Sermon- Virtual Faith (Matthew 2)

Sermon Series Seeking God 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: Seeking God
Message 1 of 5: Virtual Reality
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12, 16
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 1/12/2020 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. Click Here for a video of the entire worship service, including the message.

Virtual Reality Experiences

  • The Void at Disney Springs You wear a visor/headset and a vest which immerses you in a Star Wars virtual reality experience. I struggled with it.  My family had to help me walk across “a narrow bridge over flowing lava.” I knew it wasn’t real, but what I saw and felt told my body it was real.
  • Waking up from a dream sweating and your heart pounding. It feels real, but it isn’t.
  • The Aeronauts, an Amazon Prime movie. The true story of a hot air balloon pilot and scientist who in 1862 reach 36,000 ft. It’s an exciting story of courage, beautifully filmed. I found myself dizzy and nauseous from the heights and drops. It felt so real, but it wasn’t. It had the appearance of being real.

We can have the appearance of faith, but it not be real. It’s a Virtual Faith. When you watch something on TV or read a book, it’s at a distance. The same can be true for our faith.

How can we have a real, in the flesh experience of faith and of God?

Matthew 2:1-12, 16
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road…

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.

Herod’s Virtual Faith
Herod is frightened and surprised by the news of a newborn King of the Jews. Herod wants to stay in power. A virtual faith keeps us in charge, not God.

Herod is uniformed. He had to ask where the Messiah was to be born. He did not know the scriptures for himself. He had others to do that religious stuff for him.

Herod lies and schemes. He has no intention of paying homage to Jesus. No intention of offering gifts or bowing down. No intention of seeing Jesus for himself.

Herod wants to stay in charge and at a distance so he eliminates the threat. His reaction to the news of Jesus is deadly. He sends troops 4 miles down the road to Bethlehem to kill all the children aged two and under. He commits genocide in his own country. Virtual faith is deadly.

The Wise Ones Experience Jesus for Themselves
The Wise Ones were looking for signs, see a sign, and follow the sign of the star in faith. Look, see, act. Once they arrive, they remain open to the leading of God.

The Wise Ones come to see the newborn King for themselves. They could have sent the gifts or a message via a servant. They could have stayed at a distance but instead come themselves.

This choice to experience Jesus themselves caused them to travel a great distance at great expense. It took a great amount of time and put them at great risk. Making the choice to experience Jesus interrupted their lives. It became their primary focus and mission.

What are we doing in order to experience Jesus for ourselves? 

In Jesus’ presence, they pay him homage. They kneel in worship and offer their gifts. They’re joyful to be in the presence of the King. They leave for home a different way and I suspect as different people. Everything they experienced was worth it.

Experiencing Jesus is for us as well. Real, living faith. This is where we find faith powerful and meaningful and transformational.

It is so easy to watch worship from the pew or on a screen or listen to a podcast, to stay at a distance. Or you can engage in worship for yourself.

It is so easy to read a devotional, another person’s testimony or encounter with God in prayer or scripture reading, to stay at a distance. Their witness doesn’t take the place of your own experience. Have your own encounter with Jesus through prayer and scripture reading.

Simple Timeless Spiritual Practices to experience Jesus for Yourself 

  1. CHOOSE a Bible Reading Plan. Click Here if you need a great one!
  2. ATTENTION: Read or listen to the Scripture. What word, phrase or verse captures your attention? Underline it or copy it onto a piece of paper.
  3. CONNECTION: What connections do you see to other scriptures? To your own experience or current situation? To the character or promises of God?
  4. ACTION: What is God inviting you to say or do? How will your life be different because of this scripture?
  5. PRAY: Have a conversation with God about what you just experienced.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing more timeless spiritual practices to help you experience God for yourself.

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Sermon- Virtual Reality © 2020 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Rejoice Greatly (Luke 2)

Sermon Series christmas messiah 1110 x 624

Sermon Series:
For Unto Us A Child is Born, Messages Inspired by Handel’s Messiah

Message 2 of 4: Rejoice Greatly
Scripture: Luke 2:8-20
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 12/22/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. Click Here for a video of the entire worship service, including the message.

SONGS FROM HANDEL’S MESSIAH:
There Were Shepherds Abiding in the Field and Glory to God
Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion

At the end of the first part of Handel’s Messiah, the text shifts from mostly quoting the prophet Isaiah to the more familiar Christmas story found in the New Testament.

So what text is chosen first?

  • Caesar Augustus calling for a census?
  • Mary and Joseph, the human heroes of the story?
  • Herod, the villain of the story?

Nope. Charles Jennens, who compiled the scriptures which make up Handel’s Messiah, chose the story of the shepherds.

Who from the Christmas story most inspires you? Why? I usually choose Mary, the first and best disciple, and I usually gloss over the shepherds. I thought of them as side characters. I often don’t even read their whole story. I stop with the angels singing to them.

But this year, they’ve captured my heart thanks to Handel’s Messiah.

In Messiah, a solo soprano acts as the narrator and angel of the Lord for this part of the scripture…
Luke 2:8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before 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; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

 A choir acts as the heavenly for this part of the text
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

The choir is followed by a solo soprano doing vocal gymnastics in an incredibly difficult and exuberant version of Zechariah 9:9-10. Is the soloist the prophet rejoicing that the Old Testament promises are in the birth of Christ? Or maybe it’s a shepherd or angel overcome with excitement.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, thy King cometh unto thee; He is the righteous Saviour, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen. Rejoice greatly.

How will you receive the coming of Christ? Will you receive Jesus with great joy?

How is your Christmas season going? I’ve never been so absent. I had the chance for some vacation with husband. Pastors never take a vacation in December, but this year it was the only time we had between Ed’s jobs. I got back from vacation and then got sick. Multiple days in bed. How about you?

How are you receiving what is meant as “Good News with Great Joy”?

Receive with Fear– The angel says, “Do not be afraid” (aka I’m not going to hurt you) because their appearances are so surprising, startling, unexpected. That’s how many experience this season, fear-full because the feelings and triggers are surprising, startling, and unexpected.  Everything feels out of control.

Receive as an interruption, and intrusion- I’ve got to watch the sheep. Let me get back to work. Bah humbug. It’s all a bother.

Receive as a chore/burden– Now there’s even more on my to-do list. I’ve got to find someone to watch the sheep. Then I have to walk all the way into Bethlehem in the dark. Then I have to search for a baby in a food trough.

Are you open to receiving the Good News of Christmas with Great Joy? Not great happiness. Not great success.

The angels do.  They are lighting up the night sky with their celebration, flooding it with singing and worship and the promises of God.

Mary does. Her celebration is quieter. She treasures it, ponders all in her heart. You could have both public celebrations and private wonder.

The shepherds do. I imagine them as big balls of enthusiasm. Like frat boys- rough and tumble, out in the middle of the night doing their thing in the dark, caring for the sheep. The angels come and they say, “Yea, let’s go!”

Enthusiasm- en theos, God with and God within, full of the Spirit

ENTHUSIASTIC, JOYFUL CELEBRATING
Dancing on the cruise ship – They danced all day long. Line dancing, cha cha lessons, Zumba, dancing before and after dinner. We’re the people of God, why aren’t we dancing?

Lisa, did you dance? No, I watched from the balcony and smiled. I don’t do that. I don’t know-how. I don’t want to make a fool of myself. I missed out worrying about what other people think. Be a fool for Christ and rejoice.

Choir singing outside of Publix- Christians in the wild singing the Good News. People are singing along and smiling. There’s a joy and eternal quality to the sacred songs which is different than the secular songs.

Lisa Elyse Christmas headbandsThe bright, sparkly Christmas headband my mom and sister made me for Christmas. What would it be like to wear it every day between now and New Year’s?

I’m going to do it. I’m going to let my little light shine. I’m not going to be embarrassed my Savior is born and born again in me. I’m tired of being an incognito Christian. In camouflage, in hiding. This is our season. This is our story. It’s time to dance and sing, celebrate and rejoice. We have no reason to be ashamed of celebrating our Lord.

MORE ABOUT SHEPHERDS
One idea is that they were special shepherds who raised the sheep to be sacrificed in the temple, which was only about 4 miles away. They had a special cave they used for birthing sheep. A spotless male lamb would be quickly wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger till it calmed down and could be with its mother.

If this is true, when they heard the angel describe Jesus’ birth they knew exactly where to find Mary and Joseph, in the birthing cave. They knew exactly who Jesus was- the Lamb of God. The way Jesus was wrapped foreshadows his burial clothes for he would be the sacrifice to save us all.

This is beautiful and theologically rich. But what if they were just regular ordinary shepherds going about their regular ordinary tasks? Shepherds who are lowly, uneducated, migrant workers, dirty jobs kind of people, not the most trustworthy. What if this is who God chooses. It sounds just like God.

Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

The shepherds are full of enthusiasm. They don’t overthink it. They don’t over plan it. They are fully present to God and the Good News.

17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

The shepherds are the first to hear the Good News. The first to see the long-awaited, long-promised Messiah. The first to affirm Mary and Joseph who were probably feeling and thinking so many things.

20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The shepherds are the first to hear the Good News.
The first to see the Messiah.
The first to affirm Mary and Joseph.
The first to share the Good News.
The first to rejoice- glorifying and praising God.   

And so, beloved of God, let the shepherds inspire you to receive and rejoice
Rejoice with an indescribable joy.

Inexpressible. Unspeakable.
A joy greater than words
A great and glorious joy.

Loose. Liberated. Boundless.

Receive and Rejoice!
A joy worthy of new birth, of a living hope
A joy anchored in The Imperishable, The Eternal.
Undefiled and Unfading

Receive and Rejoice!
This joy was chosen for you.

Destined for you.
Sanctified, sprinkled, and saved for you.
By the Merciful One. The One Who is With You.
Receive and Rejoice!
~ Receive and Rejoice, by Lisa Degrenia

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Receive and Rejoice © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Ponder Prayer (Luke 2:15-20)

Nativity by He Qi

Nativity by He Qi

Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. – Luke 2:19

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. – Proverbs 4:23

Ponder Prayer
Welcome Little One
Holy One

So much has been said about you already
So much to take in

How can I hold you?
How can I hold you and all that you are?

Make by heart your baby book
There to gather all the names
the stories
the promises
There to pause and ponder
the silent snapshots
Treasuring you as you treasure me
Keeping them safe for times to come

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Click the link to read the scripture which inspired this reflection, Luke 2:15-20

Today’s post was made richer and clearer after reading Richard Rohr’s post, Finding God in the Depth of Silence

Ponder Prayer © 2014 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
by Lisa Degrenia (www.revlisad.com)
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Prayer- Come, O Come Emmanuel

Harpers_Magazine,_Christmas_1898-cropped

Harper’s Magazine, Christmas 1898 by Harvey Ellis. Via Wikimedia Commons.

First Verse of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Matthew 1:20-23
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

Come, O Come Emmanuel
Root of Jesse
Light of the World
Grace on grace on grace

Come, O Come Emmanuel
You who are flesh
Vulnerable and Lowly and Small

Come, O Come Emmanuel
You who are Great
Holy and Powerful and Forever

Come, O Come Emmanuel
The Fullness of God with us
Make your home in our heart
Replace the stone with your throne

Come, O Come Emmanuel
Save us
Ransom us
Heal us and Raise us

Come, O Come Emmanuel

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
by Lisa Degrenia (www.revlisad.com)
Please leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Rejoice Greatly- A Devotion for the Fourth Week of Advent and Christmas based on Handel’s Messiah

rejoice mountain people jump

Rejoice Greatly
Readings and Reflection for the fourth week of Advent and Christmas Eve and Day

SONGS FROM HANDEL’S MESSIAH:
There Were Shepherds Abiding in the Field and Glory to God
Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion
Hallelujah Chorus

SCRIPTURES to read this week:
Luke 2:1-14
Zechariah 9:9-17
Revelation 19:1-8

REFLECTION QUESTIONS for this week:

  • Belly laugh with someone. Look for laughter and multiply it this week.
  • What do you need to do or not do in order to rejoice with all your soul this Christmas?

PRAYER:
Receive and Rejoice!
Rejoice with an indescribable joy. Inexpressible. Unspeakable.
A joy greater than words
A great and glorious joy. Loose. Liberated. Boundless.

Receive and Rejoice!
A joy worthy of new birth, of a living hope
A joy anchored in The Imperishable, The Eternal.
Undefiled and Unfading

Receive and Rejoice!
This joy was chosen for you. Destined for you.
Sanctified, sprinkled, and saved for you.
By the Merciful One. The One Who is With You.
Receive and Rejoice!
~ Receive and Rejoice, by Lisa Degrenia

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Rejoice Greatly
A Devotion for the Fourth Week of Advent
based on Handel’s Messiah © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.