Saturday, December 29, 2012

Flash Mob On a Judean Hillside

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.  And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. 

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

This story has Hallmark made-for-TV-movie written all over it!  An angel suddenly appears to a young teen and tells her “you’re pregnant, and, by the way, God did it”.  The teen is so frightened she runs off to seek comfort from her favorite aunt, and the meeting turns into a crescendo of praise for God that’s like a choreographed flash mob.  Mary’s song would make the Sound of Music’s Maria and the Von Trapp family singers proud! 

Let’s unpack the story:

An Unexpected Visit

The angel’s greeting gets this story off to a strange start.  He calls  her “favored”.  My friend Julie always answers this way.  I ask, “How are you doing today?”  She says, “Blessed and highly favored”!  Well, it sure didn’t seem so to Mary; she reacted in two very conflicting ways – fear and faith. 

mary’s fear

Mary’s fear was understandable; she was only twelve or thirteen, and this was very confusing news.  Her future was planned by her parents to be married to Joseph; she’s told she’s pregnant.  What in the world will she tell Joseph?  Joseph won’t understand this.  And what about her Dad?  She has questions for Mr. Angel…hey, this isn’t fair!  Life is tough enough when you’re a kid – why me, God?

Mary’s faith

But then Mary’s faith surfaced and she resolutely accepted what the angel told her.  She states the obvious, that she is the servant of God.  The KJV has the word handmaid; actually the word is doulē (δούλη), and is better translated “female slave”.  Mary committed herself to serve God without regard to her own will; she would be a slave, surrendered in faith!

What do we learn from Mary’s fear and faith?  Fear means you’re looking at the short term difficulties of circumstances.  Mary knew it  could be a hard road ahead with this unexplained pregnancy on her resume’.  But faith drives you to make the first step of obedience to honor God, in spite of the circumstances.

You’ve done that.  When your parents helped you learn to walk  you had to trust them enough take a first step.  It was a small step, and you were probably scared, hesitant; this was new.  You may have fallen – but you learned, and it became natural for you!

Abraham did that.  When God called him to leave his home place to take his little family on a journey where God would lead, he took the hardest step of obedience – the first one. 

When God chooses you it’s liable to mean small, fearful beginnings and a blind step of faith, but if it leads to the land of God’s blessing, be the slave of the Lord!  He “highly favors” you!

An Unexpected Connection

Mary’s first step led away from her home in Nazareth out to the remote hill county of Judea, the home of her favorite Aunt Elizabeth.  The Bible tells us she went with haste.  Why hurry?  Chances are Mary hoped her Aunt would help sort all this out.  She was an unmarried pregnant teenager.  In our day this is, sadly, pretty common; in Mary’s day it was a scandal that could have gotten her the death penalty.  Haste and hush were of necessity!

connected by more than blood

Now, all of Mary’s family knew Elizabeth and Zechariah couldn’t have children, and they were now well-past child bearing days.  But the angel told Mary her old aunt was already six-months pregnant.  So, really, we have two miracles in this story.  Mary, the too-young virgin is pregnant, and so is Elizabeth, the too-old barren one.  These two are connected at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Scientists tell us there is an amazing phenomenon called “quantum entanglement”.  If two particles of energy are kept in close proximity to each other for a long time, they form a relationship, a  kind of bond that defies the imagination.  The connection between these two particles is so strong that if you separate them – one in New York and the other in Los Angeles, whatever you do to the one will instantly happen in the other.  Einstein called this “spooky”.[1]

Aunt Elizabeth and Niece Mary had that kind of connection.  When Mary said “hello” to Elizabeth, the old woman’s baby leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb.  If you read ahead you find that Elizabeth’s child will be called “John (the Baptist).  Because of the Holy Spirit’s presence, the Baptist in the womb jumps with joy to be near his cousin Jesus, the long-awaited promised Lord of glory.

What is surprising here is that Mary went to her Aunt for comfort and enlightenment; but Elizabeth was the one who got both.  What do we learn from this unexpected connection of expectant mothers? 

as humility goes up – blessings come down

We learn that humble hearts are never overlooked by God when it comes to blessing.  Mary was young, Elizabeth old; God blessed both of them. 

We must also learn to not judge the young Marys or the old Elizabeths in our lives.  Unexpected beginnings are not endings.  Granny Parker was a church member in a small church I served in Florida.  By virtually all human standards she was not influential or revered as a leader.  Granny had a learning disability and couldn’t participate in a traditional education process.  But that was only her beginning.

As a young woman in the depression Granny’s parents died and she inherited the 100 acre farm she lived on all her life.  When the opportunity came to start a mission church she gave two acres to begin the work.  Later she graciously parted with 10 more acres as the church grew and needed more space.  Today, where humble Granny began life on a small farm in 1911, there is a 600-seat sanctuary and several other buildings to serve that community. 

Granny died at 98 a few years ago.  This under-educated, unsophisticated, rough farm girl could barely write her own name, but her relationship with God was so strong, when you heard her pray, it was clear every angel in heaven was paying attention as Jesus and Granny caught up on the day’s events. 

An unexpected visit and an unexpected connection, and…

A Misunderstood Outcome

Perhaps, like Granny Parker, both Elizabeth and her niece Mary naively misunderstood everything.  They certainly couldn’t forsee all the pain that was on their horizon.  Elizabeth’s child would be imprisoned and beheaded; Mary’s child….well, you know.

But, their misunderstanding was well-placed.  Elizabeth’s and Mary’s words recorded in this text are words of utmost faith in Jehovah.  It was like a flash mob, extemporaneously gathering and exploding with praise on that Judean hillside.  Elizabeth (v.41-45) was filled with God’s Spirit and bubbled over with praise for God’s kindness in bringing about the fulfillment of the long-awaited promise of Messiah. 

Mary, also, is seized by the Spirit’s joy and her Magnificat “song of praise” (v.46-55), proclaims that everything in life is about to be turned upside-down:

·        Those with reason to be proud will be humbled

·        Those with riches will end up at the soup kitchens

·        Those who occupy thrones will be powerless

“Upside-down-ness” is the theme of Betty MacDonald’s children’s stories about Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.  Children love to visit this amazing place because its floors stretch overhead, while its ceilings lie underfoot.  The piano that dangles from Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s house’s floor is difficult to play.  People must swing from a trapeze in  order to play it.  Couches and chairs also hang from the floor above in this upside-down house.  This, of course, makes it hard to sit in them.

People who want to open a [cabinet], use the bathroom or even heat something on Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s stove must carefully plan how to do it.  Nothing, after all, is quite where you expect it in this upside down house.  Surprises wait for anyone who’s careless in it.[2]

This is the future about which Mary and Elizabeth prophesy. Everything is turned on its ear, and God sets it all straight.  So what have Mary and Elizabeth missed here?  What is misunderstood?

C.S. Lewis called Mary’s song a terrible song, playing on the Latin “terribillis” which means dreadful, frightful, fearsome[3].  It seems the birth of Jesus will shake the very foundations of society and change everything.  Children will do that!

When our first child, Jennifer, came along we were so thrilled – so very naïve about how life was going to be so perfect.  The pain of childbirth, it is said, fades into the memory past, leaving the joy of relationship. But, in truth, childbirth also obscures the pain of the future.  Scraped knees and assorted “boo boos” aside, this dangerous world (particularly to children) is a labyrinth of trouble.  There are places called Sandy Hook!

Mary sang over her firstborn, a perfect child – future king; but she missed entirely the shadow the cross cast across that manger!

But that is how it is when you serve God, when you commit to being His “slave” – your life will never be the same again, predictable, comfortable.  There is no such thing as “safe” obedience. 

the god of dead ends

Mary and Elizabeth…powerless, little hope for a secure future…lives of dead ends.  And, suddenly….God!  That’s how it is when you’ve got something new swelling your insides.

[1] Scott Hoezee, The Center for Excellence in Preaching
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Land Full of Blood

  …and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness: for they say, The LORD hath forsaken the earth, and the LORD seeth not.  Ezekiel 9.9b (KJV)

America the beautiful is a land is full of blood.  Nothing could be more accurately stated about our world these days.  In the last few days we have certainly all watched with horror and astonishment as the body count at Sandy Hook Elementary School was announced and the rising questions begged answers…why?  

What question is it which lurks in the shadows about all this carnage?  What do people think is going on with all that?  Two and a half millennia ago a Jewish prophet by the name of Ezekiel gave us the answer:

…and the land is full of blood…  Ezekiel 9:9

In short, folks look around and surmise God is not in the equation; with all that happens, how could He be?  And, if He ever was in the equation, He bailed on us, and He isn’t watching; and He doesn’t care.

With all the communication gadgets to help us “stay in touch” – email, TV, express mail, telephones on every hip – the most common feeling in the universe is I’m alone.  I’ve been forsaken.  The Lord – whoever He is, and even if He’s out there – He doesn’t know my name.  I had better watch out for me, because I am all there is!

If this describes you (or describes you at times), or if you know some folks who feel like this, and you’d really like some good news to share with them – allow me to share four important words in two short phrases with you that make all the difference in the world.  The first two words:

God Knows

God knows what’s going on.  Scripture tells us He really does…

…but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him                                          with whom we have to do.  Hebrews 4.13b

Here is a chilling thought:  As soon as the first blood was spilled, God knew it; and He still knows it.  Do you remember the incident?  Cain got jealous of His brother’s acceptance by God.  Cain plotted and then beat his brother into the ground.  God came looking for Cain,

And he said, What hast thou done?  the voice of thy brother’s blood                  crieth unto me from the ground.  Genesis 4:10 (KJV)

The land has been filled with blood ever since Cain.  And how does God know?  The reason is God created man (Genesis 1).  The Creator knows His creation.  God’s creative purpose was life.  He put it in the blood:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood:   Leviticus 17:11a (KJV)

Here is another chilling thought; we have all filled the land with blood. 

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Romans 3:23

Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, 1 Peter 3:18a

It was our sin that nailed Christ to the cross.  And that is where the other two words come in – God Knows…and…

God Cares

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.   John 3:16-17

The Bible talks of so many ways in which God cares for us.  However, the chief proof of that is the cross; Jesus died for us.  He said that was His reason for coming to earth.  On his last night on earth Jesus gathered the disciples together for a meal…

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.  And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; 28For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.  Matthew 26:26-28

My blood!  Jesus wasted no words communicating with perfect accuracy what He was going to do – die for us!  How “right” is that? 

Simon Peter, fisherman and friend of Jesus, said later about that death:

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you
inherited from your ancestors.  And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver.  He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.  1 Peter 1:18-19 (TNLT)

All of what Jesus did in going to the cross was for us – so we could be forgiven, even we who live in a land filled with innocent blood.  What does that mean, and what should I do about it?  These are two great questions that lead to the answer for a sacrifice so big.

What Does It Mean?

It means that when we celebrate the Lord’s Table it is for us,                                                                                            but it couldn’t be provided by us.

My blood is type B-negative.  That is good…sometimes!  As the fastest clotting blood, it helps when you get a bad cut.  As a kid I rarely needed a band aid.  On the other hand, my blood can get over-zealous and clots can block off needed circulation.  That happened a couple of times; the result?  Blood clots in my lung and six days in the hospital with my legs in the air waiting for the clots to dissolve! 

One of the hardest things for me to accept about my blood is that I can’t share it with anybody.  My donation days are over because of the medication I take to thin out the ooze which slogs through my veins.  Nobody wants a transfusion with MY blood.

Quite different is the blood of Jesus Christ.  For any of us who will accept what His blood accomplished at Calvary – the sin is washed away!  That’s what it means!

tragedy or the joy of advent?

Today, the third Sunday in Advent, is traditionally called "Gaudette Sunday."  It is supposed to be a day of rejoicing even within the midst of the austerity of repentance and preparation for receiving Christ.  Joy in the midst of sorrow!  How can this be?  How can we do anything but weep in the light of such great loss – such innocent victims?

In a message from our Bishop, Larry Goodpaster[1], the day after the shootings at Sandy Hook, he pointed to another tragedy.  After Jesus was born, all the children two years old and under around Bethlehem were killed by a ruthless King Herod.  It was a senseless act of terror and control in a world dominated by darkness.

But in the darkness, God preserved the light – the light of the world; Jesus would bring peace that passes understanding.  This is what speaks of joy in the midst of tragedy.

Bottom Line

None of us can make sense of the actions of one young man’s madness and the hurt it caused and is causing.  All we can say is what the Apostle Paul knew about what God was doing:

where sin increased, grace abounded all the more  Romans 5:20b

That simply means what we need to know about this land full of violence and tragedy, this land full of blood…God has it covered, and there is grace which is greater than our sin.

For now we weep with our human family in a small town in Connecticut, and we weep for ourselves because we are all part of this land full of blood.  But may we not forget that we also rejoice in God’s forgiving grace and love, and may we pray and work towards that day of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven!
A prayer

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:1-2)

Once again, we are reminded about the meaning of this
bleak midwinter we call Advent. For God did not come to
create a greeting card industry, nor so we could string lights
on houses and trees. God did not become one of us so we
might have office parties and give people things they don't
really need. God was not born so songs could be written
and sermons preached.

God came for such mornings as this, after the long night
of anguished tossing and turning, with visions of horror
dancing in our heads. God came to walk with us as we
wander the streets of our hearts asking, 'how? why? when?'

God came to huddle with terrified children in closets where
school supplies are stored, and to give teachers the strength
not to show their worst fears. God came to cradle the wounded
and the dying, so they would know they were not abandoned
in that loneliest of moments.

God came to give the first responders the courage to walk
into the unspeakable, willing to put themselves between danger
and little children. God came to gather the parents and
grandparents up into the divine lap of comfort and hope,
even as their arms would no longer be able to embrace
their child. God came to have that most compassionate
heart broken as many times as ours are, to weep with
us even when we have run out of tears, to stand next
to us with the same look of horror and disbelief.

God came for mornings such as this, with the same
haggard face, with the same questions, with the same
anger, with the same sense of loss and hopelessness,
but with deep wells of grace from which we can drink,
with compassion which will never end, with comforting
arms which will not grow weary, with hope which
stretches from everlasting to everlasting.
God came, and is still with us.[2]

[2] © 2012 Thom M. Shuman

Snakes In a Grassfire

   John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?   Bear fruits worthy of repentance.  Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." 
    And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?"  In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."  Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?"  He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you."  Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?"  He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."
    As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."  So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

This day is traditionally called "Gaudette Sunday." It means "rejoicing Sunday," from the Latin word, gaudere, to rejoice.  The text doesn’t start out that way – rejoicing.  It starts with John calling his congregation a bunch of slithering vipers.   He says that in coming out to him for baptism they remind him of what happens when there is a grass fire in the wilderness; the snakes take-off in all directions, hoping to avoid becoming serpent-barbeque. 

Now, had I been there I could have told John that’s not the recommended opening for a sermon about good news!  And, if you want to keep your job as pastor to the First Wilderness Jerusalem Church, you need to let up on the leadership just a little! 

However, keeping his job held little interest for John.  What drove the man who wore rags rather than “Botany 500” was being true to God’s calling on his life – making certain his generation understood genuine faith and power.  There have always been a lot of mistaken ideas about that.

What constitutes genuine faith and power?

For John the answer to what produces genuine faith and power was without question the fruit of personal repentance, not in a person’s pedigree or position!

John knew that the average person standing in the crowd awaiting baptism had been misled to believe that because they were born into Abraham’s lineage, born a Jew, they were “chosen” and, because of that heritage, they had their ticket punched for the heavenly train.  John told them they were wrong.

He said (v.8), don’t even begin to tell me that…don’t even go there…that you’re alright with God because your great, great, great Grandfather was Abraham.  John was trying to help the crowd understand that they were staking their eternity on the dusty records of who begat whom.  The Baptist told them that if they depended on their family tree to get them to heaven, they’d missed the point – the sharp axe that would make that tree a non-issue was already chopping up a cross for Golgotha.

What constitutes genuine faith and power?  Don’t trust in your pedigree.  Faith and power are not found in the records of your family tree.  People say proudly, well, OUR family….  You may have a nice family; they may have settled here eight billion years ago and run the whole county, been president of the world and grand Poohbah of the ladies’ auxiliary to the governor’s cleaning crew – it’s a nice fact of history, it has no power of faith in heaven; absolutely zero!  Your family tree cannot put you in right-standing with God!


John also pointed to positions of power (the rich, elected officials and military leaders), and he said:  humble yourselves!  He said, stop hoarding, stop oppressing and stop your extortion!

Now, you may be thinking…hey, I’m not a player like that.  I’m one of the “little guys” here.  I’m not rich, elected, and I don’t even look good in a uniform.  Friend, it is all relative here – everyone is in a position to hoard, oppress or extort someone.  Your ability to do those things may be relatively small, compared to Donald Trump or President Obama, but all of us are both capable and likely to “play the position card” if we have opportunity. 

Genuine faith, and the power it brings to trust God, bless others and stand strong in an evil generation, is the fruit of repentance, not position – not pedigree.  Helping, even in the smallest of ways, to build a more generous and just world, where compassion for the powerless overflows and power is used for good rather than personal gain – this is John the Baptist’s picture of repentant people.

John said your repentance will lead to fruit worthy of true humility; that means your life changes in the ways of which God approves…repentance brings right-standing with the Lord.

Unpacking “Repentance”

What does repentance mean?  Metanoia (repentance) comes from two words in the language of the Bible.  “Meta” means change, and “noia” means mind.  It is closely related to "metamorphosis", like what happens to a butterfly.  So the kind of change John is calling for is a radical change, a transformation.  He was saying change your souls in the same way that a caterpillar is totally transformed, inside-out, to become a butterfly.

How?  The caterpillar doesn’t change itself….there is a process that takes over…the bug simply weaves the cocoon and waits.  Our cocoon of new birth is repentance.  We place ourselves in God’s hands when we repent of our sins, and God brings about the changes in us to make us reborn – new creatures, ready to walk with God; or to follow the analogy of the butterfly, to fly with the Lord! 

He changes us; we don’t change ourselves.  He only waits for the repentance in us – admitting that we are sinners, bound for an eternal hell, unable to save ourselves and dependent on Him!  That’s the cocoon, He makes the change!  He makes us right with Him.

Questions and Expectations

     Now, we all bring some questions and expectations to the table when we talk about getting right with God.  John’s preaching was crystal clear; with John you found yourself on one side of the fence or the other. 

This morning, let me be just as clear as John the Baptist.  This prophet, in proclaiming the good news told us not to trust in our pedigrees or positions.  John taught us two realities about the Good News with his sermon that day; two facts that are answer to why we don’t trust in our pedigree or position:

we have SOMETHING GREATER than pedigree or position

Every one of us human beings on planet earth knows deep-within that there is God…something, some-One greater than us – a person in control of history and the universe.  There is someone who drives this bus of life and eternity. 

John’s finger points in the direction of the one coming over the hill, one coming after him.  He is pointing to Jesus, Messiah, the Christ; he points to the One who is our heart’s desire, the “something greater” for which we look.

we have SOMETHING SURER than pedigree or position

Every one of us human beings – in light of the undeniable knowledge within that there is God – wants to be certain that this God is loving and kind, and that we are OK with Him.  We want to be certain that we are placing our faith in the right place.

John said you folks are coming to me for baptism with water; I’m telling you that you would do better to look for the One who will baptize you with the Spirit and fire!  The people of John’s day were trusting in ceremonies of purification and certificates of pedigree.  He told them they needed the Christ of Power. 

Ceremonies are good.  They help us celebrate and remember and dedicate…all good things.  But they are not God; neither are they the entry way to God.  They are tools, aids to help us in our expression of faith and community. 

The only entry way to God is Jesus Christ.  The baptismal ceremony He wants you to have is with the Spirit of God and fire.  We aren’t talking about fire, as in burning a stack of wood; fire is the Bible’s way of describing the Spirit of God taking over your life and leading you in those sure ways you’ve been searching for all your life.  This is why John pictured the Pharisees and Sadducees as a brood of vipers scattering – to them having the Spirit of God take over was too scary; they wanted nothing to do with the real God who will lead you into uncharted waters.  You have to let go in order to let God!

Spirit and fire – these are the genuine marks of the “something surer” for which you are looking.  And the truth is…you ARE looking for that, even if it scares you to death.  We are all part Pharisee or Sadducee…Spirit fire is dangerous!


The Luke passage said John “proclaimed the good news” to the people.  Proclamation is like a king’s messenger reading a statement, a decree from the king’s own hand.  It demands attention and response.  It means you don’t just hear it and go on your way; it means you do something about it.

So, what do you do about Spirit and fire?  Accept it! 

Friends, this was a hard thing for Israel to hear; it may be harder today for us – good folks of The United Methodist Church (et al) to hear:  insiders must change also!  Sometimes we can become so enamored with our “mainline-mantle” (as if we are the new insiders; pity the poor folks who haven’t yet arrived) that we forget the fruits worthy of repentance never grow on proud trees.  What you DO find in proud trees are broods of vipers. 

Today I must ask us all in preparation for the coming of Messiah…will we come down from our lofty places of pedigree and position and take the humility of repentance, from which grows good fruit? 

If so, it is good news, joyful news, indeed!