I do love the story of Lydia that I just told the children. She was the first Christian convert in all of Europe. Philippi was Paul’s first stop in Europe and Lydia and the women who worshipped with her were his first converts there. All my ancestors came to this country from Europe and maybe yours did too. Lydia and her warm welcome of Paul opened the door for faith to come to us. I am grateful for her.
And let me quickly tell you the rest of the story about Paul and Silas in prison in Philippi – and the prison guard whom they converted. The story may have happened in about the year 50 or 52 A.D. - in other words about twenty years after Jesus died. We left Paul and Silas sitting with their legs and feet spread wide apart in stocks in the deepest darkest dungeon of the jail in Philippi. About midnight they were praying and singing hymns when suddenly the prison was rocked by an earthquake – so strong that the prisoners’ chains all fell off and the doors of the prison all flew open. The prison guard assumed that the prisoners would have escaped, and he was about to kill himself, but Paul and Silas assured them that they hadn’t escaped and the next thing we know, Paul and Silas were invited to the home of the prison guard – where of course they talked about Jesus, and where the guard and his family were all baptized. There, on the spot, in the middle of the night. There in the prison guard’s house. So that was the start of the church in Philippi – a bunch of women meeting beside the river – one of whom was very wealthy and her family and all her employees and slaves, and a prison guard and his family. And the next day, Paul and Silas and Luke said goodbye to Lydia and they were on their way to the next town. They had been in Philippi only a few days.
But Paul kept in touch with the people whom he baptized there. We have some idea that he had visited them over the years. They had sent him financial gifts more than once, and he bragged to them that they were only church that had done that. Finally in about the year 62 or so - about ten years after he had sat with Lydia and the others by the river and after he had baptized the prison guard and his family - they sent him another gift. It was hand – delivered by man named Epaphroditus. Depending on whether he traveled by sea or overland, it may have been a trip of about 900 miles to bring Paul his gift. Paul sent them this letter in return.
We know that he was in prison when he wrote it and we can’t be sure, but we think that he may have been in Rome at the time, living under house arrest. He is well aware that his death may be very near, but his letter is full of confidence, and his love for them shines out of every word he writes. He starts out by saying “I thank God every time I think of you. My prayers for you are full of joy.” He calls them “my beloved” and says, “I am confident that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ.”
But there was something else in that Philippian church. Apparently there were two women in the church who were at odds with one another. This troubled Paul when he heard about it, and it apparently troubled others in the church as well.
So Paul quotes a creed that they probably recited every time they worshipped together – and that they knew very well - the words we have just read. He paints them a picture of Jesus. He reminds them that Jesus was God. That he sat in on his throne in the glories of heaven with God before there was anything at all. Before time began. He reminds them that Jesus was there sitting with God, as a co-creator with God. When God created the sun and the North Star and the oceans and the continents and the pansies and the petunias and the bears and the bunnies and the oriels and the octopuses – Jesus was there. And Jesus was there with God, as God, when God rolled a little bit of clay around and breathed into it and created a human life.
But though he was God, he gave up the perks and the power of being God. He gave up his throne in the glories of heaven. He gave up ruling the world in love and power and great pity and compassion up there in the glories of heaven and he came to this earth. Not the good earth that he had created, but a bruised and battered earth – full of pain and ugliness. He suffered all the pain and ugliness that this distorted world could inflict on him. The King and Creator of everything became a slave. He surrendered all his power and his rightful place beside God in heaven and sunk lower and lower and lower into the evil and ugliness of humanity. Until he became a victim of humanity’s most violent act. And he died the most painful and most humiliating way a person could die in those days – naked on a cross and hanging there for all the passersby and gawkers to jabber about as they stopped to watch.
And then says, Paul, quoting their very own creed – then God raised him up again. And now he is back where he belongs – back beside his Father, back to the honor that is due to him as God. And now the whole world is falling down on its knees in adoration and thanks and praise and love for him. The sounds of people praising him are rising up from small mud huts in Africa and large cathedrals in Europe and from a small city in Michigan. And a joyful intermingling of every language on this earth is rising up to his ears on his royal throne. In thanks and adoration to Jesus our Lord.
Paul sends a letter off to the people he loves in Philippi. He paints them that picture and urges them to be like Jesus. To think like Jesus and to behave like Jesus. To look to the good of others rather than themselves, and to regard others as better than themselves. To let go of pride and selfishness. Which takes the kind of radical humility that Jesus modeled for us.
Now I am your brand new temporary part time pastor and I have been with you for only about two months. In that time I have begun to know and I have begun to love you and I have begun to hear some of your stories. I have heard again and again that you are a very diverse congregation. And you are. You are people of different political persuasions, and different faith backgrounds and your life stories are very different. Some of you would classify yourselves as politically conservative or liberal or theologically conservative or liberal and some of you are somewhere in between. And I have heard over and over again that somehow you have learned to look beyond some pretty big differences and you have learned to accommodate each other and work together. And I have seen with my own eyes that that is true. I have witnessed genuine respect between people of very differing positions. I have watched you work together and laugh together and have serious discussions together and I have seen true, deep, long-time friendships among people of very different political and theological opinions and convictions. That is beautiful to see and I celebrate that and I thank God for that in you.
We have just celebrated Christmas and we have just seen the Son of God lying in a cow box and wrapped in rags. We have seen how angels sang to shepherds of all people and we have had a glimpse of how the Romans and the religious leaders ganged up against our Savior and nailed him to a cross. And now we are beginning a New Year and in this congregation we are beginning to dream about the new future that God has in mind for this church.
So now may I say this: I have also been hearing that there has been another great difference between members of this congregation for the past several years. Those differences have been deep and the feelings have been strong and very painful. I sense that there is mistrust among you and some strained relationships and there is some real woundedness. And may I say to you that that’s a lot more painful than disagreeing about whatever the President happens to have done recently. That requires some deep radical forgiveness and forgiveness is about the most difficult thing we Christians are asked to do. That requires a humility that most of us don’t begin to know about. That requires sincerely wanting the good of the other. That requires getting off our thrones and sinking deeper and deeper into some very hard places. Humility requires that we give up our fondest, long held convictions and ideas and allow for the possibility that we might be wrong and that the other might be right. Humility means that we let go of who we think we are and all the power we think we have, and take on a new gentler, identity. Jesus’ kind of humility means that we become slaves to each other.
That’s not the way anybody thinks in 2015. We are taught to look out for ourselves and to speak our minds and to stand firm in our convictions. All around us we have the example of people building walls between each other instead of bridges. We are not taught to be vulnerable with each other or consider the best for others before ourselves. We are not taught, very well, how to forgive.
So I offer you this picture of Jesus today. The picture of our baby Savior in cow box covered with rags. The picture of the Creator of the universe being spit on and beaten by those he came to save. The picture of a king hanging naked on a cross.
And the picture of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords receiving our loving praises.
We have just read about a young girl named Mary and have heard the song she sang about two thousand years ago. She sang this song when she realized that she was to be the mother of a child whom she would call Jesus.
We don’t know anything at all about Mary before she had her baby and we don’t know very much about her after she had her baby. For all we can tell, she was a young peasant girl – about thirteen or fourteen years old - in the small village of Nazareth. So let me tell you how it was in the little village of Nazareth and in the entire country of Israel about the time Jesus was born.
There were maybe about three or four hundred people in Nazareth at the time. Most of them were involved in agriculture in one way or another. There were a few who owned their own farms and there were many, many who worked those farms that belonged to others. And a few crafts people like woodworkers and potters. The families lived in small one or two room stone and mud houses clustered about an open courtyard. In that courtyard they had a shared space for cooking, grinding grain, and pressing grapes into wine. The floors were packed dirt, and the roofs were made of bundles of reeds tied together and covered over with mud. There was no sewer system. The people of Mary’s village ate mostly what they grew themselves – grain, olive oil, some fruit and a few vegetables and milk products from their sheep or goats. And maybe fish since they were not too far from the Sea of Galilee.
No matter how you looked at it, their lives were simple, and whether they ate or not depended on the rains and the weather and how the harvest was that year.
But there was also this: There was a great difference between the rich and the poor. There were a very few very wealthy people at the top of the pile. They were the ruling class and the large land owners. And there were a great many poor people at bottom of the pile. These were small farm owners and farm laborers and the people like woodworkers and potters. Below them even yet there were masses of the very poor – beggars and prostitutes and slaves. We have talked about this last week.
As you remember the entire country was under the rule of the Roman government some 2500 miles to the west and these farmers and farm workers and tradespeople were taxed. Heavily taxed, by the Romans. At harvest time there were tax collectors who showed up on threshing day to take their cut right then and there. And the tax collectors would be standing on the lakeshore as the fishermen were bringing in their catch of fish for the day – to claim what they thought was theirs. Because of these high taxes the farmers and the fishermen had to charge higher prices for the food they sold. And the poor people couldn’t afford to pay it and all over the country people were going hungry. People were going more and more into debt to the rich landowners at the top and finally they were losing their homes and land. The streets were full of people begging and many of them were disabled. The rich Romans and all of their buddies were getting richer and the people on the farms and in the villages were getting poorer and poorer. And they were powerless to do anything about it at all.
(You remember the prayer that Jesus taught us all: “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts.”)
In the best of years there were only two levels of taxes: one to the Roman emperor all the way in Rome, and another to support the local Roman king or governor of that province. And that was hard enough. But then during Mary’s lifetime, King Herod started several massive grandiose building projects in nearby Caesarea and several other places. He lived a very luxurious lifestyle in his very luxurious palaces. The ruins are still being excavated today and they were impressive indeed. And guess who had to pay for those? The very poorest of the poor of course.
When they had any shred of hope in their weary souls they would remember the promises that God had made to their ancestors to love them and care for them. When they had any time from the dismal drudgery and poverty of their lives they would think about their ancestors and how God had saved them from slavery in Egypt 1200 years earlier. They thought back to the glory days of their nation a thousand years earlier when King David was king on his thrown in Jerusalem. He had been one of the richest and strongest and most powerful kings in all the world and when he was king the boundaries of the country were the widest they have ever been. They remembered King David’s majestic throne and the temple that his son Solomon had built for God. And they remembered how God had promised that one day a descendant of the great king David would sit on that throne in Jerusalem, in all his glory.
They remembered those promises that the prophets had made to them for hundreds and hundreds of years – that God would save them from their enemies. And somewhere, in their great pain and poverty, in a little corner of their hearts, they remembered and longed for the one who would come to save them.
So Mary sings her song. She sings about the power of God. She sings about her trust in God against these powerful, unethical people who are dragging her country into poverty. She remembers the promises that God has been making again and again, for centuries and centuries to her ancestors. She sings about how she adores God and is counting on God to do great things for her. She sings about how the powerful are going to be toppled from their thrones and the rich and the proud are going to be sent away in disgrace. She sings about how the lowly will be lifted up and the poor and the hungry are going to be filled with good things. She marvels that God is going to use such an ordinary young woman like herself, of all people, to make this happen.
But thirty years passed and it looked as though none of what she sang about had happened. Her son was born and he was surely the descendant of the great King David. He was surely very popular, and spent most of his time with those who were sick or disabled or poor and hungry. He antagonized the rich and powerful and he even antagonized the religious leaders and they were threatened by him and hated him. His loyal subjects surely wanted him as their king. And on his coronation day on Palm Sunday he rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. Children were the ones who formed the procession in his honor. There wasn’t a horse and carriage or a trumpet or a royal dignitary anywhere in sight. And a few days later they killed him. The Romans and the religious leaders ganged up together and executed him. They pushed a thorny crown into his forehead until he bled, and they threw a silly royal purple robe over him. They nailed a mocking sign above his head that said “King of the Jews.” To remind everybody what happens to anybody who thinks he’d like to try to overthrow the Roman government. His mother Mary stood at the foot of his cross for six hours and watched him die. And her jubilant song about the powerful being toppled from their thrones and the rich and proud being sent away in disgrace and about how the lowly are going to be lifted up and the poor and the hungry are going to be filled with good things – her jubilant song ended in a wail as she watched her son die. Because the rich and powerful had not been toppled from their thrones and the only one who had cared about the poor and the hungry had just been executed.
Except that. Her son came back to life again. The rich and the powerful did not win. And he went back into heaven to rule the world. He sits in the glories of heaven beside his Father where he belongs and he rules the world with infinite love and great compassion.
After his resurrection and his ascension into heaven his women disciples and his men disciples sat together for fifty days, grieving. They read scripture together and prayed together and ate together day after day for fifty days and they tried to understand what had happened. His mother Mary was a part of that group. We know that for sure. And we are all but sure that she was present on that Pentecost Day. When that sorry little sad little dejected band of 120 people grew in one day to 3,000 – people from all over the world, who spoke every language. They spread the kingdom of Mary’s son to the farthest stretches of the world and to every language. They pray every day to this very day the prayer he taught us: “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
We sometimes have this idyllic Christmas card picture of shepherds and sheep – all gathered around a stable with a star shining over it and the shepherds kneeling around a manger.
But let me tell you about shepherds and sheep and goats.
Pretty much every family in Jesus’ day had either a goat or a sheep – no matter how poor they were, and a great many people had whole herds of sheep and goats. It was a matter of survival, for one thing. Sheep and goats provided milk, which was used to drink, but also to make cheese and yogurt. They provided wool for clothing and for blankets and tents and tarps and coverings of all kinds for people who were out in the weather often. The horns of goats were used for musical instruments and as containers for oil. Goat skins were saturated in fat so that they wouldn’t leak and they became water bottles. And of course, they ate the meat - usually at special religious ceremonies like Passover. Sheep were the mainstay of any family in those days, for every family, no matter how poor - and every single one of them was precious for the survival of the family. And they were also the mainstay of the economy and a good source of income for others who were more wealthy.
Now of course those who had large herds of sheep and goats hired their own shepherds to care for the sheep. But those in the villages who had only one or two sheep would band together and hire one shepherd who would be responsible for the sheep of all the people in the village. In the spring, right after the rains there was plenty of grass near the villages and the shepherds could pasture them there. At harvest time if there were shocks of grain left behind by the reapers, the sheep were allowed to feed on those. But aside from that, the shepherds would take them far out into the hills to graze. Later in the year, after the spring rains, finding fresh, still, water for their flocks was a real challenge for the shepherds.
Taking their sheep far out of the village into the hills to graze was another issue. That could be dangerous because the terrain was rocky and hilly and scrubby little buses grew there. There were also wild animals lurking about in the valley – bears and lions who loved to feast on small sheep. And sometimes sheep would wander off and get lost or fall into crevices or become injured in remote areas. So the shepherd was always vigilant and well-armed, as you can see in that picture in the bulletin. He had a staff with a crook at the end of it to help him rescue sheep in trouble, and to help him navigate the rough terrain. And he had a rod – that baseball bat-like weapon - to ward off lions and bears and jackals in the wilderness. Or men who came to steal away the sheep. And he often had to use those weapons to protect his sheep. Even to the point of his own death for the sake of the sheep in his care.
Sometimes the shepherd and his sheep would stay out overnight, in the wilds. In that case the shepherd would find a cave or sheltered area, and the sheep would sleep there for the night. Or sometimes the shepherd would gather up rocks and build a pen where the sheep would sleep. But always, the shepherd himself would lie down at night with his body across the opening, to guard the sheep from dangerous animals and men who came in the night to steal them away, and to make sure none of them escaped. And every night as the sheep came into the pen, the shepherd would carefully count each one to make sure that he hadn’t lost any of the very precious sheep in his care. And if the numbers didn’t add up, he’d go off into the night, into the wilds to find the one that was lost.
So you’re getting the point here. There is nothing elegant about a shepherd. They have rough hands and dirty fingernails and weather beaten skin and their clothes are worn and shabby and they hardly ever shave or take a bath. They are stinky and smelly and we wouldn’t want to meet them in a dark alley at night. Or any other time. They’re out in the wilderness in all kinds of bad weather, and they are often cold and in danger for their lives.
But there’s another layer to all this as well. You remember those laws about clean and unclean in the Old Testament. And about how anybody who touched dead animals was considered unclean. These shepherds messed about with dead animal carcasses all the time. Which meant they were considered “unclean” and the normal population would steer well clear of them. Nobody wanted to touch them or have much contact with them for fear of becoming “unclean” themselves. So they were isolated and separated from the rest of the community.
Not the kind of people whom you would expect to be invited to the birthday of a Savior King. But yet, there they were crowded in that barn, adoring that baby Savior King. Angels sang to them, no less. The glory of the Lord shown on them, no less. They were the first witnesses to the birth of that king. For two thousand years people have been writing songs about them and singing songs about them and telling stories about them.
And I’m looking at all of you this morning, and I don’t suppose that any of you have ever been invited to the birthday of a king or princess or prince, either. I’m looking at people who do their jobs faithfully at work and at home: for the good of the company or the good of the community or the care of children and adults in need. Or you go about in your retirement doing things for the good of your family or the good of your friends or this community.
I’m looking at people whose Bibles are worn from use and fat from all the notes that are stuck into them over the years. I am looking at people in this church who type the minutes of meetings and distribute them. I’m looking at women who have just made a multitude of dozens of cookies and have sold them. I’m looking at people who bring huge bundles of toilet paper and giant boxes of cereal for families in this community. I’m looking at people who will be contributing to our Presbyterian Christmas Joy Offering in a few days and who contribute generously to God through this congregation every month. I’m looking at a group of people who take care of this church building and regulate the heat and see that the snow is shoveled. I’m looking at a man who changes the sign in front of this church every week, and at a woman who types our bulletin. And a whole lot of people who send emails and make phone calls and handle a bunch of details to make sure that the ministries of this church are carried out well.
There is nothing so very glamorous about bringing toilet paper or typing bulletins. Or making cookies or changing church signs or adjusting thermostats. In the course of world affairs and historical events, most of what we do is not the least bit note-worthy. And we would not expect that toilet paper bringers and cookie bakers would be invited to the birthday of a king. But we have been.
Because you see: the money that the cookie bakers make will go to causes that Jesus would be thrilled about. That sign invites people and their children to worship and snow shovelers and the thermostat adjusters make that possible and the Glory of God shines on them.
Luke is setting the stage very early in his Gospel about who the Savior king is and what kind of kingdom he brings with him. That’s the secret of the Upside Down kingdom of God where everything is the opposite of what we would expect. The new Savior King is born in a barn and sleeps in a wooden cow box with rags over him. His mother is a woman with no royal pedigree at all whom nobody has ever heard of. Angels sing to shepherds, of all people. And the Glory of God shines on them. The heroes of the story are the unwashed and smelly and the ones with filthy fingernails and grubby feet. They are the ones who see him and adore him.
That’s the upside down kingdom of God for you. Where everything is the opposite of what you would expect and where the heroes are the least likely people in all the world. Where the heroes are the shepherds and the toilet paper bringers and cookie bakers.
That’s Jesus’ grand and glorious kingdom. That’s what we’re a part of.
That’s where the joy is this Christmas.
Matthew 3:1-12 (and Luke 3:1-20)
No matter how you look at it, John was a remarkable character and that’s putting it mildly.
His birth was remarkable. His parents were old and had been unable to conceive a child. Before he was born, an angel appeared out of the blue and spoke to his father – predicting great things about a child that was to be born to him. And when Zechariah seemed a little skeptical, he was rendered speechless. For nine months. If you ever heard of anything so strange.
His appearance was remarkable. About the year 26 A.D. when all the other Jewish men were wearing the long robes and tunics that we see in pictures, John wore animal skins with a leather belt tied around his waist to hold them all together. When good ordinary Jewish people were living in cities or villages, John was camped out in a remote wilderness area on the other side of the Jordan River far from any civilization or any decent roads. When other Jews were eating fish and lamb and bread and dates and grapes and olives, John was eating grasshoppers.
What John said was remarkable – very much like those fiery prophets of hundreds of years earlier who had dire warnings for God’s people. He said to people, “You have forgotten who you are. You have forgotten that you are God’s people. You have forgotten the promises God made to you – to love you and be your God and to care for you. You have forgotten the solemn promises you made in return to God at Mount Sinai – when your ancestors nodded their heads and sincerely promised to obey the commandments God gave them. Shame on you,” he said. “Shame on you.” And he called them to remember who they were and to remember who their God was and to turn around and change their ways. And some of them did, and they confessed their sins and were baptized.
And what he was doing was utterly remarkable, given the time. People of all sorts were streaming from Jerusalem some twenty miles away to hear what John had to say and to walk into the Jordan River with him and be baptized. He was attracting huge crowds of all kinds of people who were listening to what he had to say and believing what he had to say. And that made the Roman King Herod very nervous. That there should be these mass gatherings of Jews in some remote area perhaps plotting some sort of rebellion and overthrow of the occupation Roman soldiers. That made Herod and the other Roman governors and kings very nervous indeed.
So let me tell you a little about life in that place and in about the year 25 or 30 A.D.
We have talked last week about the fact that the entire county was under Roman rule. The citizens were forced to pay outrageous taxes to the Roman government. There were taxes to use the roads as we saw last week and taxes on almost everything else as well. And the tax takers were unethical and they gouged the poor and got rich themselves in the process. There were Roman soldiers stationed all over the country and these soldiers did as occupying soldiers sometimes do – they mistreated the women and threatened the men and they stole food and property from the Jews and demanded bribes. The Romans were foreclosing peoples’ homes and farms and businesses out from under them and leaving families homeless and without an income. What they did was perfectly legal, of course, because they wrote the laws, but it was grossly immoral and they were despised.
But here’s the tricky part in all of this. There were some Jews – leading citizens among the Jews - who were collaborating with the Romans in all this unethical and immoral behavior. Some of them were leading laymen in the synagogue. Others of them were actually priests and religious leaders in the synagogue. The Romans needed their help to keep the population under control. They were the recognized leaders in the Jewish community and they were the only ones who could keep the peace when the Jewish citizens were outraged and things might have gotten to the boiling point. And these religious leaders were desperate to save their own skins in a very dangerous time - so they did what they did. They collaborated with the Romans. We do not envy them. In our story for today Matthew tells us what John said to those religious leaders – these Scribes and Pharisees - when he saw them coming. He calls them out loudly. He calls them a nest of snakes. He blasts these religious leaders because they have not protected the people who should be able to trust them.
And he says to them all: here’s what you have to do. If you have two coats you need to give one to somebody who has none. To the tax collectors he said, “Don’t collect any more tax money than is legitimate.” To the soldiers he said, “Don’t extort money by threats or false accusations.” To the religious leaders he said, “Let me see that you have sincerely repented by changing your ways.”
Now I am looking at a group of people sitting in a very lovely sanctuary in a very respectable small city. And I doubt that I am looking at murderers. I doubt that any of you have ever stolen much of anything. I see that you honor God and keep the Sabbath by being here and I have already heard the beautiful stories of how you care for your families lovingly and faithfully. So it’s not so much that we have flagrantly disobeyed those Ten Commandments. It’s not so much that that we are repenting of today. (At least that’s not what I want to talk about today.)
It’s more that we are shamed and pained by the world we live in today. Our world is battered and bruised and it shames us and pains us that we are a part of it. There really are children in our community who take sack lunch suppers home from school every day because there’s no supper waiting for them in their homes. There really are children and adults in this community who don’t have warm winter coats and mittens and gloves. And this congregation responds generously to those needs. I told you a couple of weeks ago now how blown away I have been to see what this congregation does for people in need, and how proud I am to be your brand-new, temporary, part-time pastor. And the Christmas Joy offering is coming up shortly and I bet I will be surprised, once again, at your generosity.
But it is our shame and our pain that there should any children in our community who go home to empty cupboards and no supper. Our world is a place where people are dying every day from preventable, treatable diseases. Our world is a place where terrorist soldiers are coming into homes and abducting and killing civilians and where countless people are simply disappearing. Even today, troops are occupying countries and doing what occupation troops do. Armed men are kidnapping school girls. Refugee camps are overflowing with normal citizens just like us who have been forced to leave their homes or be captured and killed. Our world is a place where children are killing other children and suicide bombers are blowing themselves up in public places and where police officers are shooting citizens. In this country our government doesn’t work and the ones who are supposed to be caring for us are not, and people are suffering because of it. Our world is a place where trash is piling up faster than we can learn to recycle. And none of that is what God intends for us and all of it is painful and shameful to us. And you can add your own list of what we are pained and shamed about. And what we need to repent of.
And it’s all the harder because you and I are not the ones abducting school girls in Nigeria. And we are not the ones who are blowing ourselves up in public places and you and I don’t have the expertise or education for treating or finding cures for malaria or Ebola or cancer.
But we are intelligent, thoughtful people in this world community where those kinds of things are happening. We are the hands and feet and minds and voices of Jesus in this world. And we bear responsibility for what happens in our world.
So we persist. In the tiny ways we can. We do not give up. And every once in a while we persist in large ways.
And today we are reminded of those very brave pastors in Germany in 1934 who openly opposed Adolph Hitler and his immoral policies. They said, and we read it just now: “As a church of pardoned sinners, we have to testify in the midst of a sinful world.”
Sometimes our testimony is very soft. Sometimes it seems that there is precious little we can do or say to have any effect against the sin so far away from us. Sometimes the Powers seem stronger than we are, and larger than we are. And sometimes we are a little tired.
And if you are a little tired, I can understand that. Many of you have carried this congregation through hard times for a long time, and you have done that with unfailing commitment and I can well imagine that you are little weary. You have worked long and hard in this community and done good and spoken in Jesus’ name in ways that have made an impact for good. And it might be that you are little weary of so much well-doing.
So come to this Table for your rejuvenation and your refreshment. Sit with your Savior in the quiet of this sanctuary. Take that tiny piece of bread and that sip of juice. And in that way that I can never quite understand or describe, let them renew you for the work ahead. Remember Jesus’ death and draw on the strength and courage that Jesus provides. And then add your voice and your mind and your hands and feet to address the shame and the pain that we live among. In this world that God created good.