The First Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 10, 2019

March 10, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus knew who he was.

Since last Advent, when we began hearing gospel readings from Luke each Sunday, we have heard stories that clearly indicate, not only that Jesus knew who he was, but others knew.

John the Baptist recognized the presence of Jesus while they were both still in utero. A pregnant Mary had gone to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was also pregnant. When Elizabeth hear Mary’s greeting the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy… (Luke 1:42-44).

The night Jesus was born, angels appeared in the sky singing glory to God. The angels told shepherds that the Messiah was about to be born. The shepherds went to Bethlehem to see the baby, believing everything the angels told them about him (Luke 2:8-18).

The prophet Simeon and the prophet Anna, both people who had each been promised they would not die before seeing the Messiah, met Jesus as an infant when he was brought to the Temple to be purified. Each of them knew, as soon as they saw him, who he was (Luke 2:22-38).

Remember the story of Jesus when he was twelve years old? He traveled to Jerusalem with his family to celebrate the Passover. After the celebration they traveled home, only to discover Jesus was nowhere to be found. Returning to Jerusalem they found him in the Temple studying with the elders. When his mother told him how worried she was he replied “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:41-50).

When Jesus, as a young man, was baptized God spoke to him saying “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased (Luke 3:21-22).

Jesus knew who he was.

Others knew who he was. Which makes today’s gospel reading all the more interesting.

What did the devil say to Jesus? He said “If…”

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread” (Luke 4:3).

“If you, then, will worship me [all of this] will be yours” (Luke 4:7).

If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here…” (Luke 4:9).

If…

Jesus knew who he was. Others knew who he was; which means the devil’s words weren’t about the “if” they are about the “if then…”

If this is true then you have the power to do this.

If this is true then you have the power to do that.

I’m going to be bold here and flout, not only tradition, but the way the story is told in the gospels themselves…

Luke wrote, and tradition embraces that the devil was tempting Jesus. I don’t believe that is what was happening.

I believe the devil was trying to distract Jesus. I believe the devil was trying to distract Jesus from fulfilling his Call as the Son of God. And Jesus was not about to be distracted.

Jesus was not going to let his own hunger distract him. Jesus was not going to let his power distract him. Jesus was not going to let his abilities distract him from what God had called him to do.

What is most curious is how Jesus responded to the devil’s attempts at distracting him. He turned to scripture. Each and every response he gave to the devil began with the words “It is written…”

“It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone’” (Luke 4:4).

It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’” (Luke 4:8).

“It is written, ‘[God] will command [God’s] angels concerning you, to protect you…’” (Luke 4:10).

And then Jesus said “It is said…”

“It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Luke 4:12).

Like Jesus, we know who we are. At least, I hope we do.

We are God’s children. We are baptized children of God. We belong to God.

As God’s children, like Jesus, we are called to be faithful to all that God desires of us. We are called to be faithful to all that God desires from us.

Which means, we can’t allow ourselves to be distracted.

Each of us knows best what distracts us from our calls.

The blessing of today’s gospel reading is that it gives us an example of how to defeat those distractions.

Scripture.

Defeat the devil’s distractions with scripture. Try it out with today’s psalm. If Jeanne were preaching she’d probably call it the “You who” psalm.

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty—
2you will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my stronghold,
my God in whom I put my trust.

Whatever is distracting you, say to that distraction: My refuge is God. God is my stronghold. I put my trust in God. Say those words and believe them. Trust them. Find strength in them. Lean on them.

And then hopefully, as promised, the devil will depart from you.

Amen.

Ash Wednesday – March 6, 2019

March 6, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
(Psalm 51: 1,2)

This is our prayer.
Have mercy, God. Wash me. Cleanse me.
Our prayer is personal, more personal than any prayer we might pray.
God, have mercy. Wash me. Cleanse me.
We are asking God for mercy. We are asking God to wash us, thoroughly, to cleanse us from our sin.
This is our prayer.

We alone know our sins. There may be sins we have committed, each of us personally, that it seems the whole world knows and names. They shame us, we think.
Some of our sins may be known more by others than others. Some of our sins are unknown, even to us.
We each carry the shame of our sins—those most private, those most public, those that most haunt us.
We sin.

In verse 5 of Psalm 51 the psalmist writes: Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” Tradition calls this belief “original sin.” Original sin is the understanding that, as humans, we are born with the desire to turn away from God rather than turning toward. Tradition tells us this desire is inevitable.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you remember something you have done, something you wish you had never done, something you feel ashamed of? All of a sudden your memory pops into your head unexpectedly, making you wince?
We all have those memories.
We all have those regrets.
Those are the times we are called to pray, again and again: God have mercy. Wash me. Cleanse me.

A scholar named A. Whitney Brown once said “Any good history book is mainly just a long list of mistakes, complete with names and dates. It’s very embarrassing” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 4, p. 887-888). The bibles is not much different.

When I taught Intro to World Religions one section of the class was on Judaism. Each semester, during that section, I drew a timeline on the board illustrating the history of God’s relationship with the Israelites. It is a history fraught with brokenness and repair. God tried to work through Isaiah. God tried to work through Moses. God gave the Israelites the ten commandments to govern their behavior. God gave the Israelites kings to rule them and prophets to teach them. Nothing ever seemed to work. With every attempt to make relationships right, there was a consequent failure.
And so the Hebrew people long for the Messiah.

We, as Christians, believe the Messiah has come. The Israelites history of failure is our own. And yet—we believe the Messiah has come ending our failure in relationship with God. Yet, what have we done? What is our New Testament and New Times history?

According to the Gospel of Mark, the disciples failed to understand who Jesus truly was.
According to the letters of Paul, early congregations struggled with disorder and gossip. They were conflicted. They were chastised and offered guidance back into right relationship.
The early Church experienced holy wars, the crusades, the great schism dividing the Church into East and West…
Churches now argue about doctrine and inclusion, theology and practice.
And so we pray, generation after generation: God have mercy. Wash us. Cleanse us.

Today we make public confession of our sins.
Today, our confession is heard by equally public words of forgiveness and love.
Our sins ARE forgiven.
We HAVE been shown mercy.
We HAVE been washed and cleansed; we are free from our sins.

Knowing and believing we have been forgiven our sins, we are called to

  1. Forgive those who sin against us;
  2. Open our clean hearts that God’s love might shine brightly for the world to see.

Amen and Amen.

Transfiguration – Sunday, March 3, 2019

March 3, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Exodus 34:29-35 Luke 9:28-36

On a mountaintop, Moses spoke with God. Moses was there, with God, for days. God gave him the law, etched onto two stone tablets. Moses left the mountain, descending to the place where the Hebrew people were encamped. As scripture tells us, Moses “did not know that the skin of his face was shining” (Ex. 34:30).

Moses’ face shone because he had been in the presence of God on the mountaintop. Moses’ face shone because he had seen God. Moses’ face shone because he had talked to God.

In the same way, when Jesus was transformed on a mountaintop, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29). Jesus stood on the mountaintop; Moses and Elijah spoke to him. Jesus and Moses and Elijah appeared “in glory” (Luke 9:31). Peter and John and James saw them.

When the Israelites saw Moses’ face shine brightly they were afraid (Ex. 34:30). When Peter saw Jesus and Moses and Elijah in glory, he was confused (Luke 9:33). Peter’s confusion might have been because he was almost asleep and was wakened by the prophets. The Israelites fear was for other reasons.

The Israelites had never known someone who had seen God. Some, living in the time of Moses, believed no one could see God and live to tell others what they had seen (T. Denise Anderson “Reflections on the Lectionary March 3” Christian Century January 30, 2019 p. 19). Another option for their fear, according to one scholar, was that the Hebrew word being translated as “glory” could also be translated as “horn” (“Exodus 34:29-35 in The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 1, p. 953). Hence the cover of our bulletin is an image of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses—with horns.

There are scholars who compromise on the meaning of the word, saying a “horn” of light shone from Moses’ head (TNIB, p. 953). Perhaps it looked like a modern-day headlamp. Either way—Moses frightened the Israelites.

Unlike the Hebrew people, when Peter saw Jesus transformed Peter wasn’t afraid, as I said before he was confused. He was wakened from being almost asleep.

Imagine going on a camping trip, almost falling asleep and then glancing over to see one of your companions standing with strangers, all of them shining like they are glowing in the dark! Imagine you recognize those strangers as prophets. Imagine you know the moment is monumental and your cellphone has lost its charge! You can’t take photos! What are you going to do?

Peter wanted to build booths, like monuments to the moment. But, even as he suggested the possibility a cloud came over them all and he heard a voice say “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35).

Jesus was transformed.

Everything pivoted (TNIB vol. 1, p. 955).

For generation after generation after generation of Israelites, the prophets were the intermediators—God spoke to the prophets, then the prophets spoke to God’s people.

Now, in an instant, on a mountaintop, the prophets spoke to Jesus. They were all transformed.

And God named Jesus for who and what he was: God’s Son.
Listen to him!

What is so interesting to me about this story is that, after seeing Jesus stand with Moses and Elijah, after seeing Jesus transformed, and after hearing God speak: Peter and John and James “kept silent.” They “told no one” (Luke 9: 36). Well, at some point somebody told Luke because he wrote the story down in his gospel, about 60-80 years after Jesus died.
But why keep silent?

Maybe they kept silent because the whole experience was just too weird. Maybe they kept silent because they didn’t believe anyone would ever believe them. Maybe they kept silent because they didn’t really understand what happened when it happened.

One scholar suggests the disciples didn’t understand the importance of the transfiguration until after Jesus died, resurrected, and then ascended into heaven (TNIB vol. 9 p. 207). Then, finally, the disciples knew and believed who Jesus was: the Son of God.

We know who Jesus was.
We know who Jesus is.
We know Jesus had and has the power to transform our lives.

Which is where our reading from 2 Corinthians comes in.
St. Paul wrote:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom…
And all of us… are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another… (3:17-18).
For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (4:6).

May we know the freedom, may we claim the freedom, may we live the freedom we receive because we have seen the glory of Jesus Christ.
May we let Christ’s light live in and through us, always.
Amen.

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, February 24, 2019

February 24, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 6:27-38

This week’s gospel reading is a continuation of Luke’s version of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Last week we heard the first part of the sermon: his list of blessings and woes. This week we hear an even more difficult challenge. Jesus said:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. (Luke 6:27b-30).

I could try to soften the severity of what Jesus said, but I would be doing a disservice to Jesus and everything he stood for. He was being literal when he said “Love your enemies.” He was not kidding around when he said “do good to those who hate you.” Jesus meant every word of this message we receive.
Now—our task is to figure out how to follow his commands.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in his sermon “Loving Your Enemies” “modern [humanity] is traveling along a road called hate, in a journey that will bring us to destruction and damnation… the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival” (Strength to Love, p. 41).

He also wrote “I am certain that Jesus understood the difficulty inherent in the act of loving one’s enemy. He never joined the ranks of those who talk glibly about the easiness of the moral life. He realized that every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God” (Strength to Love, p. 42).

To love one’s enemies we must first surrender ourselves to God.
To “do good” to those who hate us means we must first surrender ourselves to God. To bless those who curse us and pray for those who abuse us we must first surrender ourselves to God—a total surrender.
We can do none of these without having confidence that God will love others in and through us.

In his sermon, Dr. King said “…we love [people] not because we like them, nor because their ways appeal to us, nor even because they possess some type of divine spark; we love every [person] because God loves [them]. At this level, we love the person who does an evil deed, although we hate the deed that [the person] does” (Strength to Love, p. 44).

Dr. King also said “We should be happy [Jesus] did not say, ‘Like your enemies.’ It is almost impossible to like some people… Jesus recognized that love is greater than like” (Strength to Love, p. 44).

Do not misunderstand the words of Jesus. Jesus is not telling a victim of abuse to stay in her home, allowing the abuse to continue. Jesus is not telling victims of oppression to “just live with” the oppression they experience.

Jeanne and I have two dogs: Mama and Scooter. Mama is, literally Scooter’s mother. We rescued them both when Scooter was a baby.

Mama has an interesting habit of playing dead. When she wants something she can’t have and we say no to her, she lays down, rolls over and plays dead. If she wants attention and she doesn’t get it, she lays down, rolls over and plays dead.

Don’t misunderstand what Jesus is telling us this morning. Jesus is not telling us that, when someone “strikes us on the cheek” or “takes our coat” that we should lie down, roll over and play dead. What has been done to us is awful. What has been done to us ought never be done again. As Dr. King said “we hate the deed the person does.” We must do what we can to see it is never done again. We report crimes, We report misdeeds. We name injustices.

We ARE challenged to love the person who committed the offense. We are challenged to pray for the person who hurt us.
Why?
Dr. King answers the question best: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (Strength to Love p. 45).

“Love is the most durable power in the world” (Strength to Love p. 49).

Love can be strident. Love can demand change. Love can name sin. Love can report abuse and theft. Love can say no to evil when evil is seen or heard or experienced. What love cannot do is hate the person who commits the sin.

A final thought from Dr. King. He said “We must love our enemies, because only by loving them can we know God and experience the beauty of [God’s] holiness” (Strength to Love , p. 47).

May God help us, always, “do to others as we would have them do to us” (Luke 6:31).

Amen.

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, February 17, 2019

February 17, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 6:17-26

There is a message in the gospel of Luke that cannot be avoided.
Luke flipped things around, defying societal expectations.
Society might expect the rich to be blessed, because of their riches.
Society might expect those who are full to consider themselves blest, because their stomachs are not empty, they have walked away satisfied.
Society might expect those who are laughing to consider their laughter a blessing. Laughter exhibits joy. Joy is good.
Society might expect those who are spoken well of to be proud of themselves. Clearly, others respect them.

Flipping all of those expectations, Luke wrote that Jesus told his listeners woe to the rich, Jesus said woe to the full, Jesus said woe to the laughing people, Jesus said woe to those who were spoken well of… words that were and are completely unexpected.
According to Luke Jesus said it was the hungry who were blessed; According to Luke Jesus said it was those crying who would laugh.
According to Luke Jesus said people who were hated, people who were reviled, people who were excluded, people who were defamed (all in Jesus’ name) would be blessed.

Blessed, in this sense, is best understood as “oh, how fortunate for them” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 143).
According to Luke Jesus said those who suffered, for a variety of reasons, would experience God’s good fortune.

None of this makes sense.
Until we understand Luke’s point.

Luke’s point was that God’s reign is different than the reign of any other sovereign ruler. God, as ruler of the world, demands justice. God, as ruler of the world, demands peace. God, as ruler of the world, demands that there be no more oppression, that there be no more hunger, God demands that there be no more suffering.

According to Luke, as Jesus ushered in the reign of God Jesus brought blessing to those who suffered.
Jesus’ presence was their good fortune.

Jesus’ presence IS their good fortune.
Jesus continues to call us to witness to his love in the world, declaring good fortune to those who suffer.
Knowing we are loved by Jesus it follows, if we love Jesus we will love the world, in particular serving those who suffer. And our service will bring good fortune to them.

St. Clare of Assisi was a bold woman who wrote “We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God’s compassionate love for others.” (“Clare of Assisi” at AZQuotes.com).

If we are rich, becoming vessels of God’s compassionate love means we share our wealth. If our stomachs are full, becoming vessels of God’s compassionate love means we share our food. If we are laughing, becoming vessels of God’s compassionate love means we share our joy with others. If we are spoken well of, becoming vessels of God’s compassionate love means using the power of our reputations, or our places in society, to lift up those who suffer.

St Teresa of Avila wrote boldly: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks out his compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us…” (“Teresa of Avila” at AZQuotes.com).

This morning we honor the bold women in history, the bold women in our lives who have and who are living Christ’s love, boldly. We are grateful for the courage and the strength these women have had and do have.

But the truth is, God’s call is for all of us, regardless of our gender identity, to serve God boldly.

We must not be silent.
We must shout God’s love, we must proclaim God’s redemptive power to all the world.

St. Catherine of Siena wrote “We’ve had enough of exhortations to be silent!”
(I think Catherine was speaking about the experience of women. But, her words are important for all of us who are people of faith to hear because we all have a tendency to be silent about our faith….)
Catherine said “Cry out with a hundred tongues. I see that the world is rotten because of silence.”  (“St. Catherine of Siena” at AZQuotes.com).

Let’s all of us boldly proclaim God’s love to every person.
Let’s proclaim God’s blessings to the hungry.
Let’s proclaim God’s blessings to those who mourn.
Let’s proclaim God’s blessings to those who are reviled, or excluded, or defamed.
God’s good fortune is theirs.

Thanks be to God that God loves the world.
Amen.

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday, February 3, 2019

February 3, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 4:21-30

Today we complete a story begun last week: the story of Jesus returning to his home synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. Jesus read scripture to the people gathered in the synagogue; he read a prophecy from the book of Isaiah that he then proclaimed he was the fulfillment of. He proclaimed he was the Messiah. Jesus told his listeners: The Spirit of the Lord is upon ME. I have been anointed to bring good news to the poor. I have been sent to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. I have been sent to let the oppressed go free. I have been sent to proclaim that this is the time—this is the moment—of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:19-19)

The people who knew Jesus best, the people who knew him when he was growing up, who knew his mother and his father and the rest of the family—their first response was to wonder: Isn’t that Joseph’s son? (Luke 4:22).

It is like they are asking: who would have thought? Who would have thought Joseph’s son could say or do such things? Who would have thought a hometown kid like him would become a star? It was amazing! In fact, Luke wrote: they were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (Luke 4:22).

Then it appears that Jesus heard them saying that they wanted him to do for them everything he had done in other places. It appears he believed they were a little bit miffed that he didn’t do great things for them, first. After all, they were his people. He was their Son. He ought to be taking care of them, healing them, teaching them. Maybe he should only take care of them, only heal them, only teach them.

The reading is clear, Jesus knew he was sent to the world for all the world, not just for his own people—not just for his own “kind”. Which is why he referenced Elijah and Elisha. They were both prophets who, as the Nazarenes would have known, assisted foreigners.

This is the point in the story where things got ugly. When Jesus pointed out that his ministry was not going to be just for his own people, “all in the synagogue were filled with rage” (Luke 4:28).
The Nazarenes were angry enough to want to kill Jesus.

Perhaps you know what it is like, when you have something really good, maybe even great, and you want to keep it for yourself. I do that at home sometimes when Jeanne buys me my favorite candy. I hide it. I don’t want to share it. I get angry if she eats any of it, even just one piece.

Jesus and what he brought to the world—he is a lot more important than candy. There are people who want to keep his message of love, they want to keep his words of grace, they want to keep his promise of eternal life—they want to keep Jesus for themselves. Or maybe they want to keep him for the people who are just like them.

Jesus knew he could not be kept!

Jesus cannot be kept! We cannot limit who we share Jesus with!
We cannot hoard his grace. We cannot tuck Jesus away in a secret place, stingily reveling in what he has done for us.

We need to share Jesus with the world!
We need to share the good news of his love—with the world!We need to lavish his grace on others—both telling them about his grace-full acceptance of us all and living that grace in our own relationships. Being forgiving. Being welcoming.
We need to openly declare the promises Jesus has made to the world. We need to bring hope even as we are hope-full.

The Reverend Barbara Lundblad once said that we humans tend to want to “wrap religion around us like a homemade quilt” (Homilies for the Christian People, p. 403-406 as quoted in Sundays and Seasons for Epiphany 4 2019). We want to snuggle into our religion and make ourselves comfortable. We don’t allow much room for others when we do that, do we?

Jesus has a way of wiggling out of our selfish embrace.
He comes to us and to others.
In so many ways, he comes to us.
Jesus comes for us.
And for the world.
Wanting to save us all.

Thanks be to God for God’s infinite generosity.
Amen.

Third Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, January 27, 2019

January 27, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke 4:14-21

Today’s gospel is a tough one to work with for a couple of reasons.
First, we are back in the gospel of Luke, having used a reading from the gospel of John last week. Luke and John had different ways of telling the story of the life and ministry of Jesus. Their themes don’t always match. So we move from John’s theme of abundance and transformation (which we heard last week) to Luke’s theme of liberty—specifically liberty for the poor and the oppressed.

Second, today we are only looking at half of a story. The schedule of readings requires that we look at the first half of the story this week, the other half next week. These two halves are radically different. This week we hear the good news part of the story. Next week we hear the more difficult news. I think it is a bit misleading to only talk about the good news this week. But that’s what we have been assigned.

Third, after a few weeks of focusing on Jesus’ family—the ins and outs of his relationships with Mary and with Joseph and with God, his Abba—this week we broaden our view of “family” to include the community he was raised in.

Jesus had been traveling around Galilee, teaching in synagogues. All who heard him “praised him” (Luke 15). His traveling took him to the synagogue in Nazareth.

I have returned to my home congregation to preach, in Rockford, IL. It has been exciting, to stand in the pulpit I saw other preachers stand in, to preach from the pulpit I pretended to preach from when I was a child and I couldn’t see over the top. I always feel a sense of anticipation, both for me and for the congregation. I sense their pride. I fear I will disappoint them.

Without any obvious hesitation on his part, Jesus walked forward in his home congregation and he took the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. It was his choice to do so. It was his choice to walk forward; it was his choice to read, and his choice of what he was going to read.

He chose Isaiah—specifically the passage in Isaiah where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Boom!
Drop the mic!

The Hebrew people had been waiting for centuries for the Messiah.
The Hebrew people had been waiting, they had been longing for the Messiah to come.
And now! Now!
Jesus, the kid who grew up in the synagogue, Mary’s and Joseph’s son, read the text from Isaiah making it clear to all who heard it that he was the one. He made it clear he was the fulfillment of their waiting and their longing.

Just to make sure they didn’t miss his point, after rolling up the scroll he sat down (in the posture of a teacher) and told them:

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

Imagine if Rayone had stood before us this morning and read this text and said to us “It’s me! I’m the one you have been waiting for!”

Or if one of our acolytes grabbed the mic and told us he or she is Jesus, returning to the world.

What does this reading mean to us, here and now?
Today’s part of our two-part story reminds us of the humanity of Jesus.
In worship we focus in his divinity—Jesus as our Savior, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.
We worship Jesus, who died for us and then rose, victorious. We praise Jesus, our Sovereign God.

Yet there Jesus stood, the child of a congregation, proclaiming to his hometown that he was the fulfillment of scripture. We must never forget his humanity.

Likewise, we must never forget Jesus’ call: Jesus’ call to bring good news to the poor; Jesus’ call to free those who were held captive; Jesus’ call to give sight to the blind; Jesus’ call to let the oppressed go free; Jesus’ call to proclaim that that moment was THE moment.
The Messiah had come.

Jesus’ call is now our call. We are called to bring good news to those living in poverty. We are called to free those who are captive to sin, captive to those things that bind them, making them unable to receive the love God provides. We are called to give sight to those who cannot see God’s love living in the world, who cannot see God’s love is living in their lives, who cannot see God’s love is living in their hearts. We are called to proclaim the freedom that comes when one knows the truth of God’s liberating power.
We are called to remind every person that this is the moment. We are called to proclaim that Jesus lives in the world now, here, with us.
We are called to proclaim that God Spirit moves in the world now, here and everywhere, giving people strength and hope.

That’s what this first half of the story of Jesus returning to Nazareth tells us.
Next week we hear the rest of the story.

Until then… Amen.

Second Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, January 20, 2019

January 20, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

John 2:1-11

I’m going to confess, it has been fun preaching the past few weeks! Our gospel readings have focused on Jesus and his relationship with his parents—particularly his relationship with Mary. Today we find the two of them together again. Their interactions are almost comical! Yet they illustrate a couple of important points.

The scene is set. Mary and Jesus are attending a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

I wonder—how many single young men attend weddings with their mothers?
Did Jesus and Mary go to the wedding together or did they meet there? We know the disciples were also invited and attended. Did they all travel to the wedding together?

I’m thinking it was a big wedding. Six jars of water turned into wine—(as I said in my young peoples’ message) one scholar estimated six jars of water would be about 175 gallons of wine (Sundays and Seasons, Epiphany 2). Either it was a large wedding or people were drinking a lot!

Anyway—when the wine ran out Mary said to Jesus “They have no wine” (John 2:3). Not “Son, they seem to have run out of wine. Can you do anything about that?” Or, “Jesus, they ran out of wine. You’re the miracle man—I know you can help. Do something!”
Just four words: they have no wine.

And then, son that he was he said “Woman. What concern is that to you and me? My hour has not come” (John 2:4). One commentary I read on this said we might expect to hear Mary say “Don’t use that tone with me, young man” (Sundays and Seasons). Another scholar wrote “Jesus’ words to his mother… sound harsh to the modern ear, but they are neither rude nor hostile. Jesus frequently addresses women with the greeting “Woman.” The use of that form of address to speak to one’s own mother is unusual, however” (The New Interpreter’s Bible vol. -9, p. 536). The scholar then suggests Jesus might have been saying “Why is this my concern?” (TNIB, p. 537). Jesus might as well have been shrugging, saying “So…?”

Then Mary’s response was a classic mom-response: she ignored Jesus! Mary turned to the servants and told them “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

Mary knew. Mary knew Jesus was going to do something, either because it was what Jesus knew Mary expected, or because it was what Jesus desired to do. Either way, Mary knew Jesus would solve the problem. She was confident!

And the problem! The problem is so interesting! They didn’t have enough wine at a wedding!
This was the first miracle Jesus performed in the gospel of John! He gave a wedding party wine!
He didn’t heal someone. He didn’t raise someone from the dead. He didn’t rid someone of his or her demons. He turned water into wine, making him the favorite guest at every wedding thereafter!

Commentary in the New Interpreter’s Bible says “It is a miracle of abundance, of extravagance, of transformation and new possibilities” (vol. 9 p. 540).

I wonder—
Do we have as much confidence in Jesus as his mother Mary did?
If not, why not?
We know Jesus loves us. We know Jesus loves the world. We know Jesus died for us and for our sins. We know Jesus promises us the gift of eternal life.
And yet—do we believe Jesus provides all of this abundantly, extravagantly—transforming each and every one of us—transforming the world!!!

Do we have such confidence in his promises that we expect to be transformed by Jesus, that we expect there to be new possibilities around every corner, in every instance, because of Jesus? A scholar wrote:

“The extravagance of Jesus’ act, the superabundance of the wine, suggests   the unlimited gifts that Jesus makes available. Jesus’ ministry begins with an extraordinary act of grace, a first glimpse of the ‘greater things’ to come. This story invites the reader to share in the wonder of the miracle, to enter into the joyous celebration made possible by Jesus’ gift” (NIB, vol. 9, p. 540).

This is the God we worship.
This is the God we celebrate: the God whose love is “this big.”
The God who embraces the world!
The God who has the power to transform every person—
The God who has the power to transform every situation—
The god who has the power to transform every moment—
The God who transforms us and our lives with graceful exuberance.

This IS the God we worship.
This IS the God we celebrate.
Thanks be to God, this IS our God. And we ARE God’s people.

Amen!

Baptism of Our Lord – Sunday, January 13, 2019

January 14, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Luke   3:15-17, 21-22

Have you ever wondered how much God loved Jesus?
As I thought about it I thought about conversations I’ve had with young children in my family. I ask “How much do I love you?” And then I answer my own question: “I love you TTHHIISSS much.” [Extending arms wide]

How much did or does God love Jesus?
Ballpark estimate: TTTHHHIIISSS much.

We can only estimate, because we cannot quantify God’s love. We cannot put God’s love in a box or in a measuring bowl or lay a ruler alongside of it and say: Yep. There’s this much love.
God’s love is infinite. God’s love is way beyond measure.

And yet the story of the Baptism of Jesus gives us a clue. Here, in this story, God speaks to Jesus. Here, in this story, God identifies Jesus as God’s Son.

Throughout scripture Jesus identified God as his “Father.”
There are other words for God in scripture: Yahweh, El Shaddai, El Elyon, El Olam, El Bethel, El Roi, El Berith, El Elohe-Israel, Elohim, Eloah, Adon, King, Judge, Shepherd, the Living God, The First and the Last, The Ancient of Days (“God, names of” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, volume 2, p. 408).

In contrast, Jesus kept it pretty simply. Jesus knew God as his Father. Jesus knew God as Abba, which means Daddy. Remember? We heard the story of his knowledge of God two weeks ago, when we heard the story of him as a twelve year old in the temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus asked his mother “Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) Jesus was telling Mary he knew who God was, and who he was to God.

This week, we hear God describe God’s relationship with Jesus.
You are my Son, the Beloved…” (Luke 3:22).
Keep in mind, the way this story is written, we cannot know if anyone other than Jesus heard God speak those words. Perhaps no one did. Clearly God addressed Jesus “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” But, if only Jesus heard those words spoken by God, he told somebody about the experience. Because we now have those words recorded by Luke. God told Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Many of you were here last Sunday. You know most of my family was here in worship, including my parents. Later on in the afternoon, after my parents had arrived back home, I talked to them on the phone. My father told me how much he enjoyed worshipping with us. And he talked to me about my sermon. He said “I wish more of us thought the way you think.” Reading between the lines, he was saying: with you I am well pleased (or at least with my thoughts, in that moment, last Sunday…)
Who doesn’t need to hear words like that spoken, especially by a parental-figure; by someone who takes ownership of us; by someone who says “You are mine.” “I wish more of us thought the way you think.” “With you I am well pleased.”

What makes the meaning of this story so accessible to us is the fact that, like Jesus, we have been baptized. Like Jesus, when we were baptized God spoke to us.
God told us “You are mine” as water washed over us; God told us “You are mine” as we were marked with the cross of Christ forever.
No matter who we have been, no matter who we are, no matter who we will be—we are always God’s beloved children.
No matter what we have done, no matter what we do, no matter what we will be doing—we are always God’s beloved children.
Always and forever.
Nobody can ever take this away from us. We are God’s beloved children.

“When Martin Luther felt discouraged or afraid, he’d often splash water on himself and declare, “But I am baptized!”” (“Remembering Baptism—Living Wet” by Joan Huyser-Honig found at https://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/remembering-baptism-living-wet/).

But I am baptized!
Say that with me: “But I am Baptized!”
If you aren’t, talk to me. God wants to make you God’s own.

So—how much did God love Jesus?
TTTHHHIIISSS much!
How much does God love you?
TTTHHHIIISSS much!

Always and forever.
You are beloved.
Amen.

Epiphany – Sunday, January 6, 2019

January 6, 2019  
Filed under Sermons

Matthew 2:1-12

Were these guys wise men or kings? Were they astronomers? Were they magi? Were there three of them? Or twenty? Or somewhere in between? Were they all men? Could women have been traveling with them?

Tradition tells us one thing, scripture tells us another.

Tradition tells us they there were kings traveling.
But… not really. According to scripture, they were “magi” which can be translated “wise men,” “astrologers,” or as “magicians” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 8, p. 140). “Magi” does not translate to be king.

They were traveling from East to West. We don’t know where, exactly they came from. Most historians assume they were pagans—meaning they were Gentiles, not Jews. This is an important point. This tells us that the good news of Jesus Christ speaks to all people of the world, not just those who were God’s Chosen.

How many were there?
We don’t know. Tradition says there were three, but that is only because three gifts were given. There could have been more—probably were. People didn’t travel alone, they traveled in large groups. With family and servants and household members. The gifts the Magi gave were expensive, signifying the economic status of the magi, which in turn signifies they would not have been traveling alone. They would have been traveling with their “people.”

What is most interesting is the purpose of their travels.
The magi saw in the stars, particularly in the presence of one star, that a king had been born. They wished to “pay him homage” (Matt. 2:2).

Before I get to that point, allow me to make another.
The magi visited King Herod in Jerusalem prior to visiting Jesus. As I read, they told Herod a child had been born “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2).
Don’t forget, Herod was king. And he was not Jewish, which deeply upset the people of Jerusalem. Herod the Great was an “Idumean…backed by Rome” (TNIB vol. 8, p. 142). He became a king “by military conquest” (TNIB, vol. 8, p. 142). Folks “resented his rule” (TNIB, vol. 8, p. 142).

In our reading, King Herod was a contrast to the Magi. Although they were all Gentiles, the Magi followed the star to pay homage to a king who was not theirs. King Herod could only feel the threat of this new king, a threat to his own power.

Which takes us back to our most interesting point:
One scholar wrote “The magi are Gentiles in the extreme, characters who could not be more remote from the Jewish citizens of Jerusalem in heritage and worldview. Even at the beginning of Jesus’ life, then, we see the dividing walls between races and cultures breaking down” (TNIB, vol. 8, p. 145).

In the year 2019, what if we reclaim that reality? What if our new year’s resolution would be to reclaim the fact that Jesus came to the world to unite the world rather than to divide it? What if, in 2019 we embrace the reality of the love of Jesus, and let that reality live as it was meant to live, knowing the reason Jesus came to the world was because God so loved THE WORLD? (John 3:16)? God didn’t send Jesus to the world to save a small group of select people. God sent Jesus to the world to save the world!

As our gospel story illustrates, God’s love had the power to transform the hearts and minds of pagan magi… who followed a star to pay homage to Jesus—they worshipped Jesus!

Knowing this, who doubts the reality that God’s love has the power to transform the hearts and minds of all of us, even when we think differently, even when what we value (which might be the same) takes us to different places philosophically or politically?
There are so many things we humans have created in this world, intentionally creating barriers between ourselves and other people. This is not God’s desire.

 We divide ourselves by race. We divide ourselves by belief. We divide ourselves by nationality. We divide ourselves by how much money we have or how much money we don’t have. We divide ourselves by our politics. We divide ourselves by our abilities. We divide ourselves with labels and with colors and with dollar bills…

 This is not God’s desire.

 Why else would God have “unobtrusively and ambiguously behind the scenes” (TNIB, vol. 8, p. 143) stopped a star in the sky in order to let a group of pagan magi follow it to the newborn King?
Stars don’t rotate. But the earth does, giving the appearance that stars do. This one stayed in the magi’s line of vision for as long as it took for them to travel to Bethlehem to find Jesus.  

God led the magi to Jesus even as God leads us. God leads us to Jesus! Because God loves us.
God loves the world. God desires that the world know God’s love. Always and forever.
Amen.

« Previous PageNext Page »