Despite how we often envision Advent and Christmas as a calm and peaceful season, John the Baptist brings a different idea to the coming of our Lord! Out of the wilderness, dressed in camel's hair and a leather belt--and eating locusts and wild honey--he tells everyone listening that it is time to repent because the Lord is here. For us, today, it is easy to misunderstand this call to repentance as simply offering a confession, asking for an apology from God, and then moving on with our lives, as if nothing happened. But when we do that--we miss the real purpose of repentance, which really means to have a change in heart and mind. We can take this time of preparation during Advent to really think about the ways we can make changes in our lives and in the lives of those around us. But Remember, this isn't some resolution for the New Year! God continually gives us the chance to make these changes--we don't have to quit if we mess up on January 3.
Each year, the first Sunday of Advent begins with an apocalyptic text from one of the Synoptic* Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). This year, Year-A in the three-year lectionary, brings us Matthew's version of the importance of being watchful for the return of Christ. A fascinating part of this passage is that it contradicts our commonly held beliefs of the "end times". While the Left Behind series, and many others like it, point to a rapture of the faithful, Matthew tells us that the faithful will be the ones left behind to do the work necessary for bringing about God's Kingdom. As we read these words, it is important to remember that living a faithful life should not be motivated by fear of judgment, but because we have been given the wonderful gift of a life in Christ. Forget worrying about when the day will come. Instead, let's focus on what Matthew is famous for telling us to do--feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and welcome the stranger. When we stop worrying about the final days and stop acting out of fear, we will be able to open our hearts and live the grace-filled life God offers to each and every one of us.
*The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence and in similar or sometimes identical wording. They stand in contrast to John, whose content is largely distinct. (SOURCE: wikipedia.com)
Here we are! The end of the Christian year, and at the end of the lectionary cycle, year C. And much to our surprise (or, at least to mine!) we find ourselves facing Christ on the cross. At the end of the year, we are suggested a reading from Good Friday. The notion of Christ as King is always a difficult one with which to come to terms. We all know Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords, but when we are faced with our Messiah on the cross, we struggle with how to deal with the idea of a crucified ruler. But, as we see in the reading, there is no better passage for Christ the King Sunday than the one that ends with Jesus saying, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” On the cross, Jesus refuses to save himself because he is saving all of us—inviting all of us into Paradise with him. Hallelujah!
image by: Cerezo Barredo
s you may have already noticed in the few sermons on this page, and something that will eventually be very clear—I believe in a loving and forgiving God that never stops offering us grace. So when we get to passages like this—in which Jesus is telling of the destruction of the temple and the many horrors to follow, it can be a struggle to find that same grace. Almost as frustrating are the attempts by various people and groups to try and prove the end of the world is here! Apocalyptic passages throughout the Bible are not meant to be read literally into our world. If they were, I’m sure the apocalypse would have happened several dozen times by 2019. But we still want to find that message of grace, that message of love, from God in this passage. And it is there—you just need to listen to find out what it is!
“What happens when I die?” There are few questions that are more universally understood as what happens to us after we die. No matter your answer, the idea that the world keeps spinning and suddenly you cease to be, is a scary notion! In our passage today, Jesus is questioned about the resurrection. While Jesus does not paint a picture of heaven or any afterlife, we do hear him argue that the resurrection is real. Jesus is in the midst of being questioned by the Pharisees, and after stumping them about paying taxes, a group called the Sadducees decide to question him about the resurrection. It is important to note that this group does not believe in the resurrection, so they offer Jesus an absurd situation, and Jesus responds by proving the resurrection is real, and he uses the only texts the Sadducees accept as truth.
Image by Cerezo Barredo: http://servicioskoinonia.org/cerezo/
While the lectionary* only had Luke 19:1-10 as the gospel reading for this week, I felt that it was important to also read the other passage, Luke 18:18-30, about the rich ruler. Looking at these two passages together gives us meaningful insight into how God’s grace works in our lives. We have these two people, opposite in every way, especially in their response to grace. As I thought about these passages, I realized that an important message for this morning is that of grace, and how we respond. We do not have a say in who receives God’s grace: God offers grace to each and every one of us. Our only role is to determine how we respond.
*A lectionary is a systematic list of scripture readings for use in daily prayer, Lord's Day worship, and other occasions. Image by Cerezo Barredo: http://servicioskoinonia.org/cerezo/
Rev. CHRIS HOUTZ
Welcome to the pastor’s blog! This page will have sermons uploaded so you can listen to them whenever you want, and I will add a brief reflection on the text, the sermon, or a little bit of both. My hope is that you will be able to see that the Bible can still speak to our world today, and that we can always find a note of God’s grace in any passage, whether it is one of the most well-known and beloved passages, or one of the most difficult readings to grasp.