Tag Archives: Baptismal Living

Being God’s Children

A Sermon for 16 December 2018 – Third Advent

A reading from the gospel of Luke 3:7-18.  Listen for God’s word to us in this gospel reading reserved for the third Sunday of Advent every three years.  Listen.

“John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits worthy of repentance.  Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”  11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”  12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”  13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”  14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?”  He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation; and be satisfied with your wages.”  15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

This is the word of God for the people of God.

Thanks be to God!

 

I don’t know about you all, but I’m about ready to celebrate Christmas!  What with all the festivities around here!  From several hours of singing Christmas carols to our homebound members two weeks ago.  To the glorious sounds of the Choral Cantata last Sunday.  To Thursday when there was a chancel-area overflowing with adorable children.  Some literally shouting out holiday songs at the top of their lungs.  Only to get an extra special surprise in Fellowship Hall:  the REAL Santa was here!  (THANKS Bob!!!  By the way, he truly looks authentic!)  And for those here Tuesday; how about that incredible, inspiring Christmas lunch hosted by our very dedicated Women of the Church!  Spending that lunch together Tuesday with the fifteen women in residential treatment on their road to recovery at Mending Hearts, was absolutely amazing!  Mending Hearts founder Trina Frierson topped off the experience – as only Trina can – with rousing encouragement to all gathered!  To us, she charged to keep opening our doors to those often turned away elsewhere because of their past; for it truly does matter to the one welcomed in!  To the women of Mending Hearts, she told so much of her own story of incarceration, recovery, and renewal; so that they would commit to continuing to show up for themselves as their lives are changed one day at a time through their recovery!  Tuesday was such a gift – the felt sense of the arms of the manger baby already in our midst to gather us all up before God.  It seems about time to welcome that lowly babe born out back in an animal cave, as they tell in Bethlehem, because there was no place for his very pregnant, ritually unclean-because-she-was-about-to-give-birth mother.

Unfortunately, it’s only the start of the third week of Advent.  We still got another 8 full days to go!  And instead of the wee babe in the manger, today we’re still stuck with John the Baptist.  Crying out in the wilderness in preparation for the Way of the Lord!  You have anyone in your life like that?  Someone who really intends to deliver good, helpful news.  Though each word seems more like a smack to the face.  Or at least a significant blow to the ego.  . . .  That’s how John feels – especially in this portion of the gospel of Luke.  This wild, zealous man crying out in the wilderness.  Name-calling actually.  “You brood of vipers!” he’s recorded as saying.  “You sneaking little snakes trying to slither away from what you rightly have coming to you for your faithless, unacceptable behavior.”  (paraphrase of Luke 3:7)

One commentator reminds that “In the Lukan narrative, ‘children of X’ are those who share in X’s character” (Connections, Yr. C, Vol. 1, Willie James Jennings; WJKP, 2018 p. 44).  So, if you claim to be a child of God – say through being included as a son or daughter of Abraham – then it should be evident.  People should be able to look at your life and see a reflection of God.  As parts like Luke 6:35-36 remind:  “God’s children love their enemies, do good, and lend without expecting anything in return” (Ibid.).  Those who claim to be sons and daughters of God “are like God, who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Ibid.).  John the Baptist understood that.  That as God is peace, children of God would be people of peace.  As God is unconditional love, children of God would be people of unmerited, unconditioned love.  As God welcomes – even the most repugnant prodigal.  As God works for embodied justice.  As God forgives and empowers us to begin again.  Children of God thus are people who welcome.  Children of God work to embody justice – which is just-enough for all.  Children of God forgive.

Though it might feel more like a shocking slap to the face, John the Baptizer fervently was reminding whoever would listen – tax collectors, soldiers, those in the gathered crowd, even us too.  He was trying to remind us of our names.  Sons and daughters of God.  Children whose lives reflect the characteristics of – well, if God sounds too lofty.  How about children whose lives reflect the character of the lowly babe in the manger?  Children in whom the very same deeds can be seen as will be seen in the holy child as he grows.  Children who speak the same sort of hope.  Children who live the same kind of right-relatedness as the one who will be held by mother Mary.  Tended by brother Joseph.  Praised by unexpected shepherds.  And gifted by wise ones seeking the mystical miracle they learned from the stars.  If we wanna be ready for Christmas morn’ we’ve gotta hear John’s words.  That every tree that does not bear good fruit really is just a waste.  Not fit to remain standing in the good soil.  So that logically, the Gardener would cut it down, so it can be burned as fuel for the fire (Luke 3:9).

We’ve got just 8 full days to get ourselves ready.  And I realize we might be on autopilot scurrying around faster than little church mice, so we can be sure to have ourselves a very merry Christmas.  Maybe it’s why we need John’s shocking words.  The cold water in our face to wake us up to what really matters!  The reminder to stop.  Look.  Listen.  . . .  We are children of God.  Brothers and sisters of Christ.  . . .  May all we do; everything we say show that truth!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

Let us reflect upon God’s word to us in a moment of silence – and as we may not be getting much stillness in these often-overflowing weeks, let us truly pause in some silence today to listen for God’s reminder to each of us that we ARE God’s precious children.  Let us examine to see where we are reflecting the character of God.  Let us listen for how God is calling us through the Spirit to re-commit ourselves to embodying the very being of God in the world today.  Let us join in a time of silent reflection.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

The Disruption of Christmas

A Sermon for 1 January 2017

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 2:13-23. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now after they (the wise men) had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” 19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

This text leaves me wondering if Joseph and Mary had any clue about how disruptive the birth of Jesus was going to be. What parents-to-be ever do? If you’ve had children – or maybe just had a few grandchildren stay at your house over the holidays – then you might know how such sweet little ones can absolutely turn your world upside-down, inside-out, and backwards all at the very same time! Little ones come into our lives as such vulnerable gifts. When first they are born, they can’t do anything – you remember, don’t you? They cannot do one little thing for themselves. But they sure can cry. They sure can let out plenty of nasty stuff from the other end too. And they sure can make their presence known – especially when one of their mysterious needs is not being met! I remember when first my sister brought my nephew here for a visit. He was crawling around by then and nothing could be left in its regular spot. He reached for it all. And had a little schedule all his own to which us grown people just had to adjust. And he came with so much stuff! Blankets and bottles and sit-up chairs and special beds. Not that it’s not totally worth it, but man do little ones entirely disrupt life! Again, if you just had one or two of your precious grandchildren or other special little ones in your life – if you just had a few of them around for the holiday week, you might find your house still completely out of order and yourself totally exhausted! But, of course, it’s absolutely worth it!

Which is why we’ve got to wonder if Joseph and Mary had one inkling of an idea of how disruptive the birth of little Jesus was going to be! Look at how their lives change – especially according to the gospel of Matthew’s details regarding the story. For something like the first four years of his life, keeping him alive meant incredible disruption. From Bethlehem to Egypt they have to move. Flee, actually. This little one is a perceived threat to the whole kingdom. Herod goes nuts – as was a routine Herodian response. He absolutely losses it when this little one is born, and the wise ones from the East fail to return to smoke-out where the precious darling is being kept. In a dream, Joseph is warned and doesn’t waste one minute, moving himself and Mary and the baby all the way cross-country to a foreign land. It’s kinda unbelievable because Joseph knew the land of Egypt was the land of enslavement. There his people had been treated terribly way back when. Of course, others had fled there over the years too. Some escaped exile in Babylon by returning to Egypt. Joseph had to trust that it was going to be ok. They had to hope that one day they’d also be able to return home. . . . It might have been nice, though, to remain in Egypt his whole childhood long. You know, get him started in the right pre-school, then kindergarten through twelfth at least in the same school system so he’d grow with his childhood friends. And Joseph and Mary would be known in the PTO to have the support of the other parents too. But another dream comes; and just about the time they’ve settled in as a family: disruption once again. Back to Judea they head. Until Joseph realizes Herod’s son now rules and is known as being more brutal than his father before him. They don’t want to chance it and another dream confirms it. So instead of heading back to the place of the child’s birth; they make the trek to Nazareth, way far north in the district of Galilee. They must have surmised that nothing big ever had come from there – certainly the family would be safe. . . . The gospel of Matthew tells it as if Joseph and Mary had never before been to Nazareth and just randomly chose the sleepy little town to set up shop. The gospel of Luke locates them there from the start – with relatives to be built-in family support. However it might have been, it could not have been easy moving around that much the first few years of the child’s life. Re-establishing themselves all along the way. Trying to protect this little bundle of joy God had given. Wanting to be able to feed and clothe him well. Teach him all he needed to know for the special work instore for his life. It couldn’t have been easy to have given over control of their own life plans for another way to be made. Indeed, this little one born to them in Bethlehem was a disruption from the start!

For most of us, these past few weeks have been a disruption from the regular routines of life. We spend the whole season of Advent preparing – if not our hearts, at least our homes and refrigerators and rituals of the season. For many of us Christmas disrupts our diets and our bank accounts and our sleep patterns. Hopefully we’ve had a little time out from our typical daily tasks and have been able to relax a bit with family and friends. Work can wait until the celebrations are over and everything gets back to normal. . . . But I wonder: how will his birth disrupt the days that lie ahead? Wouldn’t it be an absolute shame if we let all the preparations for his birth disrupt our Decembers, then leave us heading into a new calendar year tucking the little one tightly into a box along with the shepherds and wise men and animals of our favorite nativity scenes? It really would be terrible if we rolled right back into tomorrow without anything at all in our lives being much different. If we let the celebrations of a birth disrupt us more than the actual child. . . . He wasn’t meant to be relegated to holiday moments. He was meant to truly open us to the re-birth of God in us. He’s meant to disrupt the way we’d like things to be, in exchange for the wild adventure that Christ’s Way gives to us.

It starts with our baptisms, which we’ll be remembering next week when we gather for Baptism of the Lord Sunday. From the moment our lives are given over in the sign and seal of that sacrament, we no longer belong to ourselves. We are engrafted into a new family – children of the covenant, members now of the household of God. Disruption, disruption, disruption! We promise to work against evil and all its powers in this world. To take on the ways of Christ – which are summarized best in willingly living the path of self-giving love. We’re ambassadors, after baptism, for the very ways of God. Here to live peace. And joy. And hope. Which means not just in our thoughts, but in the actions of our lives too. We are to model the actions of that disruptive little baby! Posing a threat to those who want to live by force and fear and corruption. We’ll go wherever we must, according to the disruptive Spirit of that child, to protect the goodness that is to emanate from us out into this world. We set up shop among strangers, turning those we’d never otherwise encounter into family because that’s the way of the disruptive baby born in Bethlehem. We’ll learn new ways and adjust to what’s around us now so that the Spirit of God within us has an opportunity to be seen by all. That’s how disruptive Christmas is to be for us – leaving us, alongside Joseph and Mary, to give up our own life plans in order to nurture in us the one of Love. Disrupting, disrupting, disrupting the regular ways of this world for the ways of God instead. . . . And you know what? Whether we realize it when first it begins, it’s likely we’re going to find it’s worth it. Like the disruptive little baby himself, absolutely worth it! . . . Welcome to life disrupted, brothers and sisters of the covenant. Get ready to experience the bundle of joy God gives!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

 

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All Rights Reserved.)

 

Who

A Sermon for 29 May 2016

            A reading from the gospel of Luke 7:1-10. Listen for God’s word to us.

“After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go,’ and he goes, and to another, “Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

            Have you heard the story of the little boy and a shop owner? Award winning author and blogger Chiao Kee Lee writes it and it goes like this: “A store owner was tacking a sign above his door that read “Puppies For Sale.” Signs like that have a way of attracting small children and sure enough, a little boy appeared by the store owner’s sign. “How much are you going to sell the puppies for?” he asked. The store owner replied, “Anywhere from $30-$50.” The little boy reached in his pocket and pulled out some change. “I have $2.37,” he said. “May I please look at them?” The store owner smiled and whistled, and out of the kennel came Lady, who ran down the aisle of the store followed by five teeny, tiny balls of fur. One puppy was lagging considerably behind. Immediately the little boy singled out the lagging, limping puppy and said, “What’s wrong with that little dog?” The store owner explained that the veterinarian had examined the little puppy and had discovered it didn’t have a hip socket. It would always limp. It would always be lame. The little boy became excited. “That is the little puppy that I want to buy,” he definitively stated. The store owner said, “No, you don’t want to buy that little dog. If you really want him, I’ll just give him to you.’” The story goes that at this point, “The little boy got quite upset. He looked into the store owner’s eyes, pointing his finger, and said, “I don’t want you to give him to me. That dog is worth every bit as much as all the other dogs and I’ll pay full price. In fact, I’ll give you $2.37 now, and 50 cents a month until I have him paid for.” The store owner countered, “You really don’t want to buy this little dog. He is never going to be able to run and jump and play with you like the other puppies.” To this, the little boy reached down and rolled up his pant leg to reveal a badly twisted, crippled left leg supported by a big metal brace. He looked up at the store owner and softly replied, “Well, I don’t run so good myself, and the little puppy will need someone who understands!”

The author goes on to write: “The part that really got my eyes filled up with tears was when the boy got upset and said, “That dog is worth every bit as much as all the other dogs.” It goes straight to the heart of what we, as human beings, have . . . worthiness. In the little boy’s eyes, just because the little puppy was without a hip socket doesn’t mean he is less worthy compared to the others. As human beings, we are the same,” writes the story’s author. “Just because we are not perfect doesn’t mean we are not worthy. We are created exactly the way we are supposed to be. We are perfect in our own imperfections. Worthiness is merely a perception defined only by ourselves. Like that puppy,” says the author, “I am worthy and so are you” (by Chiao Kee Lee on http://thedirty30sclub.com/blog/2011/10/the-boy-and-the-puppy/).

Why is worthiness something we’re so quick to define for ourselves? Let alone for others? Why is it that we human beings so quickly come to our conclusions about who is worthy and who is not? . . . Who deserves our time, our money, our affections, and who does not? A world in need surrounds us daily. Consider our neighbors whose families are coming apart at the seams from the stresses and strains of life in this post-modern world. Or what of our beloved family members, either near or far, who going through health crises? On this weekend especially we remember all who have given their lives to keep peace in this world. The sacrifices they and their families make for the benefit of all. And that’s just to name a few of the people of all ages, races, and creeds in this world who are in dire need each day. . . . Which of them are worthy of our time, attention, and money?

Jesus is up against the very same question every day of his life. Here he is, in this story, which the gospel of Luke alone records. Jesus just has been among his disciples and great crowds saying to them things like: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in 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. . . . And love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. . . . If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you (Luke 6:20-21, 27, 32, 37-38a). These are the words of his infamous Sermon on the Plain as the gospel of Luke tells it – not on the Mount as is recorded in the gospel of Matthew. . . . No sooner does he finish speaking, than Jesus is going to have an opportunity to put into action the sentiment of his very own words.

According to Luke 7, Jesus enters Capernaum. In his day, this wealthy city was known as the crossroads of the nations. Capernaum was over on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee and one of the last stops in Israel on the way to Lebanon to the north and Syria to the east. Living in Capernaum when Jesus arrived that day is one we can only assume is a pretty well-to-do Roman centurion. It would seem this man is of rank for he speaks from the experience of commanding other men. “I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes,” says the centurion. “And to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it” (Luke 7:8). Which, it would appear, is part of his problem. According to the text, the centurion has a highly valued slave who no longer can fulfill his orders. He’s sick – near death, in fact; and this has the centurion so upset, it’s as if he’s pulling in favors to save him. . . . Now, I realize the word alone leaves a bad taste in many of our mouths because we’re most familiar with 18th and 19th Century slavery in America. And while the institution of slavery always is denigrating of human rights, it’s presumed slavery of Jesus’ day was nothing like the chattel slavery of America’s past. While the man was the property of the centurion, commentators believe he was treated with dignity. Some even note affection or at least the admiration of the centurion for his slave. After all, for his slave, such a prominent Roman is willing to bother his friends, the Jewish leaders, and even this one called Jesus he’s heard about. Supposedly the centurion is a God-fearer. A non-Jewish believer who is seeking to live by the moral ethic of Judaism. He’s ensured a synagogue was built in Capernaum – so that the Jews of the village had a proper place to worship the LORD their God. The floor of that very synagogue has been found under the remains of the Second Century Capernaum synagogue. And it’s an amazing spot on which to stand as you realize Jesus lived many of the days of his ministry in Capernaum a stone’s throw away at Peter’s house and often worshipped and preached right there in that synagogue. The Jewish elders of Capernaum explain to Jesus the gratitude due to the centurion for his generous devotion to God and the community of Capernaum. “He is worthy of having you do this for him,” they say, “for the centurion loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us” (Luke 7:4-5).

Whether Jesus agrees with the conclusion that the prominent God-fearing centurion is worthy, or whether Jesus is blind to such worldly distinctions and knows he needs to go help a sick slave few others might deem worthy; Jesus shows that both the slave at the bottom of society and the non-Jewish centurion are worthy of his attention – not because of anything they’ve done. But because of who Jesus is. . . . He said it at the start of his ministry, according to the gospel of Luke – words reminiscent of his pregnant mother’s magnificent song: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,” Jesus proclaimed as he was beginning to live out his baptismal call. “Because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor . . . sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). . . . In other words, those in the most dire need are worthy of his attention. Those in the most serious of situations are the very ones he was sent to serve. The Spirit of the LORD our God lives among us to seek out the lost. . . . Jesus spent his whole life giving his time for, paying attention to, and having affection for the very ones the rest of the world quickly would conclude are not worthy.

What about us? As his body alive here and now, who do we deem worthy of our attention? To which ones shall we give our time? Who shall we use our money to help? . . . Once we realize that all are worthy in the eyes of our God, the questions kinda become obsolete. . . . Any in dire need deserve the attention of the body of Christ, the church; for, as we see with the centurion and the slave, all are worthy of our Lord’s. . . . We might take a lesson from Jesus as to where to begin. As those advocating for the centurion’s slave crossed the path of Jesus; likewise, all in need who cross our paths are worthy of our attention. But if that way of living ready for constant response is too much for us, maybe we can take a lesson from that little boy. Remember the one wanting the lame puppy? He wanted that one exactly because of their common need. He knew he understood the little puppy’s struggle because he’d lived through it himself. That kind of solidarity with another in need can be an incredibly motivating force. The wounds we have lived through, give us understanding for the wounds with which another struggles right now. Listening to the experience of our lives and honestly responding out of the pain our hearts have felt, opens us to the kind of empathy another needs. In this way, we come to know our true vocation – the real reason we are here in the world. The way we, like Jesus, live out our baptismal calls as our particular gifts, abilities, and history are used for the glory of God. . . . In great thanksgiving, let us ever be ready to respond!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)