Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Sunday, January 23, 2011

space to follow (1.23.11)

Psalm 27:1, 4-9
1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!

Matthew 4:12-23
12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles —
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”

17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

There was something compelling about Jesus that made people come and listen. There was something special that made Peter and Andrew, James and John leave everything to follow him. There’s something amazing about Jesus that keeps calling to our souls today, even when we can’t put it into words.

His core message as Matthew tells it today was straightforward: “Repent. The kingdom of heaven has come near.”

There’s something about repentance and the kingdom that makes us perk up our ears. Maybe it’s because we long for God’s kingdom. We long for the feeling of true peace that comes with resting in God’s arms. We long for creation to be made whole; we long for peace and justice in our world. We long to know that someone else is in charge, that everything is finally taken care of. We recognize God’s calling and in the depth of our soul we long to be with God. So hearing that the kingdom of heaven has come near fills us with joy and excitement.

But our joy is always tinged with guilt, colored by sorrow. We know we’ve made choices that separate us from God. When we hear the message about repentance and the kingdom, we feel a stab of homesickness and regret, but we also glimpse a ray of hope.

Maybe the reason Jesus is so compelling is that his call to repentance is an invitation to all of us. We’re so aware of our sin and separation from God we wonder if there’s even a place for us in God’s kingdom. We wonder if maybe we’re so far gone that God doesn’t want us. Jesus touches the part of us that worries and doubts. He heals the pain inside us, because his ministry shows that God wants to bring all of us home.

Here Jesus walks down the seashore and calls out to fishermen to follow him. In Luke’s version of the same story Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, go away from me; I’m a sinful man.” But Jesus won’t go away. Instead Jesus keeps calling sinners like Peter and Andrew, sinners like you and me to come and follow. Repentance and forgiveness makes space for us to follow Jesus.

Sometimes Christ’s calling pressures us to work harder, and sometimes we feel that demand too clearly in a church like ours. This church has deep roots. Many here have rich memories of childhood here. Many also carry the burden of the way things used to be. There are so many things we feel have to get done and there are not so many of us to do them.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Come and See

Isaiah 49:1-7
1Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me. 2He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. 3And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." 4But I said, "I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God."

5And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength-
6he says, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
7Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, "Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."

John 1:29-42
29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.' 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel." 32And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God."

35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" 39He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas' (which is translated Peter).

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

            I was hanging out with friends of mine recently, watching their kids play. It struck me that one of the reason little kids are so much fun to watch is that they have such a sense of amazement about the world. You can see them taking everything in with wonder in their eyes. For them, the rules aren’t set; they don’t know how the world works. Every time they drop a toy and watch it fall, it’s an experiment. As far as they know, the next time they let go, the block might fall upwards.

            Colors, shapes, people, their own feet: the world is full of mysteries for little ones. Each moment is full of possibilities; they have no idea what might happen next. Part of the joy of children is that endless sense of possibility and wonder. The world is new and amazing to them and when we watch them we catch a glimpse of the world through their eyes.

            As we get older it sometimes feels like the world loses its wonder, but that’s not really true. We might lose our sense of wonder, but the world is no less wonderful than when we were small. Part of that change is necessary. We have to learn the basic rules of the world: gravity, cause and effect, rhythms of the days and weeks. We would have a hard time building anything if we didn’t know that gravity always pulls things down. We wouldn’t be good drivers if we forgot that turning the wheel left makes the car go left every time. We’d have a hard time making it to work if the sunrise caught us by surprise each morning.

            We need to understand the patterns in the world to navigate life effectively, but we don’t have to lose our appreciation for the glory of creation. It is a tragedy to lose our sense of wonder for the miracle of God’s world. The sunrise may not be surprising, but it is glorious; the wetness of water isn’t unexpected, but the majesty of the waves can still take our breath away. We understand the science behind a sunset; but God still paints us an incredible picture most evenings here in Rochester.

            The openness I love in children is the sense that anything is possible, that the world is new and exciting. That’s part of what Jesus is talking about when he encourages the disciples to welcome the kingdom of God like children. Jesus asks his hearers to be open to new possibilities, new communities, new ways of life. We see that openness in our story from John, and we can cultivate that openness in our own lives. Come and see.

            Picture John the Baptist out in the wilderness on a riverbank with his disciples. The crowds are lining up to be baptized as a symbol of their repentance and desire for God’s kingdom. All of a sudden John spots Jesus nearby and shouts out, “Look, it’s the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” You can hear the excitement in his voice as he sees God’s plan falling into place. He hadn’t known when he started his ministry who the Messiah was, but he knew his job was to get people ready, and he knew what to expect when the Messiah came. Now he recognizes Jesus and the signs are clear.

            Not surprisingly, John’s disciples get curious about this “lamb of God.” A couple of them follow Jesus to see what’s going on. Jesus turns and asks what they’re looking for. I think the question catches them off guard because they ask where he’s staying, which can’t be very interesting in itself. I think the question they really want to ask is, “Who are you?” Jesus invites them to follow; he invites them to “Come and see.”

            The next day Jesus and his new disciples hit the road; Jesus finds Philip, who goes right out and finds Nathaniel. He tells Nathaniel that they’ve found the Messiah, that of all places, he’s a man from Nazareth. You can hear the skepticism in Nathaniel’s voice as he asks, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip responds, “Come and see.”

            John’s Gospel isn’t about facts and proof; it’s about giving us glimpses of Jesus. It’s about telling us the stories, showing us what happened when the Word of God became flesh and lived with us. John’s Gospel is about showing us what we need to see so we can believe in Jesus and follow him today.

            One of the hard things for many of us about Christian faith is that we haven’t seen Jesus. We weren’t there for the miracles and the stories. We weren’t there to see Christ risen from the dead. We live in a world that’s so driven by facts and evidence, a world from which we have stripped the magic and mystery, a world where seeing is believing. We haven’t seen, so we have a hard time believing.

            Sometimes we feel jealous of those first disciples; we feel jealous of Peter and Andrew and Philip. They were curious about Jesus because of what John said, so they followed him back to his room and watched him do his thing. For them it really was as simple as coming and seeing. It was easy for them to believe because the evidence was right in front of them. Wouldn’t it be nice?

            It’s been two thousand years and sometimes we feel so removed from those early days. We can feel so far from the reality of Jesus that faith becomes something in our head, something we do for an hour a week or with a Bible at bedtime, but not something that shapes our lives. We hear those voices that remind us how important it is to believe in Jesus, those voices that tell us we have to be believe so we can be saved.

            Then there are all those other voices we hear that question our faith, that announce other messages. We hear voices of skepticism that say faith is something for children or for the foolish. We hear voices that tell us success is all that matters. We hear voices that call for security and urge us to lock our doors and watch strangers suspiciously.

            Amid all those voices and across all those years, Jesus’ voice still calls us: “Come and see.” We don’t see Jesus in the carpenter from Nazareth walking in front of us, but when we follow we will see Jesus. We’ll see Jesus in the faces of little children when we go to tutor in under resourced schools. We’ll see Jesus in nursing home beds when we sit with elderly people no one else visits. We’ll see Jesus in the hungry and homeless men and women we serve at Cameron or Demitri House. We’ll see Jesus in the faces of unknown neighbors who come to the Laurelton CafĂ© for a hot meal.

            When we follow Jesus we’ll be surprised because through Christ we can do things we never dreamed of. We can talk to strangers and be a blessing. We can teach kids and warm a heart. We can lead worship with joy and power. We can pray with the dying and watch tears fill their eyes and peace fill their hearts. Our minds sometimes make us skeptical; our worries sometimes make us afraid. But when we trust Jesus enough to follow we will see amazing things, so come and see.

            I’m not telling you to switch your brain off or cover over your doubts. Instead, bring your questions with you as you follow Jesus’ calling. Take some time each day to pray; open your heart to God and try to see what God might be calling you do to. Open the Bible and see where the story leads you; then go. You can even think of following Jesus as an experiment; you can follow, not sure what you’ll find, not sure if you believe what Jesus said: come and see. Like a child who doesn’t know what’s going to happen when she drops a stuffed rabbit from her hand, we don’t have to know what’s going to happen next. The only way to find out is to be open to new possibilities, to come and see.

Jesus doesn’t usually tell you what to believe. Instead, he asks people to be open to the message of God’s love; he asks people to open their eyes and see for themselves. For the disciples in our story and for most of us today we will see Christ’s amazing work by following. Most of the time people not going to be convinced of the truth of Christianity by intellectual arguments. Instead faith grows through experiencing God in action. Jesus spends more time walking with the suffering than sitting in your armchair at home. It’s always been that way. Don’t wait to believe; come and see.

One of my favorite shows growing up was called Reading Rainbow. The show was all about books and reading. The host, Lavar Burton, would tell the audience about a book he liked, ending with why he liked it. His last line was always, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.” Jesus says the same thing to his disciples: Come and see for yourself. Philip says the same thing to Nathaniel when Nathaniel wonders if anything good can come from Nazareth, “Come and see.”

I can preach each week about Jesus and his calling. Our tradition firmly believes that in scripture and preaching, God speaks, so you can meet God here in this service. But to really see Christ at work, you have to follow him out into the world. I’ll tell you that Jesus loves you and wants you to share that love with others through your actions, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Come and see.

Thanks be to God.

baptism and inclusion

Isaiah 42:1-9
1Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

5Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

It’s not totally clear how common baptism type ceremonies were in Jesus’ time. The mainstream Jewish community had certain kinds of ritual washings, as many religions do, they weren’t really tied to joining the community. Some sects within Judaism used a ritual washing as a sign of entering their community, but there isn’t a certain link between these rituals and communities and John the baptist.

John appeared in classic prophet’s clothes preaching and baptizing on the banks of the Jordan River. All the Gospels agree that John’s ministry of baptism had a lot to do with inviting people to repent and turn back to God. They also agree that John’s ministry was about preparing the way for Jesus, God’s Messiah.

So to get people ready for the new thing God was doing in Jesus, John baptized people to symbolize repentance and new faithfulness. Jesus started his ministry by being baptized by John. He didn’t need to repent, but he knew that this symbol of new life and faithfulness was the appropriate way to start his ministry.

Jesus spent his short ministry also calling people back to God, seeking out the poor and oppressed, seeking out the outcast and the lost, healing and comforting and forgiving. In his great commission to the disciples he commanded them to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all his commands. From the very beginning, the church has been called to share the message of God’s love with others.

Since the beginning, baptism has been important in the Christian life. It symbolizes not only cleansing from sin, but also dying with Christ. In baptism we die to the world’s expectations and loyalties and rise from the water as newborn children of God. We rise as members of Christ’s body, people whose entire lives are centered in following Jesus as part of a new family.

We’ve lost some of the radical nature of that symbol because the modern church has lost some of the radical sense of belonging that so defined the early church. In those first days it was often a crime to baptize a new Christian or to be baptized. In stepping into the water people knew they were taking a huge risk.

Being part of the church also carried an expectation of truly being a family. We still use family language, we still talk about being brothers and sisters, but the early church experienced that in a deeper way. We’re told that in the early days the church owned all property together. People sold what they had and offered it to the church to be distributed for everyone’s needs. People who had larger houses opened them up to the church as places to meet. Many people hosted traveling evangelists or other Christians into their homes. The church truly was one body growing by welcoming people in, sharing fellowship around the table and sharing the precious word of grace.