Constellation

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The stars in constellations are thousands of light years apart (well, some of them are). And some of these stars may even no longer exist. They are so far away that if they blew up, we wouldn’t know about it for a thousand years.

But because we are where we are, when we are, together they look like a cup. Or like a bull. Or a guy wearing a belt. They make sense to us, and may even help point us home if we were lost.

Orion is one of the best examples of what I’m talking about here.

Betelgeuse, the bright red star that is Orion’s left shoulder, it is about 640 light years from earth. Bellatrix, though, the other shoulder star, is only 200 light years from earth, three times closer. Mintaka, the rightmost star in the belt, is 1200 light years away from the earth. If you look at it tonight, the light that hits your retina left the star around 600 AD.

Orion only looks like a guy wearing a belt because we are, where we are, when we are. If we lived in a different part of the universe, he wouldn’t look like much of anything.

Constellations have helped people for a long time find their way home.

We are talking about constellations during Advent, the time of year when we remember the promised birth of Jesus, because there is a star that plays a prominent role in the Christmas story. It will help some people find their way home, find their way to Jesus. But it’s not at all what they think it is.

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Spiritual Family and Thanksgiving

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Family is something everyone talks about this week, and keeps talking about as we get closer to Christmas. Many of us gathered around tables with family members and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving together and eat all. the. things.

People traveled to be with families. Social media feeds were full of family photos and Christmas cards start showing up in the mail. Movies and advertising are full of images of families gathered around tables and Christmas trees.  It seems like the idea of family is everywhere at this time of year. #family #blessed

Don’t get me wrong – family can be pretty awesome. Sometimes the people who have known you since you were tiny are the ones really are the best people in your life.  

But sometimes they are . . . not.

Family isn’t easy for everyone. Here’s how I know: Alongside of the images of happy families with perfect turkeys this week online were articles with titles like these:

  • 10 Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving with a Dysfunctional Family
  • How to Survive Thanksgiving Drama with this Smart Conflict-Management Strategy
  • How to Avoid a Family Disaster at Thanksgiving: Plan for a Holiday that is just “so-so”
  • Everyone at Thanksgiving Doing Chore to Get Away from Rest of Family

So being around a table with family isn’t easy for everyone. 

Families can be difficult. Disagreements and past hurts come up. Members of the family may not feel loved or accepted. Too much turkey (and in some cases too much wine) can fuel heated debates over pie.  If you heard those article titles and thought that might have been helpful to read, or realized you actually read one of them preparing for your Thanksgiving this year: take heart. Because today’s teaching might surprise you.

When we say we are going to talk about family in church, we often associate Christian teachings with perfect, happy, nuclear families. We think all the church has to say about family is a specific idea of what family looks like, and how wonderful that is. But it turns out, even Jesus had some family trouble of his own.

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Fidelity

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Adultery, infidelity, cheating, is wrong. It is sin. Full stop. Jesus tells us today that engaging in it means you are on the path to hell. And it starts long before it becomes obvious. That also means it starts long before it’s too late to turn back.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28

There’s something about lust that can never be satisfied.

“Lust is the craving for salt of a person who is dying of thirst.” – Frederick Buechner

This word for lust is the same word that was used for coveting in the 10th commandment that says “You shall not covet”. And we all know that coveting is not a desire that can really be satisfied is it? When you want, you can always want more. When you are discontent, you can never really be content.

It’s the same with lust. Jesus isn’t talking about healthy, normal sexual desire here. Jesus isn’t trying to neuter us of our God given desire. He’s using a particular word here. And Buechner unfolds it perfectly. It’s a craving that can never be satisfied, and one that will kill you if you try.

Jesus isn’t condemning sexual desire. That’s important to know. God made us as sexual beings. It isn’t the desire that’s the problem. It’s the direction of it, the object of the desire. Desire within a marriage is exactly where it is supposed to be.

But when the desire God gives us gets pointed in the wrong direction, it gets us in trouble.

Why? Why is Jesus so concerned with your desires, your thoughts?

What harm can this lust, cause when it is toward someone who is not your spouse if it’s only in your heads?

What is it about looking that messes people up so badly?

Because

Where you look is where you’ll go.

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Children

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When it comes to raising our kids, someone told me once that the days are long but the years are short.

Which is great advice. Very wise.

But they told me this when my boys were 1 and 3.

I love my boys. I adore them. But saying the days were long when they were little  is like saying the parent of a newborn is a little bit tired. It’s a bit of an understatement. Because preschool age kids are really busy. They are so full of life and energy and questions.

I can remember that day when they were 1 and 3, and hearing this advice I decided I would make every minute count. So when the kids woke up that morning, we read stories on the couch under a blanket. We jumped from one tile to the next across the living room. We built a pillow fort. We wrote alphabet letters in shaving cream. We had snacks shaped like animals. We made pretend food with play-do. We took a walk and noticed trees and bugs.  We did all of these things, and I flopped down on the floor, exhausted. Then I looked at the clock.

It was 8:15 in the morning.

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Divorce

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Is divorce wrong?

Of course it’s wrong.

Not in a moralistic, “I’m good and you’re bad” kind of way. Definitely not in a fault finding, you should be ashamed way.

It’s wrong because no one gets married hoping it ends up in divorce. It’s wrong because it’s painful. 

To say divorce isn’t wrong is to deny the pain and hurt of those who have to go through it.

To say divorce isn’t wrong minimizes the heartache and grief of two people who have to start over.

So yes, divorce is wrong, in the same way anything that breaks us and turns our lives upside down is wrong. 

Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9

You’ve probably read that before, or heard it before. It can be a hard thing to hear. And if it stings you personally, or makes you feel guilty, please don’t let it. Stick with me, because we’re going to put Jesus’ teaching in context this morning. Continue reading “Divorce”

Giving

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What would you do with million dollars?

(For the sake of this question, I don’t know exactly how you got this million dollars, but you got it legally and ethically. Let’s say it was an inheritance from a relative you didn’t know you had, so you’re not really sad about it. It’s just $1 million that fell into your lap!)

What would you do?

Well, the first thing you should do would be pay taxes on it. And if you don’t think you would, maybe you should read this real quick.

So you pay taxes on it. Now, what would you do with $600,000?

Would you take an amazing trip? Would you pay off your house? Pay off your student loans? 

Maybe you’d something really good with it?!  Maybe you’d tithe on it, or go above and beyond the tithe on it!

But the real, most-likely possibility of coming into a million dollars is that it would ruin your life. You would probably have no idea what to do with it, and it would hurt your relationships and cause a whole lot of resentment, and you’d end up wishing that you never got to begin with.

Maybe.

But guess what?

You will see a million dollars in your life, just not all at once probably, and it holds the same risk that it will ruin your life.

It’s a risk that is commensurate with how much money you make, or receive.

As the ethical philosopher Biggie Smalls famously said, “Mo’ money, Mo’ problems.”

And the real problem for Christians is that the more money you get, the more likely you are to rely on it, and to let it pull you away from your relationship with God.

In fact, most of Jesus’ teachings about money are precisely about that.

But it’s not all bad news. It never is with Jesus.

He has provided us with a solution. 

It’s giving. 

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Taxes

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Taxes is not something we usually talk about in church. But it’s something that Jesus taught about more than once.

Well, once more than once. What I’m trying to say is that he taught about it twice.

But what he had to say was pretty deep, and it goes further than just what gets deducted from our paychecks. 

We find Jesus today in the middle of a very hot political situation. Jesus was a very popular teacher and leader, at the head of a new movement in Israel, which at the time was occupied by Rome.

People were listening to him and liking what he was saying. So of course, the people who used to get listened to hated him. They wanted to make sure that no one was a popular or as powerful as they were.

But they had a tool in their tool box that was a little more deadly…They were happy to try and get their rivals killed by their Roman overlords. So that’s the situation that our teaching today comes out of. Sound good? Let’s get into it.

So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor.  So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth.

Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Luke 20:20-22

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Money and Fear

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Dave and I have never been in poverty.

But we’ve visited.

This means we have never dealt with the real difficulties people face when they are in true poverty.  We haven’t had to fight to take care of our family while working minimum wage full time and still struggling to pay rent. We haven’t had to choose between feeding our kids or eating dinner ourselves. We haven’t experienced true poverty. But there was a period of time where we didn’t have quite enough.

We were both full time seminary students when we got pregnant with our first child. What we soon discovered was that being full time students and paying for prenatal care and baby supplies was expensive. We learned how to cover the basics. We qualified for the WIC program, which is a government program that provided peanut butter and cheese and cheerios. We ate lots of toast at the free bread bar on campus. We brought popcorn to the neighborhood potlucks. For our parents sake, I want to clarify that we probably could have called home and asked for help but we were young and stubborn and determined to make it on our own.

But when it came time to furnish the nursery, we had met our match. How would we afford nursery furniture? We were talking about that one afternoon when we were out walking. Then we saw it. Right next to the dumpster at our apartment building. A glider rocking chair. The wood was pretty chipped, it had seen better days, but it was in one piece.  So we grabbed it and painted it and hauled it up stairs. We were so excited.

Had we just pulled a rocking chair out of the trash? Yes.

Did it make a loud screeching sound if you rocked too far in either direction? Yes.

Did we have to learn how to stay in just the right spot so the screeching sound wouldn’t wake up our baby? Yes.

It wasn’t great. But it was our screechy dumpster chair.

It turns out old habits die hard.

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Money and People

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Today’s scripture is about investing. 

When we think about investing, we think about investing in things. We invest in stocks and companies. We invest in things we think will be worth something someday, or that will change our lives.

There was a period in the 90s when we were all encouraged to invest in beanie babies, these small stuffed animals that we were told might be really worth something someday.

Some people invest in commemorative plates, or coins. Or we invest in things that promise to change who we are for the better. Things like a $2000 home gym system that will definitely make us into athletes, not gather dust and be where we dry the laundry. 

And do you ever notice how some people describe all purchases they make as an investment? I wonder how that started? It’s a good sales pitch. Don’t think of this car as an expense, think of it as an investment in your future. This watch might seem expensive, but it’s really an investment in your success. 

No, what it is, is a depreciating asset. Investments are supposed to become more valuable over time. That’s really the only mark of an investment. 

But really, we’ll run with just about any excuse to buy stuff. It’s pathological. “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” That’s America. 

And we end up with houses full of things that our kids will have to get rid of, and still we don’t feel satisfied. We feel empty, so we keep chasing it, until we get wise to the fact that it’s just a game we don’t have to play. 

But sometimes, we’re forced to see the truth about money and things sooner than we’d like to, like when we lose a job, or go through a crisis. 

That’s what happens in our teaching from Jesus today.

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Demons

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Here’s the kind of demon that I’m used to dealing with:

But demons can be all sorts of things.

Addictions.

Fears.

Anything that haunts you and controls you can be thought of as a demon.

We’re going to talk a little about those today.

And we’re also going to talk about the demons that show up in the gospels and talk to Jesus before he casts them out.

What do we do with those?

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