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 of Christmas
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who comes to those who show up. Amen
Yes we’re still in the season of Christmas,
we will be until January 6th
when the magi show up
revealing once and for all
that Jesus is the messiah.
We’ve heard the story of the baby in the manger
and today we have another story
of Jesus as an infant,
the story of Mary and Joseph
presenting Jesus at the temple,
of Simeon and Anna’s hope being fulfilled,
a story of the Holy Spirit
coming to those who are faithful,
those who show up.
Now, this isn’t intended
to either shame or overly congratulate anyone
but the truth of the matter is
that those who are faithful,
who seek the presence of God
have a better chance of encountering God
and while God can and does
work outside of religious rites and institutions,
God also works through them
but in still surprising ways,
probably because the Holy Spirit is so unpredictable.
For as much as we trust that God is with us,
that Christ comes to us
especially in the sacraments,
there are times when we feel the presence of God more than others,
times when the Holy Spirit comes to us when we need her,
times when she jumps out and surprises us.
I experienced this perhaps most vividly
at least for the first time in college.
Gustavus is a Lutheran school
and this Lutheran identity and faith
are still a strong part of the mission of the school
such that in the daily schedule of classes
every day at 10am
time was blocked off for chapel
and a service offered
For most students it was
an extra half hour to sleep
or finish up homework, or get breakfast.
Some people went to chapel a couple times a week
or once a week for the sung morning prayer service
but there were a few of us
who went pretty much every day.
I know I started going every day
because I was still working out my call to ministry
and daily chapel seemed like a good place to start.
I kept going
because I realized that I didn’t know when the Holy Spirit would show up
and I wanted to be there when she did.
Not all the services were winners or deeply meaningful,
just like not all Sundays are winners or deeply meaningful,
but every now and then the spirit would show up,
like the time the dance major
who was giving his senior sermon
and had clearly not prepared
made us all get close together and hold hands and form connection,
or the time Chaplain Brian
bent over in the pulpit before starting his homily
and when he stood up he was wearing an accordion
and proceeded to preach accompanying himself on the instrument,
okay maybe those were just very memorable times
but there were times
when the message was exactly what I needed to hear that day
or when the choirs filled the air with beauty and truth
that transcended words.
So each day at 10am in college,
you could find me in chapel,
waiting, hoping that the Holy Spirit would show up.
I suspect that some of you may have had similar experiences
with other faith practices,
like daily devotions or prayers at mealtimes.
Where sometimes you do it because that’s what you do,
you show up,
and sometimes in the midst of that
the spirit flashes through
leaving you wanting more,
and coming back each day.
Simeon and Anna have been showing up at the temple
and waiting for a long time,
their whole lives,
which Luke makes sure to tell us
have been long.
They have been waiting for the spirit to come to them,
hoping for an experience of the divine
and yet when they enter the temple this day
they have no indication
that this day will be any different from the others.
and into the temple walk Mary and Joseph
with the baby Jesus,
they too are not expecting anything out of the ordinary
they are they too are simply being faithful,
fulfilling the law and the tradition of their people
dedicating their firstborn son
to the temple and making the appropriate sacrifice.
And now the stage is set,
we have four faithful people
who have come to the temple to live out their faith
and one baby messiah
and in sweeps the Holy Spirit,
first she directs Simeon to Jesus,
now we are told that Simeon has already had an encounter with the Holy Spirit,
who told him he would not see death
until he had seen the messiah,
‘here’s the messiah’ the Spirit tells Simeon,
who proceeds to take the baby in his arms
and sing a song of praise to God,
thanking God for the gift of seeing the messiah
who will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.
In his song, Simeon,
guided by the spirit
expands Jesus’ mission beyond the people of Israel
to the whole world.
Mary and Joseph are amazed at Simeon’s words,
you’d think that after several angelic visits
they couldn’t be surprised any more
but perhaps in the midst of caring for a newborn
who needs the same care as any other newborn
those experiences have faded,
Simeon blesses the parents
but closes with a warning to Mary,
her Son will do great things
but not without controversy and pain.
Then Anna takes over,
Luke tells us that she is a prophet
and after being widowed early
has spent the rest of her life in the temple
she too praises God
and tells about Jesus
to all those present
looking for the redemption of Jerusalem,
and those others who showed up at the temple that day
have their own unexpected experience with the divine.
And then the moment is over,
Mary and Joseph take Jesus home
and go about the everyday task of raising their child
and apparently nothing of note happens
for another twelve years
until that one passover
where Jesus decides to stay behind in the temple debating scholars.
This time in the temple
was just a moment
but one that everyone present
would carry with them the rest of their lives.
It’s moments like these
that carry us forward in our faith,
and it all starts with simply showing up,
practicing faith in a regular way
creating space for the Holy Spirit to enter into our lives.
These practices don’t have to be as extreme as the prophet Anna
who basically lived in the temple,
or my college self at chapel every day,
but something that regularity creates space within our lives,
for the Holy Spirit to show up
for God to enter in
Just as God entered into the world in Jesus,
Emmanuel, God with us. Merry Christmas.
In this year unlike any other
we need Christmas more than ever,
even as our celebrations look and feel different,
we need Christmas to bring us the truth
that God considers the world,
however broken it may be,
worthy of love and salvation,
worthy enough for God to fully enter into the experience of the world
pure infinite love
taking on a fragile finite form.
The extraordinary held within the ordinary.
This year as I once again immersed myself
in the most familiar story
of the baby born and laid in a manger,
I was struck by how closely the ordinary and the extraordinary
are tied together,
God’s entrance into the world
turning the most common events into unique occurrences.
Mary is pregnant,
an ordinary experience in the scope of humanity
but unique to Mary
her pregnancy heralded by an angel of the Lord,
brought about by the Holy Spirit
and now she is carrying the Son of God within her,
To add to that
Mary is unmarried,
which while putting her in a difficult spot
is still rather ordinary,
is that God chose to work through an unmarried girl
and that her fiancé, Joseph
has stuck with her,
continued in his promise to marry her.
When we join them this night
they are traveling,
in the midst of a once in a life-time event,
a grand census of the whole world
causing people to return to ancestral lands
to be counted by the Roman empire,
and there in the midst of this numerary chaos,
in the city of Bethlehem
is where an ordinary everyday occurrence happens,
Mary goes into labor and a baby is born,
not in a deluxe birthing suite but in borrowed space,
in the midst of everyday life.
This is how God enters the world,
in a way so ordinary as to be unnoticeable
except by those right around him
for a miraculous as each individual baby is,
they are born all the time.
But for this birth we’d expect that there at least be a little fanfare
to mark this extraordinary occasion
and our expectations are not disappointed,
but what is surprising is who this news is announced to,
some shepherds doing what they do,
watching their sheep out in the fields
away from everyone else,
to these laborers on the margins of society
They tell them of a special baby
and where to find him
and end the message with a serenade by the heavenly host.
‘Well you don’t see that everyday’
the shepherds say to themselves
and so they follow the directions
and find everything just as the angels had told them.
Understandably the people gathered around the new little family
are surprised by the shepherd’s visit,
most babies aren’t visited in the night by field hands,
and they are even more surprised
by the message they bring,
that this child is the Son of God,
the shepherds have it on the authority of angels
and everyone there,
probably Joseph’s extended family
was amazed at this pronouncement,
who treasures the message she’d already heard
confirmed by another angelic visit.
The shepherds leave praising God,
and that’s it,
that’s the story of God’s entry into the world,
extraordinary for its relative ordinariness.
At each turn in the story
the ordinary is paired with the extraordinary.
It’s a pairing that we are all too familiar with,
we too are in the midst of God willing,
a once in a life-time event,
though rather than everyone being on the move,
we’ve all been staying at home,
and so the ordinary, home
has become extraordinary,
in how focused our lives have been on our homes,
which have also becomes places of work,
schools and even sanctuaries.
And when we’ve ventured out of our homes,
the world around us has changed,
what was ordinary now is different.
This Christmas we’re celebrating the advent of the Christ child
as we do every year,
and yet we’re doing so in different ways,
we’re worshiping online with our families,
we’re driving to church parking lots and waving glow sticks,
and gathering in smaller groups.
And as different and unique and even ordinary as all these experiences may be,
Christ still comes.
Because that’s how God,
Immanuel, God with us,
comes among us,
in the midst of both the ordinary and the extraordinary.
God is with us in all the everyday places
where we might not think to look,
the daily routine, the endless dishes,
the meals at home,
and God is with us in the novel,
the new, the unexpected,
all the zoom calls,
the caring for those in quarantine,
the exhausted staff at hospitals.
As what once seemed extraordinary
begins to become ordinary
God is with us in the midst of this too
helping us to navigate the world around us,
coming to us in friends and community,
the help of a stranger,
resting with us as we struggle
to reconcile the ordinary and the extraordinary.
The miracle of Christmas
reminds us that this is precisely how God works,
taking on ordinary form,
coming among us in the midst of brokenness and upheaval
bringing healing and redemption
for the beloved creation of God.
May you on this ordinary yet extraordinary night
be filled with the love of God with us. Amen
3rd Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who sows joy. Amen
Today we lit the third candle on our Advent wreath,
the candle that traditionally represents joy.
It might seem a bit odd
during this season of reflection and preparation
that joy be included,
but in fact, preparation and joy go hand in hand,
we prepare in anticipation of joy
and sometimes we need joy to continue with preparations.
But what do we mean by ‘joy’?
Often in world around us,
especially at this time of year
joy is sold as the result of a big build up to Christmas morning
and so preparation sounds a little like this:
He’s making a list,
Checking it twice,
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to Town
Only those children who are nice
will rejoice on Christmas morning
with a big pile of presents under the tree
so we are encouraged to prepare by writing lists to Santa
to get our shopping done
and make everything just so for the coming celebration.
This understanding of joy is fleeting,
as the months of build up
are uncovered in half an hour
and toys lie discarded by the end of the day.
Now to be fair
there can be great pleasure
in exchanging gifts as signs of love and appreciation,
and in some ways the preparation is as fun
if not more
than the actual moment.
But if that’s all there is to the day
If what we are left with is an empty feeling
when all is said and done
what we experienced wasn’t joy.
Because joy, true joy,
goes deeper than the ecstasy of a moment,
joy follows anticipation yes,
but joy also follows hardship and disappointment,
which mean acknowledging the hardship and disappointment
and the longing that comes from knowing
that things are not as they ought to be.
is the response to the saving promises of God
in the midst of the brokenness of the world.
Which means our preparations sound less like Santa Claus is coming to town
and more like:
Comfort, comfort now my people;
Tell of peace! So says our God.
Comfort those who sit in darkness
Mourning under sorrow’s load.
To God’s people now proclaim
That God’s pardon waits for them!
Tell them that their war is over;
God will reign in peace forever.
of the reality of the world around us
but like the candles on the Advent wreath,
our preparations also include hope,
the promise of peace
and yes even joy,
because the preparations for the saving promises of God
also include the hard work of clearing away the rubble of the past
to create space for the new thing
that God is doing
and without hope, the promise of peace and joy
it is easy to become discouraged.
We see this first in our reading from Isaiah.
The prophet is speaking to a group of people
who are discouraged, disappointed by life around them
and humiliated that they cannot do the work that God has called them to do.
They are the people who returned to the promised land
from exile in Babylon.
For years and years and years
they dreamed of going home
and how great it was going to be,
so much better than their current circumstances
and now they are faced with reality,
the reality of a destroyed temple and cities,
the reality that there’s a lot of work to do
to restore the temple and land to its former glory
and since there’s not a lot left to work with,
it’s starting to seem like an impossible task.
Into their discouragement God sends the prophet
“to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…”
this year of the Lord’s favor
refers to a jubilee year,
In the jubilee year,
all debts were forgiven,
all land reverted back to the original owners,
and slaves were freed,
society was basically supposed to reset
to the beginning of the time in the promised land
when the gifts of God were equally divided.
The jubilee year
was a chance to return to the manna way of life
and God understood that would only be possible
with a fresh start,
a level playing field for everyone.
Because it seems that the unfortunate fact of human society
is that some will prosper and some will,
for whatever reason
find themselves in debt,
and once in debt,
it is extremely hard to get out from under that burden,
no matter how hard one works
and that burden even gets passed down the generations
Lately there’s been a movement among some churches
and nonprofit organizations
to put jubilee into practice
by raising money to forgive medical debt.
The most recent example I saw
was from a church that a friend goes to in Iowa,
they were able to forgive $5 million in medical debt.
Which seems like an impossible amount,
even for one well off congregation.
I was curious so I did a little research,
it seems that there is a whole industry
that profits off of people being in debt,
when someone can’t pay their debt to the hospital,
the hospital can sell the debt,
at a reduced price
to a debt collector
who is allowed to try to collect interest
and the full amount owed
and the difference between the discounted price they got from the hospital
and the full amount is their profit
and these companies often take a much more aggressive approach
in trying to collect the debt than the hospitals
So this is where nonprofits and churches come in,
they buy that reduced price debt,
and instead of trying to collect it,
they forgive it.
Instead of debt collecting bills,
the people receive a notice
that their debt has been forgiven,
they have been set free.
Imagine the relief and yes, joy,
the weight lifted
of receiving such a notice,
especially since the groups target people whose debt is
5% or more of their income.
And guess how much that $5 million in medical debt cost?
$8,000. 0.16% of the original
This is salvation proclaimed and made tangible,
the clearing away the rubble of the past
leading to the freedom to serve God rather than debt.
This is what God proclaims to the Israelites through the prophet,
and the change is immediate,
from a humiliated people
they now become “oaks of righteousness”
and are able to rebuild the cities and the temple,
they will rejoice in God
and sow their joy among the nations
so that it spreads around the world,
even the prophet can’t hold back at this good news,
after sharing the message of God
the prophet shares from their own perspective
“I will greatly rejoice in the lord, my whole being shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation…”
and likens the results to a garden
where the seeds sown spring up, creating more life.
God promises salvation,
real tangible here and now salvation,
and God calls us to share our joy
and bring God’s salvation to others,
which means preparing the way,
taking an honest look at the world around us,
clearing out the rubble to make way
for the new thing that God is doing,
God’s real tangible salvation
sent to bring forgiveness,
jubilee into the midst of our suffering.
This is the one for whom we wait, and prepare,
and greet with:
Joy to the world
The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king’
Let every heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing. Amen
1st Sunday in Advent
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who calls us to stay awake and to hope. Amen
Welcome to the season of Advent!
Our decorations have changed to blue,
we’re at the beginning of a new liturgical year
where we will get to spend time in the gospel of Mark,
and of course our advent wreath
reminds us that Christmas is coming,
the more candles we light
the closer we are to the festival celebrating Immanuel,
God with us, God among us, God one of us.
It’s exciting the newness and anticipation of the season,
it’s like the advent calendars
with a little chocolate for each day before Christmas
mirroring the sweetness of anticipation.
And yet there’s more to advent
than lighting a few candles and eating a chocolate a day,
there’s more to wait for than the birthday celebrations for Jesus,
if we go a little deeper into advent
the scriptures remind us
that we are also waiting for the return of Christ,
and in this reminder
we are recalled to the painful reality
that even as Christ is with us,
God still has work to do,
God’s beautiful creation is still broken
and waiting for its healer to come
restore it to the perfection of the garden,
to the promised time when weeping and crying and pain and death are no more,
a promise we are still waiting on God to fulfill.
This side of advent is a striking contrast to the first,
and yet both are true.
It’s a paradox (two seemingly contradictory things that turn out to be true)
and the season of advent is full of them.
The season of advent holds space to acknowledge the tensions in life,
especially the life of faith.
The tension between the fact that we are both saint and sinner,
the tension between the fact that Christ has come and we are still waiting on Christ,
the tension between the reality that Christ saved the whole world and the world is still broken.
There are so many paradoxes,
as we sometimes call them in Lutheran circles,
but that is one of the things that I really appreciate about the Lutheran tradition,
the acceptance of the both and,
because we know the deeply lived truth
of the seemingly contradictory
and while the unresolved tension can be frustrating sometimes
it is an authentic reflection of life.
So I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised
when our theme for this first Sunday in advent is a paradox:
“those who dream, keep awake”
When we hear dream
we tend to first think of the sleeping kind,
you know the ones where upon falling asleep
you find yourself in an alternate world
where you’re back in your childhood home
but your mom is now a panda
baking you bamboo cookies,
and what’s your third grade teacher doing there in the background?
Anybody? Just me?
Those dreams are impossible to have while awake.
But of course there’s another way dream is used,
the way Martin Luther King Jr. did
when he proclaimed “I have a dream”
his dream, a vision for the future
where the wounds of the present are healed.
God too has a dream,
a vision for creation,
that all be intimately connected with their creator,
that all, people, animals, nature, live in harmony with one another and God,
a harmony where everyone has what they need,
no one has too much or too little.
And God has promised
that in partnership with people
this dream will become reality.
And the thing about these kinds of dreams,
is that to dream them,
one must be awake,
aware of all the ways that the present world around us
is less than perfect.
Awake to the promises of God
and how they have yet to be fulfilled.
In our gospel
Jesus tells his disciples to keep awake,
to wait for the fulfillment of the promises of God,
to watch for the signs that they are coming
since no one knows the exact timing.
As we wait,
it is tempting to fall asleep,
to fall asleep to the pain and imperfections around us,
to take a break from the harsh reality of life
Jesus tells us to keep awake.
To be awake is to acknowledge the broken places of life,
to be awake is to reject the narrative
that it will 'always be this way',
to be awake is to hope.
And here seems to be another paradox,
that to have hope we must be awake
to all the realities that argue against hope,
the situations that make the dream for the future look impossible,
this is the essence of hope,
to look at the seemingly insurmountable obstacles
and say ‘nevertheless, I believe that God will work through this,
that good will come out of this mess.’
But it’s a process to get from pain to hope,
and we see that process in our first reading from Isaiah:
It starts with lament,
‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down’
cries out the prophet,
it’s frustrating when the world is so far from the dream of God
and it seems like God isn’t doing anything.
why if God is so powerful,
doesn’t God just come down and fix everything,
because we do believe that God is powerful,
the prophet says as much in the next part
extolling the awesome deeds of God
but in affirming the power of God
the prophet on behalf of the people,
realizes that the people have not kept up their end of the covenant,
and the lament turns into confession
“we sinned… we have all become like one who is unclean
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth”
have you ever tried to clean a table with a dirty dishrag?
It doesn’t work right?
As good as your intentions are
if the cloth is dirty it just spreads the dirt around.
That’s where the people are at,
just spreading their own dirt around,
and while it might seem that this confession,
this awakening to reality
might be cause for despair,
what it does is lead to hope.
As the prophet acknowledges
that the people are living with the consequences of their actions
what could easily return to anger or lament becomes hope,
hope based on the trust
that God keeps the promises God makes,
trust that comes out of the established relationship with God
“yet, O Lord, you are our Father, we are the cay and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.”
In the end God has promised
that no matter what happens,
no matter what others label us,
or we think of ourselves
our primary identity is that of children of God,
God kept that promise with Jesus,
God made that promise individually to each of us at our baptisms,
that we are children of God
and nothing can separate us from the love of God
this relationship is the root of our hope.
This Advent there are many reasons we might despair,
things in the world that make us want to detach from reality,
to fall asleep and in our dreams pretend that nothing is happening.
But God calls us to stay awake,
awake to the messiness and imperfections of life yes,
and awake to the promises of God
and in this wakefulness
join in dreaming with God
of the day when all live in harmony with God and one another,
and so awake and dreaming, we hope. Amen
23rd Sunday After Pentecost
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who flows through our lives. Amen
Have you ever set hope for the future
on a particular day or moment only to be disappointed?
You find yourself in the midst of something
no so pleasant
and so to get through you find a time in the future
that seems like it will mark the end of your waiting or your suffering,
and you find yourself thinking
‘if I can just make it to this day, everything will be okay
or then I will have some answers’
and so you wait.
But when that day finally arrives,
the day for which you have hoped and longed,
you end up disappointed
when the world, just by reaching this date,
is not magically better,
or what you expected or hoped for.
This is what the prophet Amos
is warning against at the beginning of our first lesson for today.
Those originally hearing Amos’ words,
the Israelites in the North
were living under the Assyrians,
a bigger, stronger nation
who was threatening to come in and destroy them,
the Israelites have latched on to the idea of the day of the Lord.
The day when the Lord will come
and they imagine,
sweep out the threat of the Assyrians,
vindicating the Israelites,
handing them a victory over their foes.
‘If we can just make it to this day’ they think
‘everything will be okay’
and more than just hoping that the day of the Lord will come
they set about trying to make it happen,
‘if we say the right prayers and offer the right offerings, and sing the right songs,
then surely we can help bring about the day of the Lord’
so that’s what they set about doing,
concentrating their efforts
on making sure the worship and festivals are just so.
and then along comes Amos the prophet
who asks them:
“Why do you want the day of the Lord?”
and suggests that what they’ve imagined is inaccurate
and describes what it will be like with vivid imagery.
“It is darkness, not light
as if someone fled from a lion and was met by a bear”
Amos is saying that the day of the Lord for the Israelites
would be like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire,
oh and all that work they’ve been doing
to try to bring it about,
well here’s what God thinks about all that:
God says “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.”
God hates all the things that they’ve been doing
to make God happy,
‘maybe that’s how those false gods pretend to work’ God says,
‘but not me. I don’t want your worship if it’s intended to manipulate me.’
God is tired of being treated like a cosmic vending machine
where if you put the right prayers and rituals in
what you want comes out.
So what does God want?
“Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.” God says “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Justice and righteousness,
that’s what it’s always been about.
Justice, the attention to the needs of all,
healthy relationships that root the interactions of the human community.
Justice and righteousness
have been the goal behind all of God’s interactions with people throughout history
in confirmation this year we are studying the Bible
so far we have heard the story of how God created everything and called it good,
but after a while things on earth among people weren’t so good,
so God came to Abraham and Sarah
and promised to make them a great nation,
a nation of people in relationship with God
and that went fairly well for several generations
until the descendants of Abraham end up in Egypt,
and when we next hear about them
they have been enslaved by the Egyptians,
God, hearing their cries raises up Moses
who leads the people to freedom,
in dramatic fashion they make it away from the Egyptians
and into the desert
and there God sets about teaching them
to live in a community governed by Justice and righteousness,
where the needs of all are met
and healthy relationships are the root of the community.
We see this focus in the commandments
that God gives to the people,
all of them have to do with maintaining healthy just relationships,
the first three focus on the relationship with God,
number four on relationships within the immediate family,
and the rest on relationships within the community,
breaking any of these commandments
will break relationships and lead to injustice.
God gives the people the gift of the law
and teaches them how to live in a community
governed by justice and righteousness
with the intent that they be an example to all the nations of the world
who would see that this was the best way to live
and be drawn to God and the way of justice and righteousness.
And when the people are ready
God leads them to the promised land
where they settle down
and get to work
For awhile things are good,
but then the people get distracted by the shiny idols of their neighbors
and they enter a cycle where they turn away
from God and the way of justice and righteousness,
and that gets them into trouble,
finding themselves in trouble they cry out to God for help,
and God who loves them raises up a judge,
a temporary leader
to show them the way back to God
and they return to the way of justice and righteousness
and life is good, for awhile,
until the next shiny distraction comes along
the people get so distracted
that they want to live more like their neighbors,
they say to God ‘give us a king, a king will keep us safe’
but God knows that societies with kings
are the opposite of societies of justice and righteousness,
a king has too much power for all relationships to be healthy,
but the people persist
and to stay in relationship with them
God relents and gives them a king.
First God tries to find kings that are faithful to God
and the way of justice and righteousness
but even the best, David,
has his struggles and soon it all goes downhill
and the Israelites are living lives
where attention is only paid to the needs of the few
and relationships suffer as a result,
and that is when God starts raising up prophets
to keep speaking to the people the way of justice and righteousness.
Conveniently, that’s the part of the story that we just got to in confirmation last week
and it puts the prophet Amos’ message into context.
The people have gotten distracted
and focused on the wrong thing, the day of the Lord,
Amos is to bring them back to the way of justice and righteousness.
And so we have Amos
reminding the people that what God desires of them is
to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
and this proclamation is as much a promise
as it is a reminder
because with or without the people,
God’s justice and righteousness will prevail like the water that they are likened to.
And it’s an apt image because Justice and righteousness
like water because water always prevail.
Think about it, the hardest materials are no match for water,
rocks which seem so permanent
are carved and worn away by water,
Dams or other attempts to control the flow of water
are only ever temporary,
eventually the water will find a way to go where it wants,
sometimes that looks like a great flood
that bursts through barriers
wiping away what once stood in its path,
and sometimes it looks like the continual flow
nourishing life around it
even as it gradually carves a path through.
The same goes for God’s justice and righteousness,
it always prevails,
it is always there working
on even the seemingly most permanent of institutions,
if it has been dammed up,
it will eventually break forth
it is always flowing
easy to overlook by those who only see it as part of the scenery,
but a source of life for those who drink from it.
Water always prevails,
and the water of God is justice and righteousness,
and we have been washed in this water by God who loves us.
At our baptisms the waters of God’s justice wiped away our sins
and the waters of righteousness
forged an unbreakable relationship between us and God
promising that nothing can separate us from the love of God
as Paul put it “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor thing to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.”
Washed in the waters of God,
God promises us that it will prevail
and continue to flow through us and our lives,
calling us to live the way of justice and righteousness
reminding us that whatever decisions we make
or institutions that seem permanent,
it will find away,
and justice and righteousness shall flow.
On this we set our hope. Amen
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who brings us back to love. Amen
Today the Pharisees set out to test Jesus,
and one asks him
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Now this story comes at the end
of several stories of various groups trying to trick Jesus
into blasphemy or treason,
and this time they specifically use the law as their trap.
Remember, the law was a gift from God to the Israelites,
God freed them from slavery in Egypt
and brought them out into the wilderness
and to teach them how to live in harmony with one another as free people
God gave them the gift of the law.
It was a gift given in love,
intended to help build and maintain relationships,
and now the Pharisees propose to do the opposite
they set out to use the law to test,
to trick, to divide, even to harm.
they ask, which law is the greatest?
and Jesus responds:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment and a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus brings them back to love.
This is what Jesus does
every time humans take a gift from God,
given in love, intended for love
and use it to test, trick, divide or harm,
Jesus brings us back to love.
Love of God, love of neighbor, love of self.
We see this in the gospels
Jesus continually points those he meets back to love,
love that mends relationships and brings people together,
and often this takes a very physical form,
when Jesus meets people whose relationships are broken because of sickness,
he heals them,
when the disciples want to send the crowds away to get something to eat,
Jesus says you feed them,
and helps them feed the masses with a little bit of bread and fish,
when Jesus knows that the people despair
he sends the disciples out to spread the good news
that the kingdom of God has come near.
Again and again Jesus points those he meets back to love,
until he makes the biggest point of all,
his death on the cross,
an act of love so great
that it defeats death, when Jesus, love incarnate, rises on the third day.
Jesus, a gift given to us in love by God
always brings us back to love,
because of Jesus we know that God loves us,
and nothing can separate us from the love of God,
not even ourselves and our failure to perfectly love God, neighbor and self.
God makes this promise to us at our baptisms
and makes us part of the community called to always return to love.
This is what our young people are affirming today,
their commitment to living in the love of God,
sharing it and returning to it when they go astray
remembering the gift they have been given.
Baptism is a gift from God
given to us in love,
at the font God claims us once and for all
so that we may never doubt
who we are and whose we are,
and this is all God’s doing,
we are saved by grace through faith,
not by our own works
and this gift of God is so great
we want to share it with everyone,
we want to partner with Jesus
to live in a world where the sick are healed,
the hungry are fed
and all have a home and a place
not because of what they have done or earned
but because they are beloved children of God.
This is the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed,
the kingdom that breaks in
every time love reaches across divisions.
As we look around
we are well aware that the fullness of the kingdom of God
has not yet arrived,
we face the imperfections of the world each day,
and so we still need the gift of the law
to guide us in communal living
and to show us when we fall short,
when we need to be brought back to love
and this is a continual process,
one that works in our individual lives and in the communal life.
Today we observe Reformation Sunday,
a moment in history
when a monk named Martin Luther
realized that the gift of God was being used to test, trick, divide and harm,
and so he asked some questions
and started a movement of people
looking anew at the gifts of God
and how they were being used
and calling the community back to acting out of love and care for all,
a way of sharing and living the gospel.
This way of looking at the world is part of our heritage,
But the work is not complete
We are called to continue reforming,
to continually look into the mirror of the law
and when the gifts of God are being misused
we are called to point it out,
to bring it back to love,
and of course we do not do this on our own,
Jesus is with us,
recalling us to the promises made at the font
and bringing us to the table
where with his body and blood
he forgives us and brings us back to love,
love that looks like a community gathered
where there is enough for all,
food enough for all,
love enough for all,
love that then gets sent out into the world.
today you are publicly saying yes to the way of love,
a way that the world desperately needs right now.
As you continue to live your faith in the world
there will be those who will question you,
not because they seek knowledge
but to test you,
and you will encounter times
when the way forward is less than clear
in those moments,
remember your baptism,
remember that you are a beloved child of God,
nothing can change that,
and in remembering
you will realize that the answer is clear,
Because Jesus always brings us back to love. Amen
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who invites us to the banquet. Amen
So, I always get a little uncomfortable
when gospel readings
include people being thrown into the outer darkness
where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
To be fair,
it’s supposed to make people uncomfortable,
the threat of being cast out
is used to motivate those on the receiving end of the message
to act in a way that avoids this action.
However, I’m more uncomfortable with it
because it doesn’t square with my understanding of God,
who is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
who sent Jesus to save the world.
And yet this was a teaching common in the early church
which Matthew deliberately included in his gospel,
the teaching where Jesus tells the story
of a King hosting a wedding banquet
on the day of the banquet
he sends servants to remind everyone who has rsvp’d yes
that the banquet is that day,
and the servants are ignored.
So the King sends more servants,
who describe this great feast
that has been prepared,
surely free food will bring them in,
but those invited go on about their business
or stay behind to kill the servants.
So the king, enraged,
takes a moment before dinner,
to wreak vengeance on them, and destroy their city
and after that he feels a bit better
but he still has no one to eat his banquet,
so he sends his servants back out to gather anyone available,
it doesn’t matter who they are
whether they are good or bad,
the King wants those seats in the banquet hall filled
and so the servants do this
and they fill the hall,
and the king comes to look at his full banquet hal
l and he sees someone,
just dragged off the street,
not wearing a wedding robe,
and the king confronts the guy
and asks why aren’t you wearing a robe?!
And when the guy has no answer
he is thrown out of the banquet hall into the outer darkness.
The good news of the Lord?
Why does Matthew include this story?
I think he includes it
because once we get past the hyperbole and ridiculousness of the narrative,
it points to a central and uncomfortable truth:
the truth that most humans will reject the invitation of God
to participate in the abundant life of God.
The abundant life of God that starts in this life.
As Jesus travels around,
teaching, preaching and healing,
he spreads the news of the kingdom or God’s reign on earth,
God’s reign is in direct contrast
to the way the world works,
think of the beatitudes,
blessed are the poor in spirit,
those who mourn, the meek,
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
the merciful, the peacemakers,
these are the attributes valued in the kingdom of God,
rather than the powerful,
the violent, the rich, and the manipulative
that seem to be blessed in this life.
Jesus’ message preached primarily to the powerless, the victims, the poor and the manipulated
is that life doesn’t have to be this way,
in fact God desires pretty much the opposite
and you can start living that way now,
you don’t have to wait.
With Jesus, God come to earth,
kingdom living starts now!
And it looks like a banquet
where everyone is invited
and the best food and drink is served,
shelter is provided and God lifts the burdens from every shoulder
and all this is freely given,
offered to everyone both the good and the bad.
It sounds so good
it’s hard to imagine that anyone would turn down the invitation.
And yet it happens,
the grace of God is offered
and is ignored or actively, violently rejected.
because the invitation is for more than a banquet,
it is for a way of life
which means giving up the way of life where wealth leads to power
and power leads to the illusion of independence.
Think about it,
why would those initially invited go to the banquet
when their businesses will allow them to provide their own banquet?
We think, why would we go through the pomp and circumstance
and trouble to go to someone else’s dinner
when we can come up with something just as good,
better even because we can avoid social obligations
And in our quest for independence,
we turn down the grace of God.
We pass up our seat at the banquet
because we think we can do just as well for ourselves
if not better.
We don’t talk about this very often
but the truth is that we humans are free to resist and reject the grace of God,
and we do.
Because we are addicted to independence.
We are addicted to doing things for ourselves
so much that we even turn down invitations from God.
Because to accept grace
means admitting that we need help,
that, we can’t do it on our own,
because accepting grace means
we are then responsible to others, living in community.
But God made humans to live in community,
life is better when lived together
even though a small amount of independence
must be surrendered to be a part of community.
The other Pastors and I were talking about this at our weekly text study
and you know what this reminded us of?
All of the older folks we’ve walked alongside
who have been adamant about staying in their own homes,
maintaining their independence,
even though it often means increasing isolation.
And invariably when something happens
where they can not avoid it any longer
and they move into a community,
and when we go and visit
we hear some variation of the exclamation
“this was the best move I ever made,
I should have done this years ago!”
Because now, even if they are still doing most things for themselves
they are living in community.
We gain so much more than we lose
when we accept the grace of God
and yet again and again we resist
and if we’re confronted,
like the man without a robe,
we often have no good answer for why,
why when we have been offered the chance to live in the kingdom of God,
we would turn down that invitation.
Now you might be wondering,
with all this talk of resisting God,
is there any hope?
And if it were just up to us,
I’d say no.
But it’s not just up to us,
God, knowing that left to our own devices
we would never be able to fully live into the kingdom of God,
no matter how hard we tried,
Jesus who died on the cross
to save all of us stubbornly independent humans
who will only be right through our association with Jesus.
At our baptisms,
we are joined to Jesus
and God promises that we are God’s,
And we know that God keeps the promises God makes.
Even as we go about our lives turning down the many invitations God sends
to participate in kingdom living,
even if we turn our backs on God
exiling ourselves from the presence of God,
God still loves us,
sets out a banquet
offering life and forgiveness
and invites us to come to the table
because no matter what we do,
God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
the banquet is ready,
come and eat,
there is a place for you. Amen
16th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love. Amen
If you are ever between books
and need a story that will make you laugh
I suggest you pull your Bible off the shelf
and read the book of Jonah.
It’s short, only five chapters
and is satire of the other prophetic books.
Jonah upon receiving the call of God
does what most of the other prophets frankly wanted to do,
he runs away.
But as he finds out
he can run but he can’t escape God,
and after a lesson in humility
learned in the stomach of a big fish
he goes and gives the message from God to the Ninevehites,
that in 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown.
Now usually people ignore the prophets,
Ezekiel and his brothers busted their buns
trying to get God’s message out and nothing...
and in a way Jonah is counting on this response
because he really doesn’t like Nineveh,
they conquered his own people,
he’d actually like to see them be destroyed by God,
but wouldn’t you know it,
Jonah’s reluctant prophesy works,
the whole city repents
and God decides not to destroy them
and as we heard in our first reading today
this displeases Jonah
and he throws a temper tantrum
“He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’’”
He’s so dramatic,
it makes me laugh every time
and the thing I find most funny
is Jonah’s ability to make God’s virtues
sound like a bad thing.
Jonah, for all his faults knows his scripture,
where God is described as gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and Jonah knows that God really is
gracious and merciful slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love
which is why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh,
because he knew that God would be this way with the Ninevites,
and Jonah didn’t want them to be on the receiving end of God’s grace.
God’s grace makes Jonah angry.
Well it makes him angry
when it’s directed at people he doesn’t think deserve it.
This happens in the parable in our gospel for today as well
with the landowner who keeps hiring people throughout the day,
now in a sense his continual hiring of people
is an act of grace,
each time he goes out into the marketplace
he sees people who want to work,
need to work,
but for some reason have been overlooked for jobs.
Think of it like picking teams on the playground,
the strongest most noticeable are chosen first
and the rest are left on the sidelines to watch,
no matter how much they want to take part.
So it is a matter of grace
that these leftover people
are hired to work for even part of a day,
and he promises to pay them whatever is right,
this of course is determined by the landowner
and I’m guessing that none of those hired later
expected a full days wage,
and yet when it comes time to settle up for the day
the landowner tells the manager of the vineyard
to pay those hired last first,
and to their great surprise they receive a full daily wage,
more than they expected
but surely much needed.
And so it goes on down the line
until those who were hired first are paid,
and they receive,
the usual daily wage.
And they grumble at this,
having seen those hired later get paid
they expected more.
It’s not fair they grumble,
those others don’t deserve to be paid the same as we do,
we did all the work.
And the landowner reminds them
that they are getting exactly what they agreed to
at the beginning of the day,
had the landowner never hired the others
the outcome would still be the same,
and the landowner asks them
“are you envious because I am generous?”
The short answer is ‘yes’ they are.
The longer answer
is that we humans tend to live our lives
from the perspective of scarcity.
Where whether it is true or not,
we think there is only so much to go around before it runs out
and so we hoard what we have and seek to acquire more
and come up with all sorts of ways
to judge who is worthy to use the resources,
who we think should get a piece of the pie
and from this we get our sense of what we think is fair
and this transfers to our idea of justice
where we think people should get what they deserve
and what they deserve is an eye for an eye,
it’s Jonah wanting God to destroy the city of Nineveh
in return for what they had done to his people.
But God views the world differently.
God looks at the world from the perspective of abundance
where resources are shared with everyone
and justice looks like people getting what they need
which they deserve because they are beloved creation of God
and this perspective is in such contrast
with the way of the world
that when it is applied in the world,
it upsets people,
though not I should note,
the people on the receiving end of the grace of God.
Which makes it odd
that anyone should get upset,
because we are all on the receiving end of the grace of God.
If we got what we deserve,
according to our own understanding of justice,
it would be us up on the cross rather than Jesus
and yet on Good Friday,
there Jesus was, for us,
living and dying the truth that God is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love
and that truth continued on through
to Sunday morning and the empty tomb,
and when Jesus appears to his disciples, alive,
he claims them, and all of us who have come after,
for the perspective of God.
Having been claimed by the risen Christ
we are to see the world from the perspective of abundance
where justice is everyone getting what they need.
And not only are we to look from this perspective
We are to make it a way of life
We are to live lives that work to make sure
That people get what they need
Whether the world judges them as worthy or not
And yes, this is difficult because we live in the world
and sometimes the generosity of God upsets people,
and we get angry and dramatic like Jonah
and that’s when Jesus comes to us once again
and gathers us at the table
where all are welcome
and there is enough for everybody
and breaking his body,
pouring out his blood,
Jesus gives us not what we deserve
but what we need,
and then he sends us back out into the world
to live from God’s point of view,
God who is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Amen
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who does things the divine way. Amen
How we look at things influences what we see.
The view from the top of a mountain
and the view from the bottom are very different,
even though we’re looking at the same mountain.
How I see the world without my glasses
is certainly a lot fuzzier
than when I put in my contacts
and the world springs back into focus.
On a sunny day I change how I see the world
by putting on sunglasses
and the dark lenses allow me to focus
on more than just how bright it is outside.
These are all physical examples of perspective
but perspective also comes into play
in how we understand the world
and like putting on sunglasses
or climbing a mountain
we can influence to a certain degree
how we understand and interpret the world around us.
Now some things,
our past experiences, our beliefs,
our place in society
all impact our perspective
whether we are aware of it or not
and the things that are most deeply ingrained
are the ones we turn to in times of stress,
the ones we go to without thinking about
and that can get us into trouble.
That’s what happens to Peter
in our gospel for today
Jesus tells the disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’”
when faced with a threat to his teacher and Lord
responds from the human perspective.
The perspective that holds tightly onto life at all costs,
the perspective that says pain is to be avoided,
the perspective that is more concerned with ourselves and our loved ones
than the whole world.
And Jesus scolds him.
He puts him in his place,
‘get behind me’, Jesus says,
‘I am the teacher, you are the disciple,
you’re getting ahead of yourself,
you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
And while it is true that Peter is human,
we know that he is capable of seeing from the divine perspective.
Just last week in our gospel
at a retreat in Caesarea Philippi
Peter proclaimed the truth about Jesus,
that he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God
and Jesus praised him
for trusting the revelations of God.
There Peter had his mind set on divine things.
But it only lasts a moment,
and in seemingly the next breath
Peter is back to human things.
Jesus puts Peter in his place
and turns to the disciples
and spells it out for them
“If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”
To be a disciple of Jesus
means looking at the world from the divine perspective,
a way of looking at things
that at times seems to be exactly the opposite
of what our instincts tell us we should do
what the world had taught us makes the most sense.
The worldly perspective teaches us to put our lives
and those of our family
ahead of anyone else,
the divine perspective teaches
that a life well lived
is one that is lived in service to others,
even if that means sacrificing our own lives.
It’s what Jesus did,
he lived everything he taught
he lived the divine way,
the way that fed people because they were hungry
and healed people because they were sick
and forgave people because they were sinners.
His living the divine way in the world
so upset those in power
(those who were supposed to be living and teaching the divine things)
that they got together
to serve out the ultimate punishment of the world,
the thing there’s no coming back from,
but Jesus did
rising on the third day,
and he promises that joined to him
death is not the end
his followers are free to live in service of others
following the divine way.
But Jesus realizes
that living the divine way
does not come naturally,
that like Peter when we hear something that frightens us
our instinct will be to go back to the way of the world,
that we will need to be put in our places
and reminded again and again
that God will take care of judgment
and that we are to view the world from the divine perspective.
And while this is difficult,
Peter shows us that it is possible,
again and again Peter jumps at the chance to follow Jesus,
and again and again he falls back on the human way of doing things,
and yet each time
Jesus puts him in his place,
reminds him of the divine way,
and gives him another chance.
This is what Jesus does for us,
as we seek to follow him
he calls us to set our mind on divine things
rather than human things
it flies in the face of worldly wisdom.
As Paul reminds the Romans “Let love be genuine...bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep...Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It takes practice to live in the world
with our minds set on divine things,
we will mess up,
and when we do,
Jesus will put us in our place,
remind us of the divine way
and give us another chance,
and the more we practice
the easier it becomes
to look at the world from God’s point of view
but always Jesus calls us
to set our mind on divine things
because he knows that when we are frightened or disrupted
we will see the world from the human perspective once again
and once again we will need to be reminded to set our minds on divine things.
right now as individuals and as a society
we are frightened and disrupted
and we are falling back on the human mindset,
the mindset that draws those with whom we agree closer
and villainizes those who are different from us,
whether the difference comes in the form of politics,
nationality, the color of our skin,
or even how we think we should live together.
To get through this we must set our mind on divine things,
before we react,
pause and look at the world through the eyes of Jesus,
to see how we might live in service to others
even though it may mean making sacrifices in our lives
so that others may live.
We must overcome evil with good.
we will make mistakes along the way,
and Jesus will put us in our places,
and then he will forgive us,
offering us his broken body and blood poured out,
with bread and wine join us once again to him,
setting our mind on divine things
then sending us out to try again.
This is the divine way. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.