Monthly Archives: January 2015

Sermon for January, 18th Epiphany 2: Come and See

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John 1:43-51

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Come and See

When Phillip found Nathanael, he tells him, “We have found him…. Jesus of Nazareth.”  We have found him.  And Nathanael questions.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Phillip’s reply is not an explanation, or a debate.  Rather he shares three simple words in the form of an invitation.

Come and See

Because to truly know this Jesus, you cannot simply hear about him…  You cannot know facts about him.  You have to know him.  You have to experience the presence of God in Jesus for yourself.

Come and See

Today in our scriptures we see three call stories.  One of the young prophet Samuel from our Old Testament reading, and two apostles, Phillip and Nathanael, in our gospel reading.  In each of these stories we see that God if first moving.  God calls the prophet Samuel when he is just a boy, and he does not even recognize the voice of the Lord, because he does not yet know him.  But God had been working in Samuel’s life long before Samuel could be aware of it, long before he could choose to respond to God.  In fact, God had been working in his life before he was even born.  Samuel’s mother’s name was Hannah.  She was a faithful woman, but she was barren and could not have children.  It brought her a great deal of pain and unhappiness.  Her husband Elkanahhad two wives and his second wife had children and would, ‘taunt and provoke’ Hannah because she had none.  When they went to offer their sacrifice to the Lord at the Ark of the Covenant, Hannah prayed to the Lord.  She prayed for a son and vowed that if she conceived this son, she would give him to the Lord’s service.  The priest Eli hears her desperate prayers, and at first thinks she is drunk.  But soon, he realizes that she is simply pleading with God to grant her prayers and he takes pity on her and prays to the Lord that this prayer will be granted.

Hannah conceives and bears a son, and names him Samuel.  And when her child is weaned she is faithful to her vow and she brings him to the house of the Lord and presents him to Eli.  And instead of bemoaning her great sacrifice, Hannah sings a song of victory!  She tells of the faithfulness of God who, ‘raises the poor from the dust.”  Every year Hannah would make her son a little coat and bring it to him when they came to offer their yearly sacrifice.  Hannah went on to bear three sons and two daughters, and Samuel was raised in the Lord’s presence.  Samuel went on to be a just prophet and judge of the Lord, and eventually anoint the first two kings of Israel.

God was working in Samuel’s life before he was even aware of it.  God called Samuel first, and Samuel responded.  When God began calling Samuel, Samuel mistook the voice of God.  It took his mentor Eli to help him see that it was God’s voice.  Samuel had been responding, “Here I am.”  “Here I am.”  And yet, it seems this was not the response that God was looking for.  Rather, when Samuel responds, “Speak, Lord- your servant is listening,” God does speak.

God often calls us before we are even aware of it too.  God works in our lives before we make the conscious decision to have faith or become a Christian.  Look at our baptism.  In our church, we baptize babies along with children and adults.  Somehow we believe that God gives faith to that person who is baptized, even though they are unaware of it.  And the same is true with all baptisms and all lives of faith- God first calls us.  God gives us the gift of faith.  It is not a decision we make for ourselves.  It is not a work that we do.  Rather it is a gift.  The call of God is a gift.

And what is our response to God?  Maybe we can learn a lesson from the boy Samuel.  “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”  How are we taking time to listen to God in our lives?  What is God trying to tell us?  Personally and as a church?  In order to respond to our call from God, we first have to listen.  We have to pray and discern where God may be leading us.  We need to watch for the signs as we learned from our epiphany story where the wise men are led to the baby Jesus. Listening and watching for the rare and precious word of the God, is our response.

In our two call stories from John’s gospel, we see Jesus acting first.  Jesus decides to go to Galilee.  He finds Phillip.  He says, “Follow me.”  He seeks us and finds us too.  Jesus knows us even as we stand afar.  We all have a desire in this life to be truly know, and truly loved.  And we find that in our relationship with God.  God knows us completely- and loves us completely.  Part of Phillip’s call to follow Jesus is to bring others to Jesus.  He says to Nathaneal, “Come and see.”  And truly that is the call of every Christian- say, “Come and See.”  Come and see Jesus- this God who knows you and loves you.  What a gift we can offer to the world.

Come and See

There was once a time when it was sort of assumed that people in America would go to Church.  Maybe that’s the way that some of you grew up in the beginning to middle of the 20th century. Most people were Christian and most people were engaged in a faith community.  The truth is, that is no longer true today.  There are many competing viewpoints in our world.  There are many more things to do on a Sunday morning.  The world is different.  And evangelism was in many ways, simply an invitation to our church.  Come to us, come to our building.  But today, we have to think deeper about what it means to invite people to Come and See Jesus.  Because many people will never make it into a church building.  That is why we try to think of Church today more as a way of life and less as a building.  When we are serving at the community table and beacon house, we are saying, Come and See Jesus.  When we are packing kids meals so that kids at Sam Davey don’t go hungry on the weekends, we are saying Come and See.  When we give quilts to people all around the globe, we say Come and See.  When we welcome children and families here at Rachel’s Place we say Come and See.  When we go to El Salvador and participate in medical missions we say Come and See.    When we provide a safe space every week for groups like AA and Al-anon, we say Come and See.  When we embody God’s love, by loving the world- we say Come and See.

We love because God first loved us.  God called us first.  God gives us the gift of faith, and the gift of knowing Jesus.  Come and See.

Sermon for Sunday, January 11th The Baptism of our Lord

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Mark 1:4-11

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Sermon for Sunday, January 11th The Baptism of our Lord

“And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

The heavens are torn apart.  Many times when we think of baptism we envision a very peaceful scene.  A peaceful sleeping baby with glistening water droplets on their forehead….  But Jesus’ baptism from Mark’s gospel is quite wild, untamed, maybe even chaotic.  The scene which nearly begins the gospel of Mark, starts with John the Baptist in his camel’s hair, eating locusts as he preaches about repentance. Throngs of people come out to be baptized in the river. And Jesus is of them.  Jesus’ baptism only gets wilder.  As God looks at the Son the heavens are torn apart.  The love and pride and passion of God is so great, the entire heavens are ripped apart.

Maybe you have an idea of what that feels like, as you have looked at your beloved.  Maybe you’ve looked at your child and have loved them so deeply, you feel as if you have been torn apart.  This little piece of your soul walking around the world…  The love and fear nearly overwhelms you.   Your heart is torn apart… the heavens torn apart as you look at them- my beloved.

This is the deep and excruciating love that God has for the Son, and that God has for each of us.  That resounding voice declaring: YOU are my son, the beloved; with you I am well please.  YOU are my daughter, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.

Jesus’ baptism is a dramatic event: with the tearing apart of the heavens, the voice of God, the Holy Spirit descending like a dove.  John tells the people, “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  We have been baptized through Jesus, with the Holy Spirit.  As Martin Luther says in the small catechism, “It is not water that does these things, but God’s Word with the water and our trust in this Word.  Water by itself is only water, but with the Word of God it is a life-giving water which by graces gives us the new birth through the Holy Spirit.”

Clearly, our baptism is different than Jesus’ baptism.  Jesus’ last command to his disciples is to go into all the world baptizing in the name of the father and of the son and of the Spirit.  After his death and resurrection- baptism takes on a new meaning as the entrance into the Christian life of discipleship.  Still, in our baptism we too have the same spirit of God breaking into our world.

Still, maybe you do not feel that your baptism was as exciting or dramatic as Jesus’ baptism by John.  Perhaps, because you were just a baby and not aware of what was happening.  Or maybe you didn’t feel any different after your baptism.  And yet, every baptism done in Jesus’ name has power.  Something powerful has happened.  God calls us to baptism and God’ works through baptism, whether we fully realize it or not.

I had the privilege of seeing this holy power up close and personal in a baptism I was a part of.  Here at our church Pastor Rick and I baptize.  That is part of what you call us to do as your spiritual leaders.  And yet in an emergency ANY Christian can baptize.  After all it is God’s power and Spirit that do the work.  Before I was ordained and called as your pastor, I baptized someone.  During Seminary I was working as a chaplain in a hospital and a young boy came in who had drowned.  He was on life support and I was caring for his family.  His parents had not been to church in a long time and so he had not been baptized.  They asked me to baptize him.

As I dripped the water on his forehead I was overcome by the irony of the water- the very cause of his immanent death- now proclaiming his new life in Christ.  I marked the cross of Christ on his forehead and called him a child of God.  It was a holy moment for his family.  When there was nothing in the world to offer this little boy, no money or medical treatments could save him-  Baptism gave a gift to his family.  One holy moment surrounded by all of the grief and pain.

As our team of chaplains later debriefed with the staff and nurses, I became even more aware of how incredible this gift was.  Three of the nurses shared stories of spiritual experiences relating to the baptism.  I myself had a powerful dream about the family of the little boy.  We were in the hospital after the baptism and yet the little boy was well and we were all hugging and celebrating as if we were long lost loved ones- as if we had done his baptism at church like any other baptism.  It gave me a glimpse of the power of God’s kingdom breaking into our world.  An unexplainable peace and love, which transcends all boundaries…

Here I realized the spiritual power of every baptism in the name of Jesus.  It also helped me see how influential our own baptisms can be in our own lives.  Scholar Timothy Wengert, wrote about Martin Luther in this month’s issue of the Lutheran.  In it he debunked some myths about Luther the man, and he also referenced Luther’s writing and teaching about baptism in the Large Catechism.  He quoted Luther writing, “Baptism is not a work that we do but … a treasure that God gives us and faith grasps.  …In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life. …Thus, we must regard baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and say… ‘But I am baptized! And if I have been baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body…”

The one-time event of our baptism is a promise of God’s love for us that lasts forever.  That is why we feel it is so important to remind ourselves of our baptisms, and to support those who have been newly baptized and their families in their Christian faith.  Because baptism is not simply a fuzzy-feeling ritual.  Rather it is the initiation into a life of discipleship with Jesus Christ.  It is a rebirth into our new spiritual selves.  It is something we must rely on daily as a sustaining source of grace and forgiveness in our lives.

And as we see in Jesus’ baptism it is often something that takes place in the wilderness of life.  Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” where he would spent forty days tempted by Satan.  Maybe it was the power of his baptism and the confirmation in the Spirit’s presence that sustained him, along with the angels, during that wilderness time.

In our baptism we see the truth of who we are as God’s beloved children.  God’s love for us tears open the heavens. It is wild and unpredictable.  It comes in surprising ways.  It can reach across any divide to give us the forgiveness, healing, and love that we are searching for.  The Spirit at Jesus’ baptism is the same Spirit of God present at creation- and the same Spirit present in our church community today and at each of our baptisms.  This Spirit proclaims good news to the poor and oppressed, offers healing to those hurting, and sometimes drives us into the wilderness to endure the difficult trials of our lives.  Still, through it all God’s promise of grace and love in our baptism is forever.