There is a sign that is held up at almost every football game. John 3:16. It just may be the most well- known Bible verse. Martin Luther called John 3:16 “the gospel in a nutshell” because it tells us of God’s profound love for us. It tells us of the depths to which God would go to convey that love for us. The verse leaped into popular sports culture when born-again Christians started holding “John 3:16” signs as a way to spread the gospel. The most famous 3:16 holder was Rollen Stewart. In the 70’s and 80’s, he wore a rainbow-colored wig and danced behind the goal posts at football games, home plate at baseball games and the backboard at basketball games, even the finish line of the Indy 500. Stewart said he wanted John 3:16, on as many tv screens as possible, so people would repent and believe. Right now, Stewart should be repenting. He is serving three consecutive life sentences after a bizarre incident in which he locked himself in a hotel room, held a maid hostage and threatened to shoot down airplanes. Despite that fall from respectability, John 3:16 has remained popular as a witnessing device among evangelical Christians. Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor, says that’s “because it’s short and information-packed: God loves humankind, man has sinned and is destined for eternal punishment, but eternal life awaits all who believe in God’s son, Jesus.” And faster than the Patriots can turn around a game in the fourth quarter, a verse about the love of God has changed into a verse that is telling people they...
Thirsting for Worship

Thirsting for Worship

In a church I once served, there was a woman, who liked to make a quick buck, by which I mean she kept trying to get rich quickly. She set up a meeting with me to try to sell the idea that together we could get the whole congregation involved in selling pre-paid phone cards. A few of you are young enough not to know what that is. They were very popular back when people couldn’t roam around the country talking on a cell phone a single exorbitant fee. You purchased a card- like a credit card – which had a set number of pre-paid minutes of long distance calls on it. That was easier than dropping handfuls of coins into a pay phone and the minutes were sold at a cheaper rate. My worshipper was convinced that with only my support and every worshipper’s participation, this idea would provide the church with all the cash it would ever need. Everybody need phone cards, she reasoned, so we could get everyone involved in selling them. You see, a certain percentage of each card sold would go back to the church. She named ten percentage so that it had the sound of a biblical tithe to it. Of course, a percentage would go to her, oh, and a percentage would go to me. It would be great if I got in on the ground floor. And she knew how important mission was for this church and – incredibly – this would qualify as a ministry to the poor because we would be helping lots of poor people get really good...

  Ask someone what Christmas is all about. Most will answer: it is the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the son of God. Then ask: why was he born? The answers will start to vary widely. Many will say he came to save us from sin. He was born to suffer and die in our place. Others will answer that Jesus was born to bring God’s kingdom to earth. Others say he came to show us God’s love. All these answers are true, of course. As is in so much of faith, there is not a single simple answer. The answer that the gospel writer wants us to know this morning is that Jesus was born so we can claim our identity as children of God. John writes that Jesus’ birth – the incarnation – had to because of who God is, a God who is entirely present in the world. The word that was God and is God became flesh and dwelt among us. That’s John’s Christmas story. After a few short but glorious sentences, John moves on to answer the why of Jesus birth. His focus is on another birth. Or many births. John believes that the significance of the Christmas story is that it offers us – you and I – new life and our true identities. …to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. I know too many Christians for...

Oh, how we have longed for Christmas this year. Personally, I don’t think I have been as excited for Christmas to come since I was a child. It isn’t just the celebration we need. We need the vision that we are blessed in our humanness, for we spend so much time cursing one another. We don’t just need the peace. We need to hear of peace on earth, goodwill to all because we spend so much in confusion, fury, and fear. Angels appear in the stories about the birth of Jesus with a consistent message. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to take your part in the birth of God into the world. That message comes to us eternally and ever new. Even when times are anxious, we are to be fearless. We have our part to play in God being born into this world. GK Chesterton wrote that when he was a child he was delighted on Christmas morning to find a gift so big only half of it went into a stocking. As a grown man, he said he was delighted every morning to find a present so big takes two stocking to hold it and then leaves a great deal outside. It is, he said, “the large and preposterous present of myself.” Christ was born at Christmas. And so are we. By the gift of the incarnation, we walk on earth as a present of good news. Live with the joy of a well-loved child. Be at peace even in disagreement. Offer shelter to those who wander. Care for those who lives are intertwined...
Do Not Be Afraid

Do Not Be Afraid

When God comes knocking at our door, offering joy, our first reaction just might be fear. That was the experience of the casual theologian and excellent novelist Annie Dillard.   In an essay, entitled God in the Doorway, Dillard writes about a Christmas Eve in her childhood that she has never forgotten. Dillard was a small child when her family came home unusually late from a festive dinner out.  Coming in from the cold, everyone was happy to arrive in their warm living room.  Stockings dropped from the mantel. There was a special table holding a bottle of ginger ale and a plate of cookies. Suddenly, there was a commotion. The front door flew open and cold wind blew around little Annie’s legs. It was Santa Claus looming in the doorway, looking around for Annie.  Everyone started calling for Annie to welcome Santa.  Annie’s mother was thrilled. Look who’s here! Look who’s here! she kept exclaiming. It was Santa Claus, whom Annie never – ever – wanted to meet. Annie Dillard ran upstairs. Dillard writes: Like everyone in his right mind, I feared Santa Claus, thinking he was God. I was still thoughtless and brute, reactive. I knew right from wrong, but had barely tested the possibility of shaping my own behavior, and then only from fear, and not yet from love. santa Claus was an old man whom you never saw, but who nevertheless saw you; he knew when you’d been bad or good. he knew when you’d been bad or good! and I had been bad. Her parents and Santa Claus pleaded, yet she refused.  Annie Dillard would...

Serving is a tough way to make a living. Hauling around heavy trays. On your feet all day. Trying to avoid spills, burns, and co-workers. Getting poked, grabbed, harassed and yelled at. And smiling! No matter how rude the customer. Suzy Hansen, who has studied the restaurant business, argues that you can divide the world into two kinds of people: those on the customer side of the tray and those on the waitress side of the tray. On the customer side are the proud and the powerful. On the other side are the humble and harassed. Dependent on the attitudes of others as much as their own skill. Vulnerable to the strength of someone else’s business, capricious customers and often with a precarious perch on security. The other side of the tray is where Mary, the mother, of Jesus, lived. Along with other women of first-century Galilee, Mary was a second class non-citizen, deemed not worthy of education, compensation, conversation or consideration. From the other side of the tray, servers have been present in the midst of chaos and confusion and have tried to remain good and faithful servants. Even when that seems impossible. It’s what Mary does. A messenger of the Lord appears to Mary and asks her to take on an impossible task – conceiving a child, whose origin will be misunderstood and conjectured about, even as she prepares to marry. Mary is invited not just to bear the child and to bear up under the challenge of living on the tough side of the tray. She is invited to be at peace there. The gospel of...