12th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who gives us identity and purpose. Amen
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks the disciples,
Simon Peter says, “you are the messiah, the Son of the living God”
and in return Jesus gives Peter a new identity and purpose,
he is the rock on whom Jesus will build the church,
Peter’s new identity and purpose
are a direct result of who he says that Jesus is,
and he is able to confess this only with the help of God the creator,
Jesus’ and Peter’s identities are intertwined.
The question of identity is all over our readings for today
These days a lot of people
have a lot to say about who Jesus is,
as a matter of fact
a lot of people have a lot to say about who they think we are
and into that conflicting conversation
Jesus has us pause and asks “but who do you say that I am?”
because who we claim Jesus to be
directly impacts who we understand ourselves to be
and how we live in the world.
But first and foremost God claims us.
As the creator of the universe
God is the source of our lives,
and our relationship with God is formalized at our baptisms
when God says “you are mine, sealed with the holy spirit and marked by the cross of Christ forever no matter what anybody says you are a child of God.”
And while this will never change,
we encounter events in our lives,
whether expected or unexpected
that cause us to question: who is God and who am I?
Our readings for today
model how God suggests that we might begin to answer these questions.
In our reading from Isaiah
God is speaking to people who are seeking the Lord,
they have experienced the tragedy of exile from their homeland
and it has caused them to ask who is God?
God points them back to the past actions of God.
Saying “Look to the rock from which you were hewn…
look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; f
or he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.”
God recalls to the people
their collective experience with God,
in a way saying ‘if I acted this way in the past I’ll act this way again,
I was with Abraham and Sarah when it was just them
and I grew them into a great nation,
your number might be depleted but if I did it with them I can do it again.”
In many ways who we confess God to be
depends on our experience of God,
both as a community and as individuals.
Which is why it is important that we gather and tell the stories of who God is,
when we tell the story of the exodus
we are proclaiming that God is a God of liberation,
when we tell the story of Jesus
we are saying that God is one who walks with us,
when we hear of the work of Jesus through the disciples
we are confessing that God works through us.
When we tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection
we are saying that God is not stopped by death.
And we each have our own stories of God in our lives
that shape and define who we confess God to be.
When I tell the story of growing up in the church,
I am proclaiming a God that has nurtured me
When I tell the story of how my community took care of me
At the most difficult times in my life
I am proclaiming a God that is loving and works through community
When I marvel at the times when I had nothing to say
and the right words came out of my mouth
I am proclaiming a God that sends the Holy Spirit to assist me
What we say about God
based on the scriptures, the community and our own lives
paints a picture of a God who is intimately involved in our lives
and this realization causes us to ask, if this is so, who am I and what am I to do?
“You are a member of the body of Christ,” says Paul
speaking to a group of people asking that very question,
“and members of the body of Christ are unique,
with various gifts and talents that all come together
to help communicate to others who God is”
because our main mission,
as we hear at the end of the gospel of Matthew
is to go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing and teaching them of Jesus.
And Jesus has given each of us gifts
that allow us to work together as a community
to live out this mission in the world
and sometimes our gifts are not always obvious
so Paul recommends to the Romans,
who are wondering what role they have to play in the body of Christ
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect”
realizing that it is possible to get caught up in the world around us,
that unless we take time to read scripture, pray and think about it
we might confuse what the world wants with what God wants.
Which is why Who we confess Jesus to be is so important
Because understanding who God is
Helps us interpret how God wants us to live in the world
Our confession directly impacts
how we understand ourselves
and what we do with our lives.
Jesus’ identity and our identity are intertwined
and it can take us in some unexpected directions.
Peter confessed Jesus to be the messiah, the Son of the living God,
and Jesus gave Peter a new identity and purpose,
the foundation of the church
and it took Peter in some un expected direction, the garden of Gethsemane,
the court yard of the high priest,
the empty tomb, breakfast beside the sea of Galilee,
his purpose as the base of the church
even took Peter, a good Jew,
to the gentiles with the message of Jesus
including visions of breaking the dietary laws
for the sake of the gospel
a place he certainly didn’t expect to wind up
but which deepened his understanding of who God is
and expanded who he shared the good new with.
We are at a time in history
where we are being called to reexamine the questions
who is God? and who am I?
and we need to take time to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect
because how we live out our answers is a reflection of who we believe God to be
So we ask: Who do we say God is in the face of Charlottesville? And
How do we live out our answer as the body of Christ?
Who do we say God is in the face of sickness and death?
And How do we live out our answer as a member of the body of Christ?
Who do we say God is in the face of hurricanes and natural disasters?
And How do we live out our answer with the gifts given us by God?
These questions can be daunting
but when we ask them in community,
with the scriptures as witness,
the Holy Spirit our comforter and guide
and Jesus who has claimed us as his own
God will give us identity and purpose.
So, who do you say Jesus is?
10th Sunday After Pentecost
1 Kings 19:9-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who comes to us in the midst of the storm. Amen
The disciples were terrified
They cried out in fear
But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said
“take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
Fear is at the heart of our gospel story from Matthew this morning,
this story turns on the presence of fear
and what Jesus does
and how the disciples respond.
has been particularly present this week in our nation
on display for the world to see,
between escalating rhetoric involving the use of nuclear weapons
to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia,
part of which surrounded a church
where a prayer meeting was taking place
it was part of a counter protest of clergy and other faithful people
and the pictures of a mob with torches
surrounding this place of worship feels unreal to me,
but this was not fake news and the root of all this is fear.
The truth of the world
is that fear begets fear,
evil coaxes fear to blossom into hatred
and hatred turns to violence
and this is the opposite of what God wants for all creation.
It was evil at work in Charlottesville on Saturday
that gathered people to decry the beautiful diversity of God’s creation
particularly as witnessed in our black and brown brothers and sisters.
And no this is not something new,
evil has been working a long time on this project
this is just the latest manifestation.
we have the ultimate check on fear and evil,
the prince of peace
who is love incarnate
who through our baptisms
has joined us to his death and resurrection
freeing us from the fear of death,
calling us to be agents of peace in the world.
Easier said than done right?
As we see in the disciples’ journey with Jesus
there are times of fear,
as we know from our own lives
there are times of fear,
so it’s important for us to take time to consider our gospel story,
to notice the fear and how Jesus responds.
Last week we heard of the crowds who gathered seeking Jesus’ healing
and how he fed them all,
today, Jesus sends the disciples on ahead of him
to the other side of the sea of Galilee,
significantly, this is the first time in the gospel of Matthew
that the disciples are sent forth without Jesus,
Immanuel, God with us.
Now I want to make a distinction here,
there are two types of fear,
fear that is cowardly
and fear that is courageous,
is fear that creates boundaries,
separates one from another.
Fear that is courageous
is fear that crosses boundaries,
it is not knowing how the other will react
but reaching out our hand anyway.
The life of a disciple of Jesus
is marked by courageous fear,
of knowing something different lies on the other side of the sea
and going all the same.
Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him
to the other side of the sea
time passes and Matthew tells us
that Jesus is alone on the mountain
while the boat with the disciples
has moved far from shore
the wind is against them and the boat is getting tossed about by the waves.
Crossing boundaries is risky,
and sometimes storms come up,
storms that are not our fault,
are out of our control
and yet we get stuck in the middle of anyway.
Separated from Jesus while crossing the sea at his request
the disciples are in trouble
and what does Jesus do?
Our translation says “early in the morning”
but a better rendition is “the latest and darkest part of the night,”
Jesus comes to disciples walking across the water
When we hear this part of the story
we marvel at the impossible physics going on
but for the ancient people, the disciples
this was more than Jesus defying the laws of nature
it was a symbol of his ability to do what only God can do.
In the ancient world, water, the sea
and most creation stories
started with the creator god
defeating the chaos monster of the water
we see a little of that in the creation story in Genesis
where the first thing that happens
is a wind from God sweeps across the waters.
So the disciples are out in their boat
and chaos is threatening to overwhelm them
and here comes Jesus
treading upon chaos,
moving across it,
overcoming its power.
And now they are afraid for another reason
because they think it is a ghost,
a supernatural being coming toward them,
in the midst of storms
Jesus often comes to us in unexpected ways,
ways that are not obvious at first glance
but often end up revealing more of God to us than we ever expected.
To the fearful disciples Jesus calls out
“Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”
and in the “It is I,”
we hear echoed the great I AM
that came from the burning bush
when Moses asked for the name of the God he was speaking to
and this is what reveals to the disciples
that Jesus is the Son of God.
But of course it’s not that simple
we have this business with Peter,
good old rocky the block head
upon who Jesus will build his church,
who often says what we’re all thinking
but have wisely kept to ourselves,
who rushes into places angels fear to tread,
in response to Jesus’ “take heart, do not be afraid”
Peter’s first instinct is to test Jesus
“Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”
and Jesus who gives the same authority he has to the disciples
and Peter steps out of the boat
and starts walking on the water,
treading on the chaos,
Closing the gap between him and Jesus
and all of a sudden he looks up
and he notices the strong winds still blowing around him,
that he’s alone on the water,
he becomes frightened
and the chaos begins to take over again,
he begins to sink.
The only thing that has changed is Peter’s fear,
when he was focused on crossing the boundary to Jesus he was fine,
but fear made him notice all the obstacles
it threw him off his course
he cries out “Lord save me”
and Jesus reaches out and catches him
and here he admonishes Peter
“You of little faith, why did you doubt”
he’s not referring to Peter’s ability to walk on water
but his testing of Jesus
even after Jesus had identified himself,
and here’s the important part,
even though he admonishes Peter,
he doesn’t let him go,
together they make their way to the boat
That’s the other thing about fear,
it isolates us from those who are in the “same boat”
it is much easier to weather a storm
when there are others with us to share the experience,
we get into the most trouble when we strike out on our own.
And notice it is only after they climb in the boat,
rejoining the other disciples
that the winds cease and Jesus is worshipped as the Son of God.
As in our reading from 1 Kings,
God is fully revealed in the calm after the storm.
It is a truth of life
that storms will come up and we will be afraid
and sometimes it might seem like Jesus,
God with us
is far away on a mountain
while we are in a little boat
being tossed about by strong winds
in these times we wonder where God is,
people have been wondering this for ages,
and honestly we’ve never been able to come up with a good answer,
it’s part of the mystery of God,
but what we do know
is that at the darkest part of the night
Jesus will come to us,
often in a surprising and unexpected ways
treading on the chaos
saying “take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
and when we don’t quite believe
because it’s all so fantastic
and we leap out of the boat and rush toward Jesus
until fear takes over again,
Jesus catches us and brings us back to our community
to ride out the rest of the storm.
And when calm comes
we realize that in the midst of our fear and foolishness,
Jesus, Immanuel, God with us,
was right there
and we give thanks to God.
Jesus has called us to follow him by crossing boundaries set up by fear,
In these times the call is particularly strong
As well as particularly challenging,
It’s going to take courage to answer this call
And stand against the forces of evil at work in racism, bigotry
To reach out our hands not knowing how the other will respond.
And know this:
When we are afraid and in trouble Jesus comes to us at the right time
When we seek understanding Jesus beckons us to come to him
When fear changes our perspective and we begin to sink Jesus catches us
When we strike out on our own Jesus brings us back to our community
In the storm and in the calm Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Amen
9th Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Matthew 14: 13-21
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who calls us into relationship. Amen
How do you get people interested in an event?
This is particularly true on college campuses,
all across the nation
as the kids flood back to school
there will be activity fairs
and signs advertising informational meetings for clubs and groups,
and the most successful,
the table that will draw the biggest crowd
will have food,
and not just a few mini snickers bars
but the best food, slices of pizza, doughnuts, maybe even tacos.
Now not all of the adoring taco lovers
will become members of the rowing team
or the young diplomats club.
Most will be there simply for the food,
a break from whatever delights the cafeteria serves up
or perhaps worse their own cooking on a budget.
But, there is the possibility,
ever so small,
that something more could develop
from that initial exchange of food,
even if it is just knowing the name of Lutheran Campus ministries,
the association that they had good food,
and didn’t they say something about a meal after church Sunday mornings,
and aren’t they the ones with the open pantry of personal care supplies?
Even when it’s just about the food
it’s about more than the food,
it’s an entry point into relationship.
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
God calls out to the Israelites,
offering them free food
and not just any free food,
but the best food.
God offers this food
as a way to get them to listen once again
to the covenant promise,
to draw them back into relationship with God,
a relationship that God started with the people
to serve as an example for the other nations
so that the other nations would also come to God.
Even when it’s just about the food,
it’s about more than the food.
In our gospel
the crowds are already coming to Jesus,
in this case
it is in search of the free health car
e that Jesus has been offering,
as he has been wandering about teaching
he has also been healing
and not just offering an ointment here or a potion there
but full, miraculous healings,
withered hands restored, demons exorcised, dead brought back to life,
he’s offering the best and people are flocking to him.
And when Jesus sees the crowds,
the people seeking him
even as he is trying to get
away to mourn the death of John the Baptist,
he has compassion for them,
he feels their pain in his gut,
and he heals their sick.
It’s about more than just the healing.
The crowds are surrounding Jesus
and now the disciples’ enter the picture,
they have committed to a relationship with Jesus
past that of free food and health care,
they’ve joined his club,
they’re on board with his mission,
they want to help,
and so when it starts getting late
they come up to Jesus and say
‘uh hey boss, it’s getting late,
and there’s nothing out here,
maybe it’s time to start telling all these people
that it’s time for them to go someplace where they can get some food.”
they in their own way
are concerned for the welfare of the crowd
but they certainly don’t expect what Jesus tells them to do next.
“You give them something to eat”
Jesus commands the disciples
“but we only have five loaves and two fish,” they reply
and Jesus takes their food,
blesses and breaks it
and gives it back to the disciples to distribute.
And with the little they had
and the blessing of Jesus,
the disciples are able to feed the whole crowd,
and not just a little bit for each person
but all ate and were filled
and there were even left-overs
and for a moment
the reign of God is realized
and all who are gathered
experience the reality
of what Jesus has been teaching the disciples to work toward.
A world where people from all different walks of life
gather together and there is such an abundance
that everyone rich or poor
gets as much as they need and there are even left-overs.
In his command,
Jesus has empowered the disciples
with an understanding that with what little they have
and they blessing of God
they are able to make the reign of God real for people
in the same way Jesus has made it real for them.
That as disciples they are truly partners
in Jesus’ mission to spread the good news,
that the relationships they create with the crowds lead to God.
and sure some people are just there for the food
and that’s okay, because God knows that all people need food
but there’s the possibility that it will lead to something more,
a positive association with Jesus and his movement that may,
in the future draw them into their own path of discipleship.
It’s about more than just the food.
“Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
For most of us,
Our relationship with God
started with a free bath,
and we were brought to that bath
by parents or grandparents,
disciples empowered to share their experience of God with us.
In that bath, which was more than just a bath
God promised to always be in relationship with us
even if that was the only time we were ever in church,
or our parents had it done as “an insurance policy”
even if we stopped coming to church and talking to God in our teens,
20s, 30s 40s, 50s, 60s, etc
even if sometimes we feel like faith is day to day, moment to moment
but Jesus doesn’t just let us go,
he continually calls us back into relationship with God and one another,
through disciples and of course with free food,
the best food, his body and blood
in with and under the bread and wine,
which of course is about more than just the food,
it’s an offering of forgiveness for the relationships we’ve broken,
a taste of the reign of God
where all are welcome and there is enough for everybody.
And when we’ve gathered
with the great variety of people that God brings to the table,
eaten our fill and seen the leftovers,
then God turns us back toward the world,
the hungry and hurting
and says “you give them something to eat,
have compassion for the suffering crowds,
you feed them, you heal them,
and yes most of them will probably just be there for the free food and health care
but it’s an opportunity to
establish a deeper relationship
and then you can offer them something more,
a relationship with the creator of the universe”
And with what little we have
and the blessing of God
we are able to realize the reign of God,
one feast at a time. Amen
8th Sunday After Pentecost
1 Kings 35-12
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
This was a Sunday where I preached without a manuscript but the main point was that Paul, in the reading from Romans makes three assertions about God:
1) The spirit helps us in our weakness
2) God has called us (and part of being called is being justified and glorified by God)
3) Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God
In the many of the various characters in the Bible we hear in their stories how these three points play out, how God calls them, helps them in their weakness and is always with them.
These promises are for us as well, God has called us into relationship through our baptisms, helps us in our weakness and is always with us.
7th Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 13:24-30. 36-43
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who will sort everything out. Amen
So It’s always a fun week
when the gospel mentions sinners
burning in a furnace of fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth.
It’s a dramatic image
that captures our imagination
and there is a certain tradition of preachers
who use such images to invoke fear in their audience
with the idea that fear of such an end
or time spent in eternity
will lead heretofore unrepentant sinners to accept Jesus and salvation
and therefore avoid the eternal sauna of dental abuse.
It should not come as a surprise to you
that I am not one of these preachers
it seems to me,
as I have read the scriptures
particularly the teachings of Jesus
that while he did address the question about what happens next
his main concern, the focus of his teaching
is how we live, in this life, now.
And the focus of the parable of the weeds and the wheat
is actually a call to patience and trust in God.
let’s look at this parable again,
Jesus sets up the reality of the world,
that even if what we do is all good
there will always be times when bad is mixed in with the good
just like the weeds get mixed in with the wheat,
and that sometimes it takes awhile for us to notice
because they look so similar,
the weed referred to in the parable
is one that looks so much like wheat
that the distinction only comes when it’s time for the wheat to produce grain.
We have a hard time telling the good from the bad because they look similar.
So it is surprising to us
when it is revealed
that not everything we’ve let grow in our lives is good
just like the slaves who come to the master and exclaim
“did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?”
Again and again we rediscover
that the world is not as trustworthy as we think it is
and it shocks us.
And our next reaction
is often very much that of the slaves
who now that they realize an enemy has sown weeds in with the wheat
want to go into the field and rip out the weeds,
eradicate the false plants,
the bad plants that are intermingling with the good wheat.
And having set up how the world is,
Jesus then tells us his response,
how he works in the world.
The Master in the parable tells the slaves
who are all fired up to go rip out the weeds
to leave them be.
“For in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.”
and he counsels them to let the two plants,
remember they look very similar until the very end,
to grow until the harvest
and in the end, at the harvest
he will have the reapers, the experts
sort out the weeds from the wheat
and only then will the weeds be discarded
as the grain is gathered in.
Jesus wants us to leave the sorting to him
because there are times when the bad looks so similar to the good
that we confuse the two and rip up the wrong plant.
If our lives are any judge of our ability to tell the good from the bad
we don’t have that great a track record
so why would it be any different when sorting with vengeance in mind.
Sometimes plucking out the weed
causes more harm than good,
it uproots the good plants around it too
when, if left alone the good plant matures just fine alongside the weed.
Jesus counsels us to have patience
and to trust that he will take care of everything in the end,
that evil is temporary
while good lasts forever,
all he asks is that we let him do the final sorting.
So where does that leave us in the meantime?
Are we to stand idly by as evil works in the world?
part of our calling is to work for justice and peace in the world
following the example of Jesus
who when he fed the hungry fed everyone,
when he healed the sick healed all the sick,
who when he died on the cross died for everyone.
And it doesn’t always make sense to us,
we have trouble understanding why someone
who may not appear to deserve help
or be appropriately thankful
should be taken care of along with those we deem to be good,
and once again we’ve fallen into the trap
of trying to tell the weeds apart from the wheat.
In this case Jesus doesn’t expect us to understand,
and in fact it’s probably good in a way that we don’t.
as Paul said in our reading from Romans today
“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
In the same way, if we claim to completely understand God,
what we understand is not God,
but we trust that God is good
and we wait for the kingdom of God
where all will live under that goodness.
Until then the reality is
that there will always be weeds mixed in with the wheat,
in our society and in ourselves
and we can’t always tell the difference,
which is why we need Jesus
who is all good,
who promises that evil is temporary
while good lasts forever
and who we were joined to in our baptisms
and for Jesus’ sake
God counts us as good
and promises that we will last forever.
We don’t know about others around us,
all we know is that God has promised us life everlasting
and that promise is open to others through Jesus as a free gift.
So focusing on what we know,
we are called to share this joy with others
and leave the judgment to 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.