5th Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the most important one. Amen
What’s the point?
This question kept popping into my head this week
as I spent time with our readings,
it’s a question that changes ever so slightly
based on context and inflection.
In the mouths of a teenager arguing with authority
it’s a rebellious question: “what’s the point?”
coming from one who is overworked and underappreciated
it’s a question the spells defeat: “what’s the point?”
Asked by a teacher it’s a test: “what’s the point?”
now you’re all thinking okay pastor,
is the reason for fixating on this question?
It’s because what this flexible question indicates
is that while we know some things in life are more important than others
we also know it’s easy to get distracted
by the many important but not most important things in life
and often we need to be reminded both of what the point is,
and to ask the question
and we find this in all of our readings for today.
the people have begun to ask the question using the defeated tone,
they are in exile separated from the promised land,
under the control of their enemies
the prophet is reminding them that God is everlasting,
creator of the ends of the earth
and everything pales in comparison to that fact,
the people momentarily in power,
even the wonders of creation all are less than God,
God who never tires or gets defeated,
God who has promised to renew those who wait for the Lord,
to be with the people through their suffering,
to raise them up again.
God is the point the prophet reminds the people
and sure we as people may not understand
what is going on in the world at this exact moment,
but God does
and God will help us through,
stay focused on the most important thing, God.
But it’s so easy to get distracted,
the new disciples discover this in our gospel for today,
remember Jesus is at the very beginning of his ministry,
he has been baptized and revealed as God’s beloved,
he has been tempted in the wilderness by the devil
and now he has begun his public ministry
by announcing the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near
and enlisted disciples to help him spread that good news.
The disciples and the congregation at the synagogue in Capernaum
just heard him preach with authority and rebuke unclean spirits,
and we are told that his fame starts to spread around the region.
As we join them today
Jesus and the disciples leave the synagogue
and go to Simon and Andrew’s house to spend the night,
when they get there they find Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever,
Jesus heals her
and word obviously spreads
because by the end of the evening
the whole town is gathered around the front door
and they’ve brought everyone who needs any kind of healing to Jesus,
who cures and casts out demons from many of them.
It would be really easy for Jesus to get distracted at this point,
his teaching has been praised,
he’s gathered crowds and people are excited to have this healer in their midst.
It seems like Jesus could really make a name and career for himself in this town
if he spent some time there continuing to do good, important work.
The temptation to remain is strong
but early the next morning
before even his disciples can begin to make demands of him
Jesus goes to a deserted place to pray,
to wait for the Lord, to be renewed,
to be reminded of what the point is
and so he is ready when the disciples find him,
“everyone is searching for you!” they exclaim
ready to take him back to Capernaum
to pick up where he left off the night before,
but Jesus responds “Let us go on to the neighboring towns; so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
Jesus will not be distracted from his mission,
nor will he allow his disciples to be distracted
even if it means leaving a place of success.
Now it doesn’t mean leaving these places abandoned,
all along the way Jesus will call followers
each to their own mission,
some will continue to proclaim the good news,
some will pick up with the healing,
some will serve the last and the least
and in this way the kingdom of God will continue to come near.
But Jesus knows what the point of his time on earth is,
and he will remain faithful to his mission,
all the way to the cross, his ultimate point,
his death for the sake of the whole broken and distracted creation of God,
his resurrection affirming once and for all that God has the last say.
This is Jesus’ mission, his purpose, his point
and in fulfilling it he gave us new life and purpose.
And because God knows that we will get distracted along the way
God gave us the gift of baptism,
a moment in time we can point to
when we look at our lives and wonder what’s the point?
What’s the point? God says,
the point is that in the words spoken at your baptism
I claimed you once and for all as a child of God
and gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit
to help you along the way
in the water I washed you clean
to give you a fresh start to live out your purpose,
helping to bring about the kingdom of God
using the particular gifts I have given you.
This is who we are, children of God,
this is the answer to the question what’s the point?
And yes, along the way we will get distracted
whether it is by despair like the Israelites in exile,
success like the disciples at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
or a debate over who can join in
and how they should act once they do,
that’s what Paul is dealing with in our second reading,
the early church that Paul was a part of
got distracted by debating who could become a member of their new community,
could gentiles join in?
And if they can, do they have to act like Jews?
Can poor people become a part of the community?
And if they can, will they be expected to contribute the same amount as the rich?
What about the weak in faith, if so how weak is too weak?
Do the strong in faith have to accommodate their weakness?
This is what Paul is speaking to,
even as he seems to be bragging about his abilities as a disciple
and setting the impossible standard of being all things to all people,
his point is that the message of Christ and the kingdom are what matters,
not who hears it or how they hear it,
in fact different groups of people will hear it better
when communicated in different ways
and Paul is willing to do that in service of the good news of God
he is willing to set aside good and important things in service of the gospel.
It’s so easy to get distracted from the most important one, God
and yet God keeps reaching out to us,
through prophets and apostles
who remind us that spending time with God will renew us and keep us focused,
through water and word
that remind us who we are and whose we are,
through communities that gather together to praise God,
and at the table where through words of promise
bread and wine become body and blood
And Jesus joins us to himself once again,
forgiving and renewing us
then sending us out once more to proclaim the good news
“the kingdom of God has come near”
this is the point beloved children of God,
may we alway keep it before us,
and when we get distracted may we always be brought back to it. Amen
Psalm 116: 1-2, 12-19
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31-35
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who comes to us in bread and wine. Amen
Tonight is a night of memories.
memories help tell us who we are,
both as individuals and as communities,
they are the stories that tell us where we’ve come from
and point us to where we are going
and yet the calling to mind of these stories
is as fragile
as the stories are important,
we’ve all experienced the sensation
of walking into a room and completely forgetting
why we came into that room in the first place,
we’ve debated with others
what exactly happened that one time,
we’ve experienced the devastation
of dementia and memory loss in loved ones.
Yet some things remain clear in our minds,
our home telephone number from elementary school
or the snappy jingle
directing us to a particular brand of breakfast cereal,
part of the mystery of living
is that we don’t always get to choose which memories
naturally stay fresh and clear
and which fade away.
But we have found that there are things we can do
to help us remember,
intentionally hold on to,
the important stories.
We do this by telling the stories over and over again,
we attach rituals to the stories
where we act them out,
we tie the stories to our senses
the taste, touch, smell, sight and sounds
all helping us to remember.
Tonight is a night of remembering,
calling to mind the stories that define us,
stories so important
that God has told us to remember them.
In our first lesson we heard God telling the people of Israel
how they are to remember the defining moment
when God brought them out of slavery into freedom.
Each year, God tells the people,
they are to reenact the exodus,
and in the eating of the roasted lamb
while dressed to travel at a moments notice
the story of what God had done
will come alive once more
and the people will remember
that they are people meant for freedom
guided by a great and powerful God.
“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” God tells the people
And that is what Jesus and the disciples are doing
all those hundreds of years later
when they are gathered around the table
for what Jesus knows will be their last meal together.
And as they recall the foundation of their relationship with God,
Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us,
who ate and drank with the disciples,
healed and prayed, cried and celebrated
gives the disciples a way to remember this aspect of relationship with God
and the new freedom they are about to experience
through Jesus’ actions on the cross.
Gathered together at the table of remembering
Jesus takes bread,
the common everyday food
and he blesses it and then breaks the loaf
and gives it to the disciples saying this is my body,
do this to remember me.
And then Jesus takes the cup of wine,
the drink of celebrations
blesses it and gives it to the disciples saying
this is the new covenant, in my blood,
drink it to remember my promise to you.
In the future, Jesus tells the disciples,
whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup
you will remember what I have done for you.
On the cross in body broken and blood poured out
Jesus frees us from sin and death.
At the table, in broken bread and wine poured out
Jesus forgives us,
freeing us to move past our mistakes and our failures
to the wholeness of new life in Christ.
And what does that new life look like?
It looks like Jesus kneeling at the feet of his disciples
washing their feet,
an act of love and humility
that Jesus says they are to copy
as they live out the new commandment of Jesus,
to love one another just as Jesus has loved them.
This is the sign to others that you are my disciples
Jesus tells them in the gospel of John,
the love that you have for one another.
Yes, we have two different stories of Jesus’ last night with the disciples,
in Matthew, Mark and Luke we hear about the last supper,
in John we hear about the washing of feet and the new commandment,
these were the stories, the memories
passed down in the communities where the gospels were first written
and while they are different,
and we might wonder at that
both the stories are included in our holy scriptures
because ultimately we need both stories
for our relationship with God.
we need the new commandment
that points us toward the future in Christ,
a future marked by love lived out in service to others,
and we need the forgiveness
found when Jesus comes to us in bread and wine, body and blood,
after we have failed to love as Jesus loves
and we need to hear these stories again and again
as again and again we hear the command to love
and receive the forgiveness of God
living in the law of love and the grace of Jesus.
So we tell the stories when we gather,
we hand down memories in the telling, and acting,
the taste and touch, the smells and the singing
these memories remind us of who we are,
people who live in freedom
because of the great acts of God,
people who are to love and serve their neighbors,
people with a God who comes to us in bread and wine
to remind us that we are God’s children,
fed and forgiven, freed to love. Amen
Third Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthian 12:12-31
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace to you from the one with a purpose. Amen
We are still in the season after Epiphany,
the season where our readings reveal who Jesus is
and what he is about.
So far in the time after Epiphany
We’ve heard the story of Jesus’ baptism
where the spirit came down and claimed him
and God’s voice named him as beloved son,
we got a glimpse of Jesus’ capacity for abundance
as we watched him in action
at the wedding at Cana
turning a huge amount of water
into a vast amount of fine wine
so that by the grace of God relationships could be repaired
Jesus announces his purpose,
what he has come to do.
From his baptism
Jesus is driven out into the wilderness
to be tempted by Satan,
he successfully survives the test
and that is where we pick up the story today
when filled with the power of the spirit
Jesus returns to Galilee
and begins teaching,
people are impressed
and word begins to spread
about how great this new teacher is
and so of course he has to go home and teach in the home synagogue,
local boy makes good better come home and share his talents right?
So there is perhaps a greater sense of anticipation
in his home town synagogue,
among the people who watched him grow from a cute baby
through those awkward teen years
into the man before them, stands,
takes the scroll and turns to Isaiah and reads:
“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 captive and recovery of sight to the blind to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he sits down to teach
and eyes of all in the synagogue are fixed on him.
The people are holding their breath,
what is this reportedly great teacher going to say about this passage?
Will he talk about the tradition of the prophets?
The hoped for messiah?
And Jesus delivers his sermon in one sentence:
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
The way the planners of the lectionary set it up
we don’t get the crowds’ reaction until next week,
so this week we get to unpack what is revealed about Jesus
through his reading of Isaiah
and his one sentence interpretation of the reading.
These are the first words we hear from Jesus
after he starts his ministry
and in his choice of reading from Isaiah
Jesus lays out his purpose for the rest of his ministry,
Jesus is to bring good news to the poor,
proclaim release to the captive,
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor
Jesus has rooted himself firmly
in the prophetic tradition
and the expectations of the people of Israel,
but we know of course
that the way Jesus works
is decidedly unexpected
so we wonder what does Jesus mean
when he claims that the scripture has been fulfilled?
- we will see just what this all means,
as Jesus lives out his purpose,
in how he feeds the hungry,
thousands with a few loaves and fish
forgives those captive to sin
with the words ‘your sins are forgiven’
heals those oppressed by sickness
as simply as saying ‘get up take your mat and go’
Jesus will live his purpose out
in more controversial ways as well
by choosing to associate with tax collectors and sinners over the religious elite,
he will break the law to fulfill his purpose
whether it’s healing on the Sabbath or not washing his hands
and in a grand display
he will cleanse the temple of money changers
and merchants selling animals for sacrifice,
disrupting the established economic system
in a bid to turn the focus of the temple from worldly gain
to prayer to the creator of the universe.
And as you can imagine
all these actions disrupting the status quo
upset the people who benefitted from the status quo
which leads to the cross
Jesus’ most unconventional way of being messiah,
dying for the sake of life
And it is Jesus’ short sermon in his home synagogue
at the beginning of his ministry
that starts this all off
sounding the death knoll of the status quo
because good news for the poor
means consequences for those who are rich
freedom is good news for the oppressed
and means changes for those who oppressed them
the year of jubilee, the Lord’s favor
when the ancestral land is redistributed
is exciting for those who have no land
but perhaps not so much
for those who have acquired great amounts of land.
In the words of the hymn the Canticle of the Turning
“the world is about to turn”
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
What are we to make of this pronouncement of Jesus
Especially in light of all that’s going on in the world around us
A world still full of the hungry, poor and oppressed.
Allow me if you will
to take a slight detour into the world of grammar.
There is a tense called the perfect tense,
and it describes actions that have been completed
but whose consequences are ongoing in the present.
For example the statement:
I made lunch.
The making of lunch is complete,
an action of the past
but the consequence of that statement
is that there is now lunch available to eat.
Jesus’ sermon is like that,
In the perfect tense
the words of the prophet Isaiah have been fulfilled.
Completed by Jesus’ pronouncement
but the consequences of his statement,
of what he has done
is still being worked out
and we have a part in living them out
As Paul said in our second reading for the day:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free and we were all made to drink of one spirit.”
In our baptisms we were joined to Christ
and when we were joined to Christ
his purpose became our purpose,
to bring good news to the poor,
proclaim release to the captives,
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free
and to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor.
And as we look around at the world
and see how many people are still poor, captive and oppressed
we realize there is a lot of work left to do,
and when this seems overwhelming
we pause and look around at the body of Christ,
made up of many members
each with a role to play according to the gift of the spirit.
Who, joined together as one in Christ
live out God’s purpose in the world. Amen
Second Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the God of abundant life. Amen
Today Jesus turns water into wine.
It’s one of his most well known miracles or signs
even among those otherwise uninterested in Jesus
but who are fascinated at the possibility of this power,
‘oh the savings they cry as they buy yet another bottle of wine,
if only I were Jesus, all I would need is some water… ‘
which as wonderful as that may be
misses the point of the story entirely.
The wine is not the point,
it’s what the wine is for,
the restoring of relationships
which Jesus does in abundance.
Jesus and his friends and family are at a wedding,
just as with now
weddings in ancient times were complicated social affairs
lasting days if not a week
during which the families of the bride and groom
were to provide appropriate refreshment,
an important act of hospitality to be sure
but also a way of gaining social capital
in an honor shame society.
Gaining honor or being shamed
had serious social and even economic consequences
so it was important for the new couple
to start their life together in good standing with their community
by providing a good wedding feast
of course including wine.
Which is why it is a crisis
when the wine runs out
before the end of the feast,
the couple’s standing in the community is at stake.
who knows he can do something about this
points out the situation to Jesus
and while he is initially reluctant to act
he does what his mother asks,
telling the servants to fill the big stone jars with water
then to draw some out and take it to the chief steward,
the one in charge of running the party,
and when the steward tastes the wine that the water has become
he goes and honors the groom for saving the best wine for last
and the relationship between the new couple and the community is restored,
Now of course Jesus didn’t just make a little of this wine,
John tells us that the six stone jars hold 20-30 gallons each,
180 gallons of the best wine.
When Jesus gives,
he gives abundantly
and the abundance of God
leads to restored relationships.
And that is the essence of Jesus’ mission in the gospel of John.
in John 10:10 Jesus says
“I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
It’s his mission statement,
the guiding principle of his life,
providing abundant life for all.
Now when we think of abundance
we tend to think in material terms,
a lot of wine, money, land, cars, those kinds of things
and often the getting or having a lot of things
is attributed to the blessing of God,
or interpreted as a sign of God’s favor.
But we are well aware
that many people who have a lot of stuff,
who are rich in material goods
do not act in ways that please God
an abundance of things is not an automatic sign of the favor of God.
As Jesus shows us in the gospel of John,
abundant life is much more holistic,
abundant life happens when relationships on all levels are in harmony,
abundant life happens in community.
Karoline Lewis, a professor at Luther Seminary says this about the communal nature of the abundance of God:
“Abundance, as it turns out, is never just about you and Jesus alone,
as much as we want it to be that way,
hope it will be that way,
but about bringing us into relationships when once rejected,
into a community when once abandoned,
and into life, true life, abundant life, once thought to be lost forever.
What difference does this make?
Well, it means that abundance can never be an individualized affair.
It’s not just that abundance is not yours to keep;
it’s that abundance reorients your way of being in the world.
Abundance is known in relationship.
Abundance cannot be realized
unless it is experienced in relationship with others -- and fundamentally, with God.
Because being on the receiving end of abundance
is never for abundance alone,
especially yours alone,
but is for the sake of seeing the absence of it in others
and doing something about it.” (Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 1/13/19)”
The abundance of God is received and lived out in community.
We as a community are living in a time of abundance.
At our annual meeting after service
we will reflect back on the abundant life of the last year
and we will look to the future
which holds exciting things.
we have been given a monetary gift to start an endowment
that will allow us to do something when we see a lack of abundance in the lives of others.
I am very excited about this but we’ll talk about it more in a bit.
But more important
is the abundance found within the people of this community.
In our second lesson
Paul talks about the gifts of the spirit,
who has given a gift to everyone for the common good.
We all have gifts to share.
The spirit gives a different gift to each of us
and brings us together in community to work together-
Paul goes on to liken this to a body,
many members and different parts
that work together to be a whole,
with each different part necessary for the good of the one body.
Each of us has different gifts
God doesn’t expect us as individuals to be good at everything,
God does expect us to live in community
with others whose gifts are complimentary
and all together as a community
live lives turned outward,
sharing the abundance of God.
The spirit has given us many gifts as a community,
each of you,
with your gifts make this community what it is
and as we welcome more people as members
all of us become richer in the gifts of the spirit.
We are living in a time of abundance as a community,
our big stone jars are filled to overflowing with the best wine,
it is time for us to both savor the taste of God’s grace
and find ways to share the abundance with others,
especially those who lack.
Together we will listen to the call of the holy spirit,
dream about how the abundance of God in our lives can be used to serve others
and then, as one body with many members
we will share the abundance entrusted to us
so that in the name of Jesus,
all may have life and have it abundantly. Amen
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
Exodus 12:1–4, 11–14
Psalm 116:1–2, 12–19
1 Corinthians 11:23–26
John 13:1–17, 31b–35
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is love and grace. Amen
Law and gospel, love and grace.
This is Jesus’ last evening with the disciples
and he wraps up their time together
with a concise summary of what he is all about,
why he has come
and why he will go to the cross willingly.
It is all Law and gospel, love and grace.
First the law,
Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment,
to love one another.
The law as Jesus gives it
is not a series of prohibitions against this or that
but to treat one another out of love.
It’s deceivingly simple
leaving us with more questions than answers,
chief among them; How do we love one another?
You are to love one another as I have loved you,
Jesus tells the disciples,
the love I’m talking about looks like service
the kind of service I just did by taking off my outer robe
and kneeling before you
washing your feet like a servant,
doing the dirty work of caring for another.
“You’re not better than me” Jesus tells the disciples
knowing that they will be repelled
by the thought of serving in this way,
their upbringing, the culture, their religious beliefs
all tell them that this kind of service is beneath them,
a job for the lower classes, unclean, something to be avoided,
and yet this is Jesus’ new command to them, to us.
Love one another as I have loved you,
This is the mark of my disciples Jesus says
if you have love for one another,
This is the new law by which you will be judged.
Love is now the law.
And even as he gives the new commandment,
Jesus knows that we are incapable of keeping it.
Which is why Jesus follows the giving of the law
with the giving of grace,
the giving of himself on the cross
so that God will look on us as being as holy as Jesus,
even though we fail at loving.
Jesus sets the example of grace this last night too,
though the disciples won’t be able to see the grace
until after the fact,
we get to see the grace of Jesus’ actions,
how even though he knows exactly what is going to happen,
who is going to betray him,
he continues to serve his betrayer.
Did you notice that?
Jesus, knows that Judas is going to betray him
and he still washes his feet,
he knows Judas is on his way out the door
and he still eats the passover meal with him.
When we were preparing for first communion
we talked about how eating a meal with someone
is a sign that you are friends,
Jesus includes Judas in the meal,
eating out of the same bowl even.
This is grace.
And Simon Peter,
he gets the same treatment as everyone else too,
he will betray Jesus,
not as intentionally as Judas,
not for money
but out of fear for his own skin
he will deny that he knew Jesus.
And yet Jesus kneels at Simon Peter’s feet too.
Now Peter has a big mouth,
as a disciple he is often guilty of speaking before thinking
sometimes he accidently speaks the truth
and sometimes he says what the rest of us are thinking
but are too afraid to say.
Jesus is washing the disciple’s feet and he comes to Peter
“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Peter asks,
though it is completely obvious that that is what Jesus is doing.
“You will never wash my feet” Peter says to Jesus,
he refuses to give up his set understanding
of what is the proper relationship between a teacher a master and his followers,
a master serving a follower, that’s just not done!
We get squeamish when it comes to grace,
when it comes to being served
by someone we respect or anyone really,
we back away, we protest,
we can do this, don’t trouble yourself,
we get squeamish because accepting grace
means that someone else is doing our dirty work,
that they will see what we like to hide,
the imperfections of our feet,
the imperfections of our lives.
Jesus responds to Peter the big mouth,
the stubborn independent disciple
who one minute says he will follow Jesus all the way to death
and another minute denies that he knows him
“unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Jesus says
There are some things we can’t do for ourselves,
there are some things that Jesus has to do,
only Jesus can do
and joining us to him through washing is one of those things,
in our baptisms we are joined to Christ,
God does that it
is a pure gift, it is grace.
Christ comes to us in the breaking of the bread
and pouring of the wine,
God does that,
it is a pure gift, it is grace,
Jesus goes to the cross for us,
it is a pure gift
it is grace.
Law and gospel, love and grace.
In remembering Jesus’ last night with his disciples
We are reminded that we have been commanded to love one another,
self-giving, getting dirty footwashing love
that includes even those we know are going to betray us,
and we are reminded of the good news of grace,
the gift of the cross
which means that we will not be condemned
when we fail to love
but in the water, word, bread and wine
are forgiven and set free to live lives of service,
lives of love and grace. Amen
7th Sunday after Epiphany
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
1 Corinthian 3:10-11, 16-23
Matthew 5: 38-48
"Build with Care"
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace to you and peace from Christ the foundation of our faith. Amen
We have spent the last five Sundays with Paul
and his first letter to the Corinthians.
We’ve heard Paul greet the Corinthians,
giving thanks for them
because the grace of God was active in them,
a small part of a larger church.
We’ve heard him call the Corinthians
to a unity of purpose in Christ,
reminding them that unity is not uniformity,
that all their various gifts and skills
should be used for the purpose
of spreading the good news of Jesus
and that it doesn’t matter who does it
but that it is done in and for Christ.
We’ve considered with Paul
how the message of the cross
is foolish by the world’s standards
and yet God has chosen to work in ways
that the world deems foolish
and we are called to be partners in that foolishness,
doing justice loving kindness and walking humbly with our God.
We’ve taken time to consider
how we intend to live foolishly,
living into who God has created us to be,
if we are salt we season,
if we are light we illumine,
because living out the message of God
is a more powerful way to witness than using fancy words,
We’ve been reassured
that this way of life takes practice,
that we are not expected
to understand and live it all at once
but that we will end up taking baby steps,
and our role
is to keep taking those steps
it is up to God to make them into something,
God gives the growth.
today we have one last day with Paul and the Corinthians
though the letter goes on
Paul wraps up the themes from the section we’ve been reading,
bringing together his thoughts on the role of individuals and communities
within the body and mission of Christ,
and just as Paul is wrapping up this portion of the letter
we are wrapping up our initial portion of the vision process
that we began over a year ago,
we will unveil our new mission statement
and begin living into our vision
of who we are
and how we intend to live out what is important to us
as a community in Christ.
To the Corinthians, and to us, Paul says:
“build with care”
he switches from the gardening metaphor
to a construction metaphor,
we are builders who have been given a foundation,
the best foundation we could ever receive,
and as partners with God
it is up to us to build on that foundation.
In the part of the letter that the lectionary skipped,
he makes the point
that the building materials don’t matter,
they could be flashy gold or simple brick,
but what does matter
is the structure the building,
how the materials at hand are used,
it is possible
to build a shoddy structure
even given a great foundation,
build with care,
take time for reflection, self-examination
and when you find that you think you’ve got it all figured it
out it is time to return to the foolishness of God
because it is not about you or other humans
but about Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Self-examination may not be fun all the time,
in fact if we’re doing it right
we will probably make some discoveries
that make us feed uncomfortable
but it is a necessary part of building with care
on the foundation of Christ.
Here we not only have the foundation
but we also have the tradition of 126 years as a congregation,
generations have built on the foundation before us,
and while we honor those years of tradition
and the people that brought us to the faith
we also need to realize
that we are called to build on Christ
in this time and place
with the people who are in our community now
I don’t know if you’ve noticed it,
but the world has been changing rather rapidly as of late
and some of our valued traditions
may not be the best building method anymore,
we can no longer count
on people wandering through the doors
to swell our ranks,
though we rejoice when people do join us,
we need to take our welcome outside the building,
we can no longer count on society
making it easy to be Christian,
we need to work together
to support one another in figuring out how to live as Christians
in a world that increasingly acts
contrary to the values of our faith.
And while this seems a daunting task,
Christians have always lived in a rapidly changing world,
and our longest standing practices,
worship and the sacraments,
gathering as a community,
studying the scriptures,
supporting one another in prayer
and performing acts of service
all bring us back to Christ our foundation,
in this time we need them more than ever.
Rooted in Christ
we will build with care
using the materials given us in this moment.
And we build with care
because we have a great treasure
to care for and to share,
we have something to offer the world,
that the world needs.
We have the spirit of Christ dwelling in us.
It has made a difference in our lives
and we know that it will make a difference
in the lives of our neighbors
which is why we seek to build with care,
in ways that live out and build up the community of Christ.
Jesus knows that at times this will be difficult,
the world does not take kindly
to what it deems foolish,
resisting violence with peace,
praying for those who persecute you,
going the extra mile,
giving to those who ask,
loving enemies as well as friends because everyone is our neighbor.
Jesus was crucified for living this way
and teaching others to live this way.
But Jesus also knows that this way leads to abundant everlasting life,
through his death and resurrection
Jesus gives us this life.
He went to the cross because it is worth it.
So when this way gets tough
Jesus meets us at the foot of the cross,
brings us to the table,
and feeds us with his body and blood,
recalling to us who we are
and whose we are,
children of God who belong to Christ
who belongs to God.
And refreshed at the table
we are sent back out into the world
to continue building with care
on the foundation of Christ. Amen
This is the last of the sermon series on 1 Corinthians. Sunday February 26th we will unveil our new mission statement and celebrate with a potluck lunch after worship.
Sixth Sunday After Epiphany
Deuteronomy 30: 15-20
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from God who gives the growth. Amen
Life with God is a process,
a journey that is only completed
when we are commended to God at our death
and because it is a journey that we are on
there is always room for improvement,
Life with God takes practice.
Our texts for today
make it very clear
that life with God, as a child of God
is never a one and done event,
God saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt
and brought them to freedom and the promised land
but that was only the start of their life with God.
God knew that after being slaves for so long
they didn’t know how to live freely and peacefully with one another
so God gave the people leaders in Moses, Aaron and Miriam
and the commandments,
a guide for peaceful prosperous life together
and God gave the Israelites time to practice this way of life without distractions
while wandering in the desert
before entering the promised land,
they couldn’t handle it all at once,
they had to take baby steps to get there.
Our reading from Deuteronomy this morning
is Moses’ last address to the people
before they enter the promised land,
full of riches and opportunity
and other people with their own gods and way of living
and one last time
Moses calls the people to follow the way of life
that they have been practicing,
that God has laid out before them
he puts it in stark terms,
life and death,
the way of God is life
any other way is death.
Choose life Moses says!
Practice life by living according to the guide God has given you,
it will lead you to life. Choose life!
By the time Jesus comes on the scene
the people have been practicing the law of Moses,
with varying degrees of success
for a long time,
and in the sermon on the mount
Jesus joins the group of rabbis who say,
it’s time to take it to the next level,
‘I didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it’ Jesus tells the crowd
life is even more complex than the law
and the interpretation of the law have been,
now it is no longer good enough
to follow the exact letter of the law
but one must look at the intent behind the law,
what is at the root of murder?
It is anger,
we’ve established that murder is bad Jesus says,
now let’s work on what leads to murder.
It’s the next step on the way to the abundant life
that Jesus came to bring,
and if all of this seems overwhelming and impossible
The truth is that it is
but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try,
it means we are aware of how much we need the grace of God
given to us through the cross of Christ
God both expects us to follow the law
of love of God and neighbor
and God knows we will fail and need the grace of Christ.
Life with God takes practice
Paul points out in our reading from 1 Corinthians
that it’s okay, necessary even
to take baby steps in our practice,
he calls the Corinthians infants in Christ
and says that he fed them with milk
because they were not ready for solid food.
The life of faith is a life of growth in faith,
growth that takes time, nourishment and practice.
One of the main ways we nourish and practice
our life in faith
is through worship.
When we gather for worship we gather to praise God, yes
and to be nourished yes
but also to practice,
in the time and space of worship
we practice for the rest of life,
we practice how God calls us to live beyond worship.
We start with confession and forgiveness,
practicing mending the inevitable broken relationships
that go along with being human.
We give thanks in worship,
acknowledging that all we have in this life are gifts from God,
We listen to the word of God, in the readings and sermon,
practicing listening for what God is saying to us in our daily lives.
We pray for others and ourselves
practicing communicating with God on a personal level.
We offer one another peace
practicing for the times of conflict
when it will be necessary in life
to cross the aisle
and take the hand of someone you profoundly disagree with
and make peace.
We give in worship
practicing living materially God and neighbor centered lives,
acknowledging that we are dependent on God
and not on ourselves for our lives and livelihoods
and that we are called to share what God has given us.
We eat a meal together
at a table where all are welcome
and there is enough for everyone,
practicing God’s truth for the world,
preparing us to know that it is a lie
when we are told there is not enough for everyone
and that some are better than others.
We bless one another and receive blessings
practicing offering affirming words to one another
in a world that most often offers criticism.
And then we are sent out into the world
as servants of God
to spread this way of life
We go out taking baby steps,
a kind word here,
a radical welcome there,
a small moment of peace making,
a word of blessing,
and God takes our baby steps
and uses them to give the growth,
to make the kingdom of God a reality.
Paul planted, Apollos watered but God gave the growth.
Paul reminds the Corinthians
Whatever we do
However we contribute
Ultimately growth is up to God
And for that I say thanks be to God.
5th Sunday after Epiphany
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
"Show not Tell"
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the creator of salt and light
and the crucified Christ. Amen
Today’s texts are a call to action,
reading after reading we heard God’s call to us
to be active in our partnership with God.
First we heard the prophetic voice of Isaiah
rousing the Israelites out of their complacency,
in their exile
they were relying only on sacrifice and fasting
to relate to God
and in the voice of the prophet
we hear God telling them,
“ sacrifice and fasting might work for those pagan gods around you
but I expect more from our relationship,
I expect our relationship to leave the place of worship
and impact all your relationships:
This is the fast, the way of that I prefer
that you loose the bonds of injustice
undo the thongs of the yoke
let the oppressed go free,
if you want to be in relationship with me
share your bread with the hungry
bring the homeless poor into your house,
and when you see the naked cover them,
mend broken relationships in your family,
then you will see the glory of the Lord. “
It is time to put faith into action
The psalmist reminded us
that righteousness is the antidote to fear.
We get distracted by all the opinions around us,
what will people think? we worry,
but when it comes down to it
the only one we have to answer to is God,
if we live in a way that is pleasing to God,
that is righteous,
we have nothing to fear.
Paul came to the Corinthians
not with lofty words but with a demonstration of the spirit.
Jesus calls us to let our light shine.
Actions speak louder than words today,
it’s time to show not tell.
This was Paul’s strategy with the Corinthians
and it worked.
He’s reminding them of this today,
a divided community
parts of whom have been lured away
by people who have impressed them with fancy speeches
but what made them part of the community in the beginning
was the power of God,
a power they felt so strongly
that they chose to join this minority group of believers,
outside the mainstream,
often outside the protection of family
that didn’t understand what they were doing and cut them off.
You don’t give up your inheritance and place in society
for fancy sounding words,
there is more going on than that
it is the power of God at work.
Paul recalls to the divided Corinthians
that through grace,
God has redeemed them
and called them to be partners in the spread of the gospel
and that this is the purpose that unites them,
through the saving power of God.
Paul acknowledges to the Corinthians
that according to the reasoning of the world
the message of God is foolishness
but since God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom
just as God’s weakness is stronger than human strength
we are called to act foolishly in our partnership with God
depending on the power of God
to work through us to spread the good news.
Paul came to the Corinthians in weakness
and the power of God shone through,
allowing Paul to show rather than tell
the life changing message.
Showing works much better than telling
this is our call as Christians.
Jesus puts it even more succinctly
at the end of the sermon on the mount.
Be who you were created to be.
If you are salt be salty,
if you are light, illumine what is around you,
that is how you honor God.
Now to be clear
this call to action isn’t about salvation
or getting right with God,
this is not works righteousness,
the thought that if we work hard enough
or do enough good or pray in the right way or make sacrifices
that we will fix things.
We don’t have that kind of power,
salvation is up to God and God has saved us.
Past tense on going action, that’s taken care of.
And it’s not about the prosperity gospel
the lie that says if you pray in the right way
or give enough or go to the right church
that God will bless you with lots of money and power and things.
God just doesn’t work like that either.
It’s about being who we were created by God to be.
Children of God,
made out of love for love
each endowed by God with unique gifts and talents.
If you are salt season,
if you are light illumine what is around you,
how can you do otherwise?
It seems simple
and yet the way of the world
is the way of distraction,
of tempting and telling us to be more than we were created to be-
this was the serpent’s method in the garden,
tempting our first people
with the thought that they could be more than God
the world whispers in our ears saying
you could do more,
make more money, gain more power
if you cut out that time waste called sabbath
other times the world tells us to be less than we were created to be
the Israelites were slaves in Egypt,
told that they were only good for making bricks.
Did anyone believe that fishermen and tax collectors
in a backward province of the Roman empire could change the world?
Why would anyone listen to you? You’re only________
God knows it is hard to hear through all the noise,
that is why even as God calls us to action,
God also calls us to rest,
and so while we must act,
we also must take the time to listen to the Holy Spirit,
to discover our God given gifts,
to take Sabbath and quiet the voices of the world
so that when we return to action
it is for the sake of God through who we are.
And God has given us the gifts to help us on the way
the holy spirit to help us understand, discern, who we are
the waters of baptism
to remind us who we are
and that we are in need of God’s grace,
the bread and wine of the table
to strengthen us
and remind us that we are enough,
enough to take the body and blood of Christ into our own bodies.
God calls us to action,
the action of being who God has made us to be,
We have been taking some time to listen to the Holy Spirit as a congregation,
we have heard how we are children of God,
we are a community that cares for one another like family,
who is willing to spring into action,
we have heard that we have been called
to be partners in God’s foolishness,
now the question is:
how do we live out who we are?
How do we live in a way that shows others the power of God at work in our lives?
in a way that invites others into shared life with us?
These are not just rhetorical questions, Take a couple moments with the people around you and talk and write some ideas down that will help us form our mission statement which will be our action plan for showing the world who God created us to be.
The congregation took some time to discuss the questions, if you have any thoughts feel free to post them in the comment section. The answers will be used to help us write our new mission statement.
4th Sunday after Epiphany
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
This was one of those rare sermons that I preach from the center aisle with only an outline to go on rather than a manuscript. Below are the headings of my sermon outline which should give some indication as to what the sermon was about.
-Wisdom of the world vs. the foolishness of God
-God has called us to be partners in sharing the message of the cross.
-God has called us to be foolish by the standards of the world.
-How do we figure out what is world wisdom and what is God's foolishness?
-We turn to the scriptures and what it tells us about how God lived when God became human in Jesus.
-We turn to the words of the prophet, today it was Micah
-we turn t the law, the 10 commandments are a good place to start since they cover relationship with God and others
-we turn to grace
-and from our experience of grace we share God's grace with others
-we are left with the question: How are we, who have experienced the grace of God and the call to be partners with God in this place, going to live foolishly? (remembering that God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God's weakness is stronger than human strength)
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.