Tag Archives: welcome

A Sermon on the Baptism of Our Lord

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Read the Whole Passage)

Sermon

John the Baptist is at it again, preaching about winnowing forks, or rather shovels, that gather grain from the threshing floor. It was only the third Sunday of Advent, less than a month ago that John was preaching this same sermon!

These crowds that gathered on the banks of the River Jordan came because they were searching. They were looking for something, someone to tell them who they were. They are misfits and trouble makers. Soldiers, tax collectors, the lame, sick, blind, deaf and poor. They were considered outcasts, those unloved by God, those without a place in the religious order, they were on the outside. And so when they hear of a Holy Man preaching on the outside, they go to see what he has to say, that maybe he will say something different about God, that maybe he will have a different story. Maybe this John the Baptist will tell them that they are something different from outcasts, misfits and troublemakers.

(Pause)

As Wesley stood on platform, he was terrified. Voices from the water were mocking and teasing him, calling him names like, “Wes the Mess” or “Wesley the Sissy”.   Wesley was standing in the community pool, trying to reach for the rope that hung just a little too far for his reach. The voices from the water were the other kids and they were calling out from the water.

Wesley had always been picked on. He was the smallest kid in the class, the first to wear glasses, he liked reading about baseball more than he liked to play it. Wesley was a smart a whip, except that he hadn’t learned to read until he got glasses and he had been labeled poor student and he just couldn’t shake that identity.

As Wesley reached out to grab hold of the rope, which he couldn’t see very well without his glasses, he slipped. Instead of swinging on the rope, Wesley tumbled head first into the water making a big splash. And then from under the water, Wesley’s swimming suit came floating up to the surface a few seconds before he did. The other kids just laughed and laughed…

(Pause)

Its not too hard to identify with those outcasts standing on the banks of the River Jordan. Like them, we live in a society that makes distinctions, that tells us who we are based on what we do, where we live, how much money we make, what toys we buy and how many people we know.

And while we might not imagine ourselves standing on the banks of the Jordan, waiting to hear some good news, to hear from a wild hermit preacher about God… we do know what it is like to search our world for affirmation. And we are bombarded by messages telling us who we should be… message in the media, messages in our families, messages from our communities.

As we sift through all these messages, we search for ones that might tells us how we are loved, how we are accepted. Yet, most tell how we can be better… which really means that we aren’t good enough.

(Pause)

As  Wesley looked around for his bathing suit, he turned beat red in embarrassment. He couldn’t see his bathing suit without his glasses.

Then someone started shouting from the rope platform. It was a boy about Wesley’s age. The boy was making a big deal of not being able to reach the rope and then the boy slipped and fell into the water making a big scene. The laughing kids turned their attention to the newest loser to fall from the platform.

When boy came to the surface he grabbed Wesley’s bathing suit and quickly swam over to Wesley. Wesley put it back on under the water and the boy said, “Come with me.”

The two boys swam over to another group of kids.

“I’m David” the boy said, “what is your name?”

“Wesley”

They swam up to the other kids.

A tall lanky older teen with hair in his eyes playfully punched David in the arm,

“Nice fall” he said, winking at the same time.

“Thanks Josh” said David.

The group introduced themselves to Wesley. The two oldest were Josh and Grace. David’s sister Lizzie was there too as well as others.

“We are the youth group from St. David’s church.” said Josh. “Why don’t you hang out with us Wesley.”

“You sure you want me?” said Wesley “Most people think I am a loser.”

“Don’t worry about that” said Grace, “A lot of us thought we were losers too before booming part of the group. Some of us still are,” she elbowed Josh.

“Anyone can join our group. We would be happy to have you.” said Josh. “You are always welcome with us”

(Pause)

As Jesus steps down from the crowds and into the water, God prepares to show the crowds, and to show us, precisely what it means to be gathered up, what it means to find an identity in God.

As Jesus is baptized, God declares from the heavens “This is my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased”. John’s sermon is about the coming Messiah. Yet today, God preaches with his own voice.  And God’s sermon is short and clear. “This is my son. I love him and he is wonderful”. God’s sermon is preached not just to Jesus, but to each and everyone of us. As we are baptized and as we live each as God’s named and claimed people, these clear yet profound words are spoken about us and spoken by God.

And yes, there is nothing we can do to control God’s love. We cannot make God love us more and we cannot make God love anyone else less. This is the scary part, this is the part that feels dangerous. God’s love for creation us untameable. And its by this untamed love that Jesus is revealed to the crowds on the banks of the Jordan and again this love reveals us as belonging to God.

To each one of us God says,

“You are my child, the beloved, with you I am well pleased. You are always welcome with me”

Amen. 

Advertisements

What do churches do with people who want to see Jesus?

John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

Lent has been long and hard on us this year. Other years, this 5 week season of preparation for Holy Week is about opening us up to Jesus’ work in the world, helping us to see just where God is doing important work in our world. This year, Lent has not been so much about opening us to new understandings, but instead about peeling back our layers of self-interest and showing us how we get God wrong.

We began Lent as Jesus showed us that wilderness is not the scary place we imagine, but where God meets God’s people. We continued as Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about death, and we were shown how our fears get in the way of seeing God’s work. We then watched as Jesus overturned tables in the temple, accusing people of selling God and we were shown that our own tables have been turned right side up.

And last week, Jesus reminded us that the familiar verse of John 3:16 is not exactly the verse we hope to use to convert those around us, but instead comes in the context of a reminder of how we are condemned already… and it is in our dark world that God shines a light, even if that light stings a little.

As Lent concludes this week, and we prepare for Palm Sunday and Holy Week, the themes of this season continue. We are being shown the ways, that as people of faith, we miss the mark, despite our best efforts to be faithful.

Today, the disciple Philip is milling about the busy religious marketplace of Jerusalem. This scene actually comes after the triumphant entry, where Jesus rides into town on a Donkey.

Unlike Peter, James and John, Philip is not a leader among the disciples. He is more of a background kind of guy. Peter is the one who speaks up as the leader of the group, even if he is putting his foot in his mouth half of the time. James and John are vying to be Jesus’ second in command. The three got to go up the mountain with Jesus. But Philip is behind the scenes. While Jesus is teaching the masses, Philip is finding the boy with 5 small loves and 2 fish to feed the 5000. Today, Philip is away from the action, from the crowds surrounding Jesus.

And this is where some Greek Jews come to him. They are from far away. They have come to the Holy city for passover… perhaps this will be their only chance in a lifetime to be in Jerusalem for the festival. As foreigners, they are unfamiliar with the city, but they have probably heard about this rabbi and teacher who rode into town like a King.”Sir, we wish to see Jesus” they ask.

Philip, uncertain, goes to Andrew. Together, they leave the Greeks behind to go and talk to Jesus, who gives them a long speech.

If Philip were a church member today, he would be an usher or greeter. He would be one of those volunteers who like behind-the-scenes work. Peter, James and John might be up front preaching, reading the lessons, conducting the choir, or on church council. Philip would be in early to make coffee, he would probably have picked up some doughnuts for a snack after church. While others are up front leading or taking charge, Philip was the disciple looking for a place to eat or sleep, he is the one making sure that people are looked after and that everyone has what they need.

But when the Greeks come looking for Jesus, when that visitor walks in the door of the church, he knows how to pass out a bulletin or a cup of coffee… but he isn’t so sure about taking people to meet Jesus.

If I had to guess, it would seem that many church members are Philips. Faithful people diligently working behind the scenes, caring for each other.

And like Philip, the faithful and diligent behind-the-scenes disciple, we can be uncertain of what to do with people who ask us, “We wish to see Jesus.”

We know how care for each other, to make sure the bulletins gets passed out, the coffee made, the snow cleared, the potlucks served. We are great at signing new members up for mailboxes and getting them on committees. We know how to welcome new faces and familiar faces into our community, we know that the hospitality we extend has something to do with the God who welcomes us in the waters of baptism and saves a place for us at the table for bread and wine.

Yet, sometimes we are uncertain of how to respond to that very direct question asked by the foreigners, by the visitors among us. “We wish to see Jesus.”

Like Philip, we might go to Andrew instead. We might point a visitor asking for Jesus to the bathrooms, show them how to use a hymnal, we might ask the pastor to do the Jesus talk for us. Like Philip, believing in Jesus means serving and caring for those around us, making sure they are happy and comfortable and welcome. But also like Philip, talking about Jesus makes us uncertain, uncomfortable even.

And sometimes Christians and church people forget why people walk through church doors in the first place. We forget why we keep coming back again and again. We forget that the volunteer roles we sign up for, the jobs we agree to do, the relationships that become so important to us, the community we form and become a part of are not the things that make us the church. They are not the most important reasons we show up here on Sundays, or why a visitor would darken our doors.

These things are BECAUSE of the most important reason why anyone would show up in church.

God.

When the always helpful Philip goes to Andrew, and the two go to Jesus not sure what to do with these foreigners…

The Greeks are looking for the King who rode into Jerusalem. And visitors who come into a church may have many reasons that draw them in. And in the midst of being a busy community, we may forget the core reason of why we are here.

Yet, Jesus takes their question and steers it in a new direction.

Jesus says, “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

God is busy drawing all people. All nations. All kinds, young and old, new and familiar, those leading up front and those behind the scenes… God is drawing all of us to the Christ who is lifted up on the cross. God is the ultimate reason that we are all here regular or visitor, seeking and searching or committed and devoted.

God is gathering us together, and God who is we are ultimately looking for when we show up at church. God is who makes the church the church. God is who finds us, even as we are uncertain at times with what to do with that question, “We wish to see Jesus”

Today, Philip, even though he is not sure how to Answer the Greeks, is still trying to be a faithful disciple and follower of Jesus.

And Jesus recognizes that too.

Jesus knows that our attempts to be faithful are often what get us in the most trouble. And still, God is here among us. God is working with our failing faithfulness and God is drawing us all to the cross. God is drawing us all to place where humanity’s attempts to be faithful ended with the execution of God in flesh.

And yet at the cross and again at the empty tomb, God will show us that it is God’s faithfulness does not fail. That God’s faithfulness is why we are here. And that God’s faithfulness will be on full display when Jesus is lifted up, drawing us all to God’s love.

Amen.