Sermons

March 19, 2017 – Thirst

Posted by on Mar 24, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Lent 3  March 19, 2017 Ps 42:1-8,  John 4:5-42 Thirst ************************************************* Jesus and his disciples are heading home to Galilee by way of Samaria. Taking the road less traveled – the much shorter road that most Jews avoided if at all possible. You could save about two days of travel by going through Samaria, but Jews and Samaritans had a lot of bad history. We’re talking family feuds bordering on civil war, going back more than 700 years… But now we’re in the heart of the province of Samaria (once also a name for Northern Israel) – and now the disciples of Jesus have gone into town to buy food, and Jesus is alone, tired from the journey. A Samaritan woman comes to the well. Jesus asks, “give me a drink.” The woman says,“What’s a Jewish guy like you doing, asking a Samaritan woman like me for a drink?” Jews and Samaritans normally don’t drink from the same vessel. And – most Jewish religious leaders would avoid being alone with any woman – (from any nation) – any woman they weren’t closely related to. (Jews and Samaritans were relatives, historically – but they usually related to each other like family you haven’t seen on purpose, for a reason, for a long time…) This encounter at the well comes with a lot of history attached. And some serious biblical symbolism is also in play here….As we remember – Water is often a metaphor for spiritual nourishment in the bible. In Isaiah (12) we hear: “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation…” In Psalm 42 today we’ve heard: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Water and thirst… are words often used as metaphors for spiritual thirst. And it takes awhile, but then this woman does catch on – understands – Jesus isn’t talking about just H2O water and physical thirst… And the wellspring of living water he’s talking about is much deeper… than Jacob’s well. (A deep well, supposedly over 100 feet deep. But just a puddle compared to the wellspring of Jesus..) And Jesus and this woman are both aware… this well carries the names of Jacob and Joseph – common-ground ancestors of both Jews and Samaritans. When Jesus says to her, “if you knew who it was you are talking with…you’d ask, and he’d give you living water…” She says, “Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well?” (Like ‘Who do you think you are?’) And yes, of course he is – a whole lot greater… than great-great-grand-uncle Jacob…. But Jesus seems to enjoy the irony… of letting her figure this out for herself…and… (Biblical History note:) Wells were informal community life centers. People went to the well for water, that basic bodily need. They also went for social networking, to be part of the community. A basic spiritual need. People met, exchanged greetings, shared news, etc at the well… And in the first books of the bible, wells are very strongly associated with courtship and marriage. Abraham’s servant meets Rebecca at a well – it’s a rather long and dramatic scene (in Genesis 24) – after which Rebecca is quickly married to...

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March 12, 2017 – To save the world

Posted by on Mar 16, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Lent 2    March 12, 2017   Psalm 121, Genesis 12:1-4, Romans 4:1-5,13-17; John 3:1-17  To save the world ***************************************************** Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. And maybe he’s had a long hard day. Nighttime might be the only time he has to get away from all his duties… and come, see Jesus… But… John’s gospel is famous for its night and day, dark and light contrasts – between those who see Jesus for who he really is, and those who don’t… So it’s more likely this dark of night setting is a not-very-subtle sign of misunderstanding… As Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel, comes to Jesus by night. Representing not only himself, but also others like him – who, on the one hand, are attracted to Jesus, on the other hand, reluctant to be seen with Jesus. (Who has begun to have a reputation as both an amazing Godly guy – and also as a potentially dangerous radical with a reputation for rocking boats…) It’s also possible Jesus has been having a long day… He may be a little less patient than usual today with this after-hours visitor, as he responds to a respectful-sounding greeting – (Rabbi, all the stuff you’re doing – you’ve got to be from God)… But here’s Jesus, cutting his visitor off, almost mid-sentence, saying “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born anew.” The phrase (“born anew”) also means “born from above…” But either way, Nicodemus really doesn’t get it. And Jesus seems deliberately provocative now – challenging Nicodemus to deal with the radical nature of Jesus’s mission. Telling him – ‘The Kingdom of God is about everything made new. Born anew. Born from above. Its about new birth…Flesh, blood, water, Spirit… ’ But Nicodemus isn’t getting his drift… And Jesus questions his credentials as a leader – (are you really a teacher of Israel?) – as he goes into deep-theological-reflection-mode, building, with a reference back to the book of Numbers, building up to – “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.” And this is the last we hear from Nicodemus. (At least till he resurfaces again in John 7 and again in John 19, where we see him again in cameo appearances, again in dark place, but now starting to see the light…) Meanwhile, this conversation isn’t over even though Nicodemus is silent. Jesus is still talking…Speaking the most famous verse in the whole bible… But John 3:16 is not the last word from Jesus. And there’s more in this conversation than we can unpack in the time we have… But I’d like for us to spend the time we do have today mostly considering the verse that comes right after the famous verse, “For God so loved the world…” Noticing how, in this last verse today (John 3:17), we hear yet another, even stronger confirmation of God’s love for the world – the whole world. And yet God’s love for the world – especially as expressed in John 3:16 – is of course sometimes taken for granted. (Good old, good old-boy Jesus. This week I heard a song video on You Tube called “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16″...

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March 5, 2017 – It is written

Posted by on Mar 16, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Lent 1    March 5, 2017   (Psalm 32, Genesis 2:15-17, Romans 5:12-17) Matthew 4:1-11    It is written **************************************************** We’re out in the wilderness today with Jesus, as he undergoes temptation and testing. (The same Greek word means both testing and temptation.) As it happens, our family has had some recent wilderness experience,  visiting family in Las Vegas recently. Las Vegas is desert terrain. Once you reach city limits you’re in desert wilderness, where from the highway everything looks very dry and barren. Yet when we paid a visit to an urban cactus garden we saw desert plants blooming with glorious blossoms in February. We learned the wilderness can be fertile, and strangely beautiful, up close… Much more beautiful than some of the human wilderness we also observed. As Reah’s brother drove us around sight-seeing, we saw many a drive-by Wedding Chapel (same day reservations accepted, Elvis outfits available for rent)… And Quickie-Stop Divorce offices next-door to wedding chapels. Tall towering casinos shaped the sky line, all lit-up in neon. Loud music piped into the streets. The Doors playing People are Strange… On cue, people walking by looking as if they’d been gambling for many days without sleep… Others dressed to look like  walking advertisements for temptation. I’m pretty sure I saw someone dressed as a devil, but I don’t really trust my memory… It was surrealistic like a bad dream… Advertisements for gambling, gawking, and strong drink everywhere… All the things the angel showed James Stewart that would have happened to his home town if he had not made all the little  sacrifices he did in that scene from It’s a Wonderful Life…And it’s easy to pick on Las Vegas. But Vegas is a parable, actually, for a  part of Everywhere USA, Everywhere Planet Earth… Though at first glance, the temptations Jesus faces in the wilderness don’t seem much like those on display in Las Vegas. Except that… the devil’s temptations do remind me of the view as soon as we came through the airport gates in Nevada…Facing row-after-row-after row of slot machines. Traveler try your luck.  Just a quarter a pull… to start… And “Just turn a few of these stones on the ground into loaves of bread,” the devil suggests. What can be wrong with that? God provided manna on the ground every day for the people of Israel for forty years in the wilderness. Surely the Son of God’s entitled to feed himself? The temptation seems small. Use your God-given powers, Son of God. Put on your own oxygen mask first. You’re the Son of God. You’ve got to feed the world. Feed yourself first. But Jesus replies “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God.’” Quoting Deuteronomy (chapter 8), where it is written – God lets Israel hunger in the wilderness to teach us appreciation for our daily bread – and let us know – the food we need most of all is the word of God. Jesus could have quoted Isaiah 49 where God says “they shall not hunger or thirst” or Isaiah 55 where God says “eat what is good, and delight yourself in rich food.” But Jesus knows the mission he’s on. Knows he is both Son of God and Son of...

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February 26, 2017 – Listen to him

Posted by on Feb 28, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Transfiguration Sunday    February 26, 2017   Psalm 99, Exodus 24;12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-19, Matthew 17:1-9    Listen to him ************************************************************** The voice of God speaks aloud from the cloud of presence. Again we hear from on high the same words we first heard when Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased...”  And now God adds three words: “Listen to him!” Familiar words where I live. Anytime I’m going out the door for a meeting my wife or my daughter is likely to remind me, “Remember – Don’t speak too much. And listen well.” And I’m not the only disciple who ever needs reminding… Just before this hike up the mountain Jesus has been telling disciples he must go to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and die, then rise from the dead. First round draft choice apostle Peter says“God forbid it Lord! This must never happen to you.” Jesus rebukes him, saying, “Get behind me Satan,” and continues talking about the need for disciples to take up their cross and follow him. Soon after he and these disciples come down from the mountain Jesus tells them again – he is going to his death. Jesus has to say a lot of things like this more than once. We’re not always good listeners. And I can identify with Peter. I know I need frequent reminding – to say less – and keep listening to Jesus… Sometimes we can be so busy giving Jesus our Prayer List, our Wish List… our advise on how to run the universe…. Sometimes we get so into speaking to Jesus that we’re not doing much listening to Jesus… Sometimes God has to resort to a little drama to get our attention…(So…) Jesus takes three disciples up the mountain with him. There he’s transfigured before their eyes – shining bright as the sun – clothes dazzling white – flanked by Moses and Elijah of old, talking with him… That’s probably enough to have his disciples feeling shaky… Though Peter manages to sound brave, as he offers to build little mountain huts for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. But while he’s talking, the voice from out of the cloud interrupts, causing disciples to fall to the ground in fear and trembling… The word of God can be frightening at times. When the law was first given,  Mt Sinai was all covered in cloud and fire, and people were so afraid they asked Moses to ask God not to speak to them anymore, except through Moses…. Now Moses has re-appeared, along with Elijah the prophet, talking with Jesus…Who is shining with the light of God’s glory – transfigured, meaning transformed – in the Greek the word is metamorphosis… Foretelling the metamorphosis Jesus will undergo as he puts on his resurrection body. And the voice from the cloud names Jesus Beloved Son of God… Saying Listen to him… Causing disciples to hit the ground trembling… *** And…the next word we hear is the voice of Jesus, saying Get up…and… Do not be afraid. Jesus of course has much more than this to say, and we need to listen and hear all he says. But when times are difficult – when fears arise – remember especially what Jesus says on the mountain: ...

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February 12, 2017 – Rules, So Many Rules

Posted by on Feb 14, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

6th Sunday of Epiphany   February 12, 2017  (Psalm 119:1-8, Deuteronomy 30:15-20, I Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-26, 33-37) Rules, So Many Rules – by Susan Goux *********************************************************************** Pastor Tim gave me the option of using the lectionary for this week or choosing a theme of my own.  I have to admit it was a temptation.  To choose any topic and have rapt listeners for 15 minutes or so — listening to anything I want to say was a real temptation, but since we have been studying Matthew, I thought I would try to continue the lessons.  I’m not a Biblical scholar so what I’m going to talk about today is what I thought about as I read and considered these readings and some others further along in Matthew — and what it means to me.  I can’t “teach” you or tell you what you should think about when you read these passages.  Let me remind you what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 5:  “It is written:  ‘You shall not murder;’ and ‘whoever murders shall be liable for judgment.’  But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council.  When I read what Jesus said, my first reaction was that he is overreacting.  Murder is a long way from getting angry or saying a few words that are disrespectful.  We’ve all been angry with someone without wanting to murder them.  That’s what siblings do, isn’t it?  I could never be capable of murdering someone, could I?  Then again, anger is a powerful emotion.  Being angry, being goaded could cause someone to lash out.  And lashing out, could cause consequences that could lead to murder in extreme situations or by someone who was arrogant enough to have to be right.  Jesus is counseling reconciliation rather than adversarial behavior.  Back in the early 80’s there was book called “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury.  It was very popular for business and other negotiations, including arbitrations or legal actions.  Fisher and Ury explain in the book that a good agreement is one which is wise and efficient, and which improves the parties’ relationship. Wise agreements satisfy the parties’ interests and are fair and lasting. The authors’ goal is to develop a method for reaching good agreements.  I wonder what Jesus would have thought of this method of discussion.  Is this what he meant when he said:  “first be reconciled with your brother or sister…” One of Fisher and Ury’s important principles is to separate the individual from the issue, trying to look at each side objectively.  If done properly and in good faith, it takes the personal anger out of the equation.  But it doesn’t require either side to give up on their basic principles.  Getting to Yes does not require an unsatisfying compromise or giving up on the things that are most important to you.  It does require listening to each other and caring enough to want to honor each other.  Jesus is telling us to take action, not to be wishy-washy, to stand on our principles and say yes to God’s teachings and no to what is against what God has taught us. ...

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February 5, 2017 – Salt and light, fulfilled and fulfilling

Posted by on Feb 7, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Epiphany 5   February 5, 2016   Psalm 111, Exodus 13:21-22; 14:19-21; Leviticus 14:1-4; 15:8-12; Matthew 5:13-20   Salt and light, fulfilled and fulfilling ************************************************************** We’re back on the mountain, listening, as Jesus continues his Sermon on the mount, telling us: “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world…” Notice he doesn’t say ‘you’re about to become salt of the earth,’ or ‘pretty you’re soon going to be light of the world.’ He says we’re already salt for the earth, light for the world… Salt, the main preservative and prime flavoring for food in those days. Light, the first thing God creates in the beginning. The one thing we need most to be able to see. (Along with eyes to see.)  If salt should lose its flavor its good for nothing. (If salt should lose its flavor, its not salt anymore, anyway…) Don’t be hiding your light under a bushel basket. Let your light of faith, hope, and love shine like a city on a hill… Let your good works be visible, so all will give glory to our Father in heaven. Jesus is mixing metaphors a little, but I think we’re with him, so far. (Am I right?) But what does Jesus mean by, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you’ll never enter the kingdom of heaven?” If Jesus means we’ve got to beat the super bowl champions of religion at their own game, we could be in trouble. It’s game time, and I’m not sure we know all the play book yet… But as we read on in Matthew’s gospel we learn–even though scribes and Pharisees are thought to be stars in the religion league–they’re missing the whole point of the gospels. Later, in Matthew (ch 23), Jesus says “woe to you, scribes and Pharisees! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says “woe to you scribes and Pharisees” six more times, building his point by point critique and letting us know these guys really don’t understand at all. But doesn’t “righteousness” mean doing everything by the book? And aren’t the scribes and Pharisees experts on The Book? Righteousness does mean living right by God’s word. But anyone who is absolutely sure they themselves are the leading experts… are by definition not nearly as expert as they think. Biblical righteousness gets it root meaning from the righteousness of God – the justice, integrity, faithfulness, steadfast love, and overall rightness-beyond-measure that’s all part of who God is. Jesus more than anyone on earth knows the meaning of righteousness – knows our Father has fixed the game in advance for the poor in Spirit, the broken-hearted, the meek, the merciful… the blessings he told us about last week… It’s God’s own righteousness that defines who God wants us to be… Meaning, most of all, in right relationship with God and neighbor. God doesn’t expect us to be star athletes. But God does expect that like good athletes, we show up for every practice, every game, all God asks us to do. I think we know this. Like the Patriots or any good team, I think we know our need for daily practice of our faith. And thanks be to God, the kingdom of heaven is not a contest...

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January 29, 2017 – Blessed are

Posted by on Feb 2, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Epiphany 4   January 29, 2017 ( Ps 15, Exodus 19:3-6, 17-20, Isaiah 2:1-5) Matthew 5:1-12          Blessed are ************************************************** “Blessed are….” Even just the words ‘blessed are’ sound like a blessing. And who would not like to receive a blessing? Yet, somehow, a lot of what we hear and see does not seem designed or intended to be a blessing… I had a friend in seminary whose telephone answering machine greeting said, “If you have called to be a blessing, you may leave a message at the sound of the beep…” She didn’t exactly say do not leave a message if you are not calling to be a blessing… But you would get that message… If you were listening… If everyone was always calling to be a blessing – trying to be a blessing – what a blessing that would be! Though the question then becomes, I suppose – what do we mean by a blessing? Many seem to have their own definitions of what a blessing is. Jesus says Blessed are nine times today. And I’ve been pondering what it might be like if every time we prayed to Jesus we first got his answering machine with a message like my friend’s message – “Hi, this is Jesus. If you are calling to receive a blessing, or to be a blessing – stay on the line, I’ll be with you momentarily. Please listen first to hear what I mean by blessing…” Then we hear: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” …and… “Blessed are those who mourn”… And I imagine some people will be hanging up on Jesus already… Thinking “I don’t think I’m interested in blessings that sound like poverty and weeping…” But for those who stay on the line, and listen, the voice of Jesus continues, saying… “Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers”… Now we’re getting into blessings that sound more like blessings – at least the kinds of blessings we usually appreciate seeing in others… Although, thinking about these blessings applied to myself can still be a little like thinking about resolutions to join the gym or clean the garage or the attic… Hungering and thirsting for righteousness and being pure in heart sound great for everyone… And – like really worthwhile goals for me… (To begin pursuing in earnest… maybe next year…or the year after… ) But then we get to: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake”… Not exactly a blessing I’m ever eager for.. And I’m pretty sure its not just me… Persecution, according to the dictionary, is about being subjected to hostility, oppression, abuse, ill-treatment… I can’t recall anyone very eager for this blessing… Or it’s closely-related blessing – “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…” If we were to call up Jesus and listen to all his list of blessings, I wonder – how many of us are likely to leave our call-back number for Jesus to be getting back to us about being his disciples? How many of us will be able to sing: Count your blessings, count them one by one. Count...

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January 22, 2017 – Jesus calling

Posted by on Jan 24, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Epiphany 3   Psalm 27, Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Matthew 4:12-23  Jesus Calling ************************************ Every year Bishop Devadhar asks all of us pastors, as part of our annual review, if we have shared our call stories with our congregations. Our bishop believes doing this will encourage others to better hear their own calls. I’ve been sharing bits and pieces of my call story every year – but, as I’ve told our bishop – to tell it all could take weeks… I remember talking with a pastor friend about our calls – telling him I was a very unlikely person to ever become a pastor… Anyone who remembered me from high school would laugh out loud if someone said I’d turn out to be a pastor. My pastor friend said, “I was an iron worker when I heard my call. I told a friend on the job I was thinking of becoming a pastor. He started laughing so hard he almost went over the edge of the beam were on, ten stories up off the ground.” My story is maybe not that funny… But I’m going to have do a summary. I was single at the time, living in Vermont, working as director of a farmer’s advocacy group. Rather suddenly, our board decided they wanted me to resign. I was surprised. Though in retrospect, I had been losing passion for the work. They could tell. I’d been at the job six years. The farm crisis was still smoldering, but we were running low on inspiration, and there was no longer much consensus about our group’s direction. And an inner voice seemed to be guiding me to be quiet and listen for the Spirit, as I heard the board co-chairs tell me this news… I put out a press release a few days later on a Friday afternoon, announcing I was leaving the group. I was about to head home, when a reporter called, asking about the press release. After awhile she asked “So what are you going to do next?” I said, “I’m going to be listening to hear what God suggests.” That quote made it into her article the next day. After church the day after that, three women from our congregation came over and said, “We saw the article. We think you should be a pastor.” I protested… That was not something I’d been thinking much about. I said I said I’d pray about it… Which I did. Awhile later I had a dream in which I was fishing in a very small stream, from a small wooden bridge. I had a nice trout on the line, several pounds, pulling hard. Then a gigantic fish came up out of nowhere – swallowing whole the fish on my line – a fish that had looked big just a moment ago – but now looked very small in comparison… (Did I mention – I was a practicing fish-aholic at the time, with a thirty-something-hours-a-week fishing habit?) I’m not sure if my tug back on the line was about me trying to catch that enormous fish – or pull the smaller fish out of its mouth.  Either way, the smaller fish came out of the enormous fish… and I woke up… I shared that dream with friends, one of whom told...

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January 15, 2017 – What are you looking for?

Posted by on Jan 17, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Epiphany 2  January 15 2017  Ps 40, John 1:29-42   What are you looking for? ****************************************************** As we rejoin our story in progress… we first see John the Baptist, again. The few of us who made it out despite the snow saw John wading in the waters of baptism with Jesus last week… Now John declares Jesus to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And as he sees – and points out Jesus to his followers – two of them pick up and go, then and there, following Jesus… Jesus turns, sees them following, and asks, “What are you looking for?” They’re looking for him, of course. ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ they ask. I’m very sure they were more interested in getting to know Jesus… than in just learning his address. Yet perhaps they didn’t quite know how to say… what they were looking for yet… But Jesus hears their question coming from a deeper place – and replies with an invitation, “Come and see.” They come and see. And spend the rest of the day with him. Then, like John the Baptist before them, they’re calling others to come and see also. Starting with Andrew calling his brother Simon. And as we read on in John, we soon see others using these same words – “come and see” – to invite still others to come, get to know Jesus. And this phrase “come and see” still works well as basic words of invitation… But before we get to asking “come and see” we have the question of come and see what? – embedded in the question Jesus asks – “what are you looking for?” And, on one level, even though we know the story – and even though “looking for Jesus” is, on the deepest level, always the right answer – even so, we probably shouldn’t always say “We’re looking for Jesus” automatically, every time someone asks, “What are you looking for?” If the person asking “what are you looking for?” is a grocery clerk, wondering if we’re looking for tortilla chips or toothpaste… Well, yes, we are looking for Jesus. (And I’ve run into Jesus at least a few times at the grocery store.) But I don’t recommend telling anyone who might not understand – we’re looking for Jesus somewhere in Aisle 11 at Market Basket. (There are times when it’s best to be discrete…) We are, however, expected – those of us who claim the name of Jesus – to not hide our light of faith under a bushel basket. In the words of Psalm 40 – we are blessed if we “tell the glad news of deliverance…” and “do not restrain our lips” as we “speak of God’s faithfulness and salvation”… Our faith is not supposed to be a secret. Our lives and words are meant to testify always to the goodness of God… And, as Psalm 40 also illustrates, life often has sudden ups and downs. The psalm begins as a song of praise, then transitions to become a meditation on God’s nature and  proper worship of the Lord… Then, in our second reading from this same psalm, the psalmist is suddenly singing the ‘Deliver me, O Lord Blues’… We don’t know what has inspired this abrupt...

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January 8, 2017 – Baptism of the Lord

Posted by on Jan 13, 2017 in Sermons | 0 comments

Baptism of the Lord   January 8, 2016   Psalm 29, Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:1-12, 13-17      To fulfill all righteousness ******************************************************* John the Baptist protests mightily when Jesus comes to him to be baptized, saying, “I need to be  baptized by you – what can you be thinking of, coming to me?” John somehow understands – Jesus is the one he’s been expecting. The one who comes after him, whose dirty sandals he, John, is not worthy to carry. The one who baptizes, not with water, as John does, but with the Holy Spirit and fire. We call this day Baptism of the Lord Sunday – but – the more time I spend here at the water’s edge, the more I believe… Baptism isn’t the main thing at all – even for John, the Baptizer. Baptism is important for John and for Jesus, to be sure – but only as a sign that we who are baptized are serious about hearing the main message – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Repentance is an ancient and very familiar message in John’s time, one all the prophets of Israel have preached… Repentance, meaning turning and re-turning to God – till we are living entirely in harmony with God’s word – doing God’s commandments – living by God’s teaching… An old and familiar message for Israel…. Except that it’s been a long time since a full-fledged indisputably prophetic prophet’s been on the scene preaching this message with power and conviction. Malachi, the last prophet in the bible before the New Testament, came more than 400 years before Christ and John the Baptist. It’s been quite awhile since anyone preached like John. And most all the prophets warned, like John, of dire judgement on those who fail to repent. But few if any put so much emphasis on the nearness of God’s kingdom as John does. None name the kingdom of God as close at hand, the way John does. Other prophets say “in days to come,” or “on the day of the Lord it shall be…” Only John says “the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.” A message we’ll soon hear Jesus preaching – in exactly these same words – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near…” *** John the Baptist, of course, is a major figure in the New Testament. He or his followers are mentioned at least seven times in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus says no greater man of God has walked the earth then John. (Though he also says the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John. Something to ponder at length, but…)There’s no evading John’s importance in the gospels. Especially since John and Jesus start out together here in the waters of the Jordan River – John laying hands on Jesus in the waters – John and Jesus so very close together, bodily and in their common message at first… that we surely expect they’ll be together all the way, in long-term partnership… Yet a little further on in the story, John seems to be not-so-very-sure of who Jesus is… As we read on into Matthew chapter 11, we find John, now in prison, having second thoughts about Jesus. John, in jail for delivering a prophetic warning to King Herod, sends...

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