Sermon for May 18, 2014: “The (Not So) Lonely Place”

John 14:1-14

For the first 3 and a half years of my ministry, I was single.
And I lived on my own.
And I enjoyed it.

For the most part.

I could do what I wanted.
When I wanted.
I could watch what I wanted and stay up as late as I wanted.

But…
It got pretty lonely.
It was hard sometimes to come home to an empty place.

And then I met Kristen.
We fell in love.
We got married.
And after living the single life, I was ready for this new adventure called Matrimony.

I was looking forward to my new dwelling place.
My life was not solitary anymore.

But our Gospel passage helps me realize something.
I was never alone.

The 14th chapter of John is part of a section called The Farewell Discourse.
This discourse is five chapters long, beginning with the 13th chapter and ending with the 17th.

Chapter 13 features the last supper shared between Jesus and his disciples, Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, , and the revelation that Judas has turned traitor (13:30).

That is a lot to soak in , but what compounds the issue for the disciples is Jesus then reveals what is about to happen to him.

And as I read this discourse, I tend to believe that the disciples are trying to deal with the life-changes they are experiencing.
A fellow disciple has joined the bad guys.
Jesus their teacher had washed the feet of his students.
He talks about his upcoming death.
And the disciples are not handling it very well.

I mean, can you blame them?

They are looking at a future where they are going to be left all alone with no place to go.
And I believe they wonder “where God is in all this?”

So in Chapter 14, in our Gospel reading today, Jesus offers his disciples words of comfort, hope, and promise.

And he also offers them a place.

A dwelling place.

Now John 14 is often read at funerals.
Because there is something comforting in knowing that Jesus has prepared a place for us, his followers, for when our time on earth is done.
BUT there is more to this passage than a promise of a future home.

Jesus is promising the disciples and us a place now.

Right now.
In our lives.

The dwelling place that Jesus offers …is himself.

What does that mean?
It means that Jesus is not abandoning anyone.
He is not just preparing a place for the future.
He is preparing a dwelling place for the present.
And with this place comes a relationship with God.

Now you talk about all the surprises in John 13 (footwashing, death predictions, and betrayals),
Well Jesus gives the disciples ANOTHER surprise in our passage.
Philip asks for a sign that they have seen God The Father.
And this is the surprise,
Jesus says, “You are looking at him!”

For three years, God has been right there.
Waiting for the disciples to open their eyes and see who was with them!

The disciples had not just become friends with Jesus, their Rabbi.
They had become friends with GOD!

There had never been a moment when they were WITHOUT God!

You see this dwelling place meant they were not living alone.

They were living with God!

And for a frightened group of men who had no idea what the future held for them, this dwelling place offered them comfort, hope, and relationship.

And so as I read this passage I realize now more than ever that in the days I thought I was alone, God was with me.

God was present in the phone calls with mom and dad,
The time I spent with my congregations, especially the Youth,
The people I met at the local bookstores and the gym who became my friends,
The music that would capture my heart and not let go.

And God is still with me.

I hear and see God every day in the voice of my wife, the coos of my son,the singing of this congregation, and the phone calls & texts from family and friends.

What does this mean for us?
It means that God is with us now.
Each and every one of us.
Think of all the people, places, and moments that make you feel alive, that make you smile, that make you feel loved.

And those are the moments where God says, “I’ve been right here the whole time.”

We cannot evict God from our lives.

And so we have to learn what it means to dwell WITH an ever-present God.

For it is a constant relationship.
And too often we forget that.

I believe it can help to think of the dwelling place not as a “place” like a house, but the place where we are in the warm and safe arms of our Father.

The great thing about the Dwelling Place is that it is not stationary.
It can move around.
It can go wherever we go.
And it can be wherever we need to be.

And just as God offers us this place near him, we are called, we NEED to offer this same place to the world around us.

Too many people feel abandoned.
Too many people feel unloved.
Too many people feel scared.

They need a safe place.
They need THE safe place.

And there is only one person who offers this place.
It is the person we have come to worship this morning.

And as we leave this place, do not let your hearts be troubled.
Because wherever we go, Jesus goes with us.
Because that is what He does.

You have heard people say “Let Jesus into your hearts.”

But today, I invite you to “enter in the dwelling place that Jesus has made for you.”

Sermon for Sunday, March 2, 2014: “I Got You, Pete”

Reading: Matthew 17:1-9

So, anything new in your lives the past two weeks?

Having a child can certainly change your life.

This is something Kristen and I are learning as adjust to our roles as parents to Paul.

And it’s been great.

Yes, we have lost sleep and probably have lost some of our sanity, but it’s all been worth it just to get to hold our son in our arms.

So let me ask you this. What have been the life-changing moments in your lives?

What have been the moments when you realized that your life was never going to be same again?

Did you know your lives were changing at that moment, or did it occur to you later on?

The reason I ask you those questions is because today, in our Gospel, we hear the story of a life-changing event for three disciples.

Peter, James, and John have long been considered by Christian scholars as Jesus’ inner circle.

And this passage is one of the scholars will point to in order to make their case.

Now our gospel occurs on a mountain.

And in the Gospel of Matthew, mountaintops and high places are sacred places where God and God’s power are present.

Let me remind you that for the past four weeks, our Gospel readings have come from the fifth chapter of Matthew which is part of the Sermon on the…Mount.

And today the sacred happens again.

Now for the Sermon on the Mount, that was a teaching for all of Jesus’ disciples.

But today’s mountaintop revelation has been reserved for Peter, James, and John.

Three of the first four disciples called by Jesus in the Matthew’s Gospel.

Our gospel lesson opens with “six days later…”

Now whenever you read your Gospels, I have found that when a Gospel writer gives you a measurement of time, what has happened before matters to the story you are presently reading.

And I believe what happened six days prior to the Transfiguration bears a lot of importance to what Jesus does today.

At the end of Chapter 16, Jesus tells his disciples that he MUST go to Jerusalem.

What he has to do…his mission…cannot be done in Nazareth or Galilee.

It has to be done at the center of the Ancient World universe.

It has to be done in Jerusalem.

And Jesus talks about his upcoming great suffering, his DEATH, and his resurrection.

That is a lot of news to for the disciples to take in.

Especially when Jesus mentions his death.

It’s hard to wrap one’s head around that pronouncement.

But then we get a very interesting exchange between Jesus and Peter.

Peter tries to rebuke Jesus.

He tries to deny Jesus from going through with the plan.

And he fails.

In fact, it is Jesus who rebukes Peter.

He not only calls out Peter but he calls out Satan who is behind Peter’s urgings.

Jesus is not going to fall for the tricks of the Devil.

But you would think that this rebuke would put Peter and Jesus at odds.

I mean, it’s not every day that your rabbi, your teacher, calls you a pawn of Satan.

In front of the other students.

Instead of the teacher’s pet, Peter was the teacher’s tool.

You would think that there was a strain in their relationship.

But then the Transfiguration happens.

Jesus invites Peter, James, and John to go up a mountain with him.

And that is where the fun begins!

For up on this mountain, Jesus is “transfigured.”

He becomes a bright flash of white light.

And THEN comes Moses and Elijah.

Two prophets (the HIGHEST prophets in the minds of the Jews.

Think about people ranking their favorite entertainers, there is always going to be debate,

but in this case, Moses and Elijah are THE top prophets, there is no question).

Soon this trip to the mountaintop becomes an event in the lives of the disciples.

And it will change their lives.

They are seeing something very special.

And scary.

Not only do they see Jesus all lit up,

Not only do they see Moses and Elijah,

They also hear the voice of God.

Not just God the creator, but God the proud father.

I know a little something about that now!

“THIS is my Son, my beloved. I am well pleased with him.”

And while this is a proud moment for God, this is an absolute scary moment for the three disciples.

They are overwhelmed with what they see.

They are overcome by fear.

When I asked you about your life-changing events, were any of those events moments where you were afraid?

Were you in the middle of something that overwhelmed you to the point that you were not sure you would survive?

I ask you those questions because I want you to concentrate on what happens next.

At their most frightened, where is Jesus?

Jesus is right there.

He touches them.

He consoles them.

Jesus gives two instructions:

Get up.

Don’t be afraid.

And I believe these words mean extra special to Peter.

Peter: the one who tried to hinder Jesus’s mission.

Peter: the one who the Devil used to get to Jesus.

Peter: the one Jesus called out.

This same Peter is invited by to the mountaintop to show him that there is a plan to all this.

I believe what the Transfiguration is not only a preview of things to come, it is also an assurance of WHO is going to be leading the charge.

I believe this is Jesus telling Peter, “Trust me. I got this.”

“And I got you, Peter.”

If Peter ever felt like he was on the outside, this moment, this event, shows that Jesus never left him behind.

You see, Jesus did not HAVE to take the disciples with him on that mountain.

He could easily have done it on his own.

But he wanted to share this moment with his disciples.

I find it so important for us to understand that at their most vulnerable, the disciples did not have to search for God.

For God was with them.

Jesus.

Emmanuel.

God. With. Us.

Telling the disciples and us not to be afraid.

GOD is here, GOD is making things right.

 

Today we get to celebrate the baptisms of Allyn and Addyson Fischer, Jaime, Ethan, and Matthew Moore.

We get to be witnesses of a life-changing event.

Their lives will never be the same after this.

And I was recently asked to explain baptism and this is what I said:

When I was young I had a moment when I broke something that was very valuable to my mom.

And when my mom found out, she was upset.

And I thought she was so upset that she would never love me again.

But then she would hug me and say, “It’s okay, son. I got you. I love you. That is never going to change.”

Baptism is God’s way of SHOWING not just saying “I love you.”

Baptism is God’s way of SHOWING that we are claimed by God, protected by God, loved by God, and accepted by God.

And in our Gospel lesson, Peter gets a wonderful reminder that even though he messed up Jesus reaches out to him and say, “It’s okay, Peter.

I got you.

Let me show you what I have planned.”

 

Sermon for February 16, 2014: “Four Words”

Readings: Matthew 5:21-37 & Deuteronomy 30:15-20

 

My dad taught me many things.

He taught me how to love and how to treat others.

But I think the most important lesson he ever taught me was the power of forgiveness.

My dad said that the four most powerful words in any relationship are:

“I’m sorry.”

And

“That’s okay.”

That is forgiveness in a nutshell.

 

Simple.

Succinct.

And yet so powerful.

 

And as I studied the Gospel lesson this week I kept coming back to those four words my dad taught me.

 

A few weeks ago I told you we are “Kingdom Breakers.”

 

We are people called by Jesus to break the kingdom of God into the lives of the people around us.

 

So how does being a Kingdom Breaker affect our lives?

 

I believe this week’s Gospel (and next week’s) help answer those questions.

 

Our Gospel lesson once again comes from the fifth chapter of Matthew and it is part of the Sermon on the Mount.

The fifth chapter can be split up into two parts.

The first part is The Beatitudes, which we heard a few weeks ago.

And the second part of Matthew 5 can be called “The Jesus Antitheses.”

And this part is so big and important that it is split up over the next two weeks.

Antithesis” is a Greek word that literally means “against a position” and it is used to contrast two opposites.

Here are some examples:

Hell is the antithesis of Heaven.

Disorder is the antithesis of Order.

And finally, my favorite, which comes from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, (it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…)”

So that is how Antithesis works.

And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus really gets on an Antithesis roll.

In all there, are SIX antitheses in chapter 5.

In each of these six times Jesus contrasts the teachings of the Law of Moses with his own teachings. You can call the new teachings The New Law.

 

And each antithesis has a pattern

“It was said…” which introduces the teaching of the Law of Moses.

“But I say to you….” which introduces the New Law of Jesus.

So why does Jesus do this?

The answer, I would argue, can be found in (Chapter 5) verse 17: “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

Over time, the Law of Moses had become misinterpreted.

People had grown to use the Law of Moses to point out the sins and crimes of other people, to point out the differences between people, between the good and the bad, the have and have-nots.

And now Jesus has come to set the record straight.

He is not there to rip up the old law, because the Law DOES matter to Jesus.

But what Jesus is doing is going beyond the surface of the law and deeper into the actual Spirit of the law.

What Jesus is doing is making the Law personal.

Notice how each of these laws is intensely relational:

  • Verses 21-26 deal with anger issues between family/friends/community
  • Verses 27-30 deal with lust of another human being
  • Verses 31-32 deal with the treatment of others
  • And verses 33-37 deal with the promises we make to others.

 

For Jesus, the Law is not abstract.

It is not something set in stone,

It is something that is to be lived and shared.

It is not something to point out the faults of others but a reflection on how the law-follower is suppose to act.

Jesus is bringing the relationship part of the law back into the forefront.

In a way, Jesus is pointing the disciples and us back to our first lesson from Deuteronomy.

I don’t know how much you know about Deuteronomy.

It is a book filled with a lot of laws and rules, but it also features a very tender and bitter goodbye from Moses to the Israelites.

Moses has led the Israelites for 40 years.

He has led them out of slavery, and through the wilderness, and now the people are on the cusp of the land promised by God.

But Moses isn’t going with them.

Because Moses “broke faith” with God in a story found in Numbers (the book found before Deuteronomy), he never sets foot into that Land of Milk of Honey.

And so Moses uses the last part of Deuteronomy to say goodbye and help prepare his people for the journey ahead.

It’s like when you say goodbye to your child going off to college or to live on his or her own for the first time.

You can’t go with them, so you want to make sure they are prepared.

You hope they make the right decisions.

And for Moses that is what he asks of the people.

The people have a choice.

They have a choice as to what kind of people will they be.

There are two paths.

One leads to life, the other to death.

Will they be the people who embrace the law and live?

Or will they be the people who embrace chaos and die?

If they embrace life, that means they will take care of one another.

 

And bringing this back to our Gospel, Jesus is showing us that while the law was given to help us live it was to teach us how we are to live and love when it comes to our neighbor.

Jesus is teaching us how to deal with anger, adultery, divorce, and oaths.

All those categories affect not only us but also our neighbors.

And to make this point Jesus uses hyperbole.

Hyperbole- I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. The point is not that I like to eat horses. The point is that I am very hungry.

And Jesus uses hyperbole to get your attention to stress just how important it is for the disciples and us to follow His law.

So when Jesus talks about cutting off body parts and burning in hell, Jesus is magnifying just how important:

  • our relationships are to God,
  • how much God wants us to treat each other well,
  • how invested God is in our lives and in our relationships.

How we live our lives matter.

How we treat others matter.

And the way we live is a reflection of our relationship with God.

Back in verses 14 & 15 Jesus says, “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

And if we go around holding grudges, calling people names, mistreating people, and lying, we are not being good disciples.

We are not being the light of the world.

We are not fulfilling the law.

And Jesus calls us to be better than that.

 

To be Kingdom Breakers means we are called to a different life.

A better life.

Not just for us but for our neighbors.

Our loved ones.

Even our enemies.

 

To be Kingdom Breakers also means we are called to be honest with ourselves.

 

One of the major tenets of Lutheranism is we are 100% saint and 100% sinner.

There is both good and bad in us.

And that means we are not perfect.

While we have been hurt, broken, lied to, mistreated,

We have also hurt, broke, lied to, and mistreated others.

 

But that is where Grace comes in.

Even while we were still sinners, God came to save us and re-claim us as His own.

Even when we fall short of our call as Kingdom Breakers, God is there to forgive.

 

Kristen and I spent a lot of time together this week in anticipation of Baby Conrad joining us.

And that meant watching a LOT of figure skating at the Olympics.

There was one skater in particular who caught my attention.

His name is Jeremy Abbott and he is the current United States Champion.

During the men’s short program on Thursday, while attempting a quadruple toe loop, Jeremy fell hard onto the ice and crashed into the wall. He stayed down for a few moments, clutching his hip.

His coaches moved toward the entry door to the ice, but Jeremy got to his feet and, to the surprise of many and the applause of the crowd, resumed skating.

 

When his music stopped, he drew a huge ovation from the fans.

 

When we fall, and we do, God doesn’t wait for us to pick ourselves up.

God picks US up.

That is grace.

That is the moment when we can say, “I’m sorry, God.”

And God says, “That’s okay.”

 

Sermon for February 2, 2014 (Boy Scouts Sunday): “Kingdom Breakers”

Reading: Matthew 5:1-12

Not many people know this but I came THIS close to being a scout.

I was in the first grade at Speas Elementary (Winston-Salem) when my dad and I heard about a Scout Sign-up happening at the school.

So we went and signed up.

But there was one problem…

We never knew when the meetings were.

Now this is WAY before things like the Internet made these kinds of announcements easier.

Back then all life hinged on the telephone and the post office.

And we never got a call.

We never got a letter.

So imagine my surprise when a week after signing up, I went to school and saw all my friends in their brand spanking new scout uniforms while I was wearing my beloved (and still cool) Spider-Man shirt!

What was happening?

And now all these years later, it is Boy Scouts Sunday here at Grace…and I finally made a meeting!

So let’s get to talking about the Gospel.

Over the next four weeks, our Gospel lessons will focus on a section in the Gospel of Matthew called The Sermon on the Mount.

And as we read and learn more about this Sermon, there are a few things we need to keep in mind, to highlight, as we dive deeper into the texts.

Jesus has just called his first four disciples, four fishermen: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

What does this mean? It means that Jesus is considered a Rabbi, a teacher of the Law (the Torah) and the disciples are his students.

And now Jesus is ready to give his first lesson to his students.

That lesson is the Sermon on the Mount, which covers three chapters in Matthew’s Gospel.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this lesson takes place on a mountain.

In the Bible, mountains are often places of significant religious events.

Many of them pertaining to Moses.

In Matthew, mountains are often sacred places of revelation that compare Jesus with Moses. But Matthew does more than compare Jesus with Moses, he is sharing/revealing how Jesus is someone GREATER than Moses!

And in this Sermon on the Mount, this lesson, Jesus is reinterpreting the old laws (the Torah).

Jesus is saying HERE is what it means to be a disciple, to be a follower of God.

Some of you might be saying, “Well that is all fine and dandy, Pastor, but why should I care about some lesson? What does it have to do with me?”

Well we should care about this Sermon because Matthew spends three chapters of his Gospel to tell it.

Matthew spends more time with the Sermon on the Mount than he does with Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection.

You don’t spend all that time on something that doesn’t matter.

So let’s look at how this text speaks to us and in our context today.

Our Gospel lesson this morning is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and it has a special name: The Beatitudes.

“Blessed.”

(show a Macaroni and Cheese Box)

The Greek word for “blessed” is Makareeos.

In addition to “blessed,” it can mean “happy,” “fortunate,” “well off,” and more.

This was a word I never got wrong in Seminary because I would associate Makareenos with Macaroni because whenever I ate macaroni I was “happy.”

But Makareenos has a deeper meaning than just “happy macaroni.”

It can indicate special favor, unique standing, permission, empowerment, endowment, and more.

Now what is interesting about Jesus saying it the way he does is that the word “blessed” was normally associated with gods and the Elite.

To be “blessed” was a sign of achievement, an award.

And there was a line, a boundary, on who got to use that word.

You would never have heard the word “blessed” being used to describe the poor, the weak, the left outs.

“Blessed” was a title that was out of their reach.

Instead they were called weak, and poor, and sick, and nobodies, and outsiders.

  • How many of you have ever been called those names?
  • How many of you have ever FELT weak, poor, sick, useless, overlooked or outside?
  • How many of you have SEEN those who are weak, poor, and left out?

“Blessed” was a word that drew a circle, and it became a border.

 

So Jesus takes (show eraser) re-draws the line.

 

Actually, I believe he doesn’t redraw the line, he gets rid of it!

 

And Jesus’ lesson to his disciples and to us is that the Kingdom of God is here. And it is for everyone!

 

The “Kingdom of God” is a rich image that Jesus uses as short hand to convey a full-blown re-ordering of reality.

For those in hard human experiences of mourning, meekness, persecution, and poverty of spirit,

For those who have felt the coldness of reality,

Here is Jesus saying, “With me, there is a new reality.

And you are a part of it.”

Within God’s kingdom, being “blessed” does not depend on wealth or health or status. It is not a reward for righteousness or duty.

For example:

The Scouts and I got together on Monday night to practice for the worship service.

Now what we do on Sunday mornings DOES take practice.

You can’t just show up and do it cold.

So while we practiced, I could tell that some of the Scouts were worried that they would do something wrong.

And if they did, the whole service would go down the drain.

So I told them this: “If you happen to make a mistake. If you forget to light a candle, if you drop an offering plate, if you misread Corinthians…THAT’S OKAY! NO ONE IS GOING TO SNAP AT YOU. I AM NOT GOING TO BE MAD.

THESE THINGS HAPPEN. JUST DO YOUR BEST.”

The Kingdom of God is teaching people that you don’t have to be perfect to be “blessed” by God.

You have ALREADY been blessed by God!

The kingdom sets a new frame of reference for “blessedness.”

It is a gift that is to be shared with all so that everyone can hear and discover a God who loves them, who ALWAYS loved them, and who remembers them.

And today the lesson for us is that we are Kingdom Breakers.

The Kingdom is an invitation that calls for a response.

We are called to break the Kingdom into the lives of those who need to know that God cares and that God looks after them.

Being a Kingdom Breaker is something you already are doing.

For instance: Here at Grace we give out weekly lunches on Sundays for the needy (by doing that we “break into” their darkness and give them hope),

we provide a place for support for people going through cancer, (by doing that we “break into” their long journey and give them companions),

We support missions both locally and globally that provide missionaries the tools to spread the Gospel to people all over the world!

And let me praise the Boy Scouts (and Cub Scouts) who just this year has:

  1. Collected presents for toys 4 tots.
  2. Performed food drives for local resource centers,
  3. Visited retirement homes to give out gifts and make friends with the residents
  4. Provide meals at CCM
  5. Planted flowers and a tree at YMCA

 

So today we get more than the beginning of a Sermon.

We get more than the beginning of a lesson.

We get a proclamation of God’s love for everyone.

We get an invitation to break the Kingdom into the lives of those around us.

And we get celebration knowing that being blessed is a gift and a title that God gives to all of us.

Sermon for January 26, 2014: “Net Dropping 101”

Reading:  Matthew 4:12-23

Today’s Gospel, the calling of the first disciples, is a story near and dear to my heart.

It was the first sermon I ever preached in my Preaching Class back at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Fall of 1999.

My teacher was Dr. Tom Ridenhour.

A man I highly admire and respect.

But he was a hard grader.

He did not do it out of malice. He was trying to make us the best preachers we could be.

You knew you were in trouble in his class when, after you were done, he would write.

And write.

And write.

He would look up at you…

And then write some more.

While he wrote, you just had to stand up at the front of the class until he was done.

So on that fateful day, I preached on Jesus calling the first four disciples: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

I preached for about 10 minutes.

And I thought I made some good points.

I remember proclaiming, “The disciples knew that this Jesus was something special.”

I also said, “They knew he was the Savior.”

And after I was done, I admit I was quite proud of myself.

I stood up there and waited until Dr. Ridenhour had finished taking his notes.

And seconds turned into minutes which turned into eternity.

I’m not sure how long I stood up there, but I could see my whole short-life as a pastor flash before my eyes.

When he was finally done, he put down his reading glasses, and asked me one question:

“How do you know?”

“I do I know what, Dr. Ridenhour?”

“How do you know THEY knew?”

“How do I know they knew what?”

I think you figure out where this is going…

Our conversation sounded like a bad Abbott & Costello routine.

Dr. Ridenhour drilled into my head that I had NO CLUE as to what was going on in the heads of those four disciples.

And he was right.

I was guessing.

And these many years later, we are still guessing.

But that is what makes this Gospel lesson so hard.

We really don’t know what was going through their heads!

We really don’t know what moved these four men to drop what they were doing and follow Jesus.

And for Christians around the world, that drives us crazy!

These four men saw Jesus, and then dropped their nets, and off they went!

They make it sound so easy.

And it can sound so…impossible…for us to think we can do the same “Dropping of the nets” today.

But I believe if we look deeper into this scene, it will help us see all the amazing work that God is doing.

The work actually began last week when according to John’s Gospel Andrew and Peter meet Jesus.

These two brothers ask Jesus where he is staying, and they remain with him the day.

Now the passage of time in the Bible is a tricky thing.

For instance, in Genesis 21, Sarah (the wife of Abraham) gives birth to her son Isaac.

When Chapter 22 comes around, Isaac is no longer a baby but a young boy who can walk and talk with his father.

My point is the periods we see at the end of verses & chapters in the Bible can be “time lapses.”

And I believe that is what is happening here.

Time moves on in an unwritten way.

And over that time, Andrew and Peter and others got to hear Jesus preach in the synagogue.

They heard him preach the Word.

There would be an opportunity to know Jesus and have a relationship with him.

And today in our Gospel, Jesus kicks up this relationship up a notch.

He invites these four men into a new community.

And a new calling.

Back in that time, if someone wanted to become a disciple (a student) of a Rabbi, they would have started at an early age, study the Torah, pass exams to earn the CHANCE and finding a Rabbi.

And then these disciples would have to go find a Rabbi that would take them in.

By stating that these four were “fishermen,” meant that they had no business being disciples.

They were not students.

They were not the best of the best.

They were fishermen.

A good trade, but certainly not one that would gain them entry into high society.

But that did not matter to Jesus.

Jesus chose these 4 as his disciples.

He SOUGHT them out!

He saw something in them,

They will no longer be “fishermen,” they will be fishers of MEN!

But in order to do that, these four men had to drop what they were doing and follow Jesus.

And at that time that was a social risk.

Especially for James and John.

They not only leave their nets, they are leaving their father.

Walking away from the father (the family business) was “scandalous.”

Judith Jones, a professor of religion at Wartburg College says, that in the time of Jesus, family connections were a primary source both of identity and of honor, and the responsibility to care for one’s parents was rooted both in cultural custom and in biblical law.

What the first four disciples did was not easy.

Following Jesus meant leaving behind certainty and heading towards the unknown.

So when we think about our time, our culture, and our ups and downs, and when we think that being a Christian is not easy…we have company.

We have stories of four men who didn’t know what the future held.

All they knew was WHO was leading them.

And let me state that these disciples were far from perfect.

The gospels are filled with stories of the disciples not getting Jesus’ message.

They fight over rank,

they fall asleep keeping watch in the garden of Gethsemane,

they run away when he is arrested,

and Peter will deny that he even knows Jesus. THREE times!

Like I said, they were not the best students.

They certainly don’t sound perfect to me.

In fact, they sound a lot like you and me.

And yet….and YET…Jesus does not give up on them!

Jesus puts the fate of his mission in THEIR hands!

And he puts the mission in OUR hands today.

 

Jesus is calling us to follow him.

And I ask you today, what are the “nets” that we are holding on to?

What are the “things” that Jesus is calling you to drop in order to give your full heart to him?

What are the “boats” that Jesus is calling you to step out of and walk towards him?

And are you ready to follow?

 

Now we don’t know why Jesus chose these disciples.

But that is in line with how God works in the Bible.

When God calls someone: be it Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, the prophets, or Mary, we might hear that these people “found favor with God” but WE NEVER KNOW WHY!

And maybe that is the point.

Rather than focusing on the WHY, we should focus on the ONE who does the calling, the inviting, and the leading.

The one who finds these ordinary fishermen special.

The same one who finds something special in you.

 

And if you don’t think you are special, I invite you to look at the cross.

God found you so special and so important that he sent to His son, Jesus, to die for you.

Look to the font where God (through water and Word) invites you into HIS family.

Look to the table where God says, I did this “FOR YOU”

 

You have been called Special by God.

You have been called LOVED by God.

You have been called by God.

 

Drop your nets, and follow.

 

 

 

Sermon for January 19, 2014: “God’s Expansion Plan”

Readings:
Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

October 23, 1993, I was fresh out of college and working for WTOB Radio in Winston-Salem. I will always remember that date, where I was, and what I was doing, because it was on that date that history was made.
It was on that day- the NFL approved the Carolina Panthers as its 29th member.
I was so excited I interrupted our radio programming to make a news bulletin, my very FIRST “Special Report”!
I just had to share the news.
I put on the news conference, I called my mom and dad, and I was the happiest I ever had been.
The next day I went to JC Penny’s and bought my first Panther sweatshirt and tee-shirt.
I was most definitely on the expansion bandwagon.
To me, there was something amazing at saying that my state was now part of something big and exclusive like the NFL!
If you are a follower of sports, there is something exciting when your favorite sports league says it is going to expand.

And you always hope that expansion includes you or your city.
People want to be part of an expansion plan.
Today I want to talk to about another type of expansion plan:

God’s expansion plan.
I want us to think about how expansion is a big story when it comes to our scriptures.
And then I want to answer what does God’s plan have to do with us?
The passage we hear from Isaiah comes at a time when Israel is in exile.
The Israelites have been thrown out of their homeland by the Babylonians.
Their beloved Jerusalem has been destroyed.
Left for dead.
Israel had become a complete afterthought to the rest of the world.
So this exile was a crisis of faith and identity.
And it is in this crisis that God makes a promise.
He promises restoration.
God promises to restore the people to their homes in Jerusalem,
He will restore their place in the world.
God will return their sense of WHO they are and WHOSE they are!
But what the people hear in this passage is that getting back home is not the end.
It’s a beginning.
Because God not only is calling the people back home, he is calling the people to PARTICIPATE in God’s mission.
Look at verse 6 again:
“(God) 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.'”
God’s plans go beyond Jerusalem: “That my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
What God wants Israel to be is a messenger of who God is and what God gives.
Speaking of messengers, let us look at the Gospel where John plays the role of the loud and vocal messenger.
Now by messenger I mean that John never points to himself.
He is always pointing to Jesus, the one God has sent.
Just like the children “showed and told” in our Children’s Chat, John is showing and telling the people that it is Jesus who has come to rescue them, to return them to God.
And as John points to Jesus, a few of John’s followers decide to follow Jesus.
For all we know, when Jesus appears in the Gospels he is alone.
One man on a mission.
But now, that mission is expanding.
Let’s look at verses 38-39 again:
“When 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?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.”
The Greek word for “stay” and “remain” is the same. (Menoh)
A better definition for that “Menoh” is “to dwell.”
Wherever Jesus is dwelling, they want to be there with him.
Jesus is not going to minister alone.
There is this relationship with Jesus that is created in John 1.
As his mission expands, so do the number of followers (disciples).
As someone who loves to work in a team dynamic, I find it empowering to think of Jesus not doing ministry alone, but with people around him.
Pretty soon, the number of followers expands to 12, and then by the time the Book of Acts comes around; the followers grow into the thousands.
That number includes the apostle Paul and the Corinthian Christians.
And in our second lesson today Paul reminds the people that they, too, are part of God’s expansion plans.
Let’s look at verse 2 again:
“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord[a] and ours…”
The people are now “sanctified.”
The people have been made holy.

They have been made whole by Jesus.

And they have been made members of not only the Corinthian church, but the Christian church everywhere!

The lesson for the people in our scriptures is that God’s mission does not end with them.
And as the mission goes, the people are sent to be the witnesses.
They have an active part in this mission.
They are to be witnesses to a loving and faithful God (1 Cor 1:9).
…An expanding God!

Because no one is excluded from God’s grace!

And that is the message behind the expansion.
And that same lesson is the one we need to hear today.
God’s expansion plans include you and me.
If I can go back to the Gospel, for John the Gospel writer, Sin is not a moral issue, Sin is defined as the absence of relationship with God.
And it is Jesus who TAKES AWAY THAT SIN, who TAKES AWAY THAT ABSENCE.
The same grace that God gives Israel, Paul, the Corinthians, is the same grace He gives us today.
God includes us in His plans.
God wants us to “remain” with him.
God longs for us to “dwell” with him.

But that is not the end.
As God calls us into relationship with him,
He…invites…us to the same mission that the Israelites, John the Baptizer, Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and the Corinthians are all a part of:
“Come. See. Go. Tell.”
Come and receive God’s love.
See God’s love on the cross, at The Table, at the Font, in the passing of the peace, in the prayers of the people.
Go and share that love each day.
Tell the people what you have seen.
Tell them what you have experienced.

Let me end with that last part.

We, as a church, can do more to be messengers.
In this time, in this world, when someone asks you why you go to church, you can do more than answer, “Well, it’s something I’ve always done.”
The people deserve a better answer.
That answer doesn’t work anymore.
That answer doesn’t work with our children anymore.

You need to EXPAND that answer.
Tell the people
you like the worship,
you like the people,
you like the pastor,
you like the children’s programs,
you like that the church is active in the community,
Or tell the people it is at the church where you truly feel loved, accepted, and called.
In this world where all we hear is how we are not good enough, or that we need to latest gadget or gizmo to make our lives complete,
It is good…no, it is great…that here at this church, you can hear how God loves you as you are.
How God forgives you.
How God fills that hole inside of you.
You can’t get that kind of Grace anywhere else.

And then tell them that the Grace you have experienced is the same Grace that is waiting for them.

Tell them there is a place for them at church.
At this church!

God’s expansion plan is not over.
It’s just beginning.
And there is a place for them.
There is a place for all of us.

Thanks be to God.

Sermon for January 12, 2014: “God’s Dictionary”

Reading: Matthew 3:13-17

One of the stories we hear this time of year is the new group words that have been added to the dictionary.

I wanted to share with you three of my favorite new words:

(I think the children will like this first word) SQUEE: used to express great delight or excitement:

This one has been called the Word of the Year 2013: SELFIE. People taking pictures of themselves. This word has actually been around a long time, but it was only in the past few years it has become part of our everyday language.

 

(One plea: For those of you who take a selfie while driving…don’t. The last thing I need to see if you behind the wheel taking pictures of yourself. With both hands on the camera!)

 

Here’s another one, this is my favorite: OMNISHAMBLES. This word was originally used in the British political comedy television series The Thick of It.

 

If any of you are Doctor Who fans, the new Doctor Who , Peter Capaldi, was on this show and you can see it on Hulu and online. It is a great show.

 

Omnishambles describes a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations.

Now, you may be wondering what is the point of all this?

The point is adding new words to our culture can be a major event.

And in some cases it can be life-changing.

Up until a year ago, I never thought I would get to say the phrase: “My Son.”

It just was never on my mind.

So, when Kristen told me last May that she was pregnant, and then in the fall we found out the baby was going to be a boy, I knew that I had better add a few new words to my dictionary.

But it has taken me a while to get used to saying, “My Son.”

And even now, especially for those of you who were at the party last week, you might see how hard it is for me to say those words because I had never said them before!

But hearing those words, knowing that my reality is changing FOREVER, it means something to me.

Maybe you have had that change in your life before:

Can you remember when you first used the words:

“My child”

“My wife”

“My husband”?

When we say those words, it means we have a role to play.

We can even add words like:

“My job”

“My car”

“My church”

When we say these words we are claiming we have some “skin” in the game.

The person or object is now a responsibility.

 

Today in our Gospel we get new words that change everything.

 

And my hope is it changes your perspective on God.

 

Our Gospel lesson is a transition from John the Baptizer being the lead actor in the story to Jesus.

John exits stage left as Jesus takes center stage.

Now you might have caught this…there is a similar sentence/verse from our First Lesson: Isaiah 42.

“This is my Servant.”

Isaiah 42 is actually a song.

And it’s part of a collection called the Servant Songs.

4 songs.

4 poems that tell of a servant of God who is called to lead the nations, but the servant is horribly abused.

The servant sacrifices himself, accepting the punishment due to others.

That sounds very familiar, doesn’t it?

This is a connection with what God is saying in Matthew about Jesus.

But what makes this verse different, and even more powerful, are the words God uses.

God does not call Jesus His servant.

He calls Jesus His son.

That changes everything.

God has skin in the game.

God has something to lose.

Someone to lose.

But God is willing to do it because there is no other way to save us.

There is no one else who can do what Jesus has to do.

Jesus comes to renew all of creation.

The world.

Us.

And God does this out of an incredible love that He has for the world He has made.

And to show just how much WE mean to God, He sent his most precious possession.

And I feel we can connect this verse to John 3:16:

“For God so loved the World that he sent his only Son…”

 

God wants to restore, not destroy.

 

And when God sees Jesus being baptized,

and he sees his Son ready to take on the mission,

God THE FATHER speaks.

 

“This is MY Beloved Son.”

This is not just a God talking.

This is a Father boasting!

 

And God does not stop boasting about his Son.

Or his children.

 

Today we did a thanksgiving of Baptism.

Please open your bulletins to that part of the worship service.

And I want you to take note, highlight, one particular line:

God calls you his Child.

God has invested something in you.

God has invested the life of HIS Son in order for you to be in relationship with Him.

And what that means is YOU are not alone.

YOU are not without hope.

YOU are not without a chance.

YOU are now WITH God.

And YOU are in God’s dictionary!