April 15, 2018
Be encouraged and do outreach are the combined elements from Luke 24:36b-48, today’s lectionary focus. The resurrected Jesus is gathered with his closest followers as the time nears for his departure for heaven. The stage is set for a new era, one without Jesus walking the earth but with his followers empowered by the Holy Spirit (which is the shared essence of both humans and God).
At first, the apostles perceived Jesus as a ghost, and so the savior needed to again prove that he was their Lord. In the context of this marvelous story, the drama and sense of wonder emerge. The end of Jesus’ time on earth was nearer than ever. Jesus’ friends feared that he would abandon them and they dreaded the thought of being left alone. Hence Jesus realized that he needed to offer encouragement to his fearful followers.
What filled the void soon created by Jesus’ physical departure? The risk is that once Jesus left something bad would destroy the new movement that was later called Christianity. To keep things going, Jesus’ followers were supposed to spread the gospel but that mission was threatened by hostile Romans and Jews. Jesus would no longer walk Israel’s dangerous trails but the Holy Spirit would guide and encourage each believer. Although Jesus departed, his power and presence would continue in the form of the Holy Spirit still guiding us today.
How are Jesus’ followers supposed to do God’s will on earth without Jesus? The gospel message is shared by a process known as evangelism (or outreach—a less controversial word). Outreach is a marvelous process by which every Christian shares God’s message. God’s Holy Spirit empowers people of faith to enthusiastically share love and truth. Stylistic matters aside, outreach is God’s gift to the world through us. Here it comes, that slogan of St. John’s known as “We can DO it!” The “DO” involves the “D” of discipleship (partnering with God to make existing Christians stronger) and the “O” of outreach (partnering with God to make new Christians). Without constant attention to outreach, a mere religious building isn’t really a church. The DNA of a spiritual entity such as a church is such that there must be an organic, consistent process of gathering new people in church alongside strengthening the people already there.
Consider something that you cherish. This may be an activity that consumes you [positively] so much that you can’t remain silent. Perhaps you have a hobby, or you enjoy sharing pictures and stories of your children and grand-kids. Well, that’s a big part of what constitutes effective outreach. It’s your sharing with others what brings you joy and meaning. Outreach is your way of announcing to the universe what God has done and is doing in your life. If you don’t feel God’s presence, then that is a huge problem for which nothing else can substitute.
St. John and every other church grow stronger through discipleship and outreach. There are many ways to accomplish these foundational goals and we must give constant attention to culturally relevant strategies and tactics. Outreach is not some dark mystery to dread or deny. Quite the contrary. Outreach brings profound joy because people of faith are designed to gain life vitality from all sorts of spiritual exercises such as, according to Jesus, sharing personal faith with every creature.
Outreach is a way for the church to help people who are searching for healing and fulfilment. As followers of Christ, we are supposed to love and accomplish good things, as an extension of our spiritual rebirth. We have been transformed into new creatures with new attitudes and behaviors. Ask a friend or neighbor to be a part of the wonderful activity in your congregation. Encourage people to come and share the joy of your faith fellowship. As you do, you’ll discover wondrous depths of God’s blessings. –Reverend Larry Hoxey
April 8, 2018
Today’s message covers one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. The apostles were gathered together, minus Thomas, and the air dripped with expectation. A miraculously appearing Jesus revealed his physical wounds and convinced those gathered that he was real. There’s two major points to discover in this encounter, the power of forgiveness and Thomas’ doubt.
As to the power of forgiveness, the Bible sums-up the situation: “ ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ “ (John 20:22b-23). Notice that Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit, marking the first-known post-resurrection mention of God’s spirit, which unites us as beings made in God’s image. The hotly debated part is when Jesus also seemed to be giving these disciples the privilege and authority to forgive sins. The problem is that many people in the church have been conditioned that only God can forgive sins (or at least certain sins). Now, Jesus shares God’s forgiving power to his inner circle. Other interpreters make an entirely different case. They claim that Jesus wasn’t really granting a new power but that he was saying that any of God’s people can offer forgiveness.
The second major theme in today’s message focuses on doubting Thomas, who would not accept that Jesus was appearing after the crucifixion. To remedy this unbelief, Jesus reappeared and had Thomas place his hand in the wounds. Then Jesus lectured Thomas about how blessed it is to believe without having to see. Doubting Thomas has become a religious epithet used against people who question otherwise accepted truths. Many folks argue that people should just accept whatever is already a part of their faith and not encourage questioning. Their argument is that the Thomas episode highlights how a questioning attitude is dangerous by undermining religious faith.
A different view about Thomas is that questions and doubts arise from a thinking person’s properly functioning mind. The view is that theological traditions must be continually tested against reality and adjusted accordingly. To not question is to not think, and both are bad for individuals and for the health of Christianity. Perceived this way, Thomas’ behavior opens a new window of opportunity for sorting out good religion from bad religion, toxic faith from fact-friendly faith.
Some people feel caught between productive questioning on the one hand and blind acceptance on the other hand. It can be helpful when the process of debate and dialogue about religion reveal logical fallacies, historical inaccuracies, and unrestrained hubris. Jesus didn’t dispute Thomas’ motives. Believing without seeing is a blessing, Jesus said, but Jesus didn’t condemn questioning. More often than not, history illustrates that fanatics’ resistance to questions is an attempt to hide something, that asking may reveal ignorance and hypocrisies. “Thou shalt not question” is not the eleventh-commandment!
In his defense, Thomas felt better after confirming Jesus’ identity. We may also derive some benefit from confirming assumptions so that what we think we believe can be tested and at least partially verified. The caution is that we don’t want to go too far because Jesus challenged Thomas by saying blessed are those who believe but who do not necessarily see. We can’t always confirm everything which is assumed to be true. Does this mean that people who act and believe through blind faith are happier? Or, do we follow Thomas’ approach and try to get verification whenever possible? The truth is, combining both approaches is a great solution. –Reverend Larry Hoxey
April 1, 2018
God bless you this wonderful morning and welcome to Easter, the most joyous of all Christian holy days.
Easter emphasizes life over death and hope over despair. Jesus’ triumph demonstrates how love and light crush hate and darkness. This lesson is more significant than ever given what’s happening in American culture. It’s not fake news to proclaim that God’s eternal message lives within each of us, waiting to be activated as we embrace God. Jesus’ flesh and blood have long since left earth yet the loving, self-sacrificing principles he demonstrated are eternally active.
Easter is a reminder that death is not the final word. Through the power of love, each person who believes can migrate from soul-slumber into spiritual awakening. You are God’s child and you too can gain new life. You needn’t wait until your physical demise to enjoy a spiritual renaissance. Easter is more than a nostalgic review of history. The gargantuan power of the moment, of now, leverages Easter’s power and propels the faithful forward through God’s lifegiving spirit.
God’s presence gives spiritual life to each person desiring it. Humans are spiritual beings choosing to either access or ignore a fulfilled existence. Though humanity’s mortal bodies originate from earth’s elements, physical death is not the end of the road. People die on earth, but God’s Easter example is that those who are willing can, in partnership with God, transcend death’s brief transition. What does Easter do for you? Do you feel anything special? I hope so because there is more spiritual energy generated in our Easter celebration than for all the year’s church holidays combined.
Take this time to gain encouragement over challenging life circumstances. Realize that no matter what happens to you—aging, disease, discouragement—your spirit will remain incorruptible and whole. Your part is to invite God into your life as an active participant. In doing so, you will become a more conscious, intentional person of faith. Living whole in this manner is no accident, and it isn’t something that comes automatically. Each human must cultivate attitudes and actions toward that life of wellbeing, Though people invariably die in the flesh, God lives in you and through you. For true spiritual vitality, you can receive, celebrate and share God’s magnificent promises and possibilities. If Jesus can be raised from the dead, then God can create in you a revitalized, transformed being.
What is it that we strive to accomplish as we gather in church on earth? We are both obligated and privileged to perform two key tasks: (1) learning and growing to become stronger people of faith (a process called discipleship) and 2) partnering with God to help make new people of faith (a process called outreach). Taken together, these two goals form the acronym “DO,” as in “We can DO it!” The splendid task of keeping our church healthy requires commitment beyond a casual nod of pew-sitting heads. We must strive and yearn together, forging a bright future if we want our church to survive and thrive.
We serve a risen Lord who is with us in every struggle. Please, pray that God will continue to open hearts and minds to the tasks that lay ahead. As God’s spiritual children, we are heirs to the same victory over death that Jesus experienced. We must not withdraw into obscurity, turn-away, or cultivate an elitist or defeatist attitude. We mustn’t allow anything to devour our liberated, awakened spirits. God’s love has set us free to achieve a life of holistic, comprehensive wellbeing. In this way, we can become healthier in mind, body and spirit. Now, the joyful challenge is to share this fantastic, real news with the world. Let us proclaim “Hallelujah!” as we celebrate life every day, every way. –Reverend Hoxey
March 25, 2018
Welcome to Palm Sunday, a time of faith-filled joy. Today’s celebration begins with the significance of Jesus’ entrance through Jerusalem’s gate. Ultimately, what we celebrate is God’s entrance into our hearts and minds.
Jesus’ highly public donkey ride into Jerusalem encouraged his supporters, who recognized in him a man of promise and possibility. The crowds adoring Jesus might have known him as the populist prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. Perhaps these admirers even considered Jesus to be the Messiah who would set them free from Roman-occupation.
But all was not well. The Jewish and Roman leaders would notice of a fervent crowd and perceive it as a dire threat. From the perspective of the authorities, the Jerusalem populace might get out of control and this could lead to a riot, possibly sparking a revolt against the Roman occupiers (which eventually happened a few decades after Jesus’ death). The biblical text does not suggest that Jesus’ actions were deliberately intended to cause political instability. Yet, it’s all about perception. With the Romans watching, even a parade led by a peculiar man on a donkey caused serious ripples.
What if Jesus had leveraged his popularity to initiate insurrection against either the Jewish priestly oligarchy, the Romans, or both? Jesus didn’t accomplish such a scenario because he was emphasizing spiritual issues rather than political power. It’s not surprising then that Jesus chose to present himself as the spiritual King of the Jews. Earthly kingdoms come and go, but God’s eternal presence doesn’t depend on who holds the reigns of political privilege.
Some people who were part of that ancient cheering crowd likely felt betrayed later because Jesus didn’t instigate the anticipated revolutionary changes. Perhaps this explains why many abandoned Jesus during his trial and execution. Initially buoyed by high-hopes, those who shouted praises during Jesus’ triumphal entry would soon be appalled by his arrest and execution. It’s unfortunate that public opinion was so fickle and focused on worldly things. Once it was clear that Jesus would not fulfill nationalist aspirations, the fickle crowd abandoned him and moved on.
Fast-forward nearly two-thousand years and Jesus continues to make entrances into peoples’ hearts and minds. As in ancient times, peoples’ views about Jesus vary wildly. There are casual observers, true-believers, people who want to manipulate sentiment, and just about every shade of opinion in-between. Those who seek the Jesus of love and truth welcome the God who brings life renewal and wellbeing.
Then as now, seekers of love and truth embrace the divine presence Jesus, representing the Lord of light and life. Today, it’s not about a literal, triumphal entry through a city gate as much as it is a spiritual entry into the lives of those who seek God. Are you on this type of journey? Is God the guiding force in your life and are you enthusiastic about your spiritual life? The point is to get you to the place where you can follow God authentically, not out of habit, dread, coercion, or anything less than a transforming embrace of love and truth.
As you prepare for Easter, hunger and thirst for God’s Spirit. Allow yourself to be filled with meaning and hope. Don’t let Lent end in vain. Take the lessons and strength you’ve gained and continue the positive momentum. The tendency is for people to drop off and drop out after Easter. Don’t let that happen to you or those you love. Stay-tuned and remain energized as you share your faith. Join the hearty party of faith and don’t give-up. We need you to be that person whom God is renewing for a life of wellbeing. –Reverend Larry Hoxey
March 18, 2018
Today’s lectionary includes a key theme of life from death, nicely illustrated by Jesus’ parable of the grain of wheat. “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Jesus makes a curious claim in this verse. A literal problem emerges in that grains/seeds don’t die before they germinate. If a seed is dead, then it becomes a dry shell devoid of life.
When interpreted metaphorically rather than literally, Jesus words make sense. A grain may appear dull and lifeless, yet locked within is the marvelous chemistry and biology of life. Under proper conditions (e.g., light, temperature, water), the seed germinates. The details of plan biology aside, the point remains that the seed appears to be dead and lifeless although it is not really that way if it is otherwise viable. The issue is that Jesus was making an analogy between [apparent] death and spiritual life. The promise is that even when people die, they can achieve eternal life, the spiritual equivalent of an apparently dead seed germinating.
Jesus makes a further, dramatic point about death and priorities: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).
This call for radical obedience creates a nest of considerations. Some excuse Jesus’ words as intentional exaggeration, also known as literary hyperbole. In this case, the idea is that Jesus maintains a high standard because he wants people to take God’s calling seriously and aim for the best. If Jesus is exaggerating then he does so to punctuate his intentions and to call his disciples to a higher standard. Jesus understood that being too subtle and soft-spoken risks being overlooked. Without literary drama, people may not have noticed, and Jesus’ new spiritual movement would never have evolved into what it is today.
However literal or not, Jesus’ words highlight heroic spiritual discipleship. In the vulnerable birth stage of Christianity (first-century, occupied Judea), Jesus had to recruit resilient disciples whom he could lead to the point of death. If Jesus allowed half-hearted followers then his new movement would not have had the traction or sustainability to weather the storms of both Jewish and Roman persecution, and the entire enterprise might have collapsed before it attained enduring roots. Hence a question or us latter-day followers of God: what are our priorities and how deep are our spiritual roots? Are we willing to set aside cherished idols of the heart and mid for the sake of serving God?
Jesus demanded self-sacrifice from his earliest followers. This poses a monumental challenge to many people who are suffocated by selfishness and materialistic culture. It can be difficult for people who sit comfortably in a convenience-driven world to serve God in an unimpeded manner. What about sacrificing for the Kingdom of heaven, for the sake of serving the God of love and truth? Ever how you perceive it, love inspires radical obedience and without the accompanying self-sacrifice your life of wellbeing remains elusive.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey
March 11, 2018
The first part of today’s message comes from Ephesians 2:1-10, where Paul talks about the spiritual status of his audience prior to their conversion: “You were dead through the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). The passage emphasizes how lack of a spiritual life results in a living death. A contributing factor to the peril Paul mentions is a distracting illusion, one which tries to substitute a busy, materialistic existence for true spiritual life. The good news is that God offers a rescue plan, a redemption through love, mercy and grace which restores spiritual health.
The distractions and idols of day-to-day living often result in the neglect of spiritual health, which is at the core of a person’s relationship with God. This means that one of the greatest challenges each person confronts is recognizing the need for cultivating awareness and renewal. Absent a healthy spiritual life, a person exists in a state of degradation and death, dangerously concealed under a veneer of denial and normalcy. No matter what else is going well in life, without spiritual health there is little to no chance to experience true wellbeing.
Paul’s writing underscores a continuing problem: How can a person be alive and dead at the same time? The situation outlined by Paul refers to a virtual death, a status where a person is alive biologically but dead spiritually. We might refer to a person caught in this form of existence as a virtual zombie. People are in a flurry, caught in hectic activities scurrying and often stumbling through life just as a zombie lurches impulsively toward the next meal. Aside from their ferociousness, there’s another problem with zombies and that is their terrifying lack of a soul, the essence of humanity. Similar is it in the real world, where people move about, animated by worldly success and pleasures, yet neglecting their souls, rendering a spiritual life almost non-existent. Even many outwardly cheerful people can be eaten alive on the inside, harboring fatal appetites that ultimately consume themselves and others just as what happens in a zombie apocalypse.
Perhaps as nightmarish as a blood-hungry zombie lunging toward you is a less obvious monster, one residing within, driven by a greed and selfishness that taint and undermine love of self and neighbor. Residing in the heart of humanity is this threat from fangs of evil, which threatens to pierce souls as much as the virulent bite of the undead entity in a Hollywood horror flick. The metaphorical zombie pursuing you is often hidden, concealed by a veneer of normalcy and a layer of denial. The most horrifying zombie craving you is, like all such specters, intent on destroying you.
The inoculation against becoming zombified boils down to love, God’s core and the most powerful force in the universe. People can talk about love, even feel its force, yet resist transformation by love and thereby risk zombification. Now’s the tie-in to today’s final lectionary selection, an iconic verse from John’s gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Contemporary Christianity has invested these words with superlative significance. Modern American Christendom is inextricably combined with the talk, if not the walk, of God’s love. Love is the timeless, pervasive power of the universe. God’s love is the promise to set humans free from the horror of living death.
As people receive and share God’s love they are rendered zombie-proof. Redemption rather than destruction is God’s plan. The key to spiritual life is the journey from darkness to light, from death’s black goo to the scintillating flow of God’s love. The transformation from death to life entails a journey through transformed thoughts and deeds. This is how investing yourself in the power of God’s love activates a life of holistic wellbeing, a state of fulfillment not otherwise possible. Coming to the light is more than just another metaphor. In God’s love, humans embrace the salvation for which there is no substitute. Sadly, many people conclude that it is easier to hide in their ignorance rather than risk exposure by coming to the light. Trust God for your cleansing and healing as you embrace the Almighty’s love.
You needn’t remain dead in the trespasses and sins mentioned by Paul in Ephesians. Embrace the light and become a child of God, a soul energized by the holistic wellbeing of health in mind, body and spirit. That great love narrated by John’s gospel can become for you the ultimate reality, the promise and possibility realized in your life. Then, you can share with others what it is that God is accomplishing in you. Persist in loving and learning as you live a light-filled life, free from the zombies both real and imagined.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey
March 4, 2018
Today we’re highlighting a controversial story about Jesus, a moment in his ministry that portrays him in an entirely different light. All four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John reveal a peculiar incident that echoes through time. Jesus wasn’t simply mad, he made a weapon and attacked. What we’re exploring is the only recorded episode depicting Jesus as physically aggressive. This topic isn’t easy, and is best avoided by those who don’t want to share a troubling exposé. Despite the temptation to ignore it, we must not run and hide. We’re brave enough to hit this situation head-on (as Jesus did–literally).
The setting for today’s situation was the high holy season of Passover. While Jesus was visiting Jerusalem, he saw activities in the Temple area that aroused his rage. Jesus may not have liked that God’s holy Temple was being used for commerce. One problem may have been that the overly-strict religious law meant that people had to exchange foreign money for ceremonially pure coins, those without the offensive image of a god, emperor, etc. Likely outraged by what he interpreted as profiteering, or some other aspect of money-changing, or the buying of sacrificial animals, Jesus decided to unleash rage. He made a whip and drove his points home with whacks rather than with subtle theological arguments.
A whip of cords was a serious weapon, ironically not unlike the whip which Pilate later ordered used against Jesus as part of the scourging before the crucifixion. Jesus’ public violence during today’s incident is so out of character as to be one of the most disturbing acts in the gospel story. Christian literature refers to Jesus’ actions under the grossly-misleading description of “cleansing the Temple.” This is all wrong because Jesus didn’t get a Swiffer and quietly sweep the tracked dirt off the sacred floor. Truly, in this situation Jesus acted with revolutionary vigor, hurling words and a weapon which both pierced the air.
If either the Romans or the Jewish authorities wanted to catch Jesus in something for which he could be arrested and executed, then the temple violence was one of those moments. The occupying Romans wanted peaceful submission from their subjects, and they would stop at nothing to ensure calm. Roman cohorts patrolled Jerusalem as part of the garrison protecting Pilate and keeping things calm. As for public violence, either Roman or Jewish soldiers would have been called to stop a madman arousing havoc in the sacred Temple area. Jewish temple guards would have authority to pierce an assailant and ask questions later. In this respect, it is surprising that Jesus wasn’t killed on the spot.
It’s unlikely that Jesus could have eluded arrest for his Temple-tantrum. Scripture is silent in connecting persecution of Jesus with his act of violence. Rightly or wrongly, the Bible writers don’t come close to placing blame on Jesus for anything. Perhaps it is too embarrassing and troubling to even suggest that Jesus had an anger management issue that day. Yet, it is likely that Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion are inseparably tied to his Temple violence. Jesus exercised some restraint because as the Son of God he might have done something far worse, such as calling killer angels to slaughter everyone. It is unknown if Jesus’ closest followers were with him that day in the Temple, or if the story of the incident was passed-down to his disciples in a later teaching. Whatever the case, we are left with images of an undeniably violent Jesus.
How do you reconcile the Jesus you thought you knew with the one who may have been taking flesh off peoples’ backs and destroying property? What would Jesus do today if similarly angered? Imagine the Lord visiting the fast-food court of a megachurch, stopping by a food dive called “Blessed Burger”? What if he began overturning the greasy grills, crying, “You have turned my Father’s house into an overpriced health hell!” Or on a broader scale, can you imagine Jesus denouncing economic injustice as he pulls the network cables out of the computers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange? In the midst of the mayhem, perhaps Jesus would be wielding a club to teach a lesson to the currency traders and arbitrage investors. All this makes you wonder what parallels there are between ancient history and today’s worship of the . . . Almighty dollar.
February 25, 2018
Despite being the closest of friends, Jesus and Peter didn’t always get along. One day there was a disagreement between the two that resulted in a public rebuking of Peter. The situation started when Peter responded to Jesus’ talk about suffering and death. Peter rejected Jesus’ stark topic and pulled him aside to tell him so. Jesus would have none of this and responded with a surprising name-calling of “Satan” against Peter (Mark 8:33). Jesus escalated the situation by calling the crowd and declaring to them that anyone who wanted to follow him must deny self. Peter must have been grimacing on the sidelines as he felt Jesus’ words striking like stones.
It’s interesting how the guardians of scripture didn’t censure the troubles Jesus encountered with his small cadre of followers. It’s eye-opening that even between Jesus and his friends, disagreements threatened to tear apart Jesus’ effort to reform Judaism. This makes all the centuries of conflict and controversies between subsequent generations of Christians less surprising. The slippery nature of spirituality precludes enduring agreement about the many unseen forces and realities underlying peoples’ beliefs. As always, the subjective and speculative nature of religious topics generates countless perspectives. This situation isn’t all bad because conflicting opinions can generate productive debate that holds people accountable and potentially generates new insights.
The powerful theme of sacrificing for the sake of spiritual health underscores Jesus’ message. Jesus emphasized how true discipleship isn’t cheap. Throughout the centuries, many pious souls claim to hear a call to give up everything for God’s sake. Today’s story of the rebuking of Peter is no exception. Jesus called for radical commitment, especially among his closest followers. Jesus’ argument seems to be directed against reluctant disciples (including Peter) who were not willing to sacrifice everything. At the critical point of starting something like a new religion, internal weakness and lack of commitment can destroy the cause before it takes root. This may account for why Jesus demanded absolute devotion even if it meant sacrificing his followers’ lives. Today, we’re likely to label anyone making such demands as a cult leader. No doubt that some of Jesus’ critics did the same (and still do!).
The call for dedicated discipleship continues as a salient reminder of how religion can demand radical obedience. The nature of religion is such that it can twist and invert life’s ordinary expectations. This also partially accounts for why scripture portrays Jesus as hostile toward half-hearted followers. This legacy emerges throughout Christianity as a controversy about how much of a true believer a person must become such that they will be accepted by God and earn their ticket to heaven. Over the centuries, there has been a recurrent pressure to distort a person’s allegiance from God to the church, such that a follower of God is cajoled to serve an institution either in place of God or as a substitution for their more direct connection to the Almighty.
Regarding extremes, should you or anyone else be willing to kill if your theology so instructs you? We’ve seen how religious-inspired terrorists conduct mass-murder by flying airplanes into buildings, beheading captives, raping & butchering women & children and so on. Sane people reject such ideology hidden under religious language and condemn the resulting atrocities. The conviction with which terrorists commit their horrors emphasizes the power of self-deception and toxic faith. No wonder then that one person’s religious rights can decay into another person’s demented thinking. Let’s choose love so that both the reputation of our religion and the state of our souls is as healthy as possible. We can’t control other peoples’ choices but we can and must better manage our own.
It is not an overstatement to assert that God, as the power and essence of love, must never be construed as the source of diminishing or destroying life. Murderers try to justify crimes against humanity because they think God wants them to. Such self-deception is absolute nonsense because a loving God doesn’t condone ethnic cleansing or genocide. Heeding Jesus’ call to transcend fear, ignorance and anger can help prevent horrendous crimes committed by fake religion which ultimately undermine humanity’s spiritual DNA. Authorities and any of their life-sucking attitudes and actions must be rejected and overturned. It is love-empowered life that must reign supreme, and anyone or anything which destroys life should not be blamed on or justified by a loving God.
We conclude where we began, which is at the place of living with proper priorities as God’s disciples. Physical life is so brief and limited. Everyone eventually loses connection with all the possessions they’ve gathered. So the critical question remains: how much are you willing to sacrifice for your embrace of the God of love? It’s good to be reminded of the permanency of spiritual realities rather than life’s many distracting idols. Yes, it is good to loosen our grip on what is impermanent (e.g., physical things) and instead grasp what is permanent (the life of the spirit). How you choose to do this will reflect the uniqueness of your life and the glorious radiance of your dedication to God and discipleship with Jesus.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey
February 18, 2018
Welcome to Lent, a period of forty days leading up to Easter. Lent need not have anything to do with dietary restrictions or eating fish on Fridays. No, that model of participation is disappearing and for good reasons. The mechanical rehearsing of church liturgical holidays does little to promote personal vitality. Spiritual seekers increasingly realize that reflection and spirituality should occur throughout the year and not simply within a calendar-driven ritual. But whatever you think of Lent, issues in today’s message highlight ongoing challenges and opportunities.
A familiar lectionary theme returns today in Mark 1:9-15, which is a version of Jesus’ baptism. This is a proper story to review, especially since the symbolism is a reminder of transformation by God’s Spirit. John the Baptist didn’t invent baptism, which is a rite of initiation, cleansing and participation whose origins are lost in time. Baptismal waters are not magical, and in Jesus’ case the act symbolized his entry into public ministry. The way Jesus participated in baptism was such that he wanted people to know that he was aware of his calling. Are you attuned to God inviting you to be a child of the Almighty?
God was pleased with Jesus’ baptism because the Father’s voice pierced the air with laudatory words. It’s not certain how many other people at Jesus’ baptism heard God’s voice. Two other times wherein the Bible records God the Father speaking (during Jesus’ earthly ministry) are on the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Seldom do people hear with their physical ears words spoken directly from God. Yet, no one need feel of any less value because all can have access to the spiritual presence of the Almighty.
For now, back to the Jordan River with Jesus. No sooner had Jesus dried off from his dip than his spirit was tested. Jesus was assailed by temptation and he spent time in the wildlife-filled desert contemplating his existence. After the challenges, Jesus leaped into his public life preaching the good news of God’s love and truth. As we stop and consider this grand spectacle, we can gain encouragement. Initially, God can call any of us out of obscurity and we can wake up to the realization of our noble spiritual nature. Whether you are baptized or not, the important point is that you feel and know that you have been called by God for a life of spiritual health.
Sure, life can be a challenge at every level. People who take their faith seriously can struggle as they weigh the cost of discipleship and attempt to discern what God wants. The spirit of God communicates to children of faith, but those who seek God’s direction can prepare to accept the presence of the Almighty. A person desiring spiritual enlightenment is invited to develop a sense of mindfulness, to become more aware of who and what they are in relation to everything around them. To perceive God’s guidance implies that a person is ready, willing and able to receive it. By minimizing distractions and remaining open, a person can experience transformation as they are awakened by God’s presence.
Like Jesus, we may feel assailed by diverse temptations as we attempt God’s work. Have you felt hindered as you pursue a life of compassion? If receiving and sharing God’s love is each person’s divine purpose, then trying to implement that goal isn’t easy. As you begin living an intentional spiritual life, you may enter a wilderness fraught with dangers and startling obstacles. Fear not! Armed with God’s Spirit you can endure and become stronger in the face of all challenges. Embrace the journey God has for you and don’t fear drowning when life washes over you like violent water. You may get wet and soggy, but God will elevate you out of the maelstrom and you will rise to a new life empowered by the voice of God.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey
February 11, 2018
Welcome to Transfiguration Sunday, a time to consider Jesus’ true nature and God’s “fantabulous” transforming power. We’re invited to embrace God’s marvelous Spirit so that none of us remain stuck in life’s pit.
The biblical tale begins as Jesus was trekking up a mountain with three of his closest friends (Peter, James and John). Once on that mountaintop, Jesus did something extraordinary. The evocative word “transfiguration” describes what happened when Jesus started shining with a blinding light. The biblical writer who narrated this event was accomplishing more than simply advertising or sensationalizing Jesus’ divinity. With the radiance, Jesus shone with his true spiritual energy. God is variously described as Spirit and love, but here Jesus revealed visually his spiritual DNA. “[A]nd his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” Matthew 17: 2). Such fantastic imagery sparks amazement, sort of like seeing a star going supernova.
Next, the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah, who had been dead for hundreds of years, appeared talking with Jesus. It’s a curiosity to consider what they may have been discussing. Upon seeing this magnificent trio, Peter responded by suggesting construction of three shrines. It’s understandable that Peter thought this was a holy place. People have a long history of creating sacred spots for pilgrimage and worship. Sometimes this process goes berserk and the focus shifts to what’s visible more than to the God to whom the spot may have been dedicated.
Preoccupation with externals is a problem. Humans are physical beings hosting a God-given spirit, which is humanity’s core essence. This suggests that people will attain a life of wellbeing more by focusing on receiving and sharing God’s love more than by creating religious structures and monuments. God frowned upon Peter’s idea to create another holy hotspot. The Almighty’s voice angrily pierced the air to direct attention back to Jesus, the incarnation of love. Upon hearing God’s thunderous, rebuking words, Peter James and John fell to the ground as if fatally struck. When they recovered, Moses and Elijah had vanished and Jesus told his disciples to not spread news of what happened. A lesson here is that we must resist the temptation to imprison the Spirit inside brick and mortar. Given God’s chastising of Jesus’ three disciples, we might conclude that creating another church, another temple or synagogue doesn’t do justice to what God is teaching, which is that the Divine is always with us, and that each individual must accept spiritual awakening to perceive the glorious reality behind the façade of daily existence. God’s voice calls to us the same as to Jesus’ three hapless disciples: experience the power and beauty of the moment rather than killing it by fossilizing it in stone.
What does the transfiguration mean today? The transfiguration wasn’t long-lived, suggesting that transient nature of intense spiritual events. As to demonstrating spiritual power on-demand, some people twist teachings about spiritual gifts and concoct false experiences which, ironically, undermine the very testimony they are trying to reveal. Nonetheless, people of faith are empowered with God’s Holy Spirit, the source of wonders. What is the miracle of transformation in your life? Consider that God is energizing you and that one of your primary tasks is to unleash your tremendous potential as did Jesus. Is there anything that God can reveal that will renew your spirit and better equip you to share love and truth? Whatever goodness you find, bring it down the mountain and share it with less fortunate people, those without close encounters with God or those for whom life circumstances get them stuck in life’s valleys.
Once down from the mountain, Jesus’ band met the harsh reality of peoples’ suffering. God’s promises remind us that we needn’t be caught in a life-sucking abyss. God elevates our spirit and transforms problems into possibilities, if we’re willing to recognize and claim God’s presence. Further, Jesus’ shining suggests that spirit has a deep source, far greater than what appears externally. Life is richer than just glancing on the surface. If more people would choose to see in their neighbor God’s loving face rather then projecting their own fear, ignorance and anger, then we might more readily embrace one another. Another overlooked aspect of the transfiguration is the suggestion that humans have an underlying spiritual nature, which may not be substantially different from what Jesus revealed during his transfiguration. We are invited to look deeper and discern our common spiritual nucleus, which seems tantalizingly the same as Jesus’ since we are also children of God.
Let’s contemplate how the power of the divine can shine through us beyond the veneer of physicality. We don’t have to trek up a mountain and speak with dead saints. Our faith activates our glowing presence here and now. We are beacons of hope for a dark and hurting world. This is the profound aspect of justice, which exceeds mere social activism and identity politics. It is also reassuring that our true, spiritual substance shines whenever we unleash compassionate attitudes and actions. To unlock all that God has for us requires that we follow God and embrace our brothers and sisters of our one human family.
As tempting as it is to covet dramatic religious experiences, our challenge is to remain motivated and energized regardless of life’s elevation. Being addicted to highs and creating artificial ones through substances or bad relationships is not the preferred way. We’re invited to celebrate God’s glories while also attending to life’s responsibilities. We can yearn for and achieve a more vibrant connection with God if only we strive for it. What has God revealed to you on your journey and how can you share the joy with others? People need to know what God is doing in your life.
As you consider spiritual renewal, think about your potential to energize your faith and shine as a guide for those seeking God. You might experience a form of transfiguration that forever changes you. Can you claim “fantabulous” energy, promises and possibilities? As a child of God you’ve already been revitalized from soul-sleep to a spiritual awakening. As you continue your journey, let your faith blaze forth like a supernova, revealing your true spiritual nature and God’s presence through you. –Reverend Larry Hoxey
February 4, 2018
Mark 1:29-39 reveals that no sooner had Jesus finished teaching in a synagogue then he began practicing what he had been preaching. Jesus accompanied the twin disciple brothers (Simon & Andrew, James & John) to Simon’s house, where they found Simon’s mother-in-law feverish. Jesus healed her, and then Jesus continued his role as faith doctor as he spent the rest of the day healing the sick and demon possessed. After hectic visits with all the ill people, Jesus got up before sunrise the next day and went to a deserted place to meditate. An interesting question arises: Does God get tired? Perhaps one of the lessons here is that even Jesus needed a rest.
As the story indicates, Jesus didn’t simply preach about healing and restoration, he did something about it by helping meet peoples’ needs. As to the evil spirits Jesus encountered, there’s constant argument about the literal reality of demon possession and whether such events are psychiatric or spiritual (or some combination). People can point a finger at evil spirits or chronic depression; the effect of either can corrode hearts and minds. Arguing too vehemently about all this may miss the greater point, namely that something was—and still is—hindering peoples’ relationship with God. The source of what ails a person isn’t so much any third-party or demon but the way a person thinks and acts. The good news is that Jesus’ role as a faith doctor gives hope for achieving life wellbeing.
For persons afflicted with leprosy and other profoundly physical issues, Jesus is described as healing many of them. Life is significantly defined by the material aspect of existence and it is no wonder that everyone eventually experiences some physical illness or trauma. Whether the problem is a disease, accidental or deliberate wounds, or simply aging, there will always be physical problems. Therefore, a part of our task lay in overcoming whatever is holding us back from what God wants us to be. Have you ever had an impediment to your spiritual, emotional, or physical health and wellness? Is there anything interfering with your relationship with the Almighty? Take comfort in knowing that God can take care of you as you do your part. It isn’t easy to admit a problem, yet blaming or shaming doesn’t solve the underlying issues. When any of us are afflicted in mind, body or spirit, God is ready to become part of a wholesome solution which is not otherwise possible.
Jesus not only encouraged people by teaching principles, but he also healed their ills. It is one thing to identify problems and quite another to cure them. Many folks who’ve had a serious medical issue can feel a double blessing when a doctor can both diagnose and treat them successfully. In his role as a faith doctor, Jesus offers forgiveness first and foremost for soul sickness, a deadly condition. Even when physical problems remain, mere disease needn’t infect our souls. Sure, bodies are mortal and each of us will succumb to illness, accident, or we will simply wear out. Nonetheless, the healing that God provides transcends mortal flaws and ensures eternal health.
Do you ever feel like Simon’s mother-in-law, feverish with problems? Maintaining a vibrant spiritual life can yield all sorts of benefits. The greater goal in all this is holistic wellbeing, the state where we can choose to maximize all significant aspects of human existence, including emotions/intellect, physical health and the spirit. All of these areas can become healthier when we translate principles into actions, love into compassion. What about a quick reminder that illustrates our relationship with God? Enter the God + You = Renew formula. Sure, this is also one of St. John’s cute slogans but it elegantly captures essential truth. The gist is that when we put ourselves next to God we’ve set ourselves up for life renewal.
January 28, 2018
In Mark 1:21-28 Jesus is teaching in a Capernaum synagogue (which is a Jewish house of gathering, similar to a church). Jesus’ message wasn’t simply another ho-hum message: “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). Jesus’ style and substance transformed him into something of a JC superstar.
The response to Jesus’ preaching suggests that he was a charismatic powerhouse, even apart from the miracles he performed. We don’t have a YouTube video of what Jesus said that day, but that doesn’t stop us from feeling the effects. Apparently, the manner and content of Jesus’ speaking set him apart from the usual, staid speech by other scribes and rabbis. Did Jesus gesture and dramatize his teaching as a way of captivating people? Did he leverage an attention-getting stage presence to garner attention? We can at least offer a tentative “yes” to these questions given peoples’ responses.
The synagogue audience perceived Jesus’ teaching as authoritative, not merely an emotion-less, matter-of-fact repeat of what everyone had heard before. This implies that Jesus connected with people in a definitive manner. Jesus came across as a singular source of authority rather than as a lifeless religious bureaucrat. Jesus’ ministry reminds us how a powerful speaker knows how to convey authenticity through a combination of words, gestures, and emotions. Then as now, the content and manner of sharing a message can be the deciding factor in shaping the prize given to the audience.
We live in an age of dramatic presentations and famous speakers. We’ve also cultivated the art and science of communication based on insights from human psychology. Jesus was apparently a master at all of this, so much so that he rose above all others of his day. What does this mean for us as we swim in a sea of information and competing messages? Christian sects and individual churches find themselves in ongoing controversy about the style and substance of preaching. On the one hand, there is a mandate from certain people and religious institutions that sermons must be subtle and even self-effacing. On the other hand, some of the fastest-growing and most vibrant expressions of Christian ministry correlate with high-energy speakers who arouse and channel peoples’ enthusiasm.
Jesus was not a soft-spoken or boring messenger. His presence was what we lately call “gravitas,” a sense of drawing people in like when gravity acts as an irresistible force. Both the style and substance of Jesus’ message aroused action from his followers and critics. In our age of glamour there are those who are all style and no substance, but that wasn’t Jesus because he exemplified what can happen when creative style and evocative content coalesce. What do you get from this combo? POWER! Yes, a one-two punch that captivates, stimulates, and prepares for action. No preacher need ever apologize for this approach.
What can you do to help convey a compelling version of the God’s message? For one, we can continue supporting St. John’s “We can DO it!” campaign of renovating the fellowship hall. We’re creating a fantastic community meeting place that will enhance our ability to reach and teach. We have a wonderful message to announce, adapted to today’s worship and outreach styles. Are you willing to teach a class, share a poem, or invite a neighbor? I hope so. Some people are naturals at this while others find other ways to share their time, talent, and treasure. Whatever God calls you to accomplish, we can each join Superstar Jesus as we proclaim a life-giving call to love and truth.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey
January 21, 2018
The lectionary reading from Mark 1:14-20 focuses on another disciple-building day in Jesus’ early ministry. John the Baptist had been arrested and Jesus was moving forward with his mission of gathering a cadre of dedicated disciples.
Jesus’ foundational message to the world was stated simply and with gusto: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). The time was right for Jesus to build his spiritual kingdom. Two sets of fishermen brothers (Simon & Andrew, James & John) responded to Jesus’ invitation as they were working at the Sea of Galilee. The rapid response of the brothers implies that they had been open to a new direction and that Jesus’ invitation correlated with their receptivity.
In calling James and John, Mark’s text indicates that the brothers immediately left their father and the hired workers. James’ and John’s hasty departure left their dad at least two persons short. The hardship this likely caused casts a long shadow. The usual lesson drawn from the brothers’ actions is that following Jesus is worth abandoning all else, including your closest relatives and livelihood. For better and for worse, this pattern of people dropping everything is a recurrent theme. By its extreme nature, the act of forsaking all other life commitments seems impressive. As a result, many people have declared the renunciation of worldly duties as the necessary gold standard for serving God.
It takes courage to confront the notion that God somehow demands a blind and reckless obedience. The biblical account of Jesus calling his disciples continues to be used as a justification about how God’s chosen people are holier than the rest of us, that an elect few who forsake the usual measures of wealth and status earn a saintly status. An opposing view is that while it is wonderful to serve God, doing so does not necessarily imply that we give up all current commitments. Life goes on. In weighing the two variant approaches, it seems unwise to burn worldly bridges, especially if it alienates the very people whom God calls us to love. It sounds like a supposed act of valor by throwing everything away, but this is not necessarily a prerequisite for serving God. How each person struggles to serve God reveals the challenges of religious commitment. No matter which of these two paths a person chooses, hearing and interpreting God’s call remains difficult for people of good conscience.
What would it take for you to drop all your roles and responsibilities to follow a spiritual teacher? Nowadays, this process is described as a cult of personality. Neither Simon & Andrew nor James & John had the benefit of hindsight. Modern people of faith realize that the brothers chose to follow the Jesus who would later be proclaimed Son of God. Yet from their perspective, the situation was uncertain. We can conclude that the brothers made a wise choice given what we know. Nagging questions remain, such as whether the brothers’ response to follow Jesus was motivated by pure faith, an impulsive decision, or simply a desire for an exotic ride on the wild side (perhaps all three played a role). Whatever their motivations, the brothers’ act of abandoning their family and profession contributed to their later elevation as elite saints. Given that the twin pair of brothers may have sacrificed everything is more than compensated by how they became celebrated in the decades and centuries after they dropped their fishing nets and forsook their families. Perceived this way, what the men gave up was nothing compared to the status they gained.
What are you ready to do for God? This momentous question looms because it involves the meaning of life and the weighing of priorities. Allow God to help you discern the best way forward. Are you ready to open your heart and mind to a transformed life? You needn’t be among the spiritually elite to serve God. Also, consider that church helps us pool our time, talent and treasure for greater effect. There are people in our community whose names we don’t yet know, but they need our help. You needn’t abandon your family or profession to live-up to the iconic phrase “fish for people” (Mark 1:17). God can use you right where you are. This is how Discipleship and Outreach—“DO—advance. Together, we can make the crucial difference.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey
January 14, 2018
Read John 1:43-51 and you’ll discover how Jesus gathered his earliest disciples. It’s not surprising that Jesus needed followers. Founders of successful sects must have a dedicated cadre of supporters to firmly establishment their new religion.
In today’s verses, Jesus begins by calling Philip, who then went to find Nathanael and rally him to Jesus of Nazareth. Philip was convinced that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah. Duly excited, Philip rushed to Nathanael, whose skeptical reply questioned Jesus’ origins. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Cynicism is not new, and whether ancient or modern, a jaded attitude can cloud peoples’ perceptions.
Then something unexpected happened. Jesus praised Nathanael. It’s as rare as hen’s teeth for Jesus to offer praise, and yet the Lord’s words do precisely this: “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47b). Perhaps Nathanael’s attitude hadn’t turned sour after all. Yet the strange encounter isn’t over. An odd tidbit emerges when Jesus miraculously saw Nathanael under a fig tree before the pair met. Nathanael’s response indicates that he was open to Jesus’ divine nature and that he was willing to become one of Jesus’ closest followers.
What does all of this talk of Nathanael do for us today, right now? For one, we can obtain a boost from the excitement of being recruited into divine service. As intentional Christians we are both privileged and obligated to respond to God’s invitation. Another worthy consideration is our spiritual status. So ask yourself this: Are you a disciple of Christ? We may be uncertain or even skeptical as we seek direction (as Nathanael was at first), but if we remain open we can accept God’s call. We need to generate encouragement to live in such a way as to become disciples in word and deed.
Is this all for today’s message? Not quite. Look around and who do you see? Or, who is it that you don’t see? If our church is to continue our positive momentum then we need to do what Philip did and invite people, again and again if necessary. Outreach isn’t easy, but it is necessary. Let’s not forget the story: Jesus called Philip, Philip called Nathanael, and Nathanael did his part to continue the process. This outreach pattern continued until Christianity became what it is today. This simple yet magnificent pattern of outreach remains as powerful as ever. Jesus still calls us; Jesus calls you and me. And Jesus will call those whose names we don’t yet know. Our part in this? Listen. Be aware and awake. Say “Yes!” as the Spirit stirs you to share your faith. It could be that any empty space in the pew next to you will be filled because someone you invite will sit there and connect with God.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey
January 7, 2018
Happy New Year! Are you ready to learn from the lessons of 2017 as you enter 2018? As the calendar turns, everyone is invited to put away past negativity while embracing new promises and possibilities. Let’s prepare ourselves for a spectacular new year of blessings. Think ahead to this time next year and decide now if you’d like to be a different type of person or in a better situation. Now’s the time to plan for where you’re going and how’d you like to get there.
The exercise we’ve prepared as part of this morning’s service is intended to help everyone start the New Year with a clean slate. In today’s Sunday bulletin is a one-page exercise. On one side of that paper is powerful wording, “God is the love that will enhance your life.” This is followed by our renewal equation, “God+You=Renew.” The gist is that any of us can become the person that God wants us to be, first and foremost new spiritual creatures who are redeemed, renewed, and forgiven. We accept God’s gift of transformation or else we’ll never live life to its fullest.
On the other side of the paper is a left column with the heading “What to Leave in 2017” followed by three, numbered lines. Notice the right-side column with the corresponding heading “What I Claim in 2018,” again followed by three consecutive lines. Your task is to first prayerfully consider what it is that you need to let go of and put behind you so that you don’t carry filth into 2018. Choose at least three attitudes, behavior, habits, or situations that were harmful, unhelpful, or in some way not life-enhancing. For the right-hand column, jot at least three new attitudes, behaviors, or situations desired for 2018. These represent your goals needed to attain the great life you need and deserve.
Let’s back-up a bit to our unofficial church motto, the “God+You=Renew” formula. Don’t be put-off by its rhyming aspect. There’s nothing wrong using a mnemonic device to help keep something salient for your memory. In fact, failure to gain attention through positive creativity may result in people not noticing their God-given potential. The implicit goal of God+You=Renew is heavy-duty and legitimate, namely to help each person attain and live the best possible life. The two key players are you and God, which in the proper relationship produces renewal. Who doesn’t want this for the New Year? As a church, part of our mission is outreach, which is more than simple charity. We the people of God have a clear and inescapable mandate, which is to share the Gospel, the tremendous good news that God loves us and that we can be renewed. With so many aspects of modern life vying for our attention, the church needs to grow-up and get real, becoming more relevant to the people we’re responsible to assist. The God+You=Renew formula is a simple, effective summary of these core truths. As we internalize the renewal process we’ll reap wondrous blessings which we can then share with the world through diverse forms of outreach.
In renewal, the spectrum of God’s blessings can be yours if only you manage your life better by recognizing your spiritual nature and then to live and think through love’s power. Why settle for a monochromatic life when you can enjoy multi-colored blessings? When you place yourself next to God (as the God+You=Renew formula illustrates) then you’re in royal company. This means that you’re in a right relationship with God, that you are sensitive to the presence of the Almighty and willing to place love above all else.
An authentic spiritual life arises from properly managed attitudes and actions. The old saying about talk being cheap applies here. Changing who and what you are requires courage and isn’t for the faint of heart. Life is tough. Habit, apathy and just plain laziness can pressure people to just “sign on the dotted line” and surrender individual initiative to outside agents. Not so in God’s kingdom, where we live the most authentic spiritual life as we embrace God directly. We must resist the seduction to subcontract our renewal to religious bureaucracies or any other third party. As we embrace love and truth, we accept primary responsibility for receiving and sharing the greatest power in the universe: God’s essence of love.
Up to now I’ve avoided the word “resolution,” as in “New Year’s resolution.” You need consistent determination to be the person God wants you to be. Be resolved to do the right thing. Be resolved to overcome all challenges. Be resolved that no one, no illness, no challenge will hold you back. Uncertainties? Sure. There are many hanging over individual people and our wounded nation. People of integrity face internal and external threats against truth, love and even civil decency. But don’t let all the bad news rob you of your peace. The school of life teaches that in addition to the known threats facing everyone, all of us will encounter unexpected blessings and opportunities. Through both good and bad, God will help all children of the light grow stronger and overcome obstacles.
Declare your intention to seek God’s ever-present indwelling Spirit, which is love. If you’re only willing to make one resolution then for goodness sake be resolved to grow closer with God and then to share that love. If you strive for God and God’s love then you’ll be rewarded with a renewal not otherwise possible. Claim the power of Jesus as you partner with God to create a superb 2018. Hunger and thirst for God and you will have that full-filled life of wellbeing. And don’t play the blame game because the only person who can hold you back is yourself; don’t get in your own way. Set aside fear, ignorance and anger. Don’t bring the garbage of 2017 into 2018. You are a new, beautiful creation as a child of God. You’re ready for a fresh start and now it’s up to you to act and think like it. God bless you!
Today’s reading from Luke 2:22-40 narrates adoration of Jesus by two elderly persons, Anna and Simeon, who were wrapping Jesus in great expectations.
Speaking of Great Expectations, that’s the title of Charles Dickens’ hallowed, 1861 novel, whose central character is an orphan child named “Pip.” Jesus and Pip have something in common, including an adventurous life amid many colorful characters and situations. In some similar sense, Anna and Simeon in the biblical text remind people of faith how wonderful can be the great expectations of God’s blessings, which can bring joy to faithful people of all ages (and despite the hardship of age and fragility).
The setting for Anna’s and Simeon’s encounter is Jesus’ religious initiation at the Jerusalem Temple. As Jesus’ parents Mary and Joseph entered the scene, Simeon cried with joy as he witnessed God’s living promise in the Christ child. We can imagine the tears of relief as that elderly saint saw Jesus’ sweet face. Simeon had been promised not to see death until he had held “the consolation of Israel.” Do you feel consoled by God’s presence? You’re never too old or too young to experience the embrace of the Almighty.
The next visitor to celebrate the little Jesus was an elderly woman named Anna, who is described as a prophetess. This is highly unusual in any form of Judaism, that a woman would carry such a noble title. Like Simeon, Anna lived an exemplary life of holiness and was rewarded by God’s special graciousness. Anna exclaimed over the wondrous glories of the Christ child. She realized the majesty and promise of the little Jesus, whose significance many of her contemporaries failed to grasp.
A lesson from Simeon and Anna’s encounter is how they both were rewarded for spirit-guided lives. God blessed them to witness Jesus, whom they perceived as the Messiah and redeemer of all generations. Although Simeon and Anna were of advanced age, they now knew more than ever how God’s prophecy was being fulfilled through spiritual renewal.
An additional lesson from Simeon’s and Anna’s encounter is that we’re never too old to embrace God’s promises. Fast-forward almost two-thousand years and we can cultivate a similar sense of wonder at God’s redemptive plan. Simeon and Anna’s attitude teach us that we are the trustees of God’s work on earth, and that we must encourage and welcome a new generation with exuberance. Our mission is therefore ageless and timeless. Moreover, we can derive purpose and meaning as we nurture those whom we’re preparing to come after us.
Jesus was at the center of Simeon and Anna’s joy. Both young and seasoned, God’s people form a complete faith family, spiritually united in receiving and sharing God’s love and truth. Recall our St. John rubric of “Both/And,” which helps us realize that God ministers to everyone, Both established And new, regardless of how old or young is a person. The special privilege and responsibility we have as seasoned members of God’s Kingdom challenges us to provide for all ages, wages and stages. When we make sacrifices for a new generation God blesses us with reassuring peace. What God provides more than compensates for what we’re sharing with those who come after us.
What promise and possibility does Christ hold for you in 2018? Will you welcome the New Year with great expectations? Let us encourage one another to discern God’s highest and best in the coming year. Hunker-down and get to those new projects, those rejuvenating attitudes and behaviors that will make 2018 the best year yet. Happy New Year!
–Reverend Larry Hoxey
Do you have a [spiritual] life? Christmas is the time when we often focus on birth, including the manger scene with the baby Jesus and all the pastoral trappings of that ancient first-family of faith. Even more so in the here-and-now, God wants us to embrace the wonders of spiritual life that Jesus’ birth symbolically represents. Are you ready for a spiritual renewal? What better time than now to embrace the child of rebirth and restoration.
We are reminded that Jesus’ birth is not merely some passive, historical event that we indulge with rampant materialism and super-sized holiday dinners. The Christmas Spirit beckons us to overcome the glitter of distractions and the trappings of wrappings. God’s presence remains in the world through the power and promise represented by Jesus’ coming into the world, an ongoing reminder of renewed life and light. Welcome God in a powerful, pervasive manner. God promises that personal renewal is yours if only you earnestly seek it.
We are privileged to embrace more than commercial enthusiasm over the seasonal imagery. Living an authentic spiritual life means nothing less than our desire to represent God to the world. We can DO it! The mission of the church involves partnering with God to help existing Christians become stronger Disciples (the “D”) and then to partner with God to produce new Christians through Outreach (the “O”). We therefore proclaim that we have received the ultimate present: a new life in Christ through spiritual rebirth. Are you ready? With an epidemic of addiction and dysfunctional relationships the world needs the power of God more than ever. Come and let us help you to achieve the best possible life.
We demonstrate the legitimacy of our spiritual calling as we live the gospel. That is, we match our words with our behavior and our talk with our walk. The sincerity of our Christian faith attends closely with how we think and live, with our attitudes and actions. If we call ourselves Christians then we need to make a positive difference in the world. So, here we are on Christmas Eve filled with good cheer and the best of intentions. Even better, however, is embracing authentic transformation through the power of God in Jesus. Are you embracing the promise and possibility of the Christ child?
We realize that many of you are here because of the special nature of Christmas Eve. That’s great. Even better is joining us more throughout the entire year. We need you! There are some exciting ministries at St. John and we want you to be a part of the miracle of personal spiritual renewal. The Renew Celebration ministry happens every Sunday morning at 9:00 AM in the fellowship hall, where we have a mini-service of sharing & caring along with a PowerPoint faith lesson. Also, join us Thursday evenings starting 12 January at 6:00 PM, when the Renew Seminar starts again. In this venue we have a faith fellowship and a lively lesson that will help us attain spiritual renewal. And if you’re available Tuesday mornings at 11:00 AM we have the Renew Review, a great time of sharing and blessings as we strategize and discuss our transforming ministries.
Aside from the heavy-hitting spiritual insights, I have something quite basic to share with you. On behalf of my wife Cynthia and son Sean, I wish all of you the most blessed Christmas possible. I pray that this season of spiritual renewal will lead you to accomplish wonderful acts of compassion in the name of our Lord. May your faith be empowered through Jesus’ gift of spiritual life. Let us therefore enter a covenant of prayer, one with another, such that our overwhelming spiritual joy extends into 2017 and beyond. God bless you all, and . . . Merry Christmas! –Reverend Hoxey
Today’s lectionary message from John 1 continues to emphasize John the Baptist’s unusual role. The sense is that John is proclaiming an attention-demanding message as a prelude or preparation for whom he describes as the true Messiah (i.e., Jesus). John the Baptist’s exuberant announcement of Jesus aligns splendidly with the Advent theme of joy.
We may never know for sure just how much of an impact John had on the Judaism of his day. Nonetheless, there was something significant in John’s message and methods because the Bible suggests that John was a public sensation, a messenger of God whose form of baptism and repentance attracted people from all levels of Jewish society. On the one hand, John is tied to Jesus from before his birth, such as when Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, visited her relative and the two soon-to-be mothers spoke prophetically about their unborn boys. On the other hand, the biblical story downplays John role when it has him saying “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his [i.e., Jesus’] sandal” (John 1:27b).
John is described as someone testifying about the light (i.e., the truth—Jesus). This is an interesting way to assign John a purpose. John may have cried out from the wilderness long ago, but who does so today? Many people speak and write about God, Jesus, and all things spiritual and religious. The light of truth is still worth proclaiming from many disparate sources. Moreover, people of faith in the here-and-now have just as much to right and responsibility to share God’s message as did the ancient apostles. Sure, Jesus walked the earth in a particular time and place, yet the Lord’s legacy remains active as God followers continue to proclaim spiritual vitality.
Ever how flattering was John the Baptist’s announcement of Jesus, people today still have something worth shouting about. Whether yesterday, today or tomorrow, the emphasis need not be on the messengers of God’s truth as much as it should be on the message, the underlying principles. Sometimes it is helpful when an attention-getting messenger leverages an otherwise unnoticed or unattractive message. Even so, principles trump personalities every time, lest people slouch into idolatry (one of humanity’s more common traps).
If nothing else, John’s interesting role alongside Jesus reminds us of our potential partnership with God. Just as with John, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with being a sensational personality but the message must remain greater than the messenger. Finally, there’s nothing like the joy people of faith possess as they connect with and share God’s love and truth. Whatever sources illuminate your spiritual journey, continue to draw close to God and elevate your joy and wellbeing.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey
Today’s selection from Mark 1:1-8 presents John the Baptist. Surpassing his well-known title, John is more than just a historical curiosity. In the context of the gospel story, John is interpreted as a transition to Jesus. “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way. . . ‘ “ (Mark 1:2b). In their looking back, it is likely that the author(s) who collected and wrote Mark perceived John as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. John’s distinctive teachings may have been interpreted as paving the way for Jesus’ Gospel.
What is John’s background? Jesus’ mother Mary and her cousin Elizabeth were pregnant about the same time. Scripture therefore portrays John and Jesus as second cousins, which means they likely were raised in proximity to each other and shared a worldview, inasmuch as they were indoctrinated and educated similarly. John was not an ordinary citizen. “Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6). John’s peculiar eating and dressing suggests that he wasn’t a mainstream Jewish teacher.
John was likely an Essene, a member of a strict, apocalyptic Jewish sect isolated in a settlement near the secluded Dead Sea. Given Jesus’ teachings and lifestyle, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Jesus and John were either members of or heavily influenced by the Essenes, a community of contrarians who shunned the progressive cultural pollution of cosmopolitan cities like Jerusalem. Attributing John and Jesus’ idiosyncrasies to Essene peculiarities does not solve all the problems of their mysterious, complex relationship.
Some misguided watchdogs of orthodoxy react against any suggestion of John’s and Jesus’ Essene identification. The sense is that identifying John and Jesus with Essene oddness is an attempt to render Christian teachings derivative or invalid. Contrary to these reactionary tendencies, we know from a rational view of human history that ideas seldom just pop-out from nowhere. There is always a context, always some tie-in to some existing or preexisting situation or causal circumstances. Novelty and transformation do occur, of course, sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly. Even so, neither John nor Jesus fell from the sky fully formed. Both men lived immersed in a cultural milieu from which they and their admirers forged ideas, some of which have been passed to God followers today.
It is notoriously difficult to place John in a definitive category or perspective. On the one hand, John has often been treated as a shadowy, secondary figure, merely a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (40:3) about who must prepare the way for the Messiah. On the other hand, there are New Testament narratives (Matthew 11:1-19) suggesting that Jesus and John had a falling out because John was questioning Jesus’ methods. Until Jesus started his public ministry, John may have been the more popular preacher. The tension between Jesus and John seemed to reach its zenith while John was imprisoned and ultimately beheaded by the Romans’ political puppet, the latest in a series of Herodian leaders hated by the Jews. There is undeniable tension between Jesus and John but we may never know the precise nature and extent of what was happening.
From a devotional standpoint, we can treat John as a harbinger or signal of great expectations. In the theme of today’s Advent topic, let us make peace with uncertainty and novelty. Part of the goal of a productive life is the journey toward wellbeing. Along the way, perhaps we can be like John and Jesus, proclaiming God’s wonderful message of love and truth in interesting and effective ways. Have a great season of peace!
–Reverend Larry Hoxey
Today we highlight Jesus’ talk about a universal cataclysm which will end history (Mark 13:24-37). It’s challenging to wrangle such a depressing topic into hopeful holiday cheer. There’s only so much that can be done to transform the last judgment of death and destruction into an uplifting message.
What drives some peoples’ preoccupation with catastrophic biblical prophecies? Financial gain and a morbid fascination with enemies’ destruction feed some of the end-time mania. Sensationalist captains of the apocalypse industry create a self-justifying enterprise that builds egos and bank accounts. The culmination is that the horrible end of history has grown into a lucrative endeavor and a Hollywood cliché. Revelation seminars and prophecy peddlers reveal a huge business that has transformed the end times into a theater of the absurd.
Rather than dwell on apocalyptic fire and judgment, there’s joy to share by accepting Jesus’ invitation to watch in the sense of being aware and awake. Here is the key verse in the passage of Mark we’re considering: “[a]nd what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:37). What are people of faith supposed to be watching for? Parts of the Bible suggest horrific events, such as the Great Judgment, but there are many other occurrences to watch. It can be helpful to anticipate and prepare for situations likely to turn an individual’s world upside-down , such as accidents, war and illnesses. On one level, the value of anticipating / watching may help prepare for circumstances likely to upend life. Watching is therefore valuable as a form of disaster preparedness.
There’s more than simple watching to what Jesus was instructing. If properly cultivated, watchfulness can build into a state of mindfulness, which may help the wary navigate many of life’s uncertainties. The term mindfulness includes not only simple awareness but also a heightened sense of living in the moment. Mindfulness is a managed sense of awareness that doesn’t get stuck in the past or immobilized by fear of the future. Mindfulness invites people to remain tuned-in but not trapped, in either what has happened or what could happen. Want to be mindful? Strive to make your best life of wellbeing right now rather than worrying about apocalyptic fireworks. In being mindful, a person is watching / monitoring herself in relation to the environment. Sadly, mindfulness is often rejected in favor of fear, ignorance and anger. Any religion that doesn’t in some way encourage mindfulness weakens spirituality. Mindfulness is critical as a sensitivity to and alertness of self in relation to everything else. Mindfulness is therefore crucial to attaining joy and a life of greater wellbeing.
Being mindful is a boon for understanding and navigating day-to-day existence. A review of the world’s great spiritual writings suggests that mindfulness is not automatic but requires diligence to develop and maintain. Jesus was not asking his disciples to stare blithely into the heavens gleefully anticipating his violent return. No, there is something far more productive: people being mindful of who and what they are in the present. This is why it is beneficial to encourage one another, to help everyone to do what they can by capturing the promise and possibility of every moment, one savored instance at a time.
Developing the discipline to live a mindful journey through life’s moment isn’t easy. This explains the need for diligence and resiliency in building self-management skills. Mindfulness takes time to integrate itself into consciousness and yet the struggle is worth it. Today’s Bible verses suggest that Jesus wanted people to watch for signs of an excruciating future. But there’s also a hidden danger, which is distraction by the sensationalized, prophetic apocalypse. Even people of faith can become sidetracked, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy as an apocalyptic consciousness promotes the very cataclysm for which an individual has been indoctrinated.
Stoking peoples’ hopes and fears about future judgment is a way to provide comfort and triumphalist expectations on earth, where people of faith have been historically persecuted. Hope for a better future is a precious commodity and prophetic fulfillment is woven into the DNA of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Yet, as if hysterically swayed, some folks labor more on their insatiable timetable for end times than in nourishing compassionate mindfulness in the here-and-now. If we strive for it, mindfulness invites God followers on a splendid, hopeful journey, one that involves aligning ourselves to God’s essence of love in the wondrous power of the present.