First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Greg Briggs,
Interim Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
231-547-9122


Sermon & Weekly Bulletin~ January 05, 2020

01-05-20 Bulletin PDF

  1. Prayer and Introduction
    1. “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our rock and redeemer. Amen”
    2. Which star are you following?
  2. Star Gifts
    1. Word and scripture
      1. Naming that many Xians don’t know how to look up scripture
      2. Not here to shame, but to help. Table of contents, and back page is alphabetical table of contents
  • Remember, for the majority of the history of the Bible, most people couldn’t read it.
  1. Christ following isn’t about memorization or power of knowledge
    1. The answer is easy, the practice is what’s hard.
    2. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Deut. 6:4-5
  2. Practice looking for God’s presence in new ways –
    1. This year, given a word, last year you wrote your own.
    2. May seem to immediately fit, may not.
      1. Example – Restraint – “My first word was RESTRAINT. I wanted to throw it back. What was that supposed to mean? RESTRAINT made me think about being held back or being bound. These words were supposed to be a gift, but this did not feel like one to me. And yet, over time the word continued to work on my heart and mind. I started practicing RESTRAINT at church coffee hours and forgoing doughnuts. … When I began to see RESTRAINT as a gift instead of a curse, it freed me to change my eating habits without apology, to leave work earlier to exercise and to focus not just on my spiritual health but my physical health.” Kristin Stroble https://pres-outlook.org/2016/01/star-words-a-spiritual-practice-for-epiphany/
  • Star gifts as a way to seek an epiphany
    1. Bruce Lee “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000
    2. Focusing on this one word, one scripture, again and again
  1. Epiphany – season of Revelation and setting direction
    1. Isaiah 60
      1. Return from exile – setting intentions for the future
      2. Narrow and exclusive or wide and affirming?
  • “The opening line of Isaiah 60 is like a thunderbolt of glory from previous chapters”
  1. Widens who God is meant for.
  1. Matthew – Magi
    1. not religiously or ethnically Jewish, still moved
    2. Not about the magi, as much as about the compelling appeal of what they seek
  • So much so they break a promise to the ruler of the land.
    1. Compelled by what they witnessed, overrode earthly power and influence.
  1. Undercutting a cruel leader and looking for a different way
  1. What star are you following?
    1. “So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord. But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24 14-15
    2. Are you going to act like the world owes you and you are going to get all you can, or are you going to act like your gratefulness inspires you to give back to others?
    3. Be prepared to support what you believe
      1. I ask myself “What if I’m wrong?” would I still be proud of my actions?
    4. Naming intent vs. impact – Setting aside other Gods – casual antisemitism
      1. Unplug the anti-semitic undertones
      2. Current rise in Anti-semitism, as well as other anti immigrant, anti muslim and other fear based discrimination
      3. Undertone of Magi story and other parts in Bible – Jesus’ message was for Jewish people and they denied it, so others became new chosen people.
      4. The rejection or following of Jesus was not, and is not linked to any one faith or ethnicity. The “rejection” was pretty universal, and largely still is.
        1. Most loudly self professed Christians are the best reasons to not want to be a Christian. In short, humans miss the mark and God continues to love us all.
        2. Simple truths taught by Jesus came from Judaism, not new.
      5. In reality, the ongoing tension is between power and personal comfort vs. discipleship and empathy
    5. Intent vs. impact – Setting aside other Gods – casual lack of welcome
      1. Part of the Xmas story is people seeking Christ of all faiths and backgrounds
      2. Re-enacted each year – people looking for a church to go to in the build up to Christmas. Some it’s just a societal obligation, but others it is because they are looking for a place to be welcomed
      3. Doomsday Pollyanna news – where this church did good and not so good this year
        1. multiple contacts, wanting to know more about this church – specifically in regards to inclusion of race, LGBTQ+, and safe spaces for victims of abuse
        2. My response is honest and realistic
          1. Warm and welcoming, but hasn’t done the work
            1. Haven’t had the important conversations
              1. No safe church
              2. No ONA
  • No multi racial
  1. Not welcoming to children
  1. giving out of excess, vs. giving sacrificially
    1. manger scene – fragile and white
      1. welcoming to children? Welcoming to other cultures?
    2. Too often, the ignoring difference to seek unity in Christ only benefits insiders.
      1. Not about ignoring difference, but celebrating it
      2. Otherwise, asking those in need to take the risks, because you haven’t taken the risks yet yourselves.
    3. Now, left asking the question about how to react to the looming threat of another war
  2. New years resolutions for pastors
    1. By Brian McClaren https://brianmclaren.net/3-new-years-resolutions-for-pastors-in-2020/
      1. “2020 will probably be the most significant year in your whole ministry.”
    2. Smoke What You’re Selling.
      1. be sure that you actually enjoy the abundant life you are proclaiming to others. Enjoy God. Enjoy life.
      2. Be known as a follower of the Way of Jesus just by your behavior
    3. Clarify your job description
      1. Specific thing for pastor’s, but also vital for congregations (especially ones seeking a new pastor)
      2. What is a church here for? This church? Mission. What matters. Welcoming visitors from far away
    4. Get Political (constructively)
      1. Planet
      2. Poverty
  • Peace
  1. Political Corruption – a “cold civil war”
  2. (all) People –
    1. Differentiate between difference of opinion and threats to safety and wellbeing
  3. Shine on, shine out
    1. Star Gifts – practice and seek epiphany
    2. Wisdom of the elders – last week’s sermon
      1. the role of elders – smoking what you are selling
    3. People seeking welcoming elders
      1. Be simeon, be anna
      2. Be Zechariah, but at least be struck dumb
  • Beware of being Herod
  1. Be inspired by the Christ child, in the scriptures, and in every living person you see
  1. Setting New Year intentions
    1. Before the year really kicks in
    2. Guiding star – whatever it might be. This is a year where it will definitely matter.

Readings

Isaiah 60:1-6

 Arise! Shine! Your light has come;
    the Lord’s glory has shone upon you.
Though darkness covers the earth
    and gloom the nations,
    the Lord will shine upon you;
    God’s glory will appear over you.
(Gentile) Nations will come to your light
    and kings to your dawning radiance.

Lift up your eyes and look all around:
    they are all gathered; they have come to you.
Your sons will come from far away,
    and your daughters on caregivers’ hips.
Then you will see and be radiant;
    your heart will tremble and open wide,
    because the sea’s abundance will be turned over to you;
    the nations’ wealth will come to you.
Countless camels will cover your land,
    young camels from Midian and Ephah.
They will all come from Sheba,
    carrying gold and incense,
    proclaiming the Lord’s praises.

Matthew 2:1-12

Coming of the magi

2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
        by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
            because from you will come one who governs,
            who will shepherd my people Israel.

Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.