Pregnant on Christmas…

A pregnant girl is the focus of our preparations for Christmas. If not for Mary, there’d be no Child born unto us. Despite being an unwed teen mother, Mary comes to rejoice at her situation. And so, we give thanks that she was chosen to be made pregnant with the Lord, for our salvation.

We All Should Be Pregnant

We should all give birth to the Word of God. We should all be inspired by Mary to be impregnated during this season. Are you with child? Do you even want to be?

In this week’s message, I invite you to give birth to the Word and explain how that can be done. How would you respond to that challenge?

Tupac Said It: Keep Ya Head Up

We always talk about the cycle of violence. You know, that global cycle of violence that is played out in the ‘hood and favela, the shanty town and the slum, at home and abroad. It results in war and rumors of war…global wars and domestic wars. 

With all the advances in technology, the only solution the powers that be can provide is more war. We have wars on terror and wars on crime…wars on drugs and wars on illegal immigration…we have wars on disease and wars on poverty. Yet, they all still persist.

It seems we have wars for the sake of having war. And every year the budget increases to provide more R&D to invent the next big killing device that will solve all of our problems. But the problems remain, and it’s like Tupac said: “they got money for wars but can’t feed the poor.”

Tupac Keep Ya Head UpIn his 1993 hit single, “Keep Ya Head Up,” Tupac encourages the oppressed and those who suffer violence to be hopeful despite hopeless times. What could be more appropriate in these hopeless times?

But why are the times hopeless?

Surely it isn’t because our Great Society is broke. Again, Tupac reminds us: “they got money for wars but can’t feed the poor.” And it’s true. We now have bombs that can strike thousands of miles away from the comfort of our own homes. Kids train for this new age warfare simply by playing “Call of Duty” type video games. Yet, we cannot train kids to take care of themselves and their family?

Before Tupac, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it. At the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice, Dr. King said that the Civil Rights Movement had come to DC to “dramatize a shameful condition,” and “cash a check” because although America had defaulted on its promissory note owed to the poor, he refused to believe that the bank of justice in the world’s leading nation could be bankrupt.

They got money for wars but can’t feed the poor?! Do you believe it?

Can’t be…impossible to believe. The only thing to believe is that if the powers that be wanted peace, there would be peace. So when the wise Tupac said to “keep ya head up,” he was indeed giving the right counsel.

Our help isn’t going to come from Left v. Right politics. The solution isn’t going to be found in the public or private sector. No government nor any corporation will establish the reign of peace and plenty. Only the true King of Peace can do that.

The wise leaders of the world recognized this King of Peace ages ago when they followed the star to where Jesus lay. African, Caucasian, and Asian: each of the world’s three peoples, descendant of Ham, Shem and Japheth, came to recognize this Child as the King who could bring them and their people lasting peace.

I mean, think about it: each of these three kings already had thriving kingdoms. What more could they need? They brought gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh – each of value in their own homeland. It would have required a great deal of money to travel. I mean, try to plan a trip across the country for just a weekend, at a moment’s notice – because a star appeared in the sky! Only the 1% among us can pull that off! Yet, they had enough wealth to complete the journey from their respective homelands to Bethlehem. And, their kingdoms were so well established that they could leave their subjects, so they could travel, and were able to return to a kingdom still standing! Think of leaving your children him for just a few hours…let alone an entire kingdom!

Tupac could have said the same to them: they had money for wars and all sorts of things, but lacked the power to free their people from oppression and violence. Yet, these three kings were indeed three wise men. They recognized their weakness, and came to bow down before the true King of Peace.

And, that’s why you can keep ya head up! Tupac had the right idea. Keep ya head up and look to the hills from where your help comes. Keep ya head up and look to the Lord, who alone is able to save, redeem and preserve.

I want to show you the lesson we learn from king Solomon, as outlined by the prayer of his father king David. So, I offer this sermon: “The King of Peace is Our Only Hope.”

New Years Eve 2013: From Resolution to Apathy

New Years Eve Resolution of FaithIt is that time again, folks! New Years is upon us. It’s time to make resolutions that will be broken in a few days, weeks or months.

I know: kind of cynical eh? But you know it’s true. Think about all the resolutions you’ve made over the years…all the habits you would break…all the new habits you would build.

Most of these New Years resolutions revolve around healthy lifestyle changes. Such changes are great, on their face. We should always strive to improve ourselves. Every gym looks forward to this time of year because people with the best intentions sign up for memberships that ultimately get little to no use. But, for some reason these new habits rarely stick and before you know it…we’re right back where we started. And this time with more junk, cluttering up our homes.

We make promises to friends that we’ll do better at keeping in touch. We begin with the best intentions. We might see an increase in communications for a while. Maybe a few more text messages. Maybe a few extra phone calls. Who knows…maybe even a few visits. Yet, even that fades and soon your distant relationships have settled into their usual patterns of indifference and neglect.

Maybe we want to improve our outlook in life? So, many of us make New Years resolutions declaring that in the coming year we will have a change in attitude. We’ll be more patient with family, friends and coworkers. We’ll be less occupied with our work and more concerned with our family relationships and personal wellbeing. We’ll be rid of road rage (if only…right!). But here too, the best laid plans of mice and men always seem to fall short. Before you know it, you’re right back into your typical cycle of unnecessarily long hours at the office and risking strain in the relationships of those you love.

With New Years Eve fast approaching, many of us will consider where we fell short in 2013 and what we wish to accomplish in 2014. But how do we keep from falling victim to that movement from New Years resolution to New Years apathy?

That New Years movement from resolution to apathy is not confined to our physical, emotional and relational conditions. It applies to our spiritual relationship as well. It plays out in our faith.

We’ll say that for New Years we will do better in our spiritual life. That we’ll pray more…that we’ll go to church more. Hopefully…we’ll say that our faith will mean more. Hopefully we’ll take stop of our spiritual life and see the areas in which we’ve come up short and superficial. Hopefully this New Years we’ll be able to cultivate a depth of faith worthy of the Gift given to us by God.

I mean, we have just come from celebrating the Incarnation of the Word of God…Christmas…when God the Word became flesh for our salvation. The celebration is meaningful for a little while, but there’s a reason we must continue to celebrate Christmas after Christmas…without end.

Before long, we will come down from our spiritual high. Before long we will return to our complacent, indifferent and apathetic faith.

So what will it take for this New Years to be different? What will it take for our faith and our praise to be deeper than superficial in this New Years? How will our praise be made pleasing to God?

That is the exploration of this sermon, and I appreciate your thoughts…

Gift Returns: I Don’t Want this Jesus

My son made a comment to one of his grandparents: “if I get another gift, I won’t fit in my room!” And the idiot dad that I am said: “Oh yea! Well, I can take them all back!” LOL

Now that we’ve had a chance to open all of our presents and spend some time with them: it’s time to make some decisions. Which ones will go and which will stay.

Gift returns: it’s the American way!

We look at our gifts – even the gifts we asked for – and learn they aren’t quite what we like or wanted. Those clothes don’t fit right. That perfume doesn’t smell right. Her album ain’t as hot as you thought.

Sometimes we know right away: the minute you open a gift you make that stink-face! Sometimes it takes a few days: the gift seems cool at first, but it soon loses your interest. In either case, there’s a way out…gift returns!

Gift returns are such a part of our culture that most gifts come with a gift receipt. And, the ones that don’t can still be returned – even if to the wrong store. No matter how great the gift, if it doesn’t conform to your liking, a gift return is in order.

Gift Return of Ricky BobbyYet the greatest gift ever given, was given to us by God over 2000 years ago. The Word of God became man in order to save us from our sins and teach us to save ourselves from judgment. And like Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights, we all like the baby version best and love to think of an “Eight Pound, Six Ounce, Newborn Baby Jesus, in…golden, fleece diapers, with…curled-up, fat, balled-up little fists pawin’ at the air…”

When Baby Jesus becomes an adult, telling us how to live – we don’t like Him so much anymore. We don’t want Him telling us to give up our sinful ways. We don’t want Him telling us to give to the poor. We don’t want Him telling us to repent now because there’s no repentance at the Second Coming.

We gotta get rid of that Jesus! There’s always gift returns! So, we take that Greatest Gift ever given back to the store…hoping for a less radical “savior”…one who’ll allow us to continue being who we’ve always been.

Yet, the True Light has come to show us the Way! And the Way is full of awesome wonder! It might be uncomfortable at first, but begins to fit like a glove if you keep it on.

So don’t use gift returns to get rid of the True Jesus! This Christmas, let us endeavor to keep the Word of God as He is given…not as we want Him to be. Look at Who He Is, according to Scripture…then it’ll become clear. I’ve outlined a few things from Scripture that I’d like you to pay attention to. So, grab your pens, pencils, paper and Bibles and let’s get to it!

Cry Out in the Wilderness

A sermon from the Second Sunday of Advent, in preparation for the Incarnation, the text is taken from the Gospel of Luke 3:1-6.  In this sermon, Fr. Ballentine encourages the faithful at St. Thomas Episcopal in Coral Gables, to be odd – as John the Baptist was odd and to Cry Out! in the wilderness around us…proclaiming the Glory of the Incarnate Lord!