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February 21, 2016, 9:22 PM

Reaffirming A Vision

by Sandy Bach

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

I've heard it said that we live in one of the most peaceful eras in history.  The reason we don't view it that way has to do with our our shrinking world.  Twenty-four hour news shows give us the latest news on our computers and smart phones.  Information is growing exponentially.  We can't possibly keep up with it all and how hard it is to give it a rest.

I can't log into my email account without news headlines flashing before my eyes.  Our Presidential Primary season has yielded a wealth of lies, innuendo and spin.  Our trust is low.  Our concern is high.

20th century theologian, Karl Barth, used to tell clergy to enter the pulpit with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.  He'd have a field day if he were alive today.

Or would he?

This passage from Luke seems strange.  The first part tells us about a group of Pharisees warning Jesus to get out of town because Herod is after him.  Jesus has a message for Herod:  "Tell that fox..."  Tell that sly, destructive jackal that I'm not intimidated by the likes of him.  We immediately leave the metaphor of the fox and move to the hen and her chicks.

Does Luke enjoy mixing his metaphors?  Is there a message in this for us today?

Jesus knew how hard the religious elite struggled to keep their temple intact.  Rome put their symbol on the temple (an eagle) to remind the worshipers that Rome was in charge.  The Jews worshiped in the temple as long as they minded their p's and q's.  As Jesus sets his face on Jerusalem, he knows he's going there to die.  There's nothing Herod can do to harm him.  When it's time, then and only then will he go to the cross.

Jesus' words hold authority.  He knows what he's doing and where he's going.  Rumors and paranoia don't touch him.  He has a job to do: "to bring good news to the poor... to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind (Luke 4:18.)  Jesus' words also hold submission.  Not to the politics of Herod or even the Pharisees.  He submits to God and moves through life with a loving message and a tough demand.  Love your enemies.  The last will be first.  The lost are found.  The least are cared for.

In the world of any time and place loving your enemies isn't our way of life.  The first are first, the last can get in line.  The lost and the least are bound up, often unable to pull themselves out.

So where's the good news, you ask?  In the hen.  While we make our way through this world trying to avoid the land mines of paranoia, misinformation and outright lies, Jesus stands close by yearning: "How I desire to gather you like little chicks under my wings."

What does it look like to live under the shelter of God's love while the politicians argue it out?  What does it mean to be sheltered like a chick while Isis does it's best to terrorize?

It means that we read the paper, or our smart phones or watch the TV news in deep prayer, trying to understand what's happening through the words and teachings of Christ.  It means seeing God active in the chaos and vitriol.

Being sheltered doesn't mean we hide.  Nor does it give us permission to ignore what's going on around us.  What that shelter does is remind us that the leaders of this world are only that: leaders of THIS world.  They are human and they make mistakes as humans do.  Some more egregiously than others.  Being sheltered reminds us that God is still in charge, that God will act when God acts and that we can breathe.

What does it look like to read the news with your faith in Christ in tact?  How does it feel to research some of the rumors and paranoia to discover the fact within the fiction?

Jesus disdained the Herod's of this world.  His enemies had no power over him.  He completed his work on the third day, triumphing over death.  When he cried out from the cross, "It is finished!" we know that it was only the beginning.

Give yourself permission to feel God's shelter.  Be a good citizen by learning what you can about the facts.  Vote your conscious.  Serve the least, the last and the lost who cross your path.  And rest.

Rest under the shelter of God's wings knowing that whatever happens, God is present and at work in the storms of this world.

All glory and honor be to God.


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February 13, 2016, 10:08 AM

Wilderness Testing

by Sandy Bach

"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished." (Luke 4:1-2 NRSV)

According to Luke, Jesus was tempted for 40 days and he didn't eat. As one who has rarely missed a meal, that's a tough act to follow! 40 days. No food. Plenty of temptation and testing.

What tempts you? How are you tested? What wilderness have you traveled?

Judy is a widow of only a few months. She hurts with the loss of her husband of 40 years. She wants him back with a yearning that can't be assuaged. So, she decides that if he can't come to her, she'll go to him. She plans her suicide down to the last detail.

Scott has a serious weight issue and has been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. Try as he might, he can't lose the weight. He loves food and food loves him. Just one more cookie won't hurt him. As his blood glucose readings rise and fall with dangerous regularity, he feels stuck and hopeless. He feels like giving up.

Judy and Scott are both stuck in the wilderness. That barren place where it feels God-forsaken. The Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness, wandering under Moses' leadership. No food. No water. No sense of God's presence. God was clearly present, but they couldn't see it. God provided food and water as they needed it. It took them a long time to trust and to rely on God's daily provision of manna and water.

Judy and Scott are probably feeling God's silence in their lives. We all get to that place. In the pain of the moment that feels like an eternity, God should be speaking. Instead, God remains silent. Is God even near?

So, we figure we're on our own and we'll have to come up with solutions on our own. Rather than traveling through the pain, we want to shortcut it. Rather than embracing God and trusting in God's provision, we decide to take matters into our own hands.

And that's the test and the temptation.

Jesus was hungry; starving. He would have liked to have assuaged that hunger and what's wrong with turning stone into bread? What would it hurt for him to turn stones into millions of loaves of bread? His ministry would thrive, but, more than yet, everyone would eat.

Isn't that what God wants?

The devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Kingdoms of hungry power. Power demands more power and will go after it any way it can. Money is diverted from care of the people to war on other empires. People are crushed and enslaved. So with Jesus in charge, this world would be a much better place. Right?

Finally, the Devil transports Jesus to Jerusalem and the temple: the center of Jewish faith. Priests who labored under the fear and control of the Roman Empire tried desperately to hold onto their temple with legalism and control. Jesus could fix all this. After all, if he falls, he'll be saved. God won't allow him to suffer, right?

Isn't that what God wants: to have the least, the last and the lost cared for justly and rightly? to have the kingdoms of the world doing justice and loving righteousness? to have the religious elite care for everyone, even those on the fringes?

Not if it means that God is not worshiped. Not if means that humanity remains in control, fooling itself into believing that their own power and wealth will safe them.

Jesus refused to use magic tricks to solve problems. Jesus refused to rule the world and turn his back on God. Jesus had no need to test God by jumping off the temple.

What Jesus did, was acknowledge over and over and over again that God is in charge. He spoke about a kingdom of God that loves mercy, does justice and everyone walks with God. He looked beyond the moment to see the results of his actions.

And that's what I would pray for Judy and Scott. I can't imagine losing the love of my life. But I hope and pray for courage to do the hard work of grieving rather than taking control of when I die. I hope and pray that I would see the awful pain I would inflict on those I chose to leave behind. I pray that I would see the long range results of my actions.

I do have a weight problem, though. While I don't have diabetes, I understand that need for one more cookie; the need to stuff down my fear and pain with food. And every day I pray for courage.

We are all tested, my friends. Every last one of us. We are tempted in our weakest moments to not look beyond our immediate needs. We're tested to listen to distortions and lies; to see our wants as needs; to not trust our bit of faith as enough for God to work with.

Ultimately, God really is in charge. And I know this because of Jesus' examples of how he worked his way through testing and temptation. Evil is powerful. Don't kid yourself that it's not out there.

It comes down to a few questions:

Is this testing my urge for self-indulgence?

Will this resolve a problem in the long term or am I looking for power?

Am I looking for solutions or trying assuage my grief and pain?

It's a matter of calling on God as your source of strength and the One you worship.  Whether the calling is in silence and love or crying out at your worst moment, those cries and calls are your way of saying, "Jesus I believe.  Help my unbelief."

All glory and honor be to God.


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February 7, 2016, 9:17 AM

Reflecting God's Glory

by Sandy Bach

"Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God." (Exodux 34:29 NRSV)

He spent 40 days alone with God.  He came down from the mountain to straighten out a recalcitrant congregation.  Then he returned for another 40 days with God.  Is it any wonder that his the skin of his face shone?

Moses was close to God.  They had worked together on that project of freeing the Hebrew slaves from Egypt.  There was that Passover Event then the crossing of the Red Sea.  Freedom was hard on them, having been enslaved for 400 years. They would need time to transform into the chosen people of God.  Moses was on that mountaintop being transformed from a leader who frees slaves to one who mediates between God and the people.  In order be that mediator he had to up on the mountain.

So Moses has been receiving instructions from God.  How to build and furnish the worship space.  How to respect this space.  The law was given in a way that assured the people that God loved their neighbor as much as God loved them.

They were to care for the aliens and the widows and the children: all those who were the most vulnerable.

They weren't supposed to be worshiping that sacred calf.  "Just give us a god, Aaron.  Pleeezzzee."

Now Moses has been gone for another 40 days and his face is shining.  There's no way that the congregation can misinterpret this sign!  Moses has been with YHWH.  God.  The one true living Lord of life.  They were scared and pulled back -- always a good thing when you're in the presence of God's glory.  And they listened to Moses.  Really listened and heard what YHWH's plans for them were.

Moses' face shone because of his closeness to God and God's call to be a part of that intimacy.

When have you felt that sense of affection and communion with God?  Perhaps you have but didn't recognize it.  Sometimes we feel it only on occasion while feeling God's silence other times.  The truth is that God is always with us; accompanying us; taking us to places where serendipity occurs; using our talents to reach out to others.

Ash Wednesday is just around the corner.  On Wednesday many Christians will enter into their worship space and accept ashes on their brow as a symbol of what they already know:  "From the dirt you came.  To the dirt you will return."  A palpable reminder that we are not God.  We are not invulnerable.  We are human.  Blessed humans created by God, but human all the same.

Following Ash Wednesday, we'll find ourselves in Lent.  That season of the year when, in the Northern Hemisphere, the days will lengthen and the light will also lengthen.  We'll journey through Lent, knowing that the light of Jesus is going out.  We'll journey to the cross of crucifixion and feel some of the pain of betrayal and hate and fear and power.  Thankfully, though we already know the end of the story: Resurrection. Jesus resurrected from death to life, offering us new life every day.

Knowing the end of the story makes it important that we take up our cross through the 40 days of Lent.  Some people give up dessert or their favorite chocolate.  What appears trite may be there way of saying that they like these things too much and they desire to experience the world without them.  What do you need to give up in order to experience that?

Or, perhaps you need to take on a discipline.  How do you feel God's presence in your life?  For many, the answer is, "Not all that much."  Then use this Lenten season to feel the Spirit.  Do is slowly.  Ten minutes when you awaken in the morning.  Perhaps the next day, ten minutes during lunch.  The following day, ten or fifteen minutes as you move through your day.  A small amount of time at first that slowly becomes longer time spent realizing that the Spirit is alongside you guiding you and praying with you.

Take note of where the presence stands: close behind you or in front of you? Off to the side, perhaps.  It's different for everyone.  Simply feel the presence and then speak.  "How should I handle this, Spirit?"  "I don't feel right about this decision, Lord.  What would you have me do?"

For those who have a stronger sense of Spirit, perhaps you could spend part of your devotional time being aware of the presence.  Just be.  The Psalmist says it perfectly: "Be still and know that I am God." (Ps. 46:10 NRSV)  Where you do you feel God leading you?

Whatever you decide about Lent I hope that it's a discipline that takes effort and turns you to. or moves you closer to, God.  I pray that your journey to the cross will be discomforting as well as comforting.  I pray that it transform you.

When Moses came down off  that mountain the second time, his face was glowing.  He had been in the presence of God.  To be with God means to be close to God; really close.  Cheek by jowl close, so to speak.  It's a lifetime journey, though.  And oh so worth it.

All glory and honor be to God.


January 31, 2016, 8:40 AM

Liberating Words

by Sandy Bach

"[Jesus] said to them, 'Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum' And he said, 'Truly I tell, you no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown.'" (Luke 4:23-24 NRSV)

What was Jesus thinking?  Better yet, what was Luke thinking?

Jesus has just read to his hometown people the words from the prophet Isaiah:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.  The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to say to them "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hear."  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:18-22 NRSV)

Jesus had the synagogue in the palm of his hand!  And what does he go and do?  He annoys them.  He gets in their faces with words like, "Don't tell me to heal myself: I'll do this ministry with God in charge, not you." His hometown friends and neighbors become so incensed that they run him out of town and try to push him off a cliff.  They can't touch him, though.  He simply slips through their hands.

What was the problem?  Mark and Matthew depict this same scene, only the townspeople are angered because Jesus claims to be the Messiah.  Luke changes things up a bit.  He allows the people a moment of pride:

"I was his Sunday school teacher.  Such a willing student!"

"You should have seen him at Youth Fellowship meetings!"

"I remember watching him with his father as they headed out of town for a carpentry job. They were so companionable together."

"Yep!  That's our Jesus.  'Can't wait to see what he does for us here."

Jesus knows these folk.  They were his teachers and mentors and friends.  They know everything about him up to the point when he left Nazareth.  How can he speak words to annoy them? And why would he want to? What happened to proper etiquette, like "mind your elders" or "if you can't say something nice, say nothing."

Apparently, his ministry has begun and he has accomplished much in and around Capernaum.  The Town of Nazareth, a poverty-stricken community with barely a mention on a Roman map, could use a man like Jesus.  There are sick to be healed.  There is work to be done to try and build up Nazareth.  Nazareth could well have a long list of what they need from him.  And hardly any of it is on God's to-do list for the kingdom.

Did Jesus try to explain prior to worship on the Sabbath?  Were his words an attempt to gain their attention; to make them listen to him?  Perhaps.  All we know from our reading is that he is clear about his ministry.

First, this is God's mission, not Nazareth's or the Roman Empire's.  The Temple in Jerusalem will have no authority over him.  God is in charge and Jesus has already proven that he will not live by bread alone.  The Nazarene people will not be able to tell Jesus what to do and when to do it.

Second, as proud of him as the townspeople are, they would be ready and willing to offer Jesus a few hints and tips on his ministry.  "You know, son, you want to be careful how you speak to your elders.  This in-your-face style won't go down well.  Tone it down a bit.  You'll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar."

Third, they will not have a say in the scope of Jesus' ministry.  To bring his point home he reminds of the Widow of Zarephath.  All those widows in Israel struggling with famine and Elijah goes to the Gentile territory of Zarephath and provides food for her and her son until the drought ends.  Elijah even brings her son back from death.

Of all the Israelites with serious skin diseases, the prophet Elisha chooses to offer healing to the General Naamon from enemy territory.  In other words, God's ministry is not only for those in the backwater town of Nazareth; nor the area known as Galilee; not even limited to Israel.  God's ministry is for all.

So for those living on the edges of society, Jesus will reach out to them.  Different faith traditions, enemies, those with whom we don't want to associate.

Why are they so angry?  Well, let's bring this in to our modern times.  God wants to reach out to our enemies.  God would have us offer healing to a child from Iran.  God would have us reach out to feed the undocumented worker who lives down the street, trying to stay under the radar.  God would have us offer fellowship to that same sex married couple living nearby.

About thirty years ago a family member hurt me very deeply.  Over the years, she continued to do so and I failed to do anything to stop her.  In the past few weeks I've decided to end this pain and move on with my life.  The problem is: I can't forgive her.  She hurt me repeatedly and my family stood by and allowed it.  She behaved badly and I would rather see her suffer than offer her forgiveness.  What she did was mean and cruel.

Jesus came for the likes of her: two-faced and self-centered.  Jesus came for the likes of me, unforgiving and hurting.  And when I think on these things, I can feel some of the anger of the Nazarenes who tried to push him off that cliff.

God is at work in me to sweep out the hate and unforgiving spirit within me.  And I trust that I'll be free from it all some day.  And that's why Jesus had to leave Nazareth.  Because his ministry would only work if he remained totally connected to his Father; his ministry would only work in an atmosphere of trust.

He came for the likes of those we know to be sinful and those we know who are making unwise, even dangerous decisions, and yes, even you and me.  We're in need of good news to our poor starving hearts that are worn out by stress and hatred.  We're in need of release from unforgiving spirits or addictions.  We're searching to have our eyes opened to new truth that will continue to set us free.  And we're all constantly in search of new beginnings.

I don't want to be one of the hometown folk who tried to run Jesus out of town.  Yet, I know that there are moments when I'm part of the lynch mob.  Thanks be to God that Jesus slips through the midst of us and shows us an even better way.

All glory and honor be to God.


January 24, 2016, 2:46 PM

Transforming Hope

by Sandy Bach

"Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone." (Luke 4:14-15 NRSV)

Jesus was ready to begin his ministry.  But several things had to happen before he was ready.

Enter an elderly priest Zechariah, and his wife, Elizabeth.  It was his turn to enter into the Holy of Holies for the annual incense burning.  It was a holy undertaking, and this particular episode would be the beginning of something new.    An angel appeared to him for  a long talk: "Don't be afraid, Zechariah,, for your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John." (Luke 1:13 NRSV)  Zechariah found this hard to believe (who wouldn't?) He questioned God and so remained silent for the next nine months.

That silence was a time of preparation for Zechariah.  Rather than a punishment, it gave him a certain solitude as he went about his duties as a temple priest.  So that when John was born, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and was able to speak.  "Bless God for remembering Israel and our captivity.  Bless God for raising up a mighty savior for us.  We will be saved from our enemies and God will show mercy."  (Luke 1:68-72 my translation.)

It was the Holy Spirit who would come upon Mary and the child she carried would be holy: the Son of God.

When Joseph and Mary took the newborn Jesus to the Temple for the purification.  Who should be there at just that moment?  Simeon and Anna.  Simeon had learned by way of the Spirit that he would see the Messiah before his death.  He took one look and recognized who Jesus was.  And then prayed what became a famous blessing for Christians everywhere: "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." (Luke 2:29-32 NRSV)

The Spirit remained at work as John grew up and moved into the dessert to prepare for his ministry.  His  ministry was to call people to change their lives from the inside out.  For John, loving God meant that you take care of your neighbor.  Not just people you like, but anyone whose lives you touch.  Filled with the Spirit, John preached this change with courage and determination.  His preaching pointed to the Messiah.

His preaching made a difference.  He had followers who came to be baptized.  Filled with the Spirit he spoke to all who needed to change and repent.  Including Herod.  That got him into trouble. but he never shirked his duty.

Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized as well.  When he came out of the water we learn that "heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove." (Luke 3:21b-22 NRSV)  As he prayed, the Spirit came upon him.  And then that same Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted.  He fasted for 40 days and learned what his ministry wouldn't be: magic tricks and seeking self-serving ways to be top dog.

The Spirit remained at work as Jesus began his ministry.  "Filled with the power of the Spirit..."  He would preach and heal.  He would rebuke and extend love.  He would retreat alone to pray.  He would retreat with his disciples.  He played hard and worked hard.  His ministry of love that was meant to care for stranger and alien as well as friend spread far and wide.

Filled with Spirit, we too become courageous to say and do the hard things.  Filled with the Spirit, we pray alone and with others.  Filled with the Spirit, we recognize those people that God has put in our path and we care for them with relationship, food, clothing and words that heal.

I love the words of Rev. Robert M. Brearley, "The Holy Spirit comes when we have something to do for God and a time to do it.  Following this Jesus means accepting his mission and his time.  What would change in our lives and in our churches if we stood in the pews on Sunday morning and declared to God and to one another, 'God gives us no other day than today to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and new beginnings to all who have failed'?  Jesus went forth in the power of the Spirit as an agent of God's m

ercy to the downtrodden, and so do we."  (Feasting on the Word, Pastoral Perspective.  Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. Year C, Volume 1 page 288)

How is the Spirit at work in your life?  How do you use your day to bring good news to the poor and release to those held captive?  How can you bring sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed?  How does the Holy Spirit work in your life to be in relationship with those who cross your path?

It begins with getting to know Spirit, recognizing that she is with you at all times.  Be in solitude with her.  Speak if you're used to being silent.  Be silent if you're used to speaking.  Fast from food or an activity that will help you understand sacrifice.  Allow her to bring you closer and rely on her words to you in the simple activities of your day and the complications of living.

Nothing happened until Spirit got involved.  Nothing happens today without her.

Walking with her into an unknown future is our call as Christians.  We begin in prayer, listening with discernment.  Then with a measure of courage, a heart full of compassion and a hint of chutzpah we move out.

And that's when the amazing happens.

All glory and honor be to God.


January 17, 2016, 12:00 AM

Church at Home

Abundant Life

by Sandy Bach

"On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, 'They have no wine.'” (John 2:1-3 NRSV)

Weddings are important events.  Bridal couples spend months preparing for the big event and they want everything to go well.  Yes, sometimes we find someone who goes overboard on the demand for perfection.  Yet, weddings are an event for setting the bar high for a memorable celebration.

In ancient days, the bride and groom would prepare for months, as well.  Their time was spent putting together enough food and wine for a seven-day celebration.  No honeymoon for them; they had guests in the groom's home for a week!  Hospitality is everything in that part of the world.  To run out of wine is to lose face,

So the mother of Jesus (the gospel of John never mentions her by  name) turns to Jesus and comments, "They're out of wine."  In the middle of the celebration they run out of wine.  Disaster.  The wedding is ruined.  Will the groom ever live up to it?

But there's more.  This is the Gospel of John, a book packed to the brim with symbolism.  In the Jewish scripture wine is a symbol of grace and joy and abundance.  The wedding hosts have run out of grace.

Jesus is reluctant to reveal his glory, but he does, anyway.  This begins his ministry and he does it without a lot of fireworks.  He tells the servants to take the 6 stone water jugs and fill them to the brim with water.  Then he has them draw out a sample for the wine steward to taste.  The wine is the best ever.  The equivalent of cases and cases and cases of the best Cabernet Sauvignon that money can buy.

Jesus supplies grace and joy and wholeness in overly abundant amounts and hardly anyone knows who's responsible for it.  The bridegroom gets all the credit.

How have you celebrated in such a fashion?  When has "Cana Grace" taken up your life and transformed it to joy and celebration and wholeness?  I see it when our congregation comes together for a potluck.  The metaphorical wine runs free with laughter.  Members and friends catch up on the news and share pictures of their grandchildren taken on their smart phones.  Cana Grace takes place when friends gather in the backyard for a bar-b-que and laugh and talk well into the night.  Cana Grace occurs when any group of people get together to enjoy each others' company and Jesus shows up.

Yet, sometimes we run out of wine.  We run out of joy and grace.  Families torn apart by illness or other circumstances run out wine.  People living in homes with leaky roofs and iffy electricity eventually run out of wine.  Where is God's extravagance in these moments?  Where is the Mother of Jesus nudging God, "They have no wine"?

When is it time for us to nudge God?  When do we feel God nudging us?

"Jesus, they have no wine."

"Yes, child.  I have the wine.  I need your hands and feet to distribute it."

"Jesus, I'm not sure I'm enough.  In fact, I'm sure I'm not enough."

"You're right.  You're not enough. But with me all things are possible.  Here's the wine.  Go now and distribute Cana Grace."

All glory and honor be to God.


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January 10, 2016, 12:00 AM

Church at Home

Lived Out in Prayer

by Sandy Bach

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:21-22 NRSV)

I've come to the conclusion that Luke's version of Jesus' baptism is the most compelling. John is the reason. In Matthew and Luke John preaches to the crowds, calling them a "brood of vipers" (3:7) Yikes! Modern-day preachers have lost their jobs for far less!

But, it's Luke's version that allows the crowds to ask him, "What then should we do?" (3:10). It's a fair question. Apparently John agrees, for he gives them good answers:
"Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." In other words, love and care your neighbor.

Tax collectors come to him with the same question. These men who lived on the fringes, colluding with the Romans could have been told by John to find other work. Wisely, he doesn't. He says, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." In other words, stay put in your job where you can do your Jewish people some good.

Even the enemy, Roman soldiers, ask him.  He tells them to love your neighbor by stopping the extortion and threats and false accusations. And be satisfied with your wages.

People listened and followed him and wondered, "Could this be the Messiah promised by God?" John, sensing their question, gives them a, yet again, straight-forward answer. John not only isn't the Messiah, his job is to point to him. John baptizes with water, but the one to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Could he be pointing to the Pentecost event?)

The baptism of Jesus isn't described as it is in Matthew and Mark. It's reported in the past tense: "Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized..." (vs 21) That's it.

But, why would the Son of God have to be baptized? Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace. When we baptize today, our liturgy clearly states that we are to repent of sin and try to live holy and joyful lives in Christ.

Again. Why did God incarnate need to be baptized?

The answer is, he didn't need it. He did it for us.  When Jesus entered those waters, he entered it as a sign that he had come into the world to be with those tax collectors and soldiers and you and me and other sinners and saints. God had penetrated the world and this was his way of telling us that he had come to meet those of us who needed him most.

God's creation is amazing. But, humanity has managed to find ways to distort it. Sometimes tragic things happen. Sometimes kings turn into despots; anger comes in contact with a weapon; greed and jealousy take over good intentions. Sometimes we make choices fully realizing the consequences of those actions. Sometimes, we make choices with no idea of its effect on others.

As Jesus comes out of the water, he begins to pray -- something he did regularly. In prayer, God speaks and he is revealed to the world as the Messiah: the One promised by God.

His ministry is about to begin. Sadly, we read, though, that John's ministry is coming to a close. Herod has arrested him; he'll die by the request of a spoiled step-daughter's request to a drunken, lusty King.

When Jesus stepped into those waters, he understood all of this. That while John languished in jail, his ministry would grow. That while Jesus chose his disciples and grew his ministry, John would pay the price of his own choices.

And it wouldn't be long before Jesus' choices would bring criticism: he would be accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because he ate and drank with undesirables. He was called a friend of tax collectors and sinners. In all too short a time, he would be brought up on trumped up charges and face capital punishment.

So what do we do today? Recognize those who have been torn apart from a world that has an agenda different from God's.

And as children of God, look around for evidence of Jesus' entrance into the life and lives of those around you.

All glory and honor be to God.


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January 3, 2016, 12:00 AM

Church at Home

Faithful Praise

by Sandy Bach

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love." Ephesians 1:3-4 NRSV)

God had a plan.

Before the the beginning of time; before he brought light and stars and moon and sun; before dry land appeared; before vegetation and fishes and animals to roam the earth; before humanity came into being; God had a plan.

That plan was for us and about us. We did nothing to earn it. We knew nothing about it until God was ready to give it to us. God did it for no other reason than divine desire and will. That plan was to bring us to God. The plan was to offer forgiveness for our trespasses, to break down that wall of sin that keeps us from intimate communion with God.

The plan was to adopt us and make us God's children. A whole new identity. Belonging to God; receiving wisdom and insight so that we could come to know God better and more intimately.

Out of God's good pleasure and lavish grace we received the most perfect gift of all.

How do we praise God for this gift? Some of us need music with simple words repeated over and over again. With hands held aloft we praise God and remember all that God has done.

Some need quiet for contemplation. I'm one who needs a good pipe organ and an Isaac Watts hymn. Okay, so I'm old fashioned. It works for me.

I wonder, at times, do we fit into God's plan or do we shoehorn God into our own plan?

Bad news always abounds, but as 2015 comes to a close, we're feeling the fear and worry about events more deeply. Gun violence, terrorist attacks, political infighting, unrest at every turn. We praise God until we tune into the news. After that, what can we do?

Jesus told us to love our enemies. It seems more expedient to drop a bomb on them. Jesus blessed the poor in spirit. We'd rather go shopping. Jesus blessed those who take on persecution and slander. A punch in the nose would offer a more instantaneous solution.

Yet, if we call ourselves disciples of Jesus, then disciple we must. How do we drop that shoehorn and fit ourselves into God's Plan?

Praise comes in many forms. It can be worship, devotionals or singing or prayer. Perhaps praying with the newspaper open in front of you is also an act of praise.

"O God, your creation is torn apart with war and terror. Children and victims are struggling to find peace and safety. Yet, we know that only you have the final plan for peace. Only you can bring peace to our nations, your people and your creation. You've sent your Son, your only Son. Help us to be a part of that plan. Show us where we can be your Son's hands and feet and voice in our world that we can see real peace some day."

"God, you have blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. You have lavished us with grace and you make known your mystery to us through your wisdom and insight. Use us to be a blessing to others. Show us how to use your wisdom and insight to really listen to those with whom we disagree. We ask this that we might praise you in this broken world. We ask this so that we can see the fullness of time coming near."

"God, we praise you that we can see evidence of your activity in the world.  We praise you for all of the nations who have opened their doors to welcome Syrian refugees.  We praise you for the churches who have welcomed them, regardless of their faith tradition, with one question, "What can we do to help?"  Help us to see your activity in the world and use us to make your creation a bit better than when we arrived."

I wish I could write these words more eloquently. God deserves better. Yet, I also trust that God can use my words to bring home God's point. In the midst of brokenness and fear; war and terrorism; and all the other 'isms, can we dare to see where God wants us to fit into God's plan?

Every time we turn to reactionary violence, we just might be trying to shoehorn God. Every time we use cruelty to win an argument, we're attempting to create God in our own image.

God won't be recreated. God won't be shoehorned. God is and was and will always be...God.

So, where will you allow God to fit into the plan? As Jesus said, "my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

All glory and honor be to God.


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