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It is Not Jesus’ Temptation but ours

GOSPEL: 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.’ ” (Read the whole passage)

Even though it doesn’t feel like it, today we enter into the wilderness. The hot, dry, windy, sun soaked wilderness of Lent.

Last week we were on top of the mountain with Peter, James and John. We watched as Jesus was transfigured and was greeted by Moses and Elijah. We were awed as God spoke, declaring who Jesus is, the Chosen one. And then we confused as Jesus headed down the mountain.

Yet by Wednesday, we were down into the valley. The valley of the shadow of death. The valley of ashes, the valley of nothingness. Our brows were marked with ashes and we were reminded that we are dust and to dust we will return.

And today we have been cast into the wilderness with Jesus. Cast into the place of testing and temptation, far away from the comforts daily life.

Each year on the first Sunday in Lent we journey into the wilderness with Jesus. We hear how Jesus is tempted by the Devil. Matthew, Mark and Luke each tell the story a little differently, but the purpose is the same. This is the place where our Lenten journeys begins. In the wilderness, on the road to Jerusalem and Good Friday. We are being made ready for a transformed life in Christ. But this is only the beginning.

We stand by while Jesus and the devil interact. We watch as Jesus is offered things that the devil hopes will divert Jesus from his mission. We hear Jesus respond with steadfast faith as he quotes scripture in order to hold back the Devil and his attempts to siphon off a little bit of Jesus’ will power.

This familiar story of Jesus life is often upheld as a formula for Christian living. Jesus is an example to us of how to resist those worldly and devilish temptations to satisfy ourselves, to obtain power, to take the easy way out. This story seems like a guide for us. If tempted with food, quote passage A. If tempted with land and power, quote passage B.

But this is no manual on avoiding temptation, and Jesus is not some moral paragon demonstrating the right techniques.

In fact, as we hear this familiar story today there is a strange tension about these temptations. They are things that have caused all the prophets who have come before to fall:

Moses who committed murder,

Elijah who stuck his neck out and then last all hope,

And Abaraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

And King David and Solomon…

even God’s chosen prophets, especially God’s chosen prophets and kings fell for one reason or another.

And yet, Jesus is different. It isn’t that Jesus has some kind of super human will power, it is that these temptations for Jesus, the son of God, the prophet of the most high God, are not really temptations at all.

The Devil has forgotten or doesn’t really understand just who he is speaking with.

God has just declared Jesus to God’s chosen, God’s son. The Devil thinks he is just dealing with another prophet perhaps, he does not understand that this Prophet is not just who speaks with God’s voice, but is the very Word of God made flesh.

The devil is trying to sell power that the devil does not have to give and Jesus knows it. The devil is really doing something that we do on a regular basis. The devil is trying to act as God, trying to be God in God’s place. To control and handle God. To make his will, God’s will.

The devil asks God to bend to creaturely demands, to the whims and desires of the finite and created. The devil’s temptations are not offers of power, but demands that God act according to his desire. And just like the devil, the sinful self, the original sinner part of us wants that too.

In fact, if we are honest… those temptations that the devil offers aren’t really temptations to us either. If we could command the angels, we would! It would be a virtue, we would feel like superheroes. And power… we well know that the pursuit of power in this world is constant, it is the game of the rich and the powerful, but also ours too. And stones into bread, the most seductive temptation of them all, the temptation to survive at all costs, to put ourself first above all others… this is often touted as one of the most important virtues of all.

And so there is tension in the temptations, between how we would hear them and how Jesus does.

There in the hot, dry, sandy landscape of the wilderness. There standing beside a tired, hungry, thirsty, chapped lip, windblown, dusty Jesus stumbling through the sand, the Devil offers bread. The devil offers rocks as bread to the creator of the universe. To the same God who spoke all of creation into being from nothing by saying, “Let there be”… and it was so.

The Devil says, if you are God, turn this rock into bread and Jesus says, “One does not live by bread alone”. God in Christ reminds the devil that nothing has come into existence apart from the Word of God, the Word that is standing there in the flesh.

And then from the hot, dry desert, to the top of world, the devil offers Jesus power over all the nations if would only bow down to chaos and confusion personified. The devil offers earthly power to the God of all creation, the same God who has just been born in a manger as powerless baby, who has come to live in the created world, to play in the mud and sleep over at the neighbour’s house, to stub his toes and hug his parents, to go to weddings and learn the torah in the temple as a teenager.

The Devil says worship me, and Jesus says “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him”. God in Christ reminds the devil that being God is not about power, but rather about giving power up in order to love and to love deeply. That being worshiped is not about being on top, but worship is about serving one another.

And then from the top of the world to the temple of Jerusalem. The devil ask Jesus to prove who is. The devil asks Yahweh Elohim, the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Jacob, and Joseph. The God of Moses and Elijah. The devil asks this God to prove who he is on top of his own house, on top of the place that God’s chosen people come to worship the one true God.

The Devil says throw yourself from this temple, and Jesus says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”. God in Christ reminds the devil that there is no need to prove who he is, that this is not about people choosing to believe in God, but about God choosing to love us, about God giving Godself to the creation that has come into being in the Word.

____________________________________________

This story is not about how good Jesus is at resisting temptation. Rather its about Jesus telling the devil and telling us who God is. And telling us who God thinks we are.

This is not Jesus’ own private wilderness. It is is our wilderness, our temptation, our darkness. Jesus has not come to prove that he can make it without giving into temptation, Jesus has come to show us that the God of the Universe, the God of creation. To show us that God has come into the world to be with us, to go with us into our wilderness.

We live in the wilderness of Lent, the wilderness of temptation grasping for material things, for power and for worship. We live in the wilderness trying our best to be like Jesus, but failing at every turn. And yet, we also live as an Easter people, people who are loved and forgiven by God. We live in a world where death has been over come by resurrection and new life. We live each day in both Lent and Easter, both wilderness and mercy. God reminds us each day that we are Baptized sinners, clean sinners, loved sinners.

And it is into this world, this wilderness, that the creator of Universe, that the God of all meets us. The God we fail to recognize, the God who shares in our joys and sorrows, who goes with us, even when would rather do other things. This God sets out with us, on our Lenten journey today, knowing that we will forget who Jesus really is, but never forgetting who we are.

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Carrying our burdens up the mountain of Transfiguration

GOSPEL: Luke 9:28-36 [37-43a]

28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray….35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. (Read the whole passage)

Today, we come to the end of an unusually long season after Epiphany… Nearly two months ago, a lifetime ago, we gathered with the wisemen around the Christ-child to worship this new king sent to save the people. And in the weeks that followed, the divine Christ was revealed to us in different ways, each time pushing us, making us ready for today. For this journey up the mountain of Transfiguration… because on the mountaintop our Epiphany lingering, our time of sitting with Jesus as he is revealed to us in new ways, will come to an end. On this mountain, Jesus charts a course that puts him on a collision course with our efforts to be like God, to be in control of our own fate.

Transfiguration Sunday is a hinge Sunday, a Sunday that swings us from one part of the story into the next. From the dark of Christmas night, into the bright noonday desert sun of Lent. Transfiguration is that moment where the bright lights are too much to take in and our eyes need some time to adjust.

Things begin innocuously enough down in the valley, where Jesus decides to bring a select few with him to climb a mountain. Peter, James and John… oh, and the rest of us… are chosen to follow Jesus up the mountain. If you have ever had the chance to climb a mountain, you will know that it is not as glamorous as it sounds. It is mostly staring at the ground and the feet of the person in front of you as you tiredly trudge uphill. Once in a while there is a stop or pause to admire a view, but then more trudging.

So after Jesus, Peter, James and John have trudged up their mountain, the disciples are understandably tired, sleepy even. And in their tired and sleepy state all of a sudden, Moses and Elijah appear. The two greatest prophets of Israel. And they standing next to Jesus… but not normal Jesus. Jesus in dazzling white, looking suitably prophet-esque himself.

Now before unpacking what happens next, it is important to know about all the clues we missed up until this point. The religious practice of Israel of the day was centred around the Jerusalem temple and laws of Leviticus. Making sacrifices in the temple and keeping the laws to maintain one’s purity and righteousness was how you stayed in God’s good books. The burden of righteousness of salvation rested on the shoulders of people. And the Jerusalem temple and its priests were the chief judges and gatekeepers of righteousness, making sure that only those who could keep the law and make sacrifices were given righteous status.

But before the levitical laws and Jerusalem temple, there were the prophets of Israel. Messengers appointed by and speaking on behalf of God who brought God’s righteousness and mercy and compassion to God’s people. These prophets were the patriarchs of Israel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But chiefly Moses and Elijah. And these prophets represented God away from the temple, and apart from the following the law. They often came preaching from the wilderness, they met God on holy mountains, they brought the very voice of God to God’s people.

So as Jesus and his disciples trudge up this mountain, the clues are there. Jesus is not aligning himself with the centre of religious authority, with the temple and its laws. But rather with the prophets of old, those appointed directly by God to represent God to the people.

And there on the mountain of transfiguration, Jesus receives his prophetic appointment, just as Moses and Elijah did. Confirmation that God was sending Jesus, the Messiah, to bring God’s righteousness, God’s love and mercy to God’s people.

And even in this moment Peter cannot escape the burden of keeping the law, the sense that he must do that work of saving himself.

“It is good for us to be here, let us make three dwellings.”

Peter wants to preserve this holy moment and make it a holy place, a place where the faithful can go to earn their righteousness. Peter just cannot imagine a faithfulness that doesn’t include his responsibility to earn his salvation.

And we get it.

We totally get the feeling of this burden.

Even as good Lutherans who know that we cannot earn our own salvation, but rather it is given as gift by grace through faith… We too still act as if the burden of faithfulness is ours.

Our world, and often the church too, conditions us to think that it is our good actions, our gifts of generosity, our ability to be moral and of good character, our prayers and worship, our biblical literacy and theological understanding are the things make us faithful. We fret over our families and communities when they start to show a waning interest in church, will they still be saved? We fear God’s punishment when the pews seem a little emptier than they used to and the budget a littler tighter than we like. We wonder how we have failed God when it is clear that world simply doesn’t care about what Christianity has to say anymore. And we often lap up the advice of experts and gurus of church mission and growth who promise to give us the secrets of successful faithfulness for just a small speakers fee.

So yeah, we totally get Peter’s feeling of being burdened. We would almost certainly want to do the same thing if we were standing on that mountain, we would try to capture the moment for a deposit in our faithfulness bank account.

Yet, before Peter gets too far into his plans for righteousness earning,

God interrupts.

Just as God spoke in Jesus’ Baptism, just as God spoke over the waters of creation, God speaks again.

“This is My Son, My Chosen, listen to him!”

And what is that Jesus has said?

Well, he has NOT told his disciples and the crowds that earning their righteousness comes through keeping the law and making sacrifice at the temple.

In fact, the last time that Jesus said anything before going up this mountain was to predict his death. That he will suffer, be rejected and be killed. And on the third day be raised again.

Jesus has just told his confused disciples that he is coming to meet God’s people, to meet them in the midst of their suffering and rejection. And to die just as they die. Jesus has just told his disciples that he has come to bridge the distance between God and creation, and has come to carry their burdens.

Jesus has come to carry their burden of righteousness earning to the cross.

Jesus has come to carry our burden of faithfulness to the grave.

Jesus has come to carry the burdens of God’s people so that we don’t have to.

This Messiah born in the manger, baptized in the Jordan, who turned water into wine in Cana, who filled the fishing nets on the lake, who preached on the plain… this Jesus, transfigured Prophet of the most high God does not stay on the mountain for an important reason.

God’s prophets are not sent to go up mountains

They are sent to go down.

To bring God down to God’s people.

Jesus the Messiah is coming down the mountain with Peter, James and John… and the rest of us… so that we can know that it is not our burden to earn our righteousness, it is not our burden to be faithful… but that God has come to be our righteousness and our faithfulness for us.

God has always been coming down to meet us and to carry our burdens… even if we are trying to be faithful all on our own.

God comes down to meet us every time we gather as community, no matter how many of us there are.

God comes down to us whether we are in church every week, or have forgotten that church entirely.

God comes to down to us despite our morals or character, regardless of our prayers or biblical literacy.

God comes to meet us in this place and in many more places of worship whether they are full or nearly empty, whether the budget is easy to meet or underwater, whether we follow the mission expert’s steps to success or have no idea where to begin.

God comes to meet us because we are God’s people, weighed down with burdens that only God can carry.

And so God comes to carry them and to carry us.

In God’s Word spoken here, in the waters of God’s cleansing grace, in the bread and wine of mercy, Christ’ body and blood – in all these things, God comes down the mountain to us.

And so on this Transfiguration Sunday, as we also go down the mountain with Jesus, we are reminded God is always on the way down to us.

What does Jesus know about fishing?

GOSPEL: Luke 5:1-11

4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. (Read the whole passage)

Our journey from Epiphany to Transfiguration continues today. We began with wisemen searching for the Christ-child, we then heard God’s voice thundering from heaven, saw Jesus turn water into wine, Jesus preach in his hometown synagogue and then almost get thrown off a cliff by the people of his hometown synagogue. And now Jesus continues about the business of his ministry. And with crowds following him, clamouring to hear him speak, he gets in to Simon Peter’s fishing boat and meets the most famous of his soon to be disciples.

As we hear this story, the drama of this scene might be lost on us prairie dwellers, unless we are regularly in the habit of going up to Gimli to go fishing. To our land lubber ears, Jesus seems to go for a gentle boat ride. We are used to tractors and pick up trucks, to eating cows and pigs. And so when we hear that Jesus gets into Simon’s, and then Jesus provides overflowing nets, its seems like a nice story, a quaint story about Jesus making life a little easier for Simon and his companions. But dig a little deeper, and we begin to see that this is not just about Jesus providing fish. Today, Jesus is almost as offensive as he was a week ago when he pushed the buttons of the people of the Nazareth Synagogue, and today, Jesus isn’t the only one in danger of losing his life.

As Jesus begins to get more famous, people begin to follow him around. The crowds press in on him to hear what he is saying. And this time they press him right to the edge of the Lake, and when Jesus can walk no further, he hops into a boat. Into Simon’s boat specifically, and from there continues to teach. Simon has caught nothing and is going home for the day. Yet when Jesus hops in his boat, he obligingly takes him out a few feet. Simon knows his place, and allows the important teacher a makeshift pulpit from which to preach.

Yet, when the sermon ends, Jesus doesn’t ask to go back to shore, instead he tells Simon to go out into the middle of lake. The preacher in the boat tells Simon the experienced fisherman to do exactly what fisherman don’t do. They do not go out on the lake in the middle of the day. They fish at night, near the shore, by lantern light. This is how they have fished for generations. Simon is not impressed with this wandering preacher sitting in his boat. In fact he begins to refuse, “Look teacher, we have been fishing all night, our nets need repair, maybe you should stick to speeches and let us do the fishing” Simon has just met Jesus, but it doesn’t take him long to use that impulsive mouth that he will become known for. But then, Simon changes his mind part way through his refusal and says, “Well I guess it won’t hurt, so if you say so Jesus”.

There is something very familiar about this moment between Simon Peter and Jesus. We have all been there when someone insists on an idea that we know won’t work. And we have all, likely, ignored our gut instincts and gone along with a bad idea regardless.

And yet, there is an even deeper familiarity that we know as well. In our dark and difficult moments, in our times of frustration and exhaustion, we too often wonder if God actually knows what is going on. Like Simon the trusty fisherman, we know the ease of sticking to routines and traditions, of sticking to what we know to be tried and true.

In fact, like Simon, we even know how to stick to what we know despite our empty nets. Safety and predictability even if we are starving. As we float near the shore in our fishing boats, we too often find out nets empty, we get stuck in the ruts of the shallows. We stay with the familiar and what we know, even when it leaves us hungry. Yet, God is calling us away from the safety of the shore, out to the deep water, out the unknown.

And so, imagine Simon’s surprise as he lets down his nets into the deep water and then begins to haul it back in. The weight of the net pulling back more than Simon ever expected, maybe more than he had ever experienced. And Simon tries to the get the net — and all the fish — into the boat, there is so much that he must call to his friends. But even with James and John there is so many fish that both boats begin to sink. If there was excitement at catching a lot of fish, it would have disappeared when the boats began to sink in the middle of lake. The wandering preacher might have guessed where the fish were, but it wasn’t going to do Simon any good if he drowned first.

And there out in the deep water, out in the dangerous part of the lake, out with Jesus who has commandeered our boat and is telling us to try new things… Jesus calls us to something totally unexpected.

Jesus calls us to drown in the deep unknown.

And today, that call seems as crazy to us as it did to Simon, who knew better than to go far from the shore. And yet, God is doing something totally unexpected. Something that does not make sense to us. God’s calling to drown is call to die to self. God calls us to be drowned in the waters of Baptism… But that drowning of our sinful, scared, inward looking, routine clinging self makes way for the new creation that God raises up and out of the waters. God also calls us out of our ruts, out of our routines, out of the water, out of death and into life.

To a people stuck in the ruts, in the routine of what is safe and known, Christ’s call to risk everything in the deep water seems like too much to ask. But there in the deep water, Christ is giving us life. Life in the form of fish for hungry, starving fisherman with nothing, and today for us, New Life in the Body of Christ.

We simply cannot hear the story of Jesus’ call to Simon out in the deep waters and not remember the words spoken over us as we were held above the waters of the font,

“By the baptism of his own death and resurrection, [God’s] beloved Son has set us free from the bondage to sin and death, and has opened the way to the joy and freedom of everlasting life”.

Out of death, God brings life. Out of drowning in the deep waters of baptism, God forces the breath of life back into our lungs and joins us into a community of newly alive people. Its no wonder that we are call our church sanctuaries Naves from the Latin for ship, for they are indeed the upside down boats that we have been dumped from into the waters of baptism.

In our upside down boat, where we are baptized and where we welcome the newly baptized, God makes the dangerous and unknown deep water the sign of God’s love given to each one of us. And this how our God operates, by using mangers filled with animal food, empty wine jugs, empty nets, even a cross, God turns these things into beds for babies, wine for celebration, abundant catches of fish and life as the response to death.

Today as God calls Simon to let down his nets in the deep waters, even as we wonder if Jesus knows what he is talking about Jesus is pulling us out of the water into new and abundant new life.

Simon Peter is surprised today when Jesus hops into his boat and tells him to go out into the deep. And as we go out into the deep waters too, we go knowing that God is in this upside down boat with us.

There is no more wheat and chaff

GOSPEL: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

“John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…

Now 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…” (Read the Whole passage)

It was just last week that we heard the story of the Magi or Wise Men following the star to find the Christ child in Bethlehem. They looked for him in the royal palace of King Herod but instead found him in the home of Mary and Jospeh… and that experience set them on a new path home, forever changed by encountering the Christ.

Today, we fast forward 30 some years and it is clear that the Christmas / Epiphany narrative is over. We had our chance to take a breath over the holidays, to stop and ponder the wonder of the incarnation, and now we are sent along to continue the story of Jesus. For many of us, the return to work and school and “regular life” mirrors this movement in our biblical texts. Both the bible and our world have this habit of moving us along to the next thing whether we are ready for it or not. The story of Jesus keeps going and our world keeps turning, no matter how much we prefer the slower paced days of Christmas.

Today, the church celebrates the Baptism of Our Lord. It the moment of Jesus’ life story that begins his ministry, that sets him onto a 3 year journey of ministry in the backwaters of Judea which eventually culminate on a cross in Jerusalem. But before we get to voices from heaven and the spirit descending like a dove, we have John the Baptist.

John the Baptist makes a cameo today, reminding us of his central role in Advent. Out of four Sundays in Advent, two are devoted to John every year. To his preaching and ministry on the banks of the river Jordan, proclaiming the coming Messiah and baptizing those who came to him.

And so even as we are shoved 30 years forward in the story of Jesus from last week to this week, Luke’s Gospel reaches back and picks up the thread from before Christmas… reminding of us just who the gathered crowds are, standing on the banks of Jordan.

They are God’s people waiting in darkness, anticipating the coming of Messiah, hoping for hope, searching for salvation of some kind, somewhere. They have come out into the wilderness looking for John the Baptist, hoping that he will give them something to hold onto.

And John does give them something, some good news to hold on to. Yet, John’s message is a little off. It doesn’t quite sound like good news. God’s promised Messiah is coming, says John, he is coming to baptize with fire, to separate the wheat from the chaff. To burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.

That doesn’t sound like good news, but more like a warning. The Messiah is coming to separate the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad, the right from the wrong, the faithful from the faithless, those on the inside from those on the outside…

But isn’t that the problem in the first place? A temple system in Jerusalem that arbitrarily chooses some to be righteous while most are deemed to have fallen short. The problem already is a world where salvation seems to be inaccessible for most. John is only kind of providing good news by telling of yet another who is going to separate the good from the bad.

You see, even John the Baptist, sent by God to proclaim the coming of Messiah, cannot escape the way the world, the way sin and death wants to define things, to define us. John the Baptist preaches both the coming of God’s promised saviour, but still through the flawed lenses and paradigms of our world. A world that thinks the solution to our problems is determining who is good and who is bad, who is in and who is out.

Of course, this continues to be our problem today… Like John and the crowds, we too cannot escape the inclination to see the world, and to see God, in those terms. In the terms of who is good and who is bad, who is right and who is wrong, who is saved and who is unsaved. Human beings cannot help but seeing the world this way, whether it is in our personal lives and families, in the world of politics between nations, in the world of business and economies, even in the world of sports. We are so used to seeing the world in terms of who belongs to our team and who doesn’t (says the Oilers fan in Winnipeg).

And as post-modern 21st Century Christians, we haven’t changed much from those crowds coming to the banks of the Jordan looking for salvation. Sure we are the inheritors of Church’s proclamation of faith, sure God reminds us week after week, time after time of the Gospel given for us, of the good news of God’s love and forgiveness for sinners and resurrection given to those suffering under death. Sure God reminds us that none of us is worthy of being on the inside or righteous or saved on own, but that Christ makes us worthy.

Sure we should know better… yet, Christians are often some of the worst offenders at seeing the world in terms of wheat and chaff, the world of John the Baptist’s preaching. Christians have the bad habit of wanting to condemn those on the outside, of believing that God’s mission is just for us, rather than following God’s call to take the good news with us out into the world.

But what else should we expect… we cannot help ourselves, we cannot help but be wheat and chaff people by nature… our inability to see that God’s love for us is given freely and abundantly, is precisely the reason Christ comes in flesh in the first place.

And our inability overcome our nature is also why the story doesn’t end with the John the Baptist.

It is why the story begins with him.

As the crowds are standing there on the banks of the river listening to John, they go down and wade into the muddy waters, one by one, where John baptizes them.

And out of this ordinary action of being made clean in the water, something extraordinary is about to happen. One particular, seemingly unremarkable, man is dunked in the waters… And something happens. As he comes up and out of the water, the heavens break open. The veil between heaven and earth is lifted, and the distance between God and creation is closed. And the spirit of God comes down and rests on this man.

And then, just as it rang out over the waters of creation in the beginning, God’s voice rings out again. And this time, the people of God are there to hear.

“This is my Son, the beloved. With him I am well pleased.”

Now here is something, someone new.

The Messiah that John has been foretelling and heralding is not just on the way, but is now here. Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the anointed one, has been revealed to God’s people.

Here is the hope, here is the salvation, here is the one that they all have been waiting for.

Just as God began the creation of all things by thundering God’s voice over the waters, God the Father begins the salvation, the new creation of all things by thundering again over the water.

And all of sudden, the wheat and chaff, righteous and unrighteous are not the point anymore.

The good news come in flesh is now the point.

The good news being close enough to touch and feel and see and hear is now what matters.

The good news who can look us in eye, who can pick us up and carry us, who can reach out to touch and feel and see and hear us is the new reality.

The crowds have been given not just the hope they were looking for, but more than they could ever imagine being given.

And it is the same for us. Even as pervasive is the old way of seeing the world, even as we try to keep up the pretense of determining who is in and who is out… God is breaking through to us.

As we gather around the water found here, God breaks open the heavens for us too. God’s voice is heard in our midst and God’s salvation comes for us. As the water is poured over our heads the first time, and each time as a new member is joined to the Body, God is declaring that we too are God’s beloved. That we too are God’s beloved children.

And those other labels, good and bad, right and wrong, in and out, wheat and chaff… those labels, those judgments don’t matter anymore.

There is only God’s judgment of us, and there is only one thing that God judges us.

Beloved.

By God’s voice speaking forgiveness in this place, by the water that washes us anew in this assembly, by the bread and wine that joins us to this Body… God is declaring us Beloved… over and over and over again.

From Magi and stars, to Water and the Voice of God… today is quite the trip… but it is all to remind us again, that God the good news has come and that God has declared us God’s own children. God’s own beloved.


Image: Wikimedia commons https://goo.gl/images/VeZWdo

An Unlikely Coronation

This sermon was co-written with my partner, The Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker (Twitter @ReedmanParker). It is her family with the collection of royals plates and spoons.


John 18:33-37

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

A couple of weeks ago my mother was visiting from BC. And while she was here she had us watching the documentary series “The Royal House of Windsor” on Netflix. One thing you should know about my, mostly British family, is our fascination with the royals. As far back as I can remember the royals were a thing. A big thing. Growing up, there were books of Prince Charles and Princess Diana that I would thumb through, mostly to look at the magnificent gowns and jewels the princess wore. There were plates and spoons with the faces of her royal majesty the queen among others who adorned my grandparents living room wall. My grandfather even researched how the queen takes her tea so he could perfect the methodology – in my family we truly believed that the queen could, in fact, drop by at anytime and visit. So best be prepared.

Throughout my childhood my understanding of what it meant to be royalty was rooted in these picture perfect images from glossy pages, or screened onto bone china. To be honest, the idea that these were real people, with real problems, didn’t sink in until August 31, 1997, the night Diana, Princess of Wales died in a car accident in France. A week later I watched Prince William and Prince Harry – both the same ages as my younger brother and I – walk behind their mother’s casket. They looked so very human and normal, and powerless, and average.

To be a member of a royal family means to be set apart – there are protocols and procedures, customs and traditions, expectations and entitlements that are reserved for a small group of people. This becomes clearest when watching the archival footage of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. The pomp and circumstance. The regalia. The grandeur. The diamonds! This is how many of us perceive the royals. All glammed up for their royal tours or grand parties and celebrations. Many of the criticisms over the years has been how removed the royals are far removed from day life… from us.

So when we come to this festival day, Christ the King or the Reign of Christ, when we lift Jesus up as our king, as we recall not the kingdoms we create for ourselves, but the kingdom God creates for all of creation, we might anticipate the same kind of pomp and circumstance. The same grandeur. Maybe not the diamonds…

Our Old Testament reading from the book of Daniel as well as our Psalm are coronation readings, they conjure up familiar images of what it means to be royal: “dominion, and glory and kingship” (Daniel 7:14), and “robed in majesty” (Psalm 93:1). And to be honest, it is strange that in this year of Mark, that we would be presented with such images. Mark, who spends the majority of his gospel avoiding talking about Jesus’ kingship. Jesus’ identity is kept secret for the better part of Mark’s gospel. Which is maybe why, on this last day of the church year, of the year of Mark, we don’t hear from Mark’s gospel but instead from John. We find ourselves with Jesus before Pontius Pilate who asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” This is, of course, a loaded question.

Because in the Ancient Near East, the king was the Messiah. They ruled under a theocracy in which the king had the ultimate authority and power, and ruled from the top down. It was the king, and the king alone, who had the power and authority to keep everything and everyone safe and rescue them from harm or danger.

But Jesus doesn’t look or act like a king. Pilate is in the power position, and he knows it.

“My kingdom,” Jesus tells Pilate, “is not from this world”. In other words, what you think and expect of kings and kingdoms is nothing like what I have come to do, or who I have come to be.

Jesus comes into the world and completely redefines what it means to be royalty. And from the very beginning – especially as told through Mark’s gospel that we have heard throughout this last church year – Jesus has been pushing and prodding us to think differently about the kingdom of God. Jesus has been pushing and prodding us to understand God and God’s reign differently than what we think or expect.

There is part of us that like the idea of a royal who is far off, doing royal things with royal people. And it’s easy to depict Jesus as a king – crown him with many crowns, lift high the cross – the hymns we sing, the stained glass windows we commission.

But this is not the Jesus we encounter in the gospels. Certainly not in Mark. Jesus’ king-ship, his reign is one that was played down. Jesus himself who walked alongside the disciples teaching, healing, eating… time and time again we encounter a Jesus who keeps showing up in spite of people not knowing who he is – his own disciples not getting it again, and again, and again. And likely because of this not getting it, Jesus, in Mark’s gospel, is kind of a grump. We’re not any more comfortable with grumpy Jesus than we are with a king who looks and acts nothing like how royalty is expected to look and act. Even when artists depict Jesus on a cross it is often with a regal air, and when its Jesus walking down the road with his disciples, there is the suggestion of a king walking through the royal garden with courtiers. No one is commissioning a stained-glass window of a mug-shot Jesus, or Jesus covered in road grime and old clothes wandering the countryside with a bunch of ne’er-do-wells.

And yet – this is our king. Jesus comes to us not with pomp and circumstance, but in the most unlikely of coronations. Through the humblest of beginnings, in a manger to an unwed mother. The kingdom of God isn’t behind royal gates that remain locked to those outside. The reign of Christ is not filled with protocol and procedure, but rather the dismantling of the very things that keep us from hearing and seeing and experiencing God’s love and mercy in our lives. Jesus spent his life walking with and talking with the opposite types of people that any king would be expected to hang around. Jesus’ rule, Jesus’ reign, is so far from what royalty would look like. Instead, all of the examples we have of Jesus’ reign, of what God’s kingdom looks like, are in the ordinary.

And so today, as Christ the King Sunday with readings of royal coronations follows a year of Mark downplaying the kingly side of Jesus, we are left two sides of Jesus seemingly at odds with one another.

But as these two images blend together, Jesus is showing us a Kingdom of Heaven that is breaking into our everyday, mundane and earthly existence. Jesus is showing us a King of all creation who is walking along side us fashioning, forming and shaping us for the kingdom.

And all of a sudden, Christ the King and the Kingdom begin poking and prodding through the veil… and Jesus shows us that the Kingdom has been all around us the whole time.

The Kingdom of God breaking through in words of mercy and forgiveness

The Kingdom of God being glimpsed in the words of eternal life spoken in our midst.

The Kingdom of God revealed in the peace and reconciliation shared between friends and neighbours.

The Kingdom of God that tears open the the boundary between heaven and earth allowing the body of Christ of all times and places to worship as one.

And all along Jesus has been shaping and transforming us for life in this kingdom, in this kingdom that Jesus has been bringing near to us the entire time.

In our world that still looks for royalty to live up to regal expectations, to hold fast to customs and traditions, protocols and procedures, we celebrate the reign of the One who looks nothing like what the world expects. Who holds fast to the rule of love, who encounters us in bread and wine at the table, in the water and word at the font, in reconciliation with family and friends, freedom through forgiveness of sin to life eternal.

On this Christ the King Sunday, we are reminded that Jesus is never the King that we expect, nor the One that we deserve, but always, always the One that we need.

Jesus doesn’t decide who sits at the seats of power

Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking….” (Read the whole passage)

We have been making our way through the heart of Mark’s gospel for a while now. These central chapters have not been easy on those who have encountered Jesus, or on us. And today it continues, James and John fail to get what Jesus is talking about for the third time. Just before James and John come to Jesus with their request, Jesus predicts his suffering and death for the third time. The first was before Peter’s rebuke, which caused Jesus to call Peter Satan. The second prediction was just before the disciples degenerated into arguing about who is the greatest. And the third prediction is just before James and John’s request today.

It seems that each time Jesus tries to tell the disciples about the true nature and character of God’s mission to the world in the incarnate Messiah, the disciples follow it up by saying something foolish because they have failed to understand what Jesus is talking about. And today is the most colossal failure of all. James and John not only do not see what Jesus’ mission is about, they imagine instead a triumphant warlord. They ask for seats next to Jesus’ throne as he becomes ruler. They imagine having seats next to Jesus at royal banquets. They want to be lieutenants commanding the right hand and left hand of Jesus’ army.

And worse yet, they ask for these positions of power with the intention to cut out the other disciples. They imagine that there is only so much glory to go around, a limited amount that they want to get their hands on. When the ten get angry, it is almost as if they are upset, not because of the audacity of this request, but because they didn’t think to ask first. The disciples look more like the cutthroat characters on Game of Thrones than the disciples of Jesus.

And as we watch this self serving behaviour from afar, there is a certain comfort for us in the persistent failures of these disciples. We can rest comfortable in the fact that there is always someone who understands what is going on with Jesus less than we do. We know that we would never be so presumptuous as to ask Jesus for such glory, to be at Jesus’ right and left hand. At least want to believe that about ourselves, despite the constant and blatant behaviour to that effect by politicians and other people of influence these days.

Of course our world governed by the same attitudes, by the desire to take the seats of power and privilege for ourselves and for our self identified tribes. We live in a world that sees that there is not enough to go around. Not enough power, not enough glory, not enough control. Not enough food, money or things we can own. Not enough jobs, toys, entertainment.

Those who sit atop of the pyramid of power, the most privileged people of our world have all but given up the charade of pretending that their lust for power isn’t the most important thing to them. Politicians who will do anything to get elected, billionaires who will spare no expense to influence governments and elections, celebrities whose fame is measured by social media followings, corporations who make more money than many of the world

We live in a world that tells us to greedily soak up whatever resources we can. Whatever comes along to comfort us, satiate us, make us feel better. And we try to get these things before anyone else can, before we run out.

And of course as people of faith, we too have a hoarding problem. And we try to hoard things that we really have no right to. We try to hoard God’s love. Out of one side of our mouths we say that God’s love is for anyone, for everyone. We say that it is free and abundant. And out of the other side we judge and condemn. We judge those who are different than us. We condemn those fail to be tolerant and accepting of what we find tolerable and acceptable. We cry out against those who don’t agree us, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. We claim, regardless of the issue, that opinions, ideas and perspectives different than our own are a threat to us and to God’s love being proclaimed among us.

And we do this out of fear. Fear that we could be wrong. Fear that God might think differently than we do. Fear that if God accepts and loves people different than us, that we might be the ones who God doesn’t accept and doesn’t love.

When James and John ask for the two seats of honour, Jesus is unable to give them what they want. Jesus doesn’t say no, rather Jesus admits something surprising. The places on Jesus right and left have been reserved for others. And Jesus is not the one who has made these reservations.

Like James and John, we probably quickly run through list of potential candidates. Moses? Elijah? They stood next to Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. Caesar? The Generals of the Roman Army? They ruled the known world at that moment. Herod? Pilate? They control Israel. Donald Trump or Justin Trudeau? They are the most powerful people in our world and our country right now.

We cannot keep from imagining that the places next to Jesus are seats of power. But the spots at Jesus right hand and left hand are not divinely chosen places of honour. It is not God who has prepared these places. It is the mobs. The roman officials. The temple authorities. The spots next to Jesus are not chosen for the powerful, but by the powerful. They are not seats of honour, but places of condemnation.

James and John do not know what they are asking. The throne that has been prepared for Jesus is a cross. And it is has been prepared by us. By humanity at is most fearful. By humanity seeking to be God in God’s place. Humanity seeking to put God to death.

Yet, God has chosen to make our symbol of weakness and shame, a place of glory. God turns our condemnation and judgement into mercy and forgiveness. God meets us at our place of death and turns it into the throne of life.

James and John, the disciples, our hungry and insatiable world, we who presume to know where God’s love begins and ends, we fail to see that God chooses a new way for creation.

But God chooses to give life rather than take it.

But God chooses to be weak and lowly in order to come near and close to us.

But God chooses to give love away for free, for nothing, for those who do not earn it or deserve it.

But God chooses to grant us pardon and grace, where we only seek to hold keep what we have, away from others.

God’s glory is found on the cross, God’s glory is found in Christ who hangs dead at the hands of humanity. God’s glory is finds us at our worst moment, at our grandest attempts to be God, and God’s glory is opposite of what we expect. We expect power to the be the power of life, to choose who live and dies. But God’s glory is death turned into life, God choosing to give life freely to all of us.

And surprised we might be as much as James’ and John’s when Jesus says no, he cannot give us the seats of power because it is not up to him. But what God does is turns the order of our world upside down. God gives when all our world does is take. God forgives and makes right, even as we condemn and destroy.

And finally as we pursue power over and over again yet finding only destruction and death, God shows us true glory, the glory of the cross , the glory of New Life.

There is no greatest nor least

Mark 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Read the whole passage)

We are well into this second part of the the long season of green… We have been winding our way through Mark’s gospel since May and the deeper we get, the more frustrating the disciples become. Today, they come off looking rather petty, like kids in the school yard at recess fighting over who is the king of the playground castle.

Of course we know that this isn’t just a play ground debate, we also recognize this debate about who is the greatest from the nightly news… especially as election season is upon us and one particular unavoidable politician who cannot help but tell us how tremendously great he is, unbelievably great.

But for people of faith, the scene between Jesus and the disciples today is about deeper things than self-aggrandizement and we know it. We know that this uncomfortable exchange between the disciples and Jesus has something to say about us too and about what it means for us to follow Jesus… or at least we are going to find that out.

The debate over who is the greatest is the memorable moment of the story today, but it is something that is repeated from last week which sets everything off. Jesus is talking about dying again. Last week Peter couldn’t abide it and took Jesus aside to rebuke him. This angered Jesus who the called Peter ‘Satan.’ This week, Jesus is talking about dying again but the disciples do not understand and are afraid to ask.

This point is important to keep in mind during the rest of the story. Because the disciples cannot understand what Jesus means when he says he will die and be raised three days later, they begin to focus on something trivial and manageable… they start arguing over who is the greatest. They are arguing over something they feel can control, something that seems to be quantifiable, a topic they think they can contribute to… all to distract from the fact that they didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about before and they were afraid to ask – remember what happened to Peter last week when he spoke up.

The question of who is the greatest among them is an idea they can manage… unlike the notion that Jesus has come into this world to be betrayed and die, only to rise again in 3 days. The little trivial matter is easier to talk about when the big issue, the big question makes them feel scared and powerless and insignificant.

And so they argue, they debate, they make passionate cases for who among them is the greatest… and probably they feel like they are achieving something as they travelled down the road to Capernaum. That is until Jesus hears them and sits them down for a talking to.

The disciples are doing something that we know well as human beings and especially as church folk. We know how to focus on the small trivial matters in order to avoid the big questions and bigger issues just like the disciples do.

Many of us have been to that church council meeting where the minute details of fixing a leaky sink or buying hot dog buns for the church barbecue or haggling over $10 item lines in a budget of 10s of thousands take up the bulk of time and energy….while questions of what it means to be disciples or how to follow Jesus in our community or how to encourage members growing in faith are met with silence and blank stares.

We naturally grab onto the small things, the things that feel manageable, the things that we can argue and debate and discuss… because the big questions of faith and mission and life… they sit like weights on our chests making our heats beat with anxiety when we think about them too much, let alone when we talk about them.

And so we end up sounding like the disciples, we end up arguing about who is the greatest because we are too afraid to ask about what it means for us that Jesus is betrayed, killed and raised three days later.

And we end up debating the little things like the annoyance of Sunday sports and shopping, grumbling about those who have drifted away and left us with the work, arguing over who is the blame for the decline of congregational resources and attendance… because we are too afraid to ask what it means for us that we are in this state, and what is God saying to us about being the church in this time of struggle.

So as we grumble along the way, on the road from where we were to where we are going… Jesus finally overhears us, stops us and sits us down – just as he did with the disciples.

To the disciples he says, whoever wants to be first must be last. Or in other words, all this stuff you are arguing about doesn’t mean a thing…it doesn’t mean a thing in the Kingdom of God.

And then as Jesus picks up a child and sets them in his lap, he says, “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

But it isn’t some kind of moral lesson to the disciples… Jesus is in fact making a point about all that stuff he first said about dying and rising.

Because who is doing the welcoming? Who is holding the child in his lap? And who is it in baptism that declares to be children of God.

We aren’t the welcomers. We are the children.

God is the one welcoming us.

Jesus is reminding the disciples that they don’t need to be the greatest to understand what Jesus is up to in the world. Because in the Kingdom of God there is no first and last, no greatest and no least. We are all God’s children, and for us Jesus has come into the world. Jesus has come to die with us, to die with a dying creation. Yet, three days later Jesus shows us that death is not the end. And because Jesus rises from the tomb, we rise with the God of New Life on the third day.

The disciples don’t need to understand what it all means for Jesus to be betrayed, to die and to rise again… that isn’t their job. Rather Jesus tells them that he has come to bring them into the Kingdom, he comes to walk along side them, to let them see, hear and feel the Word of God among them… the Word made flesh.

And for all the things that we grab hold of to distract from the bigger issues of faith and life… they don’t matter in the Kingdom either. Because God will continue doing what God has always done for us. Whether it be when we thought we knew what God was up to with full churches and strong attendance and budgets we could meet or whether it is now when none of those things seem to be the case.

God continues to give us the Word of forgiveness and mercy week after week.

God continues to welcome us as God’s own as we are washed and renamed beloved.

God continues to gives us bread to eat and fill our hearts, so that we might become the bread that God uses to feed the world.

It has never been up to us to understand how the Kingdom works, or to have all the answers or to be saviours.

It is up to God.

And God is coming to us, coming to little ones such as these,

in the person of Jesus who dies and rises again,

coming to us again and again in Word and Sacrament,

signs of God welcome for us, signs that remind us that we are neither the greatest nor the least in the Kingdom, we are God’s beloved children.