal.  And by the way,” my Dad added.  “Don’t you ever tell this to your sister.”

          Of course, before the end of the day I was on the phone with my sister telling her about all of this, and she said, “Oh know all that.  Mom told me years ago.”  Apparently, when the story was told from my mother’s perspective, Dad scratched his arm when he fainted.  My Dad’s uselessness had a lot to do with the fact that I was the first in my family to be born at a hospital.

          But I think about the story of my sister’s birth, from either my mother or my Dad’s perspective, and I picture the birth of Jesus being very different from the scene of my manger set at home.

Giving birth in a stable is not a clean and relaxing activity.  We lose sight of that, and we lose sight of a lot of other things about Christmas. 
One thing we should focus on is not so much the historical details of what this birth looked like, but on the reasons why we celebrate this one birth.  After all, sometime in the next 60 seconds 251 babies will be born world wide, so why celebrate this one birth?

          Had the baby simply been born, we would not celebrate that birth.

          But because this child grew up, that is why the birth is worth celebrating, every year.

          The child grew up.

          John’s Gospel does not pay any attention at all to the birth of Christ.  For those details we have to go to Matthew or Luke.  John is more interested in who Jesus grew up to become, because the character of the adult Jesus is what makes the birth worth celebrating.

Jesus is the Word

          First, John tells us that the birth of Jesus is worth celebrating because Jesus is the Word of God.

John’s Gospel begins with a poetic description of Jesus.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
“What’s the good word,” is something we often ask and hear. 

          With a word, I can make you laugh, or cry.

I can draw you closer with words of love and grace.

And I can push you away with harsh critical words.

I can discourage you with things like, “What a stupid thing to do,” and “you’ll never amount to anything,” “loser” “quit now and avoid frustration.”

Or I can encourage you. “Yes you can, I’ll help you. I will never quit on you. You can count on me to be in your corner.” “I WILL love you NO MATTER WHAT!”

If I can speak properly, I can stir up almost any emotion –

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

And what are the words that the Word of God verbalizes?


Jesus stayed a baby for a short time, but he is always the Word of God, even today.

Jesus is God

          Second, John tells us that the birth of Jesus is worth celebrating because Jesus is God.

One of the most important messages of John’s Gospel comes at the beginning.  He is poetically talking about Jesus as The Word.  “In the beginning was the Word – Christ.  And the Word, or Christ, was with God.  And the Word, or Christ, was God.”
At Christmas time, we sing carols that proclaimed that Jesus was God. 

          The rest of the world would say, Jesus was a good man. 
Which he was.

          The rest of the world would say, Jesus was a good teacher. 
Which he was.

          The rest of the world would say, Jesus a real person who certainly in fact lived.
Which he did.

          However, the rest of the world would feel more comfortable leaving out a statement that said that Jesus was the Son of God and was himself, God. 

          We need to believe this all through the year and we need to always proclaim that Jesus is Lord.  Without this, the celebration we are having right now has very little meaning.
Jesus is unchanging

          Third, John tells us that the birth of Jesus is worth celebrating because Jesus is unchanging.

          Nothing brings home how much our world is changing than Christmas, and nothing produces a greater nostalgic longing for the world to STOP changing than Christmas.

          At Christmas, we see changes all around us.

          Children are growing up.

          We may be reminded once again that someone we loved has died and is no longer with us to celebrate the holiday.

          We remember the way things used to be when we were children and we miss the past.

          We may feel overwhelmed by the changes.

          And we may long for the world to stop changing. 

          I don’t think we are opposed to changes in our lives.  We need change.  We’d be very bored otherwise.

          But we need something, or someone, who is consistent in our lives.  Who never changes. And Christ is that unchanging consistency.

          The Gospel of John says, “He (meaning Christ) was with God in the beginning.”

          The Book of Hebrews tell us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (13:8)

          The Character of Christianity is to trust that Christ never changes.  We need to stay in that character.  The world may change.  Christ does not.

Jesus is the Light of the World

          John also tells us that the birth of Jesus is worth celebrating because Jesus is the light of the world.

John goes into great detail here, explaining how John the Baptist came to announce the arrival of the light of the world, and how John the Baptist was not the light, but was announcing that the light would soon arrive.
Jesus is the light of the world.

          And light is a comforting thing.

          All parents know that the best defense against the monster who lives in a child’s closet or under a child’s bed, is light.

          Turn the light on!

          Darkness is a frightening thing.

          Light is a comforting thing.

          I remember when I was 13 years old, I had a frightening experience.

          I was in the shower and I was washing my hair with a new and different shampoo.  Some of the shampoo got into my eyes and it burned.  I mean it was really very painful.  I rinsed my scalp and my eyes the best I could and when I was finally able to open my eyes, they still burned.

          But more than that, I had actually lost my eyesight.  I was totally blind.  I couldn’t believe shampoo could be so strong that it could literally blind you.

          I didn’t want to call out for help because I was standing in the shower without any clothing on, and 13 year old boys are sensitive about stuff like that.  So inspite of the fact that I am now totally blind, instead of calling for help, I grope in the darkness until I find my robe and put it on.

          Just as I am about to yell for help, the electricity comes back online.

          I can see again.

          You see, while I had my eyes closed, the power had gone off for just a moment, and standing there in total darkness – I assumed the worst.

          Of course, I was ONLY 13 years old at the time and those of you who are 14 years old or older know that is the time when your body grows faster than your brain.

          But darkness – it is a frightening thing, and nothing dispels the fear like the light.

          To live in spiritual darkness is to live in loneliness and despair and fear – and nothing dispels that spiritual darkness better than Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Through Jesus, we have a relationship with God

          Now, John is making several points here, but he is moving all of them into one single, important point.

          Jesus is the Word.

          Jesus is God.

Jesus is unchanging.
Jesus is the light.

          All of these points converge into one most important point – Jesus is someone through whom we can have a relationship with God.

          This is the main reason for celebrating the birth of this single baby.  During Christmas we sing those songs of Christ’s birth and of his salvation he brings.
But as we come to the end of the Christmas Season, we must continue to believe that Jesus was born so that we might have a relationship with God.
That is what Christmas was all about.  And when Christmas is past, and the decorations once again come down, and when the gifts become forgotten or break from being used so dearly for so long, what sustains us through one Christmas after another, and what sustains us in all the months between these celebrations, is the relationship we have with Christ.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2017. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh

All rights reserved

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Funeral Message - Romans 8 (following a suicide)

Romans 8
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.[w] 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Today is a difficult time to gather together.  We are grieving the loss of someone who died all too young.

We feel discouraged and sorrowful.

And we are reminded that Nicholas felt dark days as well.

We sometimes think that a person of faith would never become depressed or discouraged.  If a person admits to being sad, that is like confessing a sin.  Christians are always happy.  They are always upbeat.  Always positive.

And yet the Bible strips away such silly myths.

Moses – if there was ever a man of God, it was Moses!  He had faith and was an example to all of us.
However, in the Old Testament Book of Numbers, Moses was under tremendous pressure from the people.  They were tired of the Wilderness, tired of the trip to the Promised Land and they were begging Moses to take them back to Egypt. Moses says in chapter 11 of Numbers, “I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness” (Numbers 11:14–15).

Being overwhelmed is not a sign that one is not a Christian.  It is a sign that one is human.

Elijah is another person of great faith.  In the Old Testament book of First Kings, Elijah had a moment of tremendous success.  He had challenged 400 prophets of the false idol Baal to a test and he won!  Elijah was vindicated.  He celebrated by running in front of the king’s chariot.  It was a great moment.  But then he heard that Jezebel vowed to kill him. In his fear and exhaustion he went into the wilderness, sat down under a broom tree, and said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).

Can people of God feel discouragement?  Yes!  Moses did.  As did Elijah.  As did Jonah.  Everyone of faith sometimes feels discouraged.  They hit low points.

When bad things happen to us, or to others, we want to have an answer as to why.  Why did someone do this, or why did someone do that?  And then there is the big question, why did God do what he did?

The problem with asking that question is that you may get an answer – but you may not. 

In Romans 11, St. Paul wrote, “Who has understood the mind of God?”  

The answer, no one.

Because we don’t always get the answer to the question why, let me suggest that in this time of grief, we ask a different question – one that can be asked, AND answered.

Forget why.

Ask: “Who is loved here?”

If you ask why these things happened, you may get an answer, perhaps!

But if you ask who is loved here you will definitely get an answer very quickly.

Who is loved here?

Nicholas.  You are here today because you loved Nicholas.  He was someone’s son, someone’s husband, a father of two children.  He was someone’s brother, someone’s uncle, cousin, friend, buddy.
You love Nicholas and God loves Nicholas. We have no doubt of that. 
St. Paul said in in the New Testament that nothing that Nicholas was or did or thought could separate him from God’s love.

We find that in chapter 8 of Romans.  “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So in asking the question who is loved here?  Nicholas is.

And not just Nicholas.  You are loved.

You are loved by the people around you.  You are loved by Nicholas.  You are loved by God.

You are here today because you are grieving.  You are grieving our loss of Nicholas.  Perhaps being here reminds you that you are still grieving the loss of your own child, or husband, or brother, or another friend.  Grief takes time.  It is not a short journey, but a long one. 

And on this journey you need others with you who will love you and sustain you. 

Who is loved here?  You are.  Feel free to show that love to one another.  Feel free to be comforted by God’s love.  And feel relieved that Nicholas is loved by you and by God Almighty.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Being Prepared - Matthew 25:1-13

Matthew 25:1-13
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids[a]took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.[b] Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids[c] got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids[d] came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

A few weeks ago I went to Casper, Wyoming, to observe the Total Solar Eclipse. 

Now the thing about a Solar Eclipse is that you know exactly when and where it will happen.

I had no reason not to be prepared.  I even practiced with my cameras and telescopes, and because I was prepared, I enjoyed that event immensely.

I even know when the next Solar Eclipse will be.  I am planning now to be on vacation on April 8, 2024, so I can be in Texas.
More than that, I know that at 1:28 pm on August 12, in the year 2045, when I am still a young man of 91, a total eclipse of the sun will be seen right here in Orlando.  I am inviting you now to meet me here at the church.  The sun and moon will be 68.33 degrees above the horizon at that time, so I plan to get a perfect photo of the church and our remaining steeple in the foreground, with the totality of the eclipse in the background!  Only 28 years left to wait!

In astronomy, things happen in the universe.  You cannot speed them up, you cannot slow them down.  They happen at what I like to call, the “fullness of time.”  When these events happen, there is no reason not to be prepared.

Some things happen unexpectedly.  My wife and I have lived most of our lives either on the coast, or close to it.  We have lived through well over 20 hurricanes.  We have our preparation plan down to a fine science.  We are prepared.  I have no clue when the next hurricane will come, but I will be ready.

I met someone the other day who said he was going to live forever, or die trying.  

Well, of course he is going to die trying. We are all going to die.  

I’m prepared for that. 

This past week I revised my will and all of my end of life documents, signed them and had them notarized.  I am prepared.  

I’m also prepared spiritually. 

I have always liked what Woody Allen said about death.  “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens to me.”

Well, I’m pretty sure I will have to be there when I die. 

As a young Boy Scout I embraced the motto, “be prepared.”

The New Testament lesson today is a parable about preparedness.  

It is, on the surface, about preparing for the Second Coming of Christ.  But on another level this parable can teach us about any time in our lives when something is going to happen – something we no control over.  We cannot rush or delay it.  It may the return of Christ, or it may be your own death.  It may be the hurricane.  It may, in fact, be something that you can control to a degree.  

Retirement.  You might retire early, or delay it a few years.  But it is something that calls you to prepare for.

So within this parable, we learn nothing about when Christ will return.  We are just told it will happen and we need to be prepared.  

And what this text teaches us about preparing for the second coming can be applied to many other things for which we need to be prepared.

So what do we learn about being prepared?

It is interesting that in the parable the bridesmaids all looked pretty much the same.  They all know the bride and groom.  They all dress alike – you’ve been to weddings, bridesmaids always dress similar.  They are all waiting for the wedding to start.  They all have their lamps, something that bridesmaids needed in that culture.

They were all ready – or at least they all looked like they were ready.  Some of them had not brought enough oil.

So here is the first lesson to be learned.  Be sure that you are truly prepared, because it is possible to look just like everyone else, but you have to do more than look prepared.

Are you ready for the next hurricane?  You may have your hurricane prep box in the garage, but over the months you know that is where there are some batteries to be found, so one by one you get a battery here and there and when Hurricane comes and the stores have closed and the power goes off, you realize that you have only one size D battery left.

As a Christian you can talk like everyone else and use all those church words like “saved” or “grace” or “forgiveness.”  You can carry a Bible and quote it freely and accurately.  You can go to church and call yourself Christian, but it is possible to be unprepared for the return of Christ, or for you own death.

“Be prepared” means being truly prepared, not just looking prepared.

The second lesson of the parable is: No one can do it for you.

In retirement, the government may require you to contribute to Social Security, but in Orlando most people’s Social Security checks will almost pay for a person’s monthly rent.  You have to prepare in other ways as well for retirement, the government won’t do it, no one else will do it.

That test coming up in class on Monday morning.  No one can study for you.  No one can take that test for you.  You have to prepare. No one else will do it for you.

The foolish bridesmaids saw that they did not have enough oil, and they asked their wise friends to loan them some of theirs, but that was not possible. The wise ones pointed out that if they shared their oil, none of them would be prepared or able to complete their tasks. 

Preparing for your death or for the Second Coming?  You can’t say the preacher is doing that for you – you must prepare.  You must train your spiritual life yourself.

A third point of the parable is: There is a time called “Too Late.”

Bill Kuykendall and I were friends for many years, until his death a few years ago.  I met him in college – he was not a classmate, but he was one of my professors.  When I arrived at college I sought advice from some of the upper classmates and one word of advice I heard many times was, “Don’t take a class under Dr. Kuykendall.”

I disregarded that advice, and Kurkendall turned out to be my favorite professor.  But it was easy to see why upper classmates would advise against taking classes under him.  He was tough.
I had an 8 am class with him, “Biblical Archeology.”  Which, by the way, was another bit of advice from upper classmates I had ignored – “Don’t sign up for classes that begin before 11am.”
At this 8 am class, Kurkendall would arrive at 8 am sharp.  He would let us into the classroom and then lock it!  If you arrived at 8:01, too bad.  You were counted as absent.  And you only had two cuts for the whole class.

Those who were late - found out about the danger of being “too late.”

This parable teaches that there comes a time when you are “too late.”  The time to prepare is before the deadline! 

At some point Christ will return with shouts of acclamation.  Or you will breathe your last. 

Too late.

Too late to repair broken relationships with others.  Too late to serve others.  Too late to accept Christ as savior.  Too late to prepare. 
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today's trouble is enough for today."  Those are great words of advice, but how do you keep from being anxious about tomorrow?  In Matthew there are two things to remember - trust God, and make reasonable preparations.  

Proverbs, chapter 6, has that great passage about preparation.

It says, "Go to the ant, you lazybones" - I love that translation!

"Go to the ant, you lazybones;
consider its ways and be wise.  
Without having any chief or officer or ruler, 
it prepares its food in summer and gathers its sustenance in harvest."

Preparation is a gift of God.  

It frees us from anxiety and enriches our lives.

Copyright 2017. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.