The Baptism of Our Lord
Isaiah 43:  1-7
Psalm 29
Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

I need some children to come up and help me out and maybe even bear witness to what is going to happen in the bowl of our baptismal font.

As the children can probably attest, the baptismal font is empty, but now I am going to empty a pitcher of water into the baptismal font.   As I pour the pitcher of water into the bowl, the water crashes and splashes and swirls.  It doesn’t take long however, for the water to become calm.  

What happens when I pour in another pitcher of water?  The water poured into the bowl stirs up the water that is already in the bowl.  Of course, it doesn’t take long for the water to become calm and smooth.


Now watch me stir up the water with my hand.  What do you see?   The water is stirred, it is bothered and it splashes and swirls and moves. 

Now what do you think would happen to this bowl of water, if we were to leave it sitting still for a week?  The water would become stale and stinky and gross.   How to avoid the water becoming stale?  We would add more water, so I will pour in another pitcher of water.   From time to time, I would have to come and stir the water with my hand so that it doesn’t sit long. 

So we avoid stale water by replenishing the water and stirring it up, that way the water stays fresher.  We stir up the water; we “trouble” the water.

We “trouble” the water.

Later on today, we are going to sing a song entitled, Wade in the Water.   There is a refrain or line that gets repeated, and it goes like this, “God’s a gonna trouble the water.”

            “God’s a gonna trouble the water.”

What does that mean?  It means that God is going to stir up the water and make it move and flow and bubble and splash and crash. 

It also means that God has stirred things up; God has made a splash in the world throughout history. 


Long, long ago, the people of Israel were held captive in Egypt and they were slaves, toiling under the whip of the Pharaoh.   Now Pharaoh thought that the waters of Egypt were calm and pleasing, but the waters were not calm for the Hebrew slaves.                                                              
God stirred things up.  God troubled the water, so much that God convinced Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go free. 

Our Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah makes note of this:

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.                                    



For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

One of the ways that God troubled the waters for Pharaoh and Egypt was to bring all those plagues upon Egypt, not the least of which was turning the waters of the Nile River into blood.                                                                                                                             

God troubles the waters and the people of Israel go free.

The psalm writer in Psalm 29, notes the ability of God to trouble the waters.  The psalm writer says:


The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.

Many, many years later, God would trouble the waters in an amazing way.   First of all, God troubled the waters by sending John the Baptist.                                                                                      

John the Baptist looked around his homeland of Israel and he saw that Israel was becoming stale and poisoned.  While the leaders of Israel thought the waters were calm, John stirred the waters and called everyone to go out to the waters of the Jordan River, to be baptized.  John`s baptism of repentance was meant to trouble the waters, to convince people to turn around and become a God-fearing, God-following compassionate nation.                                                              
But John the Baptist was not the only one to stir the waters. 

God REALLY troubles the waters, REALLY stirs the waters big time, by sending Jesus.  Jesus walks into the Jordan River, is baptized by John and God begins to stir the waters.                          

Jesus, the son of God, embarks upon his ministry which includes everybody, encourages everybody to share the abundance of creation; it is a ministry of love and compassion.   The ministry and teaching of Jesus are something that has never been seen before .                                                  
God REALLY troubles the waters.  Jesus speaks the mind of God, shows the heart of God and ultimately God troubles the waters in the most amazing way, sending Jesus to the cross to suffer and die for our forgiveness of sins and for our eternal life.  Sin and death has no claim upon us.                                                                                         God TROUBLES the waters and God has not stopped troubling the waters.  

Earlier I had mentioned that we are going to sing a song entitled, Wade in the Water which features the refrain, “God’s a gonna trouble the water.”


That song comes out of the United States and it is an African American spiritual.  It is a song that was written by African Americans at a time when many of them were slaves.   They sang this song because it gave them hope that someday they would be free people. 

How were they going to become free people?   

“God’s a gonna trouble the water.”

They prayed and they believed that God would trouble the waters that God would stir the waters and much like the people of Israel, they would be free.  And God did trouble the waters and God did stir the waters and they were made free.                                                                                     

Ever since, God has CONTINUED to trouble the waters, stir the waters and African American people have continued to make strides in many areas of their society.  They have a long way to go in many regards but God will NOT stop troubling the waters and life will continue to change for them and all people. 

             “God’s a gonna trouble the water.”


God troubles OUR waters.   We have been baptized in water like this and when we were baptized the waters were quite calm before the waters were poured over our heads.  But from then on, God troubles our baptismal waters

            When we were baptized God commanded us to let our lights so shine before others so that they might see the glory of God the Father.   God has called us to bear God`s creative and redeeming word to all the world. 

Ever since THEN, God troubles our waters, calling us to action.  God troubles the waters, stirs the waters and invites us to be a part of that splashing water.   As God stirs the water, God invites us to take part, to bring in the kingdom of God, to make a world that God desires and wishes for all people. 

Later on, while you are in Sunday school, the adults are going to remember their baptisms and say yes to those baptisms.   As they do this, I am going to ask them the following questions: 

You have made public profession of your faith.

Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:

  • to live among God’s faithful people,
  • to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
  • to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
  • to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
  • and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

In other words, I will ask the adults if they are ready to have God trouble their waters.  Are they ready to have God stir up the waters?  Are they ready to participate in God`s dream of justice and equality and compassion?

Some will likely say yes, some will say maybe.   God knows when we are ready to participate in living out God`s dream, but that never stops God from troubling the waters.  

God is always moving, always stirring things up, God is always changing this world to make things better for all.

God`s a gonna trouble the waters.  Amen. 


 

January 4

01/04/2015

 
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Christmas 2
Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Psalm 147: 13-21

John 1: (1-9) 10-18

When I was about 6 years old, my younger brother and I had one of the most amazing Christmases ever; a Christmas to remember.   What made it a memorable Christmas for us at that age was because of the number and nature of the gifts we received.   To be honest, we were overwhelmed with all the gifts.  

My parents took a wonderful picture of my brother and I in the middle of opening AND playing with our gifts; we were doing both at the same time.   I was kneeling on the floor trying to figure out what to play with and my brother was standing next to me, with a toy gun in one hand and a toy tractor in the other. 

The picture was priceless; we were truly overwhelmed. 

Speaking of being overwhelmed with gifts, one need only take a gander at today’s Scripture readings.    As I reflected on all three Bible passages, what hit me first was the list of gifts that God gives.  It is a stunning list, a list that I cannot comprehend and they seem  overwhelming.  Consider the “gifts of God” that are listed in all three Bible passages: 

God gathers God’s people from the farthest parts of the earth they will come with weeping, they will receive consolation

God will provide a ransom for their freedom

God will redeem God’s people

God chooses us

God adopts us redemption through his blood the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace
            

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, a gift of salvation wisdom and insight

God chooses to live among us in Jesus

Jesus provides us a light in the darkness of life

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world all who received him, believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God
            

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

God has been made known to us.

That is quite an impressive list of gifts in those Bible passages and the overall message for me is that God keeps on giving and giving.   But are we truly overwhelmed?  What does this gift list mean to us? 

I would suggest that it depends on several things, not the least of which is the side of the fence I am on.  Do I approach this gift list from God as a receiver, or a giver?

As a receiver of gifts, I like practical gifts, gifts that I can use all the time.  I like gifts that I can use; clothing is a good gift. 

As a RECEIVER of gifts, I am not concerned about the cost.  A bigger price tag does not necessarily make a good gift.   I am not worried about style or color, so I am pretty much happy with just about anything.  Useful gifts PLEASE!

Okay, as the receiver of these gifts, I can agree that God is a generous giver however I am still not so sure about the practicality of all of these gifts.  Can I really use these gifts?  Maybe I CAN use these gifts, but not necessarily in a way that I might have imagined.  Here is the way that I imagine the practicality of the gifts God gives:

When the light goes on and I gain some wisdom or insight, this is a gift from God.

When I feel a closeness in my heart, a warmth, that God is near, this is a gift from God.

When God provides light for my path, and I see it, this is a gift from God.

When I forgive others as God has forgiven me, this is a gift from God.

When I don’t worry about trying to save myself, when I don’t worry that I haven’t been a good little boy or a bad little and that heaven is mine, this is a gift from God.

When I live out the consolation of God, so that someone else’s tears dry up, this is a gift from God.

In that regard, when I listen to the sorrows of others, this is a gift from God.

When I remember that is it better to give than receive, this is a gift from God.

When I live for and serve others, this is a gift from God.

 When I suffer and remember that God suffers with me and I am not alone, this is a gift from God.

And one could go on and on.

But rather than go on and on, as one considers this list from the perspective of a GIVER of gifts, that is something different.  

From the human perspective, I think most people love to give gifts; we tend to give and give and we often don’t have limits.   In that regard, it is a little easier to relate to this overwhelming list of gifts God has given us. 

God keeps on giving, doesn’t wait for sales, doesn’t seem to care how much God has already given; God can give and give without stopping or without reservation. 

There is one more thought from the perspective of the giver.  I think there is another factor that enters into God’s gift-giving.  There is joy. 

It would not take a lot of imagination to look at a picture taken 50 years ago, to see two little boys who are overcome with joy.   What joy there was in opening up all those gifts and then playing with them!  But I’ll be there was a lot of joy in the hearts of the gift givers. 

As GIVERS of gifts, I also think that we enjoy the giving as we get older.  Having children or grandchildren certainly changes your perspective and you get just as excited as they do when they open their gifts.    

I think joy factors into our gift-giving; we continue to give, because we get great joy as people receive our gifts.   In that sense, almost every gift is practical. 

Maybe God is like that.  Maybe God loves giving and gets great joy from it.   God gives and maybe God gets excited when we discover the depth and richness of our gifts.

Maybe God gets excited when I open some of these little revelations and then lines up ANOTHER gift for me to open up later on.  God is not stingy or resentful and that is a wonderful thing.    

I would like to think so. 

And the gifts keep coming!  Thanks be to God.   



Amen.


 

July 20

07/20/2014

 
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Pentecost 5 (Lectionary 16)
Genesis 28:10-19a
Romans 8: 12-25                                                                                 Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24                                                                         Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43


My wife Darlene and I have just returned from some vacation time and part of our time was spent in Calgary at the home of our oldest daughter.   While there in Calgary, the news broke with the story of a 5 year old boy who went missing, along with his grandparents.                                       


Five year old Nathan O’Brien was dropped off at his grandparents’ home by his mother and tragically all three went missing.   Earlier this week, the heartbreaking news came that the Calgary Police had changed their investigation from a missing persons file, to homicide.                           


Beyond the pictures of weeping family and friends and people throughout the community erecting memorials to the potentially slain victims, one is left with a pit in the stomach.  It seems almost beyond comprehension that someone could murder the grandparents, but then to take the life of a little 5 year old boy, an innocent young life, takes it beyond belief.

On a global level we have been witness to an incredible tragedy in which nearly 300 people lost their lives as the Maylaysian Airlines plane was shot down over Ukranian territory by a surface to air missile.   Once again, innocent lives are taken in a senseless act.                                             



What is equally amazing is the fact that I dwell on only 2 events in the world this week; there are countless other areas in the world which are experiencing such violence, such tragedy.

All of this is quite discouraging.   It is discouraging because we look and see that we are in a world still fraught with EVIL.   There might be all kinds of ways to analyze and try to figure things out in a rational sense, or maybe even make excuses as a way of attempting to answer the eternal question:   “Why?”                                                                                                                 



Unfortunately, we may not be able to answer that question to our satisfaction and we may be left with the understanding that this world is beset by evil.   

Discouraging and frustrating.   Okay, the world has evil elements.  Now what do we do?   Our frustration may compound because we might feel a sense of hopelessness.   No matter how much we might hope, or wish, or pray, we seem powerless in the face of evil.

For people of faith, the sense of powerlessness might be very keen because we pray.   We pray so hard for a cessation to war and violence.   We pray for healing and many, many other things.   Like the apostle Paul who notes in our scripture readings today, we groan with the rest of creation.   Creation groans in pain and we long for peace, safety and security.  

We groan and pray and long for the end to such decay.  

We groan.   Yet while we groan, we have an opportunity this morning, to hear from God.    God has a word to say to us despite our groaning.  

In the Scripture readings for today, we hear from God.   Through the words of Jesus, God announces that God will overcome evil.   Jesus says in our gospel reading,

Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Jesus says that God is going to burn evil and eradicate it, just like you or I would burn weeds, burn garbage.  God will one day destroy evil.                                                                           



God makes a promise to one day destroy evil.  Such promise is reflected in the story of Jacob, which forms part of our first lesson today.

In the reading from Genesis, we find Jacob on the run.   Jacob, the second born child of Issac is on the run because he brother Esau wishes to do him harm.                                                               

Yes, Jacob did steal his brother’s inheritance through deceit, but I am sure he never believed that such trickery would bring expulsion from his family, loneliness in the wilderness and potential death at the hands of his brother.                                                                                                   

Jacob is alone, but in a dream, he encounters God.  In that dream God says to him,

 “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

In the end Jacob is not alone; God is with him and God will never leave him.   Someway and somehow he will be looked after, he will be cared for and the troubles and tragedies he potentially faces will be removed from him.   He is known by God.

Being known by God and what that means, is reflected in today’s Psalm.  In the reading from the Psalms, we hear the heart and mind and love of God.   God promises to burn evil because God knows us. 

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.   Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.   You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

The psalm writer who knows that humanity is loved by God is sure of one thing:

Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

Darkness may surround us as human beings from time to time, but darkness does not surround God.   The night is as bright as the day for God.   God will overcome the darkness, God will erase evil from the face of this earth.                                                                         

God will erase evil from the earth.   We don’t know how, we don’t know when, but we live in hope.  Hope in God is our strength and that strength comes in many ways.                                                  

Baptism is one of those ways.  

Today was supposed to be a baptism day.   Today we were supposed to baptize Emmerson but unfortunately circumstances have postponed his baptism until late August.                           


This should have been a day of great joy and celebration not a day to remind us again of our groaning and of the evil in the world.  While that may be the case, I look forward to the baptism of Emmerson because it gives me comfort and solace and gives me hope.  

In baptism we are reminded that we are known by God.   We remind ourselves that we are children of God and INHERITORS of eternal life.                                                                                       

Yes, we are children of a fallen humanity and yes that fallen humanity creates and perpetuates evil.   But our fallenness, our darkness is not the last word of God.   God promises us that God will liberate us from sin and death.   Even in our baptisms, we acknowledge that one day the love of God will conquor all and rule all.  

Such are the promises of baptism. 

While we can’t baptize today, we can affirm our baptisms today to remind us of the love and grace of God.   Today we affirm our baptisms to help us live in hope.                                                              

We acknowledge the darkness in the world, but we also acknowledge how God works and moves in the world and how God invites us to participate in rolling back the darkness.  We work with God against evil.   In the end, God will remove all evil, but in the meantime, we participate with God in rolling back evil, one little event, or act of kindness at a time.                          

Today we affirm our baptisms to help us live in hope.             


Hope springs eternal.   Thanks be to God.  

Amen. 


 

March 16, 2014

03/16/2014

 
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Lent 2
Genesis 12: 1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17
John 3: 1-17

I was born on April 27, 1956.   I say this, not that you might “do the math” and figure out my age, rather I say this to remind us of the human experience.   I do not remember being born, but I was born and so, share in one of the most common human experiences; we all experience birth.   In fact it is probably safe to say that other than death, birth is something which is experienced by every human being.  

We have ALL experienced birth and we know that this cannot be duplicated.   Of course, this brings us to the problem of today’s gospel reading from John, the 4th Evangelist.  The problem with today’s gospel is that we cannot experience birth again.  


Nicodemus saw the problem immediately.   

Jesus is visited by Nicodemus, a man of great status.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the ruling Jewish council, a very powerful and influential man; even so, Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of night.  This Jesus may still be suspect and he certainly has his detractors; Nicodemus chose to stay anonymous and not be identified with Jesus.  

Nicodemus knew, as everyone else did, that the signs and miracles Jesus was performing, were specifically pointing to the advent of God’s kingdom in their midst.    It appeared that God’s presence was with Jesus and the kingdom of God was possibly being introduced through Jesus.   How could one clearly see this coming kingdom of God?  Are there additional signs and wonders that one could look for that would confirm Jesus was the Messiah and that God’s kingdom was being realized through Jesus?  How could one ensure that they would be INCLUDED in the kingdom of God?

Nicodemus asks lots of questions and was totally unprepared for the answer. Jesus responds by saying, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."  

Now, I put emphasis upon the phrase FROM ABOVE.  In the process of translating ancient manuscripts from ancient languages like Greek, into English, the translator has options.   The Greek word used by the 4th Evangelist is anothen, which can mean both “from above” and “again,” or “anew.”  This text is often translated into English as BORN AGAIN, but I will opt for the translation, BORN FROM ABOVE.  

It may sound like splitting hairs, but there IS a big, big difference.   

Whether Nicodemus heard born again, or born from above, it suggested the same thing to him:  one cannot repeat the birth process.   And we would all agree with Nicodemus, no matter what the age.  Robert Hoch, Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Worship, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, IA wrote the following on the website Working Preacher (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1979): “When I shared this text with my daughter, nine years old, the idea of being born from above seemed too abstract.   But when I asked her if it was possible for her younger brother, three years old, to return to his mother’s belly in order to be born all over again, she laughed:   “Nooooo ... he wouldn’t fit and plus he couldn’t see anything!”                                                            

We all laughed. And I think that small experiment in reader response criticism might lead me to prefer the more literal translation: it seems to make Nicodemus’ objections recognizable, at least to our nine-year-old.”  

While we can all laugh at the musings of a 9 year old who laughs at born again, we need to understand that while Nicodemus felt he had identified the problem, he essentially did not UNDERSTAND Jesus.  Nicodemus gets it wrong; it is not born again, it is born from above.                        

Some Biblical scholars suggest that one can harmonize the Greek language by saying that Jesus suggests we need to hear both meanings rather than either one or the other:   ‘“To be born anothen’ speaks both of a time of birth (‘again’) and the place from which this new birth is generated (‘from above’)” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1979).

And this is VERY important.  Jesus suggests that one can only be a part of and experience the kingdom of God if one is born from above.  From ABOVE.  

The kingdom of God, the promises of God, comes to people who are “born from above,” “who are born of water and the spirit.”

What does this mean?

People do not work for this birth, people do not earn this born again experience.  Instead, says Jesus, one is born again, from above through a specific event, an event that happens at the cross.  Jesus will be lifted up on the cross, he will suffer and die; he will sacrifice himself for the rest of humanity.  The promise of God is that humanity will be saved; humanity will be redeemed and made holy and pure by God, through this event on the cross, through this death and sacrifice.  

The promise is that God will give up God son, out of love, so that humanity will have the gift of life.  Humanity will HAVE the gift of life, not judgement nor condemnation, but LIFE.  God expects nothing back, expects no repayment.   God does not expect humanity to earn this eternal life, but to simply have faith and trust in God’s promises.  

From ABOVE?  Yes, from above; in effect, God comes DOWN to humanity, comes deep into the human experience, to die and at the same time, to give life.   

To emphasize this, Jesus speaks those famous and timeless words, 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

God comes down, dies, rises again, through Jesus and gives us the gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.   

Even here, this kind of birth from above seems rather impossible.   We are a conditional people; we are very much a cause and effect type of being.  We live our lives, using the words, “if,” and “then.”  IF I do this..... THEN, that will happen.  

WE live in an “if,” “then” world.  

As an example, we say to ourselves, “IF I work hard enough, THEN I will have all the wealth, all the riches, all the things that I want.”

Or.... we say.... “IF I make a deal with God, IF I promise to keep all the laws and rules that God dictates, THEN I will surely get to heaven.”

That is the kind of birthing process we understand and to which we respond.  

But that is not the birthing process that God gives to us.  God want to give us more than we realize or maybe even desire.  God is rich in promises.  God wants God’s people to have the very best, the fullness of life.  God knows that there is no humanly possible way that we can keep all the rules; there is no way we can cover all the “ifs.”  We can’t keep all the laws and demands necessary to live clean and spotless lives.   We are not perfect and God knows it.

God knows that we need to be born FROM ABOVE.  So God births us from above.  

The only thing WE can do, is trust and have faith.  Even here, God knows that we struggle with faith and trust at times and even HERE, God promises to send God’s spirit to us, to open our eyes, to make us pure and holy, not through our own efforts, but through GOD’S efforts.   Even here, God will give us the gift of faith, so that we can trust in this strange birthing process.  

And through this strange birthing process, we are NEW!  We are not DIFFERENT, we are NEW.  As the Scriptures say, we are new CREATIONS.  And then what?

Then we live this out.   We find our expression, within the kingdom of God.   We live in the kingdom; we find our space within the kingdom of God as we experience the gifts and blessings of God.  We share those blessings of God, so that others will know that God through Jesus has birthed us all, from above.  We live as if we have been reborn; WE ARE NEW.   

Thanks be to God!  



Amen.

 

February 9, 2014

02/09/2014

 
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Epiphany 5                                                                        Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)                                              
Psalm 112:1-9 (10)                                                               
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16)                
Matthew 5:13-20 

Okay, so this week I approached today’s Bible passages looking for some inspiration, some blessing.   I would think that this is a common exercise for many of us as we read our Bibles; we look for something to lift us up, to encourage us in our Christian journey.  
                        
So where is the inspiration and the blessing in today’s scripture readings?                                                
Right off the bat, there is a lot of blessing and inspiration.                                                              
In the writings of the prophet Isaiah, we read:

“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”

The light will rid me of that which oppresses me.   God will help me and God will vindicate me. The Lord will guide me and I will never lack for water, I will never thirst.   Everything in my life that is broken will be repaired.  Every time I call out to God for help, God will be there for me. 

“The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.  Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”

The writer of the Psalm provides lots of blessing and inspiration:   

“Praise the LORD!   Happy are those who fear the LORD, who greatly delight in his commandments.  Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.  Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.”

In his letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul says”

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”

The Bible passages for today provide lots of blessing, lots of inspiration.   And then we come to the gospel reading for today, from the gospel of Matthew.  Suddenly, blessing and inspiration seem a little harder to come by.                                                                                                            
In particular, one is struck by the opening verse of this gospel.  Jesus is quoted as saying:

"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

First of all, we need to consider the historical context and meaning of that opening statement by Jesus.                                                                                                                                      

On a website entitled, “a weird thing,” produced by an Anglican residing in England, named Neil Chappell, I learned something about the context for today’s gospel regarding SALT.  In fact, it was one of the common USES for salt.  Neil Chappell writes:  

“In (Matthew) 5:13, the salt referred to the leveling agent for paddies made from animal manure, the fuel for outdoor ovens used in the time of Jesus.   Young family members would form paddies with animal dung, mix in salt from a salt block into the paddies, and let the paddies dry in the sun.   When the fuel paddies were lit in an oven, the mixed-in salt would help the paddies burn longer, with a more even heat.   When the fuel was burnt out, the family would throw it out onto the road to harden a muddy surface.”                                                                                   

Just let THAT sink in for a second!  Could you imagine asking your children, to take animal poop, mix in salt and form that poop mixture into paddies?  Using their bare hands?                          

Could you imagine collecting and stacking all those poop paddies and burning them like firewood?  Could you envision taking the burned out paddies, carrying them out onto the road, and grinding them into the road with your bare feet?                                                                                    
Do you feel inspired yet?  Having trouble finding the blessing in all of that?

As we read from the prophet Isaiah, the psalm writer, the apostle Paul, it is easy to see God in our lives.   It is easy to see inspiration and blessing through healing, restoration, wealth and riches.   But mixing animal poop with salt?  Really?                                                                                    

Before we give up on this entirely, we might want to consider additional comments by this Neil Chappell fellow.   He goes on to write and suggest the following:

Jesus saw his followers as LEVELLING agents in an impure world.   Their example would keep the fire of faith alive even under stress.   Their example would spread faith to those mired in the cultural ‘dung’.   But if their example rang empty, (if they could not keep the fire going, then) they would be considered worthless; they would be dug into the mud under the heels of critics.”

Okay.  If I can get beyond the animal poop, I can understand the urging of Jesus, his command to be “LEVELLING agents in an impure world.”  However, I still can’t see working with poop, as a blessing.                                                                                                                          


Beyond the obvious analogy of working with poop in a world where poop happens, Jesus adds fuel to the poop fire, when he seems to make this all a requirement rather than blessing, as command rather than commissioning.                                                                                                 
But take note: Jesus doesn't say, "If you want to become salt and light, do this...." Or, "before I'll call you salt and light, I'll need to see this from you...."   Rather, he says both simply and directly, "You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world."   It is, as with last week's Beatitudes, sheer blessing, commendation, affirmation, and commissioning.

You ARE salt and you ARE going to mix with the poop in this world.   Because this saying by Jesus is connected to the Beatitudes where the meek, the peacemakers are BLESSED, there is a blessing in all of this.                                                                                                                          

Last week, in Matthew 5, in the Beatitudes, Jesus says:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.   "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Right off the hop, we are blessed BECAUSE we receive mercy.  Right off the hop we are blessed because of the purity in heart that is given to us.  Right off the hop, we are blessed because we are involved in the act of making peace.                                                                                       

Because we are blessed, with mercy and purity and peacemaking, we are called to be salt and light.    We are salt, so we apply ourselves to other things in life, including the poop that exists in this world.   We apply ourselves to the poop so that others can feel the heat of God’s spirit bringing about healing in their lives.    We are the salt, so that those who are in the middle of the poop might see God at work in their lives.                                                                                                  
When others witness the acts of justice that Jesus' followers perform, they see what they wish and hope for.  Beyond that, it allows “the other” to recognize the cause of these actions, the God of heaven. 

Still, I don’t imagine that mixing poop with salt is a whole lot of fun.  The task before us then, is to see God at work, to realize that as we mix our salt in the poop of life, God is at work and God is making a difference in this world, through us.  

This raises all kinds of questions.  For instance:   Have you seen God at work in this way?   Have you seen or perceived God to have mixed salt into the poop of life in order to bring the heat of 



God’s spirit to bear?  

Jesus knew that his Scriptures, the Hebrew Scriptures proclaimed that the kingdom of God must be established on this earth.    He committed his ministry and his very life to the establishment of the kingdom of God and he advocated for all people, provided for all, even the least of society.  


He came to fulfill the promises of God.    

His ministry brought salt to the situations in life, where poop existed.  

But Jesus did not come to this earth only to bring salt to the poop parts of life.   He came for his disciples and he came for us as well.  

As he called his disciples, as he mapped out HIS mission which became THEIR mission; Jesus promised to be with them to the end of the age.    He promised to be with them, go before them and support them from behind.   Every time they seasoned the world, every time they let their lights shine, every time they got their hands dirty, plunging into the cultural dung, in an impure world, they were not alone.  At every turn, Jesus was with them, they were doing so in the name of Jesus and the righteousness of Jesus became THEIR righteousness, which will be remembered by God and fellow human beings forever.  

It is not easy mixing in with poop parts of life.   Still, God is there and God will use us to change the poop parts, to bring mercy, peace and righteousness.   

Amen. 

 

January 5, 2014

01/05/2014

 
Picture
Christmas 2
Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Ephesians 1: 3-14
Psalm 147: 13-21
John 1:  1-18

Have you ever had someone thank you for something and you have responded, “Oh, it was nothing?”   Or have you ever responded by saying, “Don’t mention it,” or “You don’t need to thank me?”  

Now, when the shoe is on the other foot, when WE are expressing our gratitude, it isn’t “nothing.”  We WANT to express our gratitude.

Showing gratitude, saying thank you, is important.

Gratitude has been a major theme of one of the devotional websites I have featured on St. Paul’s Facebook page.   Specifically, I refer to the website entitled, “In the Meantime.”  “In the Meantime” is a blog site developed by David Lose, a Lutheran Seminary professor in the United States, which he uses to encourage people in their faith and life.   Under the theme of gratitude, David Lose has a series of blog spots.  Their titles:

The Relationship Between Happiness and Gratitude, Contagious Gratitude, The Power of Gratitude and finally Easter Gratitude.     You can access all these blogs by going to: http://www.davidlose.net/tag/gratitude/

I would love to show you the videos included in all those blogs, but time will not allow.   So here’s a quick little recap.  

The blog entitled, The Relationship Between Happiness and Gratitude, features David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who is known worldwide for his teaching on practices of gratitude.  David Steindl-Rast asserts that it’s not that happy people are grateful, but rather that grateful people are happy.  Further he says, we are most grateful when we receive a gift.   We are truly grateful and most grateful when we recognize that every moment in our lives, is given to us as a gift.   Recognizing this, he says, we begin to live gratefully.   

In the blog entitled, Contagious Gratitude, an outfit called Soul Pancake, asked people to write down the attributes of the person they were most grateful towards, the person they were most grateful for.   But simply writing this down was not enough; Soul Pancake asked their interviewees to telephone those people.   That experience of telling someone why they are appreciated and the experience of expressing gratitude was, of course, very GRATIFYING, for the speaker and the listener.  

Soul Pancake did the same thing in the blog entitled, The Power of Gratitude.  

In the blog, Easter Gratitude, David Lose recapped a project he had undertaken last year during the season of Easter.   During each of the 50 days of the Easter season in 2013, he wrote down one thing for which he was grateful.   At the end of the 50 days of Easter, he came to these conclusions:

Nevertheless, “practicing” gratitude – that is, making an intentional effort to name it daily – made a difference. It broadened my “gratitude horizen” and invited me to notice even more of the blessings in my life, and noticing them made me even more grateful and, quite frankly, happier.  

 Anytime we start a new behavior – whether eating more healthfully, nurturing a richer prayer life, or exercising – it helps to do it with others in community and support each other.   So also with gratitude. We have such communities, of course – we call them congregations – but don’t always use them this way. Why not?

Gratitude is the noblest emotion. I’ve said this before, and while I’m not prepared to argue whether it really is the noblest emotion, it certainly is a contender as gratitude simultaneously invites and forces (in a paradoxically non-contradictory kind of way) you to shift your focus away from yourself. Even though you are grateful, you are grateful for something beyond yourself, which is a remarkably freeing and healthy way to live.

 (http://www.davidlose.net/2013/05/easter-gratitude-recap-and-review/)

 Well you might ask, why all this talk about gratitude?          

The Bible passages today are about gratitude.   How so?

In the Old Testament lesson, the prophet Jeremiah talks about what God will do for the people of Israel.    About 570 years before Jesus, the little nation of Israel was overrun by the powerful Babylonians.   Israel was destroyed and many of her important people were taken into  captivity.   This event became known as THE EXILE.   As desolate and discouraged as the people of Israel were in exile, the prophet Jeremiah told them to take heart.  God, he said, would redeem them and return them to their homeland.  They will be restored as a people and they will live in abundance.  

And what should be the reaction of the people of Israel towards this gift of God?   GRATITUDE!   Jeremiah encourages them to show their gratitude towards God through worship, through singing, praising God, being radiant over the goodness of the LORD, by being satisfied with everything God has given them.   

In Psalm 147 the psalm writer says, 

Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!”   

In other words, show gratitude towards God.   Why?

Because, says the psalm writer, “…God strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.  He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.   He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.”

The psalm writer says that God has not dealt with any other nation in this manner.   No other nation has been gifted in such a way as Israel has been gifted by God.   Therefore, Israel should show their gratitude towards God through praise. 

In our epistle lesson, the second lesson, the writer of Ephesians provides a long list of gifts from God:  

  • God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
  • God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
  • God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,
  • God freely bestowed on us grace through Jesus.
  • we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. 
  • God has made known to us the mystery of God’s will, according to God’s good pleasure, set forth in Christ,
  • In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,

That is quite a list of gifts and blessings from God.  And what are we supposed to do, according to the writer of Ephesians?  We are encouraged to show our gratitude, we are to live for the praise of his glory.

Finally, in his Gospel, John the fourth evangelist says, God has given us the Word, Jesus, who has existed before time with God, but walked this earth with us.   Through him we have been given life, light and grace.   We have seen the light; we have been given grace upon grace.  Forgiveness, eternal life!

And what should be our response?   John the fourth evangelist encourages us to show our gratitude towards God, by receiving Christ, believing in Christ, and realizing our potential in this life, as children of God. 

Gratitude is important.  It is important to thank someone, to express gratitude, it makes us feel better; it makes the recipient feel better.   

So how does this relate to our faith?   How does this affect our relationship between us and God?

It is important to show our gratitude towards God.   Important for God because God likes to be thanked and important for us because it makes us feel better. 

All of those gifts, listed in our Bible passages, are given to us as well.  So how do we show our gratitude towards God?

Well, our Bible passages today list a lot of ways in which we can show our gratitude.       It is obvious that worship plays a big role in our expression of gratitude.   In almost every passage, worship is emphasized.   What are we doing when we gather for worship?   We are praising God, we are in effect showing our gratitude.

The Bible passages AND the blogs point to other aspects of the Christian discipline which play an important part in gratitude.   When we talk of the Christian discipline, we speak of reading Scripture, praying, serving, telling others, giving.   

Think about what YOU do, think about how you try to live out your Christian faith.   When you are able, do you feel better?   Do you feel better when you worship and sing praises?   Do you feel better when you can be a generous person through your gifts of time, talent and treasures?  Do you feel better when you are serving whether it is in a committee, at the Street ministry or a host of other places?

The more I think about it, I wonder if we in the church are in the gratitude business.   As the Scripture writers say, as some of the blogs attest; as we express our gratitude towards God for what God has given us, we live grateful lives.  

Living gratefully, we are connected to something beyond ourselves; we are more strongly connected to God.   Living gratefully TOGETHER, we end up being more strongly connected to each other.   

Notice the shape of that grateful living, connected to God and connected to each other.   This is in the shape of the cross.   “Cruciform” living, grateful living.  

Amen.