Friday, December 25, 2015

The Crèche is crowded

Luke 2:1-20

          A couple of weeks ago, I read this comment: the crèche is crowded. The author of the article was referring to the tendency we have to put all the figures in the nativity scene when we put it out in early December.
In reality, there are few people in the stable at a time. Once Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem they find themselves in a cave, or the lower level of the main house where animals are housed overnight, or in an outbuilding sort of barn. Jesus is laid in a bed of clean straw. Normally, there would have been a midwife present – either Mary’s mother, another female member of the family, or perhaps a professional midwife, trained to see to the safe birth of the child and the health of the new mother. She isn’t mentioned, though she must have been present.
Once the baby was born, an angel went to announce the birth of the Savior to shepherds in the fields nearby. Why shepherds, we should wonder. Shepherds were nobodies in the ancient world of Jesus’ time. Smelly, often accused of theft, unable to give witness in court, shepherds were among the least-respected people of their day. And yet, the image of shepherd as the leader of the Israelite people persists as an ironic witness to the desire of God to have a caring relationship with God’s people.
The angel says, “I have great news for you! The Messiah, your Savior, has been born.” And then, more angels showed up singing praises to God.
The angels are in the fields, not in the stable.
The shepherds went to find the baby. They told Mary and Joseph about seeing and hearing angels with good news. Their news confirmed for Mary what the Angel Gabriel had told Mary nine months prior. The shepherds went back to their sheep, glorifying and praising God as they went. They do not remain in the stable.
In the East somewhere, a few astrologers noticed a strange sign in the heavens. It seemed to them that the star they noticed was pointing at something special, so they packed up a caravan and set off to see where the star led them.
Assuming the star appeared when Jesus was born, the journey took them many months. No location is specified for the Magi, but we speculate Persia, which is known for its astrologers at the time. When they finally arrive in Palestine, they first visit Herod, whose scholars indicate Bethlehem is the likely place for the new king, based on a verse in Micah.
The magi travel a few more miles to Bethlehem, and find the star pointing at the home of Joseph and Mary. The next story tells of Herod’s order of the massacre of any child under the age of two. So, we can guess that Jesus was about 18 months old at the time. By this time, then, the family is settled in a home, not living in a stable or cave. The magi give symbolic gifts to the family, and honor Jesus as a king.
The star and the magi, then, belong to the family home, not the stable.
And yet, the crèche has become a symbol which pulls all these stories together. We like it that they all go together, even though they mostly were never together at the stable.
So, who are they, then?
Angels – God’s messengers, watching over the affairs of God and God’s people as they intersect in human time and place.
A mother, wondering why God had chosen her, IF God had chosen her, and how she could be the mother of the Messiah.
A father, not the biological father, wondering how he could be father to the Son of God.
Shepherds – dirty, smelly, unwanted people, outsiders.
Magi – wealthy, powerful, mysterious. In the image of the crèche, I notice that the magi are of different races, even as they believe in different gods.
All of nature is present – in the animals that may have been in the stable, in the animals that brought the magi, and in the star which pointed the way.
Whoever we are, rich or poor, respected or mistrusted, believers or skeptics or worshipers of other gods, we are welcome in the stable.
Tonight is the night to place ourselves in the stable, witnessing the birth of the Savior.
Tonight is the night to place ourselves in the crèche, finding a place with everyone else there.
Tonight is the night to remember we are loved by God as much as human mothers and fathers love their children.
Tonight is the night to glorify and praise God for this amazing, wonderful, good news of great joy for all people.

Please pray with me. Loving God, we praise you for the gift of the Son, the Savior, sent to share your love and mercy with us. We glorify you for your arms which open wide to welcome all people into your heart. We sing with the angels and celebrate this moment in history and this moment in our lives when we remember with joy your great gift to us in Jesus. Amen 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Be generous, be kind, be fair

Luke 3. 7-18

So here we are again with John the Baptist near the Jordan River. He’s giving what sounds like a fire and brimstone message. He is definitely challenging his audience to wake up and change their lives. He calls them names: children of snakes. He warns them: don’t depend on your family history as children of Abraham. The point is, he shouts, if you are not bearing good fruit, God is done with you!
The crowd is composed of common Jewish people, Jewish tax collectors, Roman soldiers, and probably some scribes and Pharisees. They all are shaken up by John’s words, for various reasons. Just like us today, no one wants to be out of God’s grace. They are afraid, and want to know what they can do to get right with God.
John itemizes some recommendations for different groups.
John tells the people to be generous. If you have more than enough for yourself, share whatever is extra. Share your clothes, your food, so that everyone has clothes and food.
John tells the tax collectors to be fair. Tax collectors were notorious, and hated, for the way they extorted money out of people. They weren’t embezzlers, they had a habit of charging people more tax than they should, in order to make a nice profit. Frequently, the tax collectors were Jews who worked for the Romans, and therefore were seen as traitors. So they were doubly hated.
John tells the soldiers to be kind. Soldiers had the habit of using their size and their weapons to intimidate the people. They would force the people to pay them to leave them alone.
Three simple recommendations: be generous, be fair, be kind. But they represent a reversal of behavior. Don’t be selfish; don’t cheat; don’t be mean. While we would like to believe that we don’t need such behavioral reminders today, we do.
We tend to keep what we have, because we love our comforts. We don’t always respect other people as God’s children, we don’t treat everyone fairly. We get angry when someone hurts us, and we want to get even with them. What then should we do? Be generous, be fair, be kind.
John is a charismatic character, and many of the folks believe he must be the messiah. He preaches the way they believe the messiah will preach. He dresses and lives the way they believe the messiah will dress and live. He rouses the passions the way they believe the messiah will rouse the passions. He seems like just the right guy for the role. They can hardly wait to change their ways, so the John can lead them into a rebellion against the Romans.
But John is quick to tell the crowds that he is NOT the messiah. He is a simple forerunner, and not worthy to even tie the shoelaces of the true messiah. One who is greater is coming soon. The true messiah will sort out the good from the bad and make life very unpleasant for those who do not produce good fruit.
The crowds hear this news as very good news. Do they focus on the good news of the coming of the messiah, do you think, or do they focus on the good news that the selfish, unethical, and mean folks will soon be punished for their evil deeds?
Or do they focus on the good news that the way to get right with God is as simple as being generous, fair, and kind? John probably hasn’t heard Jesus’ message yet. He hasn’t heard Jesus’ message that we can’t earn God’s love and grace by our actions.
In our Wednesday class on Luther, we were reminded recently that God does not need our good works, but our neighbors do. So, when we are generous, fair, and kind toward our neighbor, we are honoring God while helping someone else.
We know what it looks like to be generous. As a whole, we are a generous congregation. The angel tree gifts will be purchased and returned. The general income is holding steady and increasing a little year by year. God multiplies our giving to make it worth so much more.
Are we fair? Are we kind? Mostly, I’d say, yes. Once in a while, we all think unkind things about someone else. We put all Muslims in the same category as radical Islamists. We think all homeless people are lazy or addicts. We think some people are less than others: men are better than woman, white people are better than black or Hispanic people, city people are better than rural people.  
A story caught my attention this week, reminding us that most Muslims are generous, fair, and kind. Muslim Americans were distressed to learn that Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the couple who shot so many people in San Bernadino, were discovered to be Islamist radicals. Faisal Qazi set up a fund raising account to help pay medical bills for the victims of the shootings. Qazi explained, “We want to respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us.”  As of Thursday evening, over $173,000 had been raised so far.
Another story reminded me that generosity is simple and life-giving. Courtney and Tanya were riding a commuter train in Chicago and noticed a disabled homeless man sleeping in his wheelchair. Before getting off the train, they slipped some paper money into his bag. Another traveler noticed and snapped their photo. He then posted the photo on Facebook, urging everyone to see and share the story. “Thank you,” he wrote, “for reestablishing my faith in humanity.
A business man was recently questioned about the small number of women in his company in relationship to the number of women. He stated, “We’re not about to lower our standards” in order to hire women. He subscribes to the belief that men are better than women. We know that this is not a new belief – it’s as old as the world of the Old Testament and surrounding cultures. It’s as old as the world of the New Testament.
It’s not fair when the same statements are made about people of color, or people of other faiths, or who come from other places, or who have disabilities, or who are younger or older. It is not fair, and it’s up to us to stand up to such prejudices and out-of-date standards.
We can’t earn God’s love by doing good things, by being generous, kind, or fair. But the world we live in depends on us and others like us to make a difference, to show another way to be in the world. This week, remember. You have been baptized, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and empowered to be different than the world around us. Go out and live generously, fairly, and kindly.

Please pray with me. God of justice, kindness, and mercy, we thank you that you are so forgiving. We are not always generous. We are not always kind. We are not always fair. Lead us to follow your ways more closely. In Jesus holy name, Amen 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

God uses Nobodies

Luke 1:68-79; Luke 3:1-6

The focus of today’s readings is John the Baptist. We read about him next week, too. Unfortunately, we don’t get the beginning of his story, other than the reading from Luke that serves as the Psalm.
So. Let’s start at the beginning, with John’s father, Zechariah. One day he was serving as a priest in the temple, and the angel Gabriel told him he was going to be a father. He was to call the baby John. Zechariah said, “Say what?”. Gabriel said, “Because of your doubt, you will not speak until the baby is born.”
We can only imagine the scene at home when Zechariah told Elizabeth they were going to have a baby. Fast forward nine months to the day the baby is circumcised and named. People at the party suggest several names, but Zechariah asks for a tablet and writes that the baby is to be called John. He suddenly has his voice back and sings a song, which says that John has been anointed by God for a special purpose, to announce the coming of Jesus, the Savior.
Fast forward again and we find John living in the wilderness, calling for people to repent, change their lives, and get ready for the Savior. When the Savior comes, the world will change. Just imagine, he says, not having to climb mountain after mountain to get from one place to another. Imagine, he says, not having ruts and rocks in the road you are travelling. Imagine, he says, that the roads of your life can be much straighter. That’s what it will be like when the Savior comes. So, repent, and be baptized, and get ready!
Luke tells this story by anchoring it in a particular time and place. Scholars have since determined that some of his facts are not quite facts, the dates and people are not exactly as he has written them. But, Luke’s insistence on setting the arrival of John and Jesus at particular times and places helps readers understand that the story he is telling is true.
In those days, there was no BC and AD. Time was marked by the accession to the throne of kings and other leaders. In that time, Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Annas, and Caiaphas were in charge. These are all famous people. They are Somebodies!
What on earth are the names of Zechariah and Elizabeth and John doing in the same list with all the rich and famous folks? They are otherwise Nobodies, until the events of God’s plan change everything. It would be like saying, In the seventh year of the presidency of Barak Obama, the governorship of Rick Scott, the leadership of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Synod Bishop Robert Schafer, and the Pastorate of Lynn Fonfara, the word of the Lord came to the people of Hope Lutheran Church in Citrus Springs, Florida. We’re not even in Tampa or Orlando or Tallahassee. We’re in unincorporated Citrus County. Our average worship attendance hovers around 50-60. We’re nobody important, in no place important.
Yet, we are all important, and our place is important, because we are children of God, in the world God created. And the Word of the Lord has come and will continue to come to each of us, making us all somebodies.
We have a tendency to believe we are unimportant, that end to believe that we have few gifts and skills, that we are nobodies in comparison with everyone else. We tare insignificant in the eyes of those who seem to us to matter more. Yet, Jesus assures us that the least of us is important, valuable, in his eyes, and he knows every single one of us.
Carmen works with homeless people every day. One day she was in a fast food restaurant. She noticed a homeless woman asking patrons if she could have the food they would throw away. No one was willing to share with her, even though they were not going to eat what was left.
When the woman approached Carmen, she willingly gave the woman a chicken strip and a few fries. Then she thought, “This woman is still hungry. She deserves a hot meal.” Carmen ordered a meal for the woman; when the woman received her meal, she hugged Carmen and cried, sobbing out her misery and her gratitude. “That hug she gave me was like a hug I had never felt… those tears she shed were felt deep in my heart. I held her tight and let her let it out. I wasn’t repulsed by it. I just held her. And that is a moment I will never ever forget. So next time you judge a homeless person, think twice… not all of them are homeless because of a drug addiction or because they are lazy.” Homeless people are Somebodies in God’s eyes.
For over a month, I have carried a $20 bill in my wallet. It was given to me for a special purpose, and I can’t seem to remember to take it out of my wallet to give it away. When Mike and I were in New Mexico, we worshiped in a Lutheran church. The pastor asked us to introduce ourselves, and I mentioned that one thing we are proud of as a congregation is that we have a goal of 250 shoeboxes this year. As worship ended and we were leaving the building, I felt something as someone shook my hand. She said, “For the shoeboxes.” I tucked it into my pocket, to look at later. It was a $20 bill. So, Carole, here’s $20 for next year’s shoeboxes. At the same time, I hesitate to give this money away, because it has been a reminder that somebody cared enough about our project to be so generous.
Yesterday I spent two hours ringing a bell outside Walmart for the Salvation Army. It amazed me how many people refused to look at me, or didn’t even see me. To them, I, and the people the Salvation Army helps, are invisible, unimportant, Nobodies. I was also touched by the many folks who said they put money in every bucket, and by the mothers of young children who were careful to teach their children to give. To them, I, and the needy folks around us, are all Somebodies, worthy of their notice and gifts.
We are always God’s Somebodies. We are always God’s beloved children, saved by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And, every day, we get the chance to be somebody for someone else. We get to hug a child. We get to feed hungry people. We get to buy items for shoeboxes. We get to make cookies for parties. We get to give to this church to support our ministries. We get to buy Christmas gifts for a needy family. We get to visit homebound and sick people. We get to greet the Salvation Army Bell ringers as if they are Somebodies, and put a dollar or two in their kettles.
We get to help other people know that they are Somebodies, in our eyes and in God’s eyes.

Please pray with me. Jesus, in our lives, you are definitely Somebody. We thank you for making us Somebodies, too. Guide us daily to be Somebody for Somebody else. Amen 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Promises, Promises

Jeremiah 33: 14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Do you hear the promises in today’s readings?
Jeremiah promises a righteous branch – in other words a descendent – of David who will come to bring justice and righteousness to the land.
The Psalmist promises that God is worthy of our trust and faith.
Paul promises that God will fill them with love and holiness, making them righteous, blameless, before Jesus.
So the promises are about God wanting to restore and maintain the relationship between God and us.
The promises Jesus makes are a bit different, but still about the relationship. Jesus’ reminds us that the reign of God is an expression of his presence and power on earth. Through the reign of God, promises are fulfilled.
We could interpret Jesus’ words as predictive of his coming again, when terrible stuff is happening around the world. In those days, Jesus, the Son of Man, will come again and fix everything. Except, terrible stuff has been happening around the globe, natural and of human origin, for thousands of years.
Or we can interpret his words as reminding us of the cycle of nature. How often does the fig tree grow leaves? Every year.
How often are there earthquakes and other natural chaotic events? All the time.
When is there war and other violence? All the time.
When is there unrighteousness? All the time.
So, when should we look for Jesus to come again? All the time. That’s Jesus’ promise to us.
Our redemption, our salvation, our being made holy in God’s eyes, is already accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The kingdom/reign of God is already here. We simply need to look for signs of it all around us, even in the midst of so much unrighteousness.
One day, when Mike and I were in Albuquerque, we had just gotten out of the car, and were approached by a man and a boy. He asked for some cash to spend the night in a cheap hotel. We declined to help him. But a few hours later I noticed for the first time a sign I wish I had seen earlier.
Albuquerque has a program to help the homeless. In cooperation with St Martin’s Hospitality Center, a van tours the city and stops at corners where panhandlers are seen begging for donations. The drivers offer to take them to a place where they can work for the day, usually on city beautification projects. They may weed flower beds or pick up litter.
At the end of the day, they are taken to a shelter where they will be paid in cash, and connected to services for housing, food, medical care, addiction rehab, etc. Those who choose to work often earn twice as much as they would panhandling. Plus, they can put on their resume that they had worked. There is also an effort to connect people with permanent jobs.
While the program is far from perfect, it is a sign of the reign of God in Albuquerque. Promises fulfilled for homeless people.
Bada Bing! Pizzaria in Springfield, Ohio, made the news as its image and story went viral. They announced that they would be closed on Thanksgiving Day, with the intent of serving a family and friends dinner. However, they added one sentence to the announcement: “If you are hungry or don’t have any money, please come in. We will welcome you and make sure you will get plenty to eat.”
People began to drop off turkeys and other food, and volunteered their time, hands, and money to help out. Other restaurants have similar plans. They have a common goal: The desire to treat homeless and hungry people not as objects to be afraid of, but as fellow members of the community who might be down on their luck and in need of a hand. Promises fulfilled for hungry people.
Syrian refugees flee war, ISIS, and terrible destruction of their homes. Parents carry children in their arms, hundreds of miles, across treacherous terrain. One woman decided to do something. She set out to collect baby carriers, hundreds of them. “When I saw the picture of that baby face down in the water, I knew I had to do something. It could have been my son lying there.”
Tons of people donated carriers and cash. Many attached notes, wishing the refugees well, and promising they were not alone in their journey. Once she had enough carriers to make a difference, she and a group of volunteers headed to Greece to hand them out as the refugees left the boat from the isle of Lesbos. The refugees still had a long way to go, but at least for the rest of their journey to a new home, they would have an easier way to carry their children. Promises fulfilled for refugees.
I have heard many times that if we want to change the world, we should educate the women. Educated women have fewer and healthier babies. Educated women refuse to be abused and to let their children be abused. Educated women refuse to be silent, at home, in the community, in the nation.
Malala Yousafzai was such a girl, who valued education for herself and other young women in her community. She was caught by the Taliban who tried to kill her and failed. She has established a fund to educate women around the world. “Our goal is to enable girls to complete 12 years of safe, quality education so that they can achieve their potential and be positive change-makers in their families and communities. We work with partners all over the world helping to empower girls and amplify their voices; we invest in local education leaders and programmes; and we advocate for more resources for education and safe schools for every child.” Promises fulfilled for women and children.
There are signs everywhere of the reign of God, of Jesus’ promised presence with us. There are bigger signs, such as those I’ve already shared. And there are little signs, like the way we feed hungry people, and make a better Christmas for needy families.
Watch this week for signs of the reign of God, because those are reminders of the promise Jesus made to us, and the promises God made thousands of years ago through the prophet Jeremiah and the Psalmist and the apostle Paul.

Please pray with me: Promise-keeping God, help us to see through your eyes all the signs of your reign in our midst. And send us out to be your hands and feet and mouth for all those in need of a promise fulfilled. Amen

Saturday, November 21, 2015

For what do you give thanks?

Matthew 6:24-33
There was a family gathered around the Thanksgiving table. Mikey, a 5-year-old, asked if he could say the prayer, and of course the family said, “Of course, dear.”
Mikey prayed, Thank you God for family, and for friends, and for the food on this table. And thank you for my toys – and he named the toys, one by one. And for my clothes, and he named his clothes, shirt by shirt, pajamas by pajamas. And for my books, and he named them, book by book.
By now, those gathered around the table are getting anxious. The food is getting cold, and they are getting hungrier and hungrier just smelling it. Finally, Mikey’s mother gave him the wrap-it-up sign. He ended the prayer with, “and thank you for everything and everyone you have given me.”
How often do we take time to thank God for all the little things in our lives? Mostly, we take them for granted. We don’t even remember to give thanks for them.
Mostly, we spend our time and energy working for the bigger things, like bigger houses and bigger cars and bigger bank accounts. Even though we don’t intend to, we make having more wealth, more stuff, our god.
Jesus warns us that we can’t serve two masters. In Greek, the word he uses is kurios, or lord. It’s the same word we sing at the beginning of worship in the Kyrie. Lord, Kurios, have mercy. If we want to serve our Lord Jesus well, we can’t also serve money, or whatever other lord that attracts us.
… Many poor people are thankful for some of the things most of us take for granted. For example, we turn on a faucet, and behold, cold and hot water flows into our glass or cooking pot.
Yet in many parts of the world, clean water is not so easy to come by. There is drought or a natural lack of water in the environment. In other places, there is water, but it may not be healthy to drink.
Here in Florida, we are familiar with springs. Water flows out of the ground and we drink it, we swim and fish in it, we enjoy watching the wildlife that lives in it. But in many places, animals walk through spring water, leaves and insects fall into it, the water may be contaminated by flowing through contaminated soil. It is water, but it is not safe to drink.
One project of ELCA World Hunger is to protect the spring water that emerges, to keep it safe. Spring boxes are constructed to protect the water. A box is constructed of stone and concrete or other materials, with a pipe built into the side of the box for access to clean water. The box is built by members of the community who are also taught how to maintain it. The people in such communities are thankful for clean water.
… Some people give thanks for a safe home, but most of us take it for granted. About 20 years ago, civil war in Sudan sent thousands of boys and girls fleeing their homes in search of safety. Orphans, they left home with nothing, just the clothes on their backs. They made a community for themselves as they trekked to other countries seeking asylum. Many of these “Lost Boys of Sudan” found refuge in the US. Some of them landed in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Welcomed by Grace Episcopal Church, these young men and women found new life in America. In 2008, six of them were enrolled in Grand Rapids Theological Seminary where they were preparing to take their faith back to Sudan. There they will be seen as leaders, sent by Jesus to train up a new generation of Christian leaders.
These men and women could have stayed here and lived middle class American lives, but they have felt called back home, to share their gifts with many more people. They have returned home to focus on the kingdom/ reign of God, and give thanks for the opportunities they have had here.
… Last month, when Mike and I were in New Mexico, we visited the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in time to catch the last dance of the afternoon. In the shade of the building overhang, several vendors had tables set up. From Maria, I bought a little pottery bowl.
The silver jewelry offered by Brad Panteah caught my eye, and I kept going back to look at it. I asked him about the symbolism of the different animals, and the prices. I bought a pair of earrings for myself, but didn’t have enough cash for the white turquoise turtle pin I wanted for Mike. The turtle is the symbol of Mike’s tribe, the Montauk, from Long Island. It represents Mother Earth for many native peoples, including the Zuni.
As I talked with Brad, I learned that he had been losing his eyesight, but was getting it back thanks to some treatments. He hadn’t sold a lot that day, so what I bought was a blessing to him.
When the dancing was over, I took Mike to Brad to show him the turtle. Brad and Mike talked about artwork, and silver, and the rarity of true white turquoise.
We decided that between us, we had just enough cash to buy the pin. When we were finished with the sale, Brad came around the table and hugged me. “Bless you, bless you, bless you”, he said, first in Zuni, then in English. Today, you have three times blessed me.
Buying jewelry was for me a simple thing. I had allotted myself a certain amount of money for shopping, and I found the kind of things I was looking for at a price I was able to pay. Yet, with our purchase, Brad said he could take his wife to Burger King for dinner. He gave thanks for us, because we had made a significant difference in the life of his family.
For what do you give thanks? This week, as we take time to celebrate Thanksgiving with our loved ones, remember to give thanks for the small things in life. Remember it is God who gives you people to love, a place to live, clean water, an education, an artistic eye, and the chance to help someone else have a better life.
Remember to give thanks daily to the Lord of your life, Jesus, and to keep the things you have in their proper place in your life.

Please pray with me. Lord, we give you thanks, but not often enough. It is too easy for us to take much of what we have for granted. Remind us to worship you as Lord of our lives, and to keep the things we own as things and not lords. Amen

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The lies the serpent tells us

Genesis 3:1-21; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-8

Last week, Nadia Bolz-Weber was the speaker at the Conference on Ministry I attended as a pastor of this synod. She has become known as an authority in the church in recent years because she tells the truth. She tells the truth about the stuff some of her parishioners do and say. She tells the truth about how she feels about her emotions and her struggle to be a good pastor. And she seeks always to tell the Lutheran truth about Jesus. Her sermon on Wednesday morning made an impact on me, so I want to credit her with the starting idea for this message.
The text was Genesis 3, describing the way the serpent tricked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. The serpent assured Eve that the result of eating the fruit would be knowing the difference between good and evil. Eating of this fruit would make them as smart as God. This is the first lie the serpent told, but certainly not the last.
Interestingly, our English Bibles label this as the first sin, but today’s Jews do not consider this a story about sin. It is an origin story which explains why serpents don’t have legs, why childbirth hurts, why working the land to grow crops is so much hard work, and why men think they are the boss of women.
There are plenty of lies told by the serpent since this first one. Some of the serpent’s lies relate to the way the people operate; they trust in armies instead of in God; they make alliances with neighboring kingdoms instead of trusting God. Jesus warns us against this lie.
Some of the serpent’s lies relate to the way they treat one another: it’s ok for some people to make slaves of other people; it’s ok for some people to beat up on other people; it’s ok for some people to steal money and property and jobs from other people. Jesus warns us against this lie.
Some of the serpent’s lies relate to the way they worship: big fancy buildings please God more than simple ones; fancy clothes please God more than plain ones; longer prayers with 50-cent words please God more than short prayers cried from the heart.  Jesus warns us against this lie.
Some of the serpent’s lies relate to what we believe about ourselves: wealthy people are more blessed by God than poor people; God loves some people more than other people; some sins are not forgive-able. Jesus warns us against this lie.
Some of the serpent’s lies tell us that we can predict God’s response to us; we believe that we can tell when Jesus is coming again; we believe that certain behaviors or actions will make conditions ripe for Jesus’ return; we believe we can interpret God’s heart when we see trials and tribulations surrounding us. Jesus warns us against this lie.
The biggest lie the serpent tells us is that we are not worthy of God’s love. Jesus came to tell us that God loves us and forgives us, as a parent loves and forgives a child. Jesus came to prove to us that God loves us enough to die for us. Jesus came to tell us that we are never alone. Jesus came to assure us that there is a place for us after death.
Jesus tells us to trust in God and to never listen to the serpent’s lies. Like other Jews, the disciples have believed the lies told to them about the importance of the temple, of obedience to the commands of Torah, and the belief that the Messiah would come to free them from the Romans. But, Jesus said, don’t believe these lies.

Some stories:
Jack and Jill have important jobs, plenty of money to live on today, piles of money set aside for retirement. Their house is magnificent, and was featured in Southern Lifestyle Magazine. They jet regularly to London and Paris, just for the weekend. They are close to retirement, and making plans for how they will spend the rest of their lives.
But one day, Jill is killed in a car crash. All the money, all the planning, did not prepare Jack for this. The house is empty, he has no one to talk with about the day’s challenges and successes. The serpent lied to them, that all that money would make them happy.

Melissa is a nerd. She loves science. She does all her homework. She takes care of her little brother. She has a hard time being a friend because she is so shy. Other girls tease her, to the point where she wants to skip school, but she doesn’t want to disappoint her parents. The girls in school have started to send her text messages like, “You’re so ugly, the world would be better off without you.” At first, she ignored these messages, but lately, they are coming so often, she is beginning to believe them. Melissa is beginning to think about suicide. She is beginning to believe the lies the serpent tells, that she is no one, that she is worthless.
When she was younger, Sally led Women of the ELCA in her church, she served on the Congregation Council, and she attended synod assemblies once or twice. She loved the young people in the church, and kept candies in her purse for them.
Lately, it seemed to her that her ideas were old and no one cared what she thought. She thought it didn’t matter if she was at worship or if she stayed home to watch TV preachers. Sally believed the lie that she was old and that she had nothing more to contribute to the church.
But, someone asked her to make phone calls, checking on the homebound folks each week. They knew she enjoyed talking with people, and soon these phone calls gave her a renewed sense of purpose. They also helped her realize that as long as she was able to, she ought to get herself to church each week. Her friends helped her stop believing the lie that she was too old to be worth anything.

There are lots of lies we are told by the serpent, speaking through those we know, those we read about, those we watch on TV. It is essential that we check the lies to see if they match the truth Jesus told us.
The truth is that Jesus loves us. Jesus forgives us. No one is unworthy of his love. Everyone has something to contribute.
It is our task as disciples to seek the truth and to tell the truth. It is our task to expose the lies told by others, and to make sure we believe only Jesus’ truth about ourselves.

Please pray with me. Truth-telling God, help us to seek your truth for our lives. And help us to share your truth with others, especially those who believe the lies others are telling about them. Amen