Archive for January, 2014

Confirmation Questions 1-26-14

Last Sunday’s sermon was based on Matthew 4:12-23. You can find the sermon here.

An excellent question came from the confirmation students in their sermon notes. I’ll try to address it as best I can here.

-Why did the disciples just follow Jesus?
This is a great question, and one that is difficult to answer. We don’t know what it was about Jesus that compelled the men to drop everything to follow him just because told them to “follow me.” But whatever it was, this was not a fluke. We see the same thing in the calling of the disciple Matthew as well (Matthew chapter 9). Jesus walks up, says “follow me,” and Matthew does exactly that.  So there is something about Jesus that brings people to him, but we don’t know what that quality is. John’s gospel gives us a little bit of insight in that the first disciples were directed towards Jesus by John the Baptist. Once they encountered him, they in turn invited others to come and meet him as well, but that’s a different account than what we see here in Matthew’s gospel.

So, in the end, great question. I wish I had a better answer for you, but unfortunately we just don’t know.

What Do You Do 1-26-14

This sermon comes from Matthew 4: 12-23. It presents Jesus’ calling the first disciples. In the sermon I explore our vocation in life.

You can hear the sermon here.

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Last Thursday I had the pleasure of a visit from one of my old seminary classmates. She was on her way back towards Minnesota from a call interview down in Kansas, and since she was in the area with some time to kill, she called me up and swung into Underwood to see where I’ve set up shop.
We sat and talked for a while about various things, many of which centered on various members of our old seminary cohort. Now, many of you have heard me talk about the program that I was in when I started seminary back in 2008, a part time distance program that would allow me and a group of others to slowly work our way towards a seminary degree and ordination.
I think back to those first days in the program, and we were quite the group. There were 18 of us, and we had a wide variety of backgrounds. We ranged in age from 22 to 57. We came from all directions, some as far away as New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Texas. At the time, 7 of us were already working in a church in some capacity, whether youth directors or visitation ministers or something along those lines. We also included a lawyer, a trucking broker, a farmer and accountant, a newspaper publisher, a civil engineer, a restaurant manager, an artist, an aviation insurance agent, a fund raiser for a private prep school, a librarian, and one undergrad student.
They told us that our process of seminary education would take between 5-6 years to complete depending on how closely we stuck with the program…and now, as we come towards the end of the 6th school year since starting, my old cohort includes 9 ordained pastors, 5 at various points in the call process, 2 in their last semester of classwork, 1 working towards a PhD, and just 1 that ended up quitting the program.
If my time in seminary taught me anything, its that God calls all kinds of people into the vocation of pastoral ministry…but not just into that specific vocation…God calls all kinds of people into all kinds of vocation.
Now vocation…that’s kind of funny word isn’t it? It gets thrown around the church community…and particularly the seminary circle…quite a bit…and its used to describe the way that God calls an individual to serve the kingdom…but out in the real world…where the rubber meets the road as they say…the word vocation often times gets lumped in with the word occupation…and what we do is quickly defined by where we work.
I look out at you today and I see a wide variety of occupations. I see farmers, I see students and teachers, I see retirees, I see real estate agents and insurance agents, I see contractors, and pharmacy techs, and computer specialists…and I see everything in between.  Those of us gathered here today truly represent an eclectic mix of occupations.
And while there are some out there that find tremendous joy and fulfillment in our occupations…there are also many who quite simply work their jobs…and they find their fulfillment elsewhere.  As I look out at you today, I think not only about your occupations, but I also think about what you DO…for some of you, I think of the volunteer work that you do here at the church…serving on the alter guild, teaching Sunday school to our children, serving meals for funerals, playing the organ, directing the choir, ushering, and the list goes on and on…and for others, I think of your activities outside the church…coaching a trap shooting team or pee wee football, singing in community choirs, organizing the Colorwood 5k, or leading a boy scout troop…that’s the stuff you DO…and that’s the stuff that makes up your vocation…
And that is the stuff that God calls us to in our lives…I think about all those different aspects of our community…represented by those of you sitting out there today…I think about various occupations…and I think about various vocations…and I am reminded that God has called each and every one of us for a specific purpose…in the midst of our day to day lives…just as we see in today’s scripture lesson.
In today’s story we hear once again about the calling of the first disciples…we heard a similar story last week, when Jesus issued an invitation to the first disciples to come and see…and to abide with him…and in today’s story, Jesus offers another invitation, though a little bit different this time around.
We see Jesus, having relocated to Capernum, a small town about the same size as Underwood, on the shore of the sea of Galilee, populated by farmers and fishermen. Jesus is walking along the shore one day and he sees a group of fishermen…and he says to them, quite simply, Follow me, and I’ll make you fish for people…
Now there’s a wide debate amongst scholars as to whether or not this marks the first interaction between Jesus and the four fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John. Some will say that in fact it is and that the men immediately followed him speaks to the intense power of Jesus…others say that in a town of 1000 people, where Jewish life centered around the synagogue, certainly these guys have bumped into each other before…but regardless…Jesus says follow me…come on guys, let me teach you something…and they do it…leaving their nets and their boats, and even family members behind…and they follow Jesus.
But you know what’s interesting here…Jesus recognizes the occupation of the 4 men…and in turn he gives them a vocation to do in the midst of it. Follow me fishermen, and I’ll make you fishers of men…it is certainly important to recognize the immediacy of the way the men drop everything to follow Jesus…but we also know that they came back to regular life as well. We hear later in the gospel that the group visits Peter’s house and family…there are other moments in the gospel when we see them up to their normal activities…and in the end, following the death and resurrection of Jesus…they go right back to fishing again.
Jesus enters into the lives of these regular people…4 of them in this story, but as we all know there were 12 total…and countless more that followed Jesus…and none of them were the same person…they weren’t carbon copies of each other…they were just normal everyday people…and they certainly didn’t have it all together just because they chose to follow Jesus. They were impulsive, they bickered with each other, they were a bunch of scardy-cats, and most of the time that we see them following Jesus around, they’re still a bunch of self-centered ragamuffins.
But in the midst of their commonness…in the midst of being so ordinary, and nothing special, Jesus invites them not only to follow him…but to take part in the ministry that he is doing…Jesus doesn’t say follow me and you’ll stay students forever…he doesn’t say follow me and we’ll walk around you’ll just watch me do stuff…no, he says follow me and I’ll make you fish for people…You’ll get your hands dirty…because I can’t do this without you. (pause)
And Jesus can’t do it without you either. At some point in your life, Jesus asked you to “come follow me,” and you are here today because you listened…and in the midst of your day to day life, which may at times feel very ordinary…and as absolutely far away from God inspired as possible…in the midst of that, Jesus is inviting you to join with him in the work of the kingdom.
In today’s story we hear Jesus say that the kingdom of Heaven has come near…it’s at hand…the kingdom here…now today and everyday we are a part of the kingdom of God, because Jesus brought it with him…and just as he told Peter and Andrew, and James and John…simple fishermen, follow me and I’ll make fish for people…he’s calling you too…follow me and let’s get to work together. (pause)
He’s not calling you out of your normal day to day life…he’s calling you to live it…and to live it together with those around you…and so today, I ask you…what is God calling you to do?  (pause)
I’m not asking how you pay the bills…I’m asking, what do you do…what gives you joy…what brings you in contact with those around you? Because that’s where you find your vocation…your vocation is the point where your greatest joy and the world’s greatest need intersect.
For some, it’s coaching children. For others, its serving in a food pantry…for others, its volunteering on the community fire department…there are countless vocations in the world, just as there are countless individuals…and God is calling you…saying Follow me…and in the point where you find your greatest joy, I will place people in your path, people that you can form relationships with over a common interest…over a common bond…and in the midst of that relationship, God is calling you to share the relationship that he has with you…a relationship made possible through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…in every way fully man, and in every way fully God…who invites us in the midst of our lives…Now is the time…the kingdom is here, and God is leading us all somewhere… will you follow? Amen

Confirmation Questions 1-19-14

Last Sunday’s sermon was based on John 1:29-42, in which John the Baptist points his own disciples towards Jesus. You can find the sermon here.

The confirmation students posed the following question on their sermon notes that I will attempt to address here.

-Why did Jesus tell John’s disciples to “come and see?”
Great question. The entire point of God entering into the reality of humankind through Jesus was aimed at re-establishing relationship between God and humanity. If you notice in the passage, Andrew and the other disciple ask Jesus where he is staying (or dwelling or abiding depending on how you translate it). Rather than simply telling them where, Jesus invites them to come and see, knowing that they will in turn abide with him. Throughout Jesus ministry here on Earth, he was always inviting people to come into relationship with him, so that they in turn can be in relationship with God. Jesus says in John 1:18 “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” Jesus “makes the Father known” so that we may be in relationship with him.


Come and See 1-19-14

This morning’s sermon comes from John 1:29-42. It includes the story of John the Baptist recounting the baptism of Jesus and John encouraging his own disciples to move onto the Jesus. Andrew, one of the first invited by Jesus himself in turn becomes the one to issue the invitation to his brother Peter.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can follow along with the sermon here. Note that there is a portion where I break off from the plan, and this short portion is not included in the text.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Well, it happened again…it was one of those Friday’s for me again…sitting in the office…pleading with the Holy Spirit to give me some insight into this week’s gospel text…not lost persay…I knew what I wanted to talk about…but as per usual in these situations…struggling to find a good way to start things up.
So instead of beating my head against the wall…I first tried to distract myself with a few run of the mill administrative tasks that needed to get done…and then once I had that wrapped up I dove into a Biblical commentary…trying to find some little nugget of insight to get me going in the right direction.
As I sat there in the my office, the book in my lap, I heard the front door open. Admittedly, it’s pretty difficult to sneak up on me in the church…and so I sat there for a brief moment waiting to see who would walk around the corner and come to my door. Turns out…it was our very own LaVern Leaders. After a moment of small talk LaVern told me, “I was talking with JoEllen Darrington yesterday, and she said that the sanctuary felt kinda warm when she was in there…so I thought I would come and see what’s going on.”
In this case, it wasn’t enough for LaVern to just hear about what was going on here at church…he had to come here in person…take a gander for himself.
Well, it took me a little while to realize that in God’s normal fashion, he’d sent me an answer to my quandary…I’d just been too distracted to notice it…but as a mentor of mine has often told me…ministry happens in the interruptions…or in this case…writer’s block is broken in the interruptions.
Come and See…sounds kinda familiar today doesn’t it? We hear this exact phrase in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus tells Andrew and another unnamed disciple of John to come and see what’s happening…to come and experience things for themselves. (pause)
Actually, there’s a lot of “seeing” going on in today’s lesson isn’t there? John the Baptist sees Jesus walking…then John testifies about seeing the Spirit resting on Jesus…then he testifies that God had already told him that he would see this and that it would be the messiah. Then John says it again…I’ve seen this happen…and one more time…the next day…John see’s Jesus again and tells two of his disciples…Hey…look there.
Well then we shift away from John…who apparently has seen enough at this point…and Jesus see’s the two guys following him…and he asks them, what are you trying to see? And then what does he say? The famous Come and See…and then what happens? Well, they went and saw. After awhile, Andrew goes and get’s Peter, who comes along…and Jesus see’s him…seems like everyone is seeing everything here.
But seeing isn’t the only thing happening a lot.  There’s also a lot of abiding or dwelling happening…though the translation we’re using presents it as staying, or remaining…sorry now, gotta go Greek for just a second…but the same Greek word that we hear earlier in John 1, For the word became flesh and DWELLED among us…is present here…a lot.
The Spirit Abided on Jesus at baptism…John sees it and testifies to it…Andrew and the 2nd disciple as Jesus where are you Abiding?  They went to where he was abiding…and abided alongside for the day…So we see the Spirit dwelling with Jesus…and Jesus dwelling with humanity…Jesus inviting humanity to dwell right along with him…and humanity doing just that…and that right there…is a great big key to understanding John’s gospel.
We all know that Jesus entered into humanity for a specific purpose…to experience life as we know it, to be fully tempted by sin, to die in our place, and by doing so to beat the power sin and death…but sin, that’s a little tricky here in John’s gospel. (pause) Notice I didn’t say sins…I’m not talking plural here…Sin is singular…but if sin is just a single thing, then what is it? (pause)  Well, here in John’s gospel, sin is quite simply, not believing that Jesus is God…not believing that this man who walked the earth some 2000 odd years back was God while simultaneously being human. That’s it. (pause)
But if that really is it, then what’s going on here? Why all this seeing and dwelling? (pause) Well, quite simply, the Word became flesh and dwelled among us so that the word, which was with God and was God, could come into relationship with us.
Because who do we have relationship with?  Certainly not ourselves…as much as I have the tendency to talk to myself, it’s a pretty one sided conversation when I get honest with myself…no, we have relationship with each other…when we interact with each other…or when we, quite simply…abide together.
And that’s what Jesus is up to here.  By putting on flesh and dwelling among us, God creates the ability to be in relationship with us…and it happens…by simple invitation. You might notice that Jesus made the first invitation…telling Andrew and the other disciple to come and see…and they dwelled together for the day…and in a way that I find true time after time, the experience of dwelling with Jesus changes the person…and Andrew changes from the invited…to the inviter…bringing his brother to Christ.
One could argue that we are witnessing the birth of evangelism here…pointing other’s towards Christ…bringing other’s to Christ…and perhaps…as soon as I said that word…you squirmed just a little bit. Evangelism…proclaiming Christ out in the world…perhaps images of loud obnoxious street corner preachers just popped in your head…or perhaps you got images of people knocking on your door and asking “Have you found Christ?” (pause)
After all, we’re Lutherans…and if there’s one thing that we don’t do very well…its evangelism…we’ve always just relied on the next generation to keep filling our pews…but you know what…that’s not working anymore…Mainline Christianity…which includes Lutherans…is on a decline in America these days…I don’t think any of us doubt that…and though we have a wonderful congregation here…I think we all know plenty of people outside those doors who aren’t coming through those doors don’t we? (pause)
But you know what…evangelism…it doesn’t have to be scary…it doesn’t have to be intimidating. And we get that message in today’s story…evangelism doesn’t have to be confrontational…it can, and according to the example of Jesus, SHOULD…be as simple as “Come and see.”  (pause) “Hey, this is my experience…come check it out.” (pause)
John did it….I saw the spirit descend on him…and look there he is.
Andrew did…we found the messiah…come meet him. (pause)
And if we stop and think about it…each and every one of us is here today because at some point, I don’t know when it was for each of you…but as some point…someone had the gumption to invite you to come and see…and you are still here today because when you accepted that invitation…the time you spent dwelling with Jesus, had the same effect on you that it had on good old Andrew.
(pause) If you are to run a poll of new people in churches…across the board…regardless of denomination…they’ll tell you that they started showing up because someone invited them. 
Gone are the days when people come to church because that’s just what you do. That’s not our reality anymore…but if you care about something enough that you want to share it with other people…all it takes is an invitation.  Maybe they’ll accept it…and maybe they won’t…that’s a reality…some people won’t…but think about those people in your life that aren’t here…and you wish they were…think about the people in your life that you don’t know if they have faith or not….think about those people who’s final destination is in question…and imagine how wonderful it would be if someone…anyone…invited them to come and dwell with Jesus…and they said yes. (pause)
Jesus came to earth and dwelled among us…bringing the possibility of relationship with God to humanity…and the really great thing is…he dwells among us despite the not so great aspects of our personalities.  Just like we find ourselves in relationship with people despite their flaws…despite their shortcomings…despite those aspects of their personalities that rub us the wrong way…we’re still in relationship with them…and through Jesus…God comes into relationship with us in the same way…and all he’s asking us today…is to invite other people…to come and see.  Amen.

Confirmation Questions 1-12-14

Last Sunday’s sermon was the baptism of Jesus and came from Matthew 3:13-17. You can find that sermon here.

One of the confirmation students raised a great questions on their sermon notes, which I will attempt to answer here.

-Why did John the Baptist say that he should be baptized by Jesus?
While John was sent by God, he knew that the baptism that he proclaimed, a baptism of repentance was insufficient to achieve salvation. In fact, it is thought that individuals would return to John to be baptized more than once, in situations where they felt that they had sinned and needed repentance. John’s baptism was modeled after a Jewish rite of purification, but the important thing to remember is that the object (or in this case the person) who is purified can become defiled again.John knew that the baptism that Jesus would bring would be different. You may recall John says in Matthew 2:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful that I is coming after me…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John recognized that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he was ushering in a new era for God’s people. John desired to be a part of this change, this new era. That is why he desired to be baptized by Jesus.

Nice Introduction 1-12-14

Today’s sermon came from Matthew 3:13-17, which is the story of Jesus’ baptism, fitting as today is the celebration of his baptism.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here. Disregard the indicators to pause and the weird punctuation. Gotta remember those things somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As many of you might know, I’m a runner. That distinction came about over the course of the past couple of years since I caught the fitness bug. In the past few months, I’ve been training for a marathon, and with the obvious cold weather outside, that means I’m logging A LOT of miles on the good old treadmill.
Over the course of those miles, I do several different things to try and occupy my mind. Sometimes I listen to music, other times I pull up Netflix and watch a movie or a tv show.
But there was one time when I was in the midst of a workout and I did something a little different than normal. This actually happened early last spring. We were still living in the Twin Cities at the time, and Emily and I both belonged to a gym. The day in question was March 13th, 2013. Now, perhaps this date means something to you, or perhaps it doesn’t.
When I arrived at the gym in the early afternoon, I didn’t have a much of a plan other than 30-45 minutes on an elliptical. Now, if you’ve ever been to a Lifetime fitness, the area where they keep the exercise machines is large and open…with row after row of treadmills, ellipticals, stair masters, and exercise bikes…all facing the same direction…and on the wall where everyone is forced to look…a big line of tvs tuned to different channels.
Most of the time when I would be in the midst of a workout, I would tend to ignore those tv’s…but occasionally something on them would catch my attention. During this particular time period, early last March, you may recall that there was a papal enclave happening in Rome. Pope Benedict had recently retired, and the cardinals were trying to elect a new pope.
As I was grinding away on the elliptical, I noticed several of the tv’s showing footage from Rome…White smoke…a new bishop had been elected.  Now if you’re familiar with this situation, it is first announced by the white smoke.  Then after a time of preparation, a priest comes to the balcony…and announces, in either Latin or Italian…I’m not quite sure which…that there is a new pope who will be called by a certain name…Benedict the last time around, and Francis this time.
I didn’t want to miss the announcement during my drive home…so my expected workout…got a little bit longer that day…I finished up on the elliptical, and switched over to a treadmill…and walked while I waited…well, if you remember that day…it took a long time, before they finally came to the balcony…and I walked…and walked…and walked…Honestly, I think I logged more miles walking on the treadmill than I had covered during my actual workout…but finally…the world was introduced to Pope Francis the 1st…and for me personally, grinding away on a treadmill…it was quite the introduction.
Today in worship we are celebrating two things…the obvious one is the Baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ, which is highlighted in our gospel lesson…but we are also celebrating…admittedly a little more quietly…the 1st Sunday after Epiphany…which occurred…again somewhat quietly, last Monday.
Epiphany, both the actual day, as well as the season, celebrates Jesus Christ, the messiah, being revealed to the world. On Epiphany itself, we celebrate the three Wise Men arriving in Bethlehem and finding Jesus…and now today in our scripture lesson…we see that he is being introduced to the world as a whole. And what an introduction. (pause)
If we are paying close attention, we see that quite a bit of time has passed. We’ve jumped from the season of Christmas and Jesus as a baby, to somewhere around the 30 year mark. Jesus has been hanging out…learning a trade as a carpenter…occasionally getting in a debate with the priests in the temple…but scripture doesn’t give us much else to go through these 30 years.
But today…all that changes…and we find Jesus approaching his much better known at the time cousin John the Baptist…doing his baptism thing in the Jordan River.
I image the scene going a little something like this…picture John…waste deep in the water…hollering about repentance…calling people broods of vipers…tossing a lot water around…he looks up and see’s his younger cousin Jesus walk up. (pause)  “Sup Jesus? How’s your mom? Carpenter work keeping you busy?”  (pause) “Sup John…mom’s good…carpentry is getting a little old though…think I’m gonna give it up…so ah…how about this baptism thing…let’s do this.”
No imagine for a second being John. This whole time he’s been telling people about the coming Messiah…how the messiah is going to change things…how he’s not worthy to even take the guys shoes off…how the Messiah is going baptize differently…and now all the sudden, here he is…in the flesh…asking to perform the very act on him, that you had called inadequate…no wonder we hear the scripture say that John hesitated…no wonder we hear him say that he needs Jesus to baptize him…but that’s not what Jesus has in mind today is it?
“Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” To fulfill all righteousness…well just what the heck does that mean Jesus?  Bit of a stumper isn’t it?
After all, John proclaimed a baptism of repentance…and we all know that Jesus was without sin…so what does he have to repent?  (pause) Bit of a head scratcher isn’t it? But yet…that is exactly what Jesus wants to do.  He doesn’t ask John to change things up…he doesn’t come up with some fancy new wording…and even though John has been proclaiming the Messiah’s baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire…Jesus doesn’t baptize himself…He is baptized by another. (pause)
John agrees…Jesus wades out in the water…and like any good cousin would do…John dunks him…full emersion…Jesus is washed under the water…and now here’s where things get really interesting.  Scripture tells us when he came up from the water something happened…I’ve always sorta thought this meant once Jesus walked up the river bank and was on shore again…but that’s not what it really says…the Greek tells us that the instant he came out of water…the instant he surfaced again…within the microsecond that his head burst back through the surface of the river…the heavens were opened…
And here’s another awesome thing…its not like a the clouds parted and a bright beam of sunshine came through…rather…imagine for a second that we’ve got up here and as soon as I pour some water on his head…the roof gets ripped in half…and then multiply that by a million…the heaven’s were torn asunder…ripped to pieces…and the Holy Spirit decended upon Jesus.
This is huge…in this instant…within the Baptism by John…within this old ritual of purification…placed upon Jesus, the Messiah is revealed…and entry into Heaven becomes possible…the barrier between our reality, and whatever plane of existence where heaven exists got ripped open…and we see the Spirit coming upon Jesus…and we hear the voice of God the Father booming out…BEHOLD!!! THIS IS MY SON. (pause)
In this instant, for the first time…we see the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit together…all three members of the trinity…and from that moment on…baptism…will never be the same again.
This same act…proclaimed first by John…performed by John…has now been changed…has now becoming a part of righteousness…and it happened because Jesus…the Messiah…our Savior and Lord…the one who has instructed us to baptize…was himself baptized.
Think about baptism for a moment…today we celebrate our Lord’s baptism…but each and every baptized believer shares in the very same thing. Jesus was baptized by another person…we don’t baptize ourselves…Jesus was baptized with water…and so are we…In Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit came upon him…as it does for each and every one us…and finally…in the baptism of Jesus he was proclaimed CHILD OF GOD…and in our baptism we share that same name…Granted…the person who makes that proclamation is a little bit different…if we do it here…you hear me proclaim it…Jesus…well he had God make the announcement…probably a little more impressive of an introduction to the community…and really, that’s what happens at baptism…we are introduced into the community of believers…and then we join with that community in our own ministry…just as Jesus begins his ministry, empowered by the Holy Spirit, directly following his baptism.
But there’s more…when an individual joins with Jesus in a baptism like his…we also also believe that the individual joins in a death like his…because Jesus did die…and his death on the cross marked the single most important crossroads in all of human existence.
Picture the cross for a moment…2 beams of wood…the first one vertical…vertical because it reaches between Heaven and Earth…between God and humanity…and the second stretching out horizontally, like the arms of Jesus stretched out wide to encompass all of humanity, across all time…and at the center…at the point where those two beams cross…is Jesus…both God and Human at the same time…Jesus represents God for us…and Jesus represents us for God…a crossroads that enables each of us to be forgiven of our sins and one day…one day…to be raised again with Christ…because when we join in a baptism like his, then we join in a death like his…and because of this…we also join in a resurrection like his.
And so, on this day when we hear Jesus amazing introduction into the world by none other than God the Father…and when we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord…I want to invite you to remember your own baptism…when you were introduced to the world as a Beloved Child of God. Amen

Same Old Same Old 1-5-14

This week’s sermon came from John 1:1-18. This week represents the end of the Christmas Season as we transition into the Season of Epiphany. In this sermon I discuss how God comes to us in Jesus, and shows us that He was never that far away from humanity to start with.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
How close are you to getting back to normal? We’re pretty much all at some point in that transition aren’t we? The holidays are over…Christmas has come and gone. New Year’s is past…school break is coming to a close. Most of us have started back to work after some time off. (pause) Life out there…is getting back to the same old same old isn’t it?
Here in the church, we’re making the same sort of transition. Today marks the end of the Christmas season…not just that today is the second Sunday of Christmas, which it is, but today is also the 12th day of Christmas…so after today…even here in the church…Christmas is over.
And you know what, maybe that’s not a bad thing.  Sure Christmas is a wonderful experience. Candle light worship…singing those well know carols…hearing about the manger scene in scripture…its great. (pause)
But…after a couple of weeks of it…even Christmas starts to feel repetitive…even Christmas starts to feel like the same old thing…and that same old thing…can get a little long in the tooth.
We’re singing carols again today in worship…but come on, be honest now…it feels a little weird to be singing Hark the Herald Angels sing knowing that Christmas was almost 2 weeks ago…and its now January 5th…but we’re singing it today…although it might be a little bit grudgingly when we get to it at the end of the service.
As we look around, we still see the Christmas tree…the Advent wreath is still sitting there…all 5 candles burning for the third time in a row. The Decorations are still up out in the Narthex…we see evergreen wreaths in the window sills.
Maybe it’s a good thing that the season of Christmas is coming to a close…I think its time for something new…after all, we’re in a new year…2014…here we are, 5 days into it…a new year with all of its new hopes and dreams…all of those expectations…all those new resolutions to eat better, work out more, find a new job, be less stressed…yah…how’s all that going for you? (pause)
Are you the kind of person that makes goals for themselves every year and actually sticks with them…or are you like many people who have great intentions going in, but quickly find themselves back to the normal grind…back to the same old story.
You know…speaking of the same old story…has anyone else noticed that the scripture lessons are starting to get a little repetitive too? The Sunday before Christmas we heard Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth…told from the perspective of Joseph.  Christmas Eve we heard from Luke…and the well-known birth narrative…Last week we had a little reprieve as we heard about Herod and his fury at the birth of a new king…and now today, we hear from John…the opening chapter…the introduction to the Gospel…and yet another example of Jesus coming into the world. (pause) Same story…different angle. (pause) And it is really starting to feel like the same old same old.
Of course…I guess it could just be me think this…particularly in terms of today’s Gospel lesson from John 1. I thought about it this week and realized that in my history of preaching, reaching back about 5 or 6 years now…this passage has occurred the most…as most of my preaching has followed the lectionary, most passages only come up once every 3 years…so the chance for hitting the same one has been pretty slim. It’s happened occasionally, but not often…But John 1? Well, I’ve preached on this one at least 4 times before in various situations.  And perhaps, when I read it a moment ago, you thought it sounded familiar…and not just because it’s the third story of Jesus entering the world that we’ve heard in the past 3 weeks, but because I preached on this very passage back at the end of October in the face of some difficult things happening in the world.
So perhaps you heard me read this passage, and then you saw the children’s sermon a moment later when I told the kiddo’s about how the light of Christ shines and spreads, and you think…here we go again…Pastor Scott’s talking about how God came into our dark world and changed it…admittedly that’s a common theme for me, I even wrote about it in this month’s newsletter…and if you’re thinking that, then you’re probably also thinking that this sermon is going to be the same old story. (pause)
But what if I said that God was already in the world…long before Christ showed up. John 1 starts off with one heck of an Old Testament reference…In the beginning…Sound familiar?  Sounds a lot like Genesis 1 if you ask me…
In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was with God…and the Word WAS God…and as we think about Genesis we ask the question of just what God and Word up to “in the beginning?” Well, remember what the first step was when God created the heavens and earth? (pause) As I recall, God said…Let…there…be…light.
Hmmm…let there be light…you mean, like a light that shines in the darkness? A light that’s never really left the world? Because God has never left this world.
Sure there have been times when it seems like God has washed his hands of the this whole deal…but it just isn’t true. God has been there since the beginning…and God is still there…and the Word…well, it’s been here the whole time too…because the Word is God himself…and that’s the point that John wants to make in his Gospel.
This passage, its just the introduction…but it might as well be a table of contents because it outlines pretty much the entire Gospel. And it starts off by telling us in no uncertain terms that Jesus is God himself…the same God that created the world…yah, Jesus helped with that…John says so.  The same God that watched over and led the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years…camping out with them…living in the tabernacle as a pillar of smoke…same God, yep, Jesus was there too…John says that too…and the same God that the Jewish people believed hung out in the temple…behind the curtain…you guessed it…Jesus was there too…and we know that because John tells us that he was in the world.
But if Jesus is God…and was always with God…then just why did God feel the need to take on flesh and start walking around? If Jesus really existed as the Word or the Will of God, why make this switch? Why change it up? Same old God, but a new story. (pause)
Just what was God trying to prove here?  Well, that’s the million dollar question isn’t it?  Now I could give the normal answer and say that God did it…that Jesus chose to take on flesh and walk around as one of us to experience the same life that we do…the same temptations that we do…and he did it all to over come those things…and that’s all true…
But I also think that God chose to take on flesh and walk around as one of us to remind us that He was never really that far away to begin with. Sure, no one had ever seen God face to face…but that’s because God exists in a way that is not limited to a body…who knows…maybe God doesn’t even have a face to look at…but think back to Genesis again…when God and the Word said “let us make mankind in our image.”  And when God had made Adam and Eve and breathed life into them…he saw that it was very good. (pause) Look around people…look into the faces of those around you…think about the faces of those you see each and every day…because when you look at their faces, you are looking at one that is made in the image of God…all it took was for God to put on flesh and walk around so that we could be reminded that the God that we worship…the God that offers us grace and truth through his Son…has been here the whole time. (pause) He just looks like something now…that’s all.
And when we realize that…when we realize that Jesus Christ is truly God…then we know he has given each of us the power to become Children of God…heirs to the promise of eternal life…and nothing can change that. (pause)
It’s a new year…full of promise and possibility…and the God that created the world…who is the same God that has been present throughout the ages…and who is the same God that put on flesh…has made his dwelling among us…God’s still here…and he’s not going anywhere…quite the contrary…but he is taking this reality somewhere and he has invited us to come along with him.
And so, in this new year, I want each of you to remember that you are beloved Child of God, made in the image of God…and that God has given you grace and truth through Christ. And as you remember that, be sure to remind yourself of that…and so I pose a new resolution for you here in 2014…every morning, when you look yourself in the mirror, tell yourself…out loud “I am God’s child, deserving of love and respect, and God will use me to change the world.” (pause)
Do that, and the first aspect of that world change might just be your own…and then maybe, just maybe…God will use you to change the world of someone else. Amen