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
3rd Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who sows joy. Amen
Today we lit the third candle on our Advent wreath,
the candle that traditionally represents joy.
It might seem a bit odd
during this season of reflection and preparation
that joy be included,
but in fact, preparation and joy go hand in hand,
we prepare in anticipation of joy
and sometimes we need joy to continue with preparations.
But what do we mean by ‘joy’?
Often in world around us,
especially at this time of year
joy is sold as the result of a big build up to Christmas morning
and so preparation sounds a little like this:
He’s making a list,
Checking it twice,
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to Town
Only those children who are nice
will rejoice on Christmas morning
with a big pile of presents under the tree
so we are encouraged to prepare by writing lists to Santa
to get our shopping done
and make everything just so for the coming celebration.
This understanding of joy is fleeting,
as the months of build up
are uncovered in half an hour
and toys lie discarded by the end of the day.
Now to be fair
there can be great pleasure
in exchanging gifts as signs of love and appreciation,
and in some ways the preparation is as fun
if not more
than the actual moment.
But if that’s all there is to the day
If what we are left with is an empty feeling
when all is said and done
what we experienced wasn’t joy.
Because joy, true joy,
goes deeper than the ecstasy of a moment,
joy follows anticipation yes,
but joy also follows hardship and disappointment,
which mean acknowledging the hardship and disappointment
and the longing that comes from knowing
that things are not as they ought to be.
is the response to the saving promises of God
in the midst of the brokenness of the world.
Which means our preparations sound less like Santa Claus is coming to town
and more like:
Comfort, comfort now my people;
Tell of peace! So says our God.
Comfort those who sit in darkness
Mourning under sorrow’s load.
To God’s people now proclaim
That God’s pardon waits for them!
Tell them that their war is over;
God will reign in peace forever.
of the reality of the world around us
but like the candles on the Advent wreath,
our preparations also include hope,
the promise of peace
and yes even joy,
because the preparations for the saving promises of God
also include the hard work of clearing away the rubble of the past
to create space for the new thing
that God is doing
and without hope, the promise of peace and joy
it is easy to become discouraged.
We see this first in our reading from Isaiah.
The prophet is speaking to a group of people
who are discouraged, disappointed by life around them
and humiliated that they cannot do the work that God has called them to do.
They are the people who returned to the promised land
from exile in Babylon.
For years and years and years
they dreamed of going home
and how great it was going to be,
so much better than their current circumstances
and now they are faced with reality,
the reality of a destroyed temple and cities,
the reality that there’s a lot of work to do
to restore the temple and land to its former glory
and since there’s not a lot left to work with,
it’s starting to seem like an impossible task.
Into their discouragement God sends the prophet
“to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…”
this year of the Lord’s favor
refers to a jubilee year,
In the jubilee year,
all debts were forgiven,
all land reverted back to the original owners,
and slaves were freed,
society was basically supposed to reset
to the beginning of the time in the promised land
when the gifts of God were equally divided.
The jubilee year
was a chance to return to the manna way of life
and God understood that would only be possible
with a fresh start,
a level playing field for everyone.
Because it seems that the unfortunate fact of human society
is that some will prosper and some will,
for whatever reason
find themselves in debt,
and once in debt,
it is extremely hard to get out from under that burden,
no matter how hard one works
and that burden even gets passed down the generations
Lately there’s been a movement among some churches
and nonprofit organizations
to put jubilee into practice
by raising money to forgive medical debt.
The most recent example I saw
was from a church that a friend goes to in Iowa,
they were able to forgive $5 million in medical debt.
Which seems like an impossible amount,
even for one well off congregation.
I was curious so I did a little research,
it seems that there is a whole industry
that profits off of people being in debt,
when someone can’t pay their debt to the hospital,
the hospital can sell the debt,
at a reduced price
to a debt collector
who is allowed to try to collect interest
and the full amount owed
and the difference between the discounted price they got from the hospital
and the full amount is their profit
and these companies often take a much more aggressive approach
in trying to collect the debt than the hospitals
So this is where nonprofits and churches come in,
they buy that reduced price debt,
and instead of trying to collect it,
they forgive it.
Instead of debt collecting bills,
the people receive a notice
that their debt has been forgiven,
they have been set free.
Imagine the relief and yes, joy,
the weight lifted
of receiving such a notice,
especially since the groups target people whose debt is
5% or more of their income.
And guess how much that $5 million in medical debt cost?
$8,000. 0.16% of the original
This is salvation proclaimed and made tangible,
the clearing away the rubble of the past
leading to the freedom to serve God rather than debt.
This is what God proclaims to the Israelites through the prophet,
and the change is immediate,
from a humiliated people
they now become “oaks of righteousness”
and are able to rebuild the cities and the temple,
they will rejoice in God
and sow their joy among the nations
so that it spreads around the world,
even the prophet can’t hold back at this good news,
after sharing the message of God
the prophet shares from their own perspective
“I will greatly rejoice in the lord, my whole being shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation…”
and likens the results to a garden
where the seeds sown spring up, creating more life.
God promises salvation,
real tangible here and now salvation,
and God calls us to share our joy
and bring God’s salvation to others,
which means preparing the way,
taking an honest look at the world around us,
clearing out the rubble to make way
for the new thing that God is doing,
God’s real tangible salvation
sent to bring forgiveness,
jubilee into the midst of our suffering.
This is the one for whom we wait, and prepare,
and greet with:
Joy to the world
The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king’
Let every heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing. Amen
1st Sunday in Advent
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who calls us to stay awake and to hope. Amen
Welcome to the season of Advent!
Our decorations have changed to blue,
we’re at the beginning of a new liturgical year
where we will get to spend time in the gospel of Mark,
and of course our advent wreath
reminds us that Christmas is coming,
the more candles we light
the closer we are to the festival celebrating Immanuel,
God with us, God among us, God one of us.
It’s exciting the newness and anticipation of the season,
it’s like the advent calendars
with a little chocolate for each day before Christmas
mirroring the sweetness of anticipation.
And yet there’s more to advent
than lighting a few candles and eating a chocolate a day,
there’s more to wait for than the birthday celebrations for Jesus,
if we go a little deeper into advent
the scriptures remind us
that we are also waiting for the return of Christ,
and in this reminder
we are recalled to the painful reality
that even as Christ is with us,
God still has work to do,
God’s beautiful creation is still broken
and waiting for its healer to come
restore it to the perfection of the garden,
to the promised time when weeping and crying and pain and death are no more,
a promise we are still waiting on God to fulfill.
This side of advent is a striking contrast to the first,
and yet both are true.
It’s a paradox (two seemingly contradictory things that turn out to be true)
and the season of advent is full of them.
The season of advent holds space to acknowledge the tensions in life,
especially the life of faith.
The tension between the fact that we are both saint and sinner,
the tension between the fact that Christ has come and we are still waiting on Christ,
the tension between the reality that Christ saved the whole world and the world is still broken.
There are so many paradoxes,
as we sometimes call them in Lutheran circles,
but that is one of the things that I really appreciate about the Lutheran tradition,
the acceptance of the both and,
because we know the deeply lived truth
of the seemingly contradictory
and while the unresolved tension can be frustrating sometimes
it is an authentic reflection of life.
So I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised
when our theme for this first Sunday in advent is a paradox:
“those who dream, keep awake”
When we hear dream
we tend to first think of the sleeping kind,
you know the ones where upon falling asleep
you find yourself in an alternate world
where you’re back in your childhood home
but your mom is now a panda
baking you bamboo cookies,
and what’s your third grade teacher doing there in the background?
Anybody? Just me?
Those dreams are impossible to have while awake.
But of course there’s another way dream is used,
the way Martin Luther King Jr. did
when he proclaimed “I have a dream”
his dream, a vision for the future
where the wounds of the present are healed.
God too has a dream,
a vision for creation,
that all be intimately connected with their creator,
that all, people, animals, nature, live in harmony with one another and God,
a harmony where everyone has what they need,
no one has too much or too little.
And God has promised
that in partnership with people
this dream will become reality.
And the thing about these kinds of dreams,
is that to dream them,
one must be awake,
aware of all the ways that the present world around us
is less than perfect.
Awake to the promises of God
and how they have yet to be fulfilled.
In our gospel
Jesus tells his disciples to keep awake,
to wait for the fulfillment of the promises of God,
to watch for the signs that they are coming
since no one knows the exact timing.
As we wait,
it is tempting to fall asleep,
to fall asleep to the pain and imperfections around us,
to take a break from the harsh reality of life
Jesus tells us to keep awake.
To be awake is to acknowledge the broken places of life,
to be awake is to reject the narrative
that it will 'always be this way',
to be awake is to hope.
And here seems to be another paradox,
that to have hope we must be awake
to all the realities that argue against hope,
the situations that make the dream for the future look impossible,
this is the essence of hope,
to look at the seemingly insurmountable obstacles
and say ‘nevertheless, I believe that God will work through this,
that good will come out of this mess.’
But it’s a process to get from pain to hope,
and we see that process in our first reading from Isaiah:
It starts with lament,
‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down’
cries out the prophet,
it’s frustrating when the world is so far from the dream of God
and it seems like God isn’t doing anything.
why if God is so powerful,
doesn’t God just come down and fix everything,
because we do believe that God is powerful,
the prophet says as much in the next part
extolling the awesome deeds of God
but in affirming the power of God
the prophet on behalf of the people,
realizes that the people have not kept up their end of the covenant,
and the lament turns into confession
“we sinned… we have all become like one who is unclean
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth”
have you ever tried to clean a table with a dirty dishrag?
It doesn’t work right?
As good as your intentions are
if the cloth is dirty it just spreads the dirt around.
That’s where the people are at,
just spreading their own dirt around,
and while it might seem that this confession,
this awakening to reality
might be cause for despair,
what it does is lead to hope.
As the prophet acknowledges
that the people are living with the consequences of their actions
what could easily return to anger or lament becomes hope,
hope based on the trust
that God keeps the promises God makes,
trust that comes out of the established relationship with God
“yet, O Lord, you are our Father, we are the cay and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.”
In the end God has promised
that no matter what happens,
no matter what others label us,
or we think of ourselves
our primary identity is that of children of God,
God kept that promise with Jesus,
God made that promise individually to each of us at our baptisms,
that we are children of God
and nothing can separate us from the love of God
this relationship is the root of our hope.
This Advent there are many reasons we might despair,
things in the world that make us want to detach from reality,
to fall asleep and in our dreams pretend that nothing is happening.
But God calls us to stay awake,
awake to the messiness and imperfections of life yes,
and awake to the promises of God
and in this wakefulness
join in dreaming with God
of the day when all live in harmony with God and one another,
and so awake and dreaming, we hope. Amen
2 Corinthians 5:20=6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
It’s a story in 12 words,
12 words within which
lie the whole scope of the human life,
that we start as dust and end as dust
and that we do well to remember that while we are living in between.
As humans we tell stories to make sense of our lives,
now if this 12 word story were the only one we told,
it would be horribly depressing,
but it’s not,
it’s one story among many that we tell about life,
and it has a place among all those stories
as they all come together to reveal the truth about life.
This Lent we will be focusing on telling stories of faith,
and thinking about story telling and meaning making,
I was reminded of a Ted Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie from 2009
Titled “The Danger of a Single Story”,
you can still find it online and watch it for yourself.
And in this Ted Talk
Chimamanda talks about the power that the stories we tell
have to shape our reality and understanding
both of ourselves and others,
she shares about how as a child
the books she had access to were British or American in origin
and so when she as a child
started writing her own stories
all of her characters were blond haired and blue eyed
and ate strange things that she had never tasted before
and it wasn’t until she found books by Africans
that she realized that people that looked like her
could be in stories too
and do things that she was familiar with,
that was the danger of a single perspective,
the danger of a single story
that people, even ourselves, get left out of the picture.
She also talks about a boy that worked for her family growing up,
and all her mother told her about the boy
was that he and his family were poor.
So she was surprised when they went and visited his home
and saw a beautiful basket made by the boys’ brother,
the single story of poverty that she had
didn’t include hard work.
Having only one story is dangerous
because we come to believe that it’s the only way to think about something,
this holds true for the stories we tell about others and ourselves,
but also for the stories we tell of God and faith in God
And of course not all stories
are ones we wish to think about or tell all the time,
but these uncomfortable stories,
the ones that remind us of our mortality
and the ways in which we fail to love God and neighbor
must be told as well
because they are a part of life
that’s what Lent is for,
it is a time set aside to tell stories
that we might otherwise shy away from
but which reveal important truths,
namely that ultimate power rests with God
Which is why we start with the story of Ash Wednesday,
remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,
we rarely tell the story of life this way
but it holds out to us a truth
that we need to understand,
a truth that we tend to forget
or even intentionally ignore,
the truth that our time is finite
and whatever we do,
we all end up the same,
We like to tell other stories about life,
most often we are the main characters,
the ones in control of our own actions and destinies,
we are the heroes and others are the villains
And yet the story of Ash Wednesday
takes us and points us to the one who originally took that dust
formed it into a shape
and breathed life into it,
God, creator of heaven and earth,
the only one with the power to make dust more than dust.
This story re-centers us,
prepares us for the stories to come,
the stories of life where God is the hero,
and God has the power to shape the future of all people
these stories return us to God.
In a moment we will confess our sins,
Luther defined sin as being curved in on one’s self,
navel gazing as it were.
In our readings for tonight
we are warned against this inward turn.
In our first reading God calls out to the people,
who even in their repentance
are focusing more on themselves
than the reason for their need to repent.
“Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers...such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.” God tells the people through the prophet,
Instead, God says “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually…”
The story the people had been telling themselves
was that whatever ill they were experiencing
was the fault of God
and God turns it around on them,
shows them that their own actions
are at least causing some of the harm
and the solution is focus less on themselves
and more on their neighbors,
to change the story being told about what God wants.
Jesus in our gospel reading
points out the hypocrites,
their actions are driven by the kind of story they want others to tell about them,
that they are religious,
not that they actually wish to become closer to God.
If you wish to become closer to God, Jesus says,
the only one who needs to know what you’re doing
it doesn’t matter what story others tell of you
but what story God tells of you.
Those human stories will fade,
God’s story lasts forever.
Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return
The season and stories of Lent
call us back to focus on God
and the stories God has to tell,
stories where God works through the people that go unnoticed,
who are left out of the stories of the world,
stories where God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
stories where dust filled with life is treasured by God.
Tonight we hear a short story,
and are invited into a time
where we reflect on all the stories
between the dusty beginning and endings.
So as you go out this evening
marked with the Ashy cross on your forehead,
consider the stories you tell.
Of yourself, of others, of God,
What stories will you seek out this Lent?
Your old favorites or something new?
Stories where you are the hero?
or where God is at the center?
And as you go
remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Amen
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who draws us to God. Amen
Welcome to the beginning of a new church year,
as always we start off with Advent and waiting.
For what do we wait?
We wait for the day of the Lord,
Jesus’ return that will fulfill God’s will on earth as in heaven.
When will this come?
We don’t know,
not even Jesus knows
he tells the disciples in our gospel from Matthew today,
the time is unexpected
Jesus uses the example of the homeowner
who, if he knew his house was going to be broken into
would have stayed up all night
to prevent the thief from breaking in,
which while true
is an unrealistic way of preparing
for an event occurring at an unknown time.
This is the way we usually think of preparation,
that last minute house cleaning
for the guests arriving in the next few days,
the bustle of preparations made
when we know that the time of the special occasion is at hand.
But that kind of preparation
is not possible when we don’t know when it’s going to happen.
Yet Jesus still tells the disciples
to be ready for the coming of the Lord,
and the readiness he is talking about
is more a way of life
than a last minute shoving of things into closets.
It’s living as if the Lord were coming tomorrow
all the time.
Paul in Romans
uses the image of clothing,
“put on the Lord Jesus Christ”
he tells the waiting community,
clothing is something separate from us
that becomes a part of who we are
since we generally speaking wear clothing all the time.
and it impacts how we live our lives
choosing to put on sweatpants
leads to something very different
than donning a three piece suit.
And sure sometimes a new pair of pants feel uncomfortable
but the more we wear them
the more comfortable they become
and soon we don’t even notice them.
Putting on Christ is similar,
at first it may seem strange and uncomfortable
but like with many things,
the more we do it
the easier or more natural it becomes
like putting on a comfortable sweater.
Much like the sweater Mr. Rogers puts on
at the beginning of his show.
Fred Rogers, is someone who lived a life
prepared to meet Jesus in everyone he met.
There’s a movie based on his life out now
so there’s been a lot of talk about him again,
how he genuinely loved people
in a way that people didn’t expect,
that love was the love of Christ,
an ordained Presbyterian minister
Fred Rogers clothed himself in Christ,
and lived the love of neighbor taught by Jesus.
He didn’t advertise his show as ministry
(though for him it was)
and people weren’t drawn to him
because of a title of position,
they were drawn to him
because of his love for people,
and his love changed the lives of the children who watched his show
and the people with whom he came in contact.
It’s that kind of love and lifestyle
that we are to put on,
to live in a way that draws people to God
because they want to experience the life we have in God.
This is the image in Isaiah,
the purpose for the chosen people,
they are to live with God
and it will change their lives in such a way
that the rest of the nations will say:
“we want to live like that! Let’s go to the house of the Lord,
let’s learn what the secret to that life is”
and the result will be peace,
not just the absence of war
but harmony that erases even the need for the tools of war.
And yes that may sound too good to be true,
in the same way many people thought that Mr. Rogers
was too good to be true,
that he was playing a character
when in reality the gentle, curious, brave, loving man seen on tv
was the same one that people met in real life,
and they were transformed by knowing him.
Even now after his passing
people are still drawn to him and his message of love.
Put on Christ,
This is how we are to wait and be ready
and in the process spread the good news of God,
something we are also called by Jesus to do.
And the best way is not by focusing on the church
or advertising or having the hippest music
or the coolest pastor
but by living lives oriented toward God,
lives that have been transformed by God
and transform the lives of those around us.
We have all have these people in our lives
whether we’ve been aware of them or not,
who have shared their faith with us
by way that they lived out their faith,
and when they invited us deeper into faith
we were glad,
as the psalm says “I was glad when they said to me let us go to the house of the Lord”
at text study this week
we there were talking about how hesitant Lutheran Christians are
to invite someone to church,
mostly because we don’t anticipate
that invitation being me with joy.
But if we are glad to go to the house of the Lord,
to be in relationship with God
why wouldn’t others?
they need the peace that a relationship with God brings
and they might just realize it by watching us,
we might be the one
whose life the holy spirit uses
to draw them to God
and when we live like this,
we are prepared for the day of the Lord
whenever that comes,
we won’t need to hide things in closets
because we have nothing to hide.
Now this lifestyle of advent preparedness
is not perfected overnight
but over the course of a lifetime,
washed in the waters of baptism
we are called to daily put on Christ,
and sure sometimes it will feel like a new pair of pants
that need breaking in,
or like that coat that we are really tired of wearing come April,
but Christ keeps reaching out to us,
through the holy spirit and those around us
with love and forgiveness,
drawing us to himself,
sustaining us with his body and blood at the table
and every advent
calling us to wake up,
to renew the practice of preparation,
to be ready by being clothed in Christ. Amen
Third Sunday in Lent
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from our God who is with us at all times. Amen
Jesus is teaching,
he’s surrounded by people
who value what he says,
he helps them make sense of the world around them
so it’s only natural for them
to run puzzling situations by Jesus
to see what he thinks,
in this case it’s about these Galileans
who Pilate had murdered and then desecrated
by mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices.
And the people around him
tell Jesus this story
because they have a question:
Why did that horrible thing happen to those people?
And Jesus responds
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?”
he asks because he knows that is at the back of their minds,
it’s how our brains work,
we try to find meaning
so if something bad happened to these people
then they must have done something to deserve it.
But then Jesus answers his own question:
“No, I tell you but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
Now this seems like kind of a harsh response
to a question about suffering
but Jesus goes on to give another example,
he tells those present
about some people who were killed
when a tower collapsed and asks
“do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?”
and again he answers his own question
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
What does Jesus mean with this response?
And we’re all curious right?
Because we have observed the suffering of others and asked:
why did it happen to them?
And right behind that question, why didn’t it happen to me?
Or why did it happen to me and not them?
These questions have been raised to the surface of our own lives
in the past weeks
as flood waters have risen
and we’ve watched some people lose everything
while others stayed dry.
And we’ve wondered,
It’s an age old question
and frankly one without a good answer
and that drives us nuts
Desmond Tutu in his book God Has A Dream
makes the observation
“We humans can tolerate suffering but we cannot tolerate meaninglessness.” pg 75
We cannot tolerate meaninglessness,
so when faced with situations of suffering
we try to make sense of it,
the meaning we put on it is wrong,
at least according to God.
We heard this in Isaiah:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts your thoughts.”
There is often a disconnect
between our thinking and God’s thinking,
so when Jesus tells the questioning crowd
“No, I tell you, repent”
he is telling them, us,
to align our thinking with God’s thinking,
in a way,
that’s Jesus’ whole mission,
to bridge the gap of misunderstanding between people and God.
In telling us to repent
Jesus is not saying we should feel bad about our thinking,
that’s often the feeling we associate with that word,
but in the gospel of Luke,
a call to repent
is a call to turn away from the assumptions and norms of the world
to live lives directed toward God,
living God’s way as taught to us by Jesus.
Jesus knows that this teaching is a bit of a stretch for his listeners
so he tells them a parable to illustrate his point,
a man with a vineyard plants a fig tree,
and when he comes to the tree and finds no fruit on it
he tells his gardener to cut it down,
it’d been three years,
clearly the tree was useless.
But the gardener intercedes for the tree,
asks for a year reprieve,
time for the gardener to nurture it,
dig around it, put manure on it
and if the tree produces fruit next year, great,
if not then the owner can cut it down.
There is a gap of misunderstanding
between the owner and the gardener about the fig tree,
from the owner’s perspective
a fig tree is supposed to produce figs
and after three years without figs
he determines that the tree is a waste of soil.
What the gardener understands that the owner doesn’t
is that it often takes fruit trees three or four years to grow
before they produce fruit,
and so he offers to nurture the tree for one more year,
to get it to the point where it would be reasonable to expect fruit from it
We are often the owner to God’s gardener,
we know what is supposed to happen, or think we do anyway,
and when it doesn’t happen when we expect
we get impatient
we render judgement
and cut down perfectly good trees in our search to make meaning.
We do this with ourselves as well as others,
we expect things of ourselves
and when we don’t live up to those expectations
we cut ourselves down
before we’re done growing,
before we’re ready to produce fruit
when God knows that all we need is some more time,
and perhaps a little manure.
And this brings us right back to the discussion of suffering
because the manure in our lives,
what seems like stinky waste
is actually often what we need to grow into our full selves.
Again, Archbishop Tutu observes: “In our universe suffering is often how we grow, especially how we grow emotionally, spiritually, and morally. That is, when we let the suffering ennoble us and not embitter us.” pg 72
His point is that when faced with suffering
we have a choice in how we respond,
we can tie ourselves in knots
trying to figure out why it happened
and whether we blame ourselves or others
we end up feeling resentful,
like we got a raw deal.
Or, we can turn toward God,
face the suffering head on,
and work to lessen the suffering,
finding the humanity in ourselves
and those around us,
growing in the love of God as we do so.
I think it’s safe to say that most of Nebraska
has made the second choice
in responding to the suffering around us.
People have already come together
to lessen the suffering of others
and we will continue to do so
as what needs to be done to recover becomes clearer,
it will be a long road
but we will walk it together
and we will grow together.
Why is there suffering?
We don’t really know,
and that’s unsatisfying.
But what we do know
is that we have a God who has also experienced suffering,
who chose to work through it
to lessen the suffering of others,
who promises to be with us in the midst of suffering,
that we may even grow because of it
and that it will not have the last say,
the cross of Friday after all
was only a stop along the way
to the empty tomb on Sunday. Amen
Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ
grace and peace to you from the one who makes us worthy. Amen
Our lessons for today,
though they speak of different events
tell the same story.
The story broadly goes like this.
The main character has an experience of God,
and while they are wowed by this experience
it also serves to highlight to the main character
just how inadequate they are in the presence of God,
the main character expresses to God
how unworthy they are
both for the experience and the notice of God in general.
God doesn’t debate this
but goes ahead and makes the main character worthy,
then provides a way for the main character to respond in gratitude,
which they do.
people experience their unworthiness,
God makes them worthy,
God provides for grateful response.
In our first reading
Isaiah tells of seeing God in the temple
surrounded by seraphs- a class of angel-
whose praise of God shakes the thresholds,
Isaiah’s response is: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"
Isaiah expects to die
because he is unworthy and has seen the glory of the Lord,
but then one of the seraphs takes a hot coal from the altar
and touches Isaiah’s lips with it saying:
"Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."
With this ceremony
Isaiah has been made worthy.
Then he hears “the voice of the Lord saying,
"Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"
and now instead of cowering in fear
Isaiah steps up and says “Here am I, send me”
Isaiah feels his unworthiness,
God purifies him,
Isaiah responds in gratitude.
In our gospel, it’s Simon and the disciples.
They’re cleaning their nets after a long night of fishing
while a crowd has gathered around their new pal Jesus,
the crowd is so big
Jesus is about to get pushed into the water,
so instead he climbs into Simon’s boat
and has him put out a ways so he can teach the crowd in comfort.
When he’s finished he tells Simon to take the boat out farther
and put the nets in to catch some fish.
Simon, who I’m sure is exhausted at this point
tells Jesus: "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."
And at Jesus’ direction they go out
and put the nets in the water
and catch so many fish that the nets start to break,
they call for back up and the other boat comes out
and together they catch so many fish that the boats start to sink!
when Simon sees all this he falls “down at Jesus' knees, saying, "’Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’"
Simon knows that he is unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus.
But instead of going away Jesus stays,
and indicates that he wants to spend more time with Simon
saying "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people."
Simon is worthy enough to follow Jesus
and Luke tells us that “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”
Simon and the disciples feel their unworthiness,
Jesus affirms their worth through an invitation,
Simon and the disciples leave everything to follow Jesus.
Finally we have Paul,
who eludes to his version of the story
in his letter to the Corinthians
though the full version in the book of Acts follows the same pattern.
Paul or Saul as he is called then
is one of the people that is persecuting the followers of Jesus
after the resurrection,
seeking them to send them to prison or even kill them,
the people of the way are afraid of him
but they are still spreading the message beyond Jerusalem,
so Saul goes and gets permission to go to Damascus
to hunt down people there and bring them back to Jerusalem.
As he’s traveling on the road to Damascus
a light flashes around him
and he hears a voice saying
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (Saul) asked, Who are you, Lord? The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’” Acts 9:3-4
When Saul gets up he is blind.
Meanwhile Jesus also appears in a vision to Ananias,
a disciple in Damascus
and tells him to go find Saul,
naturally Ananias is hesitant to go
because he’s heard about Saul
but God tells him that he’s chosen Saul
to bring the message to the gentiles.
So Ananias goes and lays his hands on Saul
and prays for him
and something like scales fall from Saul’s eyes and he can see again.
He is baptized
then begins preaching the good news that Jesus is the son of God.
on the road Damascus
Paul experiences his unworthiness
in the presence of Jesus,
God makes Paul worthy,
through the healing of Ananias and Paul’s baptism,
and in grateful response
Paul begins preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.
Paul is unworthy,
God makes him worthy,
he gratefully responds
fulfilling the mission God provides him,
preaching to the gentiles,
Now Paul is writing to some of those gentiles,
who have also experienced this progression of events
when Paul came to preach to them,
they were baptized and formed a community
but now they’ve gotten off track,
Paul is writing to admonish them for a number of things
going on in the community
including failure to practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that honors all.
And here Paul demonstrates
that our story line is actually a story cycle
because we humans have a hard time believing
that God has truly made us worthy,
we have an incredible life changing experience of God
and we respond gratefully to God’s call
but after a while
we begin to doubt
because we know ourselves
and all the things that we have done and left undone,
how we’ve failed to love our neighbor as ourselves,
life is complicated,
God seems far away,
and pretty soon it feels like we’re back where we started,
and once again
God comes to us,
reminding us that we are worthy,
there is a place for us in the kingdom of God.
Paul has spent his letter to the Corinthians
detailing all the ways they’ve gone wrong
but here towards the end
Paul brings it back around saying
“Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand.”
he’s telling them,
you are worthy,
and look he says I get it,
I get that feeling of doubt
look at me “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
But Paul doesn’t stop there,
he continues on “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”
and goes on to detail how God was able to work through him.
By the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace toward me has not been in vain.
Repeat it after me,
hold on to these words
We are not worthy because of our actions,
we are worthy because of the grace of God,
God makes us worthy
in the font at our baptism,
and God reminds us we are worthy
over and over again,
in the bread and wine at the table,
with the words of confession and absolution,
through the body of Christ gathered here.
By the grace of God you are worthy.
By the grace of God we are worthy.
And now God has something in mind for each of us,
whether it is to be a prophet like Isaiah,
fishers of people like disciples,
a reminder like Paul
or something else entirely,
and because God has made us worthy,
when we hear God’s call
we answer: “Here am I, send me”
Thanks be to God, Amen.
All Saints Sunday
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who gathers the saints in light. Amen
Today we observe All Saints Sunday,
the day when we formally recall those who have died.
I say formally, because when someone we love dies
they are often on our minds and in our hearts,
they’re the ones we want to call when the grief becomes too much
or when we have exciting news,
they’re the ones who shaped us in some way,
and now that they’re gone
we find ourselves intentionally looking for them in ourselves,
or we do something
and it reminds us of our loved one
and we say ‘oh that’s where I got that’
and give thanks to God for their influence on our life.
we bring forward today the saints
naming the hope and the assurance
that we will see them again,
and not just in our hearts
but in the flesh, at the last,
when the promises of God have come true,
when there is a new heaven and a new earth
and there is no more mourning or crying or pain
and certainly no more death.
But until then, we wait.
In many ways
All Saints day is a day where we Christians
are reminded that we are in the middle of time,
stuck between the already and the not yet.
We already have Jesus,
that part of God’s promise and plan has been realized,
Jesus fulfills the promises that God makes in Isaiah
and through the prophets,
Jesus is God’s way of bridging the gap between God and humans,
between God’s hopes for creation and reality.
But the kingdom of God is not yet complete,
it has come near in Jesus,
the process has started but construction is still underway
so we are left to wonder,
what do we do in the meantime?
We have hope certainly,
hope in the promise of God fulfilled in Jesus,
and because of that hope
we work to live our lives according to the way of God
that Jesus taught us,
making the world around us a bit more like God’s vision
but some days that doesn’t seem like enough,
try as we might
there are days where hope and Jesus don’t seem like enough,
those days we’re like Mary in our gospel reading,
her brother has been dead four days
and finally Jesus shows up
and the first thing she says to him is
“Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.”
what she’s really saying to him is,
where were you? We sent you a message, you’re too late.
And Jesus, seeing Mary and the mourners weeping
asks to see where Lazarus is laid,
and Jesus too is overcome with emotion and weeps with them,
for his friend,
and here Jesus too is caught in the middle.
Jesus is God,
he knows who he is and what he is going to do,
especially in the gospel of John,
and sometimes, a lot of times
this involves some suffering
especially for the humans he loves
that just don’t understand the scope of Jesus’ mission in the world.
Jesus’ disciples don’t understand
when he tells them what is going to happen to him,
a crucified messiah doesn’t compute
Jesus knows they will be scared and sad,
he tries to give them reassurance,
at the same time knowing that the only way to get to Easter Sunday
and the empty tomb
is through the fear and sadness.
Jesus loves his friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus
but, here too he knows that the way to the empty tomb
goes through pain and sorrow,
he has a mission
and Lazarus’ death plays a role in it.
So when Jesus is sent word that Lazarus is sick,
he intentionally waits for two days.
He knows that Lazarus is going to die
and that he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead,
this miracle will be foreshadowing of his own death
and it will bring him closer to the cross.
Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead
is the last straw for the authorities,
they meet together and the question is posed
“‘What are we to do? This man is performing may signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” and they have some discussion and the chief priest points out that it’s better to have one person die then all of them die and John tells us “...so from that day on they planned to put him to death.”
The way to the cross and the empty tomb
goes through Lazarus’ death and his sisters’ grief.
Jesus knows this
but when faced with the mourning of his friends,
Jesus weeps with them,
he’s in the middle,
Jesus knows what it’s like to be in the middle of the already and not yet.
Our God knows what we’re going through
in those times when hope and reality collide
and he weeps with us,
he comes to us.
Here in the middle,
Jesus comes to us through the saints,
and when we say saints
we mean those everyday Christians
baptized into Christ
that walk the journey with us
whether it is for a moment or a lifetime,
the people present who weep when we are weeping
and rejoice when we rejoice,
the ones who teach us how to live through the middle,
And when our paths diverge
we’re sad, we weep and Jesus weeps with us
but we also remember how they taught us to live through the middle
and the promise of Jesus
that we will one day be reunited with them
on that day
when Jesus gathers all the saints together
in the completed kingdom of God. Amen
2nd Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who came to serve. Amen
The disciples in the gospel of Mark,
bless their hearts,
are particularly dense
and I’ve got to say I love them for that
because as exasperating as it is
to watch them throughout the gospel
stumbling along as they follow Jesus,
never quite fully understanding his teaching,
often turning around
to do the opposite of what Jesus just told them to do
what we are witnessing is the disciples’ humanity,
a humanity that mirrors our own.
how many times in following Jesus
have we never quite fully understood his teaching?
And how many times do we hear Jesus say one thing
and turn around and go do the exact opposite?
More often than we’d like to admit.
The gift of the disciples’ humanity in the gospel
is that we get to see how Jesus responds to them,
in all their density and contrariness,
giving us an idea of how Jesus will respond to us
in all of our density and contrariness.
Actually we should probably give the disciples a break
because in Jesus they are encountering not only new teachings
but a way of looking at the world
that is completely counter to the way they are used to.
The Kingdom of God is very unlike the world,
and the way the kingdom of God comes about
often runs against the common sense of the world.
Take for example what it means to be a savior.
According to the world
a savior is someone who is heroic,
one who is more powerful than average
and who uses that power to defend the little guy
against some other powerful force,
which generally increases the power of the hero.
And yet, according to the kingdom of God,
a savior is one, the one, who serves others in suffering.
We heard in our first reading from Isaiah
part of the suffering servant passage
that we as Christians view as a prophetic description of Jesus
and it is not pleasant,
struck down, afflicted,
wounded, crushed, oppressed
and yet God says “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous.”
This is how God has chosen to save,
and we wonder at that,
why is suffering necessary? we ask
we are confused because suffering on behalf of others
goes against the common sense of the world,
the sense that says we protect ourselves and honor the strong,
common sense that tells us to avoid suffering at all costs.
But Jesus doesn’t live by the way of the world,
had Jesus lived according to common sense
he would have tried to befriend the most powerful rather than the lowly,
if he had lived according to common sense
he would have avoided the sick and the poor,
he wouldn’t have touched lepers
or eaten with tax collectors
and he certainly wouldn’t have talked about a kingdom of God
more powerful than the kingdom of Rome.
but Jesus did all those things,
Jesus lives by un-common sense,
and his un-common sense leads right to the cross
because the world moves swiftly
to remove anything that upsets the way things are
Jesus knows this,
and he’s tried to teach his disciples this,
by the time we get to our gospel for today
Jesus has already made all his passion predictions to his followers,
he’s sat them down and told them look:
this is what is going to happen,
I’m going to be arrested, put on trial and crucified.
And three days after that I will rise again.
And he heads toward Jerusalem.
the disciples continue to follow him
but they don’t understand,
today James and John come up to Jesus
and ask him to treat them according to the ways of the world.
They understand that something is going to happen soon
and they believe Jesus to be great, the messiah even
and they want to assure their places in the new order,
and so they make their request,
They want to sit in the highest worldly places of honor
when Jesus comes into his glory.
And Jesus looks at them and says
“You do not know what you are asking.”
because Jesus’ glory is the cross
“are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” He asks them,
referring to his suffering,
and they with all the confidence of ignorance reply
“we are able”
and Jesus grants them what they ask
“The cup that I drink you will drink and the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” Jesus tells them,
but the positions of honor at the right and the left are not Jesus’ to give out,
that is determined by God
and those places will be filled by the two thieves
who will be crucified on either side of Jesus.
And while we might wonder at Jesus
granting James and John’s request
without their understanding,
what Jesus is doing in that granting
is offering a moment of grace,
what they will understand later
and what we as listeners hear
is that the moments of failure in the lives of the disciples
do not determine the final outcome.
Yes, James and John don’t understand,
but they are earnest in wanting to follow Jesus,
yes they along with the rest of the group will run away
when Jesus is arrested,
but we know, as Mark’s audience knows
that they went on to play vital
roles in the spread of the message of the good news of Jesus Christ,
Acts 12:2 tells us that James is martyred,
killed because of his witness for Jesus.
James and John spoke the truth,
they were able to follow Jesus in his glory.
To be dense, confused, contrary and fail is to be human,
to not let it get in the way,
that is the way of God,
our reading from Hebrews this morning
in speaking of Jesus says
“He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness”
Jesus, son of God,
knows what it’s like to be human
since he himself is human,
he understands suffering
because he has experienced it,
he knows how we mess up
even with good intentions,
he knows common sense would say
do not to rely too heavily on humans to get things done,
and yet Jesus with his un-common sense,
calls us, humans,
to be his disciples,
to live in the world according to the way of the kingdom of God.
We are to love and forgive our enemies
and those who hurt us,
befriend those cast out by society,
share our food and resources
so that all have enough,
speak truth to power
even and especially when that truth is not what power wants to hear.
and yes living in this way
will probably result in some suffering,
but it will also make the world a better place,
more like the kingdom of God brought near in Jesus.
and yes we will make mistakes
and fall back on common sense,
and that is when Jesus brings us to the table,
to share in his cup,
the new covenant for the forgiveness of sins
poured out by Jesus on the cross
as he gave his life so that we could be righteous
and could dare to live un-common lives. Amen
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ
grace and peace to you from the one who is the messiah. Amen
There are a lot of tongues in our lessons for today.
Both Isaiah and James mention that small but important body part.
According to James
the tongue is a slippery creature (pun intended)
“with it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.”
for such a small part of our body
the tongue wields disproportionate power,
like a rudder that steers a great ship
or a spark that sets a forest on fire
a word on our tongue has the power to build up or tear down.
James seems to find the tongue a mostly negative influence,
calling it a “restless untamable beast full of deadly poison”
James is concerned with the alignment of word and deed,
especially as it relates to Christians.
In the last couple of weeks in James
we’ve heard him call on believers to be doers of the word,
not just hearers
saying that faith without works is dead
now he’s turning it around,
just as what we do should reflect what we say we believe,
so should what we say
James is highly sensitive to hypocrisy
and to him it seems hypocritical
for someone to praise God in one breath
and in the next be horrible to another human,
one made in the image of God.
What we do and say matters,
because these actions reveal who we really are.
James says “Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs?”
Trees are known by the fruit they produce,
and we will be known by what we produce,
it doesn’t matter if we call ourselves fig trees
if all we produce are olives.
It doesn’t matter if we call ourselves Christian
if we don’t say and do Christian things.
What we say matters because it reflects who we truly are.
And yes I’m am bold enough or foolish enough
to still believe and proclaim this
in an era where what people say
and how they say it
seems to matter less and less.
I maintain my belief that words are powerful
even more so when we don’t give them their due.
What we say matters.
Isaiah on the other hand
has a decidedly more positive take on the tongue.
In our first reading we hear the prophet proclaim
“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.”
The prophet Isaiah has been sent to the people of Israel
living in exile in Babylon,
and removed from their home in the promised land,
all they have left are words,
the promise of God
that they will one-day return home.
God has appointed Isaiah to speak those words to the people
but the job of prophet is not simply speaking
but first listening to the word of God.
Isaiah praises God for the gift the teaching tongue
followed immediately by praise to God
for opening his ears each morning
to first listen to God.
and because Isaiah listens to God
he is able to stick to the job God has given him
even though he is mistreated because of his message,
the job of prophet is not only to sustain
but to point out the often uncomfortable truth,
the truth that people have more responsibility for their current misfortunes
than they’d like to admit
people who often get upset with the messenger
and go to extreme lengths to shut them up.
The life of a prophet is not easy
but because Isaiah is listening to God
rather than the people
he is able to be steadfast in his call
even proclaiming “the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced;”
The shame that the people try to put on Isaiah doesn’t stick
because Isaiah is listening to God not the people.
Who we listen to matters.
Who we listen to,
even in the background,
forms our concept of the world and ourselves,
if we are not careful about who we listen to,
it will be the loudest often most negative voices
that shape our view of ourselves and the world.
Who we listen to matters.
The importance of all this speaking and listening
come to a head in our gospel for today
with Jesus questioning the disciples
“who do you say that I am?”
knowing that their answer
will reveal who they’ve been listening to,
who they’ve become.
The disciples have been with Jesus for a while now,
we’re about halfway through the gospel of Mark,
they’ve heard Jesus’ teachings,
seen him heal and do miraculous deeds.
Now Jesus takes his disciples of Caesarea Philippi,
and while this may seem like a minor detail
it tells us that Jesus is setting the scene.
You see Caesarea Philippi is an ancient place of idol worship,
a spring is located there in a cave
that, long before Jesus and his disciples wandered there,
was dedicated as a shrine to the Greek god Pan.
Later King Herod added Caesarea to the name of the place
to honor the Roman ruler Caesar.
Jesus takes his disciples
to a place where the prevailing culture
is shouting loudly,
the availability of other gods,
the bowing down to the Roman empire
and it is here he asks them two questions:
Who do people say that I am?
And Who do you say that I am?
What Jesus is asking the disciples with these questions is:
who have you been listening to?
And who are you because of what you’ve heard?
the disciples report what they’ve heard people say about Jesus,
John the Baptist, a prophet, Elijah,
figures out of the history of Israel
and when Jesus presses them for their answer
Peter opens his mouth-
he’s always the one speaking-
and he says “You are the messiah”
He gets the right answer.
And Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about him.
Why Jesus keeps telling the disciples
to keep his deeds and identity a secret is a mystery,
but it might have to do with what happens next.
When Jesus tells the disciples
what is going to happen to him,
the suffering, rejection, death
and after three days resurrection
Peter, who has just proclaimed Jesus the messiah
opens his big mouth again
and with the tongue that just uttered a blessing
rebukes him, tells Jesus he’s wrong.
What Jesus describes is not the messiah that Peter is thinking of,
the one for whom the Israelites are waiting is a King of the line of David,
who will come and throw out the oppressors
who have taken over the land of the Israelites
and bring them freedom to purify and restore Israel.
A dead messiah, no that’s not right Peter says
and Jesus turns and corrects him.
“Follow me, you’re upset because you’re listening to humans not God. you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Yes Jesus is the messiah,
but he’s not the messiah Peter or we want him to be.
We often talk about Jesus like he’s a magic genie,
someone who if we say the right thing will grant our wishes
solve our problems
and bring prosperity and freedom,
of course prosperity and freedom as defined by humans.
But if we listen to Jesus carefully
and watch what he does,
we find that what Jesus is most concerned with
is his quest to identify with the lowliest,
again and again he seeks out those outcast by society
and offers them what other humans have denied them,
healing, food, dignity
and for his troubles he will be rejected and killed.
This is the divine way.
And Jesus expects his disciples to follow the divine way.
what Jesus is saying when he talks of cross bearing
and losing and saving lives
is that if you are listening to God,
and you say that you follow God,
and you live your life according to the divine way,
you will get push back,
people will treat you like the prophet Isaiah,
but like the prophet Isaiah
you’ll be able to endure, stick with it,
because you’re listening to God
and not the people
and there is no shame in following the divine way,
it is the way of everlasting life with God.
Jesus knows that living in this way is extremely difficult,
that our sense of self-preservation will often overrule
our desire to follow God,
on the way to the cross Peter denies Jesus three times
and all the disciples abandon him,
Jesus knows that this will happen too,
and when he is raised up on the third day
who does he go to?
Because while the divine way is difficult,
it is also one of forgiveness,
and second chances.
No matter how many times we abandon him for ourselves
Use our tongues for both blessings and curses
Jesus will welcome us back
because Jesus is the messiah
according to the divine way. 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.