Monday, January 27, 2014

Third Sunday of Epiphany

Again I've never quite said this - like this - before
Audio of Sermon for Third Sunday of Epiphany 2014 [ ]
Text follows:

Matthew 4:12-23
4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  4:13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,
4:14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:  4:15 "Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles
4:16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned."  4:17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."  4:18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen.  4:19 And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people."
4:20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  4:21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.  4:22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.  4:23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Well folks, when I know that not everyone can come every week or is able to come every week, I may lose some of you by linking last Sunday’s sermon with this week’s sermon.  Should I lose you in the linking of the two stories of the recruitment of the disciples, with today’s work for the congregation that will take place in the congregational meeting, then the error is all mine and not yours.  But I still want to give it a try.
Last week in the Book of John, we learned that one of the disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew, made the decision to move from John the Baptist to being a disciple of Jesus.  As a part of his move, John wrote that Andrew asked is brother to join him.  He gave an invitation to “Come and See” what Jesus had been doing.  It was an invitation to do something different.  When His brother did come to join with Jesus to be a disciple, he was given a new name of Cephas or Peter.
It is a story of the invitation of friends, family and neighbors to hear the word of God that comes through this powerful Rabbi who is ministering to the people of Israel.  Obviously the link in last week’s sermon was that maybe we need to be more inviting in our invitation to our friends, neighbors and co-workers to join us in our worship and serving that is God driven.  This faithful response that we have is not an isolated event nor is it supposed to be a singular event for each of us.  Our faith is nurtured and supported when we are in community.  We say that we are the family of God; well one of the elements of the family of God is that we grow and the easiest way to do that is to invite others.  Actually that sounds pretty simple.
Now a week later we hear a slightly different story.  Jesus knows that John the Baptist has been arrested.  Jesus is preaching and his message has a familiar sound that is reminiscent of John’ Preaching.  Jesus is finding that his ministry is among the marginalized people of the community.  It is a ministry to the poor, not necessarily the wealthy.  He seems to traveling into the country side, among the rural people, rather than the cities and the urban elite.  He does not intentionally preach to the rulers, but he focuses on the powerless and the exploited.  He may preach revolutionary words, but they are not the words of one attempting to raise an army of resistance.  He preaches words of repentance.
One of my fellow pastors describes repentance, when properly understood as an “I can’t” experience rather than an “I can” experience.  You see if we know that we are in error and promise God that “I can do better”.  That still means that we are in control of our lives, if we can do better, then we don’t need a gracious God, we just need a patient God who will wait around long enough for us to do better.
One of the hardest things for me and perhaps for you is to come before God confessing, “I can’t do better.”  That is when we are dying to self.  The hardest part is giving up control of our lives.  We literally and figuratively throw our lives, the sinful parts and the unsinful parts on the mercy of God.  We invited God to do what we are unable to do for ourselves  -- namely to rise from the dead—to change and recreate ourselves.
My encounter with this peculiar status of human living came with a diagnosis of cancer.  As much as I thought I was in charge, I quickly had to reassess and confirm in my head and my heart that I was not in control.  I prayerfully placed my life in God’s hands, some 20 years after I was ordained.  Note that the command “Repent” is in the present Tense.  It means that we Keep on repenting, “Continually be repentant!”  Repentance is an ongoing lifestyle all the people who are gathered together in the Family of God.  It is not like passing through a door or gate to the Kingdom, it is more like walking through a really long tunnel.
Remember that we Lutherans speak constantly about being both Saint and Sinner.  As much as we want to do the proper thing in our relationships, in our ministry, in our work, in our families, there are times when we make errors; there are times when our good intentions are in need of repentance.  Likewise our reading of scripture, our conversations with co-workers in the workplace and at church, our relationships with family and friends lead us to provide acts of mercy and comfort and lead us to present ourselves, sometimes unwittingly as the face of God, just when someone needs that kind of support.  Yes we have the potential to be both saint and sinner, as we place ourselves in God’s hands as a repentant child of God.
Even today we place ourselves in the family of God, but we do not physically leave the cares and concerns of family and relationships behind us. We have had people move to the area and join the congregation.  Likewise we have had people find new employment or be challenged by an educational opportunity and leave this community.  But in doing so, they do not leave the body of Christ.  The encouragement is finding a new community in their place of lodging.  Remember last week, the question to Jesus from Andrew, was “Where are you staying?”
The lesson from Matthew this week challenges us in a whole new way.  In the calling of these new disciples, Jesus offers an opportunity to change professions.  The move from fishing for fish to fishing for people disrupts family structures and disturbs patterns of working and living.  Fishermen may not have been the most glorified profession or the most reviled profession, but they were integral to the life of a community.  They were tax payers, they kept the fish mongers in business, they provided for their families.  Yet they respond to Jesus’ invitation in a curious way.  As a father, I would wonder about the sanity of my two sons who would announce that they have just caught the biggest catch of their entire lives and are leaving it to others to take to market and sell it and they are leaving their boats and nets, the investment of a lifetime by the family and go Follow Jesus.
Not only did Jesus seek out Peter and Andrew, can you imagine the how the patriarch of the Zebedee family reacted when he learned that Jesus had not just taken Peter and Andrew from the fisherman’s cooperative, but Jesus had the audacity to take is two sons as well, James and John.  All four of these disciples leave their fishing nets, but they do not stop fishing. They are now, in the nearness of the kingdom of heaven, fishers for people. Their past has not been obliterated; it has been transformed by Jesus’ call to follow.
So what are the connections between fishers of fish and fishers of people.  Well the methodology of fishing for fish was by casting a wide net and pulling in everything in the net.  It is a relatively efficient way of gathering fish.  Fishermen today do exactly the same thing, but there are restrictions, size, type of fish, quantities, limits, edible and saleable, etc.  Fishers of people likewise cast a wide net and this congregation is an example of how wide the net can become and we see around us all that the net has collected.  Even last week as we welcomed new members, we even added a flag to our board for the Country of Chad.  The major difference is that we do not select which people to keep.  All are welcome.  We don’t eat the people we catch, we serve them meals.  There seems to be a distinct ministry of hospitality in this place.
There is one more thing that is common between fishers of fish and fishers of people, those of us who are casting the nets are not afraid of getting our feet wet.  To get a catch on shore, fishermen need to get the nets to shore, especially when they are loaded with a catch.  To fish for people, we have to take people by the hand and not just invite them to join us in this portion of the family of God, we have to take them by the hand and share with them the stories of our own need for repentance and God’s love.  We are called upon to share with them the ways in which we are comforted by the presence of God in our lives.  We are called upon to tell them of our stories of God’s interaction in our lives.  And we demonstrate the way that God calls us into leadership in the life of this community. 
So today we will install the first portion of our call committee.  These are fishers of people who both afraid of and committed to the challenge of seeking a new pastor who can walk with this congregation into the future.  They may not know it, but by saying yes they have said that they are not afraid of getting their feet wet in this search for new leadership.  In our congregational meeting, together, we will set a budget for the life of this congregation; we will elect and support members of the Congregational Council who will lead this congregation in this coming year of ministry.  That ministry will be a test of both our serving those within the family of God, and enhancing the outreach of the congregation to our surrounding community.  They too, are committed to getting their feet wet.  As we all join them in affirming the direction of the congregation for the coming year.  We will all join them in getting our collective feet wet.
Come Let us wade in the Water:
Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children,
Wade in the water
God's a-going to trouble the water
See that host all dressed in white
God's a-going to trouble the water
The leader looks like the Israelite
God's a-going to trouble the water
See that band all dressed in red
God's a-going to trouble the water
Looks like the band that Moses led
God's a-going to trouble the water
Look over yonder, what do you see?
God's a-going to trouble the water
The Holy Ghost a-coming on me
God's a-going to trouble the water
If you don't believe I've been redeemed
God's a-going to trouble the water
Just follow me down to the Jordan's stream
God's a-going to trouble the water

Thanks for assistance and guidance from Brian Stoffregen.

She asked a question and a sermon Emerged for th Second Sunday of Epiphany 2014

Every so often a question is raised - by a seeker, a member, a youth, even my own brain when set on cogitate... and a sermon emerges with a theological statement, I had never uttered before...

See the Second Sunday of Epiphany 2014 below:  The audio can also be found at: []

John 1:29-42
1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
1:30 This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'
1:31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel."
1:32 And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.
1:33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'
1:34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God."
1:35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,
1:36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!"
1:37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
1:38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?"
1:39 He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon.
1:40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
1:41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed).
1:42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).

I know that earlier this month I said that we moved into looking at Jesus through the eyes of Matthew, and here we are three weeks later still reading about Jesus and John.  It is almost as if the scholars who selected the lessons for the lectionary, wanted to move quickly from the birth of Jesus into his ministry.  They seemed in this set of lessons to ignore the fact that Jesus was a grown man in doing the ministry.  We only know bits and pieces of his growing up.  It even appears that John the Baptist seems to have never known or forgotten that he is related to Jesus as his mother and Mary were Kinswomen.

John the Gospel writer moves rather rapidly into the selection of the disciples who will travel and work with Jesus.  Obviously there is some tendency to choose from among those who have been listening to his early words and teachings. So as we begin with John’s version of the “choosing”  we hear about a version that was related to the development of the church.  Next week we will hear Matthew’s version.  It will be slightly different.

A consistent pattern in the readings from John is that we are hearing from Witnesses to the ministry of Jesus.  As John writes in the Greek, he uses various words that are translated as witnessing, witnesses, or to witness more than any other Gospel writer.  Sometimes he uses the word 3 or 4 times more than other Gospel writers, John uses the term “to bear witness 31 times in his writing, while Matthew doesn’t use the word at all.

Now I don’t mean to confuse you, but the Gospel writer is different from the John who is baptizing in the wilderness.  John the Baptist is the one who sent some of his followers to listen to Jesus to determine if he was the one who has been foretold.  I suppose that there are not many memories that linger from when one is in the womb.  But John the Baptist is the baby who leaped in the womb when Mary visited his mother Elizabeth.  Yet in his ministry in the wilderness he has, at least from his testimony in today’s lesson, has not had any contact with Jesus during either of their growing up years.

Yet the lessons from today from the Gospel writer John are filled with phrases of witnessing to the new preacher among the Hebrew people.
• Here is the Lamb of God
• who is taking away the sin of the world.” (1:29)
• The one who existed before John (1:30-31)
• The one on whom the Spirit descends and rests (1:32-33)
• “This is the Son of God.” (1:34)
John the Baptist even states that he does not know this new preacher in verses 31 and 33  --  1:31 “I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel."  1:32 “And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.”  1:33 ”I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'”

With John the Baptist having sent some of his disciples to listen to Jesus, the convincing sign for John is that the spirit came down and stayed with Jesus in verse 32.  The Gospel writer John uses the word ‘remaining’ in over 33 different verses, while the other three gospel writers only use the word 11 times.  This steadfastness of being in the Spirit, this staying power is important to the Gospel writer.  In many ways Jesus has the ability to be steadfast in the context of his ministry.  For John the Gospel writer this is not an ecstatic preacher who can gather crowds and excite them, but then may disappear.  Jesus has staying power.

This past week I had a question from a spiritual seeker asking about the Baptism of the spirit, with which Jesus is endowed.  How is that different?  I may not have given a flowing answer then, but I’m ready today to say that, “Baptism of the Spirit is a Baptism of heart.”  When we are washed in the waters of baptism we are not the ones who are claiming a relationship with Jesus.  We are recognizing that Jesus has already claimed us and will be steadfast in the relationship with us.  We may leave or backslide, as I have heard some say, but when we are ready, Jesus knows that we have just been on a trip away from the faith.  Jesus’ response to us is very much like the Prodigal Father, for when we stray, Jesus is always there to welcome us back with open arms - Steadfast in his love.

That was the kind of lesson the disciples of John the Baptist reported.  Two of them decided to follow Jesus according to the Gospel writer.  Jesus asked these followers of the Baptist why they continue to trail him.  “What are you looking for?”  Their response was Rabbi.  They had found their new teacher.   One of these disciples who moved to their new teacher was Andrew, the Brother of Simon the Fisherman, who upon meeting Jesus was called Cephas or Peter.

It doesn’t sound like a whole lot but Andrew did something very simple and yet as the same time something extremely powerful.  He offered his brother an invitation to come and see.  How often have we exercised the same invitation? 

Last week I spoke about Martin Luther feeling tempted by the devil.  In response he didn’t shout, “I believe,” but he shouted “I am baptized”.  I must admit it felt good when you repeated the same words at the end of the sermon.  But in thinking about the answer of what is Baptism of the spirit that came from one of our members, I began to wonder did Luther really give us a satisfactory answer or a powerful one.

If you someone asks you, are you a member of a church, everyone here could easily answer, yes I go to church.  If I took a picture, you would even have proof.  If a stranger asks you are you a Christian, you could just as easily answer with Luther’s response, I am Baptized.  But could you do what Andrew did with his fisherman brother, could you say with the same power and clarity, “Why don’t you come with me? And offer them your hand.  That may be a small example of what it means to be steadfast in the faith.

We eagerly offer our opinions about restaurants, or movies, or books to be read, or songs to be heard.  A colleague asked the question of whether we are ready and willing to invite a stranger into the midst of our congregational life.  Are we willing to invite others to “come and see”. I am convinced that when we invite, our place of nurture for our faith is no different than giving a suggestion of the best place to get a Philadelphia Cheesesteak. 

I know that the church will have more spiritual value and perhaps given our penchant for offering food it might have more nutritional as well. One of the differences that faith should make in our lives is the desire that others—especially those without a religious faith—might also share in and benefit from the relationship God offers through Christ. If we are not willing to invite others into this experience, what does that say about our experiences with Christ? If we are not willing to invite others to our congregation—to worship services and other activities, what does that say about our experiences in our congregation?

Maybe this week in addition to stating that I am Baptized, we may need to add, that we will be inviting and assisting others to join us in the reception of the spirit that comes from Jesus who is still with us in our Baptism and our living and at our table.


Thanks to Brian Stoffregen.