Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sermon; Epiphany 6C; Luke 6:17-26

Today we get Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount, albeit with a few differences: this version is given on a plain, or level place, not a mountain; Luke records four blessings and four woes, unlike Matthew's nine blessings and no woes; and Luke's version is much, much shorter.

As we move through this Epiphany season we have been focusing on the ways in which Jesus is manifested to the world. Ways such as a star, foreigners and gifts; a voice from heaven and the Holy Spirit; wine to water; Jesus moving outside accepted borders; and our response to the call of Jesus as being an epiphany moment for someone else. But as we move deeper into the Epiphany season, and as we move farther away from the Feast of the Epiphany, those revealings and God-moments are getting harder and harder to see, let alone find.

In the first part of today's passage we hear that Jesus heals anyone and everyone of illnesses and demons. Obviously there is a revealing and manifestation of Jesus in those healings. How many of them began with the line, “Do you believe I can heal you?” and how many end with, “Your faith has made you well,” we don't know, but in these healings there is certainly a revealing of Jesus as one who has dominion over both physical and spiritual realms.

The second part of today's lesson consists of Luke's version of the Beatitudes – four blessings and four woes. Among other things, this is reminiscent of the blessings and curses laid out before Israel by Moses in Deut. 11:36-28.

But this version is also a reiteration or further explanation of the Magnificat – “My soul magnifies the Lord . . . he has scattered the proud . . . he has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you. Woe to you who are rich . . . woe to you who are full . . . woe to you who are laughing now . . . woe to you when all speak well of you.”

You could look at this and wonder how Jesus is manifested or revealed in this second half of the gospel. You could wonder where the God-moment is in here. Because, looking around, it wouldn't appear Jesus is revealed in any of these. The poor are still with us, and growing in numbers. The hungry also continue to rise in numbers, as do all those suffering from all kinds of mental illness and depression. And the level of hate towards others not like us, especially hatred towards non-whites, is also on the rise. The woes Jesus speaks of almost come across as a sort of “Just wait, you'll be repaid someday” Karma-type threat.

So how is Jesus manifested in this passage?

Just before today's passage, Luke tells us that Jesus went out to the mountain to pray. After spending the night in prayer, he gathered all the disciples around him and chose twelve to be apostles. After this he comes down and begins healing and preaching – where we are today.

We are coming to the end of the Epiphany season. Today's gospel is what I call “the bridge” passage between the first several weeks of the season and the last few weeks of the season. Today's passage moves from seeing Jesus manifested through miracles and signs to seeing Jesus manifested through us.

I touched on this last week when I said, “It just may be that Christ isn't made known to the world through miraculous deeds, but in how others see you respond to his call.”

Today we more explicitly move in that direction. Yes, we have the story of all those healings, but then we move into the sermon – the blessings and woes. And here we have both a realized situation and a hoped-for situation; the way things are and the way they could be.

It's significant that this story comes after Jesus names the twelve apostles. Apostles are those who are sent. These twelve will be sent out to do the work of Christ and proclaim the kingdom of God. Later, seventy-two disciples will be sent out to do the same thing. And at the time of the Ascension, the apostles will be sent out to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to all the ends of the earth. Today's gospel is setting us up to see that Jesus is not only manifested in those miraculous deeds he did, but in our participation in the kingdom of God.

For Christ to be made manifest in our world, we need to work against poverty, we need to feed the hungry, we need to bring laughter to those who mourn, we need to let people know that this is a place where they are loved regardless of what the world might tell them. When we do that, the rich will complain that we are stealing from them. Those who have much will experience the pain of having less, those who laugh will have their eyes opened to sorrow.

This is the leveling out proclaimed in the Magnificat and in the words of Jesus. This is the raising up of those in the valleys and deep places, and the lowering of the high and lofty. For those being raised up, it is good news. For those being lowered, it can seem like terrible news. But how terrible is it when all people are seen and treated equally not only in the eyes of God, but in the eyes of their fellow humans?

This manifestation of Christ to the world is about change as much as anything else. Christ changed the water to wine. Christ changed the way we see outsiders. How are these epiphanies changing you? How are you helping Christ change the world?

Today is the bridge story of Epiphany where we move from Jesus performing the miraculous to us helping proclaim the Good News and changing the world. For some, this is a blessing. For others it will seem like a woe. And in the end we shall all be unified in Christ. But getting to that point will be the biggest miracle of all.


Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sermon; Epiphany 5C; Luke 5:1-11

We continue with the theme of the manifestation, revealing, epiphany, of Jesus as God incarnate. At this point in Luke's story, Jesus has established himself as a person worthy of following and listening to. He is on the shore of the lake and a large crowd was pushing in on him to hear the word of God. So we have a manifestation of Jesus as a prophet who speaks God's truth. And he has become very popular.

While speaking to a crowd by the sea, there are so many people that he finds a boat just so he can have room to preach. He finds Simon's boat and asks to put out a little ways where he teaches the crowd. After finishing, he instructs Simon to head out into deep water and cast his nets. Simon protests a little, but then says, “At your word.” This is Simon's second appearance in Luke's gospel, but it is his first major role and his first speaking part. He obviously doesn't have it figured out, but it does appear that Jesus has been revealed to him through his preaching. Note that Simon is convinced enough to say, “At your word.” It's in the word of the Lord where Jesus is often first revealed.

And it's here that we get the miraculous catch. This is not only similar to the post-resurrection story of catching fish that is found over in John's gospel, but also hearkens back to Elijah and Elisha who also had miraculous stories of providing, both of whom provided for widows and their children. So here we have a revealing of Jesus as a person intimately tied to the power of God.

Simon manages to put two and two together – the word Jesus preached and the miraculous catch of fish – and begs Jesus to leave him because he is a sinful man. Jesus has been revealed to him as a holy man of God, and in the presence of that holiness Simon recognizes his own sinfulness. When in the presence of the holy God, this is the typical reaction – asking to be left alone or for God to go away.

When Isaiah was in the presence of God, he cried out, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.” When Jeremiah was called by God, he said, “I don't know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” In other words, when God is revealed to us up close and personal, we often have a response much like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Simon – “Go away from me.”

One of the problems we have with epiphanies or revealings or manifestations is we expect them to be these big “Aha!” moments. We expect a star and gifts. We expect a voice from heaven. We expect water to wine. But epiphany moments aren't always that clear or that big.

Sure, we got the miraculous catch of fish, but remember this was paired with the word Jesus preached. These epiphanies, manifestations, God-moments, should do more than astound us. They are more than just seeing a miraculous catch of fish. They are more than hearing a voice from heaven. They are more than seeing water changed to wine. They are about change. How do these epiphany God-moments change us?

Simon was changed from a fisherman to a fisher of men. He became actively involved in the work of Christ. After journeying with Jesus for three years, he would become pivotal in the spread of the gospel.

Going back to today's story, Simon self-identifies as a sinner. But that doesn't stop Jesus from inviting him to join him. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus says. Do not be afraid that your sins disqualify you. Do not be afraid to be in the presence of the holy. Do not be afraid to change. Do not be afraid to catch people.

When they returned to shore, Simon left everything behind and followed Jesus. He bought into the God-moment and took the first steps toward discipleship and change. And he took those first steps to catching people and helping manifest God in Christ to those with whom he encountered.

But it wasn't just Simon who experienced an epiphany. James and John also had the same experience. In Luke, James and John are business partners with Simon. After making this large catch, Simon calls out to the brothers to come help. Jesus announces to Simon that he will now catch people; and after getting back to shore, he leaves his business behind to follow Jesus.

Note that it's not only Simon who follows, but also the brothers. Even though Jesus was speaking directly to Simon, the others believe that they are also called to follow. And it may be that this is the most important part of the story.

You and I are different. You and your pew mate or neighbor are different. This parish is different from other parishes, both Episcopal and otherwise. We all hear the words of Jesus differently, and we all respond differently. So just because we believe Jesus is speaking directly to us does not mean that others can't hear that call and respond.

Simon could've easily asked why James and John were allowed to come along when Jesus was obviously speaking to him. But he didn't. Over in another gospel, Jesus says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold, but they will hear my voice and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

The God-moment, the manifestation, the revealing of Christ in this epiphany story may be the miraculous catch of fish. But it may also be the fact that others heard the call to discipleship even though not directly addressed.

This is the Epiphany season. This is the season of the manifestation of Christ to the world. It just may be that Christ isn't made known to the world through miraculous deeds but in how others see you respond to his call.


Sunday, February 03, 2019

Sermon; Epiphany 4C; Luke 4:21-30

After last week's side trip into Corinthians and Paul's comparison of the Church to the body – many but one, individual members united in purpose – and how that related to the annual meeting, we are back in the gospel. As we spend time with these passages, we can see a theme within them. That theme is the manifestation of Christ as Son of God, epiphanies, revealings, God-moments. The Epiphany season is all about revealing who Jesus is, if only we have eyes to see.

Our previous gospel passages had the foreign kings and their gifts, the baptism of Christ, water turned to wine, and a fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah. In those it is relatively easy to see manifestations, revealings, and God-moments. Today, though, it's a little bit harder.

Today we get the immediate follow up to last week: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. Today, in his hometown, people speak well of him. Sort of. They wonder where this son of Joseph got this wisdom. And Jesus, aware of their doubts and unbelief, returns tit for tat.

“Surely you will say, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will want me to do here what I did there.” And then he reaches back into the Hebrew scriptures and pulls up stories from two of Israel's greatest prophets, Elijah and Elisha.

There was a 3-1/2 year drought in Israel, but Elijah went to a Gentile widow at Zarephath in Sidon; and there were many lepers in Israel, but only Naaman the Syrian, a Gentile foreigner, was cured by Elisha.

This scriptural history lesson so enraged the people that they hauled Jesus out to the edge of town in order to throw him off the cliffs and be done with him. Where's the epiphany in that? Where's the revealing of who Jesus is? Where's the God-moment here? Because Jesus certainly can't be revealed as the Son of God by the actions of an angry mob, can he? Or is it in the way Jesus seems to do some Jedi mind trick in order to walk back to safety? “I am not the prophet you are looking for.”

The God-moment here isn't found in the mob or in Jesus' calm walk to freedom. Instead it's found in the appeal to scripture. Jesus referenced Elijah and Elisha, but I want to go a little deeper.

In Genesis 12, God told Abram to go forth and he would make him a great nation. “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” In Leviticus 19, God commands the Israelites to not oppress aliens who live among them, to treat them as citizens, and to love them. In Deuteronomy 24, the Israelites are commanded to not deprive aliens of justice. Ruth is the story of a foreigner being welcomed into Israel. Not only that, but there were four generations from Ruth the Moabite to David, a direct contradiction of Deuteronomy 23:3. Elijah provided food and oil for the widow at Zarephath, a foreigner. Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian, a foreigner. God saved the Ninevites, all foreigners, after Jonah prophesied for them to repent. Psalm 72 sings of foreign kings paying tribute and all nations honoring God.

I could go on, but you get the idea. In example after example, scripture shows us that God is equally concerned with the foreigner and outcast as he is with those who claim God as their own, whether Israelite or Christian.

Today's gospel, coupled with last week's, gets at the heart of this. Jesus travels throughout the countryside, preaching and teaching, eventually coming to his hometown. After reading the passage from Isaiah – the Spirit of the Lord is upon me to proclaim release, give sight, free the oppressed – he calls them out for thinking all this applies only to them. Remember the widow in Zarephath. Remember Naaman the Syrian. Know that nothing in the passage from Isaiah focuses solely on you, but is universal in nature. It speaks to both Israelite and Gentile.

Jesus' recognition of the universality of God's love and freedom so upset those around him that they turned on him and threatened to kill him. This is the God-moment, the revealing, in today's passage – that God is universal in nature.

In this book I'm reading for an upcoming clergy day, the author makes the case that too many Christians see church and Jesus as being about ME. It's about MY salvation. It's about ME getting to heaven. It's about MY personal relationship with God and Jesus. When in reality, he says, this whole Christian endeavor is about the future of the world. It's about a new heaven and a new earth for ALL people. It's about participating in God's universal creativity so that the prisoners are freed, the blind see, the poor are fed, the homeless are sheltered, the lonely are befriended, etc. etc. etc.

It was Jesus' alignment with God's universality that got him in trouble. It was his alignment with God's universality that got him run out of town.

One of my commentaries has an interesting take on this. The author says that Jesus doesn't go elsewhere because he is rejected; but that he is rejected because he goes elsewhere.

Epiphany is all about manifestations and God moments that reveal Jesus to be the Son of God. Sometimes they are powerful and wonderful moments – like the star and wise men, or the theophany at the baptism, or the miracle in Cana – that can make us say, “Of course he's the Son of God.” And sometimes they are powerful and wonderful moments that can threaten us and make us say, “Just who does he think he is?” Today is one such moment.

Today, like that day in his hometown, we are confronted with a man who is so in tune with God that he isn't afraid to challenge notions of ownership. Today we are confronted with a God-moment that challenges us to see God active beyond our borders and reaching out to all people.

Today's gospel reminds us that we can either attempt to control Jesus and keep him for ourselves in our little corner of the world, or we can have an epiphany, a God-moment, and see that God is the God of all, seen and unseen, and work to make the universality of God and Jesus a reality.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Sermon; Epiphany 3C; 1 Cor. 12:12-31a

I'm going to depart from the gospel today. Even though we are in the Epiphany season, even though we are looking for those revealings, those manifestations, those God-moments when Jesus is made known, and even though we have one of those today when Jesus proclaims he is the fulfillment of a prophetic reading, I want to skip over to the reading from 1st Corinthians.

The reason for Paul's first letter to the Corinthians was because he has been made aware of a variety of issues and conflicts within that church. Rival groups are vying for control, there's an indifference to immoral behavior, and a marginalizing of the less fortunate are just a few of the issues Paul needs to address. I can't say the church is in total disarray, but there are a variety of issues that certainly need to be addressed.

Paul tackles these problems one-by-one through the letter. The issue this section addresses was that of which gift is more important. In other words, the people of Corinth were trying to one-up each other in an effort to claim primacy within the church. It would be like today if we began fighting about whether the choir, acolytes, vestry, etc. were the most important people in our parish. Today's passage is part of Paul's response to this bit of parish infighting.

Remember, we are all members of one body. We were all baptized into the one body of Christ Jesus. But just because we are one body does not mean that we are all the same. The foot can't say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not part of the body.” An ear can't say, “Because I am not an eye, I don't belong.”

Likewise, the eye can't say to the ear, “I have no need of you.” Nor can the hand say to the foot, “I have no need of you.”

So it is with the church. We are all members of this one body, but with varying gifts, talents, and skills. If we were all good at repairing the building, where would our choir be? If we were all good with finances, who would staff Community Cafe? All of us together make up this particular incarnation of the body of Christ as reflected in St. John's. It takes all of us to be who we are; therefore none of us can say, “I don't belong,” and none of us can say, “I don't need you.”

Because the truth is that we are one body. Like the hand and foot need each other and belong together, we also need each other and belong together.

Why bring this up now? Well, for starters, it's always good to be reminded that we are in this together. But probably more importantly, because today is our annual meeting. After service today we will gather downstairs in Trimble Hall for a potluck meal and then begin the business of the church. We will elect four new Vestry members. We will review the budget (which is in better shape than you might think). We will review services conducted. And we will hear from and read multiple reports from our various commissions.

What all of this reminds us of is this section from Paul's letter to the Corinthians – though we are many members, there is but one body in Christ Jesus. It takes all of us, in our many and varied talents and skills, to allow St. John's to be the dynamic and vital image of Christ that it is.

And lest we leave it at that, let us also pay attention to the end of this section in the letter:

May we have the same care for one another. If one suffers, we all suffer; if one is honored, we all rejoice.

We are one body. But we are not all preachers. We are not all financial wizards. We are not all cooks. We are not all choristers. So while we are not all one thing but many things, we are all members of the one body. And as members of the one body, may we continually strive for the greater gift, which is love.

As we prepare to do the business of the parish, let us remember that we who are many are one body; and let us strive to do the work of the church in love.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sermon; Epiphany 2C; John 2:1-11

Last week was the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Because the snow kept most of you away, I want to give a brief recap. For those who were here, be patient for a minute.

Think back to last summer/fall when our gospel lessons came primarily from Mark. Back then I said that almost every passage had a particular focus. Do you remember what that was? It was focused on the cross. And when I preached the series on Ephesians, I pointed out that that letter had a particular shape. Do you remember what that was? It was a funnel. I brought up Mark and Ephesians because I wanted to remind you that, while you may not remember specific sermons, you do remember themes.

Epiphany also has a theme which I will touch on throughout the season. That theme is one of revealing, manifestations, sudden revelations, and of God moments that are used to point out who Jesus really is. On Epiphany it was the manifestation of Christ, the recognition of Jesus by the wise men. There was also a God moment in their dream and avoidance of Herod. Last week it was obviously the baptism of Christ, the descending Holy Spirit, and the voice from heaven. It was also a recognition that the chaff which is to be burned with unquenchable fire is not bad people, or non-Christians, or the wrong kind of Christians, but is the outer shell of our fallen humanity that hides the wheat, the “who we really are in Christ.”

This epiphany, revealing, God moment theme will continue all through the season, so pay attention. And now we are caught up.

Today we have the story of the miracle at the wedding in Cana. This is traditionally the first miracle attributed to Jesus and is one that makes every college student wish they knew Jesus. This is one of those big revealings, epiphanies, and God moments I'm talking about. But God moments aren't always big and obvious, so we need to look a little deeper.

In one of my recent Wednesday Words I ruminated on our new clothes hanger. So far we're actually using it for what it was intended. While I was running on it last week I was listening to a podcast called, “At the Intersection of East and West.” It's a series with a Protestant pastor and an Orthodox priest and they look for areas of commonality. The episode I was listening to dealt with liturgy. In particular with the pastor's discovery of liturgy, liturgical resources, chant, etc. In other words, everything we consider normal. The priest talked about liturgy as something that washes over you and helps orient your life.

He told the story of one particular confession he made that he wasn't saying his morning prayers as he should. He told his confessor that he just didn't have the time because he's busy getting ready for work – showering, shaving, dressing, brushing teeth, etc.

“Why do you do those things?” his confessor asked.

“Because if I don't, I feel dirty. I mean, not brushing your teeth is gross.”

“What you do, then, is perform your own liturgy of getting ready for the day.”

In other words, everything you do on a routine basis washes over you. It shapes you. It can form you. You can have good liturgies and bad liturgies. But as they wash over you, they don't always make an immediate impact or change in your life. Sometimes it takes awhile to see any results. Like the liturgy of the elliptical, or the liturgy of daily prayer. These aren't quick fixes that change us in an instant. That's magic. These are things we do that shape and form us over time. So as we perform these liturgies – whether the liturgy of the elliptical, the liturgy of the Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer), the liturgy of the Eucharist, or some other liturgy we perform – we are slowly shaped and transformed into a new creation.

Jesus and his disciples were invited to a wedding in Cana. This is well-before Jesus began doing Jesus-y things, so I'm going to say that he and the disciples were invited simply because it was a small town and everybody knew everybody. I've lived in a small, rural town and events like this can seem like everyone is there. Which makes it plausible that the wine for the party ran out.

Either way, Jesus is there with his disciples and, apparently, his mother. And it's Mary who tells him the wine has run out. There's a little back and forth between the two with Jesus eventually relenting and doing something about it. That something is this miracle. What he does is have six jars filled with water, then he orders some water drawn out and taken to the chief steward. By the time the water gets to the steward it has been changed into wine.

This is the epiphany. This is the revealing. This is the God moment. Not that water was miraculously changed into wine (although there is that) but that the water was transformed into a new creation. In other words, we can see the results of the miraculous, but we can't describe how it occurred.

In today's story, we are the water. In today's story, Jesus is calling for the water to be brought to him. Like the water, we are being called into his presence. And when we come into his presence we will be changed into something good. We will be transformed into new wine.

When, exactly, this happens (like with the water) we don't know. But, if we pay attention, I do think we can describe how it happens.

It happens by being called into Christ's presence. It happens by participation in the liturgy. It happens by our daily, liturgical routines – prayer, worship, study – that wash over us, shape us, and transform us.

As we look at this first miracle, don't get so focused on the miracle that you miss the God moment. Because the God moment isn't necessarily the miracle as it is the transformation over time from being called into Christ's presence.

Communion is often referred to as being a foretaste of the great wedding banquet of Christ and the Church. This liturgical act of participating in Holy Communion is the wedding in Cana. Christ has been invited to the party, and he himself is calling us into his presence.

How are you being transformed? Because that's the real epiphany. That's the real God moment.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sermon; Epiphany 1C; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, or, the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Epiphany is just that – a manifestation, a revealing, a sudden understanding. On that day what was manifested, what was revealed, what we may suddenly understand, is that God has come among us. The eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, God, creator of all that is, seen and unseen, has become incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.

This is a big deal. That God became man is a huge deal. We celebrate and recognize that this event was recognized by non-Jewish foreigners, a group of people we call the wise men. They knew it was a big deal when they saw the star. Herod knew it was a big deal when they showed up at the palace. And we know it's a big deal because with the incarnation we have a focal point, an intersection, where God and man meet. We have a point where the infinite becomes finite, and where the finite learns about infinity. This is a big deal.

So here I'm going to interject a question or two: Last summer/fall our gospel passages were primarily taken from Mark. As we made our way through that gospel I said that what we heard almost always focused on one thing. Do you remember what that one thing was? It was the cross. And as we worked our way through Ephesians, I said that letter had a particular shape. Do you remember what that was? It was the shape of a funnel.

I bring up Mark and Ephesians because it proves that, while you may not remember specific sermons, you do remember the overall themes of those sermons. When you hear or read from Mark, you know he's focused on the cross, and you look for how the cross manifests itself in the passage. When you hear or read from Ephesians you will be able to envision that funnel coming down from God, or you you might invert that funnel and broadcast God's message, love, and mission, to the world around you.

Epiphany also has a theme, and that is the manifestation of Christ to the world. It begins on the actual feast day with the wise men following the star to Bethlehem and their recognition that Jesus was the foretold king of the Jews. Their God moment, or Epiphany, came both when they arrived at 204 East Main St. in Bethlehem to present their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There was another God moment when they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod.

The gospel readings through the Epiphany season are full of God moments, of manifestations, of epiphanies, that reveal Jesus to be God incarnate. So for the next seven Sundays we're going to be looking for those God moments.

Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany, otherwise known as the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Obviously there's a big God moment when, after Jesus had been baptized, the heaven opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon him, and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased.” It almost doesn't get any more momentous than that.

But besides that, where might there be a God moment in this passage?

As I said, today is the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. As you know by now, this is one of the days properly appointed for baptism. Since we have none, we renew our vows. Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship? When you fall into sin, will you repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim the Good New of God in Christ? Will you love your neighbor as yourself? Will you respect the dignity of every human being?

This covenant, and all that is in it, is basically the outline of us trying to live in holy communion with God and others. This covenant is setting the stage for a transformation of our pre-baptismal life into our post-baptismal life. In trying to live into this covenant we are trying to remove the shell of our fallen humanity in an effort to let our godly image out. This is the God moment in today's gospel passage.

John is down at the river baptizing and proclaiming one greater than he is to follow. This person will gather the wheat into his granary and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. Unfortunately this passage has been used to condemn people to hell, or to try and scare the hell out of people. Both are wrong.

John was baptizing people in an effort to get them to change their manner of life. Remember back in Advent when tax collectors and soldiers came to him asking, “What should we do?” His answer, in essence, was to love your neighbor, strive for justice, and respect the dignity of every human being. He was attempting to get people to make a change. He was attempting to get people to remove the shell of their fallen humanity so that the image of God as found in them could come out. He was looking to begin removing the chaff.

Chaff, for those who don't know, is the outer, protective husk of the seed. It has no nutritional value to humans, and is often burned after being separated from the seed. Once freed from the chaff, the seed can be planted, where it will grow, or be used for food, where it can nourish our bodies.

The God moment here isn't a hellfire and brimstone sermon threatening some with the eternal fires of hell. The God moment here is that, through our baptism, God is working to separate our hard, useless, outer shell to free that which will be helpful, productive, and beautiful for the kingdom.

Today we renew our baptismal vows in an effort to release our God-given nature from the protective shell of our fallen humanity. Today we take one more step in drawing nearer to God. And today we begin looking for those God moments, those epiphanies, in our everyday lives.

The incarnation is a big deal. Where will you find God moments manifested in the world around you? Keep your eyes open, because you never know where they'll show up.


Monday, December 24, 2018

Sermon; Christmas Eve 2018

Christmas Eve 2018

To borrow and paraphrase from Prince: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here tonight to talk about this thing called life. Electric word, life . . .

This line from Prince came to mind because this very-familiar gospel passage is full of life.

I was at a meeting last week listening to someone discuss a lecture he had heard regarding the actual date of Jesus' birth. I always find this fascinating because to me, it doesn't really matter. I understand that the probability of Jesus actually being born on December 25 is infinitesimally small; but as I said, “It doesn't much matter to me.” Nor does it matter that early Christianity may have . . . borrowed . . . December 25 to make it more accessible to the surrounding society. What matters is that Jesus was born. At all.

So I'm listening to this conversation about the date of Jesus' birth and the scholar being discussed gave a date in March. His reasoning was that lambs are born in the spring and this is the only time that shepherds would be out in the fields watching over their flocks – because they needed to protect the lambs from predators. If the scholar is right, it would make for an interesting theological point that the man we refer to as “Lamb of God” was born at the same time as the lambs in the field. But that's another sermon.

Today we are gathered here to talk about life.

Jesus was born. The when is not important. What's important is that Jesus was born. He was born like we all were – small and vulnerable. His birth was not . . . how shall I say it . . . sterile or airbrushed. It was probably loud. It was fraught with peril, as infant morality was a very real concern. And like the shepherds in the field protected their sheep and lambs, Mary and Joseph were there to protect Jesus.

He was born and it was electric.

On the Church calendar, Christmas tends to take second place to Easter. After all, Easter has that whole, “died and rose again” thing going for it. But Easter can't, or couldn't, happen without Christmas. Because it was at Christmas where God became a man who lived among us, and it was that man who was crucified and would eventually destroy death by his resurrection. But to get there, we need to start here.

We need to start here with the birth of Christ. We need to start here with the Incarnation of God. We need to start here in the messiness of life.

It starts here because unlike other hero/god stories, Jesus didn't appear fully formed out of somebody's head. It starts here because Jesus wasn't part of a godly pantheon, the result of a union between deities. It starts there because Jesus was indeed fully human, and humans begin as tiny beings who need to be fed, cleaned, and protected.

As he grew Jesus began to experience life in all of its electric wonderfulness. First steps. First words. First day of school. First successful wood shop project. These were all things to be celebrated.

But he probably also experienced life's electric messiness as well. I wonder if he ever got bullied by others in Judaism school for always knowing the right answer. Did he have a first crush? Did he ask someone to prom, only to get rejected? Did he ever have his heart broken?

And before you laugh, think about the time the people of his hometown tried to throw him off a cliff. Or the time he was belittled for being the son of that carpenter Joseph and Mary. Or the time he was betrayed by a close friend because he wasn't living up to expectations.

So yes, Jesus experienced the electric messiness of life.

And all of this is really the point of Christmas. The point isn't whether or not Christmas is actually December 25. The point isn't to argue about who says, “Merry Christmas,” vs. “Happy Holidays.” The point isn't to debate as to when it's appropriate to begin playing Christmas music. The real point of Christmas is that Jesus was born. As we sing in hymn 87, “Hail the incarnate deity.” God incarnate is the point of Christmas.

God came and shared in this thing we call life. Through the incarnation we have a focal point. Through Christ, God becomes human and relates to us on a whole new level. Through Christ we have an example of how to live in a healthy and complete relationship with God.

As an aside . . . there are some people who get all wonky when Christmas gets abbreviated X-mas. Besides all the linguistic issues with that about borrowing from the Greek alphabet and early church history, think about this: The eternal vastness of God came down to reside in a man. That man taught us how to move away from ourselves to a wider focus on God – X. Christ is the center point of the X.

So, God has become incarnate in the person of Christ. This incarnation doesn't shun life, avoid its messiness or overly-glorify the joyous. Jesus was born of a woman in the usual way. He lived and experienced life in all its heartwarming joys and heartbreaking calamities. He is one of us. And it is in this incarnation that we can proclaim Emmanuel, “God is with us.”

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here tonight to talk about this thing called life. Electric word, life.

So know this: in the electric joys, sorrows, wonders, and messiness, God is with us. What we celebrate tonight is that moment God came down to show us another way.

This is life. God is with us. And it is electric.

Merry Christmas.