Presenting the Gospel of Jesus, Pt. 3

Luke 6:17-26

When Jesus proclaimed the in-breaking of God’s promised Kingdom, his words ought to have been received with joy and thanksgiving. And yet, often as not he received criticism as well as praise, and there were many who scorned his teachings. In the gospel of Luke we find reason why revealed in a single word: “reversal.” God’s kingdom reveals the respect, dignity, and rights of all persons, and brings into reality the justice of God. God’s justice is a two-edged sword.  On the one hand, the hungry are made full, the persecuted are raised up, and the poor are made rich…but on the other hand those who are rich, respected, and well-fed have already received everything they desire, and many will end up serving instead of being served.

St. Augustine was once reported to have prayed “Lord, give me chastity and continence, but do not give them yet.”  He has not been alone in this prayer, for there are many in this world view the judgement of God with suspicion and fear.  These privileged ones are often found bartering with God to “hold off just a bit” when confronted with God’s justice and the sacrifices demanded by faith. They ask for delay, but there can be none. Too many in our world already live in such desperate circumstances that God’s justice cannot be delayed even one more hour. The kingdom of God is here, and its consolations are meant for all people…even those who are not yet ready to receive.

Presenting the Gospel of Jesus, Pt. 2

Luke 5:1-11

The subject of this morning’s worship is call. The ministry of Jesus grew into what we know today as “church” because Jesus called his disciples. One by one he walked into their busy, mundane lives and disrupted them, saying “follow me.”

In today’s lesson from Luke’s Gospel, there are some fishermen sitting by the lakeshore, washing their nets after a long, fruitless night of fishing.  Jesus happens by, pressed to the edge of the lakeshore by a huge throng of people who want to hear his teaching. Jesus asks to use Peter’s boat so that he can sit a little ways offshore and teach the crowds.  After the teaching, Jesus tells the tired fisherman to drop the nets one more time in the deep water. A catch of miraculous proportion is made—one that requires a second boat to haul it in. The fishermen are stunned and startled, even a little frightened. Jesus reassures them, calls them to undertake a new work with him, and they leave their boats and their nets and follow. They’ve left their occupations for a new vocation in Christ.

It still happens today: everyday Jesus finds people living ordinary lives of endless toil and drudgery, and shows them a new clarity and purpose. The initial sense of awe is often accompanied by a fearful “get away from me, Lord!” But Jesus loves them, and by his love they discover a truer version of themselves and follow him in joy.

Presenting the Gospel of Jesus, Pt. 1

Luke 4:14-30

Early in his ministry Jesus made a visit to his home town of Nazareth. It should have been a story of home-town boy makes good. Jesus’ had actually started his public ministry in Capernaum, and news about the authority of his teaching and the power of his healing spread quickly throughout the region. Now he had come “home”, and the local congregation was eager to see for themselves what “Joe and Mary’s kid” might do for them. This was their chance to affirm Jesus and add their voices to the chorus of those who were singing his praise.

But Jesus was not looking for affirmation, or notoriety, or their acceptance. He was there to proclaim God’s kingdom, and announce that he himself embodied the fulfillment of ancient prophecies. In the short time it took him to read and interpret a passage from the prophet Isaiah, the congregation made the journey from expectant to incredulous to indignant to hostile. For They wanted to stone him.  And then Jesus passed through the midst of their hostility and left that place.

Jesus’ message is that the good news free, neither chained exclusively to ancient scripture, nor exiled in perpetuity to some future, unmet promise. The good news Jesus is a present reality, meant for everybody, and on the move. It cannot be domesticated by any congregation or people; those who try are often left with a glimpse of Jesus’ back as strides purposefully onward.

It's Not My Job

John 2:1-11

There was nothing quite like a good feast to get a celebration off to a great start. Food has always had a way of giving meaning to life! The festivities at this wedding at Cana were typical of those enjoyed by villagers who were thankful for a respite from their daily hard labors of scratching out an existence.

It was an old rabbinic saying that where there was no wine, there was no joy. To cut a long story short, this party ran out of joy! The laughter and gossip of the guests who still had something in their cups, conveniently drowned the anxious whispers and controlled panic that was taking place backstage. In a culture that esteemed generous hospitality, it would have been a shameful humiliation for the hosts to run out of anything, but especially liquid refreshment.

And then Mary made a beeline for Jesus and whispered, “They have no wine!”

If there was one thing that was utterly irresistible to Jesus it was faith. The nature of the mother-son relationship had to be in a new context—there was something more than maternal meddling going on. Jesus responds to Mary’s faith, with all its possible vagueness and whimsy. She models two basic responses that should not only be present at every wedding, but foundational to every relationship and every life:

  • She turned to Jesus.

  • She trusted Jesus.

This is the beginning of a Community of Love.

The Beloved Community: Born of Water and Spirit

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Today in our worship we celebrate “The Baptism of Our Lord,” remembering the time when Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan. People of faith have participated in cleansing rituals for thousands of years as a symbol of washing away sin and restoring a right relationship to God. Many people had come to John in the wilderness for just such a cleansing—a baptism in water for the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus, Luke tells us, offers a different baptism…a purification of the soul with “holy wind and fire.”

Sometimes baptism is viewed as a culminating rite after a diligent time of searching after God. For Christians, however, baptism means much more than atonement for iniquities. Baptism is an act of initiation...a symbol of new birth and a sharing in Christ’s community of love. We become part of Christ’s body, the church, we receive his Spirit, and we are made to be his disciples.  It will take each one of us a lifetime to live out the full meaning of our baptism, but because we are made part of Christ’s body we have one another to help keep us in the way while we we grow in faith.

The Beloved Community: Meant for All

Ephesians 3:1-12

The computing power in an average teenager’s cell phone is a million times more powerful than the computer used to land a person on the moon in 1969. Log on to the World Wide Web and that same phone can retrieve nearly all of the music, art, literature, scientific discovery, and philosophy ever produced, in a matter of seconds. Yet with all this information and data available, the one word that best defines our relationship to God and our universe is “mystery.” There is so much more that we don’t know than what is known...and even the “known” is sometimes barely more than a theorist’s best guess.

So the context of our most faithful desire to know and serve God is mystery. Religious people forget this at times; there is a seductiveness in the familiar comfort of rites, rituals, superstitions, songs, creeds and doctrines. Taking pride in faithful adherence to religion can instill a feeling that we’ve somehow “tamed the mysterious,” and have all the right answers.

But those who humbly follow Christ Jesus as Lord know otherwise. Being a disciple has far less to do with possessing answers, and far more to do with encountering the mystery of God every day. This is sometimes done through worship, as was the case with the wise travelers who worshipped the child Jesus, and sometimes through experiencing the grace that God shows to those “outside our faith,” as Paul did with the gentile believers in Ephesus.

“There are more things in heaven and earth,” said Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Horatio, “Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Understanding the vastness of the unknown mystery makes the mystery revealed in Jesus all the more precious.

Subjects of the King

Mark 12:28-34

From time to time we meet people with little or no wealth who are accomplishing incredible, transformational work for Jesus? Fueled by their love for God, moved by compassion for their neighbors, and led by the Holy Spirit, they simply pick up and do whatever their capacity and resources will allow.  They never complain or apologize for they don’t have, choosing instead to do what they can with what they have.

From time to time we also meet people who take the name of Jesus in order to comfort themselves and advance their own interests.  Their sanctuaries are never quite big enough, their clothes often need updating, and their wealth is always needed for one more project around their own house. They believe in their own righteousness, and look to God to reward them.

One day when Jesus was in the temple, he called the disciples to his side. We warned them to beware of those making an outward show of religion while selfishly serving their own interests.  After that, Jesus praised the simple faith of a poor widow, one who long ago learned the secret of holding the world’s wealth lightly in order to tightly embrace God with her whole self. She is a subject of the king who gave himself for his kingdom…as are all who follow in her way.