Monday, December 24, 2012

Luke 1:46-55 Mary's Song, cont."Santa's Christmas Lullaby Life" Christmas Eve, Advent 2012

On Sunday we heard about Mary's song and considered it a lullaby to her baby, tonight we continue with this song and imagine her singing sweetly, softly to her baby Jesus. Maybe as he lay in the manger Mary again sang a sweet melody over her Baby, a melody like so many mother before her sang and so many after sang. She sang to calm her child, and keeping with tradition, to ward off the evil Lilith, a mythical demon who devours children in Hebrew folk lore. The words of this lullaby she remembers so well. Words that Jesus himself would preach in his first public sermon at Synagogue in Nazareth, "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 favour." Tonight we hear these worlds parallel to each other, from the mouth of Mary, the new Mother and in the background voice of Jesus, who's life fulfills them. 

Tonight the wait is over. The baby Jesus, whom we've been waiting for over these long, busy and even tragic weeks of Advent has arrived. For our children the wait hasn't been so much for the the symbolic arrival of a baby, but the very practical arrival of a rather large, jolly, white bearded man in a red suite....thats right...ole St. Nick! Now St. Nick, or St. Nicolas of Myra, was a real person who did a lot of the same things we credit his folk personality for. He was a rich man who inherited a large sum of money after his parents death. He was also a devote Christian who rose up through the ranks of the church to become Bishop of Myra. St. Nicholas was even present as one of the churches "chief theologians" summoned by Emperor Constantine  at the council of Nicaea to lay the foundations for Orthodox Christianity, but none of this went to St. Nicolas' head. Instead he gave all his wealth away, not all at once, but little by little, to deserving needy people and families. He is said to have purchased young girls freedom from the sex slave trade, purchased pardons for those sentenced to die, who's chief crime was being desperate. He bought grain, paid leases and provided clothing for the most vulnerable of societies population. He was also know to purchase grave sites and tombs for the poor's dead, because if a poor person died and was unable to purchase a grave or tomb, their remains were either thrown out of the city for wild animals or burned up at the city dump. How sad would it be if we could not visit the grave of our loved ones and remember them? St. Nicolas embodied the lullaby of Christmas in his life and he challenges us to do the same in our life.

There's a story about an old organist who was asked to play at one last wedding. He was very hard of hearing, but could still play well enough to preform despite this. As the bride was getting closer to the sanctuary door the wedding planner tried vigorously to get the old organists attention, but to no avail. Finally the wedding planner yelled out his name, "Neil!!, Neil!!! Neillll!!!! And so everyone in the church got on their knees and knelt down. This evening I invite you, the Christmas Child invites you to kneel before the manger and sing....and live Mary's sweet Lullaby of Heaven.

Merry Christmas,
The Reverend Josheua E. Blanchard and Family

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Luke 1:46-66 "Mary's Sweet, Heavenly Lullaby" From the series "The waiting season" Advent 4

All of us parents remember how little sleep we got during the first few months, some of you the first few years, when our kids were babies. Babies cry at night and they wake us up and instinctively we respond to  our babies cries. It's even more instinctive in women and it doesn't necessarily have to be our baby, it could be any baby or child that seems distressed or hurt or troubled and we respond in an attempt to help that child. This is why news of last weeks shooting at an elementary school, in class rooms full of 6 and 7 year olds...really babies, was so troubling to so many of use. I'm still terribly effected by the events and so are many of you. It's the idea that there are children in harms way, it could be our children or someone else children and you and I would risk life and limb to save them....It's a God given instinct.

There are several ways that parents help sooth crying babies today. There are teddy bears that mimic womb nosies. The are battery powered mobiles that sing and flash lights and images on the ceiling for baby to listen to and stare at until she falls asleep. Some of the more tried and true methods include driving around the neighbor in the middle of the night, rocking baby to sleep in the rocking chair and of course the first thing any of us do is change and feed and most the time that does it, but if it does not we are left to the process of idea's mentioned above.

One of the oldest and still most used ways of calming a child is the lullaby. The lullaby has been around for ever, long before womb sound making bears and car rides at 2am was the lullaby. People from all across the world and at all different times in history used the lullaby to help sooth baby and put him back to sleep, so mommy can go back to sleep :). Despite the mellow tunes and calming melodies of the lullaby, sometime the lyrics can be a bit concerning, "rock a bye baby in the tree tops, when the bow breaks the cradle will drop, and down will come baby cradle and all." A baby falling out of a tree down to the ground is a bit disturbing...right? But for the most part the songs are soft and gentle and soothing.

In our passage this week we find whats called the "Magnificant" that is Mary's song of praise upon hearing the good news. I like to think of it as a lullaby, the baby Jesus's first lullaby. Science has proven the amazing effects that reading, singing and playing music can have on babies in-utero.  And like many other lullabies this song has some unpleasant lyrics, at least for the trouble makers of the world.

Many historians agree that the etymology of the lullaby is found in the Hebrew tradition of Lilith. Lilith is said to be Adams first wife and because of her desire to be equal to her husband was exiled from the garden and then God created for Adam another wife Eve. That wife didn't turn out so well for Adam either, so God assumed that it was Adams fault and left it at that. Since Lilith was disgraced she made a pact with Satan and became a demon who would get even with mankind by stealing or devouring mankind's children. So it became a tradition that whenever a baby could not be consoled by food or changing or the touch of it's mother it was Lilith disturbing the baby and so the mothers would sing over their babies the Lilit-abde or the "Lilith begone" prayer. It was part comforting and part warning, it was said to calm the child, but also to plant in the heart of the child a warning that evil is real and that it is often just one word or action away.

Mary's lullaby to the baby Jesus served as both too. She sang prayers of praise and encouragement, but also warnings of what will come with the growth of her child. She sang that oppression would stop, that the powers of this world would be challenged and that the wealthy of this world would have their riches taken from them. All these things are very frightening for the those named as well as for the one who will accomplish them. The powerful don't like being told no, the rich don't like being told they have to share and the oppressors of the world don't like having to treat others as their equal, but this is the melody of Mary's lullaby.

This last Sunday of advent gives way to the birth of our savior, but remarkably enough only 4months from now we will be morning his death, but celebrating his resurrection. I pray that Mary's song will serve as a warning in our lives that the more like Christ we live, the more powerful and important people we are bound to upset. Also I pray that it will serve as a source of comfort to all that there will be justice and that we will be saved from oppression, fear and death. I invite you to join us Christmas eve to hear the rest of the story and to sing with us sweet lullabies of hope.

Merry Christmas,
Pastor Josh

Friday, December 14, 2012

"And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." A gospel response to a horrid moment.

What is a "gospel" response to the tragedy  that tore through the small community of Newtown, CT today? Gospel, meaning Good News, what "Good News" could their possibly be? All I hear, all you hear is bad news, horror, evil, pain, suffering and tragedy...not good news. But this evening, as I sit in my home office, heart hurting for the parents who lost children the same age as Amanda and I's baby Rowan, I have to believe there is gospel. Many people this evening especially the families of the murdered children are asking why, why God, why innocent children, why does this always happen to the innocent? This is a fair and just question and God is not afraid of the "Why?" Why didn't God stop him, why does God allow all this to happen, why do evil people prosper? This is a question the Psalmist asked 1000's of years ago and a question that has been asked for as long as there has been time.

First of all I'd like to say that God is not responsible, that this is not God's will, this is not God's judgement on our nation. If you hear a minister say this or imply this, call bull shit, because that is precisely what it is. We make our own choices, we are all given free will and chose whether or not to be bearers of heaven or hell everyday. This all goes back to the lesson the bible teaches us through the story of Adam and Eve. God gives us boundaries and then gives us the freedom to live with in those boundaries or cross them. Each choice, whether to live with in them, or to violate them comes with consequences and the consequences are heaven or hell. Please don't mistake what I am saying as some religious cleche about choosing to spend eternity in heaven or in hell, because thats not what this is about. This is about real life choices that we all make everyday either bring us and those around us hell or bring them heaven or in Jesus words. "the kingdom of God."

I prefer the term "reign of God." A life or away of living that demonstrates and incarnates the will of a loving and benevolent God. This evening we ask, "where is this benevolent God?", we'll get to that in a bit, but first we need to understand how people can be so evil and why innocence suffer. Again, it goes back to Adam and Eve and a choice...heaven or hell. Adam and Eve were given heaven and they shared that heaven together. They worked together and lived for God and for each other. They were given the limitation of only being forbidden from one fruit and they both knew the limitation and perhaps lived with the limitation for years, decades, centuries maybe. How? They bore the burden of that limitation together. One day they chose to no longer live for God and each other, they chose to to live for themselves and to ignore the needs of each other. Yes the snake temped them, maybe this was the first time, maybe it was the 1millionth time, but this time they took the bate and while Adam looked on Eve crossed the boundary, and right afterward Adam crossed it willingly himself. Adam knew what Eve was doing would hurt her, he know it would have dire consequences, yet he stood their and let her destroy herself and as if that was not enough Eve knowing what she had done was evil, invited Adam to join her and he did so with out reservation!!! They stopped living for God and most significantly, they stopped living for each other. They became drunk with self desire and hubris and they not only ruined there individual lives, but each others lives and every life around them. They effectively turned the heaven around them into a living hell.

We do this everyday. Everyday we chose, not just for ourselves, but for everyone around us, heaven or hell. Why does evil happen, why do the innocent suffer, because of this truth. People, not God, not Satan, people chose to live out heaven or hell and an unfortunate consequence of those choices is that the other people around us are often effected by either our heaven or our hell. We can blame society, we can call for stronger gun laws, which I am in favor of, we can do all these things, but until we realize just how connected we are, and just how much our choices effect each other, this will never change. So what's the good news I promised earlier? It's this. Jesus said to Peter, who upon a profession of faith, a profession that stated that Jesus was the answer, or better...the way, that it was upon this "way"that God would build God's kingdom and, are you ready for this, for this is the good news, the gates of hell will not prevail!! There you have it. The good news is that no matter how evil, no matter how tragic, no matter how much hell an individual or group perpetrates or perpetuates, it can never over come love. When evil strikes, when the unthinkable like 20, 4 and 5 year olds, are gunned down in cold blood, God is there and heaven is one word, action or event away.

This weekend and in the weeks to follow we will discuss, argue and morn over this event, but I hope more than anything we can learn from it. Learn that our actions, that our choices have consequence, not just for us, but for other as well. The "way" that Jesus speaks of, is a life lived loving God and most importantly and most prevalent, loving each other. If we loved as Jesus taught us, if we bore each others burdens and carried each others limitation, we would never taste hell. Let us push back the gates of hell with love, charity, kindness and grace and trust that no matter how the evil may prosper, it will never prevail against love.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Philippians 4:4-7 "Wait A Minute!!" From the series: "The waiting season" Advent 3, 2012

One of my favorite pet peeves of our modern world  is the depersonalization of society. Banks, stores, customer service centers, even the services providers such as cable, satellite and cell phones all have instituted cost saving measures that limit the amount of people they need to handle customers service issues. When you call, instead of a person, you get an automated system and a menu of choices that never seem to really "hit the nail on the head" when it comes to the reason you called. After amount 10 minutes of cycling through the menu you finally get the privilege of waiting for a "customer service representative" who is often not the most happy and pleasant person you've spoken to all day. This is all a sign of the relational break down of our society. And it's not like we really mind, we enjoy the cheeper rates that automated systems provide, we also enjoy the convinces of other impersonal services we use everyday.

We with draw money from an ATM, instead of going into the bank, we order food on-line, instead of calling in our order, or better yet eating in the store. I can't count how many of my friends and Amanda's friends who have met their spouses through on-line dating sites, instead of the old fashion way, at work, church, social clubs or even the bar. On-line dating services are a perfect examples of this. On-line dating services like and do all the heavy lifting for you. They weed out the people who are not like you and present only the people with like personalities and values. There's nothing wrong with that, but people use to have to do that themselves and actually interact with people that might end up not liking. eHarmony prides it's self in being a place where busy people can go and meet Mr. or Ms. Right. Another example is Facebook and twitter. Crazy things get posted on Facebook. Things people would never say to or about each other in person, but cyberspace is so impersonal it's easy. And the same thing can be said for e-mails and txts. We just shoot them off half cocked, from the hip and don't even take the time to wait and see how we feel about the situation 20minutes later!

One of the most personal and relational times we have each year is Christmas. Christmas is, in my opinion, the last relational bulwark in our society, but even thats under threat. Internet shopping, cyber gift giving and places like the iStore and other content universes (google, amazon, etc.) make it easy to purchase and give a gift without ever even talking to the merchant and even worse, the recipient of the gift. But for now on-line shopping and other impersonal things like that still pale in comparison to traditional forms of shopping. During the Christmas season we are out and about! In the malls, downtown, and at department stores. We wish passer bye a "merry Christmas and a happy new year." We smile at the cashier and tell her stores about our children, siblings, spouse or parents and why we are buying this item for them. It truly is a time for rejoicing and a time for relationships!!

In our passage this week St. Paul admonishes the church in Philippi to rejoice!!! It is such a good suggestion that he says it twice, "rejoice, again I say rejoice." What did the angles say when they appeared to the shepherds? Rejoice!!! It's the same idea. Paul's reasoning for encouraging the Philippians and us to rejoice is the same reason the Angles said rejoice, because Christ is with us!! Another reason Paul was rejoicing was because of the relationships he enjoyed, even the relationship he had with the Philippians. Even while in prison Paul maintained meaningful relationships and what was at the heart of these relationships? Christ.

You know there are three types of relationships we work on; inward, outward and upward. During Advent and Christmas the upward and inward are easiest, but the outward suffers. Really during anytime of the year the outward can suffer, but when we are busiest we are most hurried and according to preacher, author and pastor Charles Stanley "hurried is the number one enemy of relationships." We get so hurried during the Christmas season our outward relationships, the ones that matter the most during this season, suffer the most. And it's ironic too. Advent is a season of waiting, a moment of eager yet paientent longing and we call it the "busiest time of the year."

Let me ask you, do you know the color of your doctors eyes? How about the name of the girl who checks you out at Toms, or the Shell station? Do you know the name of the baby that your waitress delivered? If not, maybe you need to slow down. Former Speaker of the house Sam Rayburn said "the tree most important words in the english language are not I love you, but wait a minute." This Advent season, don't be in such a hurry, take time and wait a minute to minister to others and to hear from God.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Luke 3:1-20, "Provenance of Faith." From the series, "The Waiting Season." Advent 2, 2012, year C

Theres a town on I-90 that cuts through the heart of the Dakota's. It's name is Wall, SD and it is home to the almost famous Wall Drug Store. Wall drug was a store that was begun in the 1930's by the Huestead family, who moved to Wall, SD because they wanted both a small town to live and raise their family in and a small town with a Catholic Church in which they could grow in and express their faith. When they first opened the store it struggled, but then when Mt Rushmore opened, Ted Huestead, that is the family patriarch, had an idea that would draw weary tourist to their small town. You see Wall, SD is "on the way" to Mt Rushmore and it can get pretty hot in the summer months in the Dakota's, so Ted purposed to offer free Ice Water and bathrooms to all who came through Wall on their way to the new National Monument. People came for the Ice water and toilets, but ended up buying ice cream, doughnuts, coffee and post cards as well. Ted, or Mr. Heaustead, realized that they might be in the middle of nowhere, but they were also on the way to somewhere and because of this his family, life and business thrived and still thrive to this day. This is where we find ourselves this second week of Advent. We are kind of in the middle of nowhere, having just begun our Advent journey, but most importantly we are still on our journey to somewhere very special...Bethlehem and the birth of a savior.

In this weeks passage Luke gives us a sort of "who's who" in Roman and Judean political and religious life. He mentions Emperor Tiberius, Governor Pontus Pilot, Herod The Tetrarch and the Chief High Priest Annas, who's son-in-Law Caiaphas would be the one to condemn Jesus of Nazareth in his last days. There's several reasons for this "rundown". One reason is to give an account of those who, in all their political power and authority, stood to disrupt God's plan of salvation for the world and to point out that what God has decided to do, no man can stop. The other reason is our focus for this week. Why does Luke name all these historical figures, why does it matter, really, who ruled where and when? It's called provenance and it's a form of authentication. You see all the rulers, the soldiers, even the account of John the Baptists prove that the story of Jesus' life really happened.

Currently there are over 19 reality shows on TV that have to do with pickers, pawn shop owners and storage locker auctions. Why? Because behind all the junk, theres a story. Each piece of junk or collection of stuff has with it a story of who it belonged to, how it got there and what it's for and we love stories! The most popular of theses shows is PBS's Antique Road Show. Each episode viewers tune in and see how a $50 dollar chair, or doll, or set of spoons turn out to be worth $50,000!!! How does this happen? Provenance, the process in which the assessor authenticates the item as being unique turning a garage sale item into a museum piece!

Did you know at the dedication or "concentration" of every Roman Catholic church there is the reliquary present? A reliquary is a box or case of some sort filled with the bones, clothing, or something closely associated with the canonized saint that the church is being named for. Since the authenticity of many relics over the years have been disputed, the church now requires provenance for the relics. A hand written note or some other form of documentation that comes from Rome that authenticates the item or items as "true and faithful relics". It's not good enough now to simply say the item is sacred or even believe it to be sacred, it must be proven to be sacred.

This is again, Luke's purpose. To offer provenance for the life, ministry and death of Jesus Christ, to authenticate his existence and therefore prove God's plan for humanity. The authority, the geographic location and even the witness of John the Baptist, all authenticate the work of Christ in this world. So question? Where and what is your faith provenance? What authenticates faith in your life? Is it seen in how you work, what you say, how you give, and in the way you treat others? Or does your faith lack provenance? Everyone who calls themselves a Christian must be able to authenticate their faith, must have what we Methodist call "assurance", knowing, that you know, that you know that God has forgiven you and all that takes is repentence. This advent season seek God while he may be found and find ways to authenticate your faith.

Blessed Advent 2,
Pastor Josh