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
2nd Sunday of Advent
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who meets us in the wilderness. Amen
Mark begins in the desert.
In telling the story of Jesus
he announces the good news of Jesus Christ,
the Son of God
and then jumps right to the wilderness,
actually quoting in part
our first reading from Isaiah,
who is also in the wilderness with the Israelites.
He puts these words into the mouth of John the Baptist,
a man of the wilderness
whose preaching oddly enough draws people out to him,
out into the desert along the banks of the Jordan river
where at the urging of John
they confess their sins
and take a ritual bath
to signify their new found way of life.
Why does Mark begin in the wilderness?
Matthew starts off with a long Genealogy
tracing Jesus back to David and Abraham.
Luke starts off with the story of John the Baptist’s remarkable birth
before heading into the story of Jesus’ remarkable birth.
John starts with a poem mirroring the beginning of genesis
and establishing Jesus as the Word made flesh
through whom the world was created.
But Mark starts in the wilderness.
Throughout the Bible,
the wilderness shows up again and again,
Abraham wanders around for quite awhile
before God’s promise is fulfilled in the birth of Isaac.
Moses escapes to the wilderness
after killing the Egyptian overseer
and it is while tending sheep out on his own
that he encounters a strange bush
that burns but is not consumed
and when he steps aside to look meets God, I am who I am.
The people of Israel
wander in the desert for forty years
before they enter the promised land,
God uses that time to teach them to depend on God
and to live as a free community.
Mark starts in the wilderness
because the wilderness is where God shows up,
the wilderness is where God meets those for whom God has a job and a promise,
the wilderness is where God prepares the servants of God to fulfill the will of God.
Now before we romanticize the wilderness
as the place of preparation,
thinking of it like a training sequence in a sports movie
where all the hard work is condensed into a montage of clips
set to inspirational music
we need to recognize the difficulty of life in the wilderness
It is a lonely place,
where those who wander are stripped down to their essentials,
where they discover what is important
and just what it means to live relying on God.
We all have wilderness times,
times when it seems we’re wandering
without much direction or even sustenance
where it seems like we will always be in the wilderness
the wilderness is our place of greatest need,
and it is where God shows up most vividly
and it is those burning bush moments,
full of terror and wonder
that shape the rest of our lives.
Mark starts in the wilderness
because that is where stories of encountering God start,
in places of desolation where all hope seems lost,
and Mark has the biggest story of encountering God to tell,
one where the good news is so good that it’s hard to describe
so Mark starts by referencing another wilderness time of good news
he recalls the words of the prophet Isaiah,
speaking to the Israelites in the wilderness of exile,
overthrown by the Babylonians
and removed from their homes
the Israelites despaired of ever returning,
and into that despair Isaiah cries
‘Comfort O Comfort my people’
and continues with the message
that the time of exile is over,
they get to go home,
and the journey will be easy,
on a straight and level path,
no wandering for forty years this time,
just a walk across a level highway
while the people sinned
God stayed true to the covenant promise
and now is bringing them back home,
like a shepherd leading a flock to safety,
the picture Isaiah paints
is that of a mighty warrior turned shepherd,
who instead of waging war
uses his mighty arm to gather the lambs close,
cuddling them while leading their mothers.
And just as we have wilderness moments,
we also have comfort comfort moments,
the times when we are lambs
swept up out of the path of danger into strong safe arms,
into the presence of God.
For me the moment that is most vividly one of these moments
is connected to red wine and roasted chicken.
Most of you know that I was married right before going to seminary
and that following summer
my then husband left the marriage.
The first few days after he declared his intentions
were kind of a blur, definitely a wilderness time
but it was the middle of the week
and I had responsibilities to help me take my mind off things.
Then the weekend came
and as I was still sharing a living space with my ex
two of my friends who shared an apartment
invited me to stay with them for the weekend.
That first night a group of friends gathered around me,
the one who had gone to culinary school before seminary roasted a chicken,
I’m sure there were other good things to eat too but I don’t remember them,
and we ate chicken and drank red wine
and talked and cried and laughed,
and then full of food and sleepy from the wine
they tucked me into bed for the first good night of sleep I’d had in awhile.
I was a lamb held safely in the arms of my shepherd who knew the way.
There was still going to be a long journey ahead of me
But I knew that I would not be making it alone
And that there was hope for the future
‘It’s this kind of good news that I’m about to tell’
hints Mark at the beginning of his gospel,
coming home from exile good,
being protected in strong arms good,
even chicken and red wine good,
in fact even better than all those things good,
the best news,
but before we get there
we have to start in the wilderness with John,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
saying ‘Prepare the way,
the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me’
and so we go out and join John in the desert
by the Jordan river
comforted by hope in the promised future. Amen
1st Sunday of 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 molds us into the image of God. Amen
What time is it?
Are we at the beginning? The middle? The end?
We have so many ways of organizing time
that when they overlap
it starts to get confusing.
According to the secular calendar
we are at the end of the year,
one more month
before the clock ticks over
to read a year later at the end of our dates.
According to the sacred calendar
we are at the beginning of the year,
the circular journey through the life, death and resurrection of Christ
is at the start again,
anticipating God’s entry into the world
but not just the observance of the birth of the baby Jesus
but anticipation of God’s final return
to make the world complete.
At the heart of our confusion
is the reality that while we try to control time
by organizing it in as many ways as possible,
managing the seasons,
looking for signs to anticipate what is coming next
the truth of it is
that it’s out of our hands,
God is on God’s own schedule
of which we are not privy to
nor can we anticipate.
We know the what,
we do not know the when,
but we are called to be watchful,
to be ready for God,
whenever God happens to come.
Sometimes when the imperfections of the world
become too much
we get impatient and cry in the words of Isaiah
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down”
we long for God to come mix things up,
to show those people that are messing up the world
who is really in charge,
whose side God is really on,
the ones who remember and follow God’s ways
And then in the next instant
the next breath
we realize the we’re not ready for God to come,
that we’re the ones who have forgotten God,
that our relationship needs healing,
that we need more time to get things on our end in order.
Isaiah realizes this as well
and after lamenting the many ways the people have failed
in their relationship with God
still says this:
“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. “
God is the creator and we are the creation
In the end,
ready or not God will arrive on God’s own time
regardless of what our calendars read.
there will never be a perfect time for us for God to come,
we will always be a work in progress,
and God the potter is the one working.
God has claimed us as sacred clay
and is constantly working to mold us
into the image of the divine,
I don’t know too much about the art of pottery
but I do know that it takes a lot of skill
to work the clay into the desired form
and even then it may not look exactly like what the potter intends
because the clay participates in how the object is formed.
As sacred clay
we participate in how God is forming us,
we let ourselves be molded into a receptive vessel
or we resist the gentle or sometimes not so gentle nudges
that are intended to smooth out a rough patch
on our exterior or interior
and how we are molded matters
because we are how God has chosen to work in the world at this time,
how we respond to God’s molding work in our lives
makes a difference in the life of the world around us.
So when Jesus in Mark tells us to stay awake
for the coming of God
to watch for signs like the fig tree about to blossom,
it is a call to pay attention to how God is working in us right now,
molding and shaping us
in preparation for God’s final arrival
often the signs are subtle,
the growing feeling that we are being called to do something
about the injustice of some having a great deal while others have very little
Or perhaps it’s discomfort at something that once seemed normal
but when examined is shown to be harmful to others.
Or maybe it’s a renewed sense of joy
in your relationship with God
and the fellowship of those who come together to worship, pray and serve.
Taking part in a community that has faith when we find it difficult
All these signs and more
point to the coming of God
who will end injustice,
loneliness and hurt,
who will make all joyful, fed and free.
But in the meantime
we do the best we can to prepare,
and God knows exactly what we’re going through
because God is with us,
at this time of ending and beginning,
beginning and ending
God starts by molding the divine self
into the form of an infant,
joining creation to work from the inside out. Amen
12th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who gives us identity and purpose. Amen
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks the disciples,
Simon Peter says, “you are the messiah, the Son of the living God”
and in return Jesus gives Peter a new identity and purpose,
he is the rock on whom Jesus will build the church,
Peter’s new identity and purpose
are a direct result of who he says that Jesus is,
and he is able to confess this only with the help of God the creator,
Jesus’ and Peter’s identities are intertwined.
The question of identity is all over our readings for today
These days a lot of people
have a lot to say about who Jesus is,
as a matter of fact
a lot of people have a lot to say about who they think we are
and into that conflicting conversation
Jesus has us pause and asks “but who do you say that I am?”
because who we claim Jesus to be
directly impacts who we understand ourselves to be
and how we live in the world.
But first and foremost God claims us.
As the creator of the universe
God is the source of our lives,
and our relationship with God is formalized at our baptisms
when God says “you are mine, sealed with the holy spirit and marked by the cross of Christ forever no matter what anybody says you are a child of God.”
And while this will never change,
we encounter events in our lives,
whether expected or unexpected
that cause us to question: who is God and who am I?
Our readings for today
model how God suggests that we might begin to answer these questions.
In our reading from Isaiah
God is speaking to people who are seeking the Lord,
they have experienced the tragedy of exile from their homeland
and it has caused them to ask who is God?
God points them back to the past actions of God.
Saying “Look to the rock from which you were hewn…
look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; f
or he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.”
God recalls to the people
their collective experience with God,
in a way saying ‘if I acted this way in the past I’ll act this way again,
I was with Abraham and Sarah when it was just them
and I grew them into a great nation,
your number might be depleted but if I did it with them I can do it again.”
In many ways who we confess God to be
depends on our experience of God,
both as a community and as individuals.
Which is why it is important that we gather and tell the stories of who God is,
when we tell the story of the exodus
we are proclaiming that God is a God of liberation,
when we tell the story of Jesus
we are saying that God is one who walks with us,
when we hear of the work of Jesus through the disciples
we are confessing that God works through us.
When we tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection
we are saying that God is not stopped by death.
And we each have our own stories of God in our lives
that shape and define who we confess God to be.
When I tell the story of growing up in the church,
I am proclaiming a God that has nurtured me
When I tell the story of how my community took care of me
At the most difficult times in my life
I am proclaiming a God that is loving and works through community
When I marvel at the times when I had nothing to say
and the right words came out of my mouth
I am proclaiming a God that sends the Holy Spirit to assist me
What we say about God
based on the scriptures, the community and our own lives
paints a picture of a God who is intimately involved in our lives
and this realization causes us to ask, if this is so, who am I and what am I to do?
“You are a member of the body of Christ,” says Paul
speaking to a group of people asking that very question,
“and members of the body of Christ are unique,
with various gifts and talents that all come together
to help communicate to others who God is”
because our main mission,
as we hear at the end of the gospel of Matthew
is to go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing and teaching them of Jesus.
And Jesus has given each of us gifts
that allow us to work together as a community
to live out this mission in the world
and sometimes our gifts are not always obvious
so Paul recommends to the Romans,
who are wondering what role they have to play in the body of Christ
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect”
realizing that it is possible to get caught up in the world around us,
that unless we take time to read scripture, pray and think about it
we might confuse what the world wants with what God wants.
Which is why Who we confess Jesus to be is so important
Because understanding who God is
Helps us interpret how God wants us to live in the world
Our confession directly impacts
how we understand ourselves
and what we do with our lives.
Jesus’ identity and our identity are intertwined
and it can take us in some unexpected directions.
Peter confessed Jesus to be the messiah, the Son of the living God,
and Jesus gave Peter a new identity and purpose,
the foundation of the church
and it took Peter in some un expected direction, the garden of Gethsemane,
the court yard of the high priest,
the empty tomb, breakfast beside the sea of Galilee,
his purpose as the base of the church
even took Peter, a good Jew,
to the gentiles with the message of Jesus
including visions of breaking the dietary laws
for the sake of the gospel
a place he certainly didn’t expect to wind up
but which deepened his understanding of who God is
and expanded who he shared the good new with.
We are at a time in history
where we are being called to reexamine the questions
who is God? and who am I?
and we need to take time to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect
because how we live out our answers is a reflection of who we believe God to be
So we ask: Who do we say God is in the face of Charlottesville? And
How do we live out our answer as the body of Christ?
Who do we say God is in the face of sickness and death?
And How do we live out our answer as a member of the body of Christ?
Who do we say God is in the face of hurricanes and natural disasters?
And How do we live out our answer with the gifts given us by God?
These questions can be daunting
but when we ask them in community,
with the scriptures as witness,
the Holy Spirit our comforter and guide
and Jesus who has claimed us as his own
God will give us identity and purpose.
So, who do you say Jesus is?
9th Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Matthew 14: 13-21
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who calls us into relationship. Amen
How do you get people interested in an event?
This is particularly true on college campuses,
all across the nation
as the kids flood back to school
there will be activity fairs
and signs advertising informational meetings for clubs and groups,
and the most successful,
the table that will draw the biggest crowd
will have food,
and not just a few mini snickers bars
but the best food, slices of pizza, doughnuts, maybe even tacos.
Now not all of the adoring taco lovers
will become members of the rowing team
or the young diplomats club.
Most will be there simply for the food,
a break from whatever delights the cafeteria serves up
or perhaps worse their own cooking on a budget.
But, there is the possibility,
ever so small,
that something more could develop
from that initial exchange of food,
even if it is just knowing the name of Lutheran Campus ministries,
the association that they had good food,
and didn’t they say something about a meal after church Sunday mornings,
and aren’t they the ones with the open pantry of personal care supplies?
Even when it’s just about the food
it’s about more than the food,
it’s an entry point into relationship.
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
God calls out to the Israelites,
offering them free food
and not just any free food,
but the best food.
God offers this food
as a way to get them to listen once again
to the covenant promise,
to draw them back into relationship with God,
a relationship that God started with the people
to serve as an example for the other nations
so that the other nations would also come to God.
Even when it’s just about the food,
it’s about more than the food.
In our gospel
the crowds are already coming to Jesus,
in this case
it is in search of the free health car
e that Jesus has been offering,
as he has been wandering about teaching
he has also been healing
and not just offering an ointment here or a potion there
but full, miraculous healings,
withered hands restored, demons exorcised, dead brought back to life,
he’s offering the best and people are flocking to him.
And when Jesus sees the crowds,
the people seeking him
even as he is trying to get
away to mourn the death of John the Baptist,
he has compassion for them,
he feels their pain in his gut,
and he heals their sick.
It’s about more than just the healing.
The crowds are surrounding Jesus
and now the disciples’ enter the picture,
they have committed to a relationship with Jesus
past that of free food and health care,
they’ve joined his club,
they’re on board with his mission,
they want to help,
and so when it starts getting late
they come up to Jesus and say
‘uh hey boss, it’s getting late,
and there’s nothing out here,
maybe it’s time to start telling all these people
that it’s time for them to go someplace where they can get some food.”
they in their own way
are concerned for the welfare of the crowd
but they certainly don’t expect what Jesus tells them to do next.
“You give them something to eat”
Jesus commands the disciples
“but we only have five loaves and two fish,” they reply
and Jesus takes their food,
blesses and breaks it
and gives it back to the disciples to distribute.
And with the little they had
and the blessing of Jesus,
the disciples are able to feed the whole crowd,
and not just a little bit for each person
but all ate and were filled
and there were even left-overs
and for a moment
the reign of God is realized
and all who are gathered
experience the reality
of what Jesus has been teaching the disciples to work toward.
A world where people from all different walks of life
gather together and there is such an abundance
that everyone rich or poor
gets as much as they need and there are even left-overs.
In his command,
Jesus has empowered the disciples
with an understanding that with what little they have
and they blessing of God
they are able to make the reign of God real for people
in the same way Jesus has made it real for them.
That as disciples they are truly partners
in Jesus’ mission to spread the good news,
that the relationships they create with the crowds lead to God.
and sure some people are just there for the food
and that’s okay, because God knows that all people need food
but there’s the possibility that it will lead to something more,
a positive association with Jesus and his movement that may,
in the future draw them into their own path of discipleship.
It’s about more than just the food.
“Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
For most of us,
Our relationship with God
started with a free bath,
and we were brought to that bath
by parents or grandparents,
disciples empowered to share their experience of God with us.
In that bath, which was more than just a bath
God promised to always be in relationship with us
even if that was the only time we were ever in church,
or our parents had it done as “an insurance policy”
even if we stopped coming to church and talking to God in our teens,
20s, 30s 40s, 50s, 60s, etc
even if sometimes we feel like faith is day to day, moment to moment
but Jesus doesn’t just let us go,
he continually calls us back into relationship with God and one another,
through disciples and of course with free food,
the best food, his body and blood
in with and under the bread and wine,
which of course is about more than just the food,
it’s an offering of forgiveness for the relationships we’ve broken,
a taste of the reign of God
where all are welcome and there is enough for everybody.
And when we’ve gathered
with the great variety of people that God brings to the table,
eaten our fill and seen the leftovers,
then God turns us back toward the world,
the hungry and hurting
and says “you give them something to eat,
have compassion for the suffering crowds,
you feed them, you heal them,
and yes most of them will probably just be there for the free food and health care
but it’s an opportunity to
establish a deeper relationship
and then you can offer them something more,
a relationship with the creator of the universe”
And with what little we have
and the blessing of God
we are able to realize the reign of God,
one feast at a time. Amen
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.
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.