"Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword. . .whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who save their lives will lose it, and those who lose their lives for my sake will save it."
"The task of the (Savior) is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
Finley P. Dunn (Martin Marty)
Christmas approaches, the lights are going up, the sounds of the season are making their way to the airwaves. This year has really disappeared fast! And yet, the time when we celebrate "God with us" (Emmanuel) is upon us. Standing firmly between now and that night so blessed is a time which sometimes gets glossed over on our way to celebrate the birth of salvation: Advent. To be honest Advent is the only way we can comprehend the above scripture in Matthew with the idea that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. For it is only when we measure our expectations, our ideas about God and our ways of responding to the Lord's "Great Intrusion" that we can begin to see that Jesus comes, not so solve the problems of the world, but to make a mess.
This is very counterintuitive, but when examined more closely makes a great deal of sense. The Jewish concept of Messiah is firmly rooted in values like justice, integrity, truth and transformation. Jesus' own words tell us that he has great expectations of disciples and anticipates that they will be different after encountering his message of new life. We can no longer be who we were; we must be different as we remove the ego, the misguided sense of entitlement and the failure to live beyond ourselves. These things must be cut out of our souls, hence the need for the sword. Jesus promises to do some surgery on us, and it will not be painless. We will bleed, we will be sore, and we will heal with his constant diligence and tending. We will, however, need to lose some bad portions of soul along the way.
And that causes problems. Too often we want something for nothing. Our culture teaches us to get what we feel we deserve, to provide quick solutions to complex problems and immediate resolutions to issues that have been around for centuries. Some believe that the arrival of Jesus will take care of everything; all problems solved. Jesus, however, doesn't believe that. He has come to cause problems for us by asking us to transform our spirits so that we may be ready to serve and live the life he has planned for us. And that requires some soul surgery.
Jesus comes to expand our boundaries; to ask us to measure our priorities. Jesus comes to ask for sacrificial service worthy of the cross. And this is the problem that comes with growing a ministry; we tend to have more problems than solutions. Because when a ministry is reaching further into unknown territories, there are always problems. But fear not! Jesus also brings the Holy Spirit, and therein lies the guidance for tomorrow.
Expecting a few problems at SHUMC next year? I am! 2016 will bring plenty because growing a ministry is full of problems. People problems, health problems, money problems, unexpected problems. Yeah, more than enough to go around! The good news is when we see the gospel as a source of change we will expect something different next year; we will serve in a different way or place; we will understand that it is only in the bond of unity that the Kingdom will come. We are, after all, all in this together!
So, let us serve, give and love more abundantly than ever before. Blessings as we travel through Advent.
See you in worship,
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