It’s Time

A Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Epiphany: Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Psalm 62:6-14,
1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20,

 

In my computer systems career, I was once the operations manager for JACC, so I got to deal with all the unhappy customers. I dealt with just a few, most were happy. But I will always remember one. They weren’t a bad customer, they just were hard to work with. They were very particular about what the programs would do but were never willing to pay for any changes. They were specific about when and who did routine maintenance, which made it difficult to schedule because there was a staff of one. The day their system would not start. I dispatched our technician. The tech worked through all the prescribed checks with no results. The next diagnostics were more complex, involved removing some parts to have access to others that need testing. The owner got irate, called me to say he was telling our technician to leave. I asked “Who do you expect to come finish the diagnostics and repairs? The reply was, “I don’t care, you!” I told him I was not qualified to do the required testing or reassembling. I’ll never forget the tenor of “I don’t care, I don’t want Anonymous Tech here, you figure it out!” followed by a dial tone. When I went to my owner, I was more than a little put off. I was told “Call and tell Anonymous Tech to leave; you go put the computer back together, as best you can, and bring it back here.” Bringing it back to the office was not like putting a PC in the back seat, the cabinet involved was about the size of a legal size two drawer file cabinet. In the end, the same tech found and fixed the problem in-house, and one of our programmers, who drove a pickup truck, took it back to the customer and connected the terminals and printers. After which nothing changed, I had a high maintenance low producing customer; who was now more difficult to serve; oh, there was one change, now I had an upset tech.

The story is memorable because my owner was right, you do what is necessary to take of your customers. And also, because you never know who will reveal life important lessons. I never dreamed this customer would teach me anything.

Today’s bible readings involve unenthusiastic prophecy, abandoning one’s family and an incorrect prediction. This morning we see that for well more than 2 thousand years we have heard unenthusiastic voices calling to pairs of folks willing to desert their better than average prosperous families to follow the Kingdom which they in silence have been waiting for, that now will be here any day.

Jonah is called to go proclaim to Nineveh, capital of Assyria – the arch enemy of Israel, that God is about to destroy them. Jonah’s knows God’s tendency to forgive so he flees by sailing far away. Or at least trying to until a gigantic storm overwhelms the ship. The sailors cast lots so they can learn whose fault this is. It falls on Jonah. They ask “Why?” He tells them, “I am a Hebrew, I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the sailors are even more afraid, and asked him, “What is this that you have done! What should we do?” (Jonah 1:9-10) Jonah tells them

Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12-13)

The sailors still try to save the ship, but they cannot, so they throw Jonah overboard and he is swallowed by a great big fish. In the belly of that fish he has significant time to reflect. Jonah acknowledges that he fled because he cannot trust God’s vision that is different from the faith he was taught that there is no place for mercy for Israel’s opponents. (Epperly). Eventually he comes to his senses and offers a long prayer. A bit later the big fish belches him up on the beach. And, here we are this morning.

It may be surprise to Jonah, it is a surprise to us that God calls Jonah a second time to go tell Nineveh what’s about to happen. This time he does so, albeit reluctantly (Bratt). Jonah’s behavior looks like he submits, but inwardly he continues to resist (Trible). His prophecy is less than inspiring. His unenthusiastic 5-word prophecy (Gaventa and Petersen – Jonah) includes nothing about why Nineveh will be overthrown; and he says nothing about what they should do (Harrelson – Jonah). The word ‘overthrown’ is actually ‘overturned’ and is the same word used to depict the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah Gen 18) (Gaventa and Petersen -Jonah). Jonah is the story of a reluctant, unenthusiastic, prophet of few words, which are shallow in their content.

Jesus is as opposite as you can get from Jonah. Nonetheless there are interesting questions; you wonder about his methodology, his choice of disciples or followers, and his timing. By tradition, teachers wait for followers to choose them. Jesus does not, he calls them. (Keener and Walton – Mark). And I wonder about his choice. They are not from the elite, or educated, or religious authority. Neither are they from the marginalized outcast. Fishing was a major occupation on the Sea of Galilee. Commercial fishing, although not elite, was lucrative and their families were economically better off than many Galileans who lived in peasant servitude (Keener and Walton – Mark; Gaventa and Petersen – Mark) A family business, like Zebedee’s, that employed hired servants would have had a sizeable income. To drop their nets is to abandon their family business, which has dramatic implications for the whole family. (Keener and Walton – Mark) It is pairs of brothers who quit their commitments to follow of Jesus, so the family burdens are doubled. (Perkins) Jesus’ timing also seems to be wrong. He is teaching that the Kingdom has come near. But no, it is not here, it is not fulfilled, it is not crashing in, it is not replacing the grim realities of life (Hoezee). Come to think of it Jesus, is a little bit like Jonah, is a bit content light. Jesus’ call does not tell the disciples where they are going, or what they might expect (Hoezee). Being fishers of people; what does that tell you?

And just what are Simon, Andrew, James, and John waiting for? Sure, the Romans are there complicating life, but even they have to eat, and the lake is a rich resource of food. What crisis, that the psalmist refers to, do they face? Why would they be seeking asylum? (Hannan). What leads them to denounce their faith in the powers and protections of the Temple, the state, the Empire, and their modest wealth? (Gaventa and Petersen – Mark).

And what is Paul thinking? It has been 450 plus years since the last prophetic word was heard; but it has been over 2,000 since God sent Abraham off to seek the land and 1,500 since the beginning of the Exodus (Bible-Hub). In this context 24 years, since Jesus’ resurrection, isn’t a long time at all. Why is Paul so convinced time has been made short (Hart). Why is he so sure it is just before the end of time (Keener and Walton – 1 Corin).

Looking at these stories in their historical and contextual background leaves one baffled. Each story leaves us full of questions. Nothing is what a reader expects. And yet there are life’s curiosities. Just after I left JACC the customer, in my opening story, made the largest purchase in JACC’s history. No one would have ever thought it.

We are so far removed from Jonah’s days and so unused to the presence of a wide variety of gods we miss how Nineveh sees Jonah as the prophet of a foreign god, who has traveled all this way, and is doing them a favor by giving them a warning (Keener and Walton – Jonah). It never occurs to us, as it never occurred to Jonah, that Nineveh hears his warning as an opportunity to repent, and through ritual actions express that they believe the warning (Trible). And so rather than being overthrown, they turn themselves over, they turn around, they repent (Gaventa and Petersen – Jonah).

We know the Gospel so well; the sense of anxiety has faded away. The Gospel story is in a time of crisis. The peoples’ faith, Israel’s faith, is turning more and more away from God, whose robe’s hem is in the Temple, to the exacting regulations of sacrificial tradition, and to the wealth, power, and prestige of the Roman co-opting policies. It is time to turn away from corrupt governance, foreign powers, and the lure of wealth and prosperity (Hoezee). It is time to trust God and God alone. It is time to ponder where is our heart? where is our ultimate loyalty? who do I trust my life, and my family to? where or in whom does security really come from (J. Clinton McCann)?

We are so used to hearing the Gospel story that the mystery has worn away. It is hard to be surprised by an often-read favorite mystery, even if Agatha Christie wrote it. But still, the Gospel is a mystery. We know nothing about why Jesus calls these disciples, or any of the disciples. We know nothing of why they leave their lives and their families. Jesus calling is a mystery. The disciples following is a mystery. How or why the Gospel continues to be found in the gaping holes of life, in the disappointments, in the blows and losses, in the sadness and grief is a mystery (Peters).

We live in a world that follows chronos, the time of the clock. Our clocks are so precise I’m not sure we can really understand its largest or smallest segments. Our sense of chronos defines so much because its structure makes all things digital work, and today all things are digital. That being said, Paul may well have been using kairos, simply put “the right time.” You know the experience of hearing someone say, “It’s time.” For Paul, for the Corinthians, for us ~ it’s time.

  • It’s time to let go, so what we cherish can flourish and bear fruit (Epperly).
  • It’s time for the divine perspective it’s time to honor and preserve everyone’s and all of creation’s holiness (Sampley)
  • it’s time to live life in unhindered devotion to our creator God, through the resurrected Lord, via the ever-present Spirit (Gaventa and Petersen 1 Corin.)
  • it’s time to let go of all the standards of this world, even those the church would impose (Gaventa and Petersen – 1 Corin.)
  • it’s time to believe, ~ to trust God is making all this right (Mast).
  • it’s time to receive that all things are being made anew, and
  • it’s time to understand that God refusing to let Nineveh go, is the sign that God will not let us, not let you go.

It’s time to follow Jesus. What is that like? I don’t know everything; I don’t know if I know anything. So, come on and let’s see.


References

Bible-Hub. New Testamenet Bible Timeline. n.d. 8 12 2017. <http://biblehub.com/timeline/#nt&gt;.

—. Old Testament Bible Timeline. n.d. 8 12 2017. <http://biblehub.com/timeline/#ot&gt;.

Bratt, Doug. Epiphany 3 B – Jonah 3:1-5,. 21 1 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Bridgeman, Valerie. Commentary on Jonah 3:1-5, 10. 18 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 21 1 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Hannan, Shauna. “Commentary on Psalm 62:5-12.” 21 1 2018. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hart, David Brently. The Mew Testament: A Translation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. e-boook.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 1:14-20. 21 1 2018.

  1. Clinton McCann, Jr. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs. Commentary on Mark 1:14-20. 21 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Mast, Stan. Epiphany 3 B Psalm 62. 21 1 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Peters, David W. “Arrested, Epiphany 3 (B).” 21 1 2018. Sermons that Work. <episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2018/01/02/arrested-epiphany-3-b-january-21-2018/>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Sampley, J. Paul. New Interpreter’s Bible Commemtary The First Letter to The Corinthians. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols.

The Living Curch. 1/21: Enclosure and Service. n.d. <livingchurch.org/2018/01/15/1-21-enclosure-and-service/>.

Trible, Phylils. New Interpreters’ Bible, The Book of Jonah. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. V. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols. Olivetree App.

 

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We Need Each Other …

A sermon for: The Second Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20), Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, John 1:43-51

 

Verna Dozier was respected Episcopal Educator. I once had the pleasure to heard her teach on reading the bible. She teaches that the psalms are a reflection on Old Testament stories, and Acts and letters are reflections on the Gospel stories. Today we will follow that sequence to glean a bit of wisdom from scripture.

Our readings this morning have the common theme of listening for the voice and presence of God, in our lives (Epperly). We will see how Samuel is a model for sharing and hearing and how Psalm 139 is a reflection on that. We will see how Jesus invites would be disciples to come and see is a part of Nathaniel’s story. Finally, we will peek at Paul’s thoughts about intimacy and Spiritual life. Well after finally, we will explore what it means for us.

Samuel is conceived after his mother, Hannah, accused by Eli, the temple priest, of being a drunken spectacle, explains she is praying out of her great anxiety because she is barren (1 Samuel 1:12-18). Eli, crudely and off handily, says “let it be so.” After their son is weaned, Hanna and her husband, Elkanah, take him back to the temple where they offer him as a servant to God, under Eli’s guidance.

Eli’s sons are scoundrels, who abuse their office by disregarding God’s word and taking advantage of the people who came to offer their sacrifices. Their behavior is so bad, the people’s dedication to God diminishes and the word of God is rarely heard.

Samuel is no longer a child, at this point but probably a young man (Birch). Samuel’s calling is a primary element; Eli is also a primary element. Despite his contentious relationship with God, Eli recognizes that God is calling Samuel, and faithfully instructs him how to respond. God calls, and Samuel replies Speak, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:10). God’s first assignment is for Samuel is to tell Eli that time is up, and the judgment on his family, and priestly lineage, is to be forever, that there will be no survivors; there will be no succors, and there is nothing to do to stop the judgement (Bridgeman; Birch).

Eli recognizes Samuel’s hesitation and encourages him to tell him everything God told Samuel, and he does. Eli’s response is It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him. He holds no grudge against Samuel nor God. This story presents Samuel as a model for accepting God and following God’s instructions (Epperly). But, we should not overlook Eli, who helps Samuel hear and respond to God in faith.

Psalm 139 is a meditation on God’s nearness and intimacy we see in the previous story. The first reflection is that that in spite of our sin, we are accepted by God (Epperly). Eli’s and his son’s lives show us: that there is nothing about us

  • that God does not know
  • that there is no place where God will not be with us, and
  • that the relationship between ourselves and the creator is beyond our understanding (Gaventa and Petersen Psalm).

The palm also reveals an uncertain uncomfortableness about God knowing our deepest secrets. Our intimate relationship with God is wonderful, but it is also a bit unsettling (Harrelson Pslam).

Today’s Gospel story is one of my favorites. I think the phrase “come and see” is the most valuable evangelical tools we have. Only that is not where the Spirit lead me today. Today I am lead to a chain, a fig tree, and Jacob that draw wisdom from this Gospel.

The chain begins with John pointing to Jesus saying “Here is the Lamb of God (John 1:29) to his disciples. The next day it thing happens again only Andrew, and Philip follow Jesus which leads to Jesus invitation to those disciples to “Come and see.” The next link in the chain is that Andrew finds Simon. Then Jesus finds Philip who finds Nathaniel and shares the good news, only Nathaniel wonders aloud “Oh really, from Nazareth? Come on!” Philip replies “Come and see.” Jesus sees Nathaniel and remarks Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Nathaniel wants to know just how Jesus knows this and Jesus answers I saw you under the fig tree which leads to Nathaniel’s confession that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel. The chain of invitations to come and see Jesus continues to this day. And it starts not with this story, but the one before as John the Baptist is the witness who reveals the incarnate Jesus (Harrelson – John; O’Day).

Jesus tells Nathaniel he saw him under the fig tree immediately before he makes his confession. Why? What does the fig tree reveal to Nathaniel, that we don’t get? The other times a fig tree appears in the Gospels it is unfruitful, once it is fertilized, the other time Jesus curses it. Fig trees are a little different because they produce figs when they produce leaves, so when you see one with leaves, it has figs. If there are leaves and no figs something has gone wrong with the pollination process (Farr). Also, it is not uncommon people often sit under trees for the shade as they study Torah. Jesus says Nathaniel is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Nathaniel realizes Jesus knows his knowledge of scripture. He understands the reference to Jacob, who is among the most deceitful of all the characters in the bible (Hoezee; Keener and Walton – John). Nathaniel connects the dots and he realizes that the teachings of Israel need to be pruned, because they are bearing any fruit, and Jesus is here to help (Farr).

Jesus goes on to say that Nathaniel will see angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. This is a reference to Jacob’s dream of the ladder with angels going up and down, signifying the unexpected presence of God (Gaventa and Petersen – John). In that dream, God is assuring Jacob that God will stay with him (Hoezee). Jesus is assuring Nathaniel that he will stay with him. The connection between Nathaniel and Jacob raises the possibility of a chain of witnesses, passed down through generations in sacred story, being a stimulus to faith.

The letters to the Corinthians were written responses to the letters from the Corinthians seeking advice and guidance. These verses let us know the church has always struggled with questions of personal intimacy. Paul begins All things are lawful for me but not all things are beneficial. Lawful is better understood as permissible and beneficial is a reference to the common good, not to an individual benefit (Harrelson – 1 Corinthians; Sampley). Paul is teaching that our faith puts Spiritual and theological boundaries on how we behave (Kamudzandu). By their baptism, all the Corinthians are a part of Jesus so everything they do effects, Jesus. Since everyone in their community is baptized, they are also part of Jesus, so what anyone does effects everyone because it first effects Jesus. All that is a long way of saying that our personal conduct impacts the whole community (Gaventa and Petersen – 1 Corinthians). Living within spiritual boundaries is how Paul explains the difference between erotic pleasure, which is beyond the realm of the Spirit, and passionate intimacy, which is within the boundaries of the Spirit (Kamudzandu).

All of this relates to our relationship with each other, our relationship with God, both of which impacts our relationship to the other and with each other. Despite his broken relationship with God, Eli is able to hear God calling Samuel and point him in the right direction. This shows that none of us is so separated from God that we cannot point someone else in the right direction. None of us is so far from God that we cannot hear the divine voice, even if we are simply overhearing it. Samuel’s story also teaches that to do what God asks us to do calls us to speak the truth and speaking the truth can be hard. The Psalmist assures us God knows us, and that is a good thing even if it leaves us a bit uncomfortable. John’s story of Jesus calling his first disciples teaches that our accepting the Jesus story is not complete until we invite someone else to come and see (Harrelson John). It also presents the possibility that someone might believe you (Lewis). In a roundabout way, Paul teaches us that all of us are connected to everyone else. Everything you do effects, someone, you aren’t thinking about. And anything someone else does touches your life Which is why disciplining ourselves to behave within the boundaries of the Spirit matters.

In summary, we need each other.

We need each other’s fragile hearing.

We need each other’s timid truth-telling.

We need each other’s uncomfortable intimate knowledge of ourselves.

We need each other to be links in our intertwined chains of faith.

We need each other because each of us is connected to everyone else in all creation.

We need each other to help each other behave for our common good.

We need each other to share our stories of Word and Sacrament so that each of us will shine in the presence of God/Jesus/Spirits’ Kingdom that is right here, right now.


References

Birch, Bruce C. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Frist and Second Books of Samuel. Ed. Leander Keck. Vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols. OliveTree App.

Bridgeman, Valerie. Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]. 14 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 14 1 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Farr, Curtis. Draw Me a Sheep, Epiphany 2 (B). 14 1 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. 14 1 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

—. The Lectionary Gospel John 1:43-51. 14 1 2017.

Kamudzandu, Israel. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. 14 1 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. An Epiphany Way of Life. 14 1 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sampley, J. Paul. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The First Letter to The Corinthians. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols.

 

 

Purpose, Light, and Life

A sermon for 1st Sunday in Epiphany; Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

 

As I was driving home from a meeting in Osceola Friday afternoon, I heard a story on NPR about a granddaughter tracing her grandmother’s experience as a Jewish refugee in Norway and then Sweden in WWII. Her grandmother was smuggled from the threat of Nazi prison camp, where she would have most likely met the same fate as her parents and younger brother, to safety with strangers who welcomed her into their family, twice.

Though more dramatic, it touches the same moral chords as David Brook’s Thursday column How would Jesus Drive? Brooks begins with Pope Francis’ New Year’s Eve homily in which he states that the most influential people, the true artisans of the common good are everyday folks. Brook’s notes

  • how speeding up so I can’t merge into your lane, reveals a society that is basically competitive, not cooperative
  • a friendly wave after I let you in reveals a place where a kindness is recognized, and gratitude is expressed.
  • getting over to the right lane and waiting your turn in a crowded highway exit lane, rather than cutting in at the last moment, reveals a sense of fairness and equality.

He is wise and accurate in the observation that driving requires us to make thousands of small moral decisions. He ponders “How would Jesus drive?” (Brooks).

The granddaughter’s story is centered around large, perhaps dramatic, moral decisions. Brooks’ column is centered around moral decision so small most of us don’t recognize their moral importance. Both connected with Mark’s 59-word story of Jesus’ baptism; and its themes of water, torn apart, and a dove. Let’s Explore.

The dove, as a symbol of the Spirit appearing as Jesus emerges from Jordan’s waters, reminds us of the chaotic waters of creation. Their time in Egypt would have exposed Israel to the idea of water as a place without role or function (Genesis 1:2) The ‘deep’ is a watery abyss God pushes to edge of the cosmos and holds there, as a part of God’s creating order out of chaos, has similarities with Babylon’s creation epic Enuma Elish (Keener and Walton; Harrelson). Genesis’ imagery of darkness contributes to the sense of the water’s threat. From Genesis we imagine the water as the useless formless void of chaos, in which nothing can exist, from which the Word, the light and life of creation, the incarnate Jesus, the Son of God, emerges (Pankey). It looks a very different than the safe, still surface of the water in baptismal fonts.

Jesus sees the heaven being torn apart. The is not a careful tearing easily restored. The image reminds us of the gigantic power of creation separating day from night, and form, and use from void (Pankey). It is an apocalyptic vision suggesting that a divine revelation is at hand (Keener and Walton; Gaventa and Petersen) It is not like God is tearing it all down to begin again; it suggests that God is acting to set the cosmos back on its intended track (Hoezee). Its purpose, form, and order is as powerfully disturbing as the water’s useless formless void of chaos. We are not at all sure that the shredding of the barrier between heaven and earth is a good thing, because we know it is going to disrupt how our thousands of daily moral decisions are made and seen.

It is clear that Jesus’ baptism is not a purification ceremony. Ancient biographical writings expect the hero to prepared for his mission (Perkins). Barrie Bates writes It’s as if the waters of his baptism have washed away what was hiding the true Jesus (Bates). The revelation of the divine mission, the preparation for the mission, the clearing away of anything hiding the divine appointee’s identity directs our attention to the phrase “like a dove” which is sounding more and more like Jesus coming to know who he is, and what his calling is (Perkins).

All of this helps us to understand who Mark understands Jesus to be. But, we do not get off untouched. God calls Jesus “Son of God.” In Psalm 2 (vs 7) and Isaiah 44(2) the title refers to the whole people of Israel (Perkins). So, we find ourselves challenged; what do we need to do to wash away the buildup of life’s troubles and discover who we really are, and what God’s call for us is. We are baptized in Jesus and “marked as Christ’s own forever.” So, each and every one of us is the beloved, with whom God is well pleased; each and every one of us was forever transformed in our baptism each; and every one of us continues to be transformed, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small changes (Bates).

We all know that there is still darkness, chaos, disfunction, and purposelessness in the world (Pankey). When I left the story of the granddaughter’s pursuit of her grandmother’s story I was wondering “Why do some people fade away in the face of chaos or evil? Why do some people take a courageous stand, and / or take courageous action?” The answer is clear. God’s love brings all things into purpose, light, and life. It is as Brooks shares, Pope Francis saying, the most influential people, the true artisans of the common good are everyday folks (Brooks). That influence, our influence is the strength that comes from the presence of God/Jesus/Spirit given us at Baptism. It is the same strength with which God chased off and holds back the chaos of darkness and water creating the space in which the cosmos, including us, can be, and prosper. It is the same strength that tore open the heavens revealing divine love for Jesus, enabling Jesus to thrive in the chaos of the wilderness – which is the very next story in Mark’s Gospel. It is the same strength that it is available to all who know and accept God/Jesus/Spirit. It is the influence of everyday folks making thousands of moral decisions every day guided by their divine calling to bring purpose, light, and life into every situation.

In this story the dove personifies the Spirit. In the flood story (Genesis 8:6-12) the dove is a symbol for a new creation and a new hope (Harrelson). Jesus drives to fulfill that hope by bringing purpose, light, and life to all people. We can too, as we drive around to all the everyday purposes of a full life.


References

Bates, Barrie. “Christ’s Own for Ever, Epiphany 1 (B).” 7 1 2018. Sermons that Work.

Brooks, David. How Would Jesus Drive? 4 1 2018. <http://nyti.ms/28KGh5f&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 7 1 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 1B Mark 1:4-11. 7 1 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs. Commentary on Mark 1:4-11. 7 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. “The chaos of baptism.” 3 1 2017. Draughting Theology.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Living Curch. 1/7: Risk and Trust. 7 1 2018. <livingchurch.org/2018/1/7/1/7 Risk and Trust>.

 

 

 

Life and Life

A Sermon For the 1st Sunday in Christmas; Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7, John 1:1-18, Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

 

Thank you to -Br. James for his vision about singing on Christmas Day’s (Koester). He wrote: We don’t have to give Christmas to some Hallmark moment

 … – we can sing. We can sing, … in hope of … a world of mercy, justice and peace, a Magnificat world.

which got me thinking about John’s prologue in musical terms as a different way of understanding it. Eventually , remembered as a kid going to hear an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performance of Peter and the Wolf. Before the performance began the conductor lead a sort of prologue. It goes like this

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfM7Y9Pcdzw&feature=youtu.be

The musical prologue framed how the story would be told, so we could hear and understand it.

Early Christians have a problem. Every other civilization around them has a divine system of many gods.

  • The Romans have multiple pairs of gods: Jupiter-Juno, Neptune-Minerva, Mars-Venus, Apollo-Diana, Vulcan-Vesta, and Mercury-Ceres.
  • The Greeks have: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Ares, Athena, Apollo, and Artemis.
  • Egypt has: Ra, Geb, Nut, Shu, Osiris, Isis, Set, and Horus.
  • Persia has: Adad, Ashur, Anu, Dagan, Enki, Ereshkigal, Inanna, Marduk, and a bunch more .

The Christians’ Jewish background believes in one God – God. And now these upstart Christians who claim to follow God also claim that God has come to earth, born of an earthly mother, is named Jesus, lived and taught among us, just as we do, died, and has risen from the dead, and is now back in heaven with God. This incredible story is completely unbelievable and so offensive they are being accused of believing in two gods. Others charge them of following various Greek philosophies. John’s prolog says no and sets the stage for the Gospel by revealing how God and Jesus are mystically one from the very beginning in poetry. He does so because poetry is a way to explain the unexplainable, through the beauty of the words, … underneath {which is}, the beauty of the truth (Rice)

John begins in an unusual place before the beginning, which is intended to turn our attention to God’s character (Harrelson). He draws on familiar Old Testament traditions, but none of them are in their usual form (Harrelson). From Genesis we know God’s word speaks the world into being (Gen 1:1–2:4a) (Gaventa and Petersen). Jewish writers, like Philo,

[spoke] of Wisdom … who represented God in human history, but … stopped short of saying that God became human (Slater).

He builds on Proverbs’ teaching that Wisdom was created before the beginning (Prov. 8:22-23) (Keener and Walton; Gaventa and Petersen) He makes use of Wisdom being linked with God’s creating Word in the Wisdom of Solomon (7:22; 9:1-3) (Keener and Walton). and references to God’s Word as light and life in Deuteronomy (8:1; 11:9), Baruch (4:1; 4:2; cf), Psalms (119:105) and the Wisdom of Solomon (7:26) (Keener and Walton).

John does makes use of The Greek philosophy, by using the Stoic’s idea of logos as the harmonious web of reason that holds all things in being to present a complete picture of the source and causes of creation (Gaventa and Petersen). The introduction of light and life shifts the story’s focus to humanity. It also provides us a source of strength by assuring us that though there is darkness and shadows in the word, they will never overcome the light of creation and the incarnate divine presence (Harrelson).

John also encourages us to think differently about who we are (Rice). He teaches us that God loves us so much that God/Jesus chose to leave the glory of heaven, become human, just as you and I are human, so that we might become more like him (Slater). We are so beloved that the Divine makes the invisible and unknowable visible and present sharing the perfect intimacy between God and Jesus with us to be a model for our relationships with each other and our relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit (Gaventa and Petersen).

John closes the prologue saying no one has seen God, implying no one can see God, that only the Son, Jesus, has made, can make, God known. This tells his readers, including us, that the story that follows is not about Jesus, but about God who creates us, rescues us from our misbehavior that distances us from God and each other and supports us through all the travails of life’s journey (O’Day; Harrelson).

John’s prologue does more than set the stage for his gospel story, reveal the mystery of God’s presence in human form, and define Jesus’ ministry. He also sets up the Gospel as a calling to review our behaviors, acknowledge the shadows we cast, and accept the power of light to transform our ability to nurture others by introducing Jesus who makes God known. As theologically complex as John’s gospel is he reminds us that our behavior, what we say and what we do, is more important than what we profess (Slater). John gives us a strong place to anchor our souls (Slater). He opens the world of poetry to share the unexplainable. He opens the world of song through which we can share a Magnificat world of hope, mercy, justice, and peace (Koester). In poetry and song, we are empowered, by the love enkindled in our hearts to share how all the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. (O little town of Bethlehem). and not just 2000 years ago but every night until night is no more.


References

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Koester, James. “Sing.” Brother, Give Us AN AdventWord. SSJE, 25 12 2017.

Rice, Whitney. “In the Beginning…, Christmas 1.” 31 12 2017. Sermons that Work.

Slater, Thomas B. Commentary on John 1:1-18. 31 12 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

 

 

So Why Shepherds?

A Sermon for Christmas: Isaiah 62:6-12, Psalm 97, Titus 3:4-7, Luke 2:(1-7)8-20

 

For a year we had been working with this customer. It was an important project, the first of this a major national franchise. The project involved our well-established product-line of jobber outlet and retails systems, and our new product of warehouse systems. The owners’ primary store and all their branches were up and running, and had been for a while. All was going well. I went there on my regular weekly visit. When I walked in the door I knew something was not right. It didn’t feel right.

As I walked in the countermen scurried into the inventory stacks. All the secretaries answered phones that had not rung. The store manager’s head dropped. And there were two or three teams of workers, on ladders pulling communications cables through the ceiling on a path to reach all the offices and workspaces. When the company owner saw me, he paused; his face dropped; he took a subtle but deep breath and waved me into his office. The short version is he told me they were exercising their contract option to return our equipment at the end of the month because they had decided to use their franchise’s computer system, not ours. There are times when you instinctually know things are not right.

Reading Luke’s story of Jesus birth is such a time. Well, it should be. Only we, and our parents, and our grandparents, and all our ancestors for generation after generation, and all our religious institutions, for century upon century, have taken the story for how it is written. Everyone has forgotten the state of the times.

The story begins with a census. Only there are no historical records that confirm that an empire-wide census (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson). Even if there was a census the Romans did not care about your family of origin, their concern was that property was registered at its proper location. Whatever might have happened its primary purpose was a symbol of Augustus’s sovereignty, and to ensure the collection of taxes (Culpepper).

And for a story that is about Jesus’ birth, Luke dedicates 2 whole verses (6 and 7) to this blessed event. So much for the focus of the story.

The majority of the story (10 verses, 8 through 18) are about shepherds. Shepherds, who are leftovers from Israel’s nomadic culture, were the lowest rung on the social ladder. Shepherding was a despised occupation. Nobody liked shepherds. They were a necessary evil. They were smelly and suspect in character. They were sometimes rough, unclean and maybe dangerous. They were scorned as shiftless, and could not to be trusted, and yet, it is to them that the Good News has been entrusted (Pankey, Merry Christmas; Culpepper; Keener and Walton)

In this morning’s gospel story Jesus is said to be the Son of the Most High, heir to the throne of his ancestor David, who will reign over the house of Jacob forever, (Luke 1:32-33). In this evening’s gospel story Jesus is given the additional titles Savior, the Messiah, and Lord. All of them are claimed by the emperor. Luke’s narrative sets up a sharp contrast between Jesus and Augustus. (Harrelson).

Christmas is our celebration of the expectation that Jesus will be King, on the restored throne of David. So why all the mess about census? Why is the birth announcement distinctly not regal? Why does the news of Jesus’ birth go to shepherds, the lowly and not to the elite and the powerful (Harrelson)? Why does Luke subtly place Jesus over against Augustus? It appears that King Jesus, pretender to the throne of David, is not who we should be looking for.

Last week we explored John the Evangelist’s vision of Jesus as the Lamb of God being the perfection of humanity as image of God (Genesis 1:26). This week Luke, in all this disruption, also seems to point to Jesus as the perfection of humanity as the image of God. Only this evening, there is a different take.

In his December 14th column David Brooks writes:

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and Communism fell with it. Liberal democracy seemed triumphant. Democracies sprouted in Central Europe. Apartheid fell in South Africa. The Oslo process seemed to herald peace in the Middle East.

28 years later is has all gone bad

Tribalism and authoritarianism are now on the march while the number of democracies declines. Far worse has been the degradation of democracies.

Brooks then introduces Thomas Mann’s The Coming Victory of Democracy. Mann argues

Man is made in God’s image. Unlike other animals, humans are morally responsible. Yes, humans do beastly things — … but humans are the only creatures who can understand and seek justice, freedom and truth.

Brooks continues noting Mann that

Democracy… is the only system built on respect for the infinite dignity of each individual man and woman, on each person’s moral striving for freedom, justice and truth.

 

It is not just a procedural or a political system for the principle of majority rule, it is a way of life. It encourages everybody to make the best of their capacities — [it] holds that we have a moral responsibility to do so. It encourages the artist to seek beauty, the neighbor to seek community, the psychologist to seek perception, the scientist to seek truth (Brooks).

What Mann says is what defines any righteous and just governance.

Though Caesars are credited with bringing peace to the world, Luke proclaims that the true bringer of peace is Jesus the Savior (Culpepper). Jesus replacing the Caesars as the true source of peace points to the restoration of the moral base of society, which bearing the fruit of radical equality of all God’s people is the purpose of the Kingdom on earth. This morning, in her song of praise to God, Mary’s intent is that her ministry as the God bearer is to reveal the greatness of God for all the world to see. By proclaiming that God has looked with favor on an unwed mother Mary reveals that God is already in the process of turning the world upside down (Pankey, Proclamation). By re-entering human history, born to an unmarried mother, whose birth is revealed to the least in society, with titles claimed by the reigning emperor, God identifies with

  • the powerless,
  • the oppressed,
  • the poor, and
  • the homeless

which reveals the moral corruption of the status quo Jesus’ birth is turning upside down (Culpepper).

The kingdom Jesus is bringing is not the restoration of a regal earthly kingdom. Jesus is bringing the kingdom of moral authority of righteousness and justice. The birth of Jesus is a sign of God’s abundant grace (Culpepper).

  • For a child has been born for us, and authority rests upon his shoulders
  • The people who walked in darkness see a great light
  • The joy of the nations has been multiplied
  • The yoke of their burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, has been broken
  • The boots of the tramping warriors are burning fuel for the fire
  • He will establish the throne of justice and with righteousness and uphold it from this time onward and forevermore
  • His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
  • The love of the Lord of hosts will do this (Isaiah 9:2-7).

These are treasured words They are ours to mull over, to quietly consider the meaning they bring. (Gaventa and Petersen) (Culpepper). They are ours to use as inspiration that our lives may reveal the love of God. They are ours to use as strength for restoration of our moral base, and perhaps quietly being a model for others witness and ponder.

Amen and a blessed Christmas.


References

Almquist, Br. Curtis. “Meet Jesus Again.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 23 12 2017. <ssje.org/word/>.

Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Luke 2:[1-7] 8-20. 24 12 2017.

Brooks, David. “The Glory of Democracy.” 14 12 2017. newyorktimes.com. <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/14/opinion/democracy-thomas-mann.html&gt;.

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 6 9 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Pankey, Steve. Merry Christmas. 21 12 2017. <https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491&gt;.

—. The importance of proclamation. 20 12 2017. <https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

Just say yes!

A Sermon for Advent 4: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Canticle 3 or Canticle 15; or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Gabriel has a message to deliver. The angle knows what to do because that is what angels are, message delivers. So, Gabriel follows the pattern, he tells the receiver “Do not be afraid.” calls the receiver by name, and assures them of God’s favor (Culpepper). It is exactly what the Gabriel tells Zechariah (Elizabeth’s husband and John the Baptist’s father) in the Temple several months before (Luke 1:5-25). To say that Mary is perplexed is an understatement (Epperly). She has not been yearning to have a baby like Rebekah, or Hannah. She is not ready, she’s barely old enough. She is not like Sarah 80, or Elizabeth who is not quite but almost as old. She hears that she is favored by God, but it feels so strange; where are the customary ideals that connect it all to day in and day out life (Culpepper)? If that is not enough there the folktale from Tobit about the wicked angel Asmodeus visiting Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, on her wedding nights and killing her husbands. Seven deaths have raised suspicions (Tobit 3:7-8) (Culpepper). With all this running through Mary’s mind, I wonder if Mary really hears Gabriel’s message? So, with more and better reason than Zachariah Mary answer the divine question with a good question: How can this be? You can easily imagine her asking Why will this be? (Hoezee).

Gabriel now has a different role the giver of comfort in perplexity. Steve Pankey writes:

Mary wasn’t just confused by the reality of an angel standing in her room [~] she is downright scared, anxious, confused, and totally taken aback.

We know Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid, we know she is called by name, but we may not realize how rare this is for women in biblical days, thus we may miss how Gabriel assures her that she is valued, that she is beloved of God (Pankey).

I’ll credit the divine muse for drawing my attention to Mary’s answer. She follow’s Hanna who answers Eli’s somewhat curt answer to her prayers Let your servant find favor in your sight (1 Samuel 1:18) telling Gabriel Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word (Luke 1:38).

Mary follows a long line of divine servants,

  • from Moses, who when the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, … [and] called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” … [answered], “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:4)
  • to the young Samuel, who after 3 ttimes getting up to serve Eli, who had not called him follows Eli’s advice, and when the Lord called again Samuel! Samuel! answered Speak, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:10)
  • to Isaiah, who heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? answers, Here am I; send me! (Isaiah 6:8).

Christopher Seitz notes that the emotional response to a divine call is the experience of standing in the presence of God (Seitz). Like the prophets, like God’s servants before her Mary now claims a place in God’s household, her partnership with God (Harrelson).

Far beyond simply holding Mary in high esteem her reply Here I am, … let it be with me according to your word (Luke 1:38) has implications for how we live into our baptism. Mary is not unique because she was so perfect; no, Mary is unique because she was willing to say “yes” to the unexpected and the apparently impossible (Epperly). In our baptism we are called to believe that the world is transformed when we say “yes” to the unexpected, and to what we see as impossible. God still presents possibilities for new birth and we are called to carry these possibilities to term and nurture them into the fullness of their lives (Epperly). A measure of how we are following God’s will is how our obedience flows from divine blessings. And the greatest of blessings are bound up in our fellowship with God (Culpepper).

Gabriel’s reply to Mary’s perplexity Do not be afraid reverberates throughout the rest of Luke’s story and, if we are honest, throughout our stories. When the status quo is about to be altered and the rhythms of the everyday life are about to be disrupted our calling is to speak and be the comforting image of God’s presence (Smith).

The glory of Christmas came about because of Mary’s and other ordinary people’s willingness to obey God’s claim on their lives. The light continues to shine as you, and I, and our neighbors, and other ordinary people follow Gabriel’s role to provide comfort in perplexity, and Mary’s “yes” Here I am, let it be with me according to your word (Luke 1:38). Thus, as we just say “Yes” we will sing as our souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord.


References

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 24 12 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 1:26-38. 24 12 2017.

Pankey, Steve. “A comfort in perplexity.” 24 12 2017. Draughting Theology.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Seitz, Christopher R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Book of Isaiah 40-66. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Song of Songs 8:8. Vol. IV. Nashville: Abingdon Press (NIBC) Song of Songs 8:8, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.

Smith, Shively. Commentary on Luke 1:26-38. 24 12 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

 

Witnessing – Crossing the Line

A sermon for Advent 3: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8,19-28 (extended to 31).

Yes, I expanded this morning’s Gospel reading a few verses to include the phrase Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) In John’s Gospel story John the Baptist’s the main role is to witness to who Jesus is. He never misses an opportunity to announce, “Look” (Lewis; Gaventa and Petersen). It is a role he claims for himself through the words of Isaiah (Harrelson). a voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isa 40:3) Even telling the priests and Levites Among you stands one whom you do not know, (John 1:26) is a form of witnessing (Hoezee). The title “Lamb of God” connects Jesus with the rich symbolism of the Passover lamb; but at this point, we do not know what John means when he calls Jesus “Lamb of God.” (Gaventa and Petersen).

For Karen Lewis, being a witness is a central Advent task (Lewis). To be a witness involves wrestling with Isaiah’s question “Who am I?” His answer is to go out and bring healing (shalom) to our broken world. In Advent language I am – is one who leads people to Jesus, is one who witnesses to Jesus (Carvalho). Witnessing is not easy. It calls us to break the silence that allows abuse, oppression, and injustice to continue in the shadows. Lewis reminds us that our Advent texts tell us how expecting the birth of Jesus calls us to be witnesses (Lewis).

It may help lower our anxiety, just a bit, to revise ‘being a witness’, to ‘being a storyteller’. John shares the stories of his experiences. We are simply asked to share the stories of our experiences with Jesus. And we all have stories to share (Rippentrop).

Storytelling involves a certain amount of humility. We hear Jesus called the Lamb of God (John 1:29). It is the first in a long line of titles Jesus is given just in John’s Gospel. There are so many because every follower sees something different in Jesus, every follower responds to something different when they meet Jesus. No single title reveals all there is to know about Jesus. And there is no limit to the number of titles Jesus can be given, and there are new titles that might be bestowed at any time; we should keep our eyes, ears and our hearts open. And we should be self-aware so that we do not greet new titles with suspicion or hostility, as they often are (O’Day).

 It is Advent; a time when we look forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth. It is also a time when we look forward to Jesus’ return. Of all titles that Jesus may carry, the one associated with his return most often is King. It makes sense in all sorts of ways. He is a descendent of the house of David, the model King of Israel. Jesus is also known as the great shepherd; and you know that shepherd is an Old Testament metaphor for Israel’s Kings. It may have been a moment of inspiration that hearing Jesus called “the Lamb of God” sounded very different to me this past week, I mentioned this title fits nicely with the Exodus Passover sacrificial lamb, but, we cannot what it implies. The inspiration I had was a kind of reversal. If ‘shepherd’ is a metaphor for king, could ‘lamb’ be a metaphor for ‘the people’? Can the incarnate Jesus be the perfection of humanity as the image of God?

This has a couple of implications. One is that when we witness does our story point people to see Jesus towards the regents of our day? To the modern equivalent of the kings / bishop s/ priests and prophets? Or do our stories point people to see Jesus in the everyday ordinary working people? In spite of all the regal imagery we associate with Jesus all the Gospel stories place Jesus in everyday places, among everyday people, struggling to get through life on an everyday basis. Even the story of his birth, we are so eagerly waiting to celebrate, is in a very merger setting. From our stories what does our audience expect Jesus to look like: a king a bishop, a priest, a prophet, a faithful lay servant, a wealthy philanthropist, or the one sitting next to you in traffic delayed by the construction on 18 near Big Lake? Where does our audience expect Jesus be: in a palace, a cathedral, or among poor huddled masses, with the Cratchit family, or among the Muslim Rohingya fleeing Myanmar?

A second implication defines our relationship with those we share our stories with, those we witness to. There is an element of being a prophet when we are a witness to Jesus. Both involve radical truth telling. And as Isaiah shows us a prophet stands in solidarity with the poor, the powerless, and the marginalized. A prophet becomes a voice for the voiceless … a prophet is the voice of a voiceless God here on earth (Whitley). The implication is that being a witness to Jesus means to stand with the poor, the powerless, the marginalized, to be a voice for the silenced, to be a voice for God here on earth (Whitley).

In today’s world standing in solidarity with the invisible and giving voice to the silenced requires us to cross the line. In his opinion piece, published Friday, Spencer Platt writes: Americans are a generous people — so it is always said. But our generosity comes with moral judgments: There’s a thin line, in the minds of many, between the poor who deserve help and those who should get off their butts (Platt). He goes on to note that these are old arguments, dating to Dickens’s heartless Ebenezer Scrooge and the noble Cratchit family. The line our story sharing prophecy crosses is the one of judgement.

In a few chapters Jesus will answer his disciples question about a man born blind, who could have just as easily have been a man born poor,

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him (John 9:3).

It can be translated

Neither this man nor his parents sinned. He was born blind. Now we must work the works God has given us to work.

The point is for Jesus there is no judgement, there is only restoring all god’s people to shalom or wholeness of life. The story John witnessed to is the story of the presence of one you do not see who is restoring all people to shalom. We all have our experience of God/Jesus/Spirit’s restoring shalom that we are called to share those stories.

Stir up your power, O Lord, that we may witness, without ceasing, and in all circumstances, to the one who is not known, yet is the Lamb of God who restores

  • good news,
  • liberty,
  • divine favor,
  • provision,
  • gladness,
  • righteousness, and
  • who brings shalom to the world.

 

 

References

Bratt, Doug. Advent 3B Isaiah 61:1-4, . 17 12 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Carvalho, Corrine. “Commentary on Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11.” 17 12 2017. workingpreacher.org. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3020&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 17 12 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 3:1-17 . 12 3 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Witnessing. 17 12 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Platt, Spencer. The Deserving Rich and the Deserving Poor. 12 12 20107. <nytimes.com/2017/12/15/opinion/class-rich-poor-americans.html>.

Rippentrop, Jan Schnell. Commentary on John 1:6-8, 19-28. 17 12 2017.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Whitley, Katerina. “Do Not Despise the Words of Prophets.” 17 12 2017. Sermons that Work.