Monday, November 23, 2020

The Instead Christmas by Elizabeth Stone

And in that same region there were shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior Who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

      “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” 

Luke 2:8-14

 

You can’t change the past.  Isn’t that true?  We think about all the stupid things we’ve said and done, disastrous choices we’ve made, or people we have hurt with out sinful actions and words (most of all we wound the heart of God), and we’d like a do-over.  Most of us would like a do-over of the last few months, when the fear of a tiny invisible virus has held us captive in our homes, and away from our work, our schools, our church families. Most recently a cycling accident on wet pavement has sidelined my holiday plans; with a fractured wrist I can tell you I'd LOVE  a do-over. Truth be told, the stitches in my lip and knee make me look fierce, but for the next 6-8 weeks I will be typing with my left hand. I won't be cooking or traveling or wrapping gifts, but I will have, along with all of you, an "instead" Christmas.


The good news of the Gospel of Christ is that although we can’t change the past, Jesus can. Jesus Christ came into this world, born of a woman, and entered into the hotbed of 1st century religion and politics that were anything but friendly.  He grew up in it, was baptized in the middle of it, ministered in it, preached and taught in it, showed signs and wonders in it, and eventually was arrested, tortured, beaten, and killed for it.  And on the third day after, Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  That is an eternal truth we never want changed.  


But in Advent and at Christmas we remember the Savior’s humble beginnings, that He was born into a poor blue-collar working family and because of the government regulations, His parents had to travel and be registered in the census right when He was due.  So instead of being born in His family’s hometown, born in a house and a comfortable bed, instead of being surrounded by grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins welcoming Him and celebrating His birth, baby Jesus was born in a barn far from home.  He was born in an animal stable, and instead of a crib, He was laid in a manger, padded with hay that animals eat.  And the people who came to welcome Him?  Strangers.  Shepherds.  Instead of family.  It’s was God’s great do-over.  Jesus Christ came to change the past, to remake the world, to redeem all of humankind, and to undo the sin and brokenness of the fall and everything that comes with it: pain and punishment and disease and death and hell.  Instead of all that, we get: grace!


This year is the big year of: instead.  Instead of holiday gatherings, we may be alone in our homes.  Instead of worshipping together we may be isolated and preparing another remote communion, praying and singing on Facebook.  Instead of sharing gifts, we may be mailing them, or cutting them out altogether.  Concerts, games, and celebrations will be cancelled or on zoom instead of in person.  But remember God’s great gift of instead.  Instead of sin, we have a Savior.  Instead of judgment, we have forgiveness.  Instead of death, we have eternal life. So celebrate our great big wonderful instead, that came to us through Jesus Christ at Christmas. That Good News never changes! Blessed Christmas to you all!  


Elizabeth Stone 


Christmas 2020

WV Living Stone Ministries 

www.wvlivingstone.com



Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Lessons in the Stylist's Chair

After 2 ½ months I finally went to get my hair cut.  Not usually good at keeping on top of those kinds of things, even I had to admit my hair was a shaggy, shabby mess.  I confess, I did not deny, but I confessed to my stylist, that I had actually cut my own bangs.  Bless her, she said, “oh, honey I can fix that”. Now I not only look good, but I can see (check out the photo).

The first time I came to her salon, she asked me about my work, and she listened.  I told her about my call to ministry, about the work I do with suicide prevention and recovery, and about my new project on calling in Christ, on vocation.  Then she said, “I know exactly how to cut your hair, now,” and before I knew it, she had cut off about a pound of hair.  We talked about church, and faith, and our families, and promised to pray for each other.  We even wept together, and she told me she could hear my gift in my words.  That was before the covid-19 pandemic.  It was before the murder of George Floyd, before Breonna Taylor. This second time when she styled my hair, both of us wore masks, we spoke a little more about my hair, and the trouble I was having managing it.  She said she would have to take some more weight out of it.  Then I asked her, because I wanted to know, her perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement.  She answered my question with a question: “Do you want to know what I think as a black woman?”  And I said, “Yes, absolutely.  I want to listen.” Her scissors flew and her talk flowed.  Another three pounds of hair fell on the floor which she deftly brushed over to the vacuum opening before I could grasp the full impact of my layered and thinned hair; I felt like Absalom who cut and weighed his glorious tresses.  Yet as she shared her thoughts, her words were worth all my time and attention. You see, none of us can understand the problem or how to solve it unless we listen. 

Astonishingly, she said that she believed that the pandemic served God’s purpose to get our attention.  Those are the sure words of a prophetess.  Plague, sword, famine, flood. When God wants our attention, He is wont to use our circumstances, natural disasters, conflicts, and illnesses to get our attention.  The point?  When we are forcibly confined and unable to be busy, when we are quiet and isolated, we have time to see these red flags of our continuing failures as Christians.  We fail to love other people as Christ loved us, we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we live by our own feeble idea of justice rather than God’s.  Her biggest concern was that the church was not rising to speak.  It was not enough for us to participate in the world’s solutions, the church had to speak.  She said, “Black Lives Matter is the world’s solution.  What is God’s solution? Reconciliation.”  I was floored!  I hadn’t expected that.  How must the church respond? With reconciliation.  Reconciliation.  A message that is as old as the church, as old as the cross and resurrection, as old as the Gospel: reconciliation.  She said that we had to do the hard work of reconciliation, and the church had to show others how to do it.  It is not enough to believe in Jesus for salvation.  It is not enough to get our fire insurance.  It is not enough to evangelize and get people – black and white – into the Kingdom, or at least into church.  Our churches are plagued by the idea that once someone is saved they will automatically start being loving and just.  But Jesus taught that being born again spiritually is like being born; babies need to be nurtured and fed and loved and cared for, taught to walk and to talk and to use the toilet.  How many times in Scripture are Christians condemned for immaturity, for being satisfied with spiritual milk and not moving on to the solid food of mature faith?  How do new believers know what is true and what is false?  How do we know what we consume is of God and will feed us, or what is of the world and needs to be weeded out of our lives and discarded?  Once we are saved, that is when our journey begins, and it is a journey of sanctification, of becoming more mature, of always becoming more Christlike.  And, by the way, we are called to do this in community, not alone.  We are to help each other build more faith, help each other love and worship God more, build more love for each other, obey Christ more, serve Christ and serve others more, find our calling and do it, invite many others to receive Christ by grace, and we can only do all that in community.  The great commission does not stop with evangelization, with baptizing new believers; we are called to teach all that Christ commanded us, and keep teaching it, until He returns.  We are ambassadors for Christ, preaching the message of reconciliation.  And to whom are we reconciled?  We are reconciled first to God by Jesus Christ, and then we are reconciled to each other by Jesus Christ.  The most startling thing my hairdresser said to me? “There shouldn’t be a black church and a white church, it should all be the same church.”

We tend to think that the virulent prejudices and weaknesses of our culture are new and unprecedented, but in the primitive church there was prejudice and conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians that was just as destructive.  Ephesians 2:11-22 gives us God’s solution:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called “the circumcision,” which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off [Gentiles] have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For He Himself is our peace, Who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility. By abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And He came and preached peace to you who were far off [Gentiles] and to those who were near [Jews].  For Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 

Paul is kind of a pro at mixing his metaphors, but the point is this: the Church of Jesus Christ is a faith community built on peace, the price of which was the blood of Christ Himself.  His sacrifice on the cross ended the hostility between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, and made one church out of two peoples in the first century, a reconciled church where everyone was not only a citizen of the Kingdom of God, but a family member.  Brothers and sisters, all together, regardless of ethnic or religious origin. No more aliens, no more outsiders, once we believe in Christ, there is no wall of hostility, there is only one body of Christ, only one bride of Christ, made by peace for peace.

Reconciliation happened in the primitive church through hard work, some of which happened in the first church council in Acts 15.  The law of the Jewish Christians, the paganism of the Gentile Christians had to be swept away to make room for grace, grace that when it was fully functional in the hearts and gatherings of believers blasted through their prejudices and traditions and surpassed the law and usurped unworthy idols.  We face the same challenges: dismantling our prejudices, traditions, and trashing the idols that keep us from being the family of God, then reconciling with brothers and sisters, coming together from every nation, tribe, and tongue to be one church with one voice. 

Just a couple more questions from my hairdresser:

What would happen if the church of Jesus Christ would awaken and take up leadership in this crisis by reconciling within the church and modeling reconciliation for the world?

What would happen if the Holy Spirit burned through the Church?

Two things you can do.  Pray, pray, pray, a lot.  Find someone to listen to, someone different from you, someone who shares your deep faith in Jesus Christ, someone whom you can trust. 

~ by Elizabeth Stone 

www.wvlivingstone.com 

Sermons online at www.stanfordpresbyterian.org

Sunday, January 5, 2020




“Savor Christmas” by Elizabeth Stone. 

January 5, 2020.


Today (January 5th) is the twelfth day of Christmas; it is the last day of our nativity feast for the coming of King Jesus, and most of us, myself included, felt rushed through the holidays.  Our rhythm of celebration seems to be dictated by the malls and stores, who even as early as 4 p.m. Christmas day, race to sell off all the holiday items at increasing discounts, taking down their decorations and pushing us all into the next season they want to sell us. 
My mother was unmoved by the Christmas rush.  A good Anglican, Christmas decorations never came down until January 6th, or Epiphany, the Episcopal celebration of the arrival of the wise men.  Epiphany is an “ah-ha” moment, a time when divinity is revealed, or when we grasp the reality of a person or event suddenly and it has life-changing consequences.  We have discovered the divine identity of Jesus the Christ Child; how does that change us?  How does our life proceed?  Once the Christmas decorations are all put away, what new directions do we take?
Psalm 6 is one of David’s songs of lament, when his life was not going well.  We seem to forget – in the mad holiday rush – that lots of people are in sorrow, suffering from illness, want, or sorrow.  Maybe they, like David, are feeling angry, weak, sick, sinful, and shamed, far from mercy and far from the glory that God’s children are supposed to enjoy, especially at Christmas.  At the end of his prayer, David says: “Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.  The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.”  What greater gift can there be than to be heard by God?  What greater evidence of grace is there than the coming of Jesus Christ to save us, the ultimate answer to every prayer? If this has been a tough holiday season for you, let me assure you that you haven’t missed it.  You have been heard. 
Savor Christmas.  Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol says: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Charles Dickens had it right; the gift of Christmas is not to be pigeon-holed at the end of December and then packed up for eleven months.  The love of God that came to us at Christmas is an all the time gift. 
Tomorrow I will start taking down my decorations, because, after all, I am a true daughter of my mother.  But I will leave out a candle, something to remind me of Christ, the light of the world that came and dwelt among us, the guarantee that no matter what, our prayers are always heard.