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Worshipping before the Shepherd’s Throne

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (Read the Revelation Reading)

It is still the Great Day of the Resurrection! We are half way into the 50 day season of Easter. And for the past three weeks, we have stuck close to the events of the early days after the empty tomb. Jesus meeting the disciples and Thomas behind locked doors. And Jesus meeting Peter and others on the beach, calling Peter to feed his sheep.

Yet, the 4th Sunday of the Easter begins to move us along from the early resurrection moments. Traditionally, the 4th Sunday of the Easter has been observed as Good Shepherd Sunday… a day to be reminded of our Shepherding God calling us into God’s great flock. We hear familiar readings like Psalm 23 and we hear Jesus use familiar sheep and shepherd images in John. And as church folk, we love those quaint images of Jesus with a fuzzy sheep… usually on some oil painting found in a church basement or at grandma’s house… Yet, Good Shepherd Sunday has a deeper sense that it is moving us along in the story of resurrection. From resurrection moments to resurrection community.

And so we hear also from Revelation, John’s vision of the great multitude, the great flock before the throne of the great shepherd at the end of time.

A few decades on from the resurrection, and the first communities of Christians, of Jesus’ followers, were struggling in Roman society. They were social outcasts because they refused to follow the social order. It was essential in the Roman world to know where you belonged. Society was divided up by class, ethnicity, gender, occupation, citizenship, language, and religion. And those early church communities were marginalized because they had this inconvenient habit of declaring that under the One God of All, there was no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free. They rejected a world that saw gods in everything, mountains and bubbling springs, the sun and moon and stars, in war and harvest, in nature and animals. They worshipped the one God of all things who died on the cross and rose again on the third day.

This was a threat to the Roman Military cult who believed the essence of their success at conquering new lands was that in each new place they came to conquer, they adopted and prayed to the local mountain gods or river gods or whatever kind they found for victory on the battlefield – and they go it.

For a community living under oppression, marginalized and ostracized, sometimes even sent to the coliseums to be eaten by lions, the Revelation of John provided a vision of God’s great promise of reconciliation… the unity of God’s people worshiping before the throne, the Shepherd’s one great flock.

This great unified multitude gathering before the One God’s throne is as counter-cultural today as it was for early Christian communities. We too live in a world that encourages us to look around for people who are like us, who resemble us, and to fear anyone who doesn’t. We constantly navigate the many and various divisions that categorize people. Whether it is which political party we support, what religion we practice, what education level we have obtain or job we do, what the colour of our skin is or the gender we identify as or generation we belong to, what sports team we cheer for or tv show we are fans of. Our world is just as divided and categorized as the ancient world. And the narratives, the stories that we are told push us to fear those who are different, those who don’t belong to the same tribes and groups we belong to.

The idea that we belong to one great multitude is one that goes against most of what we are told by the world around us.

And so it is no wonder that when we talk about Jesus the Good Shepherd, we hold on to the images of shepherd staffs and fuzzy lambs. We love those paintings of a kindly Jesus holding a little sheep in his arms. We want to be comforted, we want to hear that we are one of the sheep, one of the people who gets to be a part one of the most important groups we can think of.

Yet having just come from the cross and empty tomb, from Thomas seeing the marks in Jesus’ hands and side, from Peter’s shame being met by Jesus’ compassion over a breakfast of fish on the beach… is fuzzy sheep and kindly shepherds where we have been headed with all of this?

If we are honest, the radical inclusive of God’s kingdom is something we don’t usually want to imagine. The idea that those whom we fear, those who are different, those whom we often would rather keep out and keep away from, are actually a part of us can make us uncomfortable. A great multitude of people full of those who we struggle to imagine as being anything but other from us is hard to grasp.

So it is no mistake that the place and time that this great multitude comes together is not the end of time, but a moment that we know all too well.

My seminary internship was in Calgary, and I was placed in fairly affluent congregation in a neighbourhood just a few blocks from the University. Recently, the C-Train, Calgary Light Rail transit system, had just added a stop close to the church. And one of the consequences was that this sleepy neighbourhood was all of a sudden accessible from anywhere in the city. Many poor and homeless figured out that begging in the burbs was more profitable than downtown. And the church’s back porch and beneath the spruce trees in the yard became convenient places for homeless folks to sleep off a high. This also meant that from time to time, this mostly affluent congregation would welcome some of Calgary’s poorest to worship.

As the intern, one of my usual roles in worship was to serve the common cup at communion. Since most people chose individual cups, I often stood back and watched people coming and going from the altar rail. In those moments, it seemed like a glimpse of the great multitude. As people came to rail, there were oil executives and bank mangers next to retirees and school children. Ex-CFL players alongside teachers and retail managers. Homeless people next to engineers and nurses, people who had lived in the neighbourhood for 80 years next to new immigrants.

Despite all the ways in which we seek to divide ourselves, to find ways in which we are different, the veil between heaven and earth is pulled back as we all came to the table in the same way. Hands open and empty, we are given bread and wine… God gives us the Body of Christ to make us the Body of Christ. As a seminary prof once said to us, “Swirling around in the cup are all your brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Good Shepherd Sunday and the great multitude gathered before the throne tells us a story of God’s desire for us that is very different than any story we hear the other days of the week. It is a story rooted in this gathering that we belong to right here and now. It is the gathering of God’s people before the throne… it the story of God gathering us, and all creation before the word, before the waters, before the bread and wine.

Jesus the Good Shepherd is not just a gentle shepherd holding a fuzzy little sheep, but a God who is gathering us, all of us, all the varied and different kinds of us… gathering all of us up into the great multitude worshipping before the throne. Worshipping before the throne of the one who has come to die with us, and who shows us the way to resurrection and new life…

To new and resurrected life in the one great multitude, God’s great flock to which we now belong.

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The Crucified God is God – and we are not

Gospel: John 18:1—19:42

Seven weeks ago, we gathered on another mountain – the mount of Transfiguration.

On that mountain top, Jesus was flanked by Moses and Elijah, and his disciples gathered at his feet.

From there we descended into the valley of Lent.

Into the wilderness, just as the Israelites were sent into wilderness to be found by God.

The wilderness was not the place of danger we imagine, but the place of renewal.

Rather the danger was found in the return from wilderness, in the journey towards human chaos.

It was on streets of Jerusalem where Jesus found the centre of chaos and struggle.

It is on our our streets and in our communities where Jesus meets human messiness.

And along the journey from down the mountain through the wilderness and chaos of Lent, Jesus kept coming back to God’s people, kept coming back to us.

He came and answered our big questions about life and suffering.

He showed us the prodigal Father, who sought out his lost sons.

He let himself be anointed with perfume like a body being prepared for burial.

And then Jesus rode up into Jerusalem again.

On a donkey, with a crowd waving palms, chanting Hosanna, save now…

filled with expectation that he was their new king,

come to take away their problems with power and might.

But by the end of the week, the crowds had turned.

As Jesus gathered at the family table with his disciples last night, he knew what was coming.

There would be no more rest, no more sleep, no more calm.

There would be betrayal and denial.

There would be sham trials and wrongful convictions.

There would be police brutality followed by summary execution.

And through night into today, the humanity that was so oblivious to him this whole time,

Who clamoured for him to perform like a side show,

to feed the bored and hungry, to satiate the crowds….

Today this humanity has woken up…

This humanity has become aware of just who Jesus is.

The baby born in a manger to peasant parents,

promised by angels, visited by shepherd, worshipped by Magi…

this baby who is God come in flesh, word incarnate.

This baby is now this man.

This man who is God.

This man who is God, which means we are not.

This man who is God, who threatens our claims to power.

This man who is God, who makes us feel small.

Jesus has come to centre, to the core of humanity. To our messy and chaotic existence and reminded us our limitedness, of our ungodliness, of our fallibility and imperfections.

And that just wont do for us.

And so we go back up the mountain to send the God-Man away.

We march up Golgaltha with murderous rage.

And we haul a cross along with us.

We who are the best humanity has to offer.

Religious leaders, political leaders, the educated and prominent.

We pick up the nails too, and desire to be rid of this One.

This One who is God in flesh and who brings God close.

This One who announces the Kingdom coming near.

This One who talks about grace and mercy at inconvenient times.

This One, the Christ, the anointed of God, sent to save…

We will put to death and be done with him.

And then we can go back to being in control.

Back to being in charge.

Back to being God.

Except this mountain was always where Jesus was going.

From the beginning of creation, from the moment God spoke us into being.

From the dirt and clay that formed the Adam, the first born of creation.

There was also a cross.

The cross was always the place where God’s Word in flesh would meet us.

Always the place where the Christ would confront our most God-like power.

The cross was always the place where the God of creation would meet the God we tried to create of ourselves.

The cross was always the place where God was going to bridge the gap to human chaos and messiness…

Where God would rejoin what was split apart in the fall.

Where God would reconcile creator with created, humanity and divinity.

Where God would remember and remind us that we were created in God’s image, in Christ’s image.

Here on this mountain, the skull, the place of humanity’s power of death,

God declares that we are not God once and for all.

And that sin and death are no longer in control.

God declares a new reality by reminding us of the first reality.

God declares that God is God

And God declares that we are God’s creation.

That we belong to the crucified one.

That our chaos and messiness,

Our human failings and fragility

Our questions and vulnerability

Our discomfort and overwhelming feelings

That all of us, including sin and earth

Belongs now to the one who hangs on the cross.

The one in whom all creation began

And whom creation put to death.

That we belong to this One, this Word, this Christ, this Jesus.

That we belong to this One who loves beyond all love.

That we belong to this Word of Life.

That we belong to this Christ who saves

That we belong to Jesus who makes us one.

Who gathers us into God.

Into God, who even though dead on a cross…

Who is life beyond all life.

Who is freely given love and salvation

Who is mercy and forgiveness for us.

This God, who even though dead on a cross…

Has come again to the mountain top

and finally shown us once and for

That we are now a new creation

That there is now

New Life in the crucified Christ.

Hosanna – Save Now

Luke 19:28-40

As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord! 

Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

We have been in the Wilderness with Jesus since Ash Wednesday. We have been preparing as followers of Christ for what is to come this week. We experienced temptation in the wilderness. We watched at Jesus lamented over the center of human chaos, and we have brought our big questions and doubts to Jesus. We heard how the prodigal Father seeks out his two lost sons. And we have been uncomfortable with Mary’s extravagant act of love to prepare Jesus with perfume and the smell of death

And today, our lenten journey, our lenten wilderness and wanderings have brought us to the gates of Jerusalem shouting Hosanna. We have been calling upon God for deliverance from our oppressors. That word Hosanna, that word which sounds a lot of Halelujah, like praise the Lord does not mean the same thing.

Hosanna means save now.

Save us now God.

Save us from enemies.

Save us from our sufferings.

Save us from all that threatens us.

We know what it is like to need to be saved, to yearn for deliverance.

We pray Hosanna for those who are sick, for those who are broken.

We whisper Hosanna for those at death’s door.

And each week, we sing Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

We sing Save us Now, and call upon God to come down a meet us.

To meet us in Bread and Wine, to become Body and Blood.

To become our Body and Blood.

To be the Body of Christ that we share in the Lord’s supper.

To become the Body of Christ that we are as the Church.

We sing Hosanna, save us now, because this week more than ever we need to be saved.

Because this week we will meet Jesus in the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday.

And we will be the ones who give Jesus over to be arrested for 30 pieces of silver.

We will be the ones who take up the sword to return violence with violence.

We will be the ones who deny Jesus just before the rooster crows.

And we will be ones who stand helpless at the cross.

We sing Hosanna week after week.

We sing Hosanna today, because we need God to save us from ourselves.

To save us from sin, to save us from death.

We need God to be Hosanna for us. We need to be saved.

And this week God will.

God will enter the city to our rejoicing.

God will share the last meal of criminal sentenced to death with us.

God will hang on the cross for us.

We sing Hosanna today, and each Sunday. Because we need to be saved.

But also because, when we let those words cross our lips:

Hosanna in the Highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of Lord. Hosanna in the Highest.

We are reminded.

God has come.

God has saved.

God has come for us.

God has saved us.

Amen.

Saving the Fig tree and Saving Us

Luke 13:1-9

1At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2[Jesus] asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?…

6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

Sermon

Our Lenten journey arrives at the halfway point today… and along with Jesus we have been wandering the wilderness. From the desert wilderness of temptation to the center of human chaos in Jerusalem. Jesus lamented over God’s people bustling and scurrying about. But now the questions begin coming, the obliviousness of the crowds is fading, the un-veneered truth is breaking through the humdrum of human busy-ness. Today, the questions are big and the answers are vague… yet amidst all that, Jesus reveals again something about ourselves and about God.

Now, before going any further, there is something about biblical wilderness that you ought to know. Normally, we see wilderness as the place of danger and peril, the place of exile and isolation. Wilderness found in the bible is something else, something holy and sacramental almost. In the familiar stories of faith, wilderness is the place of prophets and messiahs. Abraham is sent away from his homeland into the wilderness with only Sarah and God at his side. Moses escapes the dangers of Egypt only to be found by the burning bush in the wilderness. Elijah escapes occupied Jerusalem to be provided for by God in the wilderness. The Israelites leave slavery to return to the God of their ancestors in the wilderness.

In the bible, to enter into true wilderness is to leave the chaos of human life behind for a time, to be brought closer to God’s presence. And so our Lenten wilderness is exactly that, not a time of danger or worry, but a moment to come closer to God.

But along side our Lenten wilderness journey is something different. There is also the reality and harshness of creation. The crowds comes today to Jesus with their questions about the world, questions about cruelty and suffering, about sin and death. And their questions are our questions. They ask Jesus about the worshippers, Galilean pilgrims, that Pilate had murdered while they worshipped in the temple. They want to know who is to blame, if the pilgrims had somehow brought the violence on themselves.

This of course is a familiar notion these days as the entire world continues to reel from the murder of 50 worshippers into two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. There are some out there that have asked if they two somehow brought this violence on themselves. But most, like those who came to Jesus are simply wondering why?

So Jesus brings up another tragedy in the recent memory of the people of Jerusalem, a construction project gone wrong, a tower collapsing and falling on 18 workers. Jesus asks rhetorically if these are also to blame for the calamity that befell them.

And again, we are reminded of the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the 157 people who died in that disaster. Were the pilots to blame or the aircraft builders. Again the question is why? Followed by, can this arbitrary violence and suffering come to us?

In both cases Jesus condemns the idea that somehow the victims are to blame. And today, he would do the same.

And then he tells a somewhat curious parable. One about a fig tree that had not born any fruit, for 3 years… And the landowner was ready to give up on it. Yet the gardener asks for one more year. Curious indeed.

These are complicated questions for this 3rd Sunday in Lent. Complicated questions that have something to say about our world in the midst of our questions and grieving. Questions about the things that we have no answers ourselves for. Why do we suffer? Why is violence so arbitrary? Why is hatred so seemingly common place?

On some level we know that we contribute to the problem. We know that, indeed, our sinful and selfish tendencies as human beings bear some of the blame. Whether it is someone falling into a rabbit hole of twisted ideology and othering that results in a heinous act of terrorism, or the obvious corruption and self interest of so many in power who simply wring their hands and offer thoughts and prayers as the solution to the problems of terror and violence. And then we also know that even in small ways we daily put ourselves ahead of others… we know that we are found somewhere in this mess.

But Jesus isn’t just rejecting the idea that the victim is to blame… Jesus is redirecting the focus of the crowds who have come with their questions. Jesus is pointing to the big picture.

The parable of the fig tree is a reminder that the big picture matters.

The landowner comes to his unproductive fig tree with all our questions, all our assumptions. Why hasn’t the tree produced? What is wrong with the tree? What has the tree done or failed to do?

The gardener sees the big picture… the gardener knows its about so much more than the tree.

The soil, the water, the shade, the root system, the weather, the pruning, the fertilizer and so on and on.

“Give it another year” He says

And all of sudden suffering and violence and sin and death are pushed aside. And there is grace and mercy and reprieve.

“Give it another year.”

And a global community gathers around families and communities torn by tragedy. Investigations begin up provide answers, and questions about plane safety are asked.

And high school students in New Zealand stand together and perform the Maori Hakas to honour the dead and to show resolve and strength. Biker gangs stand watch outside mosques so that prayers can be offered up in safety. And laws are introduced so future violent acts can be limited before they ever begin.

“Give it another year.”

You see, there is always more to the story, more to know and understand. And the big picture, the big picture is where grace and mercy come. The big picture is God’s surrounding our mess and chaos with love and compassion.

The big picture is the reminder that the gardener knows how to to turn suffering and violence and sin and death away. The gardener knows how to grow new and unexpected life. The gardener is knows that new life will always surprise and always come when we don’t expect it to.

The gardener knows what we do not… that repentance and transformation always begin from God’s end, from God working our soil, watering us in baptism, shading us in the word, feeding us to produce good fruit with bread and wine.

“Give it another year.” Jesus says about us.

The gardener is the Christ who sees what comes after failure and axes and death.

The Gardener is the Christ who knows that there will be new life and an empty tomb.

That tragedy and violence might shake us, that sin and death are always around in the messiness of human existence is certain.

But that God in Christ is also with us, walking along side us.

Despite all the things that push us to death and threaten to destroy, God in Christ has the final say. Christ is the one who defines us, who names and claims us, who declares that sin and death will not be our end.

It is the Christ who hears the questions about murdered worshippers and those who have died in tragic accidents who also is the one who goes to Good Friday and Golgatha — to cross and grave.

And it is this Christ who will not let us be ended by the harshness of our existence, who instead will walk with us from wilderness into our messy existence.

It is the Christ who shows up at falling towers and crashing planes,

The Christ who stands vigil and watch with grieving families in Galilee and Christchurch.

It is the Christ who walks out of the tomb and who declares,

“You have been given another year.”

Amen.

It is not the things that are #blessed anyways

GOSPEL: Luke 6:17-26

17[Jesus] came down with [the twelve] and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people…
20Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

Today, our journey into this long season of Epiphany comes to an unusual place… the 6th Sunday after the Day of Epiphany. Most years, we are already heading into Transfiguration, Ash Wednesday and Lent by this point, Epiphany is being put into the rear view mirror of the journey into the Lenten wilderness. But because of when the first full moon, happens after the spring equinox (yes, that is how the date of Easter is calculated), we are six weeks into this season with still one more Sunday to go.

And so on this unusual Sunday, we hear a familiar story out of place. The Sermon on the Plain from Luke, also known as the Beatitudes. We often hear the Beatitudes on All Saints Sunday or in the summer… at times when they speak to who we are. But this time after Epiphany is about revealing Christ and who Jesus is, as we have heard in the stories of Jesus’ baptism, the wedding of Cana, Jesus preaching in the synagogue, Jesus almost getting hurled off a cliff after preaching in the synagogue, and Jesus almost sinking Peter’s boat with a net full of fish in the middle of the lake last week. And so with different ears to hear Jesus’ familiar sermon on the plain, they reveal to something unexpected about who and where Jesus the Messiah is in the world.

“Blessed are you who are poor” Jesus begins.

And we immediately begin to conjure up ideas of what it means to be blessed. To have, to obtain, to be given things of value and worth. We believe we are blessed with health, wealth, and happiness. “In the world of social media, one of the ways to communicate is through the use of hashtags, also known as the pound symbol, or the number sign. It’s a way of categorizing posts, so one can look up what other people are saying about a particular topic. One might look up #wpgjets or #mbroads or any number of other topics. As you might imagine, #blessed is pretty popular. On instagram, as of the time of this writing, there were 106 million posts featuring #blessed. It was [just] Valentine’s Day, so most of them were love related – feeling blessed for romantic love, family, friends, chocolate! Or to be the blessing to others by providing something as a sign of one’s love: flowers, cards, food… chocolate! But there were literally a million other things people felt #blessed about. And that’s not even counting all the other social media venues. To be #blessed in almost all of these situations is to have [or to own, or to possess] something, or someone.”

And yet, even as the people of Israel may have treated blessings in this way in daily life, the bible and ritual practice Ancient Israel did not. The thing or person most frequently blessed in the prayers of the Israelites was not themselves, but God. “Blessed are you O, Lord our God, King of the Universe” was a common way to begin a prayer.

And in Christian tradition it is the same, in fact the most familiar prayer of our worship begins this way, “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed (or Blessed) is your name.”

To bless something is to name it holy. To declare that God is present in something or someone. To say a blessing is simply to say, “God is here.”

And so to hear the beatitudes in this way, changes them.

God is with you who are poor…

God is with you are hungry…

God is with you are weeping…

Yet this understanding of blessing does not change the upside down sense of the beatitudes. To think of being poor, or hungry or weeping as being blessed is strange… but maybe it is even harder to imagine just how it is that God is with those who are suffering.

And isn’t that the problem, no matter how we hear the beatitudes or who they are about. The way in which they turn the world upside down is just hard to grasp.

Every other message that we hear in this world tells the opposite story. Those 106 million instagram posts are probably not showing pictures of poor, hungry and grieving people. And who among us really believes that it would woeful to be rich, to be full – even after Christmas dinner, or to be laughing.

We just cannot escape thinking that blessings are things we can have, posses and own. Things that will fix our problems, make our lives easier, bring us happiness. Things that we have and that others don’t. And to be poor, hungry and weeping in our view is to not have the things.

So what is Jesus getting at? What is “Blessed are you – God is with you – who are poor”, really about?

Well, the clue is in who Jesus is talking to today.

In the other version of the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount version from Matthew, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom.”

But here on the plain in Luke, Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor.”

Blessed are you.

You.

Jesus is speaking directly to his audience. And he is not philosophizing about some abstract poor. But speaking to us.

Blessed are you. God is with you. I am with you.

You are the poor, you are hungry, you are weeping, you are the hated.

And You… you are also the rich, the full, the laughing, the well-liked.

It is a much richer and broader understanding of these blessing and woes than we might first think.

You might NOT be poor in terms of your bank account, but we are all poor in some way. Maybe poor in relationships, in energy, in community, in time, in health. And we are also all rich… maybe rich in relationships, in energy, in community, in time, in health. And maybe we are both at the same time.

These beatitudes seem to go in a circle. They don’t provides categories or PREscriptions, but rather DEscriptions. They describe the complexity of life, the messiness of it all. Because we are never just one thing or another, we are all these things.

And in the midst of all these things. Poverty and riches, hunger and satisfaction, weeping and laughing, hatred and acclaim… Jesus is there. God is with us.

It is not the things that are blessed anyways.

It is you.

You are blessed. Blessed are you, Jesus says.

Standing there on the plain, looking out and the crowds and his disciples, looking out at the masses, full of complicated and messy people, looking out at a group of people not any different than us… And Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are you.”

Blessed are you, when it is God who is most often blessed.

Blessed are you in the messy, complicated parts of life.

Blessed are you in your poverty and riches, hunger and fullness, weeping and laughing. Because in the midst of all that, you are not alone. God is with you, wherever you are, whatever is happening.

Here in this sixth week after Epiphany, these Beatitudes from Luke speak to us in a new way. They bring us before the Messiah, the Christ, standing on the plain, standing right before us, speaking directly to us. And this Messiah, this Christ tells us something completely different than we hear anywhere else… this Messiah reminds us that our neither our poverty nor our riches are signs of God’s absence or presence. In fact, these things get in our way. When we think God has abandoned us in our want, or that we do not need God in our abundance. Jesus declares that it not these things that tell us where God is among us and what God is doing. Rather, Jesus stands before us and tells us, reveals to us just where God is among us.

And of all the radical things that the Beatitudes seem to proclaim about God’s vision of the world… blessings for things that we don’t see as blessed, woes for things that we usually consider blessings… the most radical thing of all is that none of those things are the most important. The radical thing is that God has come into the world in the flesh of the Messiah, the Christ. That the one whom the wisemen sought, the one for whom the a voice from heaven thundered, the one who turned water in wine, the whom Isaiah was speaking of, the one who filled the empty fishing nets… that this one is here, right here with us, calling us blessed.

Jesus says, blessed are you.

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.

Resisting the Messenger

Luke 4:21-30

21Then [Jesus] began to say to [all in the synagogue in Nazareth,] “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth… 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.(Read the whole passage)

We are about half way through this mini-season of green ordinary time after Epiphany. We have heard the story of the wisemen following the star to Bethlehem, the story of God’s voice thundering from heaven over Jesus as he was baptized, and then watched as Jesus revived the wedding at Cana by turning water into wine.

Last week we moved on from the fantastical to the more familiar, to Jesus reading from the scriptures in the synagogue… readings the lessons in church. And yet, as we discover today in part 2 of this story, the familiar action is also the most scandalous. It’s scandalous for the people of Nazareth, but it is the familiarity of this scene… of being in a faith community together, of going to church just as many of us have for years, decades and generations, that also makes Jesus’ actions scandalous for us.

We begin by hearing again the brief sermon that Jesus preaches after reading the scroll. “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing”

What is fulfilled? Good news for the poor? The freedom for the oppressed and release for the captives? Sight for the blind? The year of the Lord’s favour when all debts are cancelled?

Not exactly. Although it is easy to get focused on what those pieces of good news might look like for us. But rather, the fulfillment that Jesus is talking about is rooted how Isaiah begins the passage. “The Spirit of Lord has anointed me.”

Sounds innocuous enough in English, but heard in Greek or in Hebrew, the meaning of what Jesus is getting at might become clearer. In Greek the word for anoint is Christos. In Hebrew the word is Messiah. Jesus is standing in his hometown synagogue and claiming the title of Messiah, the promised one of God, sent to save and redeem Israel.

And so naturally, the people of Nazareth respond with beaming smiles and nods and nudges to their neighbour and winks knowing that their hometown son has made it. “Isn’t he cute and wonderful,” they say to each other. “What a nice speaking voice and good posture,” they comment. “Isn’t this Joseph’s boy?” they marvel aloud.

But then things seem to go sideways. Maybe Jesus doesn’t like to be thought of as the cute hometown son so he pushes back against the people of Nazareth. He pokes at their comfort and pride. “You just came to see the show,” he says, “Not to hear the message.” And then he invokes images from familiar stories… the gentile widow of Zerephath who demonstrated an openness Elijah when he had to flee his home country… and Namann the Syrian Solider who showed greater faith than the people of Israel that surrounded him.

And with those jabs from Jesus, the beaming pride of the people of Nazareth turns to rage. Who is he to tell them what is what, he is a lowly carpenter’s son… just another boy from town… In their rage, they drive Jesus to the edge of a cliff, ready of cast him out into oblivion.

Now, while the shift from a happy and welcoming crowd to a raging one seems sudden… there has been something off about the folks in Nazareth from the beginning. Both their pride in their hometown kid and their rage at Jesus come from the same place. Both responses to Jesus and his message are resisting what Jesus is actually saying. Both responses focus on the messenger and resist considering what the content of Jesus’ message might mean for them.

This is, of course, the spot where we uncomfortably identify with the people of Nazareth. Whether we like it or not, it is a very human reaction to resist hearing the hard but needed messages from those that care about us. Whether it is at home, at work, in our neighbourhoods or in church, we know what it is like to balk at the message and focus on the messenger. We know what is like to resist when someone tells us that we need to get things together, to be open to new ideas, to try new ways of being, to find healthier ways to live in community. And like the people of Nazareth we often respond in the same way.

“I don’t need to exercise more!”

“Those people won’t fit in here!”

“We tried that already!”

“What do you know, you are too young, too old, too new, too stuck in the past!”

“It’s too risky!”

“What would people think?”

These are all too often our responses to those around us, calling us to account. All too often our response to the spirit prompting us to new possibilities. All too often our response to the call to be transformed for the better.

And who can blame us?… we are human after all. It is simply human to resist. Just as Adam and Eve resisted the creator by eating of the fruit in the middle of the garden.

And so we too end up often, standing on the edge of cliff, either real or metaphorical, ready to toss the messengers of divine good news into oblivion, because we aren’t ready to hear the message. Because what if what Jesus says is true, and that he is the Messiah. What if God is calling us to a new thing, to new ways of being, to welcome new people and new ideas into our community? What if the Kingdom come near ask that we re-orient ourselves and the way we see the world?

Casting out the messenger is always the safer option.

Yet despite our resistance, God does not abandon us. Jesus does not run, or hide or escape.

Luke does not offer a trivial ending to the story, the way that Jesus deals with the angry mob is significant. Jesus passes through the midst of the people. Jesus stays with the raging, resisting crowd. And Jesus continues about his business. He continues on to cast out demons, to heal and cure many, and most importantly continues announcing the coming Kingdom of God.

And yes, this story of a mob praising the one known as the Messiah in one moment and ready to kill him in the next is familiar. It will not be long before Jesus is driven up another hill, and an angry mob will call for his death again… and that time there be no passing through. Because Jesus’ business will be staying with the rage of the crowd, standing in the midst of murderous example of sinful and selfish humanity. Jesus will be nailed to a cross and cast into oblivion.

But just like in Nazareth, Jesus will still go about his way.

And his way will be three days later to walk out of the empty tomb.

To rise again from the grave.

To meet Mary in the garden.

To appear to the disciples in the locked room.

To walk with others to Emmaus.

Jesus way is to show us, to reveal to a fallen and dying humanity, that God is coming to us with new life.

Despite our resistance, despite our focus on the messenger, despite our murderous rage.

Jesus is the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ is coming to us with new life.

Coming to the people of Nazareth and coming here to us today.

And in our midst, Jesus will be about the business of Messiah.

Jesus is preaching good news to poor sinners here, opening the scriptures and speaking to us in familiar ways.

Jesus is announcing release to those held captive by sin and death, freedom found in forgiveness for us.

Jesus is giving us sight, allowing us to see that we have been named and claimed in the waters of baptism.

Jesus is proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour, the great abundant feast of bread and wine where we are all given a place at the table and fed for the work of the Kingdom.

And Jesus is doing all of this in the most familiar of places, right here among us as a community of faith. Right here in the midst of our flawed and human tendency to resist.

And Jesus is reminding us again, that God’s promise of salvation is fulfilled today.