The Innkeepers Tale

This post was my Christmas Eve sermon from 2012. I really enjoyed writing it and have written something similar for tonight, The Wise Man’s Tale. If you are in the HRM and are considering taking in a Christmas Eve service I think we have a lovely one starting at 7pm lasting about 45 minutes. We’re at 1240 Old Sackville Rd Middle Sackville NS.

Tonight I would like to tell you a story. It is a story of a man that we don’t know much about, but one who is very familiar to us. He is the inn keeper of Bethlehem. We know him as the man shouting, ‘there is no room in the inn. But tonight I think we ought to try to get to know him a little better. So let’s get to know Larry the innkeeper.

Larry the innkeeper was a fixture in the small town of Bethlehem. His inn was the most popular inn in the entire town. That fact should be in no way cheapened with the knowledge that it was the only inn in the town. Larry took pride in what he did and he wanted to make sure that you enjoyed your Bethlehem visit.

Bethlehem was not what you would call a thriving metropolis. It was what it always had been a shepherd town. But the town does have two things going for it. First it is rather near Jerusalem. Being only 8 or so kilometers away Larry enjoys some business from pilgrims heading to and from Jerusalem. And second Bethlehem was the town that King David grew up in.
Oh sure David came and went well over 700 years ago but he was still a source of local pride. Larry was known for keeping a few David slingshots, small plush lamb dolls, and toy harps in stock to sell to families taking the ‘David tour.’ In fact if you asked, Larry could take you to the very hill that David once as a small boy fought off both a lion and bear.

Once a year a few locals would even act out the boyhood adventures of David, Larry loved that day. One person would dress as up as a lion roaring and growling trying to attack another person dressed up as a lamb. The height of the day is when Larry puts one of his custom made slingshots into the hands of a young boy that gets to defeat the lion and save the day.

Kids Christmas 1

Simeon and Ariella at the 2012 kids Christmas concert. They have gotten so big in a year.

 

Yes the town of David was a point of pride for Larry and all of those who lived in Bethlehem. Until Rome decided the tax they were collecting was a little lacking. Caesar Augustus issued an edict; everyone had to return to their ancestral home to be counted. Now David was known for many things. His defeat of Goliath, his capture of Jerusalem, on and on we could go.
But one of the other things David is known for a fact that tends not to come up on ‘the David tour’ is he had a bit of an eye for the ladies. David had 8 wives and at least 10 concubines which is surely nothing to sneeze at. But Solomon, one of David’s sons took marriage to a whole new level. He had over 300 wives and 700 concubines. Now a lot could be said about this, but one thing is for sure having that many wives meant there were an awful lot of people who could honestly track their family history to Bethlehem.

At first Larry was excited about this edict. Lots of people coming to Bethlehem meant his inn would be full, his dinner would be busy, and oh the slingshots, plush lambs, and toy harps he could sell. This would be a great boon for the little town of Bethlehem.

Soon after the edict was issued Bethlehem was overflowing with people. The number of guests outnumbered the people who really were from Bethlehem. Larry like the rest of the town tried to be a kind and welcoming. Soon the inn was full, and then every house was filled with guests.

Even though the town was full, the people still keep coming. Some of them slept in tents just outside the town, and those that didn’t have tents well they slept in the open air.

Kids Christmas 2

 

This was not the Bethlehem experience that Larry was used to offering. Oh sure his rooms were full, his dinner packed but no one would honestly say they were enjoying their stay. And neither was Larry, he was just so busy. When he wasn’t cooking, cleaning, or collecting payment for his services he was turning people away. Poor Larry never liked the sound of the words, no room at the inn, and he was caring less and less for the harsh tone he began to take every time he said it.
Then it happened, in the middle of the night. Just after Larry had finally managed to get enough done that he felt he could risk a few hours of rest a frantic knock came on the door. Normally Larry would leap out of bed ready to welcome and assist someone even if they arrived in the middle of the night. But tonight, what could he do for anyone tonight. He was tired, soar, and he just wanted to stay in bed. For the first time since he started to run the inn he found himself shouting out the window from his bed, ‘THERE IS NO ROOM IN THE INN!’

But the desperate knocking wouldn’t stop. A man’s voice shouted back; ‘please sir don`t you have any space? We have traveled so far and my wife she is having a baby’. Larry’s good nature out weighted his exhaustion just enough to get him out of bed, and take him down the stairs. When he opened the door, the man standing their staring back at him looked even more tired than he did, and that poor woman, she looked about 10 months pregnant.

Larry didn’t know what to do, he had no rooms, no beds, no blankets, and even his sofa was full! But they couldn’t stay out under the stars. So he offered the family the last space he had, the stable for his animals. He took the family there and gave them some food to eat and went back to bed feeling a little better that he had helped. He even found himself whispering a small prayer for the couple. A barn is no place for a baby to be born. And worse a father being there, and helping during the delivery now that was laughable.

When Larry got back into bed he found it difficult to sleep. The stars seemed so bright, the shepherd’s outside of town sounded like they were having a party with all the singing he could hear and worse still it seemed like that the family had guests coming and going all night.

When he first got out of bed he thought ‘I should check on them, when things slow down a bit’ But the sun rose and the sun set and Larry crawled back into bed forgetting about the couple in the stable. It was a busy time of the year after all, who really has time to stop and slow down to think about a family staying in a stable.

Christmas time is without a doubt a busy time. We all have so much cooking, cleaning, shopping, and wrapping to do. In the mists of that most of us even find some time and energy to do a few good deeds, to help out those in need and to whisper a pray or two. But tonight is almost over, and tomorrow will be a frantic day filled with food, merriment, and cheer that again will end oh so quickly. Everyone here tonight in the midst of their business has found some room for Mary, Joseph and of course Jesus. The question we have to ask is, can I find more or will this time simply pass by in a rush of activity?

Kids Christmas 3

My little angel

No Grumbling Allowed

At Sackville United Baptist Church we have been working through Paul’s letter to the Philippians each Sunday morning for the past few weeks. Yesterday we took time to reflection on this little gem,

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure

I like that the word used here is grumbling instead of complaining. Most people I know don’t want to be known as a complainer, but I have never heard anyone worry about being a grumblier. There is a big difference between grumbling and complaining.

Grumbling happens when two or more people get together and talk about all of the things they are making them unhappy. However none of the people involved in the conversation are directly related to the problems being discussed. This means nothing can happen. The problem is not brought to light, and there is no way for the issue to be addressed or corrected.

Complaining on the other hand is also between two or more people but the people involved in the conversation are directly related to the problem at hand. Someone is unhappy with something and they are taking their concern to the person they are unhappy with, with the hope that their concerns can be fixed.

I think in a lot of ways complaining gets a bad reputation. I have no qualms complaining when I feel that something has gone wrong.

For example about a year ago Meghan and I compared cell phone bills and I realized I was paying about $25 a month more than she was and I was getting less service. In fact I quickly added it up and realized if I were to pay for everything she was getting I would be paying about $70 a month compared to her $30 a month. This made me unhappy so I called my cell phone provider and complained. I explained to them that if I canceled today and started with this other company even if I paid their contract cancellation fee I would save enough money each month that after 6 months that I would be even. They saw it my way and surprise, surprise they were in fact able to find a number of cost saving solutions to retain my ‘valued business’.

When a person feels something is not going right they can either voice their concerns to the people involved (complaining), or they can voice their concerns with people who are not involved (grumbling). Grumbling is toxic to the church.

Grumbling is toxic because it is hidden. People grumble off the grid because they don’t want to be seen as complaining. This means their concern cannot be addressed because the right people don’t know there is a problem.

Grumbling is toxic because it is contagious. When people get together to grumble they will slowly draw in their entire circle of influence into their grumbling. What may have begun as a relatively small problem that could have been easily addressed with a conversation has become a major issue affecting many in the congregation.

Grumbling is toxic because it intensifies issues. The more people grumble the more serious the problem seems and the more they wonder why the leadership of the church isn’t doing something about it. The truth is no action is being taken because no one has yet voiced their concerns outside of their grumble circle.  When the concern is finally voiced often people are doing so with their preverbal torches and pitchforks in hand.

Don’t worry about being a complainer. Worry about being a grumbler. Complaints can be met, addressed and hopefully fixed. Grumbling just damages the church. You could even say that when you grumble you can make the church crumble. But you probably don’t want to say that around people, it is a pretty lame joke.

Mr-Grumble_01

Did you know there is a Mr Men for Grumbling!? I didn’t until today!

***This blog is based on the sermon I gave on Sunday November 3rd. You can listen to the full sermon here***

Blessings Are For More Than Sneezes

There is one great question that I think we have all wondered at one time or another, ‘why do we say “bless you” when a person sneezes?’ Think about it for a moment we don’t wish a person a blessing when they cough, sniffle, crying, burp or pass gas. Why has sneezing become such an honoured or feared bodily function? 

I suspect we have all heard some of the explanations for why we have to bless sneezers. Some say it is because we once believed a sneeze temporality stopped your heart. Others may have heard the notion that people once believed that when we sneezed our soul tried to escape our body, or worse still an evil spirit was trying to get it.

There is one report that I read that said that Pope Gregory the Great instituted this practise during the height of the black plague. Sneezing was an early symptom on one strain of the illness and it was thought a little extra divine help would be welcome.

Picture taken from http://what-if.xkcd.com/. This is a very funny comic, you should read it

Picture taken from http://what-if.xkcd.com/. This is a very funny comic, you should read it

The truth is no one is really sure how or why this practise started. It seems to date back as far at 77 AD, and many different cultures have adopted a similar practise. Maybe we just like to pass along a blessing from time to time.

Psalm 67 is all about passing along blessings to individuals and to the nation as a whole. This Psalm is David’s poetic rewriting of the Hebrew benediction. The Hebrew benediction is what God instructed Aaron and Moses to learn and to teach all of the Hebrews. That thought is pretty impressive. God took time to stop and make sure that we all knew how to wish God’s blessing and presence in each of our lives.

This is a practise we have to make sure we never stop doing. While I think we are all mindful to pray for people when they are in some sort of trouble or crisis, how often do we pause and offer a blessing on to each other. How often do we stop and ask God to not just get us out of a rough spot but to enrich the lives of others greatly with his presence.

Listen to some of the things that David says;

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us…. SO that your ways may be known on earth your salvation among all nations

May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.

Do you hear that David is telling the Israelites with this song? He is saying he wants all people to see the blessings of God with the hope that all people will in turn praise God.

This is something that needs to be our hope, and our goal as well. We need to live out our faith out in the open so all people can see the activity of God in our lives.

The temptation that we always face is to live out our faith in virtual secrete. This is compounded by the fact that the message of our culture is that faith fine but it ought to be kept at home. When these two things collide what we get is a faith that is hidden from sight. We lose the opportunity to invite others to witness the things God has been doing in our lives so they can praise him as well.

We must make sure our goal is to been seen as a presence that brings blessing and goodwill all over the community.One question a mentor of mine always challenged us to think about is this, ‘If this church suddenly disappeared would anyone notice? And those who did notice, would it be anything other than a minor inconvenience?”  The church ought to be a welcomed blessing in whatever community it is in. If it is not, we are not doing it right. Period.

May God bless you, even when you didn’t just sneeze.