Second Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who builds community
with an invitation to come and see. Amen
We are now in the season after Epiphany
and so our bible stories
are all about how Jesus is revealed as God to us.
With very few exceptions,
this revelation occurs in community,
God uses people to reveal Jesus to others
and so today we get the story
of how the first core community of those people is formed.
With a search for something more,
and an invitation.
It all starts with John the baptist,
remember God works in the world through people.
God calls John the baptist to prepare the way for Jesus,
and that’s what John has been doing,
he’s been telling people to repent of their sins
and baptizing them when they do,
and some of them have started to follow him,
they are searching for something more out of life
and they think they’ve found it in John.
but John knows his role is one of preparation
for the one that is coming after him,
he doesn’t know exactly who this is,
just that the spirit will let him know,
and when he baptizes Jesus
the spirit descends
revealing Jesus as the one he has been waiting for
and John’s preaching changes
to a very simple message
“Look here is the lamb of God”
John is standing with two of his followers
when Jesus walks past
and John points to him and says “Look, here is the Lamb of God”
and just like that
they start following Jesus,
not in the metaphorical sense
but literally walking behind him
and Jesus turns around and asks them
“What are you looking for?”
which is a loaded question,
what are they looking for?
They probably don’t know exactly themselves
but it’s certainly more than the answer they quickly give
when they ask Jesus where he’s staying,
and Jesus responds “Come and see”
a loaded answer
because what they will see by going with Jesus
is certainly more than the place where he is staying,
they will see God revealed.
And they go with Jesus
and spend the rest of the day with him
and that’s all it takes to start off a chain reaction of invitations,
Andrew goes and finds his brother Simon
and tells him “we have found the messiah”
Andrew brings Simon to Jesus,
and when Jesus looks at him
he gives him a new name, Peter,
the rock, the foundation of the community.
People are searching for something more
and all it takes is an invitation from someone they trust
to experience what they’ve found
as well as an invitation to remain and explore for themselves
to see if they find what they’ve been searching for.
Most of us are here
because at some point,
someone we trust invited us to come and see,
invited might be a strong word for those of us brought as children
but still the people we trust wanted to share what they’d found with us.
We remain because we found Jesus,
and a place that lets us explore
what it means to have found Jesus as our lives play out
because even when we find Jesus,
we still continue to search
because humans are constantly searching throughout life
sometimes this is because of the sin that tells us we can be God
and control our own destinies
and so we search for a way to achieve that,
sometimes we search because we want to know who we are,
what our purpose is,
sometimes we search for God
because it seems as if God is hidden,
and Jesus knows,
even if we don’t realize it,
is that what we’re searching for is a community,
an identity and a purpose,
all things that God has already given us
first and foremost
we are beloved children of God
we always have been and always will be
this identity will never change
and because we are beloved children of God
our purpose is to love God and love our neighbor,
and we discover this identity and purpose in community
and all it takes to find
is for a person we trust to point and say
“Look here is the Lamb of God”
followed by an invitation to “come and see”
Of course we humans try to make it more complex than that,
we ask questions like how?
And then we try to make the community in our own image instead of God’s
and we make rules and get into disagreements
but at the heart of it all, it’s really simple,
people searching for something more
gathered together because someone pointed to Jesus
and extended an invitation to come and see, remain and discover
and as we do
it becomes our turn to reach out to others we see searching,
to point to Jesus and invite them to come and see, remain and discover.
And Jesus knows that this isn’t always easy,
we get discouraged,
or our search changes,
so Jesus comes to us again,
in word and water, bread and wine,
and once again invites us to come and see,
and we are present at the table
because someone we trust has once again come to us saying
‘we have found the messiah, come and see’
because just as we keep searching
we keep needing to be invited,
reminded of our identities as beloved children of God.
This year my hope is that we as a community
learn to better do this for one another
both those already here
and those who have yet to encounter Jesus,
to see when someone is searching,
to point them to Jesus
and to invite them to come and see,
because we have found the messiah. Amen
Baptism of Our Lord
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is continually doing a new thing with us. Amen
So in the story of Jesus
we’ve jumped thirty some years
between last week and this week.
Mostly because the Bible doesn’t really tell us anything
in between Jesus’ birth
and his appearance in the wilderness
by the Jordan river to be baptized by John,
the event that starts off his public ministry.
Jesus is starting something new,
and God calls him to begin with baptism,
so Jesus goes from Galilee
out into the desert to the Jordan river
where John the Baptist
is preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
calling people to turn their lives around,
to start new,
and is baptizing people as a sign of that repentance,
that commitment to new life,
John is preparing the people for Jesus
and he’s doing quite well
gathering big crowds
and now Jesus goes up to John and says,
‘I’m ready to take over, baptize me.’
And John says,
‘wait a minute, that’s not how this is supposed to happen,
you’re supposed to baptize me.’
And Matthew tells us
that “John would have prevented him”
and Jesus has to convince John
that this is what God wants,
finally John consents to baptize Jesus
and when Jesus comes up out of the water
the spirit descends and the voice of God is heard
and it’s all amazing,
but it might not have happened
if Jesus hadn’t been able to convince John
that this was the way God was working.
I don’t know about you,
but this sounds like kind of a rough start to Jesus’ ministry.
After all if John,
whose whole purpose in life
was to prepare the way for Jesus
had to be convinced,
how much more convincing is the next person going to take?
Now to be fair to John,
it wasn’t what Jesus was planning on doing that threw him
but how he wanted to start going about doing it,
Jesus just wasn’t what he expected,
but he was open enough to be convinced
and the ministry went forward.
We see this pattern replicated over and over again,
God doing something new
and since God works in the world with people,
we see God partnering with someone
who while open to the new thing
must be convinced of the how
and when they consent,
even a little bit,
the holy spirit swoops in to make the new life possible.
We see this in our story from Acts,
we only read a part of it
but it is the story of the first Gentile converts
to the way of Jesus.
Jesus has died and risen and appeared to the disciples
and before he ascends back up into heaven
he commands them to spread the news of the new thing God is doing,
and to baptize those who desire it
and with baptism will come the gift of the holy spirit
so that’s what the apostles are doing,
they’re creating a new community,
people are hearing their preaching
and believing and are being baptized
and things are going great,
until Peter has a vision from God.
God wants to do a new thing
within this new thing!
God wants to expand the ministry to the Gentiles
which is really just short hand
for everyone else,
literally it means “the nations”,
there’s the chosen people
and there’s everyone else
and up until this point
the Jesus movement has been a strictly Jewish thing
and one very strong characteristic of being part of the chosen people
is to remain separate from everyone else,
so much so that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate or to visit a Gentile
and yet that’s what God is calling Peter to do,
and Peter resists,
he protests that he’s followed the law his whole life,
why break it now?
But God is insistent
and Peter is just open enough to the idea
that when the spirit nudges Peter to go to the house of Cornelius
who is a Roman soldier but worships the God of Israel,
Cornelius has had his own vision from God
And as a result sends for Peter
and after he explains his vision
Peter begins to speak,
and this is the part of the story we had for our second reading
he starts off “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
and then Peter who is opening up to this new thing of God
preaches the good news of Jesus Christ to those assembled,
Cornelius and his household
and a remarkable thing happens:
“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.”
God is doing something new,
but is convinced enough
to make enough room for the Holy Spirit to sweep in
making new life possible in ways that even Peter can’t argue with,
the spirit is supposed to be a result of baptism
but the spirit descends on the gentiles
while Peter is speaking
making it hard for anyone to argue against baptism,
seeing as they’ve already received the holy spirit
God is making God’s will known
and Peter gives up his protests,
baptizes the household,
and then stays with them
breaking many of the laws he’d spent his whole life keeping
but which don’t matter anymore
because of God’s new thing.
And things are great,
until Peter goes home
and the other Apostles give Peter a hard time
for staying with gentiles
and he has to go through the whole story
before they accept
that God has given even to the Gentiles
the repentance that leads to life.
But this leads to the first major conflict in the church,
the conflict over whether the gentile converts
must be circumcised to be an official part of the community.
Even having accepted that God is doing a new thing,
there are those who disagree with the how,
and the cycle starts to repeat, again and again and again.
the resistance that comes from God doing a new thing
is rarely about God opening the community even wider,
we all theoretically get on board with that pretty quickly
the idea that God loves everyone,
that’s kind of hard to argue with
the resistance comes from the how,
how this new broader circle
changes the community,
changes our lives
and more importantly to us humans,
how we know who is in and who is out.
And that takes us back to that pesky original sin,
the desire to be God,
We want to be the ones that determine the boundaries of the community
when that is God’s job.
It’s all a bit of a mess isn’t it?
God still comes to us,
God claims us at our baptisms,
making sure that we know that we have been chosen by God,
and then God calls us to share the gift we’ve been given with others,
to expand the community,
and when we get caught up in the how,
God calls to us again,
to see the new thing God is doing,
and God works to convince us with the holy spirit,
even as God forgives us our resistance,
our desire to hold fast to the way things have been
when God is clearly doing something new.
And for this I give thanks to God,
for the grace and mercy shown to us each and every day,
for the water that reminds us of God’s claim on us
and the spirit’s movement among us.
But it also makes me wonder,
what new thing of God are we resisting?
Second Sunday of Christmas
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who created the world
and who chose to become a part of the world. Amen
I know, it may not feel like Christmas anymore,
even though we still have them up in Church
decorations have come down many places
and in stores have already been replaced by Valentine’s hearts
and we’ve done our year end retrospectives,
this year, depending on how you count it
we’ve even looked back ten years over the past decade,
and generally things feel like they are moving forward,
we are past Christmas.
And yet this year the way the calendar falls
we get a second Sunday in Christmas,
the season in the Church calendar
runs until Epiphany on January 6th,
that’s where we get the 12 days of Christmas.
As epiphany is not until tomorrow
this year we get one more Sunday to dwell on Christmas.
So often when we think Christmas
we think of the baby in the manger
and the angels and shepherds
but today we get to focus on Christmas as the incarnation of God,
God the Word becoming flesh
and dwelling among us,
the Greek is literally translated as “pitching a tent among us”,
God became one of us
and lived with us
no special treatment but the full human experience
and all that goes with it,
including suffering and death,
things God could easily have avoided and yet didn’t.
which means we have a God who knows exactly what we’re going through
as we live out our lives
even in those times in life where we feel that
the only ones who understand us
are the ones who have gone through what we’re going through,
and that is the miracle of the incarnation,
that God loved us so much
and wanted to be as close to us as possible
that God became one of us,
God is intimately concerned with our lives,
all the more amazing
when we consider this is the same one who created the universe.
And as we go through life
God seeks to remind us of this intimate relationship,
on the last night with his disciples,
Jesus blessed bread and wine
and told them this bread and wine is my body and blood given for you,
and he commanded them to eat and drink
and to do this whenever they gathered,
so that they would know that he was with them,
a part of them.
Jesus is that close to us,
closer than we sometimes like to think of
and if we try to figure out the how of it
we get confused very quickly
but the how is not the point,
if God can become human
certainly God can be bread and wine
and that is how God has chosen to come to us
as mysterious as that may be.
God is mysterious to us,
because as intimate with us as Jesus is,
and as much as he reveals God’s will to us
according to God’s good pleasure,
at the same time God is so much bigger,
than even our wildest imaginations can comprehend.
John, in his description of the incarnation,
echoing the opening of Genesis,
brings us all the way back to before creation
when God the Father and God the Word and God the Spirit
all together created the world
and set the foundations of life in motion
and had hopes and dreams and a plan for interacting with that creation,
first through the gift of the law and then through Christ.
That is both big and intricate planning.
Paul in Ephesians tells us
that God chose us in Christ
before the foundation of the world,
and we wonder at the enormity of that
as well at the intimacy of being part of God’s plan
from even before time
God is bigger than we are,
bigger than all of us
with greater understanding,
but even as God is so much bigger
God has included us
God doesn’t need us but God has made us part of the action
Again as Paul explains to the Ephesians “with all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, that that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.”
God’s will for us is abundant life,
and “us” means all creation to God,
creation that God will gather in,
because as we are well aware,
sin has entered the world
and because of sin there is pain and suffering
but God has promised to gather us in
the gathering is still in process,
and until then
our purpose is to live for the praise of God’s glory.
And how do we do that?
We live for the praise of God’s glory
when we live in ways
that bring more of God’s will into the world,
the will of abundant life for all,
and that means sometimes living in ways
counter to the way of the world.
The world says there is not enough for everyone,
God’s will says that there is plenty to go around.
The world says that those who appear different
are to be feared,
God’s will says that they too are children of God.
The world says power is gained through shows of strength.
God’s will says that serving your neighbor is the strongest way to live.
Our purpose is to live for the praise of God’s glory,
not the praise of the world,
and the world will push back,
it will be difficult at times
but we are able to do so
because we have been claimed by God,
and promised that whatever the world does to us
will not have the last say.
At our baptisms
God claimed us and marked us
“with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”
And yet even marked with the Holy Spirit
there may be times when the enormity and mystery of God’s will
and then Jesus comes to us again,
in Word and water,
bread and wine
reminding us that God knows exactly what we’re going through
and that God is with us.
This is the miracle of the incarnation
that we celebrate at Christmas,
the intimacy of God with us
all as part of God whose will stretches before time.
Some days we need the baby in the manger,
the Word become flesh living among us,
and some days we need God who is bigger than us
with plans and understanding far beyond our measly comprehension
but who still cares for us.
At Christmas we get both
and we celebrate all the mysterious truth that comes with it
secure in the knowledge that God is bigger than we are
and that God is with us. Merry Christmas.
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.