Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Jesus and His Friends


When we think about Jesus, it is hard to see him as just a regular guy - a guy who eats and sleeps, who gets tired and sore, a guy who has friends…. We know about the disciples but they were more like students and helpers. Jesus was not only divine, he was not only God, he was human; he was just like all of us, someone who needed down time, someone who needed occasionally to relax, someone who liked to spend an evening with his friends. And we are told in the accounts of Jesus, that in Bethany Jesus would find the time to visit and relax and spend time with his friends - the sisters and their brother, Martha, Mary and Lazarus who lived in the town of Bethany.
We are almost done the journey with Jesus. Next week, Palm Sunday, we will reach our destination; we will enter Jerusalem. Jesus started this journey in Capernaum, traveled through Samaria, took the road to Jericho, spend some time at Zacchaeus’ home and today we travel with him to the small town of Bethany.
Bethany was just a couple miles from Jerusalem and still exists today by a different name. Bethany was the site of an almshouse for the poor and a place of care for the sick. It was also the site of one of the leper colonies that existed around Palestine. Bethany has 2 of the most sacred sites for Christian pilgrims - the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus which is believed to still stand today and the tomb of Lazarus. This is the Lazarus Jesus’ raised from the dead - who tradition said was killed by the Jews because he was a testimony to the power of Jesus who had brought him back to life. Bethany was believed to have been settled by travelers from Galilee who went to work in Jerusalem. This would explain how Jesus knew Mary, Martha and Lazarus since Jesus is from Galilee and why he and the disciples felt at home staying there.
We have accounts of Jesus being in Bethany many times staying with Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Martha is the old sister and is the go - getter, the busy one, the sister who is always up and moving and doing….. Mary is the quiet, reflective, softer of the two and as we know from one of the stories about Jesus, these two didn’t always see eye to eye with each other.
Jesus had sent word to the sisters that he was on his way to visit. Of course they were thrilled to see Jesus and Martha begins a flurry of work. No different than many of us when we find out we are having company. She began to dust the furniture and throw the best table cloth on the table and sweep the floors and pick up the mess and wipe down the bathrooms and put some fresh flowers around and when all that was done she would walk around her home and make sure everything was just so…..
then Jesus shows up and she takes him into the parlor where Mary is waiting for him and Martha fluffs the pillows and shows him a comfortable chair and leaves to go fix the meal - leaving Mary to stay with Jesus. Mary and Jesus begin to talk and Mary is fascinated by what he says and she is learning quite a bit when from the kitchen they hear the cabinets being slammed shut and the pots and pans being banged around and the drawers being loudly shoved closed and the door of the oven banging…. And Martha muttering….
You see Martha had left to go into the kitchen to fix a meal for her special company, fully expecting Mary to follow her into help. But Martha realized that Mary was not coming and she was pretty angry. “How dare that sister of mine leave all the work to me. Who does she think I am, the servant around here? After all who was it who cleaned the house and washed the bed linens and made sure everything was fresh and cozy for Jesus when he got here. Where was the ungrateful sister of mine who left me to do all the work. That’s all I do around here is work, work, work… While that Mary just sits around and does nothing. Well I have had enough…..”
And Martha stomps out of the kitchen banging closed the kitchen door and makes a loud entrance into the room where Jesus and Mary are talking and says, “Jesus! Don’t you care about me? Here I am slaving and working my fingers to the bone and she” pointing to her sister Mary “is just being lazy and not helping me at all! Jesus, make her help me!”
Now I envision a smile on Jesus face about right now with Martha standing over him with her hands on her hips and Mary looking from Jesus to Martha a little terrified of what Jesus was gong to say. And to both of their surprise, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha. Calm down. Mary has chosen the right thing, I came here to spend time with you both. A peanut butter sandwich would have been fine - I don’t need an elaborate meal… I’d rather have time to spend with Mary and with you.” The story ends here but i would love to know what happens next - Did Martha leave the room in a huff because her sister was praised and she was criticized? Did Martha say, “I’m sorry Jesus. I was just trying to do what I thought was right?” Did Mary say, “I’ll go and finish up Martha, you spend some time with Jesus.” But we will never know and what happened next wasn’t the point - the point was helping us to see the value in just spending time with Jesus. We don’t always have to be doing something - quiet time with Jesus is just, if not more, important than doing….
Jesus came back to Bethany on a later date. Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus had died and they had summoned Jesus to come but he got there too late. But the story reminds us that it is never too late for Jesus…. he goes up to the tomb, has the stone rolled away, and out comes Lazarus - alive! Of course the story was to be a foreshadowing of the events to come - just as they rolled the stone away and Jesus was alive!
And now, Jesus and the disciples journey to Bethany for one last time. This will be the last evening he can spend with his friends. He has dinner at the home of Simon the Leper where Mary Magdalene enters and anoints Jesus with much criticism from the disciples. How dare a woman enter this home and humiliate herself by pouring expensive oil over Jesus. The oil she used would have cost about a year’s wage. This is how important Jesus was to her that she was willing to sacrifice that much for Jesus. People would often buy nard as a type of retirement account - like people invest in a 401K today - so what she has given to Jesus is her future; her security. And the disciples just didn’t get it - why didn’t she just give you the Nard and we could have used it to help the poor or finance our ministry. It is just wasted now and is of no use.
Well, Jesus was pretty annoyed at the disciples at this point. “No” he said, “You are wrong” Just like he said about Mary when Martha was fussing at her, Jesus said, “She has chosen the correct thing. She has given me honor. This is her way of pledging her life and her trust in me. And she is getting me ready for my burial next week. And” he added as emphasis that Mary had done the right thing, “she will forever be remembered for honoring me as she has…” And he’s right - we are still talking about this sacrificial act to this day.
Even though Bethany was a place of rest for Jesus, we still can learn a lot from what happened in this small town at the home of Jesus’ friends. These are things that we need to consider as we think this Lent about our relationship with Jesus. We learned from Mary the importance of spending quiet, learning time and from Martha we learned that you don’t always have to be doing something. It is OK to sit down, to relax, to spend time with friends. We learned that Jesus cares deeply about his friends - in the account of the death of Lazarus we read that when Jesus saw how sad Mary and Martha were, even though he knew he was about to bring Lazarus back to life, he still wept for their pain - and he does the same for us. When we are in the depths of pain and suffering and sadness and loss - Jesus knows and Jesus weeps with us…..
And then we see where Jesus wanted to spend his last hours - with his friends.
Think about who we are as a church; as a congregation; as a family. What ties us together is this relationship, this friendship with Jesus and with one another. We are gathered here together to represent Jesus with one another - to love each other and to cry with each other and to care for each other and maybe like Jesus to occasionally fuss at each other when we get off the tract and forget what is important…
As we wind down these weeks of Lent, consider your friends here at Sweetwater - your family. Consider what we mean to each other; the relationship with have with one another; consider how, through Jesus Christ, we are a great family of God.


A Wee Man and a Big Faith

“A Wee Man and a Big Faith”

For whatever reason, Zacchaeus is one my favorites of all of the Bible Characters. It may be that he has a great song with a catchy tune or because there is something fun about a short fella who climbs a tree…. but would we like the story so much if we replaced Zacchaeus in this story with Bernie Madoff who is famous for cheating people out of billions of dollars; out of their very livelihood - who I don’t know if he was a short person - but Zacchaeus, in reality, was not a lovable little wee man, may would have been the Jericho equivalent to Bernie Madoff…
We continue our Lenten journey with Jesus as he continues his trip from Capernaum to Jerusalem. We have traveled with him through Samaria and on the road from Samaria to Jericho and now we reach the city of Jericho. Jericho has a rich history throughout the bible and still exists today. It is believed to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and it still has the famous wall that was originally knocked down by Joshua.
Our story however starts in a small town outside of Jericho where as usual a crowd gathers around Jesus and he begins to tell his stories. He starts by telling a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who go up to the temple to pray.
Tax collectors in Jesus’ day were hated by everyone. The Romans, even though they hired the tax collectors; they saw the tax collectors for what they were, greedy traitors who were willing to prey on their own people cheating them for their own gain, working for the hated Roman oppressors, robbing people of their livelihood and their means to support their own family. And the tax collectors own people, their Jewish neighbors hated the tax collectors because they were greedy traitors who cheated them - it was such a slap in the face for your own to work for the enemy. Tax collectors were very wealthy and for the most part were not shy about letting people see how wealthy they were - of course from funds taken from the people…..
And remember Pharisees were the professional religious people - the ones who were suppose to be outstanding citizens, above reproach, people you were suppose to look up to for your moral example….
So Jesus tells the story about a proper Pharisee and a hated tax collector who go up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee stands where everyone can see him and lifts his arms to heaven and says “Thank you God that I am not like the bad people - like robbers and adulterers or like that tax collector. I fast and I tithe and I do all the right things.” And the tax collector stood at the back, bowed down and and would not lift his head or his hands to God in the typical way to pray and prayed, “God have mercy on me, for I am a sinner.” And Jesus says, “The one who is blessed, is the tax collector.” What a slap in the face to a group of people who thought the tax collectors were on the highway to Hell.
About this time a rich young man comes to Jesus and says, “I want to follow you!” And Jesus looks at him and says, “Fine. But first you have to give up all you have. Go do that and come back and you can follow me.” And we are told that the rich young man went away very sad, because he wasn’t willing to give all that wealth away.”
Remember these two people, the repentant tax collector and the reluctant young rich man as we go with Jesus into Jericho.
Jesus enters Jericho. News of his coming had preceded him and crowds had gathered to see Jesus as crowds did everywhere. Something had compelled Zacchaeus to go to see Jesus. But Zacchaeus was short - he was a wee little man - and with the crowds of people Zacchaeus was shut out - no one was going to help him; no one was going to move out of his way so he could see… so Zacchaeus does the only thing he can to be able to see Jesus which was to get somewhere above the crowd, so he climbs up a tree - a sycamore tree to be exact.

Jesus goes straight to the tree where Zacchaeus had climbed up, stopped and looked up and called Zacchaeus by name. How did Jesus know that Zacchaeus was in that tree? How did Jesus know that Zacchaeus was his name? Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down! I’m going to go to your house.” ‘There is so much wrong with this considering the social norms of the day. First of all it was not socially acceptable to invite yourself to someone’s home, even if you were the visiting celebrity and it was certainly tabu for a good Jew to go to the house of a tax collector. Entering a tax collector’s home would make you ‘unclean’ and very unpopular.
Zacchaeus comes down out of the tree and takes Jesus to his house. Can you imagine the surprise and the disgust of the people who hear this exchange and who see Jesus walking with this man, this tax collector, this greedy traitor. The crowd couldn’t understand how Jesus could actually share a meal with this sinner.
But Jesus didn’t see Zacchaeus as the citizens of Jericho saw him – Jesus saw someone whom God loves. Jesus saw someone who is precious, someone whom He has come to save.
What a contrast it would have been for Jesus, this plain, simply dressed former carpenter, to enter into this fine, luxurious, home with its rich furnishings and elaborate tapestries on the walls. The food would have been the top of the line, gourmet offerings, the finest of wine.
Jesus and Zacchaeus sit down and talked. We don’t know what the conversation might have been, but by the end of it we know that Zacchaeus’ life was transformed. He looked at Jesus and said “Today I am giving half of everything I have to the poor and the people I have cheated I am going to pay back 4 times over!” Amazing what Jesus can do - and did you catch the difference between Zacchaeus and the rich young man who couldn’t follow Jesus because he wasn’t willing to give anything up for Jesus?
Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Zacchaeus, I knew when I saw you up in that tree that you had a true desire to change your life. I knew that if you went to that effort just to see me, there was a desire within you to get to know me, to understand what I was all about….. Zacchaeus, today you have understood the grace God has showered on you.”
Jesus then looked at the crowd and said, “This is why I came. I came to seek and find the ones who have lost their way; to show them there is a new way, a better way to live. To find those that have lost their way and just need some help getting back on track.”
Zacchaeus serves as evidence of all the possibilities present in the presence of Jesus. Everything about the story of Zacchaeus seems impossible -- that a chief tax collector would want to see Jesus; that Jesus sought him out and knew his name; that Jesus would stay in his home; that it would be revealed that this sinner exceeded what the law required as restitution for the money he extorted by his generosity to the poor and the people he cheated; that Jesus would declare not just him but his whole household saved because of Zacchaeus’ transformation. Yet just earlier Jesus declared that what is impossible for mortals is nevertheless possible for God (18:27). Perhaps Zacchaeus is one more example of the impossible possibility that Jesus embodies and regularly manifests.
Maybe for us Zacchaeus represents what Jesus can do in our lives. As we get caught up in all our physical needs - clothing, shelter, food, even fun and work - we forget about our spiritual needs, our need for a relationship with God, the need we have for Jesus in our lives in a real way, in a way that will transform us and help us to grow into the people Jesus knows we can be - just like the man he knew Zacchaeus could be.
This Lent, take time to consider the spiritual side of your life, listen as Jesus calls your name….

Gifted By God


Have you ever considered that the Lone Ranger was not really alone? He had his loyal indian, Tonto with him all the time. Robinson Caruso had his man Friday. Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway had a volley ball he named Wilson who became his trusty companion. The point being that God does not ever ask us to do things, ‘all on our own’. When it comes to the work of the church, God gathers us in community so that we are not alone, so we don’t have to do it all. If we follow the edicts of God, there are no ‘Lone Rangers’ when it comes to doing God’s work.
From the beginnings of the stories of God’s people it becomes obvious that God intends for us to be ‘part’ of the community of faith. Adam was not alone for very long when God realized he needed a companion - the actual Hebrew word means ‘help mate’. Noah had a family to help him, Abraham and Sarah had a myriad of servants to work with him, Jacob had 12 sons who did his work, Jeremiah had Baruch - we could continue on with every one of the ‘heroes’ we read about; all had people who traveled with them and who helped them in the work God gave them to do. None were ever asked to do it all by themselves.
In the scripture passage we read this morning from the book of Exodus, we read about
Moses. Moses was the leader God called to shepherd the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. Remember the story: The people of God had lived in a beautiful, lush valley in Egypt for many hundreds of years. The Pharaoh of Egypt realized they were there and became nervous that such a large group of people could easily organize and take over the country. He also needed storage houses built to keep all his ‘stuff’. So he figured he could kill two birds with one stone by making these Hebrews his slaves - as slaves he would then have them under his control and they would be less likely to rebel and he would get his store houses built!
After suffering as slaves, the Hebrews cried out to God who called Moses to go to Egypt and free them. After several ‘discussions’ with Pharaoh and some miracles by God, Pharaoh agrees to let the people go and Moses begins to lead them through the sea and into the wilderness to ‘the promised land’ - a land God would give them for their very own where they could live together in peace as God’s people. But it was an arduous journey - these Hebrews had never lived in the desert before, they didn’t know how to survive on their own, they had never traveled and so this was all new for them and the leadership and guidance all fell on the shoulders of Moses. Not only was Moses trying to get this huge crowd of people to travel in new territory, to make sure they had food and water and what they needed, making sure that all was well when they set up camp and that they had everyone and everything when they broke camp and moved on, but he also found himself arbitrating disputes between the people.
After all these are just people, everyday people put into a new and often difficult situation, and what happens when people in these circumstances have to live closely together with other people? There are going to be issues between people and families and between families and other families and people and other people. Moses not only had to make sure the traveling part was going well, but he also became the one everyone went to to settle their disputes. So as you can imagine, Moses was worn out. He’s the travel director, the spiritual leader, and the counselor for all these travelers off on this long journey - about 2.4 million people.
At one point during the trip, the Israelites set up camp and found themselves camped close to where Moses’ father in law, Jethro, lived. So Jethro came over to visit Moses and spend some time with him. Very quickly Jethro sees all that Moses is trying to get done and says to him, “Moses, you can’t continue to do all this by yourself. You need some help. You have all these capable people around you who aren’t doing anything - let them help you.” And Moses’ answer was sort of something along the lines of “This is just the way it has always been and I really hadn’t ever considered any other way.

But you are right, I am getting rather tired!” So Jethro came up with a plan for Moses to choose leaders from the people and have the leaders be in charge of a certain number of people. Those leaders would then take care of ‘their’ people and only would go to Moses if there were problems the leaders couldn’t handle. This would drastically reduce Moses’ work load and make for a more efficient way for the Hebrews to continue on their journey through the desert and to the promised land. By dividing up the work load, more people became involved in this journey and no one had to do it all themselves.
This was a model that came to be used as God continued to work with his people. When it comes time to build the Tabernacle, God’s mobile church, they gather people with different talents and different gifts and different abilities and together the Tabernacle gets built. When it comes to build the second Temple, the one after the original one was destroyed, God gathered workers from within the Hebrew people with various gifts and abilities and talents to do the work - and together the Temple was built. On and on through the story of the people of God we see God assemble people together of various gifts and together they accomplish what God needs done.
We even see this same pattern as Jesus gathers his disciples. Andrew had a gift for bringing people to Jesus, Peter had a gift for leadership, John was the spiritual one, Matthew was a writer, Judas was the money keeper....... Each had different gifts and abilities that benefited the whole group. And it was God who brought them together so that they could accomplish the job God intended for them to do - to learn and become the leaders of this new life of living as followers of Jesus. So each contributed to the group as they were able - each used their own gifts for the benefit of the whole.
Look around. We are a particular community of faith in this particular location in this particular time. We are the church of Jesus Christ. We are all different. We come from different places and different backgrounds and different traditions. We have different experiences and different things we have learned. But yet we all fit here together. God has gathered us here
because we are all different. And by bringing our different perspectives and our different histories and our different abilities together, we are able to accomplish the work God puts before us - together.
The Apostle Paul probably puts it the best when he has us remember that we are called the ‘body’ of Christ. And we are just like a body - the body has ears and eyes and feet and hands and a mouth and a heart and a stomach and all those other body parts. Each body part is different, each has a different job. The ears hear and the eyes see and the feet walk and stand and the mouth talks and the skin feels and it is only because we have all these different parts that we can truly function and do anything. Paul says “What would happen if all we were was an ear, or an eye or skin? What could we accomplish? Nothing....”
And so it is with the church - the body of Christ. We are all different, we all have different gifts and we all have different abilities and because each of us uses our particular gifts for a common purpose, we are able to carry out what we need to do.
Look around - we all take a part, we all contribute, no one has to ‘go it alone’, no one has to feel like a Lone Ranger, no one has to feel the pressure of ‘doing it all’ because just like Jethro when to Moses and said, “Let some other people help you!”, God says to us - “I gathered you together as my church, as my people. I collected those whom I knew could do my work. I gave you the gifts and talents and abilities you would need, and I gave you a purpose to fulfill in this community. I gave you each other - to work and live and love together. Each doing what they are able to do”
And it is together that we live out God’s will for us and this church.


Advent: The Refiners Fire

Advent: A Refiners Fire

Advent marks the beginning of a new church year and begins four Sundays prior to Christmas Day. During this season, the church prepares for the coming of Christ. While we make ready for the baby to be born in Bethlehem, this season is also designed to help us think beyond the birth and even beyond the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, to that time of expectancy when the Day of Christ will appear, when Jesus will return and the reign of God will begin over a new heaven and a new earth. Our waiting in anticipation during Advent in many ways is practice for our time of waiting when Jesus will return in all his glory, when the trumpets will blast and all eyes will look heavenward to see Jesus.
During Advent, familiar people and familiar stories return to our lives as we are awakened out of that long season of Ordinary Time - it is time to get ready; it is time to think of new possibilities; it is time begin to consider the hope and peace and joy and love that are associated with this season. It is time to prepare for the one who can make that hope and peace and joy and love a reality in our lives right now, in this life. Advent is so much more than just listening to the stories of Mary and Joseph and shepherds and angels, Advent is about anticipating the coming of the savior of the world - and how that affects our life. Advent is not just a time to sing Christmas Carols but to really consider what this time is all about and why God planned tings the way he did and what effect that has on us and the world around us.
Advent is not a time for passive waiting and watching. It is a time of opening up our lives to the call to “Get Ready”, “Prepare” for the newborn King is on his way.
And who better to jolt us out of our complacency than John the Baptist. We usually don’t think about John the Baptist as being part of the Christmas Story because John’s story takes place when Jesus is grown and is getting ready to begin his ministry. But the reason John is always included in the Advent story is because his message typifies the idea of the Advent.
About 30 years after the birth of Jesus, John appears one day on the banks of the Jordan River, a few miles from Jerusalem, and he begins to preach - “Prepare the way of the Lord!” . In Chapter 3, Matthew tells us that John’s message was
11 ‘I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’
Now I don’t know about you, but those words are pretty scary and don’t sound much like our Christmas story with a cute little baby, and angels and shepherds and peaceful nights….. In the ways of John the Baptist the coming of the Christ is something that strikes people with ‘fear and trembling’. In Malachi, the coming of the Messiah is called a ‘great and dreadful day” But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver - ever think of Christmas as a ‘dreadful day’ - not dreadful in the sense that you are worried you haven’t gotten everything done; all the presents bought and wrapped, all the decorations up, Christmas Cards sent, food gathered and prepared— but a dreadful day when you are under the threat of being put in a refiner’s fire!
Now a refiner’s fire is not a fire like a forest fire that burns everything in its path. A refiner’s fire is a fire that uses bellows to pump oxygen into the fire when makes the fire get as hot as possible, then the silver melts and the impurities rise to the top where they are skimmed off and thrown away. What is left is pure refined silver.
This doesn’t sound like a very comfortable process. Being heated up to 1700 degrees and melted and then having something scraped off doesn’t sound very pleasant and if this is what Advent is all

about then I don’t think I’d be too happy about this season. But that is how this anticipation, this waiting is presented to us as we understand what scripture teaches.
“Prepare yourselves” John the Baptist says, “Get ready for the coming of the Messiah because he is going to be like the refiner’s fire and we are going to be like the silver…” Makes you kind of wonder about Advent - We just want to decorate and light candles and sing Christmas Carols and go shopping… And then John the Baptist erupts into our lives and tells us to approach this Messiah with fear and trembling; prepare yourself because you are about to be refined like silver - the great and dreadful day of the Lord is coming!
Malachi not only says that we will refined like silver, but we will be scrubbed with lye soap. I don’t know whether you have been scrubbed with lye soap, but it is a very uncomfortable experience!
I had a grandmother who was obsessed with cleanliness. When I would go to her house, I admit I would get dirty. I’d play down by the river and in the dirt up behind her house and at the end of the day she would put me in this really hot water in a claw foot bath tub and get out her bar of lye soap and this old bristle scrub brush and she would scrub the dirt off and at least the top two layers of skin - or that is what it felt like. I dreaded that time in the bathtub.
Prepare the way of the Lord - and what that means is that we are to be refined in the fire; we are to be scrubbed down and then you will be ready for the coming of the Lord.
The idea of Advent is being the idea of being prepared, being made ready, and not just for the coming of the Lord on Christmas, but the purpose of Advent is to make us think about that time when the Jesus will come again - that time we call “The Second Coming”. When Jesus will come back and declare his Kingdom here on earth for ever and for ever. The passage we read form Matthew earlier speaks of this time when Christ will come again. Jesus warns that this day will take the whole world by surprise. As in Noah’s time, people will be going about their everyday business - eating and drinking, marrying and having families, working and playing with no awareness of God’s impending judgment Jesus says they will be like a house owner who fails to anticipate when the burglar is going to break in. Jesus says that not even the angels or even Jesus himself knows when this coming Day of the Lord is going to happen but we should be prepared. Because Jesus says, those who are prepared will be saved and those who are not will be perish.
Remember that the birth of the Messiah, 2000 years ago, was just as much a surprise to the people as Jesus talks about the time when he will return. 2000 years ago God’s people weren’t ready - even though they had all the information they needed to recognize the coming of the baby Jesus, even thought they had been anticipating this event since the time of Moses, they had become complacent and lax in their relationship with God and that is why, according to John the Baptist, they were unable to recognize the Messiah when he arrived.
And how are we prepared? By submitting to the refiners fire and allowing God to scrub us down with lye soap; by realizing that Advent is not about sitting back and just waiting, but about dedicating ourselves to work with God to allow him to get us ready. Our life with Christ is all about transformation; of allowing ourselves to be transformed to become more Christlike. And it isn’t easy; it takes fire and lye soap as God removes the impurities in our lives and scrubs us down to rid ourselves of our selfishness. That is what Advent is to be - a time to make up our mind to allow ourselves be transformed.
We are all on a journey. A journey to be more like Christ; to grow in our understanding of who God calls us to be as his children; of learning what it means to be a witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ showered upon us. This process is not going to happen on its own. It is not going to happen by us just sitting back and waiting; of anticipating its happening. It takes a refiners fire; it takes a scrubbing down, it takes a time of hearing and listening and preparation - preparation of our very selves just like we prepare our homes and our sanctuaries for the coming of the Messiah at Christmas.
Advent is a new beginning and new beginnings are good times for us to start. So in anticipation of the coming of Jesus, let’s truly own those words of John the Baptist - let us Prepare for the coming of the Lord because if we prepare; if we work on getting ourselves ready then it won’t be a day to fear; it won’t be a dreaded day - but a day where we can truly experience the hope, peace , joy and love of the Messiah.

What is good?

What is Good?

Imagine a story so powerful that it would make a man with three doctoral degrees (one, in medicine, one in theology and one in philosophy) leave civilization with all of its culture and amenities and depart to the jungles of darkest Africa? Imagine a story that so transformed a man who was recognized as one the the most talented concert organists in all of Europe that he would go to a place where there were no organs to play. What story would so motivate a man that he would give up a teaching position in Vienna, Austria, at one of the most prestigious schools in Europe, to go and deal with people who were so deprived that they were still living in the superstitions of the dark ages. What would make a man give up the luxury of being honored and celebrated and wealthy to give up his life for the betterment of a people he didn’t even know. This man was Dr. Albert Schweitzer and the single story that so radically altered his life was a parable Jesus told. According to Dr Schweitzer, the parable we read this morning of the Rich Man and Lazarus was that story. Albert Schweitzer read that parable and saw the Rich Man in himself and that was not who he wanted to be, so he gave it all up and left the life that he knew, the life the world considered successful, and went to live with the truly unfortunate - those who lived in the the despairs of poverty - intellectual, physically and spiritually.
The Rich Man and Lazarus saw each other every day. Of course there would be no contact between them because if the Rich Man touched Lazarus he would become unclean and that would be most inconvenient since the Rich Man would then need to to to the temple and sacrifice something and then go through the required ritual washings. Every day as the Rich Man walked out of his gate, he would see Lazarus sitting there, starving, covered in sores and the Rich Man would hold back his robes to make sure that he completely avoided this poor beggar.
The Rich man was a man of comfortable living. He was not ‘rich’ in the Bill Gates sort of rich, but rich in our middle class sort of rich. He had a home and lived comfortably not really wanting for anything. He was self-indulgent and if we are honest most of us are. The Rich Man was a connoisseur, a love of the arts, one who knew and appreciated the ‘nice’ things in life, he enjoyed the nice restaurant, the great vacation. The Rich Man dressed in purple - this is point out because purple was only worn by those who could afford it and few could. His underwear was made of linen- again just another way of letting us know that the Rich man lives a comfortable life. The Rich Man has enough food that he can give leftovers to the dogs in his house.
The difference between these two men is made as obvious as possible as Jesus tells the story. Lazarus, in contrast to the Rich Man, is homeless. he is a cripple. He barely survived day to day, living off the scraps of food people throw him - less food that the dogs in the Rich Man’s house. He is covered in sores and is so helpless that he can’t even fight off the dogs who come each day and lick his sores.
Both men die. And we are told that Lazarus goes to heaven where he is held and comforted in the arms of Abraham and the Rich Man goes to hell where he is in torment. But I want you to think about this story not as an indictment against the Rich man; this is not a story condemning the Rich Man because he was rich - it was a story condemning the Rich Man because he was so self-absorbed he couldn’t see the needs of Lazarus and was unwilling to give his precious crumbs for this poor fella. But what I really want you to see is this is a story of hope; hope for Lazarus who suffered his whole life and ends up on the comforting arms of God, never again to suffer, to to be in pain or to be hungry. It is a reminder for us that no matter how bad things may be, we have hope. That even if we don’t live a ‘comfortable’ life, we are a people of hope. That is all Lazarus had - was hope. He had no security other than to know that God loved him - and in the end Lazarus will be the one with eternal security.

A little note here on the definition of the word ‘hope’. We think of hope in the context of wishing. I ‘hope’ it won’t rain tomorrow - meaning “I wish it won’t rain because I want to go on a picnic’ or “I hope that paycheck gets deposited so I can pay my bills.” or something along those lines. For us ‘hope’ means something we desire should happen. But in the wording of scripture, the word ‘hope’ means something that is promised. When we say “Our hope is in Jesus” we are saying that in Jesus we are promised that we will be with him forever. Remember the hymn “Our hope is built on nothing less that Jesus blood and righteousness”. While Jesus is something we desire, we don’t have to worry about whether or not it is true. We desire it not to rain, but it still might because we have no control over the weather. But our ‘hope’ being in Jesus means that we are promised, we are assured’ that our eternity rests in Jesus. So keep that in mind and whenever you read the word ‘hope’ in the Bible substitute the word ‘promised’. Our ‘promises’ are in Jesus Christ - so we don’t have to wish for them and wonder if they are going to happen - we are promised and that is what our faith is based on - it is truly believing that we are promised, what we hope, is true. Believing with every fiber of your being that what we know about the love and grace of Jesus is true - and that like Lazarus some day we will end up in heaven in the comforting arms of God. Not a ‘hope’ in our definition of the word - but an assurance.
The Jeremiah story we read today is also about hope. It is an example of what true hope is really all about. The story goes like this: Jeremiah is called by God to tell Israel that they have messed up to the point that God is going to let them suffer the consequences of their disobedience to God. The people of God have just gotten lazy and complacent. Like the Rich Man in our story before, the people of Israel have everything they need - food, shelter, all the creature comforts that make you feel like you are secure in what you have. And when you have everything you need, God is just less important. The Rich Man went through the motions of doing everything he thought he was suppose to do, he went to Temple, he participated in the feasts and festivals required by God and so did the Israelites. They were doing all the right things; they did everything they were suppose to do. But their heart just wasn’t in it. Their hearts and their loyalty were somewhere else. And that isn’t good enough for God - God wants our whole attention; God wants first place in our lives. And when that doesn’t happen, God will allow us fall. And that is what Jeremiah is telling the Israelites - ‘Because of your nonchalant attitude, I am going to let Babylon come in and take you captive and take you back to Babylon and turn you into slaves’ because God knows that when that happens you will realize where your help really is - in God.
But then God tells Jeremiah to buy a plot of land. Why would you buy a plot of land if you knew you were about be captured and taken away to another country? Because this was God’s way of showing them that God will restore them back to their land - God will bring them hope again. This plot of land because a symbol of their hope - the promises of God to never give up on his people. Once they realize that is truly important in life, God will bring them home.
God knows what really is good for our lives. God knows what will bring us peace and contentment and a true feeling of purpose and self worth. God knows that the only real good is in him and when we put our trust in him - and him alone.
That is a really hard thing to do. We don’t understand it; we have been taught that our security is in what we work for and what we earn and in what we do - so all of our energy and thought and work goes into we ‘we’ do. But God says - if you really want a good life, just trust in me. You’ll have everything you need and you will be able to live a truly happy, contented, peaceful life and you will be held in my arms for all eternity.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer never looked back. He left everything that made him secure; gave up everything he had and went to Africa to be faithful to what God had done for him. He knew his hope - the promises of his life - was in following Jesus. And that is all that mattered.
What is good? What is a good life? Putting things in the right perspective and knowing for sure that our hope is in Jesus and nothing else.