Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Simple church sermon four, "How May we SERVE you?", John 13:1-17

A recent USA Today article indicated that hospitals and health systems were paying for their doctors to take acting lessons. Not so that they could look and sound like George Cluny or Noah Wylie from ER, but so that the could at lest pretend to be sympathetic towards the suffering and needs of their paitence. The study that lead to this idea of acting lessons for doc's found that most doctors have a difficult time relating to their patience needs and concerns doctors especially had difficulty sympathizing with their less "economically upward mobile" patience (a.k.a poor people). Interestingly enough the study remained grounded in that it did not include surgeons citing that, "surgeons were a lost cause in this area.":) This is not unusual. Service/Compassion "industry" professionals like doctors, social workers, counselors and clergy often erect walls to distance themselves from patiences, clients and parishioners...especially the most "needy" of these. Why? Because after awhile of putting heart and soul into ever case, every illness and every funeral, compassion professionals begin to feel overwhelmed and over burdened by the very people they desire to help most. An example of this from my life comes in the form of helping through local missions. While in seminary I spent countless hours and resources helping the most needy in my community in OK. Needless to say I got burned more than once by the same people. After coming to Onaway I was determined to not be so gullible, but instead be honest about the people asking for help. It wasn't long before I found myself in the same situation that I found myself in OK, helping people who where not interested in helping themselves, or for a better use of words "seeking change". I had to make decisions about how and when and what kind of situations I would, we would help as a church. People called all the time needing help with electric bills, phone bills, gas bills and so on, but the ones I choose to never help where the ones who called the day before the bill was due, the hour before they had to be at the appointment and the last second folks. It was difficult for me to say no to these people. I want to help everyone, but people who are not interested in helping themselves or interested in planning maybe need to fail. To be able to say that and think that for me takes a certain amount of callousing, but perhaps a needed amount in order to protect myself and our church.

When I was in high school we read a book by S.E. Hinton called "The Outsiders." It was a coming of age novel, that I'm sure many of you have read or at least seen the movie. One of the most powerful moments in the book was when Johnny and Pony Boy rush into a burning church to save some children who had become trapped by the blaze. On his way out of the burning building wood beams fell on Johnny and trap him. Though Darry saved Johnny he suffered a broken back and serious burns and ultimately died from his injuries. We've all heard stories like this, where people risk life and limb in order to save others. A mother who lifts a tree up off her trapped children, a husband who is able to pick up a car in order to save his wife and people running in to burning buildings to save others while everyone else is trying to run out. When these great feats of heroism are over and those people are asked, "what was going through your mind at the time?" they often reply by saying, "Nothing, I just acted."

Our passage this week is a passage, in the words of my Systematic Theology Professor, Dr. Chun, is "Pregnant with divine action and possibility." It's a passage of faith in action. Another demonstration by Jesus that shows his disciples how they ought to act. One could say, Jesus is offering us "acting lessons." This passage has been used in various ways over the years and also interpreted in many ways as well. The Gospel of John is the only gospel to not have any formal recounting of the Lords Supper (it's just implied). It is also the only gospel to place this event prior to the passover, unlike the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) which have the last supper as being a passover meal, John has this supper as prior to the passover so that Jesus is being crucified the day that all the passover lambs are being slaughtered, i.e Jesus as the Lamb of God. In the place of a formal recounting of the Lords Supper is a different kind of ritual, foot washing. Many denominations, such as holiness churches, Mennonite churches, Moravian Churches and certain Baptist Churches would consider this act as a "Sacrament". Though they might not use those words because their tradition doesn't "have sacraments" they it is seen as an ordinance, or something ordained by Jesus to be done by his disciples, i.e Communion and Baptism and Foot Washing. Many of these churches have foot washing as part of their communion ritual. My friend Joel Watts, who is now a United Methodist New Testament Scholar came from a tradition that washed feet before communion and he said, "It wasn't communion without foot washin'" In the Mennonite tradition before sharing Holy Communion you are to go to a person or persons in the church who you have offended or who has offended you (someone you're really mad at!!!) and wash their feet while asking for their forgiveness.

The history behind this act is fairly simple. When a room was rented for a celebration or  a meal the servant, who was included in the price of rental, the one who set the table, brought the food and cleaned up the mess, was also required to help clean the guest up. One of those requirements was to wash the guests feet. This was a filthy and humiliating job. They wore sandals everywhere and there was live stock every where so you can image how dirty their feet must have been. This was such a nasty job that according to Jewish law a Jewish master could not require his Jewish servant to wash his feet, but he could his gentile servant. What Jesus did was take the place of the gentile servant and make himself the lowest of the low. It was such a disturbing act that Peter begged Jesus to not debase himself in such away, but Jesus reassured him that what he was doing was needed in order for them to "become like there master." Some scholars believe it was symbolic of baptism since there is also no baptism scene in John, but since it's likely that they all had already been baptized as a requirement for discipleship this is most likely something different. Jesus follows up this act by saying, "No student is greater than his teacher." Thats what this passage means. Jesus is our teacher and we his students and he has set for us an example of servanthood, in fact a form of humiliation as well. If you are going to be a disciple be ready to serve and serve in ways that might make you uncomfortable.

Have you ever heard of the Methodist Miracle? It's a story about a man who attended a United Methodist Church his whole life, both him and his wife attended there and raised their children there as well. Sadly the mans wife died and he returned to that church for the first time in over a year. He looked down the sanctuary aisle and saw the seat him and his wife shared for all those years. He walked forward and sat down. Another couple, who were new to the church, saw the man sitting alone looking sad and got up out of their pew and moved forward 6 rows in order to sit next to the man and comfort him. Now the miracle is two fold, the first part of the miracle is the miracle of a compassionate servents heart that was sensitive enough to see the mans need and compel the couple to move forward and comfort the man with the ministry of "presence". The second miracle is the miracle that Methodists actually left their familiar pew in order to move closer to the front of the church...willingly. :)

This week we complete our conversation on discipleship. The last step of making life long disciples is serving others. We cannot even hope to be the kind of disciples Jesus wants without serving others. This is the last stop in our house. We have invited and been invited into the foyer were we connect through worship, then the living room where we grow through studying God's word together and now we're in that place where all the action happens, the kitchen. It's where temperatures get hot, tempers flare and where things are made. Our main way of serving our community is through community dinner. My hope is that community dinner becomes more of an outreach and less of a fellowship. I believe in community dinner as being a prime way for us to serve and evangelize our community, after all it was at dinner tables where in Jesus ministry lives were most radically changed. Take Zacheus for example. He was a thief, a liar and a cheat, yet around the dinner table with Christ he repented and changed his life saying, "to whomever I have cheated I will give back double!" and "I will give half of all my possessions to the poor!"

This morning we will again meet at the table with Jesus Christ, many of us for the 1millionth time it seems, but for some of you, for the first time. This is where lives are transformed. If you have not yet made Jesus your savior I with the host of this meal, Jesus himself, invite you to discipleship.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Simple Church, Sermon Three, "Come and Grow with us.", 2 Peter 3:14-18

At the end of last school year all three of my sons brought home live plants. They weren't fully matured bushes or flower, they were, of course, small bean plants in small dixie cups. This was the case when I was a young boy in early elementary. It's a common way to teach children about life and growth and nurture and nature. The bean plants will, eventually, sprout buds and produce fruit, but it often takes to long for young children and they complain about how long it's taking for the plant to grow. My youngest son Rowan, who was 4 at the time, was convinced that the plant was broken and needed to be thrown out simply because it was taking to long to bear fruit. Often we, as adult have the same kind of impatience when it come to waiting for things to finish, mature or grow. One of my greatest regrets is ever saying, "I wish they were older" about my sons. It seemed like when they were babies I couldn't wait for them to get bigger so they were a bit more independent, now I wish they were babies again ;).

It's hard to wait, especially now. We live in a society were instant gratification is expected and is perceived as a right...."your way, right away." It's nice to have it that way, but it makes for a society of impatience folks who lack character and discipline. My friend David tells a story about the time he and his family bought a parrot. They bought it young, that way it was cheeper. Fully grown Parrots can cost hundreds of dollars!!! David tells about how long it seemed to take for the bird to grow up and be mature enough to mimic, but eventually after 5 year or so it was able to.  Of course he was never able to get it to say hi, or repeat it's name, all it was ever able to mimic was the beeping of the microwave when it had finished cooking. ;)  He says either the bird was slow, the owners where inept at training the bird, or they ate to many meals to quickly and did not take time to grow as a family and a couple.  My Seminary roommate Paul (We was an ELCA Lutheran) made his own beer with a do-it-yourself brew kit that he had gotten one year for Xmas. Finding and mixing the ingredients for the beer was easy he said, it was the brewing part that proved to complicated. He said it took so long for the beer to brew that he would often get impatient and open it up and drink it and he said it was horrible!!! Had he only had the courage to be patient and to wait for the beer to age and mature it would have tasted fine. This problem with tolerating the growing and maturing process in our society seems to be a prevailing one, but in the words of the Heinz Ketchup people, "Good things come to those who wait."

Our passage this week deals with some of the primitive churches issues with waiting, growing and transforming.  Peter is writing to some Xian's who are getting antsy about the "Parousia" or the return of Christ. Many early Xian's believed that christ was going to return with in the generation of the Apostles and as they begin to die, so did many of the hopes that Jesus would ever return. So some "false teachers", as Peter calls them, begin teaching that Jesus is never coming back and that all this goody two shoes stuff that they had been doing was of no avail and that they should all just do what makes them happy. Peters response to these liars is to remind the church that Jesus is indeed returning, it's just that we don't know when. Peter goes on to say that Jesus's lack of return is not God's lack of interest in the church, but instead God's willingness to be patient and let it grow. To allow us to be perfected completely, what us Methodists, holiness or Main-line, call entire sanctification. It takes time for good things to grow and just because we don't see it right away, like Rowan wanting to through away the plant cause it didn't grow fast enough, or like Paul always ending the brewing process a bit to early for the beer to ferment, we shouldn't give up or stop!

The next step in our discipleship process is growing, and growing can take time. If we want to make disciples we need to provide opportunities for people to grow in their faith. Gallup recently released a poll on religion and spirituality in America. 70% of Americans believe that most churches are ineffective at helping people find meaning in life. The administrators of the poll complied the top six things that people said they needed from the church to make it effective. They are:

1. To believe life is meaningful and has a purpose.
2. To have sense of community and deeper relationships.
3. To be appreciated and respected.
4. To be listened to and heard.
5. To feel that one is growing in the faith.
6. To have practical help in developing a mature faith.

Two out of the six directly have to do with growing in faith.  People are hungry for real meaningful faith and deep spirituality and the churches that provide it are the churches making disciples and growing.

At my Churches in Onaway and Millersburg we have plenty of seemingly great ways to grow. We have UMW's (United Methodist Women), we have a prayer service in the Summer, Fall and Spring, we have a coffee hour after church every Sunday, but we don't have very many new DISCIPLES. Why? Because those things, as awesome as they are, are the wrong kind of growing. Truth is we grow most and best when we are studying the bible together. What better why to understand our faith than by reading God's word? Our attempt to grow spiritually together is our new Mid-Week bible study. It is through this kind of happening that we will grow as a church. It might not be overnight, or even over the course of months, but through the years we will see fruit. This process of growing is essentially inviting people into deeper intimacy with us by moving them from the foyer of worship in our house, to the family room where we learn about each other, we share our stories and our history and learn to trust and love as a family. Making life long Disciples our goal and the way to do this is to make GROWING disciples.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Simple Church Series, Sermon 2, "Staying Connected" Hebrews 10:23-25

I love worship. It’s my favorite thing to lead as a pastor, especially the sacraments. I have always enjoyed worship. The music, the scriptures, the voices and in some cases the smells, tastes and feelings of worship seem to capture the most intimate moments with God, at lest for me. As you can tell by my brief illustration of worship environments, i.e. sights, sounds and smells, I love various forms of worship. From the most high and liturgical forms of worship found in the Eastern rite churches of Greece, Russia and the Middle-East to the most modern or post modern churches of Sub-Urban America. I have found meaning, purpose and sacredness in each expression of worship that I have encountered.

Growing up there was one expression of worship I had experience with and as far as the leadership of my church, as well as myself, was concerned it was the right expression. It was a fairly typical form of contemporary worship found in most growing evangelical or Pentecostal churches and it was done well. I truly did experience God every Sunday morning as the praise team of Northville Christian Assembly played it’s drums, guitars, bass guitars, trumpets, flutes, saxophones and piano’s and sang with it’s 5+ voices. When the music stopped the preaching began and it was powerful, energetic, encouraging and convicting (a quality many UMC preachers lack). Then we sang some more, prayed and went home. It was beautiful and it was meaningful, but it wasn’t the only way to express worship.

While at college, to become a Pentecostal preacher nonetheless, I was expose to new and very different expressions of worship. I went to Episcopal, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Disciples of Christ and even Baptist worship services. The ones I found myself most interested in where the more liturgical forms, such as Episcopalianism and Catholicism. I was so interested and moved by the sacredness and mysticism of those two particular worship expressions that I invited my wife to attend them and she did and she’s has been an Episcopalian ever since.  Either way, whether you’re a high church Episcopalian or a good ole’ southern gospel Baptist, your expression of worship is authentic and it’s significant too. Each form has its place, each expression appeals to different kinds of people and helps them to do what’s most important and that’s WORSHIP God with others.

Christian worship has it’s roots in the Synagogue form of worship practiced by 1st century Jews and founded as a result of the destruction of the first Temple and the exile. In this form men would gather in buildings to hear scripture read and to hear a particular teaching or reflection on the scripture often given be a layperson, but also often given by a Rabbi, each Synagogue would be conducted by a Ruler, like an Elder who was chosen to be the first among equal Elders as a leader. Every Jewish community had a Synagogue and it was always open during the Sabbath. The similarity to our own worship makes sense being that the first Christians were Jews.  Like the in Synagogues the first Christians met together, but instead of in designated building they met in homes, and it wasn’t just men it was women and children Women  were also invited to lead and host the meetings. There would be scripture, songs, a reflection on the scriptures and it would all culminate with the Feast of Thanksgiving, known in Greek as the Eucharist. This was a special meal that commemorated the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and was overseen by the Elders of the faith community. Whenever a new person wanted to join their community they would baptize them because Jesus told them to and it would be done always in the presence of the faith community by the Elders and unlike in the Synagogues these people gathered on the first day of the week instead of the 7th.

Our passage speaks to the significance of these meetings. The author of Hebrews speaks of the encouragement and admonishes the meetings. He addresses the importance of these meetings to the overall health of the individuals and community. So significant are these meetings to the author that he writes and instructs them, an Apostolic directive if you will, to not to stop, to not forsake meeting together, because by doing so you are spurring and provoking each other onto doing good works.

Our founder, John Wesley, felt the same way about going to church. He felt so strongly about it that he called it a means of grace and said the without it we can never experience true holiness, “There is not holiness, except social holiness.”, that is Holiness together.

Our first step in addressing making disciples is worship. Why? Because it’s community and it is through community that we love God and love others, it is the main way that we connect, and connecting is the first step in our discipleship process. When people think of church, they think of Sunday morning worship and it’s this Sunday morning worship event that gets all the press. It really is people’s first impression of whom and what a church is all about and it also serves as the main way we fellowship together. Most of you don’t see each other anymore often than every Sunday at church and so worship serves as the main way that we connect with each other as well. The truth is, if we want to reach the lost, if we want to provoke each other onto reaching the lost we need to be well connected and that connection is worship. Being connected to God, each other and our community, that’s where discipleship starts. For that to happen we need to invite people to join us. People are not going to attend church because of a website or commercial, they will however attend because of you. Invite your neighbors, friends, and family to connect with us.

Through this process we are endeavoring to move people from the foyer of our home (church) into the kitchen, where all the real work is done. If you can’t get them in the door and into the foyer, you’ll never get them to the kitchen.

There is a story about a beautiful Lutheran Church in Northern Wisconsin. In it there is a beautiful stain glass window in the nave as you walk into the sanctuary. It was Jesus standing in an array of colors with his arms wide open. One morning a visitor said to the pastor, “Pastor it is as if He is welcoming us all into worship.” The pastor replied, “Yes, indeed it is.” After worship was over as the congregation was leaving the same visitor stopped to shake the pastor’s hand and this time he said, “Pastor, it’s as if he’s welcoming us out into the street.” And the pastor said, “Indeed he is.” Worship, and connecting doesn’t stop when we leave, it only really begins. This week invite a friend to church, tell a friend about Jesus, start connecting today.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Simple Church, Sermon One, "It's not that complicated." From Matthew 11:28-30.

I grew up going to a large church, at least I think it would have been categorized as a "large church." It wasn't quit a mega church I suppose. It had about 2000 attendees on Sunday morning, with about 8 full-time staff pastors and 4 part time secretaries and one full time administrative assistant (to to the senior past of course). There was also several members of the custodial staff as well as a school with several full-time faculty serving grades k-8. I'm not sure how you categorize it, but it was big. It had an effect youth ministry, children ministry and adult assimilation program. It had great music and preaching, I really loved it. It's where I fell in love with the church, where I was baptized, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial physical evidence of speaking in tongues (something I'm conflicted on now, but remains a very important experience in my faith journey). It's where I was called into full-time ministry. Even though I not longer participate in that denomination, I still hold the things I learned and the experiences I had close to my heart and they influence me everyday. Whether it was a mega church, large church or medium church, what really matters is that it was an effective church. It accomplished what a church ought to accomplish, it created a life long disciple who loves God, loves people and serves the church. So was it the size, the programing, the staff, the school (which I attended from 3-7 grade)? Or was it something else?

One of the largest churches in North American United Methodism today is Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, MO. It's pastored by Adam Hamilton, who started the church after graduating from St. Paul School of Theology (where I did the bulk of my M.Div, but graduated from United Theological Seminary), with his family and four other people. He had about 10 people on his first Sunday. Today "The Rez", as it's often referred to, worships close to 16,000 people every Sunday and Pastor Adam is somewhat of a Mainline superstar. UM churches every where look to the Rez and to Pastor Adam for direction, for hope, and for guidance. Pastor Adam is a prolific writer as well. He writes bible studies and other curriculums. He also writes programing to help churches create new ministries or enrich existing ministries. Whats interesting about all his books and curriculums and programs is that he also says, "don't try to be Resurrection, none of this will work everywhere, but everywhere some of these will work." Pastor Adams point is that there is no magical program or curriculum or formula that will ensure that a church grows and is succesful. This goes for any church growth model, of which there are thousands of. Whether you are a big church or a small church, you can be a vital church and you don't have to have the right "program" to make it work.

The problem with so many churches is that we try so many programs, so many models. We take the best from each idea and discard what we don't like. Why? Because we encouraged to do so, "take what works and leave the rest." We do the same with scripture. The problem with this practice is that we end up with schizophrenic churches who have no idea what they're doing our what their identity is. We make church and ministry so complicated. We think that the more the merrier, the more programs, the more bible studies, the more sunday school participants and outreach events we have the better off we are, but the truth is...more stuff, more problems. Our passage this week invites us to a simple way of believing, a simple life of discipleship. Jesus says, "my yoke is easy, my burden is light." He admonishes those who's faith, life and ministry is "heavy laden and burdensome" to let it down and simply follow him. A Rabbi's teaching, his way of discipling was called his yoke. The pharisees had a heavy yoke of complicated laws, rules and expectation that most of the people found burdensome and tiring. So much that many of them gave up and figured that God simply was not for them. Jesus's message is "God is for you and you can be for him." It's a simple teaching that frees people to serve God and each other. The gospel message of Jesus just isn' that complicated! I believe that if the church is to survive and even more important thrive we must simplify our life.

How do we simplify? There is away for all churches to simplify their ministry, therefore simplifying how they reach new and disconnected believers. It starts with CLARITY. Every church, including ours needs to understand and clearly perceive the purpose of being the church and that is simply...MAKING DISCIPLES. And clarifying what kind of Disciples we want to make. For us at the Onaway/Millersburg Charge we want to make

“Disciples that are passionate lovers of God and people, servants of the Kingdom of God, and connected in vibrant relationships with others.” 

This Sunday is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. It's another one of those "Epiphanies" one of which we celebrated last Sunday with the arrival of the Magi. Jesus Baptism was an appearance, a manifestation of God, it also was , like much of Jesus' ministry an example. Jesus was baptized to demonstrate the need for all of us to be baptized, just like the washing of Peters feet and the celebration of Holy Communion, all demonstration by the Rabbi to his followers of a way of life that, "in the way, the truth and the life." The last thing Jesus teaches his followers is what they are to do while they wait for him to come again and that is simple, "Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Thats what we need to be doing, and it's not that complicated. Over the next three weeks we will discover ways, simple ways for making Disciples. Please won't you join me? I also invite you that if you have not yet made a choice to be a disciple of Jesus, now is as good of a time as any. All it takes is a willing heart that says, "Lord Jesus, be Lord of my life." Amen

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Matthew 2:1-12, "Camels on the Roof Top", Epiphany 1, 2013

Theres an old story about an Islamic Saint named Ibrahim Ibn Adam who was King of Balkh, which is Modern day Northern Afghanistan. One night the king was roused from sleep by a fearful stumping on the roof above his bed. Alarmed, he shouted: 'Who's there?' 'A friend,' came the reply from the roof. 'I've lost my camel.' Perturbed by such stupidity, Ebrahim screamed: 'You fool! Are you looking for a camel on the roof?' 'You fool!' the voice from the roof answered. 'Are you looking for God in silk clothing, and lying on a golden bed?' This might be a funny story and we might dismiss it because of our aversion to anything Muslim, but it carries with it a profound truth. It essentially asks the "Epiphany" question, "where are you looking for God?" This is an excellent question to ask this first Sunday of a new year. It is also appropriate to add to that "Epiphany" question, "where have you found the past year?" 

The profound truth communicated in this Islamic parable is simply this, God is not found where the rich and the powerful dwell. This is contrary to what is often taught by Evangelical prosperity gospel stars like Joyce Meyer, Paul Crouch and Franklin Graham of Samaritans Purse, a not-for-profit whose written mission is to "provide charity and good news to the poor." These three church mega stars combined salaries for 2012 was over 2million dollars with Joyce Meyer netting the largest annual income at $900,000 a year. Thats about $2,500 a day. The average American makes that much in about a month and 2/3 of the world lives on about 1/45 of Joyce Meyers daily salary per year. This is amazing and disturbing, especially when you consider the fact that the King of Universe was found in a barn, wrapped in shreds of linen and born to impoverished and marginalized parents. So it's obvious that God is not found in palaces and mansions, but instead in the the words of St. Teresa, "Places that sinketh and where no one loves."

So What is Epiphany and why does it pose such a question? Epiphany is a Greek word that means "appearance or manifestation especially of a Deity." The Epiphany season then is when we celebrate the appearance of God. Epiphany is one of the oldest fest times in Christian history, second only to Easter, or what is often called the Paschal season. Epiphany has been celebrated within Christianity since the 2nd century. It was originally a unitve festival, celebrating both the Birth and Baptism of Jesus Christ, but because of the Gnostic heresy that taught that Jesus was not the Christ until his baptism, the church separated the festival into two distinctive celebrations, Christmas or the Feast of the Nativity and Epiphany. When that happened the church needed an event to center the new Epiphany festival around and the most obvious was the arrival of the Magi, which became known as the Festival of Kings. 

Our passage this morning is the only passage in the Gospels that speaks to us about these three kings, in fact it doesn't even say there where three. There could have been 2 or 4. The only reason we assume there were three is because there were three gifts. So who were these three kings or magi and what is a magi exactly? Scholars have varying opinions on just who these men where. Some believe that they were Zoroastrian priest ( Zoroastrianism or Magisim is a Persian religion which was influenced by the Jewish exiles in Persia) who believed that the birth of the King of the jews would turn the tide of the battle for humanity towards the ultimate good, the Creator God Mazda. Others believe they were astronomy philosophers from a particular school of thought called the "school of the east." In any case the Christian tradition, at least in the West, has always been that they were Kings representing the various Kingdoms of the world that would eventually receive the Gospel. There was Malchar of Africa, Gaspard of India and Balthazar of Arabia. In Spanish speaking countries this feast day is known as Tres Reyes Magos or Three Royal Magi. During this festival children write the three Kings asking them for gifts and if they are good on Epiphany the Three Kings bring them. 

This bring us to the three gifts that are mentioned in our passage today. The bible tells us that the magi brought with them Gold, oil and incense. The ancient church father Origen said the gifts represented the three natures of Jesus; "Gold as for a king, oil as for a moral and incense as for a God." These gifts do have interesting spiritual and theological meaning, especially if you think of them in this way. Gold was something that was given to a King as tribute, Jesus as King. Myrrh or anointing oil was used at burials to ward of bugs, Jesus as a mortal. And Frankincense was used in worship at both the Jewish temple and pagan temples as an offering to the gods, Jesus as God. These three gifts sum up the person and nature of Christ in a very convenient and easily taught lesson.

Theres another Islamic parable I'd like to share with you. It's another story about camels. Of "Seventeen Camels" that tells of a Mohammedan who died and left his seventeen camels to be divided among his three sons. One was to receive one ninth; one was to get one half; and the third son was to inherit one third of the camels, but the sons were not satisfied with this, they wanted the camels divided evenly. Seventeen camels, however, aren't evenly divisible by three. Hence the three sons argued long and loud about what to do. In desperation they agreed to let a certain wise man decide for them. He was seated in front of his tent with his own camel staked out back. After hearing the case, the wise man took one of his own camels and added it to the other seventeen camels, thus making the total 18. This number is easily divisible by three. Each son received 6 camels, but this is not what the wise old Inman did. Instead he gave to one son 3 camels, 1/9, to the other 9 camels, 1/2 and to the last he gave 5 or 1/3. On top of all that he had his own camel left...which he kept for himself. Essentially the wise old man settled nothing. Whats the moral of this story? God cannot be discovered through logical, calculating schemes that insure that we all get what is "ours."

What the Magi discover is that God appears in the most unlikely of places and the most inconspicuous of times. Finding God in a manger, in those places that "stinketh and no not love." is much like finding a Camel on a roof top. Having the king of the universe live a life of homelessness, pennilessness and then die a criminals death is probably the most scandalous story of all time. But this is where God is found. Not in palaces, not in mansions, not in multimillion dollar nursery additions with all the latest gadgets for baby, but with the poor and unwanted of this world. This year may God reveal Gods-self to you in new and challenging ways that help you to see the least of these are the most in God's heart.