Sunday, January 23, 2011

3 Epiphany Yr A

As our minds turn toward fishing this morning I recall a story that I must tell. Even during the off season, the Vikings and Packers are bitter rivals, just itching to compete. And with the Packers in the throes of post season play, the Vikings recall an episode from last year, the teams decided to have an ice fishing contest. They met at a lake up north — each ready to prove their superiority wasn’t limited to the gridiron. They scouted out the perfect spots and commenced to fish. By the end of the first day the Vikings had caught 50 fish. The Packers hadn’t caught any. No matter, the Packers said. They were just warming up. But on the second day, the Vikings caught 100 fish. The Packers didn’t catch any. What the heck? The next day, the Packers decided to send a spy to find out if the Vikings were cheating. The Vikings caught 150 fish that day. Packers? You guessed it — zip. When the spy returned to the Packers’ camp, they grilled him, sure the other team must be cheating. Were they? “You betcha they’re cheating,” the spy said. “They’re cutting holes in the ice!”

As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

As I consider this passage this time, I am struck by the differences in fishing, there is ice fishing, in which it is preferable to cut a hole in the ice so one may catch fish, there is fishing from a boat in a lake that is mostly liquid, there is fly fishing, in which one stands in the river or creek. Each of these kinds of fishing require a pole, and bait that is selected especially for the circumstances, considering things like the depth of water, the temperature of water, and the type of fish one is fishing for. So what strikes me in this fishin story, is that these people were not doing any of that. They were casting a net. They were gathering in the fish they caught, and those nets were not selective, everything that swam by, or floated by was caught.

Jesus spent much of his ministry in this area of Galilee, by this particular lake. Many of the stories that are told in the gospels are around these fisher people casting their fishing nets. I think this story has a lot to tell us about what the Kingdom of God looks like, I think the people who populate this story have a lot to tell us about what the Kingdom of God looks like.

The Kingdom of God looks very different from the Kingdom in which we live. You see, there’s the fisher’s themselves who follow Jesus, who fish for people. We are those fish. Recall the words of the song we sang as we gathered together this morning. “Here in this place, new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away, see, in this space, our fears and our dreamings, brought here to you in the light of this day. Gather us in the lost and forsaken gather us in the blind and the lame; call to us now, and we shall awaken we shall arise at the sound of our name. We are the young – our lives are a mystery, we are the old – who yearns for your face. We have been sung throughout all of history called to be light to the whole human race. Gather us in the rich and the haughty, gather us in the proud and the strong, give us a heart so meek and so lowly, give us the courage to enter the song.” We are the blind and the lame, we are the young and the old, we are the rich and the haughty, all of us in this net together. God has gathered us in. We are humanity, with all of our imperfections, our shortcomings, our fears and doubts. God has gathered us in. That’s the wonder of this net. God isn’t about catching perfect fish, God is about catching us just the way we are.

The kingdom of God right here and right now is open to everyone of us. We don’t have to be perfect before God loves us, God loves us first, no matter what, with all our scales. Then we respond to God’s love. It is our response to God’s love that transforms us. It is our response to God’s work in Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection that transforms us. And our response to God’s amazing and abundant love, the love that is no matter what, the love that gathers us in, the love that casts away the darkness, our response to that love is to follow, and in following Jesus we are transformed, and in the transformation we follow.

The song again, “Here we will take the wine and the water here we will take the bread of new birth, here you shall call your sons and your daughters, call us anew to be salt of the earth. Give us to drink the wine of compassion, give us to eat the bread that is you, nourish us well and teach us to fashion lives that are holy and hearts that are true.”

So the truth is that we are gathered in to the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. And what Jesus reveals is the truth of our humanity. It is a truth that you and I know well. It is the truth of creation and of blessing and turning away from God. We humans want to and try to be God. We humans want to believe that our happiness and satisfaction are ultimately important. We humans want to put our own needs before the needs of our companions on the way. It is the truth of turning back to God, of repentance and forgiveness. It is the truth of the wandering in the wilderness, the truth of suffering and death, the truth of restoration and resurrection. You see, the truth is Jesus accompanies us on this journey, Jesus isn’t apart from us. The truth is that all our longing, all our yearning, is fulfilled in Jesus. The truth is that our wandering in the wilderness, our exodus and exile are made new, we are transformed in the midst of our humanity, we are made new, we are created in God’s image.

It is the same truth that the prophet Isaiah writes about. The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. Peter and Andrew, James and John knew what the prophet had said, Isaiah was on their minds and in their hearts. You and I know this truth as well. You and I know the reality of the darkness, the reality of the suffering and sadness that life brings our way. We know tragedy, we know sickness and death, we know that life does not always treat us well.

Peter and Andrew, James and John could see this, as you and I can see it. And they could see and feel that Jesus was the God revealer. Jesus did and does something different from all the other prophets. Jesus doesn’t promise relief from our burdens, Jesus doesn’t promise prosperity, Jesus doesn’t promise a life free from pain and suffering, Jesus doesn’t promise that our mortal bodies will not die. What Jesus promises is that he will be with us in the midst of the wilderness, in the midst of the exile. Jesus promises that he will accompany us on the way, and there we encounter the new life that is promised. We are not alone in the journey, we have one another, and in one another we encounter God.

We are those who are gathered in, and we are those who like Peter and Andrew, James and John, are transformed for the work of the Kingdom. This is the Good News that Peter and Andrew, James and John and the others, left their home and family and livelihood to proclaim the Good News. Peter and Andrew, James and John were not perfect, they were not the most likely candidates to follow Jesus and proclaim the good news. We’ve read the book, we know story, the disciples had a hard time with this good news. They often didn’t understand what Jesus was really about. They fell into the trap of thinking this way was about them and whether they would sit at the head of the table, they fell into the trap of thinking that this was about them and others had to be just like them in order to follow Jesus. They fell into the trap of thinking this was about them and that there was a right way and a wrong way to be a follower and others had to follow those rules.

The good news for Peter and Andrew, for James and John, for you and for me is that the Kingdom of God is near when we respond to God’s amazing and abundant love with compassion and mercy. The Kingdom of God is near when we are not seduced into believing that we are Godlike, when we do not believe that we are in control and have the power, because Jesus does not abandon us. Instead, Jesus guides us, teaches us, and even stands in for us as we turn toward God. We ask for forgiveness, we are forgiven and we are transformed. We are changed.

The good news for them and for us is that to be followers is to be transformed in the following. The good news for them and for us is that we don’t have to have it all together, we don’t have to have it all right, we don’t have to understand it all. In the following we are transformed. In the following new life can rise out of our suffering and pain. In the following we are made new creations.

The Lord has shown forth his glory: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

2 Epiphany Yr A

We hear this morning from Paul that God is faithful and we are called into the fellowship of Jesus. We hear in Isaiah that God is faithful and that we are chosen, it echoes what we heard last week from Matthew and Isaiah and what we heard in Jesus’ baptism and what we hear in our own baptism. And in John’s gospel, as two disciples ask Jesus where he is staying, we hear an invitation, Jesus responds to the disciples with Come and see. Come and see.

Imagine yourself as one of those people who hear or sees Jesus, imagine yourself following Jesus as he invites the two disciples to come and see. What did people expect, what do you expect, of this long awaited Messiah, this Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? Many people of Jesus’ time expected the Messiah to come in power and glory. As you followed Jesus would you expect to see a palace? At least a mansion or maybe a tastefully appointed home, at least a colorful tent with a cot to sleep on. But instead, there really is not much to see, Jesus doesn’t have a colorful tent and a caravan to show off, in fact he has nothing to show off. Come and see the stone for his pillow, come and see the dirt on which he lays. This is nothing like what was expected, and it is not about what we get when we respond to Jesus’ invitation and God’s faithfulness. This is not about what’s in our wallets, it is not about getting what we deserve, or living in prosperity. This is not about getting our needs met. Responding to the invitation to come and see is about relationship.

A relationship with Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God in our midst, Jesus is the one who walks with us, through the scary places, by the deep and dangerous water, by the peaceful and still water, to show us the way. For it is only a God who is willing to live this life with us, a God who is willing to give up all power to be like the powerless, who is a God in whom I can put my faith.

It is because Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, the God-Revealer, the Lamb of God that it is worth the cost to follow. Jesus invited Andrew and Simon to come and see, and they recognized him for who he is, Rabbi, teacher, God with us. And they followed. They gave up their lives as fishermen, and followed Jesus, it cost them everything, for this relationship, they were disciples. Immediately following this part of the story we heard this morning is the calling of Philip and Nathanael, who also recognized Jesus and followed.

Why do Andrew and Simon, Philip and Nathanael, give up everything to follow Jesus? Not because of who they are, but because of who Jesus is. It’s not about them, it’s not about us, it’s about Jesus. In the gospel of John, Jesus is God’s word spoken into human form, God’s word clothed in arms and legs, hands and feet, God’s word entering human history.

Jesus speaks the word and it happens: forgiveness and judgment, healing and illumination, mercy and grace, joy and love, freedom and resurrection. Everything broken and fallen, sinful and diseased, is called into salvation by God’s spoken word, by Jesus the God-Revealer.

Eugene Peterson, who wrote The Message, writes in his introduction to the gospel of John, Jesus doesn’t impose salvation as a solution, he narrates salvation into being through leisurely conversation, intimate personal relationships, compassionate responses, passionate prayer, and his suffering and death. You and I cannot casually walk away from words like that; we cannot walk away from Jesus without making some sort of response. The response that Andrew and Simon, Philip and Nathanael made was to follow. You and I have that same choice, to follow, or not to follow.

Tomorrow we celebrate the life of one of Jesus’ modern day followers, Martin Luther King Jr. Much has been said and much has been written about Martin Luther King Jr., and my purpose today is not to reiterate all of that, but to talk about discipleship as a response to who Jesus is, and Martin Luther King Jr. embodied that discipleship. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man, and a flawed man, much like many of us. But about himself what he wanted people to remember was that he fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and loved and served humanity.

What is our response to Jesus, the God-Revealer? To feed the hungry? Clothe the naked? Love and serve humanity? Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew, Simon, Philip, Nathanael, and each one of you is a disciple. Today is a day about discipleship; today is a day about our response to Jesus, the God-Revealer. Last week we heard the words spoken to Jesus, spoken to each one of us, this is my child, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life. Today is about responding to these words.

Discipleship is simply our response to the awesome and amazing love that God reveals to us in the person of Jesus Christ. But discipleship is costly, as Andrew, Simon, Philip, Nathanael, Martin Luther King Jr., and all the others know dearly. Discipleship is costly. Our culture tends to not consider the cost of leaving behind something when we follow Jesus, instead it asks what do I get? And as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the prominent German theologian wrote in 1937, when the rise of the Nazi regime was underway in Germany, "costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." The cost of discipleship is being forgiven, it is being made whole, and being in relationship.

My hope for each one of us is to respond to God’s gracious Word, with mercy and compassion, to respond by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, serving humanity. You and I are called to be Jesus’ followers, to be Jesus’ disciples today as much as any day in history, and maybe more urgently than ever.

Come and see the One who loves you unconditionally, absolutely , and abundantly.

Alleluia. The Lord has shown forth his glory: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Friday, January 7, 2011

1 Epiphany Yr A, Baptism of Our Lord

Listen to Matthew from Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message. Jesus then appeared, arriving at the Jordan River from Galilee. He wanted John to baptize him. John objected, "I'm the one who needs to be baptized, not you!" But Jesus insisted. "Do it. God's work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism." So John did it. The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God's Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: "This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life."

In both the passage from Isaiah and the passage from Matthew we hear God’s voice proclaiming you are my chosen, delight of my life. Today, the day that we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, and the day that we celebrate baptism in our midst, we hear these amazing words from God, you are chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.

Some of us spend much of our lives working at pleasing others, especially our parents and our spouse, people we work for, and sometimes even people we don’t even know. Rather than being who we are, we are trying to be someone else. Someone more lovable, someone smarter, someone prettier, someone more athletic. This is reinforced by so much we see and hear today. You will be worth more if you are thinner, or if you change the look of your nose, or cheeks, or lips, or other places, or if you buy a smart phone, or if you buy skinny jeans, or if you ….. Or, we spend our lives on the other end of that spectrum. We think we should get what we deserve, we are entitled to a good life, nothing should get in our way of the big beautiful house, the fancy car, the perfect children. This is about human limitations, our human values. But God is not limited by our worthiness or our worthlessness. God is pleased, before anything else happens, God is pleased, and that is not dependant on anything we do or don’t do. Remember, following this passage in Matthew’s story is Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. God’s pleasure is not even dependant on Jesus’ performance in the wilderness, God’s pleasure just is.

We are loved abundantly and extravagantly, we are chosen and marked by God’s love, we are the delight of God’s life. We enter into that with Jesus in the incarnation, in the death and in the resurrection. And that is what happens in baptism, because that’s what Jesus accomplishes on the cross and what God accomplishes in the resurrection. We are citizens, heirs, children of the Kingdom, and in this Kingdom we are loved, we are chosen, we are marked, we are the delight of God’s life. We don’t have to change the way we look, we don’t have to be someone we are not, we are priceless.

We are in the midst of celebrating God’s incarnation. I’ve thrown that word around quite a bit lately as if we all know exactly what it means. Incarnation is about God shining God’s clear, bright torch into the darkness of our world, our lives, our hearts, our imaginations—and the darkness not comprehending it. Incarnation is God, the God of the universe, the God who created all things, the God who is seen and unseen, that God, taking on flesh, taking on skin, and bones, a brain, a heart. It is incarnation that gives me faith; it is resurrection that gives me hope. Jesus is what it looks like when the Word becomes flesh. Or, if you like, look at Jesus, in the flesh and learn to see the living God.

It is that incarnation, and it is death and resurrection that we enter into at Baptism. It is that incarnation, God in the flesh, the Word walking around on our dirt, which makes faith possible. I have faith because God has faith in me; why else would God have given up all power to come into this world as a human being. My baptism, your baptism, Collin’s baptism, acknowledges that reality, and baptism empowers us through the Holy Spirit, to be God’s new creation, to be the Light in the darkness, to be agents of healing and reconciliation in our fragmented and fragile world.

When we enter into this journey through the water with Jesus, we must go home by another way; we hear that from the wise men from the east. When we go home by another way, when we are baptized into the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, when we embark on this path together as pilgrims on the way, our lives begin to be transformed, and there are ways that our lives show forth God’s love and Jesus’ gift. We are people who continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. We are people who persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, we repent and return to the Lord. We are people who proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We are people who seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We are people who strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

That’s a tall order for us, and an even taller order for the newly baptized. But it’s the road we take. We take it, because we are marked and chosen, and we are the delight of God’s life. It is our response to God’s amazing, extravagant and abundant love, it is our response to God’s pleasure, and it is our ministry.

You also have a responsibility to raise this child, and all of our children, in this faith of incarnation, in this hope of resurrection. Each one of us has been marked as Christ’s own forever. Each of us has an indelible mark on our foreheads, the cross that was traced in oil at our baptism, the cross that is retraced in ashes each lent. The cross that is on our foreheads is much like a tattoo, it is permanent, it’s there for all time. It reminds us who we are and whose we are. It reminds us that we are loved. It reminds us that we are part of something that is wider, broader, deeper, than any one of us, can go. It reminds us that we must travel this other way, this road together.

Jesus’ baptism, Collin’s baptism, our baptism’s mean something. We don’t just dunk and forget. Baptism means that we are the delight of God’s life, that we are loved abundantly and absolutely, that we are chosen and marked, that we are on this road together, and that we are citizens of the Kingdom, the Kingdom that God is creating right here, right now. We have work to do, that is our ministry. Our work is about healing and reconciliation, our work is about mercy and compassion, our work is about making God known in all the dark and dangerous parts of our lives. Our work is about meeting Jesus in each and every person we encounter, our work is about seeing the indelible mark of Christ on the forehead of each and every person we meet.

Alleluia! Alleluia. The Lord has shown forth his glory: Come let us adore him. Alleluia

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Epiphany Yr A

The poet Isaiah envisions the light, a new light, come in a way that had not happened previously. The Lord’s light rising upon us. And we hear in the Gospel of Matthew that the wise men from the East observed the star in it’s rising and led them to the place where the child was. They bowed down before the child. The Light that shone forth for these wise men from the East is of God, it is the Light that overcomes darkness, it is the Light that will not be put out, it is the Light that we call upon now in this world’s hour of darkness.

We are called to bear that Light. You and I are called upon once again to be light shining in the darkness. The Light we are to bear is the Light that shines revealing the love of God made real in Jesus Christ. And this is the Love that bears all hurt, it is the Love that comes into the midst of pain, into the midst of isolation, into the midst of separation; all of which is really fear. Love pulls it together, this Love makes whole what is torn apart, this Love re-members people. All people, Love re-members all people, not just some people, but all people.

Paul’s letters tell us that the Love of God in Jesus Christ is for all people. Paul, a circumcised Jew, brings the Good News to Gentiles. Early in the first century, there were basically three groups of people. There were Jews who were circumcised and who followed Jewish law, there were God-fearers; people who found Jewish law attractive and followed it, but were not circumcised, and there was everyone else, those were the Gentiles. According to the Hebrew scriptures, only Jews were included in God’s plan of salvation; with the new revelation of God in Jesus Christ, humanity learned that all people are included, not just circumcised Jews. We learned that we cannot limit God because God’s love for the creation is limitless, boundless, abundant, extravagant, my words are inadequate to describe God’s love.

God was born into this world, the shepherds knew it, the angels knew it, the wise men knew it, and on some level, Herod knew it too. Herod wanted to get rid of this child so that the child would not be a threat to him. The wise men learned in a dream that after finding the child, they would need to go home by another way; if they returned the way they came, Herod would find the child.

I find it very significant that after having seen the true Light, after having witnessed the child who is God, the wise men went home by another way. They were changed; they could not go home the same way they came. The stakes were too high. They now were bearing the Light that they had encountered and everything for them and for the world was different.

I liken that reality for the wise men to our reality of baptism. Because in baptism you see, we journey to the water and we encounter the Light, we encounter God in Jesus Christ, we encounter the Holy Spirit, and when we do, we cannot be the same ever again. We throw in our lot with Jesus and are made new; we are a new creation. Remember that the waters of baptism are at the same time life giving and life taking. We are made new, and we enter into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Water is powerful. And, we can’t go home by the route we came by, we must go home by another way.

We get a glimpse of that other way in baptism, and in the words of the baptismal covenant. What happens in baptism is three things. First, we journey to the water. We come from wherever we are to the living water. Not unlike those wise men who journey from their home to the place where the new baby lays. Next, we in a sense are separated from our parents to be immersed in the water. These are dangerous waters. Personally, I find that separation holds fear for me. Separation from loved ones, from family, from God, I am afraid of all of that. But what happens next is the amazing part. After being immersed in the water, separated from family and parents, we are reintegrated into a greater whole. We now are members of the body of Christ. We are re-membered in the body of Christ.

And we most assuredly go home by another way. We are not the same people as we were before entering those waters of baptism. And, we are not the same body of Christ we were before baptism. We are made a new person in baptism, and we are made a new community in baptism.

What is the alternative route by which we return home? It is a radical route. It takes us through green pastures, and dangerous waters, it is a route that is filled with wolves and sheep. This is a route that calls us through transformation to wholeness; it is a route on which the adventure is not about you, but about whom we are together, and how we are related to God. On this route home we are called to be Light bearers. We are called to be Love bearers. We are called to bring God’s Love to dark corners, to mountaintops, to raging waters.

We are called to bring God’s Love to a fragmented society, to a culture that seeks perfection rather than relationship, to a culture that communicates in status updates and tweets, rather than community. God’s Love, God’s Power, is the most powerful integrating force in creation. God’s Love moves us from brokenness, from fragmentation, to wholeness, to healing. You and I bear the scars of that brokenness, we bear the scars that fragments cut us with, and we bear the healing Love of God. It is that Love, that Light that we carry into the world. The work that we are equipped and empowered for is out there, bringing the Light into the world.

How do you bring God’s Love and God’s Light into the world? How do you bring God’s integration, God’s healing, and God’s reconciliation into your work, and your school, and your play. How do you talk about that with others?

This New Year may you bear Light, love, healing, and wholeness into all the places of your life.

Alleluia. The Lord has shown forth his glory: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.