Sunday, December 30, 2012

What Child Is this?, for Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 12/30/2012

What Child Is This?

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 12/30/2012

Based on Luke 2: 22-40

(This sermon is actually being incorporated within the children’s time as part of a multi-generational worship experience.)


        What a great passage this morning’s scripture is, as it speaks about two people who are very faithful believers of God.  They have spent their whole lives praying and waiting for God to answer one specific prayer and promise of sending to the world a man who will provide salvation for all.  This last Monday evening at a candle light service we celebrated the birth of that little baby, whose name is Jesus.  In this morning’s story, we continue reading about the life of this little baby as we will do throughout the rest of the church year. 

        I would like to begin by showing you some pictures that some people have brought to this morning’s worship.  Can anyone guess who this person is?  What about that person?

        So, when you grow up what would you like to be?  I would like to ask some of you out in the congregation the same question, “When you were little, what did you want to become?”  And as a second part of that question, “When you grew up, what did you actually become?”  For myself, I discovered that “what I wanted to become” changed for me at differant ages.  For example:  when I was very small I wanted to be a fireman, like my dad who was a volunteer fireman, when I got older I wanted to become a world famous surgeon.  In Junior High I discovered I loved designing houses, but when I learned I had to take calculus to become an architect that killed that idea.  In high school I wanted to become a professional singer.  Then I realized that if I were going to support a family, being a professional singer wasn’t the best choice, so I studied and became an accountant.  Guess what – I had to take calculus anyway!  Well, that wasn’t necessarily the best choice for me, as I was too easily bored and I hated doing bookkeeping.  Eventually, I started hearing more clearly a call by God to become a minister, which was the one thing I really didn’t want to do.

        So there are a couple of very important points that we can think about with this morning’s story as it relates with Simeon and Anna.  I find it amazing at how both Simeon and Anna were able to recognize who Jesus was going to become when he was just a little baby.  Scripture gives us a clue to how they were able to recognize who this little baby was.  We read that both were being lead by the Holy Spirit, because they prayed a lot. 

        Simeon, when he saw Jesus, praised God, thanking God for answering the promise that had been given to him many years earlier, that he would not die before seeing the messiah not just of Israel but of the whole world.  Have any of you ever been called a “blessing to your parents or to someone else?”  What do you think that means?  A blessing in its simplest meaning means approval or hopefulness.  So when Simeon and Anna saw the baby that Joseph and Mary were bringing into the temple to receive the general blessing that a child would receive when presented by his or her parents, Jesus actually received a special blessing from Simeon and Anna went out sharing the news that God’s most favored one had finally come, and that this baby Jesus was a blessing upon Israel. 

        We do a similar action when parents bring their baby to be baptized.  Baptism is an act of Blessing.  If you are an infant, what we do when we are applying the water on your forehead, is making the sign of the cross, which Christians use as the greatest symbol of blessing.  Baptism is not an individual act.  It is an action of the community of believers.  When you are being baptized, the community of faith is committing to help support you in your faith journey and give support as you develop your potential as a child of God.

        When a baby is born, one of the things that everyone see’s in the birth of a new baby, is potential.  Because of our being human’s and too often caught up in our own interests, we often times project onto the newborn baby our own dreams for that child.  My mother for years dreamed that I would become a doctor.  Even though I was interested in watching T.V. shows that showed childhood diseases and how Doctors helped cure children, I never really saw myself as a Dr. 

        When Mountain View was started in 1970, as a new church, it was in effect a baby as well.  A group of people who were Presbyterian’s, United Methodis’ts, and United Church of Christ came and in worship gave a blessing upon this new infant congregation.  Within that blessing, we were given all the hopes for bringing God’s promise to Aurora and in that blessing was given the power of the Holy Spirit to help us become what God has in store for Mountain View. 

So the question that we could ask ourselves this morning would be, “What did we want to be when we grow up?” and now that we are 42 yrs old, “What have we become?”  Have we come what we thought we wanted to become or are we something different?  I suspect that we are different in many respects to what the original founders had envisioned for us.  So maybe the better question would be, “Are we developing into the potential that we possess?”

The reality about life is that it is always in motion.  Nothing stays the same.  Just like I changed my ideas about what I wanted to be as I grew older, discovering my talents and interests, in listening to the advice of people who saw special gifts in me continue to grow into the best that I can be, so does Mountain View.   As a family of faith, we constantly need to be asking:”Are we living up to our potential?”  We have been giving the blessing of God to work toward our potential and we have been given the power to achieve our potential, through that original blessing, just as Simeon blessed Jesus as a baby.  If we feel that we are not achieving our potential, maybe we are not dreaming “big” enough.

I think whether as young people growing up or as adults, the best practice that one could have is to continually pray that God will guide us to develop the potential that each of us is born with and then listen to how God speaks to us through people like our parents, through our friends, through what we learn in school, by exploring any interests or talents that we have to help us recognize where our potentials lead us, so we can have the most  satisfaction about who we are and also contribute the best of who we are to the larger communities that we live in.  You are all very special people, God’s blessing and gift to our world.  Let God help you learn what your gifts are and help you to share them with everyone that you meet.  Amen

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Making Room for Jesus, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, Mountain View United Church of Aurora, CO

Making Room for Jesus

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 12-23-2012

Based on Luke 1:50-55

As we come to the fourth and final week in Advent, we have been exploring the ideas of walking in darkness toward a promised light. This morning, as an act of worship, we have walked a portion of the Las Posadas (seeking refuge, a physical shelter). Through this symbolic action, we are placing ourselves into the lives of Joseph and Mary, as they were seeking shelter in a land (that even though Joseph has roots in as a descendant of King David) as strangers.

As we re-tell this story year after year, decade after decade, century after century, and millennia after millennia, we have grown to Romanize the story of this couple who journeys from the Northern Kingdom down to the Kingdom of Judea. We have sanitized this story so much that we think of their journey as if we were loading up our car with those things that we would need for a week’s holiday. Possibly going to a ski resort in the mountains, or a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

When we leave on a road trip, we rarely think about the perils that can happen while on the road. We have the capability to reserve accommodations prior to our leaving. For those of us who tend to be seasoned travelers, through the use of modern communications, have the ability to find out what events are going on in the community that we are going to travel to, allowing us plenty of time to secure adequate accommodation. If our car breaks down, we can call AAA for help. But this wasn’t possible for Joseph and Mary. Yes they knew that Bethlehem would be full of visitors because of the world-wide census, but they had no way of pre-registering for a room at one of the local hotels or at one of the bed and breakfasts. There was no inter-state banking systems set up, or credit card companies to borrow from while on their trip. As strangers in Bethlehem, they were truly strangers.

This story goes deeper than just a man and a pregnant girl traveling. This is a story about sojourning! This story is about all of us, for we are all sojourners. This morning we touched on just three aspects of sojourning. We started off with our “spiritual” journey, moving next to that of being an “immigrant”, and finishing with being “different” than what society and/or the church says we should be.

We all have had our moments of being a “refugee”, whether it’s been through the simple act of moving out of mom and dad’s home or moving to a new state or a new country. Many of us have experienced being a “refugee” as we have lost position in the community because of losing our job, changes with our health, maybe in losing our jobs and homes in economic downturns, or through the loss of a significant relationship. Some of us are “refugees” from our homes and churches because of sexual orientation differences.

In last week’s school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, or at the shopping mall outside of Portland, Oregon a week before, families have been torn apart through the acts of violence. I hear multiple comments about how hard it must be for these families with this type of tragedy at Christmas. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what time of the season tragedy occurs, it is always going to be hard. We feel it more acutely at Christmas, because this has become a season where we as a society have put “hope”, “love”, and “peace” up on a very high pedestal, where anything that doesn’t fit those images becomes hyper-tragic, a deeper loss some how.

Yet these terrible acts of violence are a physical manifestation of what the season of Advent too often is experienced in a metaphorical way. Advent is the season of walking in darkness, moving toward the light, moving toward the promise of peace, of reconciliation, of re-uniting with our creator, with God. A light that will bring peace, love, and renewed hope.

If we can hold within our hearts what the original meaning of Christmas is about, that moving from darkness into light, I think as we are affected by all violence, of all losses, of all separations, we can look to these acts as only temporary actions of darkness.

I was sent this story yesterday by a friend that supposedly took place here in Metro Denver and I’d like to share it with you. It starts off saying:

"Friends are God's way of taking care of us."

This was written by a Metro Denver Hospice Physician:

I was driving home from a meeting this evening about 5, stuck in traffic on Colorado Blvd., and the car started to choke and splutter and die - I barely managed to coast, cursing, into a gas station, glad only that I would not be blocking traffic and would have a somewhat warm spot to wait for the tow truck. It wouldn't even turn over. Before I could make the call, I saw a woman walking out of the "quickie mart " building, and it looked like she slipped on some ice and fell into a Gas pump, so I got out to see if she was okay

When I got there, it looked more like she had been overcome by sobs than that she had fallen; she was a young woman who looked really haggard with dark circles under her eyes. She dropped something as I helped her up, and I picked it up to give it to her. It was a nickel.

At that moment, everything came into focus for me: the crying woman, the ancient Suburban crammed full of stuff with 3 kids in the back (1 in a car seat), and the gas pump reading $4.95.

I asked her if she was okay and if she needed help, and she just kept saying " don't want my kids to see me crying," so we stood on the other side of the pump from her car. She said she was driving to California and that things were very hard for her right now. So I asked, "And you were praying?" That made her back a away from me a little, but I assured her I was not a crazy person and said, "He heard you, and He sent me."

I took out my card and swiped it through the card reader on the pump so she could fill up her car completely, and while it was fuelling, walked to the next door McDonald's and bought 2 big bags of food, some gift certificates for more, and a big cup of coffee. She gave the food to the kids in the car, who attacked it like wolves, and we stood by the pump eating fries and talking a little.

She told me her name, and that she lived in Kansas City Her boyfriend left 2 months ago and she had not been able to make ends meet. She knew she wouldn't have money to pay rent Jan 1, and finally in desperation had finally called her parents, with whom she had not spoken in about 5 years. They lived in California and said she could come live with them and try to get on her feet there.

So she packed up everything she owned in the car. She told the kids they were going to California for Christmas, but not that they were going to live there.

I gave her my gloves, a little hug and said a quick prayer with her for safety on the road. As I was walking over to my car, she said, "So, are you like an angel or something?"

This definitely made me cry. I said, "Sweetie, at this time of year angels are really busy, so sometimes God uses regular people."

It was so incredible to be a part of someone else's miracle. And of course, you guessed it, when I got in my car it started right away and got me home with no problem. I'll put it in the shop tomorrow to check, but I suspect the mechanic won't find anything wrong.

Sometimes the angels fly close enough to you that you can hear the flutter of their wings...

Psalms 55:22 "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee. He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved."

Like Joseph and Mary, who became sojourners in the town of Bethlehem, looking for a place to rest and being met with rejection after rejection, maybe we can see in a new way, maybe we can hear during this Advent season the fluttering wings of God’s angels which will help us open our hearts and receive and give the gift of light, the gift of peace, the gift of love, the gift of hospitality, the gift of extravagant welcome that comes in the birth of one little baby – Jesus, the son of our Creator – God. For we are all sojourners in this world. We are all “refugees” in this land. Maybe this Advent we can “make room for Jesus.” Amen

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hope Is the Perfect Gift, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

Hope is the Perfect Gift

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 12/9/2012

Based on Luke 1: 68-79


        As the days continue to grow shorter and the nights longer, we have entered into what that most people call the “Christmas season”, I call it the season of “excessive behavior”.  We spend more time shopping for gifts, buying more than what we probably need to, and generally more gifts that not needed or desired.  We spend more money than what we generally have available during this season, racking up higher credit card bills.  We give more generously to charities, attend more parties and spend more hours decorating our homes than any other time of the year.   And we do this because of a strangely strong tugging at our hearts that we seem not to listen to during the rest of the year!

        Our radio and television stations are filled with songs and movies that deal with the topic of giving, of reconciliations, of re-uniting.  The secular world refers to this as the Spirit of Christmas and is generally portrayed through the individual known as Santa Clause.  Yet even secular society, when pressed, contribute the values we have assigned to this round white bearded jolly fellow, to a story of long, long ago, told by the church of the birth of a little boy; to a young unwed mother, in a stable, whose name is Jesus.

        Yet the birth story about Jesus also includes the birth of another boy named John.  He was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Zechariah was a Priest and Elizabeth was a cousin to Jesus’ mother.  As the story tells of Mary’s purity of heart, so is her cousins Elizabeth and Zechariah.  Most bible scholars conclude that the telling of John’s birth is a way of explaining to the early church the importance of John the Baptist’s roll in the larger story of Jesus’ life and ministry.

        It is through these birth stories that are found in three of the four Gospels that we in this country have come to view the period of time between Thanksgiving and the celebration of the birth of Jesus as the “Christmas Season.”  Yet these four weeks before Christmas is not really the Christmas season.  The season of Christmas actually doesn’t start until Christmas Day.  We are in fact in the Season of Advent.  That period, which is characterized as the time of darkness as we move toward the day of light, the birth of Jesus, which for us falls on December 25th.

        This second week of Advent is called “Hope”.  As I was thinking about the title for this week’s reflection, I cannot shake the reality of how much energy we put into the “gift” giving aspect of this season.  We spend hours wondering through the mall, looking at all of the “stuff” that is on the shelves, weighing each item of its worthiness for each person on our gift giving list.  “Will this scarf be the best gift for Aunt Martha?”  “Is this MP3 player, going to get a lot of use for my daughter, Bobbie?”  “Will these diamond earrings sparkle on my wife’s ears, as much as they do under the display lights?”  What we try to achieve through our gifts is to give the best gift that we can.

        When the church is involved in various ministries, we really are trying to give our best as well.  When we give our money, the programs that we support, we support because we want to give the “best” to those who are receiving it.  Yet we often struggle with “what is the best” that we as a church, as a person of God, can give to someone, give to our community, and give to the world?  As your minister, I struggle each week with “what will be the best” message, what will make the “best worship” experience, what will be the “best thoughts” that you can take home with you after church? 

        The answer I think is “Hope”.  Hope is the perfect gift.  Hope is the best that we as children of God can give to one another.  Hope should be the largest present found under our Christmas trees.  You see, it is in the birth of Jesus that God gave the world “Hope”.   For Elizabeth and Zechariah, John’s birth was a fulfillment of ancient promises, in Jesus’ birth it was a physical fulfillment of God’s promise.

        Zechariah say’s in his prophecy of his son John, “And you, my child, “Prophet of the Highest,” will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, Present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins.”  The hope that we can provide for people is that of “salvation.”  Most people equate the gift of salvation with Heaven.  Most people think that salvation means getting into heaven.  I don’t think that’s what salvation is. I think that salvation comes through the “forgiveness” of sin.  When Jesus was dying on the cross, he said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Jesus didn’t say, “You get to heaven because of what it is I do.”  That is a message that the church has developed over its life.  Rather Jesus in his dying breath was forgiving sinful actions.  Salvation comes through “forgiving”, period.

(Watch the clip on forgiveness in the movie, “Madea Goes to Jail.)

        Tyler Perry, through this scene shows us how holding onto sinful actions, whether they are things that we have done to others, or what others have done to us, does not allow for the working of life that comes through “Hope”.  Hope can only be cultivated in the garden of “forgiveness.”

        Zechariah concludes with, “Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.  The greatest gift that the church can give today is “forgiveness”.  The hope of salvation comes through forgiveness; of our forgiving ourselves, and of our forgiving others.  As we walk through these dark days we call “advent”, let us reflect upon the greatest gift that we can give to ourselves and to others.  Let us strive to give the gift of salvation through the act of forgiving!  Let us become the “Sunrise that will shine “hope” to those who exist in darkness and sitting in the shadow of death.”   Amen