Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Friday, December 24, 2010

no room in the inn (12.24.10)

First Reading Isaiah 9:2-7
2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-on them light has shined…. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Gospel Luke 2:1-14
1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

            If there’s anyone here who doesn’t know this story, I’m really glad that you’re here tonight. I hope you’ll leave your name and contact information on one of the visitor cards in the pew rack in front of you. I would love to hear your first impressions of this amazing story. If you’re new to the story of Jesus you have a unique contribution to make to the way we hear the story, because for many of us, it is so familiar it has lost some of its fire. Still, as familiar as this story is, God keeps opening our eyes to see different parts of it in a new way.

            Last year in November I read all the Advent passages in a row to think about the big picture of Advent and Christmas. I remember coming to this passage and reading for the hundredth or thousandth time, “She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

            There I was, sitting on the carpeted floor of my office at home, when my voice broke and tears ran down my face. A pregnant woman travelling with her new husband was about to give birth, and there was no room for them in the inn. Christ the Lord came from heaven to save us, and there was no room for him in the inn.

            I wept, but I certainly can’t judge, since I don’t always make room for Jesus either. How often do we lock Jesus out of our homes, out of our decisions, out of our hearts? How often are we the innkeeper who sees the young mother in need and decides not to make room? How often do we hear Christ knocking at the doors of our life and pretend we are not home? Why don’t we make room for Jesus? Why wasn’t there room for Christ at the inn?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Emmanuel: God is with us (12.19.10)

Isaiah 7:10-16

10Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. 13Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.

Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Matthew 1:18-25

18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."

24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
            Raise your hand if you can basically tell this story from memory.

            This is a very familiar part of a very familiar story for many of us. It’s so familiar that we can slide right over how incredible it is. This whole Christmas story can easily slide into sentimentality and hallmark card sweetness if we’re not careful. There’s a baby and animals and a young couple facing the world together; it’s so tempting to make this a cute image. The classic Christmas carols tell the story, but sometimes we’ve heard them so many times in Target and the supermarket by this time of year that even those words loose their power and become a fuzzy cloud of good feelings.

            God, the Lord of heaven and earth, became a human being for our sake. God didn’t even become a strong, powerful man like Hercules or Samson. God became a vulnerable, weak, speechless baby. God became a baby in a small town during tax season. God chose to be born in a stable because there wasn’t a place for him at the inn. God took on a body so weak, in a situation so powerless that he couldn’t even get a motel room.
            It’s a scandal really. It doesn’t make any sense in the world we know, and it didn’t make any sense in the world Christ entered as a baby. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s sometimes how God does things.

            I’m getting a bit ahead of the story by talking about the birth of Jesus. Our chunk of the story for this morning starts back a little further but it still doesn’t make any sense. Our chunk of the story starts when Joseph discovers Mary is pregnant.

            We don’t know much about Joseph. We know that he was a carpenter engaged to a woman named Mary. We know he was a righteous man, which means he took his faith seriously and tried to follow the commandments of God. For the rest of the story we have to use our imagination.

Monday, December 13, 2010

messengers of the good news

Isaiah 35:1-10
1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Luke 1:47-55
47"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Matthew 11:2-11
2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 4Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the 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. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' 11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
            Advent and Christmas stand apart from the normal flow of time. Memories of Christmases past flow into the present in ways that add depth and richness to the season. We remember time gone by, and the lines between years blur.

I remember riding a new tricycle in my grandparents’ basement one Christmas when I was two or three. I remember the walls and the doorway at the end of the hall; I feel the plastic of the seat and wheels; I hear the rattling, rumbling of that big spinning wheel muffled by the carpet.

I remember Christmas pageants at my elementary school. I remember children’s voices reading Luke in the King James Version from the towering pulpit in the huge sanctuary. I remember bells in the choir loft and the thrilling vibration of the organ. I remember Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger on top of the white marble dais. I remember clip on ties and cheering parents.

I can’t sort out those memories: one year runs into the other. Was I an angel or a shepherd? Did I read scripture from that pulpit when I was 8 or 6? Maybe my tricycle memories have blended into other memories because I remember what the house looked like. Maybe I really rode that tricycle at my other grandmother’s house at Thanksgiving or in the summer time.

Memory is a funny thing and these holy days are especially prone to blending together and running into each other. Each year brings celebration and family and friends. Some years bring loneliness or grief or sorrow. Christmas carols and childhood expectation color our memories one way while grown-up rushing around and holiday stress add a darker shade to the picture.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Prepare the way of the Lord

Isaiah 11:1-10
1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples;
the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Matthew 3:1-12
1In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" 4Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Advent is about expectation. It’s about expecting God’s kingdom and preparing for that kingdom. This morning we hear the voices of two prophets to help us prepare, to focus our expectation. We hear two prophets speaking about the future, about the amazing things God is doing.

Isaiah talks about a shoot from the stump of Jesse. Jesse was King David’s father, so Isaiah is really talking about a shoot of new life from the cut down family tree of David. God promised David that his descendants would always rule Israel if they were faithful to God. Unfortunately, the history of the kings of Israel is a history of turning away from God and seeking power like other rulers. That turning away led to the division of Israel into the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah and finally led to the defeat and exile of the people as David’s line faded into obscurity.

Looking with eyes filled with God’s Spirit, Isaiah sees the day when new life will grow from that stump. He sees a day when God will call the people of Israel back to God under the rule of a faithful king. That king won’t just be a king for Israel, he won’t just lead the original people of God. Instead, as Isaiah says, “On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples;
the nations shall inquire of him...” On that day the king of Israel will lead all the people of the world.

Friday, December 3, 2010

An opportunity to testify (November 14)

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
6Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

11For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Luke 21:5-19
5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6"As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." 7They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"

8And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them. 9"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." 10Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Raise your hand if you’ve been to New York City. Do you remember your impression when you first arrived? What did you feel as you looked around for the first time?

I think a lot of those feelings are what the disciples felt when they arrived in Jerusalem, especially when they first saw the temple. They were men from small villages in the distant countryside. Maybe for some of them this was their first trip to Jerusalem, the first trip to the big city.

They have arrived in the historic capital of the nation of Judah and the spiritual capital of Judaism. Going to Jerusalem, especially around Passover, meant connecting with Israel’s history. It meant remembering the miracle of God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It meant remembering the arrival in the Promised Land. It meant remembering the days when David was king and Israel was strong, independent and faithful to God.

Imagine these country men suddenly in the big city. Imagine these proud Jews coming to the center of their religious and national life. Imagine this group following the man they knew was the Messiah, God’s chosen king, coming to the city of David, God’s most famous chosen king of the past.

Religious reform, God’s power in a king, the royal city. All these things come together as Jesus’ disciples look at the beauty and majesty of the temple. They talk to each other about how amazing God’s house is; they also must be hoping that Jesus will step into his role as king and deliver a renewed and free Israel.

Jesus looks at the temple and sees another side. He sees the coming judgment of God and the destruction of Jerusalem. He is God’s chosen king, but the deliverance of Israel and the world isn’t going to be as simple as the disciples hope it will be. It isn’t a matter of simply crowning Jesus as king and renewing David’s rule. Our king goes to the cross first, and the Royal City will be destroyed before the New Jerusalem comes in glory from heaven.

All the human building and power and pride in the world will be humbled in the face of God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom doesn’t come through human building and political power. The church’s ministry isn’t about big buildings or fancy robes; it’s about ministry in the midst of chaos and love poured out simply in service.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Christ is alive!

Acts 10:34-43
34Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality,35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all.37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree;40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
John 20:1-18
1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."
3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

15Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." 16Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” That’s how Peter begins his sermon in the house of a Roman military commander named Cornelius. For Peter, God has been turning his life upside down ever since a man named Jesus walked by where he was fishing and said to him, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Peter followed, and in the course of his three year ministry with Jesus saw healing he never thought possible; he heard about the love of God with power he never imagined; he saw God’s love in Jesus embrace people that surprised him. As Peter and the other disciples came closer to Jerusalem Peter saw the growing conflict with the religious leaders threaten and finally kill this man they had followed along so many roads.

But the journey of God’s unexpected love didn’t end there. Sunday morning finds surprising news reach Peter’s ears, “They have taken the Lord, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Running to the tomb Peter and his companion find…nothing. The linen cloth Jesus was buried in is rolled up; the head cloth rolled up not far away, but no body, no sign of anyone.

Stranger still, that evening Jesus himself appears to Peter and the others, alive and well with only nail marks and a spear wound to show that Friday’s crucifixion had ever happened. Jesus breathes a Spirit of power on the disciples and sends them out to tell the world that he is risen and reigning.

Jesus is Lord (3.28.10)

Luke 19:28-40
28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it'"
32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" 34They said, "The Lord needs it." 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying,
"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, And glory in the highest heaven!"
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." 40He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

Philippians 2:5-11
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

For many chapters now it’s been clear that Jesus is going to Jerusalem. Today we finally get there. As Jesus and his crew are getting close to the city, Jesus sends a couple of disciples into a nearby village to prepare for his arrival.

Long before, the prophet Zechariah had proclaimed: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey.” Jesus sends his disciples to get a donkey to fulfill this prophesy.

In case we’re still confused about who Jesus is, Luke tells the story carefully. Jesus tells his disciples that if anyone asks why they’re taking the donkey they should answer, “The Lord needs it.” Luke wants it very clear that Jesus isn’t just the Lord’s servant or prophet or messenger; Jesus is Lord.

What does it mean that Jesus is Lord? Since Jesus gets a royal parade and a criminal execution in the same week, obviously the answer is complicated. The crowd of disciples that followed Jesus into Jerusalem waving palms and lining the streets with a red carpet of their cloaks didn’t miss the significance of the donkey Jesus is riding. The Psalm they sing with joy was a royal Psalm used to celebrate the crowning of a new king in Israel. The people watching get it; they see Jesus and expect a king.

The Pharisees get it too, that’s why they’re upset about the singing. It worries them that people see Jesus as David’s heir. For one thing, they’re not so sure about this Jesus guy. Sure, he draws in a crowd and clearly he knows the scriptures and has authority in his words, but his teaching is sort of unorthodox and his behavior challenges tradition.

lost and found (3.14.10)

Psalm 32
1Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,"
and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

6Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
7You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah

8I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.

10Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
11Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
3So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Then Jesus said, 11b"There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' 20So he set off and went to his father.
But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe-the best one-and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.
25"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' 28Then he became angry and refused to go in.

His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' 31Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

Life is a journey, and the journey makes us who we are, while the community opens our eyes to fuller truth than we see on our own. We’ve got two sons in this story, this famous story Jesus tells the indignant Pharisees and the grateful but vulnerable tax collectors. The younger son took his money and left; the older stayed home with his dad to work the farm. When the younger son returns home, clothes tattered, body weakened from hunger and the road, face weather-beaten, his father sees him from far away and welcomes him home.

Probably he’s been looking down the road every day hoping his son might return. Do we dare to imagine the worry this father has felt every day waking up and every night going to sleep; wondering where his son could be; wondering if he’s ok? Every now and then a figure coming down the road to the farm will catch his eye and he stops what he’s doing to watch. As the figure gets closer he looks to see if it could be his lost son, but each time something isn’t right: too old, too tall, too short. Once or twice he’s even started to walk out to the gate only to be disappointed again, to feel the sting of rejection all over.

Then one day he sees a shape on the horizon and his heart begins to beat a little faster. As the shape comes closer it looks hauntingly familiar, but skinnier. Instead of the confident bounce in his step as he went off into the distance, there’s a slight stoop to the figure’s shoulders and he’s moving slowly. But the closer the figure gets the surer the father is that this must be his son. He runs out to the road and keeps running until his long lost son is in his arms again.

come to the water (3.7.10)

Luke 13:1-9
1At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them — do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
6Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' 8He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

Isaiah 55:1-12
1Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.

I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

6Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Last week we talked about making peace with death and living fearlessly from that foundation. This week Jesus points us to death again, but in a different way. In a way it’s fitting that we would spend these two weeks talking about death; after all, Lent is a season lived in the shadow of the cross. Jesus points us to death today to jar us out of our complacency.

We spend most of our time taking care of everyday things. We go to work, we buy groceries, we cook dinner, put the kids to bed, maybe we read or watch some TV as we wind down our day. Our life is mostly made up of routine. Often that routine is comforting and comfortable; sometimes it’s boring or stressful, but the routine is a big part of our lives.

Routine is such a big part of our lives and the pressures of everyday life take up so much of our energy that we sometimes forget that life doesn’t go on forever. Shockingly, people die in the middle of their lives everyday. Those Galileans going to the temple to worship had no idea they wouldn’t come back. Those folks standing underneath the tower of Siloam had no reason to think that would be the day the tower came down.

But life is unpredictable. We pretend that things will go on as planned, and probably we have to do that most of the time to get on with life, but we honestly can’t be sure what tomorrow will bring or if we will have a tomorrow at all.

under God's wing (2.28.10)

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-181After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." 2But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." 4But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." 5He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
7Then he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." 8But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" 9He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." 10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him…17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,"
Luke 13:31-35
31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." 32He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

            Our passage from Genesis reminds us of God’s covenant with Abram and takes us back to the beginning of God’s relationship with Israel. God called Abram and told him to take his wife and his nephew and leave his home and family. God promised that he would be with him and that he would make Abram into a great nation. Amazingly, Abram picked up his things and followed God’s leading into the great unknown.

            In today’s reading Abram seems a little discouraged because at this point he doesn’t have any kids at all, so his prospects for becoming a great nation are looking pretty shaky. He voices his frustration to God and God reaffirms the promise. Abram believes God, but he still asks for some confirmation, which God provides through a classic animal sacrifice to confirm the covenant.

            That covenant with Abram was reaffirmed with Abram’s descendants: Isaac and Jacob and was renewed powerfully when God led Israel out of slavery in Egypt and made a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai to be their God forever. That covenant continues with the Jewish people today, through many twists and turns.

            As Christians we look back to that same covenant for our relationship with God. We can’t trace our genealogy back to Abram, but we can trace our faith back to him. Through faith in Jesus we become part of the covenant God made with Israel; that covenant to be our God as we will be God’s people. Israel’s history with God becomes our history as well; we are heirs to all the twists and turns of faith that Israel experienced as well as new twists and turns of faith the church has lived through over its nearly 2000 years.

who are we?

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
1When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, "Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us."
4When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, 5you shall make this response before the LORD your God: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me." You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. 11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

Luke 4:1-13
1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." 4Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"
5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." 8Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' 11and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" 12Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
A lot of people say they are spiritual but not religious or that they believe in God but can’t get into organized religion. For many people it makes sense that there is a greater power out there looking after us in some way, but human rituals and institutions feel far away from the relationship we crave.

The thing is ritual gives us structure; it helps us remember what is important. Big ideas like God are hard for us. God is the source of everything around us and yet it’s easy to forget that our relationship with God is the foundation of everything else. Without regular practices and a community of faith we quickly drift into talking God for granted or forgetting about him entirely.

There are times when the experience of God’s presence breaks into our lives with power. Sometimes a gorgeous sunset or a sleeping baby stops us in our tracks and fills us with awe at the glory of God’s creation. Or a piece of art will remind us of the depth of Christ’s suffering for us and we will be cut to the heart. But most days sail along full of work and bills and demands and we lose sight of the ultimate in the thick trees of the everyday.

transformed by glory (2.14.10)

Exodus 34:27-35
27The LORD said to Moses: Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. 28He was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
29Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

2 Corinthians 3:4-4:2
4Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, 8how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? 9For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! 10Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; 11for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!
12Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 14But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
1Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

Moses brought the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel carved into stone tablets. These commandments form the basis for the covenant God made with Israel, a powerful agreement to be their God as they would be God’s people. Really, the basis for the covenant is God’s love reaching out to people, but the commandments provided a structure to respond to God’s love faithfully.

Moses spent 40 days and nights on the mountain with God carving the commandments into the stone and listening to God explaining how people should live. Moses was close to God and being close to God leaves a mark. He came back to the people with stone tablets in his hands and his face glowing with the presence of God.

We often think of commandments in a negative way, and we sometimes think of the Old Testament as a whole as full of law and full of condemnation. But at their root the commandments spell out a covenant that is an amazing word of love. God chose Israel to be his special people. To carry them out of slavery on eagles’ wings and to establish them in a land safe from harm. God gave Israel commandments to help them create a society governed by faithfulness to God and justice for all the people. God was present in the commandments and that is an amazing blessing.

Paul spent most of his life as a strict Jew. He was a Pharisee, which means he took the Law’s commandments very seriously. For the Pharisees the commandments were not only important to keeping covenant with God, they protected Jews from being assimilated by the wider pagan culture that surrounded them. The Law protected the people from harmful influences and gave them a way to seek righteousness. Law was a matter of faith and identity and the Pharisees clung to it for dear life.

That’s why Jesus was so challenging to the Pharisees. He seemed full of God’s presence, but he also seemed to disregard the commandments completely. They put their faith in the idea that God gave them a law to be followed to the letter and here was this guy just doing whatever he felt like doing.

Gifts in the body

Luke 4:14-21
14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

1 Corinthians 12:12-31
12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.

17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."

22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
Do you ever get fed up with someone at work? Maybe they have this really annoying habit that drives you nuts. Maybe they haven’t perfected their manners yet. Or maybe their concept of reality is so different from yours that you can’t even understand what they’re thinking .

Life in community is hard because we’re all different, and frankly, we’re pretty peculiar. It’s often hard for us to understand each other; sometimes it’s hard to put up with others, let alone enjoy their company. Our culture tells us to value diversity, but it’s much more comfortable to be around people who think and act in ways we understand.

Paul reminds us that our differences are a strength, not a weakness. We aren’t different to make life difficult or even interesting. We’re different because the church and the world need many different things. We have different interests and skills and ways of doing things because all of those differences are useful in some way for building up God’s kingdom and making the world a better place.

We often worry about how much time our kids spend playing video games, and rightly so. The data for how many hours a day are spent in front of a screen with guns blazing is truly alarming and there are significant risks to too much of this kind of pastime, to say nothing about how many other things often get neglected. But a recent study revealed that surgeons who played three hours a week of video games had better skills in laparoscopic surgery. God can turn even something we usually think of as a waste of time into an asset for serving others, and God can turn all of our differences and peculiarities into ministry.

When people find out that I am a paramedic they often say, “Wow, I could never do what you do.” I’m glad for that. First of all, it makes it much easier for me to find work, but more importantly there are thousands of jobs out there that other people are doing that I wouldn’t be able to do.

Baptized in the Spirit

Isaiah 43:1-7
1But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
4Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
5Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
6I will say to the north, "Give them up,"
and to the south, "Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth —
7everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made."

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
We start out in our passage from Luke with ground we have covered before. John’s challenging word from the Lord guided us during Advent and helped us prepare for the coming of Jesus. This week we come back to the Jordan, back to the prophet wearing rough clothing and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

We know that diverse crowds came out to hear John’s message. Tax collectors and soldiers came out to listen, people at the fringes of Jewish society or even outside it altogether. Scribes and Pharisees, those protectors of the religious order, came to check John out as well.

Between these extremes, big crowds of regular people came to the river to hear this fiery preacher and his message of repentance. As usual, we don’t know a lot about these crowds. Probably many were observant in their faith and many others were less so. Some must have come out of curiosity and others out of a hunger for God’s presence. Maybe most people came from a mixture of both. However you’re feeling this morning, you can find yourself in that crowd by the river.

And then there was Jesus. Jesus also came out to hear John’s message of repentance and forgiveness. Jesus came out to hear the prophet who was preparing the way for him. And Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan, even though he was the only person who didn’t need to repent. Jesus came out to be baptized and so began his ministry.

Over this last week I have been sending out daily readings by email. We’ve been reading some of the passages from Jesus’s childhood. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most is that people sometimes email back questions or thoughts about the reading. Several questions focused on what Jesus’s parents knew about his destiny when Jesus was a kid. We wonder what Mary and Joseph knew about who Jesus was and how his life would turn out. When I was preparing for this sermon I found myself with a bunch of other questions too. Questions like: “What did Jesus know about his ministry when he came out to the river to hear John? Was he surprised to see the Spirit coming down like a dove and to hear a voice from heaven? Did he know already that he was the Messiah?”

Light in the darkness (1.3.10)

Ephesians 1:3-14
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us.
With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.
John 1:(1-9) 10-18
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.
This magnificent passage is known as John’s prologue. These familiar words set the stage for the rest of John’s Gospel. John’s writing holds a unique place among the Gospels. A woman in my last church, a powerful and well-seasoned believer, once told me that she liked Matthew for its clarity, but she felt John’s Gospel was the one most likely to make you a Christian.

John’s language is beautiful and poetic from start to finish. His Gospel boasts some of the most powerful theological language about Jesus anywhere in the Bible. That language has shaped church doctrine powerfully, but it can be difficult to penetrate. But John’s Gospel also holds some of the freshest stories about Jesus; stories you can picture in your mind’s eye as you read. Stories that just jump off the page like the man born blind whom Jesus heals or the woman caught in adultery. It is a powerful Gospel and so it begins with this prologue, a powerful introduction.

John uses his prologue to introduce some themes that will run throughout the Gospel, preparing us to pay attention to them as the story unfolds. Themes like light and darkness, the world that rejects Christ and the believers who become God’s children by the Spirit, Christ the Son who lets us know the Father: these ideas appear first in the prologue and then shape the rest of the book.

All the Gospels tell Jesus’ story, but only John starts at the beginning. It’s fitting that we begin a new year with the start of John’s Gospel, which goes all the way back to the beginning of creation: a fresh start for a new year. For John this isn’t a story about a special man chosen by God for a mission. Instead it is about the living Word of God before the creation of the world. God’s Word is God, with God from the start and active in creating everything. John is retelling the creation story from Genesis to show that God created everything through Christ, his Word.

In Genesis God says a word and things are created: “God said let there be light and there was light;” “God said and it was so.” For John, God’s creating word isn’t just the words God speaks. The capital W Word it is a creative power alive in its own right. “The Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God, everything was made through him and without him nothing was made.”