Sermon: Mary’s radical vision

When Mary trusted God to bear Jesus, she was taking a major risk. Mary was defying family, community, religious and government standards, but had faith in God that she is doing what is right.

Mary initiated a radical new vision of what her life and our life could be — God in flesh among us. Her whole life prepared her to say “Yes” when God asked her to do something important. Mary teaches me to wonder, “What is holding me back from bearing God into the world?”

God invites each of us in each moment, relationship, and heartbreak in the world as it is, to participate in the world as it should be — transformed in God’s word. We cannot stop it.

Sermon

“Mary’s radical vision”
Sermon by The Rev. Bonnie Osei-Frimpong
Luke 1:46-55
Dec. 16, 2018 • Third Sunday of Advent

Sermon: “In the end, light will win”

jesus-light-1-jpgc200Does it look like light is overcoming darkness? It seems like darkness is winning every time you turn on the news. But John tells us that light wins.  The light that comes into the world is not a momentary light. It is a powerful light that brings life into the world, generating goodness, kindness and genuine love.

God asks you to be people of the world this holiday season. And despite what we see on the news, we can be happy today. We must trust that God’s light, God’s peace will reign. Christmas is a time when we can be cheerful, because we know that in the end, light will win.

Sermon

“In the End, the Light Will Win”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
John 1:1-5
Dec. 24, 2016 • Christmas Eve

Sermon: We need to be a little more like Joe …

joseph-father-of-jesus-2While Mary gets a lot of attention for her role in the life of Jesus, Joseph often gets overlooked. However, Joseph is a model of “spiritual attentiveness.”

A righteous man who followed the law, Joseph was willing to change paths and adapt to God’s will. He knew that there was more than life than following a bunch of religious rules — he lived in the spirit . There is no rulebook that will completely cover your life.

God is calling us to be open, like Joseph, and to be attentive and listen to the change in the world. God is calling us to be open, to be attentive, to listen to the change in the world. In the new year, consider what habits and practices you’d like to cultivate to be open to God.

Sermon

“My Real Daddy”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Matthew 1:18-25
Dec. 18, 2016 • Fourth Sunday in Advent

VIDEO: “The Work of Christmas”

The Oconee Street UMC Chancel Choir performed “The Work of Christmas” to more than 150 audience members on Dec. 6, 2016 in the sanctuary. The choir performance, directed by Amanda Martin, featured 11 instrumentalists, six actors and a narrator. Click here to see photos from the event.

PHOTO GALLERY: “The Work of Christmas”

The Oconee Street UMC Chancel Choir performed “The Work of Christmas” to more than 150 audience members on Dec. 6, 2016 in the sanctuary. The choir performance, directed by Amanda Martin, featured 11 instrumentalists, six actors and a narrator. Click here to watch the performance.

All photos by Jaydon Dennis

 

 

Join us for the Festival of Nativities

Various nativity scenes will be on display as Oconee Street UMC hosts  a “Festival of Nativities” on Saturday, Dec. 5, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Church members will be showcasing their nativity sets, varying from a Fisher Price toy nativity scene to an elaborate ceramic nativity constructed in Bethlehem. Hear the personal stories behind the various nativity sets, while enjoying refreshments and musical entertainment.

There is no cost for attendance, but donations will be accepted to benefit Food2Kids, a program of the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia that aims to ensure that children who rely on meals at schools do not go hungry over the weekends. The drop-in event is being hosted by the Oconee Street UMC Women.

To showcase a nativity or for more information, email Carter Vest.

Sermon: “God’s Child Now”

God’s Child Now
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
Dec. 28, 2014
Luke 2:22-40 and Galatians 4:4-7

The birth of a child is an occasion that calls forth family, religious, and social traditions. Announcements are sent; sometimes a rose is placed on the altar or communion table in honor of the child’s birth; in some families a baptismal gown is handed down from generation to generation; parents bring the child to the church for baptism. There is something about bringing an infant or small child to the place of worship, and there offering the child to God and receiving God’s blessing in return.

In Luke’s gospel that we just heard, Jesus’ parents responded to his birth by attending to the religious obligations of their Jewish faith. Their ancestral traditions were a reminder to them that Jesus was born into the covenant established between God and God’s people Israel. Since the time of the Exodus, the first born son was to be given to God, and was to belong to God in a special way and dedicated to serving God.   When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, Luke’s first audience would have remembered another mother who took her son to the temple. Hannah, who had been unable to have children, prayed for a son, and she vowed that she would give him to God for all his days. And so after Samuel was born, she brought him to the temple and “lent” him to God for life, and he would grow up to be the high priest, the one who chose and anointed David as the King.

Thus, when Joseph and Mary present Jesus to God in Jerusalem, they are in effect consecrating his life to God’s service. The angel Gabriel had told Mary that her son would be “holy” and called the “Son of God,” thus this story sets the stage for Jesus’ life to be devoted fully to God. And Luke tells us at the end of today’s reading that from the earliest of days, Jesus grew in wisdom and was favored by God.

Two thousand years have passed, and today Emily and Ryan have brought Cara for baptism. And although separated by centuries, and indeed by our understanding of God that has been revealed to us in Mary and Joseph’s son, there are similarities we can note that draw us together in very special ways with our spiritual ancestors.

First, of course, we share a sense of identity. In the epistle reading that Sharon read earlier, Paul says we are “adopted sons and daughters of God,” and since we are sons and daughters, we are God’s children now, and heirs through God.   When we are born, we enter into our individual families, and when we are baptized, we enter into the larger family of faith. It is this family then that helps us hold on to our true identity as God’s child, when a multitude of external forces bend and shape us this way and that – things like what we do, where we go to school, who we know, or where we live.

Martin Luther is said to have reminded himself in times of despair, “I am baptized.” By stating his true identity, he was able to restore balance and proper perspective in stressful times. Perhaps for all of us, when nothing else seems to be going right on any given day, we can at least remind ourselves that we are baptized, that we are part of something much larger, much deeper, and much richer than ourselves that will outlast our current difficulties.

Second, we also share the need for community. Joseph and Mary took Jesus to a public place, the temple, and there they were encountered by Simeon and Anna, both of whom had been waiting for that day. Simeon held Jesus in his arms, and thanked God for the opportunity to see this child. Anna praised God and told everyone around her about the baby.

Earlier, you as Cara’s church family, took vows to live “according to the example of Christ,” and to” surround her with a community of love and forgiveness.” You are the Simeons and Annas of Cara’s life; the ones who will see how special she is; who will smile with welcome when she comes to Sunday School, and who will encourage her and show her how she too may grow in wisdom and in favor with God.

Baptism is a community undertaking, not a private event; it is a welcoming service. We are saying “this is your family; this is your home.” But what has been done here this morning is not simply a lone Sunday morning event because faith is a lifelong process of learning and growth. All of us are still learning, still growing. And our purpose here is to nurture, challenge, and deepen one another’s faith through our shared communion with one another. Together we develop our vision, our mission, our values, and our identity as children of God. And in difficult times, when any one of us has trouble remembering our core identity, our relationship with one another reminds us of our relationship with God, and reminds us that we are never without family.

Finally, we share an attitude of hope. Anna tells anyone who will listen that the redemption of Israel is near and Simeon thanks God that through many years of waiting he has finally seen God’s salvation. We believe too in the hope given to us through the Christ child. This hope allows us to testify that through Christ, God has given us the tomorrow that makes it possible for us to endure all that has happened to us yesterday. Life is not a simple straight journey from point A to point B. It holds many twists and turns, some doubling back, and repeating. But through its meandering path, we have the hope that we affirm each time we celebrate our other sacrament, the Lord’s Supper, and we say Christ has died – which admits that yesterday was pretty terrible; Christ is risen – but things have turned around now; Christ will come again – a great tomorrow awaits us. . With baptism we are connected to Christ and we receive the power and hope for all our tomorrows, a hope we are called to remember for ourselves and to share with others.

Today is a special day; Cara was named and claimed as a child of God. We welcome her to a journey that will take her whole life. Today wasn’t the end; it marked the beginning of God’s work in her life.   The God who claimed her before she can understand, gives us and gives her hope for a future that is known only to God. What God will make of her, we do not know. Where God will take her, how God will surprise her, we cannot say. But this one thing we know for sure – just as Mary and Joseph knew about their own son that day so long ago in the temple – the God who has given Cara this promise today will be faithful to her throughout her life and beyond. In all times and in all things, God is with her and will be with her always. Thanks be to God.

Sermon: “Bethlehem Goose Bumps”

Bethlehem Goose Bumps
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
Dec. 21, 2014 • Fourth Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 and Luke 2:1-15

When did you first hear this story? How old were you? It makes me really happy to think that some of our youngest children, the ones in our nursery and in Mama ‘Cine’s class are now learning it. Some have heard it one or two times already, maybe three or four. But it’s still a new story to them.

I’ve been hearing it all my life, and that’s a considerable amount of time now. 72 Christmases! And it never gets old. It is one of my favorite stories. And even though I’ve been to seminary, studied and analyzed the gospels, read a variety of interpretations, and have learned a good bit about the historical, religious, and cultural background for their composition, this story still gives me, on a very un-intellectual level – goose bumps. And that’s a good thing. I hope it gives you goose bumps too.

I am especially thankful for goose bumps this year. The world has seemed a little darker recently, a little harsher, meaner, bleaker than usual. Maybe it’s because of the pall that has hung over our country since the events in Ferguson and Staten Island. Or maybe it’s the unrest in so many places globally – Syria, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan. Or maybe it’s the number of deaths caused by Ebola, and the fear that this horrible illness strikes into the hearts of so many people, even us thousands of miles away. Or maybe it’s this week’s bullying threats by the North Korean hackers. It could be any of those things, or all.

But you know what I mean. The world seems a dark and hostile place right now. It doesn’t feel very safe anymore. And yet we hear from Isaiah, “those who dwelt in deep darkness, on them light ha shined.” And we have heard once again today the angel’s song of peace on earth and goodwill to all. Our tendency may be to sigh and think “that would be nice; I wish it were true.”   But we know that Isaiah’s prophecy and the angel’s song aren’t wishes; they are both blessing and promise.

And the people to whom the angels first sang lived in just as dark, and hostile, and foreboding a time as we do. The rulers names have changed – Emperor Augustus and Governor Quirinius and King Herod aren’t around any more, but there are successors to their titles; we have our own rulers with grand titles – President, Prime Minister, Supreme Leader — who hold the fate of the world in their hands and who can seem just as oblivious or indifferent as their predecessors to the existence of the struggles of individual persons – whether a pregnant teenager, a group of wandering shepherds, a carpenter, or in the 21st century, one of us today.   We all seem incredibly small compared to these powerful ones. And yet Luke declares in the language of faith that whether these powerful ones care or not – whether they even notice or not – God is doing something that will change the world.

And we have such a hard time with that because frankly God’s ways are not our ways, and it simply isn’t the way we would do it.   If anyone of us had the power to change the world, we’d go directly to the centers of government, business, and religion, and clean house – establish refreshed, renewed, revised, reformed, rehabilitated systems that would make life more bearable for everyone, more just, more equitable, more abundant. But the announcement of the angels is not that God has come to make the same things better, but that God has come to turn over the tables and create a new system, to redeem us and our world, rather than merely rehabilitate us, and to establish a world that is truly and completely just, equitable and abundant, not merely a little more so.

God doesn’t go to the centers of power as we would. God starts small and indirectly, at the fringes, not in Jerusalem. God begins in a no account village – Bethlehem, Hicksville, a little back water town, nine miles down the road from Jerusalem.   God speaks to no account people – not to King Herod who received no serenade, or to Caiaphas the chief priest who remained blissfully unaware of God’s new plan, but to shepherds – lying, thieving, dirty, untrustworthy outcasts, no better than tax collectors and prostitutes. And, God’s self-revelation is not as a ruler, a soldier, a statesman, a high priest, someone who can snap his fingers and move armies and destroy cities, but instead God reveals God’s self in an infant, powerless, dependent, vulnerable, born in a stable to a teenaged mother.

It’s not anything like the way we’d do it. And that’s part of the goosebumpiness. This is first of all a scary story. But that’s the gospel for you – it feels like bad news before it can be good news. The shepherds, as the King James Version translates it, “were sore afraid” when they heard the news of the angels. They cowered in fear, terrified as this daring new plan was revealed to them. God is doing something brand new and it’s not like anything we’ve seen before, valued before, or trusted before. And sometimes we’d rather cling to what we know and what we have than to take a step off our beaten path; ours may be a predictable path, a boring path, an unhappy, frustrating path, but at least it’s our path; we own it; we know its contours, we know where it goes; we know what we can expect around the corner. But with God’s plan, we don’t know, can’t predict or see the path, and can’t control it. We can only step out in faith one step at a time into this brand new mystery.

But this is also a goosebumpy story because, beyond the fear, it offers hope of something brand new, something better than we’d ever envisioned. The angels’ message speaks to a place down inside of us that wants something more from life, something different from a good job, or higher pay, or a fancy house, or an expensive car. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, but they don’t transform, they don’t save, they don’t even satisfy for very long. They don’t give a sense of meaning and purpose, and a faith that there is more to life than what meets the eye, than what we have settled for.

God comes at the edges, along the fringes, in the least expected places to the least likely people to share the truth that God is with us, for us, joined to us in whatever our circumstance, and is committed to giving us not just more of the same, but something different. Christ comes, not to give us more of the life we already know, but to give us new and abundant life altogether. God will not keep God’s self shut off in the corner of the pompous and powerful in palaces and state houses, or of the ornate and sacred in temples and cathedrals. God chooses to be with us in our common life, and good news can come to us at any time as we live our daily lives in all their ordinariness and messiness. The shepherds overcome their fear enough to draw closer and check out what they’ve just heard about, and to see if it is as the angels had described. And that is our challenge and opportunity too.

The question is, of course, since none of this is the way we’d do it, will be have sense enough to listen for the good news and recognize it when it comes. In her poem, Kneeling at Bethlehem, Ann Weems writes:

Is it all sewn up-my life?
Is it at this point so predictable,
So orderly,
So neat,
So arranged,
So right,
That I don’t have time or space for listening for the
Rustle of angels’ wings or running to stables to see a baby?
Could this be what he meant when he said
“Listen, those who have ears to hear.
Look, those who have eyes to see?”
O God give me the humbleness of those shepherds who saw
In the cold December darkness
The coming of light
The Advent of Love!

The shepherds heard and saw the Angel of the Lord, there on that dark evening, and then the heavenly host of angels singing “Glory to God.” When angels visit us, we have to be ready to change our plans too. The word “angel” comes from a Greek word that means “messenger.” Angels in the Bible are the go-betweens, bringing the world of God into human life. It isn’t important really how you think of angels – don’t get hung up on whether or not you believe in them, or whether they sit on your shoulder, or dance on the head of a pin, or hang around heaven playing harps all the time. What matters about angels is what they represent – the promise that there is a link – there is communication between us and God. God is not silent. God speaks a message of hope and redemption that the angels shared with the shepherds, they bring tidings of great joy . . . “unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior who is Christ the Lord.”

This is the message that gives us goose bumps. This is the message that is meant to change the world. Whatever trouble the world is in, terrorism, hunger, poverty, sickness, racism and inequality, this is the alternative message that can change the course of history. God is involved. God is doing a new thing – not your thing, not my thing, but a new thing. The dawn of redeeming grace is real.

The great African-American philosopher and preacher, Howard Thurman, wrote:

“There must always be remaining in every person’s life some place for the singing of angels – some place for that which in itself is breathlessly beautiful . . . throwing all the rest of life into a new and created relatedness . . . Despite all the crassness of life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all the harsh discords of life, life is saved by the singing of angels.” (The Mood of Christmas)

In the darkness of our night, in the darkness of our world – and tonight is the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas and the song of angels come to us where we are. God enters our ordinary world, our routine patterns at home around the kitchen table, while we’re stopped at a traffic light, when we’re at a holiday party, when we’re here in worship together, and just when we least expect it but are perhaps most in need of it, the Holy Spirit will break in and for a moment we will hear the rustle of angels’ wings and the sound of singing – “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace, good will towards all.” And it will give us goosebumps, and bring us hope. Thanks be to God. Amen.