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2019 Sermons


December 22, 2019

A Song for Christmas:  O Holy Night - Truly He Taught Us To Love One Another 

This morning we have arrived at the fourth week of Advent. This is the final Sunday before Christmas, and I am continuing the message series titled A Song for Christmas.  This morning’s message takes its title from the great carol O Holy Night, specifically, the line that says, truly He taught us to love one another.


The words of O Holy Nightwere written in 1843, by a poet named Placide Cappeau.  The poem was written at the urging of a parish priest in Roquermaure, France, who wanted to celebrate the renovation of the church organ.  Later that year Adolph Adam, a French composer, set the words to music. The French text was translated into English in 1855, by a Unitarian minister by the name of John Sullivan Dwight.  Dwight’s version, however, is not at all an accurate translation from the French. Dwight changed the words drastically from a literal translation from the French.  Perhaps it is a matter of familiarity, but I much prefer the version penned by Dwight. 


The text for today’s message comes from Matthew’s gospel and tells the story of the magi arriving in Jerusalem, asking Herod where they could find the newborn king of the Jews.  Follow along with me while I read that passage.

Matthew 2:1-12

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 

2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 

5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 

8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 

10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 

11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 

12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.


This morning I want to focus on one line from O Holy Night –truly He taught us to love one another, as that is the foundation of the teachings of Jesus, and I want to weave that into the story of Herod and the magi.  Herod was a dangerous character, and posed a great danger to the family of Jesus, and we will read more about that next week as I use the passage that comes next in Matthew.  That passage tells about Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt to be safe from Herod.  I also want to focus in on the word holy, from O Holy Night.  That’s a lot to try and weave together, so I hope I manage to do so in a meaningful way.


You Are Holy – Love Yourself.


There are several great affirmations in the creation story in Genesis.  One is that people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27 – 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them).  Everything created by God is good, and that is affirmed at each step of creation and again at the completion of creation (Genesis 1:31 – God saw all that he had made, and it was very good).


Love for self is not self-centered or arrogant. That is something else altogether. There is self-absorption, selfishness, narcissism, egoism; there is no shortage of examples of what is notself-love.  Unless we learn to love ourselves, we cannot love others.  Jesus makes this connection in Matthew 22:36-40 when he was asked the question, Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied:  “Love the Lord you God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.


I have great disdain, as I have said on more than one occasion, for the Calvinism that is so prevalent in some churches.  I don’t like it because one of its tenants is this emphasis on how bad we are, and I don’t mean just bad, but worthless. Yes, there is within us the potential for evil and there are people in this world who embody that evil in the way the treat others.  But I am speaking of our nature as created by God. 


Your Neighbor Is Holy – Love Your Neighbor.


That means it doesn’t matter if our neighbor is the complete opposite of ourselves – if they are a right-wing, gun-loving conservative or a left-wing, tree-hugging liberal.


The historical moment in which we are living far too often seeks to demonize anyone on the other side of the many divides that separate us, and the end result is that it devalues and dismisses the humanity of the other person.


 Under all of the externals that divide us are people, created in the image of God, and that should mean something.


Churches are more and more often reflecting the culture at large in the sense of becoming places that attract like-minded individuals rather than a broad spectrum of God’s beautiful creation.  If a church does not have a mixture of people – class, education, politics, social, etc. – it needs to ask why not.


The line truly He taught us to love one anotherresonates so powerfully.  It is hard to love others, and it has always been hard to love others. 


Matthew 5:43-48

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 

45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 

46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 

47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


John 3:16

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.


I John 4:7-21

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 

8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 

9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 

10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 

11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 

12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 

14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 

15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 

16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 

17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 

18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 

20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 

21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.


The world is not very interested in what churches have to say when they simply moralize and condemn people because they don’t like who they are or how they live. People know that loving others is foundational to Jesus and to the church, and they want to see that love lived out.  


Play O Holy Night.

December 8, 2019

A Song for Christmas:  Away In A Manger/The First Noel - There Are No Insignificant Places or People

Today is the second Sunday in Advent.  Last week I began my Advent series of messages, called A Song for Christmas. Each message in the series is based on a Christmas carol, and at the end of my message I will play that week’s featured carol on guitar.  This morning’s message is based on two carols –Away In A Manger and The First Noel.  The title of the message is There Are No Insignificant People or Places.  


The Scripture text for this morning is a combination of two passages, the first from the prophet Micah and the second from the gospel of Luke.  Follow along with me as I read those passages – 


Micah 2:2, 4 

2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old,

from ancient times.”

4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.  And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.


Luke 2:8-16

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 

9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 

12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.


I have two points that I will mention this morning, both of which are reflected in the title of this message – 


1. Away In A Manger – There Are No Insignificant Places.


The prophet Micah says this of Bethlehem – But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah.  I find that an interesting verse, as even the Bible acknowledges Bethlehem to be a place that is not viewed in terms of any great significance. Even the followers of Jesus would have this attitude as well.  Upon hearing that Jesus was from Nazareth (while Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he grew up in Nazareth), for example, Nathaniel said, can anything good come out of Nazareth? (John 1:46).  And that’s the attitude of one who would become a follower of Jesus!


Bethlehem of today is not the small village that it was in the time of Jesus.  Modern Bethlehem has a population in the city of more than 25,000, plus numerous others in the surrounding area.  At the time of Jesus, it was a village of a little over 1,400 people and one that had been in decline for some years.  It was not, certainly, a place of particular significance by any social, political, or economic measure (with one exception, and that is that it was the birthplace of David, the renowned king of ancient Israel. That is not insignificant matter, but outside of being the birthplace of David, by the time of Jesus the town was not recognized as a place of any major importance).


When I think of the words away in a manger, I think of the many places in the world like Bethlehem.  They are the small towns and villages that are seen as being away, in the sticks, in the boondocks, in the middle of nowhere.  People have long looked at the small towns and out of the way places, such as Bethlehem, as places from which to escape. The cities – the urban landscapes – those are the places to be.  That is where the action is.  That is where the opportunity is.  That is where anyone who is anybody will want to be.


I come from a place of little significance. I was born in Steubenville, Ohio but grew up in Wellsburg, West Virginia.  Wellsburg is a town that has long been in decline.  I graduated high school in 1975, and at that time the area surrounding Wellsburg had a strong economy because of the steel and coal industries that served as the economic engine of that part of the Ohio Valley (yes, there were very severe environmental consequences to those industries, but my point in this message is about the decline of that area, not the industries themselves). The high school I attended is now well below half the student body that was there when I graduated.  My hometown’s population is less than half of what it was at its peak.  To walk through the downtown is to see many boarded up and dilapidated buildings, making Wellsburg a mere shadow of what it was when I was a child and young adult. It is painful to see the amount of decline that has taken place.  Wellsburg is the county seat of Brooke County, and several years ago I read an article that labeled Brooke County as the dyingest county in the entire United States (having the worst birth to death ratio.  Technically, it was statistically tied with a county in Florida, but that county was listed below Brooke County because it was made up of so many retirees who had moved to that area).  Several years ago there was a chemical spill in central West Virginia that caused severe environmental damage to several counties.  The spill received little attention from the national news media (although they did eventually catch up to the story, but it took a while).  I sent an email to the editor of a national publication lamenting the fact that the spill had received so little attention, saying that if this had happened in any other state, it would have become front-page news. That fact that it was not front-page news was proof, to me, that most people simply do not care about West Virginia. To many, West Virginia is little more than the poorest state in the country, relegating it as a place of no significance.  In fact, USA Today recently listed West Virginia as the most miserable state in the country. (


I say all that as a reminder that many people live – or have lived – in places considered to be of little or no significance. We live in Kentucky, a state that is viewed by many as a place of little significance, outside of the Kentucky Derby. Ours is a poor state and is plagued by stereotypes that reinforce the perception that we live in a place of little or no significance.


But God used such a place – Bethlehem – as the location where he entered into the world.  We must never disparage any place – and especially should not overlook or disparage the places deemed to be insignificant – because these are the places where God is present, these are the places God uses, and such was a place where God entered into the world.


2.  The First Noel – There Are No Insignificant People.


It is fascinating to me the way in which God so often used people who were viewed at the time as being insignificant.  Even when God used someone who was significant – such as Moses – it was not until he had become insignificant.  Moses, a child of a Hebrew slave, was raised in the home of Pharaoh as a prince of Egypt (Exodus 2:1-10 – 1Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. 5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. 7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” 8 “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him.10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”)  


Moses had all the power, wealth, and privilege that came from being a part of the household of Pharaoh.  As you know from his story, however, that ended when he took the life of an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave (Exodus 2:11-15 – 11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12 Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” 14 The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well).  Midian was almost 300 miles from Egypt – a long way from the center of power and influence – and Moses lived there for a long time before God called him to lead the people out captivity.  Upon his return to Egypt, Moses was anything but significant.


David, the great king of ancient Israel, started out as someone with no significance whatsoever.  In fact, when Samuel traveled to David’s home to find the next king, David’s father did not even bother calling him in from the fields (I Samuel 16:10-13 – 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah).  That David could be a candidate to be the future king of Israel was too preposterous for his own father to believe.


Speaking of little significance, it would be accurate to say that neither Mary and Joseph nor the shepherds were people of any significance in their time.  The shepherds were most likely on the bottom rung of the socio-economic scale, probably caring for sheep owned by others. Mary and Joseph, as typical of the time, were a couple trying to make it as best they could, although even their best efforts would have left them struggling economically.  It is fascinating to me that God used people and places of no particular significance for the first Christmas. That the announcement of Jesus’ birth came to shepherds, and not from a place of power or importance, underscored that God was communicating this truth of great significance – there are no insignificant people or places.  


Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay– There was, most likely, very little or nothing in their experience that would cause the shepherds to believe their lives had any level of significance to warrant receiving such an appearance and such news.  To make the announcement to the shepherds – such a momentous announcement – would be the equivalent of bypassing the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC in favor of the Brooke County Review(my hometown paper) or the Sentinel-News(and I am not meaning at all to slight either paper.  I do write a column for The Sentinel-News, after all).  It would be the equivalent of having a press conference in Waddy, instead of Washington, DC.  And yet here was a messenger from God, coming to them, of all people.


We can’t overlook the humble circumstances into which Jesus was born, and that fact that he was born into a family of no significance.  These humble circumstances served as a foundation throughout Jesus’ ministry, and we see this in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), where he used the language of poverty – blessed are the meek,  blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,blessed are the persecuted.  This is the language of one who has experienced an upbringing in a family that was on the margins of society, a family that not only struggled financially but would have struggled to find any sense of significance.


 I do not know why God works in the way he works. I do know, however, that God’s ways are often very surprising, certainly when we compare those ways to our expectations and to the ways we think things should work.  God most often works in surprising and unexpected way, but those ways remind us of what God values.  God values, as we certainly see from the Christmas story, all people and all places. No place is insignificant to God and no person is insignificant to God.  


 I like how the theologian NT Wright speaks of Jesus when he described him as having muddy feet, because he live[s] in our world.  He weep[s] with those who weep.  Jesus, throughout his ministry, made a regular point of noticing those who were not seen as having any inherent significance, affirming that their lives – all lives – mattered.  He noticed the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26), he noticed Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), he noticed, and healed, the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19), he noticed, and healed, the woman long crippled (Luke 13:10-17), and many others.  God, the creator of all things, became part of his creation.  God did not stay far removed or distant from his creation and the needs of that creation.  No, not at all.  God became one of us in the Christ child, and walked among us, and had muddy feet as he cared for his creation.


At this point, I played a medley of Away In A Manger/The First Noelon my guitar.  You can watch a video of the worship service, which includes that guitar piece here –

or watch a video of the medley I did later here –



December 1, 2019

 A Song for Christmas: Silent Night - The Long In-Between.


Today is the beginning of Advent. For a number of weeks I have kept Advent in my thoughts, contemplating possible themes and having, honestly, not a lot of inspiration during most of that time. Some themes come quicker than others, but they eventually arrive, although I was beginning to worry not too many days ago if any inspiration for an Advent theme would come to mind. As I was listening to some Christmas music, there was one song in particular that I find very lovely, and I thought, that’s a really nice song for Christmas. As soon as that phrase popped into my mind, I had my Advent theme – A Song for Christmas. Thinking about it a bit more, I decided to do something I have never done before. Each week of Advent that I am preaching, part of my message will be to play a Christmas song on my guitar (no, I will not be singing!) and that song will serve as the theme for that message. This morning I will play Silent Night, one of my favorite Christmas songs and undoubtedly one of the great classics of the season.

Our Scripture text is from the prophet Isaiah, one of the well-known Advent passages, Isaiah 9:2, 6-7. Follow along with me as I read those three verses.

2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Advent, you may know, comes from the Latin word adventus, which means comingor arrival. While Advent is a celebration of the coming of Christ into the world, we cannot overlook the fact that many centuries of waiting had preceded his arrival. Those who were fortunate enough to be alive at the coming of Christ were a very small fraction of those who had heard of the hope of his coming but did not live to see it.

I chose the song Silent Night because it speaks, I believe, to the idea of patience and waiting that by necessity has been a part of faith from the beginning. The word silent represents the strong theme of silence that runs through life, faith, and Scripture. Silence remind us of what I would call the long in-between, from which I take the title of his message.As Isaiah wrote many centuries before the birth of Jesus, it reminds us of how often there is much waiting in between the movements of God in the Scriptures. There is the long in-between of the call of God on the life of Abraham and his eventual arrival in the land God did finally show him. God told Abraham to leave his home and go to the land I will show you (Genesis 12:1-4 – 1The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran). There is the long in-between – over four centuries – of the Hebrew people in captivity in Egypt before they were set free (Exodus 12:40-41 – 40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt). There is the long in-between of their departure from Egypt and their arrival in the Promised Land – forty years (Joshua 5:6 – 6 The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey). There is the long in-between of the Babylonian Exile – over seventy years – when the people were taken from their homes and into exile before their eventual return to their homes (Jeremiah 29:10 – 10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place). There was the long in-between of their arrival home and their rebuilding (Nehemiah 2:17 – 17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”). There was the long in-between of the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah and his eventual birth. There was the long in-between of the silencing of the prophets and the beginning of the period of the gospels – what we call the Intertestamental Period – four hundred years. That’s a lot of in-betweens, and they continue. After the ascension of Jesus into heaven began another long in-between of the waiting on the return of Jesus.

And we have our own in-betweens as well. The in-betweens of a prayer and the answer that comes to that prayer. The in-between of hope and the reality, of looking and entreating God for an answer and the eventual answer we receive. The difficulty of the in-betweens is that we don’t wait very well. I certainly do not. It pains me to admit that I am not a very patient person. I just don’t like to wait. Most days I feel very pressed for time and anything that causes me a delay can really get under my skin. My impatience sometimes seeps into my faith, as I struggle to understand why God seems so content to let us wait. I wonder when the kingdom of God will take deeper root among humanity and correct the many wrongs that continue to plague us. I look at the state of the world and wonder why we have to wait so long for justice to come. I wait, and I grow impatient. There is a long in-between when it comes to the really big ways that God intervenes in the world, and it can be hard to live in that in-between. It’s a 24/7 world, so can anything be so anachronistic as waiting? Why can’t faith speed things up? If we can move the Christmas season back into September and October, why can’t our in-between speed up as well? Why do we have to wait? Why?

I want to tie those questions and others up by looking to some of the lyrics to Silent Night.

1. All is calm, all is bright.

I keep my sermon notes with me wherever I go throughout the week. When I stop to eat lunch, I generally take out those notes and use that time to work on my message. Early last week, as I sat in a restaurant in Louisville eating lunch, I was trying to write down the lyrics to Silent Night. I don’t know if you have had this experience, but I have to sing them in order to remember them. To speak them doesn’t work for me; it has to be singing. Unfortunately, I am not a singer. Without realizing I was doing it, I began singing Silent Night out loud, and then writing down the words as I went. I guess I forgot that I was in the middle of a restaurant, but I quickly remembered when I looked up and noticed people were watching me as I sang to myself! I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to search Google for the lyrics, but I very quickly stopped singing and let Google do the work for me.

Looking at the written lyrics, it jumped out at me that the phrase all is calm, all is brightis used in two different places within the song. Saying it twice is a way of emphasizing I know this is hard to believe, so I’m going to say it again – all is calm, all is bright. A lot of days it is difficult to believe that all is calm, or that all it bright. How can we proclaim that all is calm, all is bright when the world seems to be coming apart at the seams around us? Hatred continues to pit people against one another, violence claims countless lives, the sabers of nations rattle daily, and starvation and disease claim so many lives. I’m just asking the questions rhetorically, of course, because I believe that the fundamental assertion of the gospel message is that while it might seem as though the world is anything but calm or bright, the coming of God into the world as a baby in a manger, weak, vulnerable, and dependent on the care and aid of others in those early years of his life, is a reminder of the many in our world who are weak and vulnerable and dependent upon the care and aid of others. That the infant Jesus was vulnerable and requiring of care reminds us that there remain many in our world who are vulnerable and requiring care, and that is why we engage in the many ministry and outreach efforts in which we engage.

2. Holy infant, so tender and mild.

Do you even wonder, how does a tender and mild infant compete in this world with the loud and the tough and the strong? Seems absurd, doesn’t it? If we look around, we can even see how the birth of Jesus has been coopted in so many ways; co-opted by the excesses of capitalism and commerce, co-opted by business and advertisers who depend upon the holiday to balance their financial spread sheets with the end result that Black Friday often outshines – at least in some corners of society – Good Friday.

And can that infant compete with the wonders of science, which surely, some say, has rendered belief in that baby obsolete? And hasn’t the hyper-individualism of our age made that baby’s birth into humility and sacrifice seem absurd? Hasn’t our advanced, technological, modern age made the worship of that baby an anachronism? And how do the millennia old Scriptures that tell of his birth and life compete with the wonder and miracle of a new iPhone, tablet, computer, or other example of electronic wizardry? How does a service that worships him compete with a big, exciting ball game in a flashy arena or stadium with scores of cheering fans and impressive technology? Some would say Dave, you’re working against your point of the importance of that baby by mentioning all the wonders of our age. It sounds like things are actually going very well. And beyond what you have mentioned, you can add more to that list – the stock market is going great guns, the unemployment rate remains at historic lows, and the economy is humming along. What would you say to that? Why would we need to worry about a baby born two millennia ago, especially when things are going so well.

I would say this – it might be true that things are going well for people, but it is not going well for a lot of people. It is not going well for many people economically, socially, or spiritually. And though I don’t always understand how God is content with the way he has chosen to accomplish his will I’ll accept it and yield to his wisdom and ways. It might not be how I would run things if I were in charge, but let’s all agree that it’s a really good thing that I’m not in charge, and that you are not in charge either. And when I think about it a bit more I realize this – for all the sparkle and wonder of our age, for all the technological advances, for all the economic gains; is there anything that brings more joy and wonder to life, more beauty to life, more wealth to life, than a tiny, helpless, defenseless, dependent, but totally beautiful, miraculous baby? There’s not, is there? The God of this vast universe became a baby and entered this world in the humility and fragility of the manger. The Creator entered into the creation. Yes, sometimes there is a long in-between when it comes to the way in which God works, but it is the only way that, in the end, it will work. It seems an odd way to accomplish the divine plan, but that is the way chosen by God, a way that worked through a Silent Night, Holy Night.

Play Silent Night, Holy Nighton guitar (if you would like to listen, you can go to my Facebook profile – David Paul Charlton – and find the streaming video of our worship service from December 1, 2019. The guitar playing begins at 41:30. Here is the link –

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Sunday, November 24, 2019

A Grateful Heart


Last week we completed the series of messages from the book of James. Advent is one week from today, and on that day, I will begin a series of messages with an Advent theme. Because today is Consecration Sunday, and the beginning of Thanksgiving week, I want to combine a theme of gratitude with a presentation of the finances of the church, specifically, where your money goes once it is given. We don’t speak much about money, and that is by design. Churches are sometimes stereotyped as always having their hands out, which is not universally true; it is certainly not true in the case of this church. The result of not speaking often about money is that we can easily arrive at the point that people are unaware of the way in which the church handles money, and we do not want that to be the case. We want you to know how we manage the money that is entrusted to us.

The Scripture text this morning is Luke 17:11-19, and I invite you to follow along as I read –

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.

12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance

13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.

16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?

18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”

19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

It never hurts to be reminded of the many reasons we have to give thanks. Most mornings this week, for example, I grumbled quite a bit about the weather. I go outside on weekdays at 6:30 a.m. to walk, and I’ll be honest and say that I do not enjoy those early morning walks this time of year. At 6:30 it is dark and has been quite chilly in the past few weeks, so I grumbled and complained. I continued to grumble and complain throughout the rest of most days, sharing with anyone who would listen – and some who probably did not want to listen – about my dislike for the grey, dreary days we have this time of year in Kentucky. What I did not say, and should have said, was the blessings I enjoy of having a home that shields my family and me from the cold, damp weather. I did not speak about the blessing of having warm clothes to wear when I go outside. I did not speak about the blessing of good health that allows me to go outside early in the morning and exercise.

This morning’s Scripture text story tells the story of ten men who had leprosy, a much-dreaded disease in that day and age. Anyone who had the misfortune of contracting leprosy was cut off from their family and the rest of society, as they were forced to live away from others because of the danger of spreading the disease. The lepers cried out in desperation to Jesus that he would heal them, and he did. As only one of the ten returned to thank Jesus it became, obviously, a lesson in gratitude. It’s hard for me to avoid thinking the other nine lepers were nothing but a bunch of ungrateful jerks for not taking a few minutes and thanking Jesus for the gift of healing. It is at that moment, however, that I realize I am not always a good example of expressing gratitude. I often take for granted the good gifts I have in my life, and I too often think I have earned those gifts through my hard work. The reality is, however, that I was blessed to be raised in a family that could provide me with a great many advantages in life and those advantages gave me a big boost that continues to bring blessings into my life. I can have, unfortunately, a sense of entitlement about my blessings, believing they are a result of my hard work and my efforts, when the truth is, those blessings are very much a result of the grace of God and the advantages into which I was born.

Gratitude is the primary reason for which we give. We might give out of obligation, duty, commitment, and other reasons, but gratitude, I believe, is the reason why we give. Gratitude is a selfless act, not seeking any measure of return and not seeking any reward. Gratitude is the prompting of God’s Spirit to move us to give because we have received from God many blessings. I am very grateful for what you, as a congregation do. Churches are about 99% volunteer driven, and in the day and age in which we live, when there are so many demands on your time, you continue to generously offer your time. I know there are also times when you sit at your kitchen table to pay your bills that you wonder how you will be able to meet all your financial obligations. In spite of this, you continue to give generously and sacrificially to the church. Thank you so much for what you do to keep our church and its ministry healthy and growing.

Now I want to speak to you about the finances of the church – our budget, what ministries we support, and other matters pertaining to the way the church uses the money it receives.


  • We are extremely grateful for the gifts given to the church.

  • We do not take lightly that people give both generously and sacrificially.

  • We work hard to be good stewards of the gifts we receive.

  • Money is used only for the purposes to which it is given.

As I have said, we are grateful for your generous giving. We do not take lightly that people give both generously and sacrificially. I want to emphasize that we are very careful with every dollar given to the church, seeking to be the best stewards we can be of those gifts. Our Administration Committee meets the second Thursday of each month and we take great care in managing the church’s finances. This is the longest meeting I attend each month, and that is okay, because it is a group that is very careful as we review our expenses and obligations, being very careful to manage your gifts in the best possible way.

You also need to know that we use your gifts only for the purposes to which they are given. If you wrote a check this morning to give a poinsettia in memory or in honor of someone, that money will be used only for that purpose. We do not take money given for one purpose and use it for another. To do so is wrong and unethical, so please rest assured that your gifts are used only for the purpose for which they are given.

Also, I want you to know that I have no knowledge of what you give. I will not see the amount of your pledge that you offer today. I do not see the giving records. I have no way to access those records and have no interest in seeing them. I do not believe it is the business of the minister to know the amount you give. I also have no access to the church’s financial accounts, I am not able to sign checks, and I have no access to cash, as we do not keep any on-hand at the church. I do not handle, in any way, the church’s money or any money that is given to the church (I should add, however, that on rare occasions someone will ask if I can take their check and give it to the church. I do not feel comfortable with this, and generally ask them to either put it in a sealed envelope or walk with me while we give it to our financial person).

2019 CHURCH BUDGET - $299,606.00

  • Personnel - $207,350.00

  • Office Administration - $10,860.00

  • Youth - $900.00

  • Welcoming - $4,200.00

  • Worship - $4,800.00

  • Membership -$3,600.00

  • Property - $67,171.00

  • Stewardship - $725.00

This slide shows our 2019 church budget. As you look at the categories and amounts, I want to emphasize something important, and that is that our budget is primarily an operational budget. What this means is that our missions and ministry expenditures are not included in this budget, and I will speak more about that in a few minutes (you will note, for instance, that Youth receives $900.00. That covers materials and incidentals. Camp, Vacation Bible School, etc. is covered outside of the operational budget).

It takes a good deal of money to meet our operational expenses. Personnel expenses, obviously, are a big part of our budget. The church has seven staff members – a combination of full and part time – and we have a large facility that needs care, maintenance, and upkeep. Our building is somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 – 28,000 square feet and we own about 16 acres of land, all of which is expensive to keep in good condition.


  • Tithes, offerings, and pledges.

  • Designated giving.

  • The Legacy Fund.

  • Building Fund.


It might seem obvious where our money comes from. Well Dave, the church gets its money from the offering plate. That is true, but we actually receive money from several sources. The primary source is, of course, through the tithes and offerings that we receive. These come not only through the Sunday morning offerings but also through the electronic giving, which brings in gifts throughout the week, and we also receive financial gifts in the mail. Some giving is designated to particular causes. Some people, for instance, will designate a gift to go to Habitat for Humanity, Operation Care, or other ministries or other purposes. When we receive designated gifts those gifts are used only for that specified purpose. We also receive gifts that are specifically for the upkeep of our facility and grounds. Those gifts allow us to maintain the facility and grounds and to also care for the equipment that we use in our facility. We have, for instance, a lot of technology that we use in the office and in worship, and that technology is expensive not only to purchase and install, but also to use and maintain.


  • The Legacy Fund is an investment with the Christian Church Foundation that comes from designated gifts to the church, often from, but not limited to, estate gifts.

  • Each year we receive a distribution from the Legacy Fund that is equal to 3 - 4% of the income from the fund.

Another source of income for the church is our Legacy Fund. You may remember that two years ago we had a series of gatherings to provide information about the Legacy Fund and how it helps to fund the ministry of our church. The money in the Legacy Fund comes from gifts designated to that fund. Many of those gifts come from estate bequests, but the Legacy Fund is open to receiving any gifts of any size. The Legacy Fund is invested with the Christian Church Foundation, which is based in Indianapolis along with our denominational offices, and each year we are able to receive a distribution from that fund. In recent years we have received a distribution that is equal to about 3 or 4% of the income from the Legacy Fund. The next slide shows how that money is distributed.


  • In recent years, the Legacy Fund distribution amounts to about $22,000.00.

  • The income is distributed by a predetermined formula -

  • Outreach receives 40%

  • Debt/Building receives 30%

  • General Fund receives 20%

  • New Ministries receive 10%

As you can see, the income from the Legacy Fund has been about $22,000.00 in the past few years, which is an amount that provides some very helpful funding. The largest percentage of that money – 40% – goes to the Outreach Committee to help them in their work. The next portion – 30% – is designated to debt retirement. As we do not have any indebtedness – thankfully – that amount goes toward the maintenance and upkeep of our facility. A 20% portion goes to our General Fund and 10% is to provide seed money for new ministries. These percentages were formulated when the Legacy Fund was established and they do not change. The blessing of the Legacy Fund is that it guarantees a continued stream of income – in perpetuity – from the gifts that are given. This means that a gift of $500.00, for instance, as it is combined with the other gifts, will eventually provide well beyond the initial $500.00 gift.


  • Week of Compassion

  • Fifth Sunday Offering

  • Easter Offering

  • Reconciliation Offering

  • Thanksgiving Offering

  • Christmas Offering

Next, we have our special offerings. Our special offerings offer support to various denominational mission and ministry work and remind us of the power of joining together in what we do. In our modern day and age there is a lessening of commitment to all manner of institutions, which is very unfortunate. Institutions – such as denominations and their offices – are able to gather gifts from many different individuals and churches, combine them together, and thereby increase what they are able to accomplish. Together, obviously, we can accomplish much more than we can manage to accomplish on our own.

Each year we receive seven special offerings (which actually totals ten offerings, as the Fifth Sunday offerings are received four times a year).


  • Week of Compassion is the relief, refugee, and development fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

  • Week of Compassion works to alleviate suffering throughout the world.

  • Usually received in February.

The first special offering we receive each year is the Week of Compassion offering. Week of Compassion, as you can see from the slide, is the relief, refugee, and development fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Week of Compassion is our largest joint effort as Disciples churches, and you can be assured that the WOC is busy all around the world, assisting where people are suffering. When there has been flooding, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and other disasters, Week of Compassion is there. The Week of Compassion offering is usually received in February.


  • Supports the Christian Care Communities, Kentucky's largest faith-based senior living and long-term care homes.

  • Our CWF (Christian Women's Fellowship) supports the CCC with the Brown Bags at Christmas and monthly work in Louisville.

The Fifth Sunday offering, obviously, is one we receive each fifth Sunday of the year. This offering goes to the Christian Care Communities, which is the largest faith-based elder care network of facilities in Kentucky. Our CWF (Christian Women’s Fellowship) travels every week to the Christian Care Community facility in Louisville, where they minister to the residents in various ways. Many of you are filling the Brown Bags with gifts that will be delivered to the residents on December 4th.


Supports General Ministries of the Disciples of Christ, such as -

  • Hispanic Ministries

  • Board of Publication

  • Council on Christian Unity

  • Extension Fund

  • Home Missions

  • Disciples Women

  • Historical Society

  • Overseas Ministries/Global Ministries

  • National Benevolent Association

  • North American Pacific/Asian Disciples.

  • Pension Fund

The Easter Offering, as you can see, supports a large number of ministries, some of which you may be familiar with and some you may not. The special offerings show us the remarkable depth and breadth of the ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).


  • Supports new church development, along with the effort to begin 1,000 new churches by 2020.

  • Received on Pentecost Sunday

  • Our CWF gives $4,000.00 each year to the Disciples Mission Fund

The Pentecost Offering helps to support new churches, which are very important to the growth of all of our congregations. While many people believe the number of churches in the United States in declining, that is not at all the case. Because we hear regularly about churches closing their doors, it is often assumed the number of churches is declining. New church starts, however, more than offset the number of churches that close their doors each year and, as a result, there are more churches in the U.S. than ever before.

I also want to point out that our CWF group gives $4,000.00 per year to the Disciples Mission Fund, which receives the money collected from the Pentecost Offering. Much of the $4,000.00 is raised through their table sales, which will take place next on Sunday, December 15th. Thank you, CWF ladies, for your great example of commitment to missions and ministry!


  • Supports the pro-reconciliation/anti-racism work of the Disciples of Christ.

  • Usually received in late September/early October

The Reconciliation Offering is received in late September and/or early October. You may nor may not know that one of the stated goals of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is to be a church that promotes racial reconciliation and reconciliation of all types. In our divided world, this is a much-needed ministry.


  • Supports Disciples colleges, universities and theological institutions.

  • In Kentucky, we have three - Lexington Theological Seminary, Midway College, and Transylvania University.

The Thanksgiving Offering, which we received the past two weeks, goes to the higher educational institutions of the Disciples, three of which are in Kentucky - Lexington Theological Seminary, Midway College, and Transylvania University. One of the very fine Disciples institutions is Bethany College, in my home county in West Virginia. Bethany was founded by Alexander Campbell and is just outside of my hometown.


  • The Christmas Offering supports the 32 Regions across the United States and Canada in these primary ministries -

  • Camps and Conferences

  • Ministerial Ordination

  • Calling Ministers

  • Leadership Development

The Christmas Offering supports the various Regions of the Disciples of Christ. Our Region is the state of Kentucky and its ministries are very important and ones that we see directly in the life of our congregation. Our Region, for instance, operates our church camps, at Wakon’Da-Ho and Kum-Ba-Ya. Our young people attend Wakon’Da-Ho, in Casey County, outside of Liberty, Kentucky. Church camp is an incredibly important ministry for all the young people – and adults – who attend. It was at church camp – Elkhorn Valley Christian Service Camp, in Bergholz, Ohio ( – that played a very important role in helping me to formulate my own call to ministry.

Our Region also oversees ordination and aids local congregations in the calling of ministers. It was the Search and Call process, a part of our Region’s ministry, that connected me to this church.


  • Awake Ministries, which includes -

  • Serenity Center

  • A Place to Sleep

  • Backpack Program

  • Celebrate Recovery

  • Open Door of Hope Men's Shelter

  • Veteran's Counseling and Assistance

  • Gri

  • Habitat for Humanity

  • Operation Care - Transitional housing, emergency assistance, Encore Thrift Ship, Mercy Medical Clinic

We are very blessed in Shelbyville to have community ministries that do great work. Awake Ministries, which works in all the areas listed above – and more – is probably most well known in our congregation for the Serenity Center, where a number of our congregation volunteers in several ways. On Wednesday afternoons the Serenity Center distributes food to hundreds of people, from about 250 on a slower week to 500 or more on a busy week. We also provide meals for the Open Door of Hope Men’s Shelter and help with the Backpack Ministry. Celebrate Recovery is a faith-based recovery program. Awake Ministries has a large Celebrate Recovery program and there are other ones that meet in locations around the county.

Habitat for Humanity has been a long-time presence in our community, and our church was one of the founders of the local chapter. Many of you helped a year and a half ago when we had a large build in our parking lot for a Habitat house, in which we were heavily involved.

Operation Care is another community ministry that has had a number of volunteers over the years. Its presence is mostly noticed in Shelbyville at the Encore thrift store and the Mercy Medical Clinic.

I mentioned earlier that our church budget is mostly an operational budget. For a number of years we have funded our mission and ministry work mostly off-budget. I try to calculate each year the amount of money given through our church. Admittedly, it involves some guesswork, but my best estimate is that, beyond our giving to the operational budget we give somewhere between and additional $40,000.00 – $50,000.00 for missions and ministry. Adding together all of the giving – the operational budget, mission and ministry giving, the Legacy Fund, and designated gifts – it is a lot of money given to our church on an annual basis (I should also note that these totals reflect financial giving. It is impossible to calculate volunteer hours that are donated throughout the course of a year, but those numbers are very substantial).

I like this quote from Helen Keller – Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. I believe in working together. Individualism is fine, up to a point, but we can do so much more when we work together. Imagine where our community would be if our church had not existed. Imagine how history would be different without the presence of the church over the ages. It is hard to find a hospital, educational institution, social program, and so much more that does not have its roots in the church. Churches, through their call to outreach and ministry, have made an indispensable difference in humanity, and on behalf of all those who benefit from your sacrificial and generous giving, thank you!

Sunday, November 17, 2019


The Book of James: The World As It Should Be

James 5:1-11.


Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be rich? Of course you have – we all do! I will admit that I have fantasized on more than one occasion what it would be like to be wealthy. I think everyone dreams of what it would be like to have no worries about paying the mortgage or paying for those unexpected bills that come along. And imagine how wonderful to be able to help your family members, your friends, and your church. What would be the downsides to having a lot of money?

Well, let’s think for a moment about this question – what is rich? How much money does it take to be rich? In recent years there has been a great amount of talk about the 1%, that small sliver of our society – the super rich – who have great wealth and all the privilege that comes from that wealth. Now consider this question – has it ever occurred to you that you might be a member of the 1%? You might find that to be a rather ridiculous question, as we believe it’s Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and other billionaires who populate the very exclusive 1% club. Allow me, however, to make a suggestion to you, and it is one that might hold a surprise for you. Take a moment today, or in the next few days, and visit the web site You will be surprised at the amount of annual income it takes to be part of the global 1%, because when we think of wealth, we often make the wrong comparison. Generally speaking, we compare our financial status with those who are well above us on the economic ladder, such as Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. The real comparison, however, is not with those who are above us, but the multitudes of people globally who are so far below us on the economic ladder that they do not even reach the first rung. So here is a surprise about the 1%, on a global scale, that I’ll share with you – if you earn a net income of $50,000 annually, congratulations, not only are you rich, you are also a member of the global 1%. A net income of $50,000 a year places you in the 0.31% globally, and you rank number 18,652,583 out of the roughly 7.7 billion people on the earth. Does that surprise you? Do you feel wealthy? Do you suddenly feel like taking everyone out to lunch after church? Do you suddenly feel the overpowering urge to put a really big check in the offering plate? Or, we could ask this question, how is it possible to be wealthy – in comparison to most of the world – and yet not feel rich and to have very real financial struggles?

This morning we conclude the series of messages from the book of James. As we come to chapter 5, we find that James has saved some of his toughest words for last, which is really saying something, as James has had tough words in each of the preceding four chapters. As he comes to the end of his book, however, he sharpens his pen even more. James takes quite a bit of the luster off the appeal of being rich with his harsh words for the wealthy. Follow along with me as I read verses 1-11 of chapter 5 –

1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.

2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.

3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You       have hoarded wealth in the last days.

4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.

5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.

6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.

8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.


Wow! That’s almost enough to convince us to throw away those Powerball tickets, isn’t it? Why does James have such harsh words about people with money? What does James have against the rich? Why does he condemn them so harshly? Let’s take a closer look and see –

1. First, understand that the Bible has quite a bit to say about money.

The Bible certainly has a lot to say about money, and the advice and admonitions that are given cover a lot of different points of view. Here’s a sampling of how much the Bible speaks about money, wealth, and possessions and a bit of what it has to say –

A. Money and possessions are about the second most referenced topic in the Bible. Money plays a part in almost half of the parables of Jesus. While the Bible offers around 500 verses on prayer, and fewer than 500 verses on faith, it has more than 2,000 verses on money. And, of all the topics on which Jesus spoke, money was one of his primary subjects.

B. Debt, according to Scripture is not forbidden, but it is always seen in a negative light and something to be avoided (the amount of worldwide debt now stands at about $250 trillion dollars. That’s $250 trillion, which is a very sobering amount. Read the article at this link if you want to learn more about what’s behind that figure –

C. Obviously, the Bible says that we should give of our money. I don’t think any more needs to be said on that point.

D. We should not focus on acquiring possessions. In a consumer-driven economy, that is a tough sell, so to speak.

E. We should handle our money carefully and make good investments. In the book of Proverbs, especially, we read a number of verses about the importance of handling money wisely and making good investments. Proverbs 13:22 says, for instance, a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children. To have enough money to leave an inheritance to our grandchildren requires, I would say, careful investing and saving and accumulating money.

F. While the Bible says we should handle our money carefully and make good investments, Jesus seemed to go against that advice when he said, do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal(Mathew 6:19-20).

G. The Bible often warns about the dangers of money. In I Timothy 6:10 Paul writes perhaps the most famous – and oft-misquoted – words about money in all of the Bible, when he says the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil(note that Paul says it is the love of money, rather than money itself, that is the root of evil).

The reality is, the Bible has much to say about money, so much so that it would be difficult to claim that it says just one thing about money. The Bible has a lot to say about money, and it speaks of money in different ways because there are many different facets when it comes to our relationship with money. If I could, then, put together one sentence to sum up the overall Biblical approach to money it would be this – money can be a gift, because it can do good things for others and for God’s kingdom, but take great care with money, the pursuit of money, and the longing for money, because there are some great dangers that are inherent with money, and it can damage your relationships, your faith, and your soul.

While that is all well and good, we still have the question of why James wrote so harshly about the rich. Did he assume they were too beholden to money? Did he assume they built their fortunes in ways that were unethical? Or, did he simply think it is wrong to have money and wealth? The short answer to those questions, I believe, is no, and here is why I would say no–

2. What James is condemning is a system of finance and an economy that favors a few people while taking advantage of most people.

I understand, certainly, that in today’s political climate, that statement sounds as though I took it right from the stump speeches of a few politicians, but when we read the Bible I think it is a truth that, from beginning to end, the Bible is harshly critical of economic systems that favor the few and take advantage of the many.

When James writes about the rich, he is not condemning every person who is rich or saying that all rich people are evil. What James is speaking of, I believe, is wealth as representative of an economic system that has been constructed to benefit some people to the exclusion of others. And not only does that system benefit some people – usually a small number – it is designed in a way that ensures the people who benefit can perpetuate that system in order to guarantee it will continue to benefit them and their families across the span of generations. The theme of unfair and unjust economic systems is one that goes far back into the Old Testament, with the prohibitions against usury (usury is the charging of excessive interest rates, especially from people who can least afford to pay them, and is condemned in several passages, such as Exodus 22:25-27, which says “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate). What would happen to most economic systems if interest were not charged? Well, the interest rates on some things are getting fairly close to zero, but there are a lot of people who pay punishing levels of interest, and those levels rise to the point of putting those people in almost inescapable financial bondage. The year of the Jubilee, commanded in Leviticus 25:8-13, was a year that took place every 49 or 50 years and was when all slaves and prisoners were freed, debts were forgiven, and land was returned to the original owner. The design of the Jubilee year was to make right the problems in the economy, such as the problem of people becoming trapped in debt and losing their land because of that debt. The Jubilee year was a way to build corrective actions into the economy. In Acts 2:44-45 we find another approach, one that is a counter-economy to the predominant economy. That famous passage tells us that in the early church all the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells us to pray give us today our daily bread(Matthew 6:11), encouraging us to not ask for more than we need or for more than is needed for the moment. These passages and others had the purpose, I believe, of moving humanity to the creation of an economic order that would be as fair and equitable as possible for all people.

The reality, however, was far from fair and equitable, even in the religious world. In the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple we find the outrage Jesus had to an economic system in the Temple – the heart of faith – that had been designed to take advantage of people. When pilgrims came to the Temple to make a sacrifice, for example, the system was set up to take advantage of them when they came to exchange their local currency to the Temple currency; or to find a blemish in their sacrifice that rendered it unacceptable, and there would just happen to be another sacrificial animal available to purchase, at a greatly inflated price, unfortunately. What so enraged Jesus about this system was its blessing and design by the religious leaders and religious hierarchy who also benefited from that system. Jesus was outraged that people were taken advantage of and treated unfairly by the very people who should have worked to guarantee fairness and equality, but instead perpetuated a system that caused people to associate religion with unfairness. God’s name was used to line the pockets of the few at the expense – the literal expense – of the many. So Jesus fashioned a whip, very methodically, (John 2:13-22) and cracked that whip while turning over the tables of the money changers and drove those who represented that corrupt and unfair system out of the Temple.


3. So, what do we do about the way things are?

I understand it is easy, at this point, to ask, well, Dave, that’s all well and good, but what are we supposed to do about it? This is just the way things have always been and it’s the way they will always be. I will certainly acknowledge there is truth in that response. I will also, however, make a few suggestions, which might seem small and insignificant, but I believe they are worthwhile and important –

A. Recognize we are all part of an economic system that has some problems.

I sometimes hear calls to avoid certain businesses because they are viewed – by some people – as being complicit in the evils of the world. Their call for others to follow their advice and avoid those businesses, they believe, will make the world a better place. I understand this idea, and I practice it in my own life. A friend of mine, however, often reminds me thatwe are all complicit. We are all part of a system that has its share of injustices, inequalities, and unfairness. We are all complicit in some way and it is simply not possible to untangle ourselves from the complicated web of unfairness and injustices, so I don’t tell others where they should or shouldn’t shop, eat, or spend their money. Honestly, I find in some of the people who do want to tell us where we should or shouldn’t spend our money a certain amount of self-righteousness, as they seem to imply that anyone who doesn’t do as they say is in some way morally compromised.

The truth is, life is complicated, and we often want to make things simple, but they are not always simple. It’s not as simple as avoiding a certain store or perpetuating certain stereotypes, such as ones that say people are poor because they make bad choicesor they are lazy, etc. Yes, some people make bad choices and some people are not very motivated in life, but that does not in any way diminish what many people face. Some people are poor because of the neighborhood in which they were born and raised. The realities those people face was very well explained in an OpEd in the Louisville Courier-Journalthat was written by Reverend Kevin Cosby, pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church in Louisville (you can read the OpEd here – In that column, Reverend Cosby writes about the history of redlining and other practices that institutionalized economic realities that made it difficult, if not impossible, for families in particular neighborhoods to get loans. Some people are poor, not because of any bad decisions on their part of because they are lazy, but because they have been trapped by a system that favors some and punishes others.

B. Think about how you spend and invest your money.

We might, as individuals, be an infinitesimal part of a much larger system, but we can do something, even if it is nothing more than satisfying our conscience. There are some businesses that will never get my money. I don’t like the way they do business, I don’t like their policies, I don’t like their practices, and so they have to do without my money. I realize that my withholding my business does almost nothing to harm their overall bottom line, but it makes me feel better. I also recognize that when more and more people decide to withhold their money, change can, and does, happen. One person’s withholding of money might not be much, but when it is coupled with others, it does make a difference.

C. Work to make the world as it should be, in patience and perseverance, but understand there are people who do not want the world to change from how it is, and their resistance is very challenging.

Sister Dorothy Stang was a nun from Dayton, Ohio. She traveled to the Amazon jungle and ministered there for 30 years, riding a motorcycle and camping in the jungle. Things changed greatly in the 30 years of her ministry, and because she often stood up to the powerful interests who wanted to change the forest and the way of life for the people there, she began to be watched closely, and eventually had a price on her head because she made some powerful enemies in her work, of which she was aware. One day, as she traveled along a road she was followed and watched closely. On that day, two men emerge from the forest onto the road, carrying weapons and blocking her path. They asked if she had any weapons and in reply, she held up her Bible. This is my weapon, she told them. She opened the Bible to her favorite passage and began to read from Matthew chapter 5, which contains the Beatitudes and the first section of the Sermon On the Mount. She read through the Beatitudes, and as she read, the gunmen listened, and she continued to read.

It’s a great story so far, isn’t it?  Sister Stang was there to minister to the people in the Amazon and in her ministry, she worked to show how the balance between protecting the forest and farming/developing did not have to be mutually exclusive. She had gained the respect of many, but the men listening to her that day were not among those who respected her or her work. When she finished reading from the Sermon On the Mount and closed her Bible, they drew their weapons and fired, ending her life.

It is easy to assume that story would have a good ending, but it does not, unfortunately. There are not always good endings to stories in real life. The world is not as it should be, and it is certainly not as God intended it to be, so we work at it. But remember this – James tells us that God will ultimately bring vindication to those who need it, while also reminding us that the kingdoms of this world and the systems they build and protect and benefit from are kingdoms that do not give up easily. Jesus faced some very real enemies in his ministry. They were enemies that eventually took him to the cross, but the cross overcame and demonstrated how empty the powers of earthly kingdoms ultimately are. James asks us to be patient, but that patience does not require that we accept the way things are, and it does not mean that we do not work to be the hands and feet of God, helping to make The World As It Should Be.

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