4th Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who knows us. Amen
“We know that all of us possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.”
There’s a lot of knowledge
flying around our world today,
through the internet, radio, tv, social media
we know more than ever
what is going on around the world in real time
and in many cases this is helpful
as in natural disasters or other events
where people are saved from harm
by quickly relayed current information.
We also know helpful things
like how disease is spread,
and how to perform surgery
and how economies rise and fall and all sorts of other things,
and then we form opinions about what we know,
The shadow side
is that often we form our opinions first
and then find justification for them
among all the knowledge that is floating around out there
and once justified
we hold tightly to our opinions
that are justified by knowledge
refusing to relent when faced with other opinions
also justified with knowledge.
Now don’t get me wrong,
the more we learn about our world
and those around us the better
but in this flood of knowledge
we’ve forgotten about the reality of relationships,
how they are not always rational
how there is more to the way people work together
than the combination of facts and opinions.
As Paul says ‘Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.’
If you glazed over during the second reading
when Paul started talking about meat sacrificed to idols,
I don’t blame you,
it sounds like something that no longer applies to us,
we get our meat from the grocery store or the farm yard
not the leftovers from the sacrifices to the gods at the temple.
But Paul’s main point in this discussion
is more relevant than ever,
he’s ultimately posing the question:
what good is knowledge if it hurts our neighbor?
Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.
Most members of the community to which Paul is writing
know that there is only one God
and so eating meat sacrificed to idols
is not an act of worship
because those idols don’t exist.
They have been set free by their belief in Christ
and so they can eat the meat without hurting their conscience,
meat is meat, and that’s great Paul says and all true.
But there are still some people in the community
who haven’t quite gotten to that point,
they believe in Christ
but they still associate eating the meat in the temples
with the worship of other gods
and if they see other members of the community
eating in the temples
their weaker belief might be shaken to the point of breaking,
causing them to sin.
This is why Paul warns those with knowledge:
“take care that this liberty of yours does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”
if given a choice between acting on knowledge
or with holding from acting on knowledge for the sake of the neighbor
Paul says he’ll choose not to act any time.
We have been freed in Christ
so that we may love our neighbor as ourselves,
as Paul says elsewhere in the letter
“all things are lawful but not all things are beneficial”
we have been set free so that the love of God
may overflow from our lives
into the lives of those around us,
this is freedom with responsibility
and this freedom comes from our relationship with God
and with God all relationships begin with love.
That’s why Paul says “anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.”
And this starts to sound confusing,
just using the word knowledge over and over again
but I think what we have going on here
are two different kinds of knowledge,
head knowledge and heart knowledge.
Even though there is only one word we understand the difference.
Head knowledge is the facts and figures,
heart knowledge is the emotional reality of those facts and figures.
For example, it is one thing to know with head knowledge
that 15-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage,
it is an entirely other thing to know with heart knowledge
the experience of a miscarriage whether yourself or alongside family and friends.
It is one thing to know with head knowledge
that poverty exists and have ideas about how people in poverty could get out of it.
It is quite another thing to know with heart knowledge
those who live in poverty
to walk alongside people as they struggle with the reality of never having enough.
It is one thing to know someone with head knowledge,
their name and occupation,
where they live and a few other facts about them,
it is quite another thing to know someone with heart knowledge,
talking with them,
learning their sense of humor, their hopes, fears and motivations.
As humans, we long to be known with heart knowledge
and God knows us.
God knows you,
not the face you put on for other people or even yourself,
the real you,
your hopes and fears, your strengths and failings
God knows all this
and God loves you
and nothing will ever change that.
To be loved in this way is powerful,
it builds us up
and it frees us to take risks,
risks like getting to know our neighbor with heart knowledge,
sharing the love of God with them
so that they too are built up and set free.
And if we don’t have the direct heart knowledge,
God calls us to act from a place of love that builds up the other.
This year my hope for our community
is that we grow in heart knowledge
building up our community
through deepening our relationship with God,
our relationships with one another in this congregation
and our relationship with the community around us
And I know,
with both head knowledge and heart knowledge
that we are able to do this
because God knows and loves us first. Amen
3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who interrupts our lives. Amen
This past week I had the chance to do some continuing education,
I went to a series of talks by the author Mark Tranvik on Luther and Vocation.
Vocation is the big church word
that means a call from God
to do something oriented toward God
we often associate vocations with work
and more specifically with careers within the church.
In fact, at the time of the reformation
the only people considered to have vocations
were monks, nuns and priests.
Tranvik’s point was that the gift of Luther’s thinking and the reformation
is that because of our baptisms
we all have vocations, calls from God
and not just with our jobs
but all areas of our lives are places and opportunities
to love and serve God and neighbor,
vocation in the broadest sense of the word
is God’s call to us to let God’s love overflow
from our lives into the lives of those around us.
Now, figuring out what God wants us to do
is easier said than done,
it’s been many years since the skies parted
and the voice of God boomed out with specific instructions.
These days God speaks in very subtle ways
which sometimes we only understand well after the fact.
But Mark Tranvik pointed out
that one place that God seems to particularly like to work in and through
are the interruptions in life.
In our texts for today
We have stories of God calling people
And there are interruptions all over the place,
interruptions that lead to those who are interrupted serving God and neighbor.
Simon and Andrew are fishing
when Jesus comes upon them and interrupts their lives,
we are told they are fishermen,
so they are engaged in an activity that they have done before,
that they use to support themselves and their families
and which they expect that they will do the rest of their lives.
But something in the invitation to follow Jesus
and fish for people catches their attention
they set down their nets
and the trajectory of their lives changes dramatically.
The same goes for James and John
who are helping their father with the family business
which their father anticipates that they will take over some day
but when Jesus interrupts their net mending
to call them to follow
they leave their nets and their father in the boat
along with the plan for the rest of their lives
all because they paid attention to an interruption.
Jonah’s life was interrupted by God,
several times in fact.
Jonah’s first instinct was to do the exact opposite of what God wanted.
Instead of going to Nineveh like God asked
Jonah got on a ship headed for Tarshish,
a journey which God interrupted with a big storm
and Jonah, gets thrown overboard and swallowed by a big fish
before getting back on track
and when he goes to Nineveh like God asks
he interrupts the lives of the Ninevites
with the message “forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown”
and the people listen to this interruption!
They call a fast, clean up their ways, repent before God
and when God sees this,
that they’ve listened to the interruption
God changes plans and does not destroy their city.
All of our lives have been interrupted as some point
Sometimes the interruptions are as simple
as meeting a new friend,
often the obvious interruptions involve loss
whether it’s loss of a job or a loved one or some other kind,
and the resulting call
may also be more subtle,
a call to increased compassion
for those who have experienced the same thing you have.
Many times it is only well after the fact
that we see where God was in the interruption
and how it changed the way we love and serve our neighbors.
Often when we look at the story of Jesus calling his disciples,
I think we get stuck on the dramatic way
in which the disciples give up everything
- Jesus says ‘come fish for people’ whatever that means-
and immediately they set down their nets and go with him.
This seems like an impossible example to follow-
we think ‘well that’s great for them but I can’t do that,
I’ve got responsibilities or other reasons why dropping everything would not work,
and if we think of the life of discipleship
only in this one way it seems out of reach for most of us.
But not everyone is called to drop everything
and live an itinerant lifestyle,
there are other ways to live as a disciple of Jesus,
and that’s why talking about vocation is so important,
that call from God to let the love of God overflow from our lives into the lives of others-
is lived out in all areas of life.
Luther once said
that perhaps the most spiritual thing one can do
is wash out dirty diapers and hang them on the line-
He caught some flack from his academic colleagues
when they saw him out in the backyard
helping his wife Katie with the household chores
but for Luther,
his sense of vocation meant that he understood
that in the realm of family life
the way he could be a disciple,
to let the love of God flow from his life into the life of his family
was to serve his wife and children by washing dirty diapers.
Discipleship doesn’t have to be dramatic or complicated
we are all called to be disciples,
this call came to us at the biggest interruption in our lives,
The point in our life when God claimed us
made sure that we knew that we are no one’s but God’s,
and in the water and the word
joined us to the death and resurrection of Jesus,
saying ‘death no longer has any claim on this person,
whatever hardships come their way the end result will be life with God.’
In our baptisms we have been set free
and our lives filled to overflowing with the love of God
and we are given the purpose of sharing that love with others
in many and various ways,
and so we do
resting secure in the knowledge
that whatever interruptions we encounter in life
God is there with us,
loving us and working for good. Amen
for more on vocation and the ideas referenced in this sermon see the book: Martin Luther and the Called Life by Mark D. Tranvik
Baptism of Our Lord
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who gifts us with the Holy Spirit. Amen
And just like that
the season of Christmas is over.
It concluded yesterday with the festival of Epiphany
observed on January 6th,
marking the visit of the magi from the east
and the revelation of Jesus as messiah to the gentiles.
Epiphany means manifestation,
and our task in this time after Epiphany
is to explore the many ways that God is made manifest in Jesus,
the many ways that Jesus is the revelation of God to us.
today we start with Jesus’ baptism.
As Mark tells it
Jesus goes out into the wilderness
to be baptized by John
who is clear that he is only preparing the way
for the one that will bring the Holy Spirit,
John baptizes Jesus,
dunks him in the river Jordan,
and as Jesus comes up out of the water
Mark says that the heavens are torn open
and from them the spirit descends on Jesus
and the voice of God rings out proclaiming to Jesus
“You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Now if that is not an epiphany
I don’t know what is,
and in Mark’s brief telling
several things are revealed,
first the heavens are torn open,
in the ancient concept of the universe
the heavens were where God lived,
separate from the people on earth,
at Jesus’ baptism,
that which has separated the people from God
is opened in a way that cannot be closed again
Mark uses this tiny detail
The tearing of the heavens
as foreshadowing for what will happen at the end of this story,
where when Jesus dies
the curtain in the temple that separates the holy of holies from everything else,
is torn from top to bottom
and that which has separated the people from God
is opened in a way that cannot be closed again.
At his baptism
Jesus is revealed
as the one who removes barriers between people and God.
Next the spirit descends on Jesus,
this signals that Jesus
is the one for whom John has been preparing the way.
Now the spirit is the most elusive member of the trinity
I think we often have a hard time with it,
even Mark uses similie to describe the spirit,
descending like a dove,
but what is the spirit?
I think the best definition of the spirit
is the living and active presence of God.
With the spirits’ descent
it is revealed that Jesus carries the living and active presence of God into the world.
Finally, the voice of God is heard
claiming Jesus as son,
saying “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
We heard in our first reading,
How in the beginning God’s spirit moved over the chaotic waters like a wind
as God began creating the world as we know it
speaking the world into being.
With these words from heaven
there can be no doubt about who Jesus is,
the Son of God.
And just like that,
God’s presence on Earth in Jesus
is made manifest,
both revealing and putting into action
the scope and direction of Jesus’ life
from this point on.
Jesus, God’s Son
will bring the living and active presence of God
to people who have been separated from God
and he will do so by breaking down the barriers that have stood in the way.
In our own baptisms
we are joined to this identity and mission.
Our baptisms are epiphanies too,
God speaks words claiming us as beloved children,
gifts us with the Holy Spirit
and promises that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God
and this happens because in our baptisms
we are joined to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Through baptism we have life in God,
through baptism Christ lives in us
through baptism the spirit lives in us
and we are charged with sharing that spirit with others,
we are called to be an epiphany to others,
to bring the living and active presence of God into the world,
tearing apart boundaries that previously separated people from God,
speaking words of love and adoption to those we encounter.
And yes, this isn’t always easy,
it is scary to tear apart boundaries,
crossing paths and walls and taboos that society says we shouldn’t,
and it’s scary to offer love to someone
unsure if they will return it
but we are able to do it
because it is the spirit of God working through us,
directing and guiding us.
This guiding by the spirit is often subtle,
a nudging in the gut that we should do this or that,
we have to practice listening for the spirit
both as individuals and as communities,
and when we hear what the spirit is saying to us
the direction it takes us is often surprising
but always life giving.
Now that the season of Christmas is over,
after we pack away all the decorations and celebrations
we are left with a gift,
the gift of the Holy Spirit
who reveals to us who we are and whose we are
and who calls us out into the world
to make manifest the living and active presence of God. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.