1st Sunday in Lent
1 Peter 3:18-22
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who has been through the wilderness Amen.
Welcome to Lent,
the season in the church year
when we confront the truth
that life is not always easy,
that hardships, trials and death will come our way
we once again experience the presence of God throughout,
God who goes with us
and in the end has the last say,
and the last word is “life”.
Now the first part is not too difficult for us,
we know very well the times of suffering life brings our way,
but the second part,
having faith in the resurrection work of God
is more difficult,
the good news is that it is something we can learn to do
with the help of God and practice
we see this in our psalm for this morning
where the psalmist proclaims great trust in God
and asks for forgiveness and teaching in the ways of the Lord:
Show me your ways, O Lord and teach me your paths
Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long
Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your steadfast love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
You are gracious and upright, O Lord; therefore you teach sinners in your way.
Faith, trust in God, can grow with practice,
and our training ground is the church calendar,
more than just a way of marking time
it is also a training regime for life,
designed to work out our faith in all situations,
so that we are prepared when we face them in the course of our life.
in Advent we practice waiting,
in the time after epiphany we practice looking for God revealed,
in Lent we practice wilderness times,
in Easter we practice celebrating new life,
at Pentecost we pause to notice what the Holy Spirit is doing
and then spend a long time practicing living out the call of the spirit as disciples of Christ,
and then the whole thing starts over.
As we enter Lent
we recognize that this year lent is not a drill,
we are in the midst of a wilderness journey,
one that started about a year ago with reports of a new virus,
that soon drove us away from the comfort of familiarity
on a long twisting journey through many hardships and unknowns,
it’s path we’re tired of taking
and one we have no choice but to follow through to the otherside,
so more than ever this year
we are ready to hear the good news of lent,
we long for the wisdom for wilderness journeys lent has to offer,
show us your ways O Lord and teach us your paths.
Today the path takes us to the promises of God,
promises that God makes and marks with a sign
promises we are to hold on to
because no matter what happens or what it may feel like,
God keeps the promises God makes.
Our promise for today
is that we are beloved by God,
and the sign is water,
that most common and necessary of elements
that has the power to give and destroy life,
this promise and sign are combined together in baptism,
a promise and sign that will carry us through wilderness times,
which we see with Jesus in our gospel for today.
Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan river
and just as he comes up out of the water
the heavens are torn open
and he hears the voice of God say
“You are my Son; the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
That’s quite an experience and proclamation,
but it seems like Jesus doesn’t have much time to savor it
because Mark tells us that “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”
Mark is a writer of few words
but there’s a lot packed into these two sentences.
First the spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness,
Jesus did not decide that he could use a nice long spiritual retreat,
no, forces beyond himself push him
and he finds himself in the wilderness.
In the Bible and in our lives
most wilderness experiences start this way
where one moment we’re loved and affirmed
and in the very next the bottom seems to have dropped out
and we find ourselves in strange, unfamiliar and unfriendly territory,
whether it’s a global pandemic,
the end of a relationship, facing illness or unemployment
all of a sudden we look around and our world has changed and not for the better.
Jesus has this experience
And Mark tells us that “He was in the wilderness forty days”
forty in the Bible is shorthand for a long time,
a time so long that it seems that it will never end
even through God promises that it will end,
But there’s more,
if it were just a long time it would be tiresome but perhaps not so bad,
but not only is Jesus in the wilderness for forty days,
during that time he is tempted by Satan; the accuser,
the one whose job it is to call into question the promises of God.
“So God called you Son, huh?
Are you sure you heard that right?
If you’re the Son of God, then how did you end up here?
If God is so pleased with you, then what are you doing in the wilderness?
Are you sure you’re beloved? Maybe you should test God just to make sure, just a little test, that way you’ll know for sure…”
The endless string of doubts and questions
that run through your head in the midst of a wilderness time?
That is the temptation of Satan
Jesus is out in the wilderness for a long time,
satan is tempting him,
and there’s more,
there are wild beasts out there too,
more than the temptation of satan there is real danger in wilderness times
A reality the must be dealt with in addition to everything else
and if this seems like a whole lot,
Maybe too much,
it is, but Mark has one more detail to add,
“and the angels waited on him”
angels are in the wilderness as well,
messengers of God’s love and care,
even if we don’t notice them,
there are always angels in our wilderness times
God is always present,
working through these times
That have a way of defining us,
in fact they almost seem necessary for growth,
now to be clear I don’t think God desires extreme wilderness times for us,
God doesn’t want to hurt us,
but it also seems to be a fact of life
that we will experience wilderness times
and God doesn’t let those times go to waste,
God uses them to shape and mold us into more of the beloved children
that God has created us to be.
Jesus makes it through the wilderness,
he’s confronted Satan, and doubts,
he’s affirmed his identity as beloved child of God
and now he is ready to begin his ministry.
When John is arrested
sending his followers into their own wilderness,
it is time for Jesus to step up and proclaim the good news of God
and begin his next journey,
the one to the cross,
the journey through death into new life.
In our baptisms,
named by God as beloved,
we are joined to Jesus’ journey through death to new life,
and in this joining
God promises that whatever we face in life
we face with Jesus who has already traveled the path
and that the last world will be God’s
and it will always be life.
This is the promise onto which we hold
Proclaiming with the psalmist
“To you O Lord I lift up my soul
My God, I put my trust in you.”
Thanks to Debbie Thomas
5th Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the most important one. Amen
What’s the point?
This question kept popping into my head this week
as I spent time with our readings,
it’s a question that changes ever so slightly
based on context and inflection.
In the mouths of a teenager arguing with authority
it’s a rebellious question: “what’s the point?”
coming from one who is overworked and underappreciated
it’s a question the spells defeat: “what’s the point?”
Asked by a teacher it’s a test: “what’s the point?”
now you’re all thinking okay pastor,
is the reason for fixating on this question?
It’s because what this flexible question indicates
is that while we know some things in life are more important than others
we also know it’s easy to get distracted
by the many important but not most important things in life
and often we need to be reminded both of what the point is,
and to ask the question
and we find this in all of our readings for today.
the people have begun to ask the question using the defeated tone,
they are in exile separated from the promised land,
under the control of their enemies
the prophet is reminding them that God is everlasting,
creator of the ends of the earth
and everything pales in comparison to that fact,
the people momentarily in power,
even the wonders of creation all are less than God,
God who never tires or gets defeated,
God who has promised to renew those who wait for the Lord,
to be with the people through their suffering,
to raise them up again.
God is the point the prophet reminds the people
and sure we as people may not understand
what is going on in the world at this exact moment,
but God does
and God will help us through,
stay focused on the most important thing, God.
But it’s so easy to get distracted,
the new disciples discover this in our gospel for today,
remember Jesus is at the very beginning of his ministry,
he has been baptized and revealed as God’s beloved,
he has been tempted in the wilderness by the devil
and now he has begun his public ministry
by announcing the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near
and enlisted disciples to help him spread that good news.
The disciples and the congregation at the synagogue in Capernaum
just heard him preach with authority and rebuke unclean spirits,
and we are told that his fame starts to spread around the region.
As we join them today
Jesus and the disciples leave the synagogue
and go to Simon and Andrew’s house to spend the night,
when they get there they find Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever,
Jesus heals her
and word obviously spreads
because by the end of the evening
the whole town is gathered around the front door
and they’ve brought everyone who needs any kind of healing to Jesus,
who cures and casts out demons from many of them.
It would be really easy for Jesus to get distracted at this point,
his teaching has been praised,
he’s gathered crowds and people are excited to have this healer in their midst.
It seems like Jesus could really make a name and career for himself in this town
if he spent some time there continuing to do good, important work.
The temptation to remain is strong
but early the next morning
before even his disciples can begin to make demands of him
Jesus goes to a deserted place to pray,
to wait for the Lord, to be renewed,
to be reminded of what the point is
and so he is ready when the disciples find him,
“everyone is searching for you!” they exclaim
ready to take him back to Capernaum
to pick up where he left off the night before,
but Jesus responds “Let us go on to the neighboring towns; so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
Jesus will not be distracted from his mission,
nor will he allow his disciples to be distracted
even if it means leaving a place of success.
Now it doesn’t mean leaving these places abandoned,
all along the way Jesus will call followers
each to their own mission,
some will continue to proclaim the good news,
some will pick up with the healing,
some will serve the last and the least
and in this way the kingdom of God will continue to come near.
But Jesus knows what the point of his time on earth is,
and he will remain faithful to his mission,
all the way to the cross, his ultimate point,
his death for the sake of the whole broken and distracted creation of God,
his resurrection affirming once and for all that God has the last say.
This is Jesus’ mission, his purpose, his point
and in fulfilling it he gave us new life and purpose.
And because God knows that we will get distracted along the way
God gave us the gift of baptism,
a moment in time we can point to
when we look at our lives and wonder what’s the point?
What’s the point? God says,
the point is that in the words spoken at your baptism
I claimed you once and for all as a child of God
and gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit
to help you along the way
in the water I washed you clean
to give you a fresh start to live out your purpose,
helping to bring about the kingdom of God
using the particular gifts I have given you.
This is who we are, children of God,
this is the answer to the question what’s the point?
And yes, along the way we will get distracted
whether it is by despair like the Israelites in exile,
success like the disciples at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
or a debate over who can join in
and how they should act once they do,
that’s what Paul is dealing with in our second reading,
the early church that Paul was a part of
got distracted by debating who could become a member of their new community,
could gentiles join in?
And if they can, do they have to act like Jews?
Can poor people become a part of the community?
And if they can, will they be expected to contribute the same amount as the rich?
What about the weak in faith, if so how weak is too weak?
Do the strong in faith have to accommodate their weakness?
This is what Paul is speaking to,
even as he seems to be bragging about his abilities as a disciple
and setting the impossible standard of being all things to all people,
his point is that the message of Christ and the kingdom are what matters,
not who hears it or how they hear it,
in fact different groups of people will hear it better
when communicated in different ways
and Paul is willing to do that in service of the good news of God
he is willing to set aside good and important things in service of the gospel.
It’s so easy to get distracted from the most important one, God
and yet God keeps reaching out to us,
through prophets and apostles
who remind us that spending time with God will renew us and keep us focused,
through water and word
that remind us who we are and whose we are,
through communities that gather together to praise God,
and at the table where through words of promise
bread and wine become body and blood
And Jesus joins us to himself once again,
forgiving and renewing us
then sending us out once more to proclaim the good news
“the kingdom of God has come near”
this is the point beloved children of God,
may we alway keep it before us,
and when we get distracted may we always be brought back to it. Amen
3rd Sunday After Epiphany
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who makes us into disciples. Amen
Today we have the familiar story
of Jesus calling his first disciples,
it’s a story I think we usually approach
with both extreme familiarity
as well as suspended disbelief.
On the one hand
we know where this is going before it even starts,
Jesus is walking along
and sees some guys fishing
and when he tells them to follow him,
they drop everything,
their whole lives and livelihoods even family
and follow him.
on the other hand
while we’re amazed at their response
we are also a bit disheartened
because we think if that’s what it looks like to become a disciple of Jesus
then we probably don’t have what it takes,
the contemplation of that much sacrifice is too much for us,
good for you Simon and Andrew, James and John
but our lives are too complicated
to just up and leave like that,
we must not be disciple material,
we’re tempted to give up before we’ve even begun.
And if we look at the story this way
through the actions of the disciples,
sure it seems highly unlikely
that many of us could live up to that level of action and dedication,
but here’s the thing,
when we focus so much on what the disciples do,
we miss what God is doing.
God is the one whose action matters.
As our psalm for today reminds us:
“Put your trust in God always, O people,
pour out your hearts before the one who is our refuge.
Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath; those of low estate cannot be trusted.
Placed on the scales together they weigh even less than a breath.”
God is the one who is of consequence,
the strong rock and refuge full of steadfast love,
God is the one
on whom our focus should be,
not the disciples or other humans,
who if they were weighed on a scale with God would barely register.
Now when we return to this story,
looking for what God is doing,
we notice that Jesus’ call is less of a command
and more of a promise
“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
I will make you
Jesus is the one who promises to transform these fishermen into disciples
and will do so in a way
that will draw on the skills and gifts they already have.
At the beginning of his ministry
Jesus is looking to gather people together,
these first disciples
have lifetimes of practice gathering fish together,
from long observation and wisdom passed down the generations
they have learned what kind of fish to seek out,
where in the lake those fish like to stay,
in what weather, at which time of day it is best to catch them
all these skills can be applied to people with help from Jesus
he will teach them
what people to seek out
where they can be found
what message to share that will bring them to Jesus.
Most importantly perhaps,
these first disciples
have also learned the hard lesson
that even if you do everything right,
some days you won’t catch anything
and the best thing to do is to try again the next day.
That's what being a fisherman is about,
that’s what being a disciple will take.
Jesus promises to take the fishermen as they are
and make them into disciples,
just as Jesus promises to make each of us disciples
using who we are,
which means our journeys probably won’t look exactly like those first disciples.
“Follow me” Jesus calls out to us, “come and see,”
it’s the simplest part of this whole disciple business
that is up to us,
and yet we still get hung up
on that simple task,
the act of following,
of getting moving,
sometimes we even go in the opposite direction
and yet, God doesn’t give up on us.
Our first reading was from the book of Jonah
who is the poster child for struggling to follow God,
in fact he runs the other way at the call of God,
yet God still manages to work through Jonah,
the sailors on the ship Jonah boards to flee the Lord,
believe in the God of Israel
by the time Jonah leaves them,
albeit over the rail of the ship
and into the belly of the whale
where Jonah, humbled by the grace of God
gets back on track.
When the big fish belches Jonah up onto the beach
he goes to Ninevah as God has asked
but as Author Eugene Peterson observes
“Jonah obedient turns out to be as much in violation of the word of God as Jonah disobedient.” (Under the Unpredictable Plant, 29).
Jonah does what God calls him to do
but very reluctantly,
hoping that it won’t work,
Jonah wants to see the city of Nineveh,
enemy of his people
destroyed by his God,
he even goes out and sets up in prime view
to watch the fireworks,
the people listen to Jonah’s message and repent
and God decides not to destroy the city
much to the displeasure of Jonah.
God worked through Jonah running the other way,
God worked through Jonah obeying the letter of God’s command
if not the spirit,
imagine what God can do with willing partners,
people who upon hearing the call of God
agree to try their best,
people like you and me.
sure our path to discipleship
may not be as dramatic as Simon and Andrew, James and John
up and leaving everything,
but God already has Simon and Andrew, James and John
God needs something different from us
and even if we don’t have exactly what God needs right now,
because God will make us into the disciples God needs,
our job is to listen for God’s call
and follow where God leads.
And yes we will not be perfect,
we will make mistakes,
we will be reluctant at times,
we may even run the other direction
and there’s grace for that.
Grace that God can work through our reluctance and mistakes,
grace in the offer of forgiveness
and growth in our repentance,
grace in the renewal of the call to discipleship,
God still wants us
and God promises to make us into the disciples God needs.
This goes for communities as well as individuals,
today after church is our annual meeting,
it’s a time to reflect on how we as a community
have answered God’s call to discipleship this past year
and to consider
how God might be calling us to be disciples
in the coming year
we make these considerations
all while trusting that God will work through our imperfections
and make us into the disciples God needs in this time and place.
“Put your trust in God always O people”
God is the one of consequence,
the strong rock full of steadfast love.
Come, let us follow. Amen
Baptism of Our Lord
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one with the most powerful voice. Amen
From the very beginning words have been powerful
as the first words of scripture testify:
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
There in the presence of the spirit,
God speaks the world into being.
Words have power to create.
Words also have power to destroy.
We hear that in our Psalm for today:
“The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice;
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
bursts forth in lightning flashes.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.”
Yet as alarming as all this might sound
we are told that “in the temple of the Lord all are crying, “Glory!””
The power of the Lord is on display in the voice of the Lord
and it brings the faithful to worship.
The words of God move the people of God to action.
Words are powerful.
Especially the words of God
Which sometimes God speaks directly
God speaks through people like John the baptizer,
who Mark tells us appeared in the wilderness
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
and at his words
Mark tells us that people from the WHOLE Judean countryside
and ALL the people of Jerusalem
were going out to him to be baptized.
This might seem like an exaggeration of the size of the crowds
but Mark makes sure that we know
the people are drawn to John by his words
rather than his way of life,
he’s kind of an odd guy dressing in camel’s hair
and dining on locusts and wild honey,
and while this may add a kind of authenticity
to his presence as a prophet
the people are not looking to emulate him,
but his message is spreading
and making a difference in the lives of people
John’s call to repentance is a call to live in a new way
And people are responding
but like any true messenger of God,
John knows that all this fuss isn’t about him,
it’s about the one to whom he is pointing
“the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”
John knows that his role and words are preparatory,
preparing the way for the one who is coming after him,
And onto the scene walks Jesus,
now in Mark this is the first time we meet Jesus,
Mark has told us in the very first verse
what his gospel is about: Jesus Christ the Son of God,
but then goes straight to John in the wilderness,
there are no angels or virgin birth
or even stars in the sky to announce who Jesus is,
that happens when Jesus travels from Nazareth of Galilee
and is baptized by John in the Jordan
“and just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘you are my Son the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
The voice of God names Jesus God’s beloved Son,
and it is so,
that is who Jesus is
God’s spoken blessing creating the future as it identifies Jesus.
This is one of the reasons that I appreciate how Mark tells the story of Jesus,
because family connections, and prophesy
are all less important than this moment
when once and for all God speaks,
identifying Jesus as beloved child
and filling him with the holy spirit,
and Jesus listens to the voice of God
and goes on to live into the identity God has created for him
as we’ll see him start to do in the coming weeks of Epiphany.
God does this for us as well.
At our baptisms,
God, speaking through the Pastor,
claims us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
and through the hands of the Pastor
God marks the sign of the cross on our foreheads saying
“child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
and it is so,
that is who we are,
where we came from,
what we’ve done, our family connections
all less important than this moment
where we have been identified as beloved children
and filled with the Holy Spirit.
And the question becomes,
will we listen to the voice of God
and live into the identity that God has created for us?
Beloved, created for love.
Or will we get distracted by other voices?
less powerful but often louder,
the ones that try to get us to define ourselves through power
gained at the expense of others that the voices label less than
and peddle the lie that their mere existence is a threat.
Beloved of God, whose voice do you listen to?
What words do you surround yourself with?
It makes a difference
because words have the power to create and destroy,
power to lead people to praise God or to perpetrate violence.
Whose words shape your life?
God has spoken, now the choice is yours,
In closing after this difficult week,
I’d like to offer you the opportunity to make that choice again
publicly affirm your baptisms,
to once again commit to your God given identity,
the blessing from God that shapes our future.
Please rise as you are able,
we will use the words of the apostle’s creed found on page 6 in your bulletins.
Here in the presence of God and one another I ask you to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the church.
For the following questions the response is “I renounce them”
Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?
I renounce them.
Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
to live among God’s faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
The assembly makes affirmation:
I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.
The minister addresses the assembly.
People of God, do you promise to support and pray for one another in your life in Christ?
We do, and we ask God to help and guide us.
The presiding minister prays for God’s blessing.
Let us pray.
We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life. Stir up in your people the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence both now and forever.
May it be so
1st Sunday in Advent
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who calls us to stay awake and to hope. Amen
Welcome to the season of Advent!
Our decorations have changed to blue,
we’re at the beginning of a new liturgical year
where we will get to spend time in the gospel of Mark,
and of course our advent wreath
reminds us that Christmas is coming,
the more candles we light
the closer we are to the festival celebrating Immanuel,
God with us, God among us, God one of us.
It’s exciting the newness and anticipation of the season,
it’s like the advent calendars
with a little chocolate for each day before Christmas
mirroring the sweetness of anticipation.
And yet there’s more to advent
than lighting a few candles and eating a chocolate a day,
there’s more to wait for than the birthday celebrations for Jesus,
if we go a little deeper into advent
the scriptures remind us
that we are also waiting for the return of Christ,
and in this reminder
we are recalled to the painful reality
that even as Christ is with us,
God still has work to do,
God’s beautiful creation is still broken
and waiting for its healer to come
restore it to the perfection of the garden,
to the promised time when weeping and crying and pain and death are no more,
a promise we are still waiting on God to fulfill.
This side of advent is a striking contrast to the first,
and yet both are true.
It’s a paradox (two seemingly contradictory things that turn out to be true)
and the season of advent is full of them.
The season of advent holds space to acknowledge the tensions in life,
especially the life of faith.
The tension between the fact that we are both saint and sinner,
the tension between the fact that Christ has come and we are still waiting on Christ,
the tension between the reality that Christ saved the whole world and the world is still broken.
There are so many paradoxes,
as we sometimes call them in Lutheran circles,
but that is one of the things that I really appreciate about the Lutheran tradition,
the acceptance of the both and,
because we know the deeply lived truth
of the seemingly contradictory
and while the unresolved tension can be frustrating sometimes
it is an authentic reflection of life.
So I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised
when our theme for this first Sunday in advent is a paradox:
“those who dream, keep awake”
When we hear dream
we tend to first think of the sleeping kind,
you know the ones where upon falling asleep
you find yourself in an alternate world
where you’re back in your childhood home
but your mom is now a panda
baking you bamboo cookies,
and what’s your third grade teacher doing there in the background?
Anybody? Just me?
Those dreams are impossible to have while awake.
But of course there’s another way dream is used,
the way Martin Luther King Jr. did
when he proclaimed “I have a dream”
his dream, a vision for the future
where the wounds of the present are healed.
God too has a dream,
a vision for creation,
that all be intimately connected with their creator,
that all, people, animals, nature, live in harmony with one another and God,
a harmony where everyone has what they need,
no one has too much or too little.
And God has promised
that in partnership with people
this dream will become reality.
And the thing about these kinds of dreams,
is that to dream them,
one must be awake,
aware of all the ways that the present world around us
is less than perfect.
Awake to the promises of God
and how they have yet to be fulfilled.
In our gospel
Jesus tells his disciples to keep awake,
to wait for the fulfillment of the promises of God,
to watch for the signs that they are coming
since no one knows the exact timing.
As we wait,
it is tempting to fall asleep,
to fall asleep to the pain and imperfections around us,
to take a break from the harsh reality of life
Jesus tells us to keep awake.
To be awake is to acknowledge the broken places of life,
to be awake is to reject the narrative
that it will 'always be this way',
to be awake is to hope.
And here seems to be another paradox,
that to have hope we must be awake
to all the realities that argue against hope,
the situations that make the dream for the future look impossible,
this is the essence of hope,
to look at the seemingly insurmountable obstacles
and say ‘nevertheless, I believe that God will work through this,
that good will come out of this mess.’
But it’s a process to get from pain to hope,
and we see that process in our first reading from Isaiah:
It starts with lament,
‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down’
cries out the prophet,
it’s frustrating when the world is so far from the dream of God
and it seems like God isn’t doing anything.
why if God is so powerful,
doesn’t God just come down and fix everything,
because we do believe that God is powerful,
the prophet says as much in the next part
extolling the awesome deeds of God
but in affirming the power of God
the prophet on behalf of the people,
realizes that the people have not kept up their end of the covenant,
and the lament turns into confession
“we sinned… we have all become like one who is unclean
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth”
have you ever tried to clean a table with a dirty dishrag?
It doesn’t work right?
As good as your intentions are
if the cloth is dirty it just spreads the dirt around.
That’s where the people are at,
just spreading their own dirt around,
and while it might seem that this confession,
this awakening to reality
might be cause for despair,
what it does is lead to hope.
As the prophet acknowledges
that the people are living with the consequences of their actions
what could easily return to anger or lament becomes hope,
hope based on the trust
that God keeps the promises God makes,
trust that comes out of the established relationship with God
“yet, O Lord, you are our Father, we are the cay and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.”
In the end God has promised
that no matter what happens,
no matter what others label us,
or we think of ourselves
our primary identity is that of children of God,
God kept that promise with Jesus,
God made that promise individually to each of us at our baptisms,
that we are children of God
and nothing can separate us from the love of God
this relationship is the root of our hope.
This Advent there are many reasons we might despair,
things in the world that make us want to detach from reality,
to fall asleep and in our dreams pretend that nothing is happening.
But God calls us to stay awake,
awake to the messiness and imperfections of life yes,
and awake to the promises of God
and in this wakefulness
join in dreaming with God
of the day when all live in harmony with God and one another,
and so awake and dreaming, we hope. Amen
26th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who shows us the path of life. Amen
This is one of those Sundays
where it seems like there should be a question mark
after the gospel response.
Thanks be to God?
How is it good news that stone shall not be left on stone
and that people will come and pretend to be God
and there will be wars and rumors of wars
before the final end will come?
It sure doesn’t seem good,
And today we have this gospel paired with our first reading,
another passage predicting a time of anguish.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of good news in these apocalyptic passages.
As a side note, apocalyptic refers to a genre of writing that deals with a prophetic revelation, not necessarily but often including descriptions of disasters to come, and only secondarily but more commonly has the term come to be used as a description of an end of the world type scenario.
So we have these apocalyptic texts,
these prophetic passages predicting disasters,
and the question is: what do they have to do with us?
On the face of it,
it seems like not much.
A group of Pastors and I meet at the beginning of each week
to read and discuss the texts for the week,
and this week we pretty much agreed
that our best chance of finding a sermon,
finding good news
lay in the other readings assigned for the week,
we weren’t going to mess with these texts.
And then the other day
I was driving to a meeting
and I was listening to NPR,
and they did a story, an update really
on the wildfires in California,
particularly the Camp Fire
that wiped out the town of Paradise
10,000 homes destroyed,
and the reporter on the ground
interviewed a resident, who’d seen her former house
and the woman said something to the effect of
‘it looks like there’s been an apocalypse.’
I don’t remember the exact quote
but she used the word apocalypse.
And it hit me,
the people of Paradise are in the midst of a catastrophe,
life as they know it is over,
in a sense that world ended
and they are faced with the question: now what?
And as I thought about the people in the midst of world altering catastrophes,
the disasters of our readings began to fade
and the hope began to shine through,
yes Daniel begins
“There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence”
but then he continues
“But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book.”
and sure Jesus says
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.”
but then he pauses and goes on
“This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
the birth pangs of what?
Of the new world,
The new way of life that Jesus has promised
he will bring about,
Jesus is saying that the turmoil he is describing,
that the disciples will experience
is not the last say
God will work through it,
and there lies the good news.
For those of us who are relatively safe and secure,
apocalyptic passages sound scary,
we focus on the pain and suffering
that we’d really rather avoid,
but for those in the midst of pain and suffering
they bring hope,
because they describe reality
and a life on the other side of the suffering,
a life brought about by God who goes through the suffering with us
because we have a God who promises never to leave us.
Our God is realistic,
not making promises that won’t come true.
That’s one way you can tell you’re dealing with a false god,
they promise that if you follow them,
give them $9.95 a month
then everything will be okay, your problems will be solved.
Our God does not sugar coat things,
part of life is experiencing pain and suffering
and instead of making false impossible claims
our God promises never to leave our side throughout all of life.
We see this in our psalm,
the psalmist describes different phases of life
and in each God is there.
For those in danger
God is described by the psalmist as a refuge.
This is a familiar image for us,
we turn to God when we’re in trouble.
But the psalmist also assures us
that God is present with those who are content,
at one point the psalmist says
“My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a rich inheritance.”
God is with us in the times when life is going well,
these are often times
we bless God as a way of giving thanks for the good in our lives.
God is with us in the bad times,
God is with us in the good times,
and God is with us when we are in between,
in need of direction,
The psalmist sings “I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel;”
and speaks with assurance
that because God goes before the psalmist
they will not be shaken by whatever comes their way.
“My heart therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope.
For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the pit.
You will show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of you, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Whether it seems like the world has ended
or life could never get better
or somewhere in between
God is with us
God shows us the path of life,
God travels the path with us.
Whatever comes our way,
God is there,
and we are never alone. Amen
25th Sunday After Pentecost
1 Kings 17:8-16
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one for whom we eagerly await. Amen
Contrary to popular belief,
our gospel text for today is not a stewardship text.
At least not directly.
Jesus observes this poor widow
giving her last to coins to treasury
and points her out to his disciples.
Throughout history this act has been lauded
as a great act of faith,
and held up as an example for faithful giving
but I don’t think that’s entirely what Jesus was pointing out.
You see, before sitting down to observe people giving
Jesus warns against doing things just for the sake of appearances,
then he sits down opposite the treasury
and watches people giving their offerings to the temple,
for the sake of appearances.
This is out in the open,
there is no check folded in half and slipped into the offering plate,
many rich people come and make a scene
putting in large sums,
and they do this because they know that people will see their large sum
and they will honor them for their big gift
and it will increase their standing in the community
and so they’re really doing this for their own benefit.
And Jesus knows their motives,
which is why he points out someone entirely different to the disciples,
the poor widow who comes and gives her last two coins to the temple,
her act of giving is an act of contributing to something bigger than herself,
not to build herself up,
indeed she gives all she has to live on,
and yes this is an act of faith
but what if, included in this act of faith is desperation.
She had two pennies left,
that wasn’t going to get her very far,
just like the widow who Elijah encounters,
who when he asks for something to eat says to him
“I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”
She ends up feeding Elijah,
he promises her that the meal and oil will not run out
which seems unlikely but what’s the harm in trying?
She and her son are going to die anyway,
if she feeds Elijah and his promise doesn’t pan out
they’ll just die a little sooner.
I imagine the widow Jesus points out to the disciples
is in a similar situation,
opening her purse and seeing two coins that won’t get her too far
and her saying, well I will give these to the temple
and then I will go die.
And that’s what she does,
in the presence of those who by law
are supposed to be taking care of her,
and nobody but Jesus notices.
Why is the widow down to her last two pennies?
Because nobody notices her,
All throughout the laws given to the people of Israel
by God through Moses
are injunctions to care for widow and orphan
and she is clearly not taken care of,
because to take care of someone
you have to know that they exist,
you have to notice the people around you
and take an interest in their lives,
pay attention to someone other than yourself.
And the truth of the world is
that the people we pay attention to
are the ones with power,
the ones giving the big gifts,
because we want to be like them,
and we don’t pay attention to those who are on their last dime
who are without power
and we hesitate to give to them
because we have falsely equated morality and success with money
which means in the back of our minds
we think if someone is poor or struggling
it is because they have done something to deserve it.
That is sin,
breaking us apart into smaller and smaller divisions,
pitting us against ourselves.
So what are we to do?
In the grand scheme of things
We can’t do anything,
which is why we need Jesus.
Our second reading from Hebrews lays it out nice and succinctly,
Jesus came once, for all,
to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.
He’s done that, past tense completed action.
The preacher of Hebrews makes sure we recognize that this was a one time deal,
God didn’t require or request that Jesus suffer more than once.
Now Jesus is in heaven
to appear in the presence of God on our behalf
and Jesus has promised to come a second time-
not to take care of sin, that’s already settled,
but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Once again we are faced with our place in the middle
of the already and not yet.
We are thankful that Jesus has already taken care of our sin
but still we wait
surrounded by the imperfections of the world,
waiting for Jesus to come again,
and save us from the brokenness of the world.
And here’s the kicker we are not just to wait,
but to eagerly wait for Jesus.
How do we eagerly wait?
The first image of eager waiting that comes to my mind
is of a child waiting for Christmas.
They too are stuck in the middle,
the tree is already up,
and presents have begun to accumulate
and on the shiny package is the little tag that says this gift is for Timmy.
Timmy knows that he has been given a gift,
but it is not yet time to open it and fully enjoy it.
So he waits.
Maybe he shakes the box,
attempts to figure out what is inside,
perhaps he rushes home from school to double check that it’s still under the tree,
and he has trouble falling asleep at night
because he’s imagining what it might be like to open the package
and behold what is inside and how his life will never be the same.
And maybe Timmy’s mom tries to redirect some of his eager energy,
and sets him up with paper and crayons to make Christmas cards
to share the joy of his waiting with others,
possibly others who don’t have a tree
or shiny packages with their name on them
but who are also waiting Christmas
and Timmy realizes that when he gives out those cards
it’s almost like a little Christmas morning
and that’s exciting too,
he’s still waiting
but he’s making something happen while he waits.
We are all Timmy
- we have been given a gift, our name is on it, it’s ours,
we claim it, but still we wait for that moment
when the world is transformed fully by the opening of the gift.
But unlike Timmy we’ve been waiting a long time,
a couple thousand years,
and it’s hard to stay pre-christmas excited for that long
so we find ways to wait that, like those christmas cards
Timmy’s mom had him write,
approximate what we’re waiting for
creating for a moment the reality for which we wait.
The reality for which we wait
is one where there is no more hunger, or poverty, pain or suffering,
no more poor widows going unnoticed
no more war and all creation lives in harmony
we’ve been given a vision of what the world will be
and even as we wait
we seek to make it happen right now
and one way we do that is to give,
often to organizations who work to address hunger or poverty,
pain and suffering,
sometimes we give directly to people,
those who are facing enormous health care bills
and in these moments the reign of God is realized
and our eagerness is renewed. 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
21st Sunday After Pentecost
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one for whom all things are possible. Amen
There’s a bit of folk wisdom
that I think we’re all familiar with,
the wisdom that prohibits
the discussion of religion, politics and money in polite society.
And while this is probably a smart rule to follow
around the dinner table at Thanksgiving
(because you just never know what Uncle Bob is going to say)
we have taken this prohibition to the extreme,
to the point where we rarely if ever discuss these topics,
even and especially at church- the exception being religion of course.
And this is a problem,
because while we might wish we could separate
each part of our lives into individual compartments and boxes,
the truth is that they are all intertwined,
what we believe about God
should impact how we deal with money and society.
So as disciples of Jesus
we neglect part of our spiritual formation
if we fail to take time to consider how our faith impacts
all the aspects of our lives,
including how we handle money.
In our gospel today,
Jesus teaches about money,
actually, if we look closely as Jesus’ teachings
we find that they are often concerned with economics,
Jesus frequently mentions the poor
and teaches care for the poor,
and not just in a causal here have some sandwiches and old clothes kind of way,
but care that gets at the heart of why people are poor,
care that overturns the systems
that have allowed some people to amass a great deal of wealth
while many don’t have the basics.
“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Jesus teaches the disciples.
It is impossible to separate our money/ resources
from our life of faith
and Jesus points to this again and again.
The man in the gospel finds this out the hard way,
he runs up to Jesus and asks him
“what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
and Jesus quizzes him a bit,
finds out that he’s been diligent about keeping the commandments,
living a life of faith
and we are told that Jesus looks at the man and loves him,
and out of love says “you lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.”
and when the man “heard this he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
It’s a shock to find out
that even if you’ve lived a godly life
when it comes down to it
you love your stuff more than eternal life.
Then Jesus turns to the disciples
and comments about how hard it will be for someone who is rich
to enter the kingdom of heaven,
it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
that’s how hard it is.
And the disciples look at one another and ask
“then who can be saved?”
Because while they might not be the most well off,
they’re doing okay,
they’ve got enough to eat and a purpose in life,
so will it be hard for them,
followers of Jesus to enter the kingdom of God?
And Jesus responds to their confusion “for mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
The man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life,
and Jesus out of love
told him to do something that he knew was impossible for the man,
revealing to him and the disciples watching,
that he was asking the wrong question,
the man assumed that he had the power to achieve eternal life.
if we’re not careful that’s what wealth will do,
it will lead us to ask the wrong questions,
it lures us into believing that we are self-sufficient,
that we do not need God
because we are able to do everything for ourselves,
even make sure we inherit eternal life,
and that Jesus says that is impossible for humans,
salvation is up to God
and we must trust that it is so,
we must have faith.
Faith in God is not about hoarding everything that comes our way,
wealth is not a sign of God’s favor,
but nor is faith about throwing every material thing away,
we heard in our psalm for last week
that God created humans to be caretakers of creation,
food, clothing, housing, meaningful occupation are all necessary for life,
all provided by God,
the key is how we use these resources
in a way that all have what they need as God intended.
But because sin entered the world,
some hoard while others starve.
It is because of sin
that we believe we can take care of ourselves
and I’d say it’s even because of sin
that we don’t like talking about money.
Which is all the more reason to talk about it,
not in the way of bragging
but in the way of working out as a community
how to take care of the resources that God has entrusted to us,
and when we talk in this way,
we keep God at the center of our lives,
we recognize that only God has the power to save us,
to invite us in to the kingdom of God
and because of Christ,
we believe that God has already extended that invitation to us,
we are saved,
it is all God’s doing, not ours.
And because we are saved we are freed from the need
to believe that we can or have to save ourselves.
Now of course, it is always a struggle
to determine just how much is enough,
enough to keep, enough to give
and in this struggle there is grace.
This week I was reading “A Christian View of Money: Celebrating God’s Generosity” by Mark Vincent, and in it he remarked on this struggle
“If we experience the vast chasm between our good intentions and our hopeless inadequacy, we are blessed because we know our need for God. When God’s grace meets us, we realize that salvation means peace and wholeness, and we cannot hoard anything. We cannot be selfish with income or possessions because of the generous God we serve.” (pg 61)
What we need is God.
Everything else is details,
when we realize this
we are freed to follow Jesus rather than money.
We are freed to share what we acquire
because we have all we need,
we are freed to talk about money in community
because it is a tool to be used
not a means of salvation,
a tool to follow Jesus
in overturning the way of the world
that leads to some amassing great wealth
leaving some without the basics,
and yes on our own that’s impossible,
but with God, all things are possible. Amen
19th Sunday After Pentecost
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who shares responsibility for the kingdom of God with us. Amen
The disciples in Mark
are notoriously dense
Jesus spends all this time with them
doing deeds of power and teaching them the ways of the kingdom of God
and yet when a new situation comes along
they almost always react with the way of the world.
This time it’s John
who tries to be teachers’ favorite by tattling on another kid.
“Teacher we saw someone cast out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
I can almost see his chest puffing out
in self-righteous pride
while Jesus makes a gesture of consternation.
Face-palm they still don’t get it…
The disciples have given in to
the all too human propensity
to create insiders and outsiders
despite the fact that Jesus’ ministry
has been concerned with breaking down those barriers.
In fact Jesus’ ministry
has been to those considered outsiders by the world,
just last week Jesus taught the disciples who to welcome
by bringing a small child into their midst.
So, with the patience of God
Jesus tries again to get his message across to the disciples,
Don’t stop people like this guy, he tells them
because no one who does a deed of power in my name
will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.
Whoever is not against us is for us.
What concerns Jesus the most
is the spread of his message
to as many people as possible
and he will do anything to spread the message,
eating with tax collectors,
crossing the sea to the gentiles.
Even sharing the responsibility with others.
Jesus has commissioned the disciples
to go spread the word,
the silly dense disciples
who are frequently disappointing
yes they have been entrusted with the message-
so it’s little wonder that Jesus doesn’t seem too concerned
about this stranger doing deeds of power in his name,
it means the message is spreading beyond even the disciples
Jesus wants as many people as possible
to hear the good news that the kingdom of God has come near
and that means a variety of ways are needed
to get the message across
because different people respond to different approaches.
For example, the emphasis on the blood and suffering of Jesus
in the African American gospel songs
doesn’t really resonate with me
but it is a source of good news for the African American tradition
because the songs originate in the days of slavery
when it was a great comfort for the slaves
to know that despite what their masters told them about God
wanting them to obey,
they had a savoir who had suffered just as much as they were suffering.
Or, again, the question have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior,
this question makes me extremely uncomfortable.
Yet it has led many people to live a life of faith.
What works for me is the message
that we are saved by grace through faith as a pure gift from God
and that is the message that informs all my preaching and teaching
All these approaches have a place in the spread of the gospel
what Jesus reacts strongly against
are actions that lead to the loss of faith
or interfere in the faith of another person,
for example the disciples trying to stop the man they saw
because he wasn’t a part of their group.
And that’s when Jesus starts to sound like an old timey mafia boss, s
peaking of hanging millstones around necks before a swim
or cutting parts of the body off that cause stumbling.
While it seems a little extreme
what Jesus is trying to get across to the disciples
is the seriousness of the responsibility of discipleship,
yes Jesus shares the responsibility with the disciples,
and that is not a responsibility we should take lightly
because while we have the power to help bring people to faith,
we also have the power to cause them to stumble,
to lose faith
and we should take that as seriously as amputation.
Jesus really isn’t advocating self-mutilation
but his point is that if something starts to get in the way of the good news of Jesus Christ
we need to cut it out,
if being right is more important than sharing the love of God
and news of salvation with the outsiders of society
then we might as well go jump in a lake,
Jesus shares the responsibility for the spread of the reign of God with us
it is a serious task,
one that we do not do alone,
it is a task shared by the community of disciples
Toward the end of this section of teaching
Jesus turns his attention back to the community,
the one the disciples were so eager to defend,
in referring to fire and salt
he is drawing on food preparation metaphors,
often for something to become palatable it must be cooked,
exposed to heat.
The community will undergo struggles
but that will serve to make them into the best version of themselves,
and salt, seasoning
is essential to life,
we need salt to live
and it adds flavor to our food,
a community is seasoned by the wide variety of people it encompasses,
it needs the seasoning of many different people
to sustain the life of the community
and add flavor
but when many people gather
there is the possibility for conflict
be at peace with one another Jesus says
and welcome others,
they add to the flavor of the community
even if it’s not an individual flavor we prefer
it adds to the taste of the whole dish.
Discipleship, is a serious business,
like the disciples, we often get it wrong,
we get sidetracked by who is in or who is out,
we give preference to our own tastes,
and yet Jesus still shares the responsibility
for the spread of the kingdom of God with us,
calling us to be at peace with one another.
Offering us grace. 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.