Tag Archive | John

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, 2017

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, year A (preached 1/15/17)

first reading:  Isaiah 49:1-7

Psalm 40:1-11

second reading:  1 Corinthians 1:1-9

gospel reading:  John 1:29-42


Last week as we read about the baptism of Jesus his encounter with John the Baptist was front and center.  This week, we get to hear the declaration of John, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  But John and Jesus don’t actually speak in our text this morning.  John talks about Jesus, and Jesus talks to others.

When Jesus does speak, he speaks to two of John’s disciples – who based on John’s testimony, decide to “check Jesus out.”  It’s THIS encounter I want to focus on this morning.

John was with two of his disciples when they saw Jesus.  John again called Jesus the “Lamb of God.”  As a result, those two disciples followed Jesus.  Jesus sees these two following him, so he asks, “What are you looking for?”

Instead of answering Jesus, they ask him a question in return:  “Where are you staying?”  At this Jesus answers, “Come and see.”

Jesus’ question “What are you looking for?” and moments later, his answer to them, “Come and see,” form the foundation of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Each one of us can be asked, as we walk through these doors on a Sunday morning, “What are you looking for?”  The question is a good one.  It get to the heart of why we’re here.  How many of us, me included, have Sundays when we get up, get dressed, get in the car, pull in the parking lot and plant ourselves in the pew, without thinking “Why?” or “What for?”

What ARE we looking for when we follow Jesus?  What ARE we looking for when we worship?

artist unknown

artist unknown

And when we really think about it, is what we’re looking for what we actually find?  Is the Jesus of our dreams the Jesus of reality?

I think sometimes not.  I think sometimes we expect Jesus to be a lot more “macho.”  I think sometimes we expect Jesus to be a lot more “successful.”  And when I say “we” I’m not just talking about you and me, I’m talking about Christians everywhere and throughout history.

Sure, we DO have a vision of Jesus victorious over the cross, the King of heaven, the one who we confess shall come again to judge the living and the dead.  But he is also the same God/man who walked and talked, ate, slept, cried and died.

Jesus is no superman or Rambo.  He didn’t come to earth to beat other people down, or to give us earthly riches, power or prestige.  As one of my former pastors used to say, “God is not our heavenly Santa Claus.”

Ethiopian - artist unknown

Ethiopian – artist unknown

Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, only AFTER being betrayed, beaten and killed on the cross.   Jesus is the God/man who DIDN’T save himself – and by NOT doing so, has saved each one of us.

So… if we follow him or come to worship so we can be powerful or successful or find answers to every question we have in life, we will NOT find what we’re looking for.

But…

if we’re looking for a savior who can carry us, who will be our companion and strength and guide through all of life, whether we succeed or fail;

if we’re looking for a savior who will gift us with heaven despite our sin and failures, who has prepared a place for us not because we deserve it, but because he is LOVE;

if we’re looking for a place to gather where we can be accepted as a saved sinner/saint, and accept others as the same…

well then – to that Jesus says, “Come and see.”  This is discipleship in a nutshell.

Jesus said, “Come and see,” and those two men “came and saw.”  And once they “came and saw” they started to witness, “We have found the Messiah.”

Following Jesus, being a disciple, is as simple and as hard as that.  We follow, we see, and we witness to what we have seen.

Scholar Robert Kysar highlights this order.  “The risk of the journey (come) necessarily precedes the experience of seeing.”¹  It’s true.  We who follow Jesus ARE on a journey – a journey of faith where we don’t know what’s around the corner, even if we DO know the ultimate destination.

We come along for the ride with this savior, not knowing exactly where we’re going or what will happen. We often can’t see where God has been working in our lives to get us through things, how we got from point “A” to “B” until we get to point “C.”  Discipleship is an amazing act of trust given to us through faith.

Following – being a disciple – coming and seeing, then leads to witness.

Andrew (one of the men who “came and saw”) responded by searching out and saying to his brother, “We have found the Messiah,” and then “brought [him] to Jesus.”  Our calling as disciples, once we have come and seen, is to give that invitation to others.

We hear “come and see.”  So, we “come, and see.”  Then we tell others to “come and see.”

No matter what our station in life, our mission as disciples is the same.  Tomorrow we will honor The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   A man of courage, who preached the love and JUSTICE of Jesus, who knew his life was constantly in danger and yet kept preaching Jesus’ gospel of equality and loving neighbor anyway.  Today we read about the call of some of the first disciples, who would also preach to many, and whose testimony we still hear.

Thousands heard their words – yet our call – yours and mine – is the same as theirs.  We may not have the audience or the influence they did and still do, but our call is just as important as theirs.

It is the call of the disciple who preaches to hundreds as well as the disciple who shares with just one – telling the love and forgiveness of Jesus for every person –

“We have found the Messiah.”

“Come and see.”

AMEN.

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The Holy Trinity, 2016

The Holy Trinity, year C (preached 5/22/16)

first reading:  Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Psalm 8

second reading:  Romans 5:1-5

gospel reading:  John 16:12-15


I know I say this every year, but just a reminder that this day, Trinity Sunday, is the only feast day we Lutherans have the celebrates a DOCTRINE of the Church.  All the other feast days we have in our calendar celebrate events, like Easter, or people, like St. Luke.  Trinity Sunday is our only doctrinal Sunday.

The Holy Trinity.  It is the way we describe God – our belief that there is ONE God, yet one God in THREE PERSONS:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And it’s easy for pastors to fall into the trap of using this day to try to “explain” the Trinity.  Only trouble can come from that.  We can describe the Trinity – we do every time we say “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” but to explain it, to define it, is like trying to know the mind of God.  It can’t be done.

It’s like trying to explain exactly how Jesus is “in, with and under” the bread and wine of Holy Communion – how splashing someone with water that has been blessed gives them forgiveness and make them God’s child.  Can’t be done.

There are some things that just can’t be fully explained.  This doesn’t mean we don’t play around with it, to describe what we know as best we can.  Faith certainly doesn’t demand ignorance of blind obedience. Our life as disciples is one of life-long learning and growing and questioning and pondering and even doubting in our relationship with the Trinity.

Yet, we should always admit that much of faith can be described in one loaded word:  MYSTERY.

It’s part of human nature to rebel against mysteries.  We like ANSWERS.  We want to KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt.  About the only time we like a mystery is when it’s a story – the kind that are neatly summed up at the end – Sherlock Holmes saves the day.  We close the book, or get to the end of the movie, feeling perhaps surprised, but satisfied.

But life is seldom resolved so neatly.  And if life isn’t so neat, then why should we expect that from faith?

To bring in another Bible passage, when I think of the Holy Trinity, I think of 1 Corinthians 13:12:  “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

It’s not that we don’t know anything.  We can know a little, we can see bits here and there, and we have faith for the rest.  Those who, in their wisdom, crafted the lectionary, gave us some wonderful examples of the Holy Trinity today.

In Proverbs we learn about the work of God in creation – “before the beginning of the earth… before the mountains were shaped…”  That God, “established the heavens… the fountains of the deep… assigned to the sea its limit…”

In Psalm 8, the writer expresses joy, praising God for creation:  “all flocks and cattle, even the wild beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea…”  Then the writer asks the question that I have found myself asking at times, usually when I’m looking out over the ocean:  “What are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them, human beings that you should care for them?”

This is how we often think of God the Father – as we say in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds – the “creator of heaven and earth.”

In our second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans we learn about the work of God in justifying us and giving us peace and hope through the work of God the Christ.  We are “justified” through Jesus, we have “peace” and “grace” with God “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  “We boast in our hope” – the hope we find in Jesus.  This hope is SO strong that we even are able to “boast in our sufferings.”  It is a hope born through God’s love – a suffering sacrificial love that was shown us in Jesus.

This is how we often think of God the Son – the one who for us and for our salvation, suffered, was crucified, died, and rose again.¹

And in the gospel reading Jesus the Christ speaks to us about God the Spirit – the HOLY Spirit.  Jesus calls the Spirit, “the Spirit of truth,” who will guide us “into all the truth.”  The Spirit “will speak whatever [the Spirit] hears” and “glorify” Jesus.  In last week’s gospel, Jesus told us the Spirit would also “teach” us everything, and “remind” us of all that he said.²

This is how we often think of God the Holy Spirit – the one who guides us and sustains our life in faith; who we confess in the Nicene Creed as “the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son… who has spoken through the prophets.”

All these wonderful ways we think of God, and believe in God, are accurate – but still run a certain danger…  because the Son and Spirit are ALSO WITH the Father in creation; the Father and Spirit are ALSO WITH the Son in justification; and the Father and Son are ALSO WITH the Spirit in guiding and teaching.

Three distinct persons, yet ONE God.  How Jesus is present in creation I don’t know.  How the Father is present in the teaching I don’t know.  How the Spirit is present in Jesus’ suffering I don’t know.

But somehow, in this wonderful frustrating mystery of the Holy Trinity, all three are separate, yet together, at all times and in all places.

symbol for the Holy Trinity

Forming heaven and earth, for you and me.  Walking, eating, sleeping, suffering, dying, rising, for you and me. Guiding, teaching, and speaking truth – for you and me.

AMEN.


¹Nicene Creed

²John 14:26

Day of Pentecost, 2016

Day of Pentecost, year C (preached 5/15/16)

first reading:  Acts 2:1-21

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

second reading:  Romans 8:14-17

gospel reading:  John 14:8-17, 25-27


Pentecost, He Qi

Pentecost, He Qi

Pentecost is one of the oldest feast days we have in the Christian calendar.  It was a Jewish holiday, commemorating the wheat harvest, and then became a festival celebrating the giving of the Torah by God to Moses.  So when we read, “When the day of Pentecost had come…” we are getting a glimpse of the life not only of the baby church, but of the life of the Jewish community as well.

But after the giving of the Holy Spirit, “Pentecost” took on a new meaning.   For us it is a day to remember the beginning of the apostles’ public ministry.  It is a day to remember the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit.  It is a joyous day.  We get out the red paraments, we get out our red clothes (and in my case even my red shoes!), but other than saying, “Yeah!  It’s Pentecost!”  What does this day mean?

It’s Pentecost.  So what?

Do we celebrate this day just to remember some even of long ago, with no connection to our life of faith now?  If so, then that’s a shame.  If so, it’s like celebrating something that’s dead.

Each generation, indeed each one of us as Christians, is called to find meaning RIGHT NOW in these events.  For what good does it do us to celebrate Pentecost, or Christmas, or Easter, if they have no meaning for us in the here and now.

On Tuesday at pastor’s Bible study, we spent a lot of time talking about this.  It’s a HUGE part of our life of faith – indeed what makes it a “living” faith as the pastor prays in the communion liturgy – to find meaning for ourselves in these old events.

So how do we find meaning in Pentecost?  How do we connect the dots between this 1st century happening and our 21st century lives?

Don’t feel bad if you can’t immediately answer these questions.  In fact, maybe at one point in your life you had them answered perfectly, but now you wonder.  That’s okay, because even our biblical forefathers and mothers wondered, pondered and questioned.

Peter had to work hard to explain how the Holy Spirit was working that day of Pentecost – as we read that some were amazed and perplexed, while others were sneering.  Our psalmist is praising God for creation, but also contemplating the meaning of creatures like the sea monster, Leviathan.  (I often wonder about the mosquito!)  Paul, in our second reading, is exploring what it means to be “children of God” and how the Spirit joins us to God.

In our gospel reading, Jesus had just shared his now famous words about there being many rooms in the Father’s house, and that “From now on you do know [the Father] and have seen him.”  But Philip is unsure.  He needs more. “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

If our biblical forefathers and mothers wondered, pondered and questioned, then it’s more than alright for us to do as well.  So – back to my questions.  How do we find meaning in Pentecost?  How do we connect the dots between this 1st century happening and our 21st century lives?

Peter used the prophet Joel’s “old” words to help HIM and the crowd understand what was happening in THEIR present.  We too can use these “old” words in front of us to help US find meaning in, or understand, OUR present.

Jesus tells us quite a bit about the Holy Spirit in our gospel for today.  He calls the Holy Spirit “another Advocate.”  This Advocate he also calls the “Spirit of truth” who abides with us and IN us.  Jesus also tells us the Holy Spirit will “teach” us and “remind” us.

These things were true then, and they are true now.  Pentecost didn’t just happen 2,000 years ago.  Pentecost is happening today, among us, WITH us and IN us through Holy Baptism.

YOU and I “HAVE” the Holy Spirit within us, the spirit of God, the spirit of truth, through whom we are adopted children of God.

This Holy Spirit, OUR Holy Spirit, is WITH and IN us as individuals and as a community to teach us and help us remember.

The Holy Spirit may not manifest itself over our heads with flames, and many times we don’t realize the Spirit’s work in the present.  For me, it’s usually in retrospect that I can see how the Spirit was indeed working in my life.  So just because we may not “feel” it sometimes doesn’t mean it’s not there.  Jesus promised us the Spirit, and he doesn’t break promises.

So the Holy Spirit teaches us and reminds us – the Holy Spirit LEADS us.  St. Paul says this much in our second reading, “For all who are led by the Spirit…”  He goes on to say that since we are led by this spirit we “are children of God,” that we “have received a spirit of adoption.”

When someone is adopted, it is almost always initiated by a parent motivated through love.  Adoption is also a legally binding contract,just as meaningful as being a birth parent.  In fact, just two weeks ago in the tv show “Grey’s Anatomy” there was a custody battle, and the ADOPTIVE parent won over the birth parent.

God has made a covenant with us that we can never fully describe or understand – this covenant of adoption through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and in Holy Baptism that makes us God’s children – and through the gift of the Holy Spirit, poured out on those first disciples, and poured out on you and me.

It’s Pentecost.  So what?  I’ll tell you what.

Today is a day to celebrate God’s promise to you and me NOW, that God is with us JUST as powerfully as God was with those first disciples.

Praise God!  The Holy Spirit is WITH, IN and AMONG us still – teaching, reminding and leading us, all our days.

AMEN.

3rd Sunday of Easter, 2016

3rd Sunday of Easter, year C, 2016

first reading:  Acts 9:1-20

Psalm 30

second reading:  Revelation 5:11-14

gospel reading:  John 21:1-19


In today’s readings, one of the overarching themes we find is that of RECOGNITION.

Each of our readings show us many ways of recognizing the Lord, and seeing Jesus in one another and in community.

In our first reading there’s A LOT of recognizing going on.  Saul (who will later become the great St. Paul) hears a voice, but initially doesn’t know who it is.  When he says, “Lord” in verse 5, he doesn’t mean “Lord God,” he’s using the title more to mean “sir.”

But he learns soon enough.  This recognition is harsh.  Jesus blinds Saul, so that Saul can finally SEE who Jesus really is.

Then there’s Ananias.  Ananias know the Lord, and knows OF Saul.  He recognizes Saul’s reputation as a persecutor and recognizes the danger of meeting him.  But Ananias also recognizes the Lord’s power and authority.  And because he recognized that power and authority he was able to TRUST.  “Okay Lord, whatever you say.”

In fact, Ananias trusted the Lord’s words SO much that when he finally meets Saul, the first word out of his mouth is “brother.”  Ananias recognizes that the Lord has brought them together – these two men who were once enemies.

Our reading from Revelation is recognition from start to finish.  The whole book is about recognizing who God is – and here we have God praised in song!

God’s place on the throne is recognized, God’s sacrifice for us is recognized; God’s character of power, wealth, wisdom, and might are recognized.  And OUR place, and the place of every creature in heaven and on earth is recognized:  our place is to fall and worship.

Interesting fact:  almost 100 hymns in our hymnal get their inspiration from the book of Revelation.  It may be a confusing book for many of us, but the hymn-writers get it.  It tells us who God is.

Our gospel reading continues this theme of recognition plainly.  The disciples didn’t recognize Jesus, but when he performed a miracle of fish, the beloved disciple got it.  “It is the Lord!”  And then Peter gets to “undo” his earlier three denials – when he had refused to recognize Jesus – and proclaim three times, “I love you.”

Recognition.  I recognize you – on one level, as someone I know – and on another level, as someone I value.  And you recognize me.

If we consider ourselves followers of the Lord Jesus, we recognize him.  But since he won’t be helping us catch any fish anytime soon, or blinding us with light, we have to work a little harder to “see” him.

If we can’t recognize Jesus, then our relationship with him will be pretty empty.  It’s hard to have a relationship with someone you never hear from or see.

So, how do we, here in the 21st century recognize Jesus?

We recognize him where he promises to be.  And where is that?

11173340_1208991342450171_5284530707964794726_nJesus promises us he is present in the sacraments of the Church – Baptism and Holy Communion.

“This is my body,” isn’t some platitude.  We don’t completely understand it all, but in a mysterious holy way Jesus Christ IS here – in the water and the meal.

Jesus also promises that he is with us in worship.  “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt. 18:20)

This is why gathering for worship is so important in our lives as Christians.  Through our baptism Jesus puts us in a community.  We become part of the myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” – singing together, recognizing the Lord is HERE.  Right now.  There’s no substitute for it.

I’m not saying we can’t have God with us when we’re alone but there’s a value Jesus places in the community that is unparalleled, as flawed as we are.

And this is the other primary way we recognize Jesus – IN ONE ANOTHER.

Jesus tells us that he is IN us (John 14:20), and if he is in us, then how can we NOT recognize him in one another?

It’s not always easy.  We get tired.  Burned out.  Angry.  Frustrated.  Ours is an imperfect community.  As I said a few moments ago – we are flawed.  It’s hard to recognize Jesus in the noisy toddler or the pre-occupied teenager, or the stern elder.  It’s hard to recognize Jesus in the person we don’t like or in the one who doesn’t like us.  But Jesus told us, LOVE your enemies, and to pray for those who curse you. (Matt 5:44)

Not only that, but with this recognition of the Lord comes a mission.  In our gospel reading he tells Peter to feed and tend his sheep (JESUS’ sheep, not PETER’S!) – and “Follow me.”

Nowhere does Jesus promise us that discipleship would be easy.

So why do this thing?  Why do we follow?  We do we choose to try and recognize Jesus?  Why am I here? Why are YOU here?

I can only speak for myself.

I’m here because Jesus loves me – and you.  I’m here because I recognize and acknowledge that love.  His love for me, despite all my failures, gives me strength to get up another day.  I’m here because, even though community is a challenge, and I’ve had moments of disappointment, it is IN community that I have also received incredible support in joy and sorrow.

And as hard as it can be to recognize Jesus, especially in others, the alternative – to be turned inward, only thinking of myself – is just too destructive.  It isn’t the easy road, but it’s the best one.

I encourage each of you in love, as you recognize Jesus in your own life, to answer this question of “Why?”  Because in the process of doing so, you’ll perhaps find renewed purpose and focus – for your life in the Church – AND in the world.

AMEN


I must give some credit to my Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, who in her April column for the ELCA’s magazine, “Living Lutheran,” posed the question “Why?”

 

2nd Sunday of Easter, 2016

2nd Sunday of Easter, year C, 2016

first reading:  Acts 5:27-32

Psalm: 118:14-29

second reading:  Revelation 1:4-8

gospel reading:  John 20:19-31


I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but just in case you’ve forgotten – every year on the second Sunday of Easter we read the story of Thomas.  I opened my sermon file and groaned, “Thomas AGAIN.”  It’s a natural reaction to stories we think we know so well.

That’s a danger we all face when we look at well-known Bible stories – the tendency to read them quickly and assume we know all there is to know.  Thanks be to God that when we actually take some TIME with Scripture, many times God grants us new insight, and that’s what happened for me.

What I saw this week, with the help of my gospels professor who wrote a commentary on John’s gospel – is God coming to us in the midst of our frail human condition.

Thomas isn’t the focus when we look at it this way – Thomas is merely a reflection of us – just as the other disciples in the first half of the reading are a reflection of us.

We have two basic human emotions in this reading – FEAR and DOUBT.

In the first half we read, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…”

This was no irrational fear – this was real terror that had them locked in that house at night.  They had reason to fear. The same religious authorities that put Jesus to death might be coming for them next.

When you think about it, fear is a big controlling force in our lives.  I’m sure if I would ask you to think about all the things that make you afraid, you could name several.  Whether they’re things related to physical or mental health, finances, the well-being of loved ones, the political climate, crime both locally and globally – there’s plenty of things to fear.

My professor, Robert Kysar, summed it up like this:  “The point is less that [Jesus] can pass through locked doors than that he comes to believers in the midst of their human condition.”

And when Jesus comes to the disciples in the midst of their fear, what does he do?  Does he chastise them for not being faithful enough?  NO.  He gives them the gift of PEACE.  He says, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus comes in the midst of the turmoil and fear and speaks peace.  To OUR fear he speaks peace.

peace

In the second half of our reading Thomas is still reeling from grief.  What would we think if a group of friends told us that they had seen a deceased loved one ALIVE?  What do we think sometimes when we hear the Easter story of gruesome death and and empty tomb, Jesus walking and greeting Mary in the garden, and appearing to the disciples out of nowhere in a locked up house?

What do we think when we experience suffering in ourselves, our loved ones and in the world?  How can there be a God?  And if God DOES exist then why doesn’t God do something?  Thomas’ reaction is our reaction.  We’re incredulous.  We DOUBT.  Doubt can be painful.  It can be crippling.  It can leave us stuck and floundering.

When Jesus came to Thomas in the midst of his doubt, what does he do?  Does he rebuke Thomas for his lack of trust in the witness of the other disciples?  NO.  Jesus speaks to Thomas what he spoke to the other disciples the week before – PEACE.  Once again, he says, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus comes in the midst of the turmoil and doubt and speaks peace.  To OUR doubt he speaks peace.

peace

Jesus comes in the midst of our human condition, whatever it might be, and brings us peace.

Because life is messy.  Nowhere in the scriptures do we find perfect people in perfect circumstances. Perhaps Eden – but by the third chapter of Genesis that’s already messed up.

Scripture speaks to our lives in all its messiness.  Jesus speaks to us in our messiness.

We see this in all three of our readings today.  In Acts we see the conflicts that arose AFTER the disciples had unlocked the doors and let go of their fear.  John’s letter to the seven churches in the book of Revelation is written precisely because those communities were having great hardships.

Easter doesn’t mean we’ll have the perfect life.  Easter doesn’t mean life won’t be messy.  Our gospel today gives us the examples of FEAR and DOUBT as things we confront.

What Easter DOES give us is a way to live WITH our fear and doubts and all the other messiness.  And that way is PEACE.  

To quote my professor again:  “The wholeness and fulfillment of Christian life is summarized in THIS word, and it is presented as a gift from the risen Christ.”

And this peace isn’t a cure-all.  A week after being given this peace, the disciples had only progressed a little – from locking themselves in to simply having the doors SHUT.  It would be a while yet before they would become the bold evangelists we find in the book of Acts.

  • PEACE from a Christian perspective isn’t simply the absence of conflict.
  • PEACE is the presence and strength of God within us.
  • PEACE is knowing that despite the messiness we are loved by a gracious God.
  • PEACE is being reassured that through the Holy Spirit the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us.
  • PEACE is God’s promise that we are NEVER alone.  In all our fears and doubts, Jesus is with us.

Peace may not change the circumstances around us, but I believe peace DOES change US.

So, as Jesus spoke to his disciples, I speak to you now, and after the prayer of the Church we will speak to each other, “Peace be with you.”

Peace.

peace

AMEN.


quotations from John:  Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament.  Robert Kysar, Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, 1986.

2nd Sunday after Epiphany, 2016

2nd Sunday after Epiphany, year C, 2016 (preached 1/17/16)

first reading:  Isaiah 62:1-5

Psalm 36:5-10

second reading:  1 Corinthians 12:1-11

gospel reading:  John 2:1-11


Today the lectionary presents us with weddings.  The institution of it and the joy of it.

Marriage is an important part of our culture.  Perhaps not as much as it used to be – more people are choosing to remain single, and others don’t feel the need for the state or Church to legalize their relationships.  But, in general, we have a culture that values marriage.

Things were quite different in the time of Isaiah and when Jesus walked the earth.  Marriage was EVERYTHING.  For a woman it offered protection and security.  For a man it was the way to provide legitimate heirs.  How much love played into it depended on the individuals, but to be married was the goal for everyone.  To be alone was culturally “second rate.”

This is why Isaiah uses marriage to describe Judah’s future.  They will go from “forsaken” and “desolate” to delightfully married, and God will rejoice.  The same attitudes of marriage were present in the time when Jesus was born and lived among us.  Weddings brought two individuals together, brought two families together, brought the whole community together, and were a sign of hope for the future.

Weddings are wonderful and special.  In Jesus’ day they could last up to a week!  In our day we have a party, we take pictures, we remember the day every year.  And yet, at the same time, weddings are pretty ordinary.  I mean, people get married all the time.

Over 2.1 million couples got married in 2014 in the United States.  That’s almost 6,000 weddings a DAY.

Isaiah’s vision of a nation restored, legitimized and filled with joy,  and the setting for Jesus’ first miracle in the gospel of John, tell us something wonderful about how God operates.

Many times we think that for something to be holy it has to be unique, ULTRA special, EXTRA ordinary – something set apart.  And while it’s true that holy things are things set apart, what makes them holy is the function they serve.  No thing is inherently holy.  It’s what we DO with a thing that makes it holy.

Over 6,000 marriages a day, nothing special about that.  But God gives us a message through using this example in Isaiah and John.  And the message is this – that God can and does take what is everyday and ordinary and make it holy.

Through the marriage imagery in Isaiah, and Jesus’ attendance and first miracle at a marriage banquet, we learn the God wants to take things familiar to us and use them to help us experience the divine.

A wedding may be commonplace, and even if it takes place at city hall, invoking God’s name and blessing makes it a holy thing.  Our meeting here together this morning in and of itself is not a holy thing.  People meet together all the time:  at the grocery store, a concert, the doctor’s office, at restaurants, the senior center.  But when we meet and call on God’s name, to praise God and hear God’s Word, then it becomes worship, and worship is holy.

IMG_0879I drank a glass of water this morning.  Thank goodness that for most of us here, water is an everyday ordinary thing.  We turn on the faucet and it’s there like magic.  My glass of water was not holy.  But God decided that the act by which you and I would become God’s children would involve simple everyday water.

Again, God using an ordinary everyday thing to make a holy connection to us – a holy covenant.  Because when God’s Word is spoken over everyday water, it becomes in the words of Martin Luther, “a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water.” (Book of Concord, Tappert ed, Large Catechism, p. 438)

We eat and drink every day.  It’s one of the first things we do as a newborn, and one of the last things we will do before we die.  Once again God chooses one of our most ordinary activities to make holy.

11173340_1208991342450171_5284530707964794726_nIn the Old Testament God instituted the Passover – in the New Testament Jesus gives us the new covenant through the eating and drinking of holy communion.  Everyday substances of bread and wine, that when joined with God’s Word, become for us a sacrament of forgiveness.  Jesus took the bread, took the cup, blessed them and made them holy.

Over and over again, God takes the things we KNOW – the things we experience in our daily lives – and uses them to form and keep a relationship with us, and to strengthen our relationships to one another.  Because God knows we are both spiritual AND earthly people.

We cannot disconnect from our human senses, and so God USES those senses – sight, touch, taste, hearing and even smell – to connect with us.

Indeed God loved us SO much, want to be so intimately involved with our lives and way of living, that God chose to be among us.  God chose to be born and live with us, to experience the joy of a wedding, the relaxation of eating with friends, the death of a loved one, and even death itself – all out of love for you and me.

It’s an amazing thing – that God stoops so low, indeed Jesus BECAME an ordinary person, to meet us in love.

Because Jesus lived among us, God understands first hand our humanity and how it works.  It’s wonderful, and I’m so grateful, that God uses the things we find familiar, in order to form and keep us in faith.

We don’t have to travel to some far off place to find what is holy, we don’t have to conjure up complicated potions, we don’t have to perform great athletic feats, we don’t have to be perfect people to find the holy.

God comes to us in Jesus – with water, with bread and wine, saying, “where two or three are gathered together in my name.”

May we recognize him in these moments, in these things, and give thanks.

AMEN.

 

7th Sunday of Easter, 2015

7th Sunday of Easter, year B, 2015 (preached 5/17/15)

first reading:  Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Psalm 1

second reading:  1 John 5:9-13

gospel:  John 17:6-19


 

Don’t you just love St. John?  Don’t you just love the way he present Jesus’ words – so clear, so plain? Don’t you just love the way he has Jesus spell everything out for us, so that we can easily understand what he means?

I hope you realize I’m being sarcastic.

Our gospel reading for today is one of those that you have to read over and over again, very carefully, before you even start to decipher what Jesus was trying to say.

It’s no wonder that people get frustrated with reading the Bible.  When we come to passages like this one, it’s easier to just give up and grab for the newspaper than to try and follow the maze of Jesus’ thoughts.

I wish sometimes that St. John’s gospel could be more like St. Mark’s – just give us the main point and get on with it.  But we can’t beat up on John too much, because in the end, there’s something to be said for his style – for the way in which he records Jesus’ words.

When I was learning Greek in seminary, the language in which the New Testament was written, our professor told us that one of many reasons to learn Greek was so we would be forced to read the passages slowly.

When we can read them quickly, we tend to skip details that might be important – or assume we know what a passage means without really thinking about it.  For example, one word, when carefully looked at, can change the whole meaning of a passage – or open it up for us, when it first appears confusing.

And that’s what I want to do this morning.

There are words and phrases that Jesus says repeatedly in this prayer to the Father, and I want to concentrate on one – GIVING.

“Those whom you gave me… you gave them to me… everything you have given me… words that you gave to me, I have given them…” and so on.

WE READ VARIOUS TENSES OF THE WORD “GIVE” NINE TIMES IN JUST SEVEN VERSES.

Give (1)

There is a pattern we discover when we look carefully and slowly at how Jesus uses this word, a pattern which says something important about the way our lives and faith should be shaped.

First – the Father gives to Jesus.  Then, Jesus receives the gifts.

And what does Jesus do with the gifts the Father has given to him – the word, the truth, the joy, the unity?  Does he keep all these gifts to himself?

NO.  As he received from the Father, he himself gives away.  He passes it on.

In verse 8 we read a good summary of this.  Jesus says, “…for the words that you gave to me, I have given them, and they have received them…”

This is a good model for you and me.  As God gave to Jesus, so Jesus gives to us.  Everything we have, everything we ARE, comes from God – everything down to the gift of life itself.  And when we receive from Jesus it is then our calling to pass it on, just as Jesus did.  We extend what we are given to those around us.

Unfortunately though, in our society, we are constantly tempted to act otherwise.

It’s in our nature.  Just think of how hard it is to teach children to share.  It’s a never-ending battle.  And it can be just as hard for grown-ups.  But the consequences when grown-ups don’t share are considerably greater than the consequences for not sharing the building blocks or matchbox cars.

When grown-ups can’t or won’t share, or give away, people usually suffer and/or DIE.

Poverty comes when we won’t share our wealth – hunger comes when we won’t share our food – wars come usually when we won’t share the land or the power.

ABOUTMEGiving or sharing can be especially hard when we believe that the accumulation of money or “things” will bring us joy.  Just drive this car, wear these clothes, get this nice big house – and you’ll have it all. Giving or sharing is hard when we’re brought up with messages like “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps.”

Giving or sharing is hard when we’re jealous of those who have “more,” and when we live in a culture that preaches a gospel of self-fulfillment and egoism.  What’s most important is what feels good for me. I am not my brother’s keeper (although we KNOW what God thought about THAT excuse!).

When we’re bombarded with messages that tell us to keep things for ourselves, and to look with disdain on those we deem less fortunate – that somehow their LACK of success is a symptom of laziness or inherently inferior – it becomes hard to give anything away.

As a result we become isolated from one another.  But God NEVER intends for us to lock ourselves away from each other.

God does not want us to be so protective of our stuff and ourselves, that we lose out on the joy of relationships – with one another AND with God.  God doesn’t want us to hoard our God–given gifts, but to share them – to give them away.

As we receive, so we give – and not to focus on the human approval of the receiver, but on our spiritual NEED to give.  PERIOD.

After all, Jesus didn’t make our “deserving” a requirement for his giving, did he?  In fact, he gave himself precisely because we DIDN’T deserve it!

As the Father gave to Jesus, as Jesus gives to us, so we are to give to one another.  At the end of our reading Jesus makes this clear by saying that just as HE was sent, he now sends US.

“For the words that you gave me, I have given to them…”  “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent THEM into the world.”

Let us go then, and give to all around us what was first given us –

the Word of Life, the Word of Truth, the Word made flesh – Jesus Christ our Lord.

hands

AMEN.