Sunday, December 27, 2020
His example becomes the point after which we are to aspire; for his righteousness must be the criterion of judgment; because arrived at perfect obedience, doing in all things that for which he was sent by his Father, Jesus has shown by his example that all are able to obey God.
Jesus was a perfect example to us, to show to us that for the testimony of God our creator, we must be willing, as Jesus was, to surrender up everything unto God; and to do his will in everything, even if it cost us our natural lives. For if we are brought into the situation that he was in, that we cannot save our natural lives without giving up the testimony that God has called us to bear, we have his example not to do it, though we may feel as he did, that it is a great trial.
We have it now on record. We need only take up the precepts of Jesus, only look at his example, and his direction to his disciples, and see if we can find anything, any testimony worthy to be compared with it.
What is true religion? It consists entirely in righteousness, that righteousness which is acceptable in the sight of God. It unites us with God, as it did his blessed Son, and brings us to partake of his holy nature, and we become one with him – as the disciples formerly were declared to be partakers of the divine nature.
Until we do everything in our power, by every means put in our hands, we shall not find support from God! There are no sins so great, in this probationary, earthly state, our Father would not stand ready to forgive, if we turn to Him with full purpose of heart and acknowledge our transgressions.
He gives us the grace of repentance, and enables us so to walk as to be reconciled to Him, and gain a greater establishment in Himself, and in the truth, than when we first came out of His creating hands.
(Adapted from an 1826 sermon by Elias Hicks)
Sunday, December 20, 2020
This isn't a baby we must perpetually welcome into our homes. We are confronted instead with the adult Jesus.
Meeting the adult Jesus is difficult for many, and even frightens them to meet him as an adult and not a helpless, unassuming child. The adult Jesus scared the religious elites of his day because of what he asked, just as he scares the religious elites of today.
Jesus is an adult whom we must each decide whether to ignore, or to serve, as God intended us to do.
If we claim his name, and wish to be identified with it, we must not assume that admiring a baby in a manger is what God wishes. We must not delude ourselves that admiration - or even worship - is alone sufficient. We cannot ignore the adult Jesus, or prefer the baby instead of the adult.
The adult Jesus is hidden away by the religious elites. He scares them.
So this adult Jesus isn't celebrated at Christmas. At all. And he rarely, if ever, makes an appearance the rest of the year, either.
So, just who is this Jesus?
Jesus, the adult, was of course born a baby, but he was born fully a man, of human parents, just as we were born. (He was recognized as such in the Gospels by his neighbors, by the Disciples, and by his parents.)
He grew in the knowledge of God and gained wisdom; he pleased God in all he did. When he became an adult, he was chosen and anointed by God to be our Master, our Teacher, our Template and the Example of how a human being should live for the glory of God and most beneficially for our fellow human beings.
This Jesus is not the one created for us by Priests whom we must simply admire and worship from afar; unable to obey, unable to follow because he is so different, so distant, so alien.
We may instead celebrate the Jesus - a man called and chosen by God - whom we can fully love as our elder brother, and the one whom we can actively follow as our example in all things. We may become more like God because one of us has done it already, setting the example towards which we may strive.
Let us remember the birth, but also the adult life, of THIS Jesus, a Jesus worth celebrating on Christmas Day, and every day.
Sunday, December 13, 2020
It focuses on “getting” far more than giving, on money and acquiring expensive things rather than on God and accruing spiritual riches, and it can often put the focus on pride, and ourselves, rather than on giving to others.
In all these things, the Christmas that we keep today is indeed far from Jesus, and from the God Who chose him to be our example and guide in all things.
Then again, our Modern Church often also reflects these failings, being too inwardly focused, centered on obtaining money and materialism, and obsessed with “rock star” preachers with huge egos.
But do those who get so upset this time of year about how “secular” Christmas has become in our lives have a point? Or are they missing some of the wonderful redeeming values of the Season, even as most non-Christians celebrate it? Let’s take a look.
1. Modern Christmas has become a time for giving, with an emphasis on those in need.
Jesus in fact said we are to give to those in need.
Jesus does not say IF we give to the needy, he gives us instructions on how to act WHEN we give to the needy (Matt. 6:2-3.) While we are not to “trumpet” our good deeds JUST to be seen by others in a prideful way, we are clearly and specifically told to give to the poor (Matt. 10:21) and “give to the one who begs from you” (Matt. 5:42.)
2. Modern Christmas features people coming around the table for big meals – including friends, co-worker, long-lost relatives and even the “black sheep” of the family.
Jesus invited people to dinner; some who weren't on the guest list of the wealthy and powerful.
“When you give a feast,” he says, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13.) He ate with outcasts, including hated tax-collectors and with sinners (Matt. 9:10-13.) He expanded his definition of “family” to all who did the will of God (Matt 12:50.) All of this outraged the religious elites of the day.
3. Modern Christmas has become a particular time for expressing love to people, and for reconciliation, even among enemies.
Jesus called people to love one another. Even our enemies. At all times.
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44.) We are called by Jesus to love our God with all our hearts, mind, strength and soul, and to extend this same love to our neighbors (Luke 10:27.) Before gift-giving, Jesus said we must reconcile with our siblings (Matt 5:23-24.)
4. Modern Christmas has become a time when people are focused on doing good to others.
Jesus calls us to do Good Works and serve others righteously and in humility.
Jesus says, “Do unto others that which you would have done unto you” (Matt 7:12.) Jesus wishes us to, "observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt. 28:20) and says we will do even greater works than he did (John 14:12) Jesus clearly says we must “Do Good” (Luke 6:35) and serve others.
“I was hungry and you gave me food,” says Jesus. “I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Matt 25:35.) In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we are called to, “Go, and do the same.” (Luke 10:37)
5. Modern Christmas has become a time when we celebrate light in winter.
Jesus calls us to always let our Good Works be a beacon of light, representing God’s Kingdom made “real” in the world.
We are to let our “Light shine, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” But we cannot keep our goodness hidden, but like a lamp on a table or a city on a hill, we must show God’s love to the world through our actions. (Matt. 5:14-16.)
Jesus tells us how to show this service to God – so that God’s Kingdom would come (Matt. 6:10) – and also how to serve others: to clothe the naked, care for the sick, house the homeless, feed the hungry (Matt. 25:35-41.)
Of course, the clear difference between the “secular” Christmas and the Message Jesus proclaims to us is that Jesus’ message is what we who follow him are called to follow year-round, not just during one season.
None other than that secular Christmas celebrant, Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, said the same. “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
That, too, is what Jesus asks of us. And as Tiny Tim might say, “May God bless us, everyone,” at this precious time of the year, and always.
Sunday, December 6, 2020
We are living in the midst of things;
not at rest, but passing onward;
not at home, but travelers;
not stationary inhabitants, but pilgrims and strangers.
We are going on from stage to stage, leaving on the road one scene of business and pleasure after another, and arriving at new. What was ours is ours no longer. What is ours will be soon gone from us.
Behind us are our childhood, our youth, and our early homes, our first warm loves, our first bright hopes, our early innocence and our early sins; before us are the cares and trials of an unknown destiny, and the duties of an uncertain probation - bereavement, toil, sickness, age, death, judgment.
Behind us is ignorance, weakness, imperfection; before us, knowledge, virtue, perfection, or, it may be, worse ignorance, baser sin, and the loss of glory - behind us, a few brief years; before us, eternity.
Improvement is the universal law of God; to which everything in nature, are all conformed. Look where we will, we find nothing made perfect at once; scarcely any thing is stationary; all things are in a state of progress. This may be in a thousand ways illustrated, and in every illustration, we may read a lesson of instruction for ourselves.
The herb, the tree, the animal, spring from an insignificant beginning, and reach their perfect stature by a gradual progress. The day does not open on the eye in meridian splendor. The year does not burst into ripe maturity at once. The nation does not arrive at power and fame in a day. — To look more widely for instances. The earth on which we tread, with its tribes of plants and animals of every order, ascending in a beautiful scale to perfect man, has come to its present condition by a process of improvement.
Our researches into its structure appear to prove, that, before it was brought out of the chaos mentioned by Moses, it had been already more than once inhabited and destroyed.
The remains of its former tenants are found embedded in the ancient rocks. But amongst them are no remains of men. The world, at its several antecedent periods, seems to have been peopled successively by creatures more and more perfect, and then humanity, the most perfect has existed upon it only since its last formation. And we cannot tell that the series of changes is yet completed. It may be, that after the destruction of the earth by fire, it shall be remodeled for the abode of a yet higher order of beings.
Improvement, then, is a law of the universe. All things alike, great and small, are made to be in progress. Individual human beings must not be an exception. We must not allow everything else to move on, and we, ourselves be stationary.
When the insensible earth and the irrational animals obey the commandment, let not us, who alone are capable of voluntary obedience, let not us alone be unfaithful. When even the all-wise Creator, in unfolding his ways and purposes to his children, observes this rule of constant progression, let not us, with wisdom only of yesterday, children in understanding, let not us fancy that we may rest where we are, and refuse to move forward.
Our very capacity of progress is itself a further reason for striving after perpetual improvement. The plants and animals around us have limits set to their advancement which they can never pass. They go forward by a prescribed course to their maturity, and there they necessarily stop.
The voice which spoke to the sea, “Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther,” has spoken to all things terrestrial excepting man. From that mandate his spirit is exempted. The tree has its growth, and the bird its instinct, and they can add to themselves nothing beyond it. Man, reasoning, immortal, immaterial man, to whom the inspiration of the Almighty has given understanding, has received the power of expansion. His soul may grow - not like his body, which is to perish in seventy years, and therefore becomes perfect in twenty; but, as it is never to perish, it never reaches a perfection beyond which it may not pass. If its duration were bounded by a thousand years, or a hundred thousand centuries, then we might anticipate the day when its growth should be completed. But since it shall exist through eternity, since it can never approach the termination of its being, neither can it approach the termination of its progress. It must enlarge, extend itself, and advance.
Other things may stop, and become stationary; for they are to come to an end. But not man, for he is to know no end.
Others may be satisfied with a perfection which earth can understand and contain; for they are of the earth, and they shall return to its bosom. But human beings - the children of the Most High - his spirit a ray from the fountain of unquenchable light, made capable of attainments which the gross delusions of earthly beings cannot imagine themselves, let us not dream that any present attainment is our perfection; let us press forward to that mark - that something immense and infinite - which Jesus has set before us as the prize of our high calling. For us to be stationary - it would be a rebellion against our nature, a willful forfeiting of our birth right, and should subject us to the harsh reproaches of our own minds, and to the deserved scorn of all higher and lower beings.
This great progress of the human soul is but begun upon earth. But it is begun. The desire of purity, the love of excellence, the habits of holiness, the relish for spiritual pleasures, are begun below; and he who has made the greatest advances in these during his mortal life, is doubtless best fitted for entering on a future state.
(Adapted from a sermon by Dr. Henry Ware, Jr.)