Monday, December 27, 2010

Innocents and Powers

In notation form, Sunday's message:

Psalm 148 (call to worship)
Hebrews 2:10-18 (children)
Matthew 2:13-23 (message)

Why is the baby Jesus such a threat? Isn’t the kingdom of God a spiritual thing? Perhaps Herod recognizes something about Jesus that we miss.
For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep down in their souls, from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, found online at

Why did the innocent have to die?

A power-hungry king, yes.  But that answer is unsatisfactory, especially when combined with prophecy: So, if God could rescue Jesus, then why not everyone? And, I don’t really care how impractical the suggestion is, I still want everyone to be saved.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


It is strange that the gospel read at the beginning of the time of preparation for Christmas is that of the end of the whole history of the world. Yet that is not really surprising. For what is afoot in a small beginning is best recognized by the magnitude of its end. What was really meant and actually happened by the coming, the "advent," of the redeemer is best gathered from that completion of his coming which we rather misleadingly call the "second coming." For in reality it is the fulfillment of his one coming which is still in progress at the present time.

Karl Rahner, Everyday Faith, 1968, quoted in An Advent Sourcebook, Thomas J. O'Gorman, editor, page 158

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas!

You are invited to celebrate the season with your neighbors at Bethany Church. This year, our Christmas Eve theme is “It’s Your Birthday!”. We have scheduled three different services, each of which will include Candlelight and Holy Communion:

6:00 p.m., “Traditions” featuring our Chancel and Bell Choirs

8:00 p.m., “Celebrations” featuring our Praise Team

11:00 p.m., “Reflections,” a Service of Lessons and Carols, based on a worship order first used in 1918 at King’s College in Cambridge

Our Christmas Eve offering this year will go to Mission Central, a regional center that provides emergency relief supplies and countless other needs both here and abroad. Over $250,000 worth of supplies were shipped to Haiti to assist in earthquake recovery and, this year, Mission Central sent nearly $10 million worth of supplies through connections with hundreds of service and mission partners locally and internationally. Check out their website at

God is doing some wonderful things among us. We are excited about new faces, new adventures in faith, new groups and new ministries, and new lifts to make our entire building wheelchair accessible. Hope to see you soon!

Once again: Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The First Day of Christmas

“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . .”

The first Christmas gift is Jesus, God with us, God in flesh – fully divine AND fully human. This gift is holy mystery. This gift is the beginning of our salvation and the promise of deliverance. This gift declares the incredible value of matter, of physical flesh and blood, of our bodies. The New Testament word for “save” is also the word for “heal”. The grace of God is for the total person and for the whole creation. “God so loved the WORLD that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). The first Christmas gift is Jesus.

And, our “true love”? Over and over throughout the Scripture, the language of the “beloved” is used for God’s people – whether in the person of a “Son” or in the image of a “Bride”. “My son, whom I love” is spoken over Jesus at his baptism and over everyone who is baptized “into Christ”. Throughout the prophets, God’s people Israel are described as God’s beloved Bride. That language crops up again in Paul and in the Revelation as an image for the Church. And, it is used in the Song of Songs, an erotic love poem historically read as both a primer for prayer (intimacy with God) and a celebration of human sexual love. The first Christmas gift, Jesus, with his life, death, and resurrection, is the supreme demonstration that we are God’s “greatly beloved” (a wonderful phrase from Daniel 10:18, in the New Revised Standard Version).

The twelve days of Christmas run from December 25 (Christmas Day) through Epiphany (the story of the Magi and the star), on January 6. “Christmas-tide,” this celebration of the love and gift and mystery of God, is just getting started!

One of my favorite hymns, full of Christmas and Eucharistic mystery, comes from the 4th century Liturgy of Saint James:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood;
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.

Amazed at the mystery,
Pastor JP

Sunday, December 12, 2010

As the Prophet Foretold (3): Wilderness and Way

12/12/2010 Bethany, Advent 3A, Holy Communion
Luke 1:46b-55 (call to worship)
Matthew 11:2-11 (children)
Isaiah 35:1-10 (message)
James 5:7-10 (benediction)

The greatest desert in the world is the Sahara, ranging over most of the area of northern and western Africa. Every year, it continues its advance into the semi-arid Sahel region, home to nomadic herders and riverside agriculture for hundreds of years. Rivers are drying up, the fabric of life that holds native cultures unravels as young people move to cities.

Tony Campolo tells a story about his meeting with an African chief. The chief told him that the river had spoken to the chief and told him that it was dying [How to rescue the earth... p17].

No, the wilderness is not bursting into bloom or gushing forth with water. Why is that? Why is it that the Sahel faces famine and encroaching desert? The rain for the Sahel comes from the rain forests of Central and South America. Rain forest loss in Brazil alone, from 2000 through 2006, covers an area as large as the nation of Greece ( ... the smallest estimate I found online, though others were focused on world-wide rain forest loss). Much of the rain forest loss in Brazil is to cattle pasture for the international beef industry.

But in Isaiah’s vision, it is the desert that is shrinking! It is full of blossoming flowers and freshwater springs. Isaiah compares the desert to the regions of Carmel and Sharon, mountain valleys with rich vegetation, and declares that “the glory of Lebanon shall be given to it”. Lebanon, in the ancient world, was the center of a temperate rain forest like the great rain forests of the US and Canadian Pacific coast. The desert will become like a rain forest? That can only be a God thing. And, Isaiah moves directly from this transformation of desert to physical healing – of the blind, deaf, lame, speechless – and then back to the desert.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Devoted Decorator & Twins!


Finished up personal reading in Daniel.  Some quotes that jumped out at me:

Please test your servants (1.12).

There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries (2.28).

We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God (6.5).

We do not present our supplication before you [Lord] on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies (9.18).

Do not fear, greatly beloved, you are safe. Be strong and courageous (10.18).

Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever (12.3).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

As the Prophet Foretold (2): Root and Fruit

Psalm 72 (call to worship)
Matthew 3:1-12 (children)
Isaiah 11:1-10 (message)
Romans 15:4-13 (benediction)

As a child in Vientiane, I was not allowed to go into the back yard to play [bamboo viper] . . .

Last week, the first Sunday of Advent, we looked at the theme of anticipation, at Isaiah’s invitation to “walk in the light of the LORD” or to live in the light of God’s future, the promise of Christ coming, not just in the manger but to set all things right and rule. The focus in the prophet was on the teaching of the LORD and that the nations will not “learn” war anymore. That verb for “learn” is a learning that comes with practice, a very hands on learning process. The nations stop practicing war.

This week, as we continue to explore our theme “As the Prophet Foretold”, Isaiah extends the vision and description of the coming kingdom of peace with references to justice and to new creation. It is fashionable, in some circles, to make jokes about “tree huggers”. This vision of justice that extends to all of creation certainly lifts up a biblical vision for a renewed creation, for our responsibility and stewardship of all God has made AND this vision is completely impossible, implausible, ridiculous apart from an act of God. It goes way beyond the vision of environmentalism to nothing less than new creation. In that first creation, the serpent brought danger. In the new creation, a child plays over the hole of the asp. And, “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain” (and “mountain” is used elsewhere in the Bible as a reference to the whole earth under the dominion of God). “A little child shall lead them. . . . They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain”. Well, the bamboo viper didn’t get that memo.

But, Traveler’s Insurance did! [Show spot or summarize.] They’ve got an advertising campaign called “Take the Scary Out of Life”, and they put out a tv spot of animals having a grand old time at an African watering hole. A lion and a zebra, drinking together, an ostrich playing tag with a lioness, a muskrat diving off the head of a giraffe into the watering hole and pulling himself up on the back of the swimming crocodile. The tagline: “When you are not worried about potential dangers, the world can be a far less threatening place. Take the scary out of life. . . .”

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Travelers Insurance - Watering Hole

An insurance company's version of the "Peaceable Kingdom" . . . though this impossible scenario is only a gift of God! A world where even the most vulnerable are safe . . . "and a little child shall lead them". "For to us a child is born."

AT&T Rethink Possible - Ripple Effect

If AT&T can imagine this . . . then what can we imagine in Advent, a time when we remember Jesus' coming and anticipate his coming again? How can the world be different? How can our small acts be folded into the promise that "your labor in the Lord is not in vain"?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Patience in Advent

Passed on by a friend:
How do we wait for God? We wait with patience. But patience does not mean passivity. Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise. It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.

The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means "to suffer." Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants. Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God's glorious coming. --Henri Nouwen , Bread for the Journey


Announcing our new Eucharist (Holy Communion) worship services, on the first and third Wednesdays at 2:00 pm in the chapel.  A simple worship experience with familiar hymns, the liturgy, and no preaching.

Update (Dec 27): The Eucharist service is moved to second and fourth Wednesdays at 2:00 pm in the chapel for January-March.