Rev. Jeff Mansfield

The Blessings of Old Souls

The Temple was a place you could put your faith in.

Imagine it, Beloved. Approaching Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph and the baby, it’s the Temple that you can see from miles off; it’s the Temple that makes up the whole of the great city’s skyline. Within Jerusalem’s walls, in every quarter of the city, your eye is drawn up to the Temple’s immensity. Standing at its base, the great staircases climb and twist up three stories before arriving at the height of the lowest courtyards.

Cunningly carved out of natural features that were extensively reinforced and expanded upon over centuries, the Temple mount seems to be the great foundation of the world thrust up, the navel of civilization bulging out toward heaven. At its base there are carved stones—some 26 feet in length and weighing up to 400 tons, megaliths so large that modern engineers have lost the arts that could have moved them, let alone place and stack them with such exacting precision.

Good News to the Poor

When it comes to the poor and poverty, from one perspective, there is a LOT of good news over the last few centuries. In 1820 the world population was just under 1.1 billion people. And just over a billion of them lived in extreme poverty. That’s incredible, isn’t is? In 1970 we had a population just over 3.5 billion and almost 2.25 billion were living in poverty. Still bad. But by 1990 there were fewer people in the world living in extreme poverty than people not living in extreme poverty. And today, with a population over 7 billion, only about 700 million people are living in extreme poverty.

While there is remarkable good news here, there are three things to consider. First, extreme poverty is currently defined as people living on less than $1.90 a day. So, while there’s less extreme poverty than ever before, there’s still huge numbers of people who are very poor in the world—living on 2 or 10 dollars a day or on 2 or 10 dollars an hour. And right here in the United States there are an estimated 40 million people living in poverty and millions more one missed paycheck or hospital stay away from financial ruin.

Get in Line

In Luke’s gospel there’s none of that stuff about John the Baptist wearing camel’s hair, or breaking into beehives for his breakfast, or eating locusts for lunch. That’s not Luke’s style. For Luke, John the Baptist isn’t some bugged-out cartoonish hermit. He’s no joke, and his message is deadly serious. Luke says that John’s message was simple: Get yourselves right with God by being immersed in the Jordan for the forgiveness of your sins.

And when the crowds of sinners, tax collectors, and Roman soldiers showed up seeking forgiveness, John wasn’t easy on them. He called them a brood of vipers. He told them that God didn’t need them, that God could raise up new children from stones. He told them that the tree that bears no fruit is cut down and used to feed the fire. He said there is wheat and there is chaff and wheat goes to the barn and chaff goes to the flames. And he demanded that they change their ways: you must care for those in need, you must stop all abuses of your power.

Overwhelmed with Joy

Overwhelmed with joy! Will you say that with me? Overwhelmed with joy! Our scripture reading this evening says that the Magi were what? They were “overwhelmed with joy” when they saw that the star had stopped over the place where the child was. I love that turn of phrase, “overwhelmed with joy.”

I love maybe even more the more literal translation of the King James Bible. It says, “They rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Say that with me – they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. It feels good just to say it, right? Joy in the mouth.

Slightly different emphases in those two translations. “Overwhelmed with joy” sounds like a flood of joy has risen up around you and swept you away. You were taken captive. You lost control. Joy is active, we are rushing down its river. “Rejoiced with exceeding great joy” puts us back in control. We decide that we’re going to glow in the dark, and our light will be joy. We sing, we shout, we high five, we unlock the bands around our hearts and let them free, let then rum around in the yard and jump up on the company. It’s a party and we’re letting joy hang loose.

Little Tiny Baby Meet Great Big World

When I was about twelve years old, my family took a vacation to Canada.  We were going to Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia or somewhere and the way we got there was by taking a long ferry ride on a BIG boat that we drove our car onto.  It was a stormy day and the seas were rough and everyone on the big boat was feeling a little grey and lackluster.  I don’t really understand how this worked, but somehow once this ferry was far enough out in the water, it also transformed into a casino.  So, let’s recap: long trip, big boat, adults distracted by seasickness, 12-year-old boy, casino.    

Apparently, back then for some reason 12-year-olds weren’t allowed to gamble with adults.  And a staff member directed me to the kids’ gambling section filled with a bunch of no-guts, no-glory slot machines deemed harmless enough for children.  No thanks.  As of that moment, the only gamble that interested me was the one where I snuck into the real casino and pulled the arm of a real slot machine.  In a crowded commotion of queasy adults, I snuck past the guards and into a dark, smoky corner of slot-machine heaven – where no one would ever find me.