First United Methodist Church, Meriden, CT – 9 May 2021

Exodus 35:30-35 “The Good Life – My Favorite Things” by Ric Hanse

Meet Bezalel

Bezalel the Israelite child of Egyptian slaves loved building things. Whenever he could, the boy would gather mud (that his parents and the other slaves used in brick making), sticks and rocks for his construction projects. Bezalel’s love for building and his construction skills grew as he grew up.
 
Years later Bezalel and the other Hebrews are free from Egyptian slavery. Moses comes down from Mount Sinai with laws from God, and instructions on how to build a very elaborate and large tent that would be the Israelites traveling worship center. But who will lead the building project?  Bezalel of course! (Read Exodus 35:30-35)
 

Greatness from God

God gives Bezalel a passion for building things that leads Bezalel to cultivate the skills and abilities needed to be a great builder. Now this great builder will do great things for God.
 

What Are Your Favorite Things?

What do you love doing?  What makes you come alive? I love pastoring. I am always working on improving my pastoring skills and abilities. I’m always learning and growing. Pastoring makes me come alive!
 

God Is Calling

What do you love doing? What makes you come alive? What skills and abilities do you need to keep improving so that you can keep doing what makes you come alive? No matter how good we are at what we love doing, we can always learn more, do better, and come alive more.
 

The Holy Spirit

Bezalel loved building. But all the complexities and intricacies of building the tabernacle: sorting materials, crafting components, teaching teachers who would teach apprentices, managing construction schedules, resolving conflicts, dealing with the hundreds involved in the building project made for one towering task – and it was all on Bezalel’s shoulders. Or was it? 
 
Before sending him out to build the tabernacle, God fills Bezalel with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God living in Bezalel gives Bezalel strength to hold on to what he loves, strength to remember what makes him come alive, strength to use his skills and abilities for building the tabernacle for God, whom Bezalel loves.
 

Something Larger

Before sending us out to use our skills and abilities to show others Jesus and His love, God fills us with
the Holy Spirit so that as we face challenges and difficulties, we will continue to come alive in joyful and persistent ways as use our skills and abilities for God’s glory. Lord Jesus, fill us with Your Holy Spirit so that we will use our skills and abilities in your world to show people Your saving love, and build a community of love, healing, and peace in Jesus’ name!
 
First United Methodist Church, Meriden CT  – 2 May 2021
1 John 4:7-12 “The Good Life – Close to God”

 

Healthy Relationship with God
Living the good life means enjoying a healthy relationship with God. Some people – with good reason – have a difficult relating to God because of strained or unhealthy relationships with a father, a mother, a family member, a pastor, or some other authority figure. One of more of these people have misrepresented God. Today let’s experience the real God. Once we know God, we’ll want to keep close.  The Apostle John gives us a wonderful description of God our heavenly Father, who is also our perfect Mother. (Read 1 John 4:7-12) 
 

God Is Love.

God is love. When John says God is love, John is describing the essence of who God our Father is. Love does whatever it takes for the wellbeing of the beloved. God IS love. So, God’s love is…
 
God Is Generous
Amazingly, extravagantly generous. Sparing no expense God gives us Jesus His one and only Child so that we could be children of the Heavenly Father.
 
God Makes the First Move
God’s love always makes the first move. God comes to us first. Faithful, loving parents always goes to their children first, never waiting for their children to come to them. Because God is our faithful, loving Parent, God always comes to us first.
 
God Loves Unconditionally
God loves all the world unconditionally. God never stops loving us no matter how unlovable we become. There is nothing we can do that will make God love us less. People hated God’s son Jesus so much that they killed Him on a cross. What is God’s response to this hatred? Love. God raises Jesus from the dead and invites us all to experience and enjoy unconditional love through life that lasts forever in Jesus.
 
Because God’s love is unconditional, God loves us on our good days. God our Father loves us on our bad days. God loves us when we long to be closer. God loves us when we walk away. God’s patient, unconditional love is a constant in our lives.
 
God to The Rescue
God’s love rescues us. From time to time all of us need a rescue. From what do you need a rescue? Loneliness? Addiction? Fear? Hatred? Anger? Isolation? Illness? The past? Racism? Narrowmindedness? Pessimism? From time to time, all of us need a rescue. Like a good parent, God our Father always comes to our rescue because God knows we cannot rescue ourselves.
 
The Good Life 
Through John’s words we discover who God really is. God embodies the best qualities of all Fathers and all Mothers. Our God is a God with whom we can share our hopes, hates, hurts, fears, sorrows, dreams, and disasters. The good life is all about receiving and enjoying the love of our heavenly Father who, with a Mother’s love, says to us each and every day, “There is nothing you can do that will ever make me love you less! I am here for you and with you always.”

 

First United Methodist Church, Meriden CT – 25 April 2020

James 3:13-17 “The Good Life – Traveling in Style” by Ric Hanse

The Good Life

“Richie, we bought a Cadillac!” my father-in-law proudly announced over the telephone in July of 1990. That year, Cadillac’s slogan was “The only way to travel is Cadillac style.” I think of Dad and traveling in Cadillac style each time I drive his 1990 DeVille which now lives in my garage. As much as I love Cadillacs, the good life is about so much more than traveling in Cadillac style. Let’s spend springtime discovering what the good life is. Today we’ll focus on traveling in style.
 
The Good Life Two Models
Jesus’ brother James offers a great model for traveling through life in style. But first, he tells us what unstylish living looks like. (Read James 3:13-17)
 

Unstylish

Unstylish living focuses on what we can get for ourselves. Sometimes, we mistakenly believe that the good life is a life of popularity, high-paying jobs, beautiful homes, and fancy toys, and attractive friends and family.
 
Our selfish focus on externals and getting all we can for ourselves leads to lives that are saturated with envy and selfish ambition.
 
Envy is never in style. Envy is energized by our obsession with position, dignity, and rights. There is nothing wrong with position, dignity, or rights – until they become our obsession. Our fixation on position, dignity and rights leads to what James calls selfish ambition. Selfish ambition is our dedication to getting ahead in life. We all want to get ahead in life. But when our primary focus is on getting ahead, we always leave others behind.
 
Traveling in Style
To experience the good life…To travel in style, our focus must be on loving God and serving others. Loving God and serving others makes us people of humility and sincerity.
 
Humility happens when we love God. Humility happens when we serve others. Humility is not about modesty. Humility is about loving God fully and serving people faithfully.
 

Traveling in style is about sincerity. Sincerity is much more than having heartfelt belief about something. Sincerity is about living our beliefs. Sincerity happens when our life shows God and others what we love. We believe God so loved the ENTIRE world. Do we live out God’s love for everyone? We believe that Jesus does whatever it takes for the wellbeing of all people. Do we do whatever it takes for the wellbeing of all people regardless of race, culture or creed?

Some people who travel in style have huge houses and some have small houses. Both know the joy of homes that are havens of blessing and peace. Some who focus on loving God and serving others enjoy popularity and some do not. Both enjoy love and support that popularity never gives. Some who live lives of humble sincerity have fancy toys and some do not. Both know a contentment that comes from enjoying not things but God’s love.

 
First United Methodist Church Meriden CT – 18 April 2021

John 20:24-31 “Renovating Life – Living Easter” by Ric Hanse

Living Through Us
From Thomas’ time to today people have struggled to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. How does Jesus, our Master Craftsman make Himself known to us when we like Thomas have our doubts and we need something more than stories to assure us that Jesus is alive? Through people in our lives.
 
When people dedicate their lives to Jesus, He lives in and through these people. These people become the messengers who assure us that Jesus is alive. If we want to see Jesus, we need to look at the lives of Christians who are working to live out the love of Jesus in their everyday lives.
 
My Grandmother shows me Jesus. Her thoughtfulness and her experiences assure me that Jesus is alive.
 
Deciding he didn’t want to be married, my Gram’s first husband made her move to Florida, become a resident and get a divorce. One night after nearly one poverty-ridden year in Florida, my dad (who was a teenager at the time) developed a terrible toothache. Not having a phone, panic-stricken and in desperate need of help, Gram raced to the double phone booth to call her friend. She called his office. No answer. She called his home. No answer. In lonely, frightened desperation Gram cried out to God, begging for God’s help. Stepping from her phone booth she saw someone she knew in the other phone booth. It was Reverend Edwards, Gram’s pastor from Babylon Methodist Church on Long Island. Reverend Edwards and his wife were on vacation in Florida and wanted to check on Gramma to make sure she was alright. Reverend Edwards went to the drugstore, bought some Orajel to put on the toothache, and promised to take Gram and my Dad home with them when they returned to Long Island. On that terrible night in Ocala Florida, my Gramma experienced the power of our Risen Savior Jesus.
 
Who are the Christians through whom the risen Jesus shows Himself to you? They are the ordinary people through whom Jesus lives His life. People like Fran Clark who at 101 years is filled with the joy and the love of Jesus. People like Maureen James, who endure hardship and yet, are so filled with Jesus that they pray with a power that takes me straight to the throne of God. People like Shannon Davis a 28-year-old woman who lost both her legs and is filled with a positivity, a joy and a tenacity that shows me how Jesus overcomes everything awful in life. People like our District Superintendent, Alpher Sylvester who experienced loss, pain, injustice, and humiliation and in the face of all this bad, offers kindness, grace, and unconditional love to everyone.
 
Who?
Who are the people in your life that have led and are leading you to know in your heart that Jesus is alive? Who are the people that know Jesus is alive because of us?
 
John 21:25
John closes his account of Jesus life with the words, “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) The world itself could not contain the books because Jesus is still doing many things through many people to show everyone that He truly is alive.
 
First United Methodist Church Meriden CT – 11 April 2021

John 20:24-31 “Renovating Life – Easter’s Messy Side” by Ric Hanse

Many Visits
On Easter morning Jesus rises from the dead and appears outside His tomb to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Salome, and several other women. On Easter afternoon the risen Jesus joins two of His followers as they travel the road that leads to their home in Emmaus. That evening the risen Jesus spends time with a group of his disciples. But one person is absent from all these appearances: Thomas. 
 
Not So Sure
Entering the house on Easter evening, Thomas is greeted with the news. “Thomas, you missed Him. Jesus was here! Jesus is alive. He ate dinner with us!” All week Thomas’ friends tell him about their experiences with Jesus. First at the cemetery. Next in Emmaus and finally in Jerusalem. Though the stories come from his closest friends, Thomas is still not sure about Jesus’ resurrection. If Jesus really is alive again and is appearing to all His followers, why hasn’t He taken the time to be with Thomas?
 
Thomas is not an unbeliever. He just isn’t convinced that Jesus rose from the dead. In this way, Thomas is no different from the others. Before coming face to face with the risen Jesus, none of the others believed the women’s words, “Jesus is alive!” until they too saw Jesus for themselves. 
 
A week after Easter, when the risen Jesus comes face to face with Thomas, Thomas says, “My Lord and my God!”  Like Jesus’ other close friends, Thomas needed to see the risen Jesus to believe.
 
Messy
The Bible’s Easter stories are wonderfully messy. The task of sharing the most important news in the history of humanity – that Jesus is alive – is given to women. In 27 A.D. a woman’s testimony counts for nothing in a court of law. But God who is supremely inclusive gives the job to the women. Jesus’ best friends do not believe He is alive. In fact, they think the women have lost their minds.
 
If the Bible gave a sanitized version of Jesus’ resurrection where the men were the first to discover Jesus was alive; where everyone believed Jesus was alive the moment they saw the empty tomb; where people left the cemetery not confused and frightened but happy and ready to enjoy Easter dinner, this would be a more challenging story to believe. This is way too neat. Life is not so tidy. Life is messy. Really messy.

We need a Savior who inhabits the messes and walks with us through life’s painful messiness. We need a Savior who loves us enough to be with us in the messiness of our confusion and doubt. We need a Bible that doesn’t sanitize history but tells the messy story of God’s people struggling to believe and be faithful. Thankfully, we have a Savior who walks us through the mess, and a Bible whose stories reflect the messiness of life and the loving presence of Jesus who brings us to places of faith.
 

Life is messy. Racism. Asian Hatred. A pandemic that has done horrific damage. Toxic political hatred. Family issues. Work problems. Life is messy. Thankfully so is the Easter Story! Easter’s messiness assures us that the story is real, that Jesus is alive and does whatever it takes to open us to His living presence and saving love which brings us through the worst of life’s messes.

 

First United Methodist Church Meriden CT – 4 April 2021 – Easter

Easter Sunday John 20:1-21 “Renovating Life – Let Go” by Ric Hanse

A Painful Sunrise Service
Preparing for her predawn visit to Jesus’ grave, Mary Magdalene feels like her adventures with Jesus happened a lifetime ago.
 
Arriving at the Jesus’ tomb Mary discovers to her horror that the stone, which sealed Jesus’ sepulcher, has been moved. Worse still, Jesus’ body is missing! Mary runs to tell Jesus’ closest friends of her terrible discovery. Immediately Peter and John run to the tomb. Not knowing what to make of the empty tomb John and Peter head home, leaving Mary alone in her grief.
 
“Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Mary hears a voice asking. Thinking he is the gardener, Mary looks up and through her tears says, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, please tell me where you have put Him, and I will get him.” Lovingly looking into her eyes, the stranger speaks her name, “Mary.” In an instant Mary goes from grief to ecstasy, exclaiming, “Teacher!” while hugging Jesus with all her strength. Easter is here! 
 

Let Go

What is the risen Jesus’ response? “Do not hold on to me,” What is going on? Why does Jesus say, “Do not hold on to me”?
 
Through her bear hug, Mary is not only clinging to Jesus. She is also clinging to the past; to the way things were before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus does not want Mary holding on to a reality that no longer exists.
 
We know how Mary feels don’t we?! We cling to past realities too. The way life was before the pandemic. We cling to memories of children who were young and innocent and spent time with us. We cling to memories of youthful days when we were more energetic, and life was in front of us. We cling to past versions of our relationships – longing to get things back to the way they were. Does clinging to the way things were ever fill us with joy? No.
 

Let Go – An Invitation Not A Command

“Do not hold on to me. Do not cling to a past that will never be again.” Jesus’ words are not a command, but an invitation to Mary and to us. “Do not hold on to me,” is an invitation to experience new beginnings, new forgiveness, new relationships, new versions of old relationships, new life.
 

Release

Many of us have experienced Easter services. But have we experienced Easter? Have we experienced the healing, relationship restoring forgiveness that Jesus’ Resurrection brings us? Have we experienced a close friendship with God who loves us?  Have we experienced freedom from the people who have wounded us? Have we experienced Jesus’ strengthening presence in our everyday lives? We have been to Easter services. But is Easter happening in us?   
 

Easter is different this year. No in person singing. Limited gathering. And Easter is the same: A celebration of the new beginnings that come from Jesus rising from the dead and destroying everything that holds us captive to pain, loneliness, and death. If we are too busy clinging to the past, we cannot hold onto the Risen Jesus who invites us to enjoy new life, new love, and new hope when he says to us, “Let go!”

Renovating our lives is all about letting go of the past and letting Jesus give us a new beginning. Are you ready to let go? Let go!

 

First United Methodist Church Meriden CT – 28 March 2020

Palm Sunday “Renovations – The Wrong Carpenter?” by Ric Hanse
 
The Parade
Riding a donkey into Jerusalem late on a Sunday morning, Jesus experiences an enthusiastic welcome from a huge crowd. Coats and palm branches cover the street – an impromptu red carpet for Jesus who is wildly popular. Everyone loves the way this Master Carpenter renovates life by healing disease, removing shame, feeding the hungry and raising people from the dead.
 
Entering Jerusalem, Jesus heads for the Temple. Greeted by crooked money changers who take Roman money and exchange it for Temple currency (the only cash accepted at the Temple for offerings), Jesus is upset. Calmly Jesus walks up to a money changer, grips his table and tips it  over while saying, “My house is a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.” 
 
On Tuesday afternoon Jesus compares the religious leaders to tombs that look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. (Mt. 23:27-28)
 
Nail Him
Furious over Jesus’ disrespect, the chief priests decide Jesus must be destroyed. On Wednesday they catch a big break when one of Jesus’ closest friends – Judas Iscariot – offers to betray Jesus.
 
Wrong Carpenter – Wrong Renovation
Next, the religious leaders turn the people against Jesus by spreading lies about Jesus. Jesus will get us in huge trouble with Rome. Jesus wants you dead. Why else would he say, “Take up your cross.” Jesus wants to create division in your family. Jesus wants you to love your enemy. Jesus insists that to follow him you have to get rid of everything. He’ll bankrupt you. Jesus is dangerous.
 
Like today, the people believe the misinformation. Soon they are calling for Jesus’ death.
 
The Right Carpenter
Is Jesus the wrong carpenter for us? No! Jesus is the right carpenter for us because, Jesus is the only one who renovates our hearts, our minds, and our lives by removing our pain, anxiety, isolation, fear, insecurity, and narrowmindedness. Jesus is the carpenter who crafts lives filled with healing, peace, community, courage, security, and open-mindedness.
 
As Jesus our Master Carpenter rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He knows he will die on a cross five days later. And on that Cross surrounded by hate, Jesus continues His renovation of the world by making the cross the tool for tearing down all that is bad and building back all that is beautiful. Is Jesus the carpenter you want working on your life-renovation?
 
First United Methodist Church, Meriden CT – 21 March 20201

Psalm 139:13-18 “Renovating Life – Making Progress” by Ric Hanse

Progress

With the rubble cleared away, the walls framed, the wiring installed, and sheetrock going up, the renovation at West Hartford United Methodist Church was making progress. We could clearly picture a beautifully renovated ministry center. The worst parts of the renovation were behind us.  
 
Eight months into my life-renovation with psychologist Dr. Russell, the rubble of my unresolved pain had been cleared away, my spirit felt lighter, and I was on my way to accepting myself for the person God made me to be. At last, I was making progress in my life renovation.
 
Benefits of Hard Work
As we do the difficult work of renovating our lives by working through painful past experiences; honestly examining and processing our feelings; working to understand the coping mechanisms we’ve developed over the years by separating the bad coping mechanisms (like drinking too much, isolating ourselves, being obsessively perfectionistic, unforgiving, etcetera) from the healthy coping mechanisms (like processing difficulties with people we trust, building healthy relationships and accepting ourselves and others for who God made us all to be); we start seeing progress.
 
With the rubble of the past painful memories, failings, broken relationships, and other wounds cleared away, we start seeing ourselves as God sees us in Psalm 139:13-18 (Read Scripture).  
 
We discover that God knit us together. We realize we are not accidents. We are God’s priceless creations. We discover that God has made us with a complexity that requires self-care. We see how God has been intimately involved in our lives from the beginning. We discover that God is powerful enough to work everything that has ever happened to us – the good and beautiful, the bad and horrific – together for our healing, restoration, renovation.
 
The Look of Progress
We are making progress in our life renovations when we can look at painful past experiences in our lives and not be debilitated by them. When this happens, we know that Jesus has freed us from the past places of nightmarish pain in our lives. Jesus has taken these places of abnormal weakness and made them into places of abnormal strength. Our renovations are making progress when we can forgive those who have wronged us and be free from their unhealthy power over us. Our renovations are taking shape when we discover that we do not need to be what others want or expect us to be. We only need to be the people Jesus wants us to be. This security in Jesus is liberating!

 

In Our End is Our Beginning
How are your renovations coming along? Are you making progress? Eventually you will see the progress because Jesus who is always with us is the God who began a good work of renovation in us. And Jesus our Master Carpenter is carrying this good work of life-renovation on to completion!

 

Sunday 7 March 2021

Psalm 139:1-6, 23-24 Renovating Life – It’s Always Worst at First” by Ric Hanse

The Assessment
To discover what life renovations we need to make, we invite Jesus to do an assessment of our lives. This Jesus-centered life assessment involves: Prayer – asking Jesus what needs to be done. Hymn Singing – certain songs of faith open us to Jesus’ assessment. “Open my eyes that I may see, glimpses of truth Thou hast for me.” Bible reading – when we read the Bible, we discover how Jesus’ way of living is not always our way of living. Especially when it comes to unconditional love, forgiveness, taking up our cross.
 
The assessment phase also includes inviting someone we love and trust to share with us the places in our lives that need renovation. And deciding not to be defensive when they point these places out to us.
 

Sometimes the assessment phase involves seeing a counselor or a psychologist to help us figure out what in our lives needs renovating and how to do it. When I was in my early thirties, I discovered that my life needed extensive renovations and I had no idea how to go about the project. I started seeing a psychologist. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

 
Getting to Work
After the assessment is done, and we know what renovations need to take place in our lives we line up the contractors. First and foremost, we bring Jesus on board. “You hem me in behind and before, and You lay your hand upon me,” the Psalmist writes. We invite Jesus to hem us in – to surround us with God’s loving support.
 
Next, we bring in a friend or family member we trust and maybe counselor or psychologist and possibly a pastor to help us set up our renovation plan.
 
The plan helps us answer the questions: What needs renovating in our life? What is that renovated life going to look like? How will we know when the renovation is complete?
 
Then we get to work on our life renovations. Getting to work breaking the habit, being free from that addiction, changing our attitudes and restoring broken relationships in our lives is exciting and invigorating.
 
Debris
But soon there are piles of debris everywhere. Our hearts and minds are spinning in a state of chaos. Our equilibrium is lost. All we see is a great big mess with no end in sight! One morning after a counseling appointment with my psychologist I sat in the Elmwood Pastry Shop sipping a coffee and eating a jelly donut in a complete daze while staring out the window into the parking lot. I felt shell shocked. “I can’t do this” I kept thinking to myself. Renovating life is difficult.
 
When It Gets Discouraging
When renovating our lives gets discouraging because we relapse or we get confused, or frightened, or exhausted from all the difficult work, Jesus who hems us in behind and before, comes alongside of us and helps us to see again the vision of what our renovated lives will look like.
 
Jesus gives us a picture of a renovated life that is free from the unhealthy behaviors and thoughts that plague us. Jesus gives us a vision of life lived in freedom from an unhealthy relationship. Jesus gives us a picture of what living in the beauty of forgiveness offered and forgiveness received looks like. Jesus gives us a glimpse of our life lived without anxiety. Jesus shows us what our lives will be when we receive the healing that sometimes cures our bodies and always restores our spirits, and minds.
 
The First Is Worst
When the renovation debris is everywhere, do not get discouraged, do not give up. Keep in mind the picture of what your renovated life will look like. And Jesus, who hems us in behind and before will bring us through!
 
Sunday Message 7 February 2021

Genesis 6:9-21 “Coming Alive Together – In The ARK” by Ric Hanse

“Evan Almighty”
In the movie “Evan Almighty” God calls newly elected Buffalo NY congressman Evan Baxter to build an ark. Evan works hard to convince God that God’s got the wrong man. But God does not give up. Reluctantly Evan agrees to build the ark along with his wife and three sons. When Evan is struggling, God (played by Morgan Freeman) says, “Everything I do, I do because I love you.” Overwhelmed by the stress of ark building Evan’s wife decides to leave, taking their boys with her. But there is no escaping her problems. While sitting with her sons in a restaurant Evan’s wife Joan asks the waiter (who happens to be God) to bring her more food. “Are you alright,” God asks her. “No, it’s a long story.” “Well, I like stories. I’m considered a bit of a storyteller myself.” Joan tells the “waiter” about her ordeal with the ark. “You know,” God replies, “a lot of people miss the point of that story. They think it’s about God’s wrath and God’s anger. They love it when God gets angry.” “What is the story about then, the ark?” she asks. “Well,” God says while sitting down next to Joan, “I think it’s a love story about believing in each other. You know, the animals showed up in pairs, they stood by each other – side by side. Just like Noah and his family. Everybody entered the ark side by side.” 
 
In Bad Shape
The world in Noah’s day was in tough shape. God in His love calls Noah to build the ark. Noah’s huge ship is a football field and a half long and four stories high. God works through the ark bringing life to a world bent on self-destruction. Noah’s ark is in essence a church – a place where those who enter experience God’s life-giving love together.  
 
The world is in tough shape. Political anger that leads to hateful threats and death. A pandemic that is mercilessly killing hundreds of thousands of God’s children. Racial injustice that makes life a crushing burden for our Black sisters and brothers. Broken homes, failed friendships. Our world needs an ark just as badly as Noah’s did. Like Noah’s ark, this place – this church family – is a place where those who enter – in person or remotely – experience God’s life-giving love together.
 
As the ark called First United Methodist Church, Meriden, we experience the love of Jesus who forgives our wrongs, gives us each other for companionship, uses our skills and abilities to show His love to the world, and gives us the chance to exercise our trust in God by giving our money.  
 
Are We ARKing? 
By the movie’s end, Evan has rescued his neighborhood from a deadly flood caused by a dam burst. God (played by Morgan Freeman) says to Evan, “You did good son, you changed the world.” “No, no I didn’t,” Evan protests. “Well let’s see,” God interjects. “Spending time with your family, making them very happy. You gave that [stray] dog a home.” Evan’s response, “Right, so…” “So,” God answers, “How do we change the world?”  Evan answers, “One act of random kindness at a time.” “One Act of Random Kindness” God says while scratching out the letters ARK in the sand. 
 
One of the best ways I know to come alive in Jesus to be shining beacons in God’s world is by caring for our church family, our families, our neighbors our world by building ARKs. By building lives filled with Acts of Random Kindness. But let’s change “random” to “righteous”.
 
Acts of Righteous Kindness – giving time to those who need our companionship; receiving care from people who love us; making sure church family members are receiving what they need in life; sharing the story of Jesus and His love with others; working for political kindness, racial justice and equality for all. Inviting people to church.
 
Building ARKs makes us come alive. Building ARKs makes us shining beacons of God’s love.
 
Are we ready to Build Some ARKs?!
 
Sunday Message 31 January 2021
Acts 16:11-15, Philippians 4:14-16 “Coming Alive Together – Success Is…” by Ric Hanse
 
Sabbath On the Gangites
Arriving in the Roman city of Philippi, the Apostle Paul learns of a small group of women who meet every Sabbath for prayer and worship along the banks of the Gangites River. Joining the women’s group, Paul and his traveling partners pray and share the good news of Jesus Christ. 
 
A prominent businesswoman named Lydia who sells expensive purple cloth for a Thessalonican cloth dyeing company is so moved by Paul’s preaching that she gives her life to Jesus. Soon, Lydia and her family are baptized.  With Lydia’s help and Paul’s guidance the Philippian church is born. 
 
A Great Church  
In terms of size and prestige the Philippian Church is average. But to God and the Apostle Paul, Philippi Church is a huge success. God measures church success not by size and social standing, but by love for Jesus and love for people.  
 
The Philippians love Jesus. Their deep love for Jesus shows through their generous love for people. They enthusiastically give financial support to the impoverished Jerusalem church. The Philippian church was always giving Paul financial and prayer support, even when they were going through tough times. Philippi Church was a successful church. Successful churches love God and in Jesus’ name successful churches love people. Success is loving God and loving people.
 
Successful churches show their love for God and God’s people through their ministries. Our ministries include all we do to help people come alive in Jesus to be shining beacons of God’s love.
 
Great Together
By itself a snowflake looks harmless. Put enough of them together and schools close, airports shut down and schedules change.
 
Each of us has individual ministries – things that we are good at. God wants to use our skills and abilities to show Jesus’ life-giving love to the world. When we combine our great love for God with our skills and love for people, God does great things through us. Great things like starting a food ministry called FUMP (First United Methodist Pantry); Creating the Sunshine team to make sure no one is lonely; Starting a Virtual Choir, Crafting the Youth & Families Advocate Ministry. Growing our Prayer Chain ministry, Taking Sunday School online; Growing our financial giving to our Church even during this pandemic; Serving at the Meriden Soup Kitchen. Our individual ministries grow exponentially in effectiveness when God puts us together to touch others with the life-giving love of Jesus. 
 
Showing God’s Presence
God’s life-giving love is seen whenever people choose to love Jesus and love people. Journalist and author Philipp Yancey tells the story of what really caused the Berlin wall to fall. A small group met in a church to pray. Over time the group grew from a small group of prayers to a gathering of 500,000 people and the Berlin Wall fell. 
 
Real Success
The church in Philippi is a success because it is filled with a great love for Jesus that leads to a great love for people. 
 
We the people of First United Methodist Church are successful because together we are filled with a great love for Jesus that leads us to share Jesus’ great, life giving love with people. 
 
Are you filled with a great love for Jesus? Stay connected to this family. Does your love for Jesus need to grow stronger? Stay connected to your church family and we will help you discover how much Jesus loves you. Wherever we are in life, this is the place God wants us to be so that we can experience success. Success is enjoying Jesus’ love, loving Jesus, and loving people greatly.
 
Sunday Message 24 January 2021

Luke 8:40-56 “Coming Alive Together – A Great Big Small” by Ric Hanse

Jairus
Jairus the synagogue leader is responsible for arranging and leading worship services, choosing who would participate in the service and maintaining order during the worship service in the Capernaum synagogue. Everyone knows and loves Jairus, including the great Rabbi Jesus who spoke many times in Jairus’ synagogue. When Jairus’ only child falls gravely ill, all of Capernaum is upset. No doctor can heal her, and everyone’s prayers seem futile. Jesus becomes their only hope. But Jesus is out of town. When will He be back?! 
 
The moment Jesus arrives home He is surrounded by a crowd that nearly crushes Him. The crowd tells Jesus the terrible news of Jairus’ daughter. Jairus squeezes through the crowd and falls on his knees at Jesus’ feet. With tears streaming down his face, Jairus pleads, “Jesus please come and heal my precious daughter. She is about to die.” Helping Jairus to his feet, Jesus – along with this huge crowd – heads for the synagogue ruler’s sick daughter. 
 
Suddenly Jesus stops. Who touched me? He asks. Astounded at Jesus’ question, Peter says, “Who touched you? Look around! Who hasn’t touched you!” “This touch was different,” Jesus replies. “I felt power go out of me. Someone touched me with the hope of being healed.” Meanwhile, Jairus anxiety is growing. Slowly a woman comes toward Him. Trembling she falls on her knees before Jesus. Please Lord, Jairus begs, We must get to my daughter!
 
Jesus helps the woman to her feet. Nervously she says, “Twelve years ago I began bleeding. I went from doctor to doctor, but no one could cure me. For twelve years I have been weak and in pain. For twelve years I have not been able to go to the synagogue or the Temple because the bleeding makes me unclean. I knew that if I touched you Lord, I would be well.” Looking into her eyes Jesus says, “Daughter, go in peace. Your faith has healed you.” 
 
To Jairus, these few minutes of conversation feel like hours. “Jairus,” a voice is heard crying over the noise of the crowd. “Jairus, I’m so sorry. Your daughter died.” Bitter sorrow floods Jairus’ heart. Jesus turns his focus to Jairus. Filled with love Jesus says, “Jairus, don’t be afraid. Just believe and your daughter will be healed.” With this they head to Jairus’ home where they are greeted by the wails of the mourners gathered in the living room. When Jesus assures everyone that the girl is only asleep, they laugh at Him. Jesus, Jairus, his wife and three disciples enter the girl’s bedroom. Jesus takes her hand and says, “My child, get up!”  To everyone’s amazement she rises. What a wonderful reunion. 
 
Nameless?  Not at All!
Luke never tells us the names of the woman or Jairus’ daughter. But Jesus calls each with names far more valuable. Jesus names the woman Daughter. Jesus names the girl My Child. When my daughter Ashley was seven, she decided she would call me “Ric”. Everyone else calls you Ric. I am going to call you Ric too.  “But Ashley, not everyone is my daughter. Anyone can call me Ric. Only you and Anna call me Dad. “Dad” is much more special to me.”   
 
A Perfect Picture of Ministry
This story is a perfect picture of ministry that makes people come alive. Jesus makes himself available to people (often people who seem small), heals them and gives them names that show their true identity. Jesus shows us in this story that ministry is allowing the life-giving love of God to flow into people’s lives. 

 

What Does Your Ministry Look Like? 
What does your individual ministry look like? How do you allow the healing, life-giving love of Jesus to flow through you and into the lives of others? Or are you not sure what your ministry looks like? If you are not sure please ask yourself two questions: What am I good at that I can offer to others? What is it that when I do it makes me come alive? Answering these questions will shape your ministry.
 
Staying Connected
Jesus has given every one of us a ministry to offer to others. But it is only when we stay close to the Lord that He can use what makes us come alive to bring God’s life to others. There is no better way to stay connected to Jesus than by praying, worshiping, and staying connected to each other.
 
Little Is So Big
Did you know that in God’s economy, small is big? The most life changing ministries we offer are usually – on the surface – very small. One hot summer night while sleeping over my grandparents’ house, my Grampa tucked me into bead, turned the air conditioner on, handed me the control to the electric blanket and said, “If you get cold just turn on the electric blanket.” I thought to myself, This must be what heaven is like. That small act of love still has a huge impact on my life and shapes the way I live.
 

What ministry is Jesus calling each of us to? Whatever it may be, know that when it comes to allowing Jesus’ life-giving love to flow through us the small is huge – eternally huge. 

 
Sunday Message 17 January 2021
Nehemiah 8:9-10 “Coming Alive Together, A New Look – Iron Joy”
Artaxerxes’ Most Trusted Man
Artaxerxes becomes king of Persia in 465 B.C. after his father Xerxes is assassinated in his bedchamber by his guard Artabanus. (Encyclopedia Britannica Online) A few months later Artaxerxes kills Artabanus in hand-to-hand combat. (Ibid) Security for the new king is a top priority. One of the most important jobs in the king’s security detail is the cupbearer, who selects and tastes the king’s wines to be sure they’re not poisoned. The cupbearer must be someone the king trusts. And someone who loves the king enough to die for him. Artaxerxes’ cupbearer is a Jewish man named Nehemiah. Nehemiah’s family was taken into Persia a hundred years earlier after Judah had been conquered and her citizens exiled to faraway lands.
 
Though he’d never lived in Jerusalem, Nehemiah loves the holy city that is the center of Jewish life. Discovering the dilapidated state of Jerusalem’s wall saddens Nehemiah. One day while receiving his wine, Artaxerxes says to Nehemiah, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can only be sadness of heart.” Saying a silent prayer, Nehemiah gathers his courage and tells King Artaxerxes of his sorrow over Jerusalem’s dilapidation. He then asks permission to go to Jerusalem to oversee the rebuilding of the wall. Permission is granted by King Artaxerxes. Answered prayer!
 
The Big Build Up
Nehemiah becomes Jerusalem’s governor. With the priests, leaders and people of Jerusalem, he spends almost two years rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. This huge task is completed just before the Festival of Trumpets (today known as Rosh Hashanah) which marks the Jewish New Year.
 
The Big Let Down
The Jerusalem wall rebuilding experience renews the peoples’ love for God. On Rosh Hashanah, the people gather in the square to celebrate. During the celebration Pastor Ezra teaches them God’s Law. As Ezra reads the people discover they are not living out God’s love and the fill with sorrow.
 
Happy Days Are Here Again
Nehemiah and Ezra know that their people trust and love the Lord. Working to comfort them they proclaim, Don’t cry! New Year’s Day is a day for happiness. God does not delight in your perfection. God’s joy is in our loving trust. Perfection can never be your strength. The joy of the Lord is your strength. So celebrate. God is happy that you have come back to Him.
 
Isn’t it wonderful that God finds joy not in our perfection but in our trust?!
 
What Makes God Happy
God’s joy comes not from our perfection but from our trust. But what does trust look like? Trusting God is making amends after we are unkind to our spouse, a child, a pet, a colleague, or a neighbor. Trusting God is taking time out of our day to be with someone who needs us. Trusting God is forgiving those who wrong us. Trusting God is standing for racial justice. Trusting God is being a defender of the least and the last. Trusting God is honest conversation with God – in other words, being real with God about what’s on our mind. Trusting God is giving God a portion of our money. Trusting God letting God use our skills and abilities for God’s glory. It is all about trust.
 
Building Renewed Faith
Nehemiah leads the people of Jerusalem through a huge renovation project. Their commitment to renovating the worn-out wall that surrounded the city renews their love for God. How does our commitment to Jesus look? Could our financial giving be stronger? Then it’s time for a renovation! Could love for Jesus and others be stronger? Then it’s time for a renovation! Could our commitment to doing whatever it takes to make our Precious Church Family a shining beacon of God’s love be stronger? Then it’s time for a renovation!
 
Iron Joy
Our trust is God’s joy. Repeat after me please: The joy of the Lord is my strength. Are we confused? The joy of the Lord is our strength. Are we depressed? The joy of the Lord is our strength. Are we filled with doubt? The joy of the Lord is our strength. Have we failed? The joy of the Lord is our strength. Are we afraid? The joy of the Lord is our strength. Are we hesitant to increase our financial commitment to Jesus through our Church Family? The joy of the Lord is our strength! God’s joy is strong. And God’s strong joy – God’s Iron Joy – is always our strength!
 
Sunday Message 10 January 2020
2 Chronicles 29:1-3; 31:20-21; 32:1-3, 6-8, 20-26 “Coming Alive Together – Finishing Well” by Ric Hanse
 
Hezekiah of Judah
At twenty-five years old, Hezekiah becomes Judah’s king in 715 B.C. His first act as king is opening the temple doors and restoring God’s house. The following month Hezekiah consecrates the priests and invites everyone worship. Soon people are celebrating the Passover and experiencing God’s love. 
 
But the good times do not last long. King Sennacherib of Assyria invades Judah, crushing village after village. To slow the Assyrian invasion Hezekiah re-routes the water flowing from Jerusalem hoping that thirst will weaken the enemy. Hezekiah also fortifies the walls around Jerusalem, building an outer wall for extra protection. At the same time the king builds up an arsenal against Assyria. 
 
Preparations having been made; the people of Jerusalem wait. Sensing terror in his beloved citizens King Hezekiah reminds them that Sennacherib is no match for God. The people see in King Hezekiah’s courage and confidence that come from his faith in God. Hezekiah’s faith encourages the people to courageously cry out, God will be our shield and strength and the Lord will fight our battles!
 
During the battle Hezekiah cries out to God, “Remember O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” God hears Hezekiah’s prayer. As the battle rages on God strengthens the people and God sends an angel who, in one night, kills one-hundred-eighty-five-thousand Assyrian soldiers. 
 
The Assyrians flee. Hezekiah is healed. But the king’s faith falters as Hezekiah begins relying on his wealth and power. Sensing the Lord’s disappointment, Hezekiah repents and gets to work rebuilding war torn Judah. Then Hezekiah (as the Old Testament says) rests with his fathers. King Hezekiah finishes well.
 
Making Great Starts Great Finishes
Great starts are easy. A wonderful wedding day. A great first work out. A successful day one at work. Reading the first two chapters in the Bible. Welcoming a healthy baby into the world. Day one of the diet.
 
But what does the finish look like? What does that marriage look like thirty years, one mortgage, two kids and two car payments later? What does the workout schedule become the next month when we’re still discovering muscles we never knew we had? What happens when we get to Exodus 35:8? What becomes of the relationship with that newborn when she or he is eighteen?
 
When it comes to life and faith how do we finish well. By keeping close. King Hezekiah finishes well because he keeps close to God, he keeps close to others and he keeps close to himself. 
 
Keeping Close to God
Hezekiah knows that keeping close to God is the foundation to finishing well. Hezekiah’s first act as king is get himself and his people worshiping, praying, and reading the Bible. If we want to finish well, we need to keep close to God.
 
Where are you in your faith journey? Are you moving closer to God or farther from God? Keeping close to God means spending time in worship. Like exercise it takes discipline to get up and go to worship – even when it’s in our living room! Keep close through prayer. Talk to Jesus. Share your thoughts with Jesus. Keep close by reading the Bible. Finishing well means keeping close to Jesus. 
 
Keeping Close to Each Other
Hezekiah is a hands-on leader who loves his people enough to spend time with them. Hezekiah knows his people because he is willing to be real with them. He lets them see his hopes and dreams.  He lets them see his flaws. In turn, the people are authentic with Hezekiah.
 
Are we doing what we need to do to keep our relationships with each other strong? Finishing well means keeping close to each other. 
 
Keeping Close to Ourselves
Hezekiah falls away from God when he begins to put himself and his riches at the center of his world. But Hezekiah never stops keeping close to himself. Keeping close to ourselves means regularly taking time to look over our life. Because Hezekiah is willing to keep close to himself by looking over his life, Hezekiah discovers that he is turning away from God.
 
When we turn from God there are warning signs we’ll see as long as we keep closer to ourselves. When we are overly busy chances are good that we are not as close to God as we need to be. We keep close to ourselves by spending time looking over our life and examining our thoughts and priorities.
 
A New Look – Finishing Well
Stewardship – taking care of God’s Church and our lives – is all about keeping close to God, keeping close to each other, and keeping close to ourselves.
 
By keeping close we’ll finish well!
 
 
Sunday Message  – 3 January 2020

Matthew 2:1-12 “Coming Alive Together – Different Roads” by Ric Hanse

Star Power

In 6 B.C. when some of Persia’s religious leaders called magi see Jupiter and Saturn converging in the western sky, they realize something significant is happening in Israel. Completing their 900-mile journey to Jerusalem, the Magi present themselves to King Herod. Bowing before Herod, they ask where they will find Israel’s new King. Unaware of a the new king’s arrival, Herod speaks privately with his religious leaders who tell him that it is very possible that the Messiah has been born in Bethlehem. Refusing to give up his throne, Herod plans to kill this king once the Magi discover his whereabouts.
 
A Dream to A Different Road
Upon discovering the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, the Magi present God’s chosen King with gifts. Later that night, God comes to the Magi in a dream, warns them of Herod’s murderous plan, and advises that they go home by a different road. The Magi obey and travel home from Christmas via a different road. 
 
Called to Travel A New Road
Throughout 2020 and even now we are traveling down some different roads. None of us dreamed this time last year that the only way to worship together would be on YouTube. Nor did we imagine our church would discover ways to flourish in a worldwide pandemic. We’ve taken meetings, small groups, and giving online. We have answered God’s call to travel different roads.
 
As we begin 2021 there are other different roads down which God is calling us to travel.
 
Coming Alive Together – A New Look
Four years ago, I shared with you that our vision for Faith, the church and our shared ministry is: “Don’t ask yourself what the church needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then do it. Because what the church needs is people who come alive.”
 
We are crafting a culture that gives people permission to dream, experiment, try new ideas, and commit to audacious, creative, imaginative, and inspiring ministry.
 
We are starting a new stewardship series. Stewardship is means taking care of God’s church. During the next weeks we’ll discover what it means to be come alive by looking for the different roads God has for us and committing to travel these exciting roads. Adventures in financial giving, adventures in offering Jesus to others, adventures in making our church an amazingly bright beacon of God’s unconditional love for all people so that people will see in us the brilliantly bright star of God’s saving love – Jesus Christ.
 
2020 is over. The pandemic will not last forever. But the adventures God calls us to will never end! Together let’s follow the star, travel different roads and come alive in Jesus!
 
Sunday Message 27 December 2020
Micah 5:1-2 “Christmas Prophets – Christmas Hope” Ric Hanse
From Micah To Jesus
In 701 B.C. King Sennacherib of Assyria having destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, invades the southern kingdom of Judah. During the invasion God’s prophet Micah tells Judah’s King Hezekiah not to lose hope because someday a ruler will come who will be strong enough to restore peace to God’s people. Micah’s words bring hope to King Hezekiah and God’s people. 
 
When Jesus is born in 6 B.C., Micah’s words come true. When Jesus is born, Christmastime comes into the world. Since the day of Jesus’ birth Christmastime hope has been filling the world. Christmas Day is over. But Christmastime is here.
 
From Bethlehem comes a King who fills the world with Christmas hope. Jesus, the Christmas King is here to stay – forever! This means Christmas hope is with us and within us forever! Let’s spend some time discovering what Christmas hope looks like.
 
Hope Involves Waiting
Christmas Hope involves waiting. The things we hope for are things we are waiting for. Everything we hope for involves waiting. We hope the pandemic will end soon. We hope there will be more snow (at least I do!). Hope is waiting for something good to happen.
 
Hope Is Trusting the Promise Will Come True
Christmas Hope is trusting that God’s good promises made to us will come true. We know Christmas hope when we trust that is fulfilling His promises to love us, save us and show us the way.
 
Hope Is Confidence That Jesus Is with Us  
This has been a terrible year for us. But through all our trials, we know in our bones that Jesus is with us. Jesus who experienced terrible times, is with us and Jesus is bringing us through. We have hope because we have confidence that Jesus who comes at Christmas is with us, guiding us, protecting us and loving us.
 
Hope Is Knowing Things Will Get Better
Jesus is born into the world to make things better. As we live through these frightening times our hope is energized by the assurance that Jesus is making things better. Jesus is making things better in our minds and in the world. Knowing that Jesus is making things better gives us hope.
 
Home Comes Through God’s People
We also experience Christmas hope through God’s people. Christmas hope comes through our videographer AJ Rittenhouse whose patience and commitment to excellence inspires hope in us. Christmas hope comes through memories of my Granny Mercaldi who though she lost her leg, lost her husband, lost her money and lost her home, never lost her smile and always kept her confidence that Jesus was making things well.
 
Bethlehem
Through the little town of Bethlehem, God comes into the world bringing us hope. Jesus is born into our lives anew at Christmas. And Jesus fills us with hope that is not based on emotion, or ease but on the beautiful truth that Christmastime IS because Jesus is here. Christmas hope is here because Jesus is here Jesus is with us and within us – forever.
 
Sunday Message 20 December 2020
Isaiah 9:2,6-7 “Christmas Prophets – Memorable Gifts” by Ric Hanse
Granny & Pops Mercaldi
Looking out the window, I eagerly awaited the wonderful sight of Granny and Pops Mercaldi pulling into our driveway in Pops’ Cadillac Sedan DeVille on Christmas morning. Pops wasn’t dressed like Santa, but he carried in four big bags filled with presents. One bag for each grandchild. The gifts were from Santa, but Pops delivering them in his Cadillac was wonderful!
 
It’s Almost Here
Christmas is only five days away! Wow! While Christmas is different this year – it’s still very much the same. Gifts under the tree. Celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 
 
Walking in Darkness
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. We are doing our share of walking in the darkness: COVID-19 and all the health and financial struggles it has created for so many of us. We walk in the darkness of racism and political polarization and loneliness. We who have been walking in darkness need Christmas! More than any year in my fifty-four years, I need Christmas. We all need Christmas more than ever!
 
Christmas Is Worth Celebrating
We need to celebrate the day on which the great Light dawned in this sin darkened world. In an animal stable filled with hay and the sounds of sheep baaing, goats maaing, chickens clucking, roosters crowing and winds whistling, a young virgin named Mary gives birth to God in the flesh.  Except for the shepherds, no one outside that Bethlehem stable is aware that one of the most important moments in all creation is taking place. On that first quiet, simple, unassuming Christmas our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace is born – for us! This is how much Jesus loves us.   
 
The Memorable Gifts
Christmas is all about receiving. It really is. But it’s not about receiving more stuff. Granny and Pops would pull up in Pop’s Cadillac and Pops would haul in four huge bags filled with Christmas presents. And I still have…not a single gift that came out of any of those bags. I cannot even remember what they gave me.
 
But…I remember so vividly is the excitement of seeing Granny and Pops pull into the driveway. I remember their smiles. I remember the hugs I gave them in thanksgiving for all the presents. I remember their love. I don’t have a single present from any of those bags. But I am still unwrapping the gifts that Jesus still gives me through my wonderful Christmas memories of wonderful grandparents who are now in God’s kingdom.
 
A Light Dawns in The Darkness
On this Sunday before Christmas, Jesus invites us to let His light shine into the places within us that are dark with sadness, sorrow, loneliness, fear, anxiety and pain.
 
Friday
How many of the Christmas gifts that we have received over the years do we still have? Some. But how many of the memories of the loving kindness of the gift givers do we have? Lots!   
 
On Friday as we give presents and receive presents may we allow Jesus to fill us with His presence. Through the sacred stillness of a Christmas Day moment, through the lovingkindness shown us, through the memories we make, and the memories we revisit, Jesus will come to us anew, fill us with His light and assure us that in every season of life our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace is with us, is within us and making all things well, just as He did on that first quiet Christmas that brought God near to everyone.
 
Sunday Message – 13 December 2020
Isaiah 7:10-16 “Christmas Prophets – Unwanted Guests” by Ric Hanse
Unwanted Guests
Unwanted Christmas guests show up every year. I’m not talking about obnoxious family members. These unwanted guests are Christmas Crankiness. Christmas Blues. Christmas Anxiety. Christmas Letdown.
 
The Cause
These unwanted guests show up when they discover there is room for them in our hearts. Christmas Crankiness, Christmas Blues, Christmas Anxiety and Christmas Letdown find room within us when the Christmas we celebrate is too small. The real Christmas is really big. When the real Christmas fills our hearts and minds there is no room for unwanted Christmastime guests. The real Christmas is so big, that it goes back to 734 B.C.
 
The Twelfth King of Judah
After the death of Israel’s third king (Solomon) the nation splits in half. The northern kingdom is Israel, and the southern kingdom becomes Judah. In 734 B.C. things are not going well for Ahaz, Judah’s twelfth king. Israel’s King Pekah and Syria’s King Rezin form an unholy alliance and invade Judah. Rather than turning to God for protection, King Ahaz turns to Tilgeth-Pileser (ruler of Assyria) for help. 
 
The prophet Isaiah assures King Ahaz that God will not let Ahaz be defeated. God guards Ahaz not because Ahaz is righteous but because God is faithful. God even gives King Ahaz a sign to assure him that God will be with him. God’s sign: Someone who is now a virgin will give birth to a son who will be named Immanuel. And before Immanuel is old enough to know right from wrong Judah’s enemies will be defeated and Ahaz will be safe. Two years later, before this child named Immanuel is old enough to know right from wrong Israel’s enemies are defeated. Through the birth of this first Immanuel God says to His people, “I am with you.” 
 
Seven Hundred Twenty-Eight Years Later
Seven hundred twenty-eight years after Isaiah speaks God’s words to King Ahaz, these same words come true again in a whole new way. A woman who is still a virgin gives birth to a son in a Bethlehem animal stable. And she names the child Immanuel which means God with us. Through this Immanuel, God comes to us in a new way. Through this Immanuel, God puts on a human body and lives in a specific time in history with a specific people. With the birth of this Immanuel, Christmas comes to all the world. 
 
Christmas Is So Big Because Christmas Is God with Us
Christmas is big because Christmas is Immanuel – God living with us as a person. Christmas is big because Christmas is God coming into the world to rescue us from our crankiness, blues, anxiety, and disappointment.  
 
Christmas is big – hugely big – because Christmas is more than a one-day event. Jesus comes to us on Christmas Day. Does Jesus go away on 26 December? No!  So, Christmas is more than an event. Christmas is a permanent reality. Jesus is with us. Forever!
 
No Room in The Inn
Christmas Crankiness, Christmas Blues, Christmas Anxiety, Christmas Letdown take up residence in us when our Christmas is too small. When I start getting cranky, blue, anxious or feel Christmas letdown, I hear Isaiah saying, “A virgin shall be with child and He shall be called Immanuel – God with us.”
 
This morning through Isaiah’s words God calls us to invite Jesus to be born into all those places in our lives where there is room for Crankiness, Blues, Anxiety and Letdown.  When we are filled with Jesus there is no room for unwanted guests.
 
 
Sunday 6 December 2020 Isaiah 11:1-6  “Christmas Prophets – Stumped” by Pastor Ric Hanse
The Tree Is Down
Assyria the world’s superpower storms into Judah, cutting southern Israel down like an army of chainsaw wielding lumberjacks leveling a forest. When Assyria is through the once great nation of Judah is nothing more than a stump.
 
A stump – Judah is finished.  A stump – Judah is dead. Through the destruction the prophet Isaiah says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse.” Jesse was the father of the Israelites’ greatest King – David. God through Isaiah promises that from this dead stump a great king will spring up. So, the Israelites wait for the shoot.
 
That’s Not The Shoot We Were Looking For
In 6 B.C. God brings life from the dead stump of the Israelite monarchy when a virgin peasant girl named Mary gives birth in an animal stable to a baby boy. Mary and her husband Joseph name their baby Jesus. Jesus is the shoot that Isaiah the Christmas prophet spoke of. 
 
But this shoot, this perfect king is not who God’s people expect. The Israelites expect their king to be born, maybe not in a palace, but certainly not in a smelly animal stable. The Israelites expect their king to free them from Rome, not sin and death. To the Israelites the shoot from Jesse’s stump is supposed to put God’s poor and oppressed people back on top politically and economically. Jesus is not the shoot the Israelites were looking for.
 
What Do We Expect From Christmas?
Oftentimes Jesus sends us shoots we are not looking for. Especially when it comes to our Christmastime expectations. This Christmastime especially, many are only seeing stumps.
 
We expect to be with all the people we love at Christmas. This year all we see are stumps of empty chairs, and loneliness. We expect to enjoy the shoot of being at church on Christmas Eve, but all we see is the stump of an empty sanctuary. Christmas caroling, the living creche and pageants filled with singing children are the usual shoots that renew our spirits at Christmastime. This year all we see are stumps.
 
Shoots In The Stumps
During Advent – the four weeks before Christmas – God is calling us to start looking for the shoots.  But the shoots will not look like we expect them to look. 
 
This year the shoots look like quiet Christmas celebrations that will connect us to that quiet, first Christmas celebration in a stable. “Silent night, holy night…” This year the shoot is the good news that God’s angels bring to us. Good news that in this world filled with diseases of Corona virus and racism God’s angels come to us saying, “I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all the earth, for unto you is born this day in Bethlehem, a Savior.” This year’s Christmas shoot that springs from the stumps of our lives is the fact that Jesus comes into the world not to make the good better, but to save us from the awful, and to work through the bad to bring about good.
 
What Looks Dead?
Jesus is the king that the Christmas prophet Isaiah promised us. Jesus is the shoot coming forth from the stump. And Jesus is the Shoot who brings life back to all the stumps in our lives. What in your life seems as dead as a stump? Have you lost your sense of Christmas wonder?  Allow Jesus to bring forth a shoot of deep wonder. Have you lost your appreciation for God’s great gift of Jesus? Let Jesus bring to life deep within you a renewed spirit of gratitude for Christ’s birth. Are you seeing only Christmas sadness, or Christmas stress? Offer that sadness and stress to Jesus who will bring shoots of healing and joy.
 
Whatever the stumps in our lives look like, I want you to know that Christmas is all about Jesus coming into the world to bring shoots out of our stumps. When all we see are stumps, look to Jesus who loves us enough to come into the world to give us new life.
 
Are you stumped? Don’t worry, Jesus has a shoot springing up for you this Christmas. I promise!