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Three Kinds of Kings — Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12 — The Rev. Dr. Stephens Lytch

       In 2018, as in every year, leaders made a difference. Our country is divided in its opinion of President Trump, but we’re in agreement that, for better or for worse, he’s made a big difference in the political landscape and America’s place in the world. Companies are closely identified with their leaders. What would the world be like today if Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t invented The Facebook when he was in college? But in 2018 we discovered that Zuckerberg’s invention isn’t an unmitigated good. He had to defend himself and the company before Congress and in the court of public opinion.  In sports it was obvious that it makes a difference who’s in charge. It looked like the Ravens were doomed to lousy season when Joe Flacco was injured, but up stepped Lamar Jackson and now they’re in the playoffs.

       It’s an old debate among historians: Does the person shape the times or do the times make the person?  Personalities aren’t the only things that shape events, but it makes a difference who’s in charge.  Just look at the three kinds of kings we read about in today’s gospel lesson.

       King Herod had the kind of authority we usually think of when we hear the word power. He had armies at his disposal. He could make anyone in Judea do whatever he wanted.  He had wealth.  He taxed at his pleasure.  He was in charge.  Nobody told King Herod what to do.

       Power like Herod’s, power based on force and coercion, has lots of appeal.  Sometimes it’s necessary to deal with threats to safety and security from those who would harm us.  We always want our police officers to be better armed than the criminals.  We want our armed forces to have the best equipment possible to give them an edge over our enemies.  But we have to be careful about our fascination with the power of force and coercion.  It can be intoxicating.  There’s a certain thrill that comes with the immediate effects of being able to impose your will on someone else by force.  But that kind of power doesn’t last.  Smart leaders know that.  One of the reasons that New York is now one of the safest cities in the nation is because of the kind of community policing that its police commissioner Bill Bratton introduced. Rather than working out of fortified bunkers like Fort Apache in the Bronx, officers walk their beats, mingle with the people, build trust, and use force only as a last resort. 

       The great strength of our country is that it isn’t founded on the power of coercive force.  We use it for self-defense, but our nation is founded on principles of freedom and democracy.  We know that coercive power, for all its immediate gratification, is limited.  Those who use force in our behalf like police officers and the military are under the authority of civilians who are elected by the people. Leaders like Herod who impose their will by force, and after him dictators and tyrants throughout history, have caused immense suffering and death, but that kind of power doesn’t last.  The pages of history are filled with the stories of empires that rose on the strength of their armies but fell because that kind of power has its limits.

       So the first kind of king in the story we read today is the one whose authority is based on raw power.  The second kind of king in the story is the magi.  Matthew doesn’t really say they were kings.  He doesn’t even tell us there were three; he just tells us the three kinds of gifts they brought to Bethlehem. But these men were regal.  In order to afford gold, frankincense and myrrh they must have been as wealthy as kings.  And they certainly knew something about leadership.  They knew their own limits and realized they needed someone greater than themselves to lead them.  The magi were looking for someone worthy of their obedience and praise, someone whom they could trust, a ruler who wouldn’t let them down.

       The magi found that king because they studied the stars.  There’s something about gazing at the stars that puts everything in a different perspective.  The magi knew from spending so much of their lives looking outward into the vast reaches of the universe that there was something other than themselves at the center of creation.  The magi knew which stars rose when and how they journeyed across the sky.  They had studied their patterns and knew from watching the heavens that there was someone greater than they who put the galaxies in motion and ordered their movements.  The magi were looking for the right kind of king. So when they saw his star, they headed for Judea.

       The magi were polite to Herod.  They respected his kind of power. When they passed through his capital, they stopped in and asked his help in finding the king they were looking for.  But they didn’t obey him.  They didn’t return to Jerusalem on their way home and tell him what he asked them to find out.  They knew the limits of Herod’s kind of power.

       What the magi were looking for, what made them wise men, was a third kind of king.  This king was completely different from Herod.  His power was a different kind, a kind that wasn’t based on the construction of alliances or the manipulation of force.  It didn’t depend on the ability to impose his will on others.  Jesus’ power comes from some place else.  Its source is the same as the power the magi saw when they looked at the stars.

       This king didn’t have any swords or riches to back him up.  He didn’t need fear to make people fall at his feet.  Nature worshiped him at his birth.  Herod had to coerce people to honor him, but the stars changed their course for Jesus.

       For this king, for Jesus, the poor and the needy weren’t helpless subjects to squeeze dry.  This kind of king was the one the Psalmist described, the one who “delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.”  This king “has pity on the weak and needy.  He redeems their life from oppression and violence.”  His power wasn’t something he seized by force; it was something given to him to spread the goodness and the love of God.

       And his power isn’t limited the way Herod’s was.  It is a power that lasts as long as the sun and moon endure.  It is not confined to one lifetime, because he overcame death that brings an end to all human power.  Death was Herod’s greatest ally.  The threat of death is what tyrants like Herod use to get their way, but death couldn’t coerce Jesus.  When Herod sought to kill the newborn king, God led the infant Jesus to Egypt.  33 years later when he was nailed him to a cross, Jesus conquered death once and for all on Easter morning.

       Jesus was the king the wise men worshiped.  They recognized him as the true king because he is the one who has true power, the power of God that made the world.  Where every other kind of power has its limits, Jesus’ power does not.  When he rules our lives, it changes who we are and what we do.

       We’re here this morning because Jesus is the right kind of king, the ruler who reigns not through coercion but through that most powerful force in the universe, love.  We are here because he is the one who presides over the course of the galaxies.  He is the one who guides and directs our lives.  He is the one who hosts us at his table where he feeds us with spiritual food and drink.  He is the head of this church, the one who has called us together to worship him, to study him, and to serve the world on his behalf.  The wise men found their way to him and laid their most precious treasures before him.  We don’t have to search or take a long journey to find him.  He has found us.  He is here.  He rules the galaxies and the course of history.  Does he rule your life? 

12-23-18 — The Perfect Gift — Micah 5:2-5, Hebrews 10:5-10 — The Rev. Dr. Stephens Lytch

      

When I was a pastor in Louisville, the church I served had a nursery school, like the preschool here at Eastminster. One of the things I looked forward to every December was telling the story of Christmas to our nursery school students.  The children would file quietly into the sanctuary and sit in the front pews.  I brought our nativity scene from home, and as each character entered the story, I placed the figure on the table that was set up where they can see it.  One year was especially memorable because of a boy I’ll call Scot.  I knew Scot from Sunday mornings when he would come join me for the Children’s Message in worship.  He was a sweet little boy, but on this day he was showing another side of his character.  As I was trying to tell the story of Christmas to all the polite, well-behaved children, Scot kept butting in with his commentary:  “How do you think Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem?” I asked the children.  Scot yelled out, “On a motorcycle.”  I ignored him and got the holy couple to Bethlehem properly, on a donkey.  When it was time for the figure of the Christ child to appear, I said, “There wasn’t a crib in the stable so Mary laid the baby Jesus in a…”  “Jacuzzi!” shouted Scot, full of himself.  It was downhill from there.  He started crawling over the child sitting next to him, and I was becoming more irrelevant to those children by the second until a teacher gently led Scot out the door for a quiet talk. 

       If you’ve been around children very much, you’ve seen your share of kids like Scot.  He wasn’t a bad child.  He just wanted what we all want.  He wanted to be noticed.  If he couldn’t get noticed for sitting quietly and raising his hand, he’d get noticed for being a smart aleck.  The Psalmist speaks for Scot and for all of us when he cries out, “Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.” (Psalm 65:15)  In other words, Notice me. 

       Yet as much as we want to be noticed, one of the things we fear most is being noticed.  What if we are noticed and it doesn’t matter?  What if everyone sees you and concludes, “She’s worthless, not even worth noticing?”  One reason the movie It’s a Wonderful Life resonates with us is because it speaks to our fear that we don’t really matter.  George Bailey is convinced he’s not worth a thing.  He’s ready to throw himself off the bridge when the angel Clarence shows him what the town of Bedford Falls would be like if George had never lived. 

We need to be reassured, like George Bailey, that we matter.  Deep down inside we know none of us has to be here.  If certain things hadn’t happened just the way they did, we might not have even been born, and who would notice our absence?  On more than one Hiroshima Day, that day in August that marks the anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb, my father told me, “If it weren’t for the atomic bomb, you probably wouldn’t be here.”  In August 1945 he was a Marine in the Philippines training for the invasion of Japan. Now, historians have recently discovered evidence that indicates that Japan might well have been ready to surrender before we dropped the bomb, but Dad’s point is well taken. After he got home from the Pacific Dad went to visit his uncle in Maxton, NC.  He met a young woman who was boarding there while working at the local air base, and she just happened to join them for dinner.  What if Mom had been out that day and they had never met? Would it have mattered?

And the things we accomplish in this life – how can we be sure they really matter?  We work hard to achieve success.  We might acquire money and fame and knowledge, but what if it all amounts to no more than the achievements of Ephraim?  Those ancient people of the Bible worked hard to build up their treasures of wealth and knowledge, but the prophet Isaiah’s judgment on them was this: “’Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little there a little;’ in order that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.’” Those ancient Israelites thought they were doing great stuff, but what they were doing didn’t matter to God. (Isaiah 28:13)

       We long to be noticed, yet we’re afraid.  We fear we’ll be judged not worth noticing.  We’re like Adam and Eve after they ate the forbidden fruit.  When they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil their eyes were opened and they saw what an awful thing they had done.  They sewed fig leaves together to hide from each other.  When God passed by they ducked behind the bushes so God wouldn’t notice them. 

       We need to be noticed, but we need to be noticed and found worthy.  We want to be noticed the way our parents looked on us in the delivery room.  They didn’t think of the long nights that lay ahead, the midnight feedings, the anxiety we would cause them as we explored the world by putting things into our mouths and toddling into dangerous places, the rebellions of adolescence.  They looked on us in sheer joy and wonder.  We want to be noticed by that mother, that father who looks at us and judges us worthwhile.  It’s in that unconditional acceptance by someone who truly matters that we get confidence to face life.[1] 

       Parents or other important adults give us what we need to get started.  Their acceptance and love give us courage to face the world.  But they can’t do it all.  One of the hard discoveries of growing up is realizing your parents aren’t perfect.  Their judgment is sometimes suspect because they have so much invested in you.  Every time my mother heard me preach she told me what a good sermon I gave.  I loved to hear that, but I know it wasn’t true all the time.  She heard me preach some duds. We need to know we’re noticed and judged worthy by one who is impartial, who without bias judges right from wrong and good from bad.  That’s why we need to be noticed and found worthy by God.  God gives us the ultimate assessment of who we are, the objective opinion on whether we’re worthy or not.

       In the Old Testament priests offered sacrifices to make sure God noticed the people of Israel and judged them worthy.  Day after day, week after week, year after year, the priests would go into the temple and offer grain or roast a lamb on behalf of Israel.  Did God need those sacrifices?  Of course not.  God wasn’t going to starve to death if the priests didn’t slay a bull on the altar.  We can’t make God love us by what we do or don’t do.  But in any healthy relationship there must be two sides.  When a child disobeys a parent, the parent isn’t going to stop loving the child, but it sure helps restore the relationship if the child apologizes and offers to do the dishes after supper.  Sacrifices were Israel’s way of keeping up their side of the relationship.

       But what kind of a relationship would it be if you had to keep proving yourself over and over to your friend? You don’t buy a nice Christmas present for your spouse as a payment to keep the marriage going.  You give them something special because you love them. 

       That’s how it is with our relationship with God.  God showed us once for all that we are noticed.  We are important to God and we are worthy of God’s friendship.  One night about 2000 years ago God came to live among us.  Jesus showed us what a perfect life is.  He lived just as we do yet without sin.  There was nothing about Jesus that was unworthy – no selfishness, no greed, no impure thoughts.  By showing us a perfectly worthy life, he also showed us how far we fall short.  So in an act of perfect love, Jesus died for us.  Whatever price there is to pay for disobeying our maker, for striving after things that don’t really matter in the end, for hiding from the one who loves us, whatever punishment we deserve, Jesus took on himself.  He died on the cross and made the perfect sacrifice once for all.  Through him we know that God notices us and loves us.  God loves us so much that the Almighty One wants to spend eternity with us.

       We don’t have to keep working to get God to notice us.  That’s why we Presbyterians don’t have altars in our churches.  That furniture where we lay out the Lord’s Supper is called a communion table.  An altar is where you make a sacrifice, and the sacrifice was made once for all on the cross.  We don’t have to prove to ourselves or anyone else that we’re worthwhile.  Jesus has already proven that for us.  That frees us to do what is truly worthwhile.  Instead of working to prove ourselves, we can join Jesus in the work of justice and love and peace that he has called us to do.

       We put forth our best for him every week when we gather for worship, every day when we visit the nursing home or comfort a friend or write our Senator urging justice and peace.  God continually gives us the strength, through the Holy Spirit, to live up to God’s expectations.

       The very best gifts we’ll receive at Christmas are the ones that say, “You matter to me.  You’re important. I value you enough that I’m thinking about you and you mean something to me.”  That’s the gift God gave at Christmas.   In Jesus God shows you just how much you matter.  You’re worth so much that he left the splendor of heaven to live here, with us.  God would not have done that if you weren’t worth it.  You’re worth the perfect gift of Christmas.


[1] Craig Dykstra, Growing in the Life of Faith: Education and Christian Practices (Louisville: Geneva Press, 1999), p. 89.

12-16-18 — A Clean Sweep — Luke 3:7-18 — The Rev. Dr. Stephens Lytch

       One of the new ideas for Christmas gifts this year is the DNA testing kit. You send off a swab from inside your cheek and you receive back a report that traces your ethnic heritage. Its popularity builds on the success of genealogy databases like Ancestry.com that can identify your ancestors going back generations.

       My father would have loved to have access to that kind of information. He was fascinated with our family tree. He was especially proud that he could trace our lineage all the way back to the great emperor Charlemagne. So when he and my mother came to visit Carol and me when we were living in Edinburgh early in our marriage, he was thrilled by the opportunity to actually visit the place to which he had traced back our Scottish roots.

       Some friends from church let us borrow a car, and a couple of days after Mom and Dad arrived, we all piled in and drove to the west coast of Scotland in search of our roots. We were looking for the parish of North Knapdale, which for some strange reason wasn’t on the map. From family records we knew the general area where it was located, but no one we asked, whether at gas stations or taverns or hotels, had ever heard of that illustrious place. After some difficulty, we finally found the small parish church of North Knapdale perched on a desolate hill overlooking the sea. We piled out of the car and started searching the gravestones for familiar names. After a few minutes, two older ladies emerged from a nearby cottage and walked over to us. “Can we help ye,” one of them asked. My father proudly told them, “We’re looking for the Leitch family. They’re our ancestors who migrated to North Carolina in the 1840s.” One of them looked around at the barren hillsides, the small weathered cottages, the windswept coast, and said, “Ach! I wish my ancestors had migrated to North Carolina!”

       That was a sobering reminder that most Europeans who migrated to America left their homes for a reason. They didn’t have much to lose. And I received another humbling swipe at my family’s claim to genealogical fame this summer, when I read that everyone with European ancestry can trace their lineage back to Charlemagne. You only have to go back a couple of hundred years until you find that everyone from Europe is related.

       It’s fun to know where we came from, and it helps us understand who we are and what has shaped us. But as John the Baptist emphasized in the story we just read, at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter all that much to God. It doesn’t count much in God’s eyes whether we’re American or Scottish or Nigerian or Mexican. What matters is what we do with what we have. Are our lives aligned with God who gives life and peace and joy to all people? Do we live for what really matters, or do we try to build our lives on things that don’t mean that much in the end?

       One of the things that makes it hard to talk about John the Baptist in this season of joy and cheer before Christmas is how judgmental he is. You’d think he would be pleased with all the people who came out into the wilderness to hear him, but he calls them a brood of vipers. Rather than affirming whatever good things they might have done, he says that the ax is laid to the root of the tree and all the things in which they pride themselves will be cut down. He gives this alarming picture of the Messiah coming with a giant pitchfork to separate the wheat from the chaff and throwing the chaff into eternal fire. I’ve yet to see a Hallmark Christmas special on that!

       All that talk of judgment and repentance is hard to stomach. One of the worst things we can say about someone these days is that they’re judgmental. John the Baptist talks about judgment, and he calls it good news.

       Notice that it isn’t you or I that he’s talking about making the judgments. It’s this Messiah that is going to be the judge and do the sorting. And sometimes there has to be a cleansing out before we can move on to something better. The point isn’t to burn the chaff but to gather the wheat. Often, it’s painful. Before you can be cured of cancer you have to endure painful chemotherapy. If you want to get out from under stifling debt, you have to tighten your belt and give up some things you want. To escape the grip of addiction you have to go through the torture of withdrawal.

       John the Baptist was telling the people to give up what was dear to them so they could receive something better. Some of what he was telling them to give up they had no idea it was doing them harm.

       He told those who had two coats to share with anyone who had none. I thought of that command last week. We were getting ready for a reception at our house, and I was clearing out the coat closet by the front door, hauling my wife’s and my coats upstairs to the guest bedroom to make room for the coats of the people we were entertaining. On the second trip up the stairs I thought to myself, “Good grief! How did we get so many coats?” We didn’t buy all those coats so people would be cold. And you can make the case that if somebody needs a coat, there are plenty of places they can get one. That’s probably just what those folks listening to John by the River Jordan were thinking too, but sharing their coat wasn’t just about helping a poor person stay warm. It was also for the sake of the soul of the person with two coats.

       To the tax collectors he told them to collect no more than the amount prescribed for them.That was how they made their living. It was a job creator. They weren’t doing anything illegal. A tax collector was commissioned by Rome to collect what was owed the government. What they could get over that was their profit margin. To do what John the Baptist said would mean a decline in their standard of living. It wouldn’t overhaul the system, but it  makes a difference to those they collected from, and it would put their lives in alignment with the Messiah who was coming to champion the poor and the oppressed. Did they want to line their pockets or save their souls?

       The people who came out to hear John the Baptist had a rich heritage. Their ancestors had been the chosen people. John was telling them not to take it for granted the way things were was the way they would always be. Jesus was coming to make major changes, especially in the way we relate to the poor and those in need. Taking pride in what their forebears had done wasn’t going to get them anywhere.

       Last week when we had our staff meeting in the Multipurpose Room we were surrounded by Christmas presents on their way to Bell Shelter and the Community Progress Council that the members of Eastminster collected. Last Thursday a dozen people were in the Fellowship Hall to hear Rhonda Kruse from the Presbyterian Mission Agency talk about ways Eastminster can expand its mission outreach. Those things were fruits worthy of repentance. They were indications of how Eastminster is trying to align with what Jesus came into the world to do, to proclaim good news to the poor and release to those who are captive.

       That doesn’t mean that your rich heritage isn’t important. It should be a source of pride how so many people gathered together almost 60 years ago to start a new community of faith in this expanding area of York. The gallery of photographs of past spiritual leaders in the Haines House tells a story of faithful witness to the one whom John the Baptist proclaimed. What’s happened here over the years is like the roots of that tree of faith. Roots are important, but they aren’t the fruit for which the tree exists. Those presents in the Multipurpose Room, the care that the deacons and Stephen Ministers give to those who suffer, the lives that are touched and transformed when they come here to worship, those are the fruits that are worthy of repentance. That is what we have to show when the Holy Spirit breathes through us and clears out old ways of doing things to make room for what is fresh and new.        

       Heritage is important. I was a history major in college, and I value knowing our past and honoring it. But everything from our past that keeps us from preparing for the new creation, Jesus sweeps away to make room for him. It only matters to God when it prepares us to claim our part in what God is doing to bring justice and peace into the world. Are you ready?

Works in Progress — Malachi 3:1-4, Philippians 1:3-11 — The Rev. Dr. Stephens Lytch

Have you ever noticed that there’s something in the human spirit that keeps us looking beyond today, that plans for the future, that inspires us to live more fully and generously than self-interest would dictate? Even as we remember a year marked with terrorism and violence, we light our Christmas trees. Even as we mourn loved ones who have died over the past year, we anticipate the joy of Christmas and the promise of a New Year. There’s something that keeps us pressing forward to be better than we are now, to make the world better than it is now. It’s called hope. We can’t see hope, but we know it’s there because without it life doesn’t make sense. Hope is embedded in the human spirit. It’s like quarks.
Quarks are subatomic bits of matter that hold the universe together. The physicists who discovered them received a Nobel prize, but they never laid eyes on them. A number of years ago scientists were studying the structure of matter and recognized that particles could be arranged in simple patterns. Those patterns could be interpreted as showing that the objects they observed were made out of combinations of things they could not observe, things they called quarks. The scientists set up experiments where they fired very fast projectiles at the particles they knew about. Those subatomic missiles bounced back, as if they were hitting something inside the targets. When they analyzed the data, the properties of those little bits of unseen matter were just like those of the theoretical things they called quarks. Even though they never laid eyes on a quark, they proved that quarks had to be there. Without the existence of those unseen bits of matter, the things they could see made no sense.
Hope is just as real as quarks, just as integral to the human spirit as quarks are to matter. It is grounded in something about which we can be certain, but we cannot see.
Hope is essential to the human spirit, but how do we know there are grounds for our hope? How do we know hope is real and not just wishful thinking? Jesus shows us the basis for the hope that keeps us going. He shows us what is to come, where creation is headed. When he healed the sick, he showed what it’s going to be like when there is no sickness. When he fed the hungry, he showed what it’s going to be like when there is no hunger. When he blessed the peacemakers, he pointed to that time when there will be no war. When he rose from the tomb, he guaranteed that time when there will be no death.
But you know, to see what the future holds is at the same time to see how far we are from it and to know just how much we have to do to prepare. Marjorie Suchocki tells of a young person ready to graduate from high school who meets an impressive person who is an architect. This girl always appreciated buildings. She loves to stroll through downtown and look at the structure of the various buildings. She likes to imagine what the floor plans are of those buildings, and she wonders how you put one together. She tells the architect about those interests, and the architect says to her, “Why don’t you become an architect?”
The girl is thrilled with the idea – not only to admire buildings, but to design them, to know how they work inside and out! But then reality crashes in. She’s just about ready to graduate from high school, and without any goal, she’s not paid much attention to her studies. The architect sees her despair and says, “There’s always summer school, and you know you can make up for the studies you’ve neglected – and you can go to community college and do well enough to get into a four-year school and take what you need to prepare for the profession.” That encouragement strengthens the girl to prepare for the future. The hope of becoming an architect awakens in her a vision of what she can be while at the same time showing her just how far she has to go.
Jesus shows us our goal, our purpose in being here. He shows us who God has created us to be. “I am confident of this,” says Paul to those Christians in Philippi, “that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” The hope of what Christ has in store sustains us when hope seems a foolish delusion.
And there is a powerful force that discourages hope. Death lies between us and the hope we have in Christ. Whatever we do will come to an end one day. Whatever we acquire we’ll have to leave behind. Some people downplay the power of death by spiritualizing it. A widespread conception of death, based more in Greek philosophy than in scripture, is that it is the soul’s release from the body. This view sees death as the moment when the essence of who we are is transferred into another realm while what we leave behind is forgotten and left to continue toward decay. In that way of looking at things, our hope lies in a quick escape from this world.
The hope Jesus brings is different. Jesus doesn’t dismiss our bodies or anything in all creation as if they don’t matter. He gives hope for the whole creation, physical and spiritual. And each of those aspects of us is intertwined. The way you feel physically affects your spiritual well-being, and your spiritual health is connected with your physical health. From the time Jesus healed the sick, churches have been about the business of physical healing. Some of the best hospitals in the world bear the name of churches. Just down the street from my house in Pittsburgh was Presbyterian Hospital, now part of UPMC. Many congregations employ a parish nurse, someone to care for the physical needs of the community while the church supports their spiritual needs. Why would churches do that unless we believed that the body is not just a worthless shell that will be tossed away one day?
John Polkinghorne explains that what truly makes us who we are is the complex pattern in which we’re put together, body, mind and spirit. Our bodies deteriorate. Our minds wear out. We don’t function at age 80 the way we did when we were 20. But regardless of how well the parts are working, the pattern that makes each of us unique is there. It all stops at death, but God does not forget who we are. God holds us in God’s memory until that day when Christ comes again at the close of history and God resurrects us, body, mind and spirit. That is what happened to Jesus at the resurrection, why he is called the first fruits of the dead. What God did to Jesus, who died and was raised, is what God will do for us. Our hope in Jesus is stronger even than death. The good work God has begun in us will be completed by the day of Jesus Christ, the day he raises us from death, reunites us with those we love and restores the whole creation to perfection.
One of the images the Bible uses for that day is the image of a heavenly banquet. When Christ comes, not only will he reconstitute each of us, he’ll make right the whole human race and the entire creation. We’ll delight in each other’s company. We’ll share freely with all. We’ll encourage one another. The differences that now divide us will be sources of pleasure and affirmation.
Hope like that needs encouragement. The power of death is so great that it continually works against the hope we have. Death permeates life. It is served by hatred, greed, warfare, dishonesty, lust. All those things that keep us from living in God’s ways serve death and discourage us from hope that the day of Christ will come.
The church exists as the place where we practice hope. God put us here so all can see what it’s going to look like around that heavenly banquet. No, that doesn’t mean the church is a perfect place. It doesn’t mean that people don’t hurt each other or disappoint each other. It doesn’t mean there’s no greed or dishonesty or selfish motive in the church. There are. But God put the church here to live in hope. That’s why we gather here every Sunday – because we believe Christ is alive and will come again. That’s why we study the scriptures together in circles or Sunday school – to learn how God is working to bring that hope about. We trust that the good news of this hope we have to share is contagious and that people will continue to be drawn to it. That’s why Eastminster’s mission committee is hosting a representative from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s World Mission Division to help us see how God wants us to be involve in the world. Through the PCUSA, we support missionaries in some of the world’s most challenging places like South Sudan and Pakistan – God sends us out into the world to show this hope.
You can’t see hope, but when we live in hope, life works. As we let our love overflow and gain knowledge and insight into what Christ has in store, our lives make sense. Christ has shown us what is to come. It’s a work in progress.

12-2-18 — High Hopes — Jeremiah 33:14-16, Thessalonians 3:9-13 — The Rev. Dr.

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11-25-18 — Windows on the Heart — Ezekiel 34:11-16, Matthew 25:31-46 — The Rev. Dr. Stephens Lytch

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11-18-18 — Thankful Always and For Everything — Ephesians 5:15-20 — The Rev. Dr. Stephens Lytch

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8-26-18 — This Is My Story — Pastor Greg Seckman

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