Fifth Sunday in Lent
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who wants all the children at the party. Amen
The story of the Prodigal Son,
we’ve all heard it, at least a couple times
so we know what comes next
when we hear the line “there was a man who had two sons”
now these two sons are wildly different,
as often happens with siblings.
We hear about the younger son first,
how he doesn’t want to wait for his father to die
to receive his inheritance,
so he asks for it,
and when his father gives him his half
he takes it and sets out,
traveling to a distant country,
living in a way that uses up all his inheritance.
when a famine hits
the younger son finds himself starving without any money
so he finds a job feeding pigs
- remember pigs are religiously unclean animals
so we know that he’s hit rock bottom
when he’s hanging out with the pigs
and the pig food is starting to look pretty tasty-
and that’s when he realizes,
life in his father’s house is good, even for the servants
so he forms a plan to go home,
confess his sin to his father
and knowing he doesn’t deserve to be considered a son in the household
asks to be considered as a servant.
He acts on his plan and heads home
but before he can even get up the driveway
his father sees him and runs to him,
and before he can confess and lay out his plan
his father is already throwing a big welcome home party.
And this is where we hear about the older son,
the older son who also received his part of the inheritance
when the younger son asked,
but stayed at home,
he did was he was supposed to,
carrying on the family business
working with his father.
So he’s coming in from working in the fields
and he hears a party going on,
a party he didn’t know was happening,
a party he clearly didn’t receive an invitation to,
so he asks one of the servants about it
and only then does he hear that his younger brother has returned
and that dad is throwing an extravagant party for him.
At this he gets mad
and refuses to go in the house,
and when his father comes out to plead with him to come to the party,
years of resentment and bitterness come pouring out,
“I’ve been the good one,
I did what I’m supposed to,
I worked with you all these years
and you’ve never celebrated me,
you’ve never thrown a party for me
and now your son
who told you he wished you were dead so he could have your stuff comes back
- without all that money you gave him by the way-
and you throw a party for him?’
and he refuses to come inside
and his father reminds him that their relationship is intact
and that all that is the father’s is the older son’s,
his life is good,
but the father stands firm in his decision to celebrate the return of the younger son.
He loves both.
A man had two sons the story starts
and at the end it seems to ask us,
which is the better son?
Tradition would have us say
the older son is the better son
but despite his honoring his father
and the good life that he has
he ends bitter and resentful at his father,
feeling left out
that he wasn’t invited to a party in his own home,
a place he was already and always welcome,
and he ends up not looking so good.
The younger son on the other hand
shows personal growth,
sure he starts off looking pretty bad
there’s no denying that he squanders the love of his father
and ends up hungry sitting in a mess of his own making,
but when he considers the situation and realizes that life with dad was good
he repents hoping his father will treat him as one of the servants
because he knows that’s all he really deserves,
and he ends up humble and appreciative of life with dad.
In the end neither son is better than the other.
And yet, the father chases after both sons.
He wants them both at the party.
He rushes to celebrate the son that returned of his own volition
and he goes out and pleads with the son
who refuses to come in
reminding him that the grace and love of a father
is not a zero sum game,
showing love for one son does not diminish the love felt for the other son.
God loves in a way that is hard for humans to understand,
so we apply our own standards
which means that whether we are like the younger son
sitting in a mess of our own making
or like the older son
filled with bitter resentment
when we look across at our neighbor
it doesn’t seem like they deserve God’s grace and love.
when we judge our neighbor our sin is exposed,
to decide who God loves is God’s role,
and if we’re honest,
we admit that by any standards no one deserves God’s love
but in Christ God has made it clear that God’s love is for all
Which is why Paul,
when writing to the Corinthians,
instructing them in the way of living in Christ
says “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation everything old has passed away see everything has become new.”
In the waters of baptism Christ washes away our messes and our bitterness,
Forgiving us again and again
So that each day we are given new life.
And Having been given new life in Christ
we are to look at others with the eyes of God,
we are to see others as God sees them,
beloved children who God wants at the party. 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
Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace to you
from the one who goes to great lengths to keep promises. Amen
The theme running through our readings for today
is that God keeps the promises God makes.
We know this,
we affirm it,
but sometimes, especially in the middle of hardship
it’s hard to trust this,
it’s hard to see anything other than what is right in front of us
and our prayers start to sound like our psalm for the day.
In the face of forces working actively against the psalmist they pray,
and their prayer alternates between statements of trust
almost as if making those statements will help the psalmist
believe that they are true
and acknowledging the reality of the present.
The psalmist starts off
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?”
but behind these words we sense a reason to fear
and sure enough in the very next verse
the psalmist says “when evildoers close in against me”
and goes on to describe bad things that happen in life.
Back and forth the psalm goes,
calling on the Lord’s promises
and seeking reassurance
in the midst of times of trouble
I think we’ve all prayed something like this
where we alternate between
“I know you’re great God and have made these promises”
and in the next breath crying out
“help! Bad things are happening, right now!”
and both are true at the same time.
We need reassurance when the way gets tough,
we need to vent our frustrations and fears
after all of the emotions have been expressed
the psalmist settles on the last two verses
“This I believe--that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord and be strong. Take heart and wait for the Lord!”
And it’s true,
we do believe we will see the goodness of God,
and we catch glimpses of it
but that second part,
is oh so hard,
we’ve experienced that this past week
as we’ve waited and watched the waters rise
not knowing what the future will look like
for communities and families around the state,
and as much as we’ve wanted to do something,
at a certain point all that’s left to do is wait
we’re still waiting.
And the longer the wait the more assurance we need.
God keeps the promises God makes
but our time line and God’s don’t always line up
and so sometimes we question God,
and God responds with reassurance.
We see this in our first reading from Genesis
in the conversation between God and Abram
This scene is actually not the first conversation between the two
earlier when God led Abram from his home
God promised him land and descendants as numerous as grains of sand,
Abram has been faithful in his following of God thus far
but he’s getting older
and he’s not seeing the fruit of those promises,
So Abram questions God
yah you made those promises but what have you done for me lately?
looking for more details
in how this seemingly impossible promise will come true,
and God reassures him
pointing to the night sky and saying
“look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them, so shall your descendants be.”
Then the pattern repeats itself.
God repeats the promise of land to Abram
and Abram questions God
“O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
and what follows
is possibly one of the stranger passages
that we hear on a regular basis,
specific animals being cut in two,
a smoking fire pot and flaming torch
passing through the animal pieces…
What are we to make of such a scene?
We know from research scholars have done on the ancient middle-east
that though it may have been terrifying for Abram
the actual ritual would have been familiar to him
for this was the ritual of covenant or contract making.
Minus the presence of lawyers and paper and pen
this was how contracts were made,
the ritual of walking through the dismembered animals
signified an important promise.
essentially saying, “if I fail to keep my promise, may the same thing happen to me as to these animals.”
God’s promise to Abram is so important
that God “considers an experience of suffering and death” (NIB 449)
in order to convey the seriousness of the promise.
God keeps the promises God makes
we have cause to know just how far God will go to keep a promise.
In our gospel reading for today
Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem
some Pharisees come
and tell him that he shouldn’t go
because it’s dangerous.
Jesus already knows that,
Jesus already knows what is going to happen
and Jesus knows what lengths God is willing to go to keep promises
all the way to death and back again.
Jesus is the promised messiah
the one the people have longed for, for so long
but true to God’s form
the fulfillment of the promise
is beyond human conception of what it will look like.
Jesus uses the image
of a hen gathering her chicks under her wings,
that is what he longs to do
and in a way will do in his outstretched arms on the cross
but the people,
expecting a hawk or an eagle
have not been willing to come under Jesus
the mother hen’s wings,
in fact like a hawk or eagle
they will attack the mother hen
as they have attacked previous prophets.
the city of God,
is a risky place to go if you are a messenger from God
but Jesus is willing to take those risks in order to keep the promises of God.
God made a promise to Abram,
Abram questioned God
and God reassured Abram
and Abram believed the Lord.
Abram’s faith was possible
because of God’s word and previous actions,
which had all been true and faithful.
At our baptisms
God made a promise to us
that we would always be God’s,
as Paul said in our second reading,
our citizenship would be in heaven.
And some days we question that promise,
we turn to God and say
‘you promised that your kingdom would come on earth as in heaven,
Jesus said the kingdom of God has come near
and yet there are still people who are hungry
and countries at war,
And terrorists who shoot people in their place of worship
and loved ones who die,
And rising flood waters
how can your promise come true God?’
and God comes to us,
at the table
Jesus comes to us
reassuring us with his own body and blood
the new covenant shed for us
for the forgiveness of sins
Any time we gather together,
break the bread, drink the wine
Jesus is present,
renewing the promise of abundant life everlasting,
strengthening us in the midst of the waiting
Reminding us that God has kept all of God’s promises
even to the point of dying on a cross
and rising on the third day.
The life of faith is risky.
Risky because though the promises are always kept
we don’t know the particulars,
risky because people expect hawks instead of mother hens to change the world.
Yet The life of faith is secure
because it is founded in the one who keeps their promises
and no matter how often we question
No matter what life throws at us,
God is reaching out
gathering us in like a mother hen gathers her chicks
To safely in the shadow of her wings. Amen
First Sunday in Lent
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one at the center of the story. Amen
The season of Lent is a time of storytelling.
During this 40 day period
we tell the stories of Jesus’ last days
leading up to the greatest story of Easter morning.
We tell these stories every year during this season,
we tell them because they are important to us,
we tell them so that new people might hear them,
we tell them to remember who we are and whose we are
because stories form our identities.
We start with our reading from Deuteronomy,
I love this passage because it combines the power of storytelling with worship.
In this passage
Moses is instructing the Israelites
before they enter the promised land
on how to worship God who is giving them the land.
It is clear that Moses is concerned
that once the people settle in
and start working the land
and providing for themselves through farming
that they will forget God.
Moses says some variation
of “the land that the Lord your God is giving you”
six times in this short passage,
he has a right to be worried
it’s a very human temptation
to forget God
when it appears that we can take care of ourselves through our own work
even though God made it possible for us to work in the first place.
So Moses prescribes a ritual for worship
designed to both praise God
and remind the worshipper of God.
When the land,
a gift from God,
starts to produce
the Israelites are to take the first harvest,
put it in a basket,
bring it to the temple and give it to the priest
who will put it before the altar of God.
Seems simple enough,
but there is more,
in addition to bringing the first fruits
the worshiper is to retell the story of the people and God
"A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me." Deuteronomy 26:5-10
The story puts the act of offering in context,
the ability to offer these first fruits
is only possible because of God’s saving actions and gracious gifts.
Telling the story this way
makes sure that God stays at the center of the story.
Worship is designed to keep God as the main character
in the story of life,
and let’s be honest
we need all the help we can get
we humans love to think that it is all about us,
and when we start to make ourselves the center of the universe
we get into trouble very quickly.
It is this human inclination
that the Devil plays on as he tempts Jesus in our gospel for today
and Jesus resists
by keeping God at the center of the story
In his first attempt
the Devil plays on Jesus’ pride and hunger
by saying “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
Now imagine if Jesus were living with the perspective
that he was the center of the universe-
he would be insulted at the Devil’s questioning of his identity
and authority as Son of God,
and being hungry it would make sense to prove the devil wrong
by creating some bread,
seems like killing two birds with one stone.
But keeping God at the center
Jesus, even though he is the Son of God and is very hungry answers:
“It is written, ‘one does not live by bread alone.’”
So the devil tries another common weak spot for humans,
he offers power,
all the kingdoms of the world.
In exchange for allegiance that is.
We only have to look through history
at the various dictators
to know how this temptation might have played out.
But again Jesus keeping God at the center
answers: “It is written, ‘worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”
And now the Devil knows he’s working with a really tough case
and so in his last attempt
he combines a question of Jesus’ identity
with quoting scripture,
playing Jesus’ own game saying “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘he will command his angels concerning you, to protect you, and on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’
there you have it,
the word of God straight out of Psalm 91,
how can you argue with that? The Devil implies
this tactic has worked really well for the Devil over the years
playing on the pride of people
who then pressure other people
saying: “If you are a Christian, you will go and do____ something very un Christ like”
and by backing up their claim with scripture
people fall prey to the desire
to prove that they are Christian
rather than to act like Christ.
but yet again Jesus sees through the devil’s ploy
and keeping God at the center of the story
responds “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
At this the devil departs-
but not for good, just until another time when Jesus is ripe for temptation,
a time like this one where his defenses are down.
That’s when the devil likes to tempt us,
not when we’re at our strongest,
but when we’re at our weakest,
those times of struggle
where we desperately desire a certain outcome
because we are so overcome with the events in our lives
that we’ve started telling our story with ourselves at the center
we are so focused on ourselves
that we give into temptation
and start testing God saying things like:
“God, if you’re really there I’ll know because you’ll make the one I love all better.”
or “God, if you’re really compassionate make all this pain go away, right now.”
Of course that way lies madness,
because God doesn’t work like that,
God is not a cosmic vending machine
where if we insert our prayers like dollars
our desired outcome will be dispensed.
And how do we know God doesn’t work like that?
Through all the stories of how God has acted in the past,
the stories where again and again
God chose to work through death to bring new life.
So how do we make it through the tough times and resist temptation?
the stories of how God has acted in the past
and promised to act in the future.
In worship we hear the stories,
and we give to God in recognition that in the great story of life
God is the main character to our supporting role,
and we celebrate the life God has given us.
And fortified by the story,
gratitude and communal celebration
God sends us back out into the world,
to live through death into new life. Amen
Transfiguration of Our Lord
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who speaks to us. Amen
Speaking and listening
These two actions lie at the heart of the transfiguration story.
Speaking and listening are the transfiguration story.
Jesus has been teaching
he’s been speaking to crowds,
and now he needs some time with God.
So he takes with him three disciples,
Peter, John and James and goes up a mountain to pray.
Jesus likes to go to deserted places to pray,
less distraction that way
but going up a mountain signals that this is a special occasion,
God is often met on mountain tops,
And sure enough while Jesus is praying something happens,
Jesus’ face changes
and his clothes become dazzling white
and suddenly he is joined by Moses and Elijah
they’re having a conversation about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the cross
and Peter, John and James witnessing the glory of God
want to hold on to the moment
Peter offers to build permanent structures
so the moment never has to end
and at this God overshadows them
and speaks to them,
telling them to listen to Jesus
and terrified they keep silent.
Speaking and listening
That’s where it all starts
with Jesus going up the mountain to pray,
prayer is a combination of speaking and listening,
we’re more familiar with the speaking side of prayer
but prayer also happens in listening,
listening for what God is saying to us.
Jesus goes up the mountain to pray
and is visibly transformed by encountering God.
This is keeping with tradition,
we heard how Moses’ face was transformed
as he spoke to God.
Being in the presence of God changes us.
Listening to God visibly changes us.
And that frightens us.
Moses took to wearing a veil around the people
because when they could see the glory of the Lord shining in his face,
they were afraid to come near him.
Yet they still listened to Moses speak,
when others are transformed by being in the presence of God
we are afraid yes,
but we’re also intrigued,
part of us wants to see more,
but we can only take so much.
We’re like little kids experiencing something new,
at first it startles us and we run and hide our face in our parents leg,
but soon enough we’re ready to take another peak,
and a peak turns into a longer look
and eventually, step by step we move toward a full encounter.
It’s a different story when we’re the ones who are changed.
Peter, dear impulsive, enthusiastic Peter
witnesses Jesus’ transformation along with Moses and Elijah
and determines that this is a good place,
he wants to see more
so he suggests building houses for the trio.
He wants to make this brief moment permanent
even though that is impossible,
we are told that Peter didn’t know what he was saying,
that this was a moment for just a moment.
To be fair to Peter it’s a very human thing
to suggest what he did.
We humans love to embark on building projects
around sites of significance.
In seminary I got to go to Israel and Palestine
as part of a class on the Holy Land
which included visiting sites of significance to Jesus’ ministry.
To be fair we were a bit skeptical
that we were visiting the exact place where Jesus appeared to the disciples
after the resurrection and made them a breakfast of fish,
or the exact place where Jesus was baptized
but our tour guide
a wonderfully faithful Palestinian Catholic named Johnny
had an explanation,
‘we know this is the place because the early Christians built a church here’
and there were a lot of churches dedicated to specific events in Jesus’ life.
It’s what we humans do,
we try to capture significant moments in permanent buildings.
But back on the mountain
God has other things in mind,
the moment is too significant to get caught up in a building project
and so even as Peter is offering his suggestion
a cloud comes and overshadows the disciples,
this is the presence of God,
when God appears to people in the Bible
it is often in the form of a cloud,
For example God led the people of Israel out of Egypt
appearing as a pillar of cloud by day.
And the disciples are terrified as they enter the cloud.
Then God speaks “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!”
And when the cloud lifts,
all that’s left is Jesus.
And this time,
their reaction is to keep silent,
and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
They obviously eventually told someone
otherwise we wouldn’t know the story
but it took them awhile to be able to tell the story,
my guess is that it was only after the resurrection
did they feel comfortable enough to tells others of their encounter with God
and what God said to them.
And this too is a perfectly human response.
Because as much as we long for God
to work in us and in our community
- we pray for that every Sunday,
when the time comes,
like the disciples
we are terrified to enter the cloud of God.
Covered in clouds we can’t see where we’re going,
even on top of a mountain
and we don’t like that feeling,
we like to be able to look out and see where we’re going
anticipate what’s coming next,
it’s less scary that way,
God most often speaks when we’re covered in clouds.
Those times in life
when we can’t see what the future holds,
we can barely see our hand in front of our face.
a broken relationship,
a job loss,
any kind of loss,
we don’t know what the future will bring
and it terrifies us
and that is when God speaks,
and when the clouds lift,
in that first moment of clarity
what do we see?
who was there all along.
“Listen to him” God says,
so we do,
as we move forward we listen to Jesus,
we save the speaking for later.
The Church, with a capital C
is in a time of clouds,
things that worked for decades are no longer effective
and frankly, we’re afraid,
this comes out in all kinds of anxieties,
I’m not going to list them
but I’m sure you can think of something
that worries you about the Church,
we’re afraid because we can’t see the path in front of us
and yet, when we pause,
take a deep breath, and a moment to collect ourselves,
we find that we do know what to do.
Listen to God who speaks in the midst of clouds,
who tells us to listen to Jesus.
I’ve been listening for awhile now,
And you know what?
I’m not afraid of the clouds surrounding the Church anymore.
Because I know that when the clouds lift
what we’ll find is Jesus,
who has been there all along
and who will lead us down off the mountain
who will show us the way.
Realizing this has made Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians
so much more meaningful,
listen to them again:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”
In Christ we have freedom,
freedom from fear,
in Christ we see the glory of the Lord,
In Christ we are being transformed,
In Christ we are engaged in ministry.
In Christ we do not lose heart.
“This is my son, My chosen; listen to him!” 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.
Third Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthian 12:12-31
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace to you from the one with a purpose. Amen
We are still in the season after Epiphany,
the season where our readings reveal who Jesus is
and what he is about.
So far in the time after Epiphany
We’ve heard the story of Jesus’ baptism
where the spirit came down and claimed him
and God’s voice named him as beloved son,
we got a glimpse of Jesus’ capacity for abundance
as we watched him in action
at the wedding at Cana
turning a huge amount of water
into a vast amount of fine wine
so that by the grace of God relationships could be repaired
Jesus announces his purpose,
what he has come to do.
From his baptism
Jesus is driven out into the wilderness
to be tempted by Satan,
he successfully survives the test
and that is where we pick up the story today
when filled with the power of the spirit
Jesus returns to Galilee
and begins teaching,
people are impressed
and word begins to spread
about how great this new teacher is
and so of course he has to go home and teach in the home synagogue,
local boy makes good better come home and share his talents right?
So there is perhaps a greater sense of anticipation
in his home town synagogue,
among the people who watched him grow from a cute baby
through those awkward teen years
into the man before them, stands,
takes the scroll and turns to Isaiah and reads:
“The spirit of the lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he sits down to teach
and eyes of all in the synagogue are fixed on him.
The people are holding their breath,
what is this reportedly great teacher going to say about this passage?
Will he talk about the tradition of the prophets?
The hoped for messiah?
And Jesus delivers his sermon in one sentence:
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
The way the planners of the lectionary set it up
we don’t get the crowds’ reaction until next week,
so this week we get to unpack what is revealed about Jesus
through his reading of Isaiah
and his one sentence interpretation of the reading.
These are the first words we hear from Jesus
after he starts his ministry
and in his choice of reading from Isaiah
Jesus lays out his purpose for the rest of his ministry,
Jesus is to bring good news to the poor,
proclaim release to the captive,
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor
Jesus has rooted himself firmly
in the prophetic tradition
and the expectations of the people of Israel,
but we know of course
that the way Jesus works
is decidedly unexpected
so we wonder what does Jesus mean
when he claims that the scripture has been fulfilled?
- we will see just what this all means,
as Jesus lives out his purpose,
in how he feeds the hungry,
thousands with a few loaves and fish
forgives those captive to sin
with the words ‘your sins are forgiven’
heals those oppressed by sickness
as simply as saying ‘get up take your mat and go’
Jesus will live his purpose out
in more controversial ways as well
by choosing to associate with tax collectors and sinners over the religious elite,
he will break the law to fulfill his purpose
whether it’s healing on the Sabbath or not washing his hands
and in a grand display
he will cleanse the temple of money changers
and merchants selling animals for sacrifice,
disrupting the established economic system
in a bid to turn the focus of the temple from worldly gain
to prayer to the creator of the universe.
And as you can imagine
all these actions disrupting the status quo
upset the people who benefitted from the status quo
which leads to the cross
Jesus’ most unconventional way of being messiah,
dying for the sake of life
And it is Jesus’ short sermon in his home synagogue
at the beginning of his ministry
that starts this all off
sounding the death knoll of the status quo
because good news for the poor
means consequences for those who are rich
freedom is good news for the oppressed
and means changes for those who oppressed them
the year of jubilee, the Lord’s favor
when the ancestral land is redistributed
is exciting for those who have no land
but perhaps not so much
for those who have acquired great amounts of land.
In the words of the hymn the Canticle of the Turning
“the world is about to turn”
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
What are we to make of this pronouncement of Jesus
Especially in light of all that’s going on in the world around us
A world still full of the hungry, poor and oppressed.
Allow me if you will
to take a slight detour into the world of grammar.
There is a tense called the perfect tense,
and it describes actions that have been completed
but whose consequences are ongoing in the present.
For example the statement:
I made lunch.
The making of lunch is complete,
an action of the past
but the consequence of that statement
is that there is now lunch available to eat.
Jesus’ sermon is like that,
In the perfect tense
the words of the prophet Isaiah have been fulfilled.
Completed by Jesus’ pronouncement
but the consequences of his statement,
of what he has done
is still being worked out
and we have a part in living them out
As Paul said in our second reading for the day:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free and we were all made to drink of one spirit.”
In our baptisms we were joined to Christ
and when we were joined to Christ
his purpose became our purpose,
to bring good news to the poor,
proclaim release to the captives,
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free
and to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor.
And as we look around at the world
and see how many people are still poor, captive and oppressed
we realize there is a lot of work left to do,
and when this seems overwhelming
we pause and look around at the body of Christ,
made up of many members
each with a role to play according to the gift of the spirit.
Who, joined together as one in Christ
live out God’s purpose in the world. Amen
Baptism of Our Lord
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who comes in judgment. Amen.
Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus,
which all the gospels agree
is the start of Jesus’ public ministry.
John the Baptist has been preparing the way,
preaching in the desert
getting the people excited about the coming messiah
and Jesus comes out to the wilderness,
and Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us
that the heavens open,
the Holy Spirit descends like a dove
and the voice of God is heard affirming Jesus as beloved son.
That’s the general outline of the story
that we think of when we refer to the story of Jesus’ baptism
But each gospel writer
puts their own spin on the story
and in Luke we have the first part of our gospel reading
where the people ask John if he is the messiah he’s been preaching about
and John says: "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
and only then does Jesus come and is baptized
and the heavens oven,
the holy spirit comes down in the bodily form of a dove
and the voice of God is heard naming Jesus beloved son.
And the thing is,
it’s so tempting to skip the first part,
John’s depiction of the judgement by the coming messiah,
we’d rather jump straight to the baptism,
we’re Lutherans after all,
we love baptisms,
they give us the warm fuzzies
and this is Jesus’ baptism,
so let’s get right to the good stuff,
and skip the talk of unquenchable fire,
we’re really not fire and brimstone people
we can’t really truly talk about baptism
and what it means for us
without talking about judgment.
Because the truth is that the world is messed up
and that we are messed up right along with it,
if it weren’t we wouldn’t need a savior.
and the truth is
that there is good in the world and good in us
but that good doesn’t seem able to override the bad,
we need help
And that’s where God comes in
God who created the universe,
who is merciful
wanting to look for the good over the bad,
we have a God who is committed to this creation
and making it work,
there was that one time we hear about in Genesis
where God got so frustrated with the evil of humanity
God sent a flood to wipe everything out
and start over with Noah and his family and a boat of animals
but after the flood waters went down
God realized it wasn’t such a good solution
and promised to never do that again.
God is merciful
and committed to this creation
and God is committed to justice,
and since God is committed to justice
there must be some judgment,
the separating out the good from the bad,
that is God’s job.
too often, however,
Christians have taken it upon themselves
to play the role of God
and judge others
- and not surprisingly the people they say God decides against
are the very people that they themselves don’t like
so we tread carefully with talk of judgment,
We also get uncomfortable with judgment talk,
even when it’s all God’s job
because we have this idea that it’s an all or nothing thing,
and even what I call popular Christianity
has made judgement an up or down thing,
judged good you go to heaven,
bad to hell, often associated with fire,
and while there is some biblical basis for this
- see Matthew 25 and the sorting of the sheep and the goats,
it’s always much more nuanced-
than the straight up or straight down version
which is wielded as a weapon of fear
to exact strict social behavior in the image of those wielding the weapon
and very rarely is there talk of the mercy of God.
The picture John is paints
with his talk of the coming messiah
is much different,
the way John tells it
the judgment of the messiah
is a process throughout life,
the one who is coming will sort the good from the bad
in each person
and uses fire for purification rather than punishment.
John uses the process of threshing wheat as his analogy,
after the wheat is harvested the grain needs to be separated
from the straw and the husk around it- the chaff.
In Jesus’ day
animals would walk over the harvested grain
and their weight would separate out the kernels from the straw
then the harvester would take the winnowing fork
kind of like a shovel
and throw scoops of the straw and grain in the air,
the wind would blow away the lighter straw and chaff
while the heavier grain would fall down to be collected for use.
The wheat and the chaff are two parts of the same plant.
One part is more useful than the other
and it takes some hard work to separate the two.
There is good and bad in all of us,
and it takes some hard work to separate out which is which,
and that is what Jesus came to do.
As we encounter his teachings,
his stories and parables
we face the refining judgement of Jesus,
a life of discipleship
is a life of separating the wheat from the chaff.
And that is hard and painful work,
as anyone who has done any amount of work on themselves will tell you,
it’s hard to let go of old resentments,
it’s hard to separate out prejudice from truth,
it is tempting to give up,
no matter how great the promised outcome may be
separating out the wheat from the chaff in ourselves
can seem impossible,
and frankly on our own it is
and that is where baptism comes in,
a sign of the mercy of God,
who says I claim you as mine
no matter what
because I love you and I will be with you throughout the painful parts of life-
we heard God telling the Israelites this
in the passage from Isaiah,
God never promises that life will be easy
what God does promise is to be there through it all.
In baptism we are claimed by God,
who promises never to leave us
whatever life brings
and we are joined to Jesus the messiah’s death and resurrection,
which means that in the end
God judges us as if we were Jesus,
in a word perfect.
In baptism we are made saints 100%
and yet we are still 100% sinners
And while the math doesn’t work out
we know in our hearts
the truth that God loves us
and that we are in need of the refining judgement of Jesus
in Jesus we are set free to live both of those truths,
we are freed to live a life
where love is the law that guides our actions,
a life where we are held secure in the love of God as we are refined,
we are free
all because of Jesus,
the son of God,
with whom God is well pleased. Amen
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the Wonderful Counselor,
the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel. Amen
This time of year,
among all the other things that it is,
is a season of names.
Everywhere we turn there are names,
at the office drawing for the secret Santa gift exchange
and packages under the trees,
there are the names on or associated with
some of our favorite holiday recipes and traditions,
names come up as we decorate the tree
and tell the family stories.
Names arise in our memories
as those who are no long with us
linger close at this time of year
Closely associated with names are stories
and this is definitely a season of stories,
stories filled with names,
now names can be stories in themselves,
sometimes all that’s necessary to invoke a story
is to say a certain name
because our names represent who we are,
and who we are is revealed by the story of our lives.
Behind every name
is a collection of stories,
so it’s little wonder
that when telling the greatest story
Luke uses a lot of names,
each mention adding layers of meaning
to a seemingly simple story
about a baby born in a manger.
Most of the time when we read the Christmas story
the names are easy to pass over
when we don’t know the stories behind names
they are easily dismissed,
they are something we read through to get to the good part,
the baby in the manger, the angelic chorus and the believing shepherds,
but whether we pay attention to them or not
names drive the action of the Christmas story,
Emperor Augustus starts things off,
the one with the most power in the Roman Empire,
dictating the lives of those with the least power,
Augustus calls for a registration,
a census, a cataloguing of people by name,
making it easier for the empire to tax its conquered subjects
and conscript them into the military.
Families must return to their hometowns to be counted
and so that is what Joseph does along with his pregnant fiancée.
Joseph we’re told
is a member of the house of King David,
a huge figure in the story of Israel,
David is the King
to whom God promised to always raise up ancestors
as leaders for Israel.
Now in the story of the people of Israel
it’s been awhile since they’ve had a great leader,
at the moment Israel is under the control of the Roman Empire
this after being under the control of the Babylonians
and then the Persians,
independent rule in the promised land
is such a distant memory
it almost feels like a fairy tale,
but unlike fairy tales
this is a promise made by God,
and God keeps the promises God makes.
so at the mention of Joseph and his family ties,
our ears perk up,
could God be about to make good on the promise of old?
This suspicion is heightened,
when Luke tells us that Joseph takes Mary to Bethlehem
where she has their firstborn child.
Bethlehem, is King David’s hometown
and the prophesies foretelling the messiah,
the anointed one who will save Israel,
say that the Messiah will come out of Bethlehem.
We heard one of the prophetic announcements
in our first reading from Isaiah,
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
and there is great joy
at an infant born
through whom God will work out the promise of perpetual peace
with justice and righteousness
and here again names appear.
In this case the names or titles are descriptive
of how this sign of hope will accomplish God’s promised future
and what that future will look like,
it will be a future of peace,
brought about through the wisdom of God,
and in the wisdom of God,
the one to bring that about,
is a baby.
The enfleshed wisdom of God
It’s quite a contrast,
the royal names and accompanying expectations
even the angelic announcements back in Luke to the shepherds
of “a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
all hung on a newborn human,
the weakest of creatures
unable to thrive without the care of others.
These are big names for a little baby,
seemingly unrealistic expectations
for one born without even power according to humans,
wealth and privilege.
And yet, the baby in the manger
will live up to the names given him,
but he will do so in ways that defy human expectations,
he will be the Prince of Peace,
Emmanuel- God with us
in the same way he started life,
from a place of human weakness,
rather than human strength,
because that’s how God chooses to work in the world,
through the weak and the unexpected,
through the underrated and overlooked,
All of us carry several names or titles,
some represent the collective stories of our lives,
some are more descriptive or name what people expect from us,
some are seemingly unrealistic
and others we maybe don’t care for so much,
and these names may change over time
as more stories are added to our collection
but there is one name we have been given
that will never change,
we have been named Child of God.
God identifies us as God’s own beloved,
and nothing we say or do,
no mistakes we make
will change that,
God has named us
and that makes us part of God’s story,
the story where weakness is wisdom
and compassion is salvific,
the story where nothing can separate us from the love of God,
it’s a story with many names
each with their own stories,
all connecting back to the greatest story,
of a baby born in a manger long ago. Amen
4th Sunday of Advent
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who works through us. Amen
We’re almost there,
we’ve lit all the blue candles on our wreath,
plans and preparations for the Christmas festival
are finished or nearing completion
and we’re ready for it all to get here,
but before we jump to the baby in the manger,
angel choruses and shepherds watching their flocks by night,
we spend some time with Mary,
the one who partners with God
to make this wild scheme a reality.
God, creator of the universe,
is still active and involved
in the working of the world,
but since creation
God has taken a more hands off approach,
choosing to work with partners,
people in the world,
to bring about God’s agenda for creation
and God has a habit of choosing to work with
the people whose high school yearbook
superlative would start ‘least likely to’
God chooses to work with those other humans overlook,
underestimate, or write off as not good enough by human standards
Abraham and Sarah,
well past childbearing years
are the parents of a nation,
Joseph the youngest brother
so annoying that his older brothers
literally threw him in a pit
and sold him into slavery
saves the nation from starvation,
Moses, the exile
who had a stutter and very low self-esteem
led the Israelites out of Egypt,
Jonah the prophet
who kept running the other direction
and only followed God’s directions
after spending a few days thinking about it
while sitting in the belly of a giant fish
and the list could go on.
So it really shouldn’t surprise us
that for the grandest plan of all
God chooses the least likely person
to help bring it about,
a young unmarried Jewish girl
living under Roman occupation
in one of the smaller towns
out in the countryside.
One who definitely meets
the qualifications for
‘least likely to work with God to save the world.’
And yet that’s what God proposes
and Mary accepts.
Luke tells us that an angel, a messenger,
is sent by God to Mary,
the angel starts off “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you”
a greeting that we are told perplexes Mary,
she’s wondering just what is going
on when the angel goes on to tell her the plan,
she’ll get pregnant and bear a son
who will be called Jesus,
who will take the throne of his ancestor David,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.
And taking this all in Mary asks a practical question: how?
How can this happen?
the angel responds,
it will be the work of the Holy Spirit,
so that your child will be holy.
And then the angel throws in this extra bit of information,
your relative Elizabeth who was said to be barren is now expecting a child,
“For nothing will be impossible with God.”
And considering all this,
she says “Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”
and with this the plan is set in motion
and the first thing Mary does
is go to visit Elizabeth,
the one person who has a chance of knowing what Mary is going through
and when Mary walks through the door Elizabeth cries out
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb...and blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Elizabeth offers affirmation to Mary,
she sees the value and the blessing
of what Mary has agreed to do on behalf of God,
as crazy as it is
and only then does Mary break into song praising God
for every Mary out there,
there is an Elizabeth,
one who God works through
to offer encouragement
to keep doing the difficult things God has called for
because even, or especially if,
it’s a mission from God
it’s going to be difficult
and we will need all the help and affirmation we can get.
In life sometimes we are Mary
and sometimes we are Elizabeth
and both are critically important roles for working with God.
I know when I was figuring out whether God was calling me to be a pastor or not
it was the outside voices, the Elizabeths in my life
that pushed me over the edge,
sure I felt that being a pastor was something God was calling me to be,
but when I thought about it a lot
especially at night trying to fall asleep
it sounded kind of crazy to me
until other people without me bringing up the topic
affirmed that they thought God was calling me to be a pastor too,
their words showed me that it wasn’t a crazy idea just in my head,
and their encouragement gave me the courage
I needed to embrace what God was asking me to do.
Talk to most pastors about their call story
or anyone who feels called by God
and somewhere in there,
there will be an Elizabeth.
And actually our denomination
takes so seriously the role of outside affirmation
that people who have prepared to become pastors
are not ordained until a church has called them,
has offered that outside affirmation.
I am a pastor today
because you all looked at my paperwork
and heard me preach
and said yes we can see her as a pastor,
as our pastor.
God works not just through individuals
but through the community as well,
and that means as a community
we have responsibility both to listen to what God is asking of us,
and to what God is asking of others,
and if we see God at work in someone else
we need to affirm them,
be Elizabeth to their Mary,
because the power that affirmation unleashes
is far greater than we know.
Mary said yes to God’s scheme,
it’s hard not to when confronted with a member of the heavenly host
who says nice things about you
like ‘you’re favored by God’
but we don’t hear her celebrate
until after Elizabeth has affirmed her.
Only then does she break into song
singing “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior...for the mighty one has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
and then she goes on to explain what God is doing through her
--her the least likely to work with God--
by acting through her
God has scattered the proud,
he has brought down the powerful from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty,
God has turned the world upside down,
all to fulfill a promise God made to Israel a long time ago,
because God is merciful
and God keeps God’s promises
and God keeps God’s promises
by working through the community.
before we jump to the baby in the manger,
angel choruses and shepherds watching their flocks by night,
Mary calls us to consider how God is keeping promises through us,
Elizabeth calls us to affirm God’s work in others,
and together with Mary
our hearts shall sing of the day God brings,
through God’s justice
the dawn draws near
and the world is about to turn. 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.