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Certainly.
June 19, 2017, 12:11 pm
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Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

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Certainly. What a word to use when describing such a mystery as resurrection!

We are desperate for certainty, especially about those things which we cannot prove. People love movies and books of “real life accounts” from those who have passed into death and returned to tell us all about it. Is there a bright light? Pearly gate? Angels? Everything we’ve ever wanted? We want to know! And know for certain!

Those kind of details aren’t what Paul is so certain about. What he’s certain about is Jesus- and Jesus’ hold on us. Jesus has claimed you and me forever. Not even death is going to separate us from Jesus.

We receive this promise in a watery cross, in a morsel of bread and a sip of wine. Water on our foreheads dries. The feast leaves us hungry. We’re left needing to return again and again to font and table so that we can be reassured in Christ’s promise. Our certainty is fleeting, but the One who continues to draw us in is steadfast.

*God of promise, continue to show yourself to us so that we might know that we are certainly loved and united with you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*



Romans 5: Scripture of the Week Devotion
June 12, 2017, 12:45 pm
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“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:1, 8

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Performance reviews. Job interviews. End of term finals. The silence of the phone after a first date.

 

We are judged. We are told where we’re failing. We see red circles on our mistakes. We feel the sting of not being chosen.

 

It is not a good feeling.

 

Some of us may have experienced this feeling at church, but that’s not what God wants for us.

 

We’re made right with God through faith. It’s Jesus’ faithfulness – Jesus hold on us, no matter what- Jesus willingness to do all things for us- that brings us into God’s presence as blessed and holy ones.

 

Instead of experiencing rejection once again, we discover that in Jesus, we are chosen! We are worthy. We’re worthy of Jesus’ love and effort.

 

When the world keeps on judging, remember that God’s already judged you. God’s judged you through Jesus, so instead of your brokenness, God counts Jesus’ holiness. You might have plenty of “growing edges,” but God’s going to keep you. No more fear. Be at peace. You’re enough. God has made you God’s own beloved one.

 

*God, help me to trust in your love for me. When I feel my own failure, strengthen me with your claim on me. You know my worst, and still, you love me. That’s not something I get very often. Thank you. Amen.*

 

-Pastor Liz



What’s Next? A Sermon for Trinity Sunday Matthew 28:16-20
June 12, 2017, 12:43 pm
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Matthew 28:16-20

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

In this season of graduations, “congratulations” is often on our lips, quickly followed by, “what’s next?” For those who have jobs lined up or another level of education to go on to, there’s an easy answer. They can be confident in their plans.

Confidence doesn’t always continue a week, or a day, or an hour into that new plan. College might be more difficult than expected, the new job more to learn than bargained for. That confidence in future plans can easily turn into an overwhelmed “what did I get myself into?”

You don’t have to be a recent grad to have situations in which you’re not sure you’re up to the task. A move, new opportunity, birth of a child, illness of a loved one— there are many points in life that we might pause and wonder if we have the skills, strength, and stamina to live through the new thing.

That sinking feeling came to me on a Friday morning in August, the day I began my year-long internship at Zion Lutheran Church in Rockford. I was excited- I was finally going to be working in a congregation. Six years of higher education had led me to this first real taste of the life I was called into. So I drove down from our country parsonage, next to the church my husband had been assigned, over the border into Illinois, which as a Wisconsinite, is a difficult line to cross, through the city intersections until I arrived at this central city church. It was my supervisor’s day off, so while he came in to meet me and show me my office, he quickly left for his golf game. This church had so much I hoped I could learn from. They had launched community development corporations. They had their own food pantry. That morning there was a group of Laotian members making egg rolls for the Sunday fundraiser and a group of neighborhood church leaders working on hunger issues. There was so much amazing work being done in God’s name- that I found myself in the bathroom, shaking and crying, totally overwhelmed and confident in one thing- that I had no clue what I was doing there.

How could I possibly live up to the challenge?

We open the Gospel of Matthew to meet the disciples in Galilee. It’s not been long since Jesus was arrested before their eyes, and then tried, crucified, and buried. It’s been even less time since some of the women went to the tomb to prepare his body and were met by an angel accompanied by an earthquake. The angel told them that Jesus had been raised and would meet the disciples in Galilee. Then as the women ran to tell the other disciples, Jesus met them- Jesus- alive.  The women share all this with the men, who travel on as instructed.

When the men gather in Galilee, they see Jesus. I love what the text says- “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” (Other translations….) After all that’s happened, I can’t fault their lack of confidence! Are they doubting the living Jesus in front of them? Or doubting their own readiness to be a part of whatever Jesus is doing? Surely they must also be wondering- what’s next for me?

Confidence comes from being able to tell ourselves, “I can do it!” When we realize what the “it” it is we’re going to be doing – that’s when we might freak out! It helps if we can see the new task’s connection to something we’ve become familiar with.

Jesus tells his disciples they’re going to be doing everything he’s been doing. Remember what Jesus has been busy doing: teaching about God, reviving the dead, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, restoring outsiders to community, and all the while growing a crowd of onlookers and disciples.

Now it’s the disciples who are going to be discipling.

They are called to be discipling disciples who follow Jesus’ pattern of ministry- gathering groups of people, doing life-giving acts, living and preaching God’s grace.

It might be scary for them to think of doing this themselves, but they are not unprepared. Jesus is calling the disciples to do familiar work. They’ve spent an intensive period of formation with Jesus. They’ve been there as he’s taught and healed. They didn’t always know everything or do things right, but they learned and grew.

Their future ministry will be familiar enough because they are continuing to imitate the God they have come to know through Jesus.

When we’re faced with a change in life, how do we get ourselves to a place of confidence so that we can bravely move forward?

As we were packing and saying goodbye to move up here, I intentionally paused to experience the familiarity of all I was leaving. I looked out at my congregation, remembering time spent with them, stories, tears, and prayers shared, and reminded myself that there was a time I did not know them so deeply, that I had been struggling simply to know their names. I drove all the winding roads and remembered when I was so confused as to how to get to the places I needed to go.

I told myself what was now familiar was once overwhelmingly new. As I went out to begin something new, it, too would one day become familiar.

The disciples were called into scary new and yet familiar work. Even though Jesus was ascending, he was not abandoning them. Jesus promises he will be there with them. The Holy Spirit will continue to disciple them as they disciple others.

Because the disciples were faithful in their call, Jesus’ work has expanded through the generations. We’ve been discipled and we’re called to disciple others. Think back and remember- who was it who brought alongside them so that you would learn to pray, love and serve? When were those times of experiencing God’s love for you? Even as you are continuing to be discipled, God is calling you to disciple others.

When faced with this call, we may feel overwhelmed or unqualified. Who among us is totally good? Or has it all together? Or knows all the answers to the big questions of life, death, and faith? When we’re asked to serve on a board, teach Sunday School, or read for worship, some of us might freeze and think – I can’t do that. When we’re given the opportunity to show forgiveness, mercy, justice or love- we might wonder if we have what it takes.

You can. You do. God has called you to continue God’s work, and in calling you, God has given you what you need to serve. As was true for the disciples, God created us in God’s image, shares the Son’s authority with us, and empowers us with the Spirit in order to bring us in to the work of the Triune God. We all serve in different ways. We never serve alone. The Spirit fills you, too. We join the work God is accomplishing in the world.

Next time someone asks what your future plans are, tell them. You’re healing the broken world, welcoming the stranger, living forgiveness, and caring for those in need. You’re offering what you have to God, and through you, God is bringing life and love. Be confident in your call, and even more confident in the God who calls you. In the midst of your worshipping and your doubting, God is there, blessing you with the call and the means to serve in God’s great work of salvation.



The Spirit’s Base Line: A Sermon for Pentecost
June 5, 2017, 10:52 am
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Read the Bible

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Today we celebrate the church festival Pentecost. Our reading from Acts tells the dramatic story of the disciples receiving Jesus’ promised Holy Spirit. Wind, flames, and words rush in and out- and people hear – and understand – the good news of God’s work in Jesus.

This event empowers the disciples to really take on Jesus’ work. Its effect reaches us today. At baptism, God sent the Spirit to you. A candle was lit as a sign of that flame resting on you, as it did on the disciples so many years ago. What is history is also continuing today: the Spirit comes to us, remains with us, and empowers us to do Jesus’ work in the world.

It’s a beautiful coincidence that we’re starting our time together on Pentecost. You’ve commissioned Pastor Sarah on to her summer sabbatical, and you are called into your own sabbatical, with the purpose of rediscovering and relishing the joy, power, rest, and direction the Spirit brings. This is a time of renewal. The Spirit’s work is to replenish us.

The Holy Spirit sets the beat for us to dance, to party, to live. Over these next three months, I’ll be walking with you as we listen for that Spirit and allow ourselves to be moved in new ways.

When I first talked to Pastor Sarah back in March, summer seemed a very long ways off. But by the end of this week, I finally started to feel like summer is actually going to come. The sun is out, the air is warmer, and I let the kids talk me into stocking our freezer with ice pops.

Our summers always include a number of activities we have to make time for. Walks in the woods, coloring with chalk, building sand castles, and watching a parade. We’ve lived and visited enough places that I’ve seen a wide variety of parades- from our small town North Dakota parade that drove down the parade route and then turned around to drive it again. We had to make the action last more than 5 minutes.  We moved from that to a 3-hour long parade with trucks, tractors, politicians, and candy in southern WI.

I’m always impressed by the school marching bands. While I’m sweating away in shorts and a t-shirt, with a water on the side of the road, these teens are marching in hot polyester uniforms and funny hats, lugging their instruments and having enough breath to actually play them.

There’s a way in which I always feel a part of the music as the band marches by. It’s those big drums- boom, boom, booming- reverberating in my chest. Sometimes it’s almost like they’re trying to reset my heart beat- boom, boom, boom. I hear the rhythm, and I feel it inside me.

That’s what the Holy Spirit is like. Boom, boom, boom, setting the beat for our lives.

If you have young ones in your community, you might have seen the movie Trolls. The movie focuses on two groups of creatures- Trolls who are carefree and fun-loving, always happy and quick to sing, and the Bergens, the monsters of the story, who are sad and angry. The Bergens look at the happiness of the trolls and want it. They think they have to take happiness from the trolls in order to be happy themselves. But at the very end of the movie, they are transformed. The trolls begin to sing and dance, and in domino fashion, they bump into one Bergen who starts to catch the beat- who bumps into another- who starts to move a little- and finally the whole room is one big happy dance party. The beat is infectious and its song is joy.

When on that long-ago Pentecost, the party got raucous with flame and wind and witness, disciple Peter got up to explain this wasn’t just any disturbance. This was the fulfillment of God’s promise recorded by the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” The Spirit is the song that knocks first one person and then another into God’s dance.

What is this song and how does this dance go?

Paul writes the church at Corinth to remind them of the Spirit’s song and how to follow the Spirit’s lead in the dance of Christian life. He explains, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The Spirit leads us into different actions, based on our own personal gifts, for the sake of others. Some teach, some encourage or heal. Some send cards to let people know they are loved and remembered. Some sit with a child and encourage their reading. Others prepare a meal or this Table. Maybe you send money where it’s needed, remind a representative to make decisions that will benefit those most at risk, or help a parent pick out summer clothes from the clothes closet. The Spirit creates faith in us, gathers us as a community, and sends us out to continue Jesus’ work in the world.

The Spirit is here, among and within us, singing God’s song, beating God’s rhythm, with such insistence that even the most reluctant dancer is drawn in. Sometimes, though, it can get difficult to hear the Spirit and our feet can miss the steps.

There might be too much noise in our lives. If I were sitting on a lawn, watching the marching band while speakers from the house were blasting music with strong base, I’d be overwhelmed with the conflicting beats. Or we might be actively trying to avoid hearing what is being sung to us. If I came with my lawn-mowing sound canceling headphones, I might know there was something going on, but not quite hear the music. Are there things in your life that are keeping you from noticing the Spirit’s song and holding you back from joining the dance?

Let’s set an intention for the summer. Let’s commit to each other and to God our desire to turn down some of the excess noise in our lives and set aside things that muffle the voice of God. Our summer is also about sabbatical, letting some things rest so that we can attend to what is most important. What might that look like for you?

My advice? First, join in worship. This is where we most clearly hear the song. We practice the dance as we pray, hear the good news, give back God’s gifts, and gather at the table.

Then, try something new. Explore prayer practices. Show love to your neighbors. Learn something new. Share your talents. Serve in a way you haven’t before. Don’t be afraid. I spent my jr. high and high school dances standing with my friends, wondering how they all learned how to dance, and trying to be invisible. I was always afraid to look stupid. That kept me from the freedom of simply having fun with the beat- or even having fun offbeat. The thing about the Spirit’s dance is that we can’t get it wrong. No matter what, God has claimed you, the Spirit has come to live in you, and even when you make some wrong steps, the Spirit is still happy to turn you back around.

Your pastor is rightly proud of all of you. Pastor Sarah often told me that you are a congregation who knows what it is to do Jesus’ work in the world- making a real difference in the lives of those in this community. You’ve been joining the dance. This summer, let’s tune in to the joy of dancing to the Spirit’s beat.

 



Exposed and Covered by Grace: A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
January 22, 2017, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

When we were living in North Dakota, we had a very long laundry line that basically took up our entire backyard. About 15 feet on the other side of the line was our neighbor’s house. So if our neighbor was in his kitchen, doing dishes, and looked out, he could read the logos on our t-shirts hanging in the breeze.

I never hung any underwear on our line.

From childhood taunts, “I see London, I see France, I see Suzy’s underpants” to high school dress codes to admonitions in seminary preaching classes – “don’t show your exegetical undergarments”— I’ve been formed to know you don’t go showing what you’re supposed to be covering up.

The thing is, we all have bodies, we all have variously shaped underclothes to hold our variously shaped bodies, and there’s nothing new or surprising about that. I was surprised then, one day while watching one of my favorite shows- “Call the Midwife”- set in 1950s urban England- to see a scene of laundry hanging between the flats. I noticed that there were all manner of undergarments and I was surprised that I had reaction of embarrassment that was simply not shared by the people in that culture. People have clothes, clothes get dirty, they get wet when washed, and they need to dry, and the way you dry clothes is to hang them out, which has the side effect of being visible to your neighbors.

Those are the facts. There’s nothing really to be embarrassed about. It’s pretty pointless to try to hide what we all know about each other.

When we read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, it feels a bit like we’re noticing their undies on the line. We’re hearing about those cracks in their community we think we’re expected to hide. But what if the invitation is not to hide from our humanity, but to acknowledge each other’s? And in recognizing that we all have things under the polished image we’d like the show the world, might we learn how to deal with those not so pretty bits- and even more importantly, might we discover grace and live in grace towards each other?

Let’s enter the text with humility and compassion- for the Corinthians and for ourselves.

Paul has just greeted the Corinthians with a typical opening, and reminded them of a vision of who they are called to be, as he writes:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift 

Within that thanksgiving are veiled references to the struggles Paul will address in this letter. It doesn’t take him much longer to become more direct.

We’ve only read 10 verses when we come to the first uncovering of the trouble in the community. Paul writes,

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 

Divisions? Disagreements? What’s this all about? He continues,

11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 

Ah. Factions have formed within the one community. The problem is that people within the community are claiming adherence to one teacher or another. In Paul’s culture, in which you might be a disciple of one rabbi or another, this is understandable. You might follow one teacher and interpret the scripture through that teacher’s lens. The problem is that they are using their affiliation as a source of justification and division. It’s like they’re going up to each other and saying, “I”m following the right teacher and yours is wrong.” Or- “You’re believing lies.” Or- maybe they’re trying to keep away from those who are interpreting from a different point of view.

Was there a pros and cons list followers were carrying around for Paul, and Apollos, and Cephas, and those “always have the right answer group” claiming Christ?

Paul calls them on it. He’s not interested in having his name used in their game, writing “thank God that I baptized none of you… except Cripus and Gaius…” (1:14). Paul knows it’s not about him. He may have been the one called to spread the word, but it’s been the word about Jesus, not about Paul himself. It’s been the word about the cross, not something wise or glorious, flashy or entertaining. Paul knows he’s human and has plenty of failings, and he’s ok pointing those out just to help the Corinthians break away from their focus on having the right group.

Your teacher, your pastor, your church affiliation, in the end, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is Christ. If Paul’s clear on saying he doesn’t want his name dragged into this argument, I can only imagine how clearly Christ would shout his disapproval.

I think we all can picture pretty clearly what it looks like to have a church broken up into factions. Many of us have ears ringing with memories of heated discussion and accusations. We also know what it is to weigh different schools of thought- different interpretations of the scriptures. Maybe some have not, but I think many of us have had plenty of time in prayer and study, discerning what teachings we want to live out of. We have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in the Corinthian community. It can be pretty uncomfortable for this kind of division to be named and brought out in the open.

Frankly, I think many of us have found it embarrassing for this church to have its name spoken out in public along with phrases like, “they’re having problems” or “they’re leaving the ELCA.” But, I don’t think it has to be. There’s nothing new with having divisions within the church. There’s nothing new to being emotional or having a temper or turning away instead of working it out. We don’t have to be ashamed of having a problem that is pretty typical. We’re not called to hide away our struggle. But we are called to be open to God’s word to us:

We’re in the same boat as the Corinthians, and so, more than ever, from the page of the Bible to our ears, Paul’s speaking to us: “Has Christ been divided?” (1:13)

Is Christ a measurable quantity that exists to a greater degree in one church over another? Can one group claim Jesus and be right in saying the other does not have him? No, of course not. In Colossians we read that in Jesus “all things hold together”  (1:17) and “there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all” (3:11)— all the groups into which we divide ourselves mean nothing to Christ, he transcends our boundaries. Further on in First Corinthians, Paul will talk of the Body of Christ, holding all the very different members of the body into one being. There might be differences among people, but there is one Jesus Christ who holds them all together- only one Jesus Christ who decides that each of them has a part in him.

The problem is that we tend to be afraid that Jesus will decide we don’t have a part in him. This makes us do crazy things. Our fear grows a festering sense of shame that divides community and pulls us away from Christ.

We don’t have to play the shame game when we realize there are divisions among us. We don’t have to let shame drive us to cover up by exposing other’s faults. So much of our lives is caught up in trying to look better than we are, to pretend we have fewer faults than our neighbors, to claim righteousness and holiness. Paul calls all that what it is: foolishness.

Because we who claim Jesus see things upside down to the way the world sees things. We claim something the world sees as foolish: the cross as the highest wisdom. We name the cross as the throne of our God. Looking through the cross, we see what seems wise is really foolish.

We’re so used to thinking according to the ways of this world that what God’s doing in the cross really doesn’t make sense. Why would God choose to be exposed in shame?

God goes to the cross to upend all our expectations about needing to hide the truth about who we are. On the cross, God declares:

I’m here for you.

You’ve gotten it all totally, horrible wrong, all my teachings, all my intentions, and yet, I’m still going to love you. 

You can’t do anything nasty enough to make me budge, I’m not going to turn away from you, 

I’m not going to turn on you. 

All your lists of right and wrong, holy and sinful, are upside down and twisted around, 

it’s time to realize I’m not a God about lists of naughty and nice, 

I’m a God who keeps no score, who washes away sin, 

who declares you beloved even while you are covered in the muck of sin, and who makes you new 

I’m bringing you along on the path towards a more whole creation. 

I’m here for you, because I know how very much you need me, and I’m willing to do everything to love you into life.

The foolishness of claiming affiliation to the one right teacher is exposed by the Jesus Christ who comes from God and hangs despised on a tree. Because that Jesus doesn’t do the “right” thing at all. He doesn’t follow the rules. He follows God’s love.

God’s love is a dangerous and wild force that rips out of our hands any tallies of in or out, right or wrong, welcome or not. God’s love carries us up out of ourselves and our preoccupations with self-righteousness and centers us in the wonder of grace.

The cross unravels our need for division. We align ourselves with the right group so that we can feel justified that we’re believing the right things and doing the right things, and so that we have an opposing group to point to as our foil. It helps us avoid looking at the things we don’t like in ourselves and keeps others from discovering how we are broken.

But if the cross is about Jesus choosing to stand with us in our brokenness, if Jesus already knows about everything we’re trying to hide, and if that hasn’t made him run from us, but is actually what is making him run towards us, then maybe we don’t have to be afraid or ashamed anymore. This is grace: that God loved us when we were most unloveable. Living in that grace, we can say with bold confidence, I am broken, but I am also beloved. We can look out- at those we’ve once pushed away- and know that about them: you are broken, but you are also beloved.

Living in grace, shame and judgement have no place. Without shame and judgement, division cannot be fueled. There will still be differences. The twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians is all about how differences are necessary. Different lens for interpretation, different ways of living out the gospel, different organizing structures, different styles, different gifts and different failings- but grace gives room for difference because it is centered in unexpectedly wide love.

We no longer have to hide what is a given about us- that in this life, we struggle. We can be outrageously open with the good news- that our struggle gives us occasion to learn even more deeply God’s love for us, and opportunity to live in to the experience of forgiveness, reconciliation, and freedom that Jesus’ cross opens for us.

Display for your neighbors to see: you’re a work in progress, and the master craftsman is forming you into people who rely on God’s grace and who show that grace to others.



Recommendations: Second Sunday after Epiphany John 1:29-42
January 16, 2017, 9:17 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Grace and peace to you, people of God.

 

When’s the last time you went out to a restaurant or to a new place?

How did you decide to go there?

 

If I’m driving around in a new area, I’ll pull over and check out Googlemaps, read a number of reviews, and then pick out where I’m eating. I listen to what total strangers say and let them influence my decision.

 

As we prepare to move to a new city, I’m writing down and leaning on other’s recommendations for everything from professional services and contractors to the best way to get from place to place. I look to others as the experts in their homeland.

 

We go places, hire people, and try new things because others tell us about it. We take their word for it.

 

How much we trust them depends on our relationship and their authority. I’m going to trust a good friend or a trusted professional because of the former’s relationship and the latter’s position of expertise.

 

Our experience of following through on the recommendation determines if we tell others- and if we trust the source again.

 

The Gospel of John is written in beautiful poetic Greek. John chapter 1 was one of the first entire chapters I translated into English while studying Greek. Even as I read it in English, I am awed by how beautiful it is. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The first human character we meet is John the Baptist. “he himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.”

 

As much as I love the beauty of this chapter, I know others find it wordy, abstract, and hard to follow. I think it will be more accessible if you use this framework of seeking and following the recommendations of others. The book was written so that you would find and follow Jesus. Within this first chapter the major action is the Word Incarnate- Jesus- coming on the scene with an authority- John the Baptist- pointing him out and recommending him to others. This action then ripples out, with those who trust John the Baptist’ recommendation recommending Jesus to others.

 

 

John the Baptist is a teacher, a religious authority, who has a group of disciples who have formed a long and trusting relationship with him. When John points to Jesus and declares, “This is the Lamb of God,” his own disciples take his word for it. They follow his recommendation, invite others to join them, and go to see Jesus for themselves.

 

It strikes me that John is sending his own disciples to Jesus. He isn’t concerned with keeping his fame. There is no competition between John and Jesus here because John’s role is to prepare for and point to Jesus. They’re both working to bring people to the same God. There’s a lot for us to learn here, as we consider how we talk of fellow Christians and other churches. We’re all about the work of recommending Jesus to the world. We don’t need to create bad reviews of other congregations in an attempt to make ourselves stronger. John was confident enough in his faith to release his own power and prestige and encourage his followers to follow the one they had been waiting for. He’s willing to release his disciples into a new community where they will be formed in faith.

 

John uses his influence to encourage his disciples to seek out Jesus. His influence must be considerable. John points to Jesus, declaring, “Look, here is the Lamb of God,” and two of his disciples leave John and, following his directions, find Jesus.

 

When John’s disciples come up to Jesus, we hear one of the most interesting phrases in this text. When the disciples ask Jesus, “Where are you staying?” it appears to be a simple question of “how can we find you later? Where are you going to be around dinner time tonight?”

 

Jesus takes the questions to another level. Instead of saying, “I’m at the inn on the corner, the one with the famous falafels,” Jesus says, “come and see.”

 

This, then becomes an invitation to disciples. “Come and see” – not only where I’m sleeping tonight, but see where I’m staying- where I’m dwelling- where I- the living God- can be found.

 

For the next few years, that’s what these disciples will do. They will be with Jesus, seeing how he shows up for those in need, those pushed aside, and those without hope. They will discover anew where God is found- and be amazed that God is active outside the boundaries they had assumed.

 

 

 

Sometimes, they will not like where Jesus chooses to dwell, and it will be hard for them to stay with him. They won’t like that staying with Jesus means sharing company with people they’ve been taught to stay away from. They won’t like that being with Jesus means they step out of the space in which rank and honor and being better than others gets you rewarded. They will scatter and leave when Jesus chooses to be in danger, in suffering, in humiliation, and in death. They won’t be able to believe the news when Jesus is found, not only in death, but in resurrection- new life. With his ascension, Jesus fills all places with his presence and assures us that there is no place with the power to push him out.

 

John chapter 1 is an invitation to us, to follow the recommendation of John and his disciples, of Jesus’ disciples and the early church, to seek out where Jesus is staying, to come and see, and enter a life of discipleship, dwelling where Jesus dwells, and sharing in his work. Cross- our community of faith- is the recommender and the accompanying disciples who help us discover Jesus and dwell with him.

 

We don’t create faith within ourselves, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit, but we can put ourselves in places where we meet Jesus. We can go to places where faith is created. That’s why we come here. The primary place Jesus dwells is in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, because Jesus has promised, “this is my body; this is my blood.” Jesus comes to us in Word read and preached. Jesus stays here among us, as promised, “I will not leave you abandoned.” (Jn 14:18) We’ve come here to meet Jesus and to be trained to recognize Jesus as we leave this place and enter the rest of our week.

 

Our annual meeting is a time to celebrate that this community of faith has been meeting Jesus. For us, Jesus has made himself present in bread and wine, divided and shared. Jesus has made himself present in the strangers and familiar faces we’ve served at Bread and Roses, Family Promise, and the Ixonia Food Pantry. We saw Jesus reflected in the eyes of children and adults working for a better future on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We met Jesus in each other, as care, love, and forgiveness were expressed. People have met Jesus in you.

 

While we may trust that Jesus is present, it can still be hard to see him. Like a pop up party or a mob dance, Jesus appears where we least expect him.

 

 

 

I was listening to an interview with Veronica Chambers and Sarah Lewis who edited and contributed to a book about First Lady Michelle Obama, entitled The Meaning of Michelle. One of the vignettes told that Mrs. Obama would go for regular walks on the streets of Washington DC, and no one would recognize her. She wasn’t accompanied by all the fanfare one expects with the First Lady. She just looked like a normal black woman out for a jog, and so no one expected she was anything special. They didn’t give her a second look, didn’t ask for an autograph, didn’t really see her.

Sometimes we don’t recognize what we don’t expect to see. We see what we expect and miss out on what’s really there. If we don’t expect Jesus among the poor and oppressed, the sinners and the anti religious, the depressed and the dead, we will miss him. We won’t have the wonder of seeing that God’s love is so big, nothing anyone can do will push Jesus away. We’ll miss out on knowing that God values all people, and maybe we’ll live in fear that we might do something to make God value us less, to make God reject us.

 

Jesus dwells where we don’t want him to be. He is in us, knowing those places we hide from everyone else. He is in people and situations we don’t want to value and we don’t want to be near. Jesus has to be there, because that’s where the front lines of the coming kingdom are: where God is working to bring good news, healing, and justice. We might not want Jesus to be there, in the ickiness of life, because his being there calls us towards changed action. If Jesus is there at work, surely we should be too. If we’re disciples, we’re to be joining Jesus where he is active, mimicking his work.

 

This first chapter of John is all about this God who dives into the world, entering it fully, especially dwelling among the poor, the pushed aside, and the suffering, even filling the space occupied by death. Jesus comes into all this to bring his love and life to the whole world.

Jesus is found in scary, unexpected, messy places, and invites us to come and see what he’s up to. He dwells there to bring change, and calls us to be active in his work. It’s more comfortable to find Jesus in the woods, or in the beautiful sanctuary. We need each other- we rely on each other’s word- to tell us where Jesus is staying, so that we don’t miss out on finding Jesus. The glory of being a disciple is in being right next to the teacher, copying the teacher, becoming more and more like the teacher. Then the work of the master is work we also take joy in, because we’ve been there as it’s coming into being.

 

The movement of the Gospel of John continues today. We are called to be doing the work of John the Baptist and the disciples, pointing Jesus out and walking with others as they come and see where he is. Jesus invites you, and each child of the earth, to come and see that he already dwells right here, with you, and his presence is bringing joy and life, justice and well-bring, for now and forever.



Wastelands becoming Gardens: A Sermon for Advent 3, Isaiah 35:1-10
December 12, 2016, 5:16 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , , ,

Bible Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

 

Have you ever gone into a place after a disaster? A fire, flood, or tornado?

Maybe you were there to help, or to visit friends, or maybe it was home- before.

What was once familiar becomes a strange wasteland.

(Something that looks like this…)

I’ve been lucky to not have my own home destroyed. I’ve seen pictures on the news, driven through areas after the storm. When I see a neighborhood filled with flood waters, I have a hard time imagining toddlers on their trikes and kids zooming on their bikes, up and down streets that are now a lake. When I see a house demolished- exploded- by a tornado, I can’t imagine sitting down at the dinner table.

 

But for the families who called those places home, what might be hardest to imagine is how the memory and the present reality could be one and the same place. How could it be that sacred, safe home is no more?

Once the shock wears off, and the fact that this is what it is hits, then how can one go forward?

 

You can look back into your memories and remember what once was- you can stand in the midst of the present destruction and see that it is so horribly different- but can you possibly believe there could be something good again?

 

That’s the place the people of God were at, when they heard these words of God through Isaiah, and when they came back in later generations to listen to them again. These texts give a vision forward. For the people of God who have been conquered by the Babylonian Empire, who lived in exile, everything they knew had been destroyed. Their homes, their government, even God’s temple– all destroyed.

 

How could they hope for a change for the better?

 

God gives them hope. God gives them an image to hold on to – and a promise that this image is a sign of their future:

“the desert shall rejoice and blossom”

“the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water”

Isaiah’s images are of a creation restored, brought to greater life.

 

These images challenge the resignation of “it is what it is,” they don’t leave room for, “nothing’s going to change.” They promise, “God’s going to change it all!”

 

 

The defining feature of a desert is that it doesn’t rain much, and so it doesn’t blossom often. The energy is only put forth when there’s enough water, when it’s safe. A blossoming desert is a land trusting God will continue to provide in abundance what was once scarce, life.

 

Imagine – if we have a God who can turn the desert into a lake- what else might God be able to do? What could possibly be too big for our God?

 

Our God makes the lame to leap, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. Those who are resigned to life as it is will be surprised in joy. That’s the promise God has for us.

 

The question is- are we ready to be open to hope? Will we look to God, trusting that God will fulfill our longing for healing and life? Have we found the one worthy of our trust?

 

That’s the question John the Baptist had of Jesus. “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for, or should we look for another?” Jesus’ answer is to direct his attention to the signs around- just as promised through Isaiah, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

 

In their time, people living with different abilities weren’t completely allowed in to society, so these “healings” really meant being brought to greater life when it certainly seemed impossible that their lives could change.

Jesus himself is the final sign – the final proof- that we can trust in God. There’s nothing our God can’t do. God raises the dead. Jesus is alive.

 

Since God can make the desolate places become gardens, the pushed aside brought back into community, the dead man come to life, we have hope that the brokenness in and around us can be restored to life.

 

We can look back and remember the way things were, look now and see it isn’t as we need it to be, and look ahead through God’s promise to the good future that will be.

 

We live in the middle times. Where are you in the midst of desolation? Where do you look back and remember the way things were- and feel pain at the way things are today? Maybe you can’t even remember a time when things were good.

 

Look out ahead. Listen to God’s promise. Can you see the new future God intends?

 

We’re here to help each other see. When we feel like the path forward is a wall of fog, we gather here to hear God fill in the details of that path forward. We gather together to rely on each other’s strength. We can be like John’s disciples, bringing news of the signs that God is at work to restore all things.

 

The wasteland will become a garden, the devastation a welcome home, the broken whole. May God grant you hope in the meantime.