Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 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.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
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. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 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. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
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.
| Centering Prayer |
One of the many roles of being a pastor
Is to be an educator.
I’m always searching for new techniques
To help people study, think critically, and engage others
In Biblical, Theological, and Spiritual development.
I’m on the prowl for that new tool for your toolbox;
That educational wrench that assists you
To unlock understanding
Of scripture, commentary, or academic discourse.
The more you and I can learn about our God and sacred texts,
The closer we are drawn in
With God and one another
And the better we understand God’s will for our lives.
One tool for scriptural interpretation is pretty neat:
Read the text,
Go back to the section title
And cross it out.
What would you rename the section, and why?
Today’s two section titles in the New Revised Standard Version are
“Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee” and
“Jesus Call the First Disciples”.
The first section I would rename
“Those Who Sat in Darkness Have Seen a Great Light”.
The second section I would title
“Building the Fellowship”.
What would you call these two narratives from our Gospel?
Jesus had most recently spent the past 40 days and nights
In the Judean wilderness being tempted by the Devil.
He was in the rugged, wild, mountainous territory
East of Jerusalem,
Between Jerusalem and Jericho,
Deep in the lower Jordan Valley,
In the vicinity of where John had been preaching and baptizing.
We begin on an ominous note;
On Herod’s command, John is arrested,
And Jesus, hearing the news,
Retreats 90 miles North to Galilee.
Yes, Jesus begins his public ministry in retreat,
Immediately following his baptism and temptation in the wilderness.
This is important to know:
Where Jesus starts his ministry is vitally important
To understand the deeper meaning of the text here in Matthew.
Jesus left Nazareth where he had been raised as a child …
… he moves out of his parents basement, if you will …
And moves to Capernaum, 30 miles away,
Located on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee,
In the tribal territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.
Remember the 12 tribes of Israel?
Isaiah had prophesized about Zebulun and Naphtali,
And Matthew repeats it here:
“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.”
(Isaiah 9:2, Matthew 4)
In our age
where we don’t think twice about summoning light
… we flick a switch or tap our phone …
It makes one wonder why
Zebulun and Naphtali sat in great darkness.
For crying out loud,
Someone flip a switch,
Download a flashlight app,
Light a candle, or something!
Indeed the darkness was all encompassing and complete.
The people of this region
Had become victims of repeated invasions and defeat
At the hand of foreigners.
Violence, death, prison, and exile had visited every home.
Geographically at the crossroads of three continents,
Babylon was the aggressor and occupier in the time of Isaiah.
Prior to Isaiah,
Zebulun and Naphtali
Had been conquered by the Philistines,
The Egyptians, and Canaanites.
The peaceful kingdom of David,
Lasted only for a period of about 70 years
… a thousand years before Jesus.
The Davidic kingdom was the only respite,
The only light,
The people of Zebulun and Naphtali had experienced.
That light was a momentary flash.
Pharaoh and his Egyptians flowed back in a violent expansion of their empire.
In time, the Assyrians swept through the land
And ruled with an iron fist.
The Babylonians occupied the land
Until Cyrus the Great of Persia took control
And allowed exiles to return home.
In generations prior to Jesus
Alexander the Great and the Greeks,
Ptolemy and the Seleucid (pronounced Se-leu-cid) dynasties
Traded punches and rolled through
With military might and horrific violence.
Most recently, is was Rome,
At the hand of Pompey the Great,
Who had brought darkness once again to Zebulun and Naphtali.
Up to the time of Jesus making his home in Capernaum,
There was only a thousand-year-old faded memory of
A brief flash of light
In a land of utter and complete darkness.
Jesus moves to Capernaum
And a new light dawns.
That’s kind of how it works with Jesus.
Let him move in.
His light shines,
And darkness is no more.
Which is not to say darkness, sin, suffering, and death
Are forever vanquished from your present or future.
The darkness of this world
And the darkness of Satan
Are like predators lying in wait, ready to pounce
At the first sign of personal weakness,
At the first symptom of waning faith,
At the first inclination of growing distance between yourself and God.
Make room in your life for Jesus
And allow yourself to fall in love with him.
That’s what vanquishes darkness.
That’s what grows deep our reservoir of faith.
That’s what gives you and me strength for the journey.
As I mentioned,
I’d title the second section of our Gospel
“Building the Fellowship.”
I refer to the disciples of Jesus as a fellowship
With a tip of my hat to one of my favorite fictional trilogies,
“The Lord of the Rings,” by J.R.R. Tolkien.
I swear, “The Lord of the Rings” got me through puberty.
The first of three books is dedicated to building a fellowship
Of individual, diverse characters
Dedicated to the purpose of saving the world.
Kind of sounds like what Jesus was doing, doesn’t it?
Building a fellowship of individual, diverse characters
For the purpose of saving the world.
Our Gospel narrative from Matthew
Describes the calling of two brothers,
Both fishermen on the Sea of Galilee,
Peter and Andrew.
Jesus went from there and called
A second set of brothers,
James and John, sons of Zebedee.
The two brothers and their father
Are in a boat mending their nets.
Jesus calls together his fellowship of fishing brothers
With the invitation,
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
– Matthew 4:19
The word “immediately” is used in the case of both invitations.
Immediately they left their nets …
Immediately they left their boat and their father …
… and they immediately followed him.
Quick. Clean. Decisive.
That’s the way I like to do my shopping.
“Get your stuff and get out.”
Much can be speculated about what caused
Peter and Andrew,
James and John,
To make such an immediate
Life changing decision to follow Jesus.
Was it the invitation to fish for people?
Perhaps we could stop people on the street
And invite them to join us in fishing for people.
If it worked for Jesus, maybe it will work for us, too?
If this were true, our church would be packed every Sunday
And we’d be preparing for a building addition.
Was it the way Jesus looked? Or how he approached them?
Perhaps each of these four brothers
Had been asking themselves the deeper questions in life.
Perhaps they had been searching for answers.
Maybe they had been looking for direction.
I mean, fishing, day in and day out,
Under a hot sun or in a tempus storm,
Kind of gets old after a while.
While feast may be the up-cycle,
Famine was certain to visit every fisherman on occasion.
We might never know
What caused Peter and Andrew, James and John,
To drop everything and to accept the call.
Perhaps a different tack
Might shed light on the question:
What is it about Jesus that drew YOU to him?
Perhaps it was the witness of another?
Or a similar invitation to follow him and fish for people?
Maybe you, like me, are filled with deeper questions
About life, death, suffering, love, sin, evil, and God.
Perhaps Jesus rose to the top of your vat of questions
And provides the only reasonable answer that resonates with you.
I’d suggest two other possible answers why you and I have decided to follow Jesus.
1. First, we have a natural need for a divine companion.
I can’t tell you why,
Nor can I back up my opinion with data,
But it is my observation
That few of us want to go through life alone.
Others might provide friendship,
But only God incarnate is capable of providing
The necessary presence, power, and direction
That will take us through this life
And into the next.
2. Secondly, I suggest you and I have decided to follow Jesus
Because this is God’s will for our lives.
As one standing in the Wesleyan tradition, known as a Methodist,
I would call this Prevenient Grace.
God knows our need before our awareness.
God meets our needs prior to our needs being made known.
In other words,
Perhaps it is God that brought you along the path that led you to Jesus Christ
Because God knew you needed Jesus.
You and I need Jesus
To be the center and joy of our lives.
The invitation to join the Fellowship of Jesus
May have been the whisper that
Resulted in you coming to your baptismal waters.
There is one, last, thought I’ve been chewing on this past week
About this passage I’d title “Building the Fellowship.”
Many times we focus on the question,
What did Peter, Andrew, James, and John see in Jesus
That led them to abandon their lives and to follow him?
Turn the question around, and let’s ask,
What did Jesus see?
What was it that Jesus saw in these two sets of brothers
That led Jesus to believe
That these were the ones
He needed to build his fellowship?
… to build his church?
It’s pretty obvious
Jesus didn’t start building his fellowship
With the same strategy
A new president would use to build a cabinet of ministers, advisors, or confidants.
Jesus didn’t go directly to the smartest, most powerful, elites of his world.
Jesus didn’t go to influencers, politicians, or the wealthy.
Jesus bypassed the seminaries and graduate schools,
Temples and thrones,
The marketplace, industry, and every other institution of power.
To start building his fellowship
Jesus chose to go
With simple fishermen.
Did Jesus see within Peter
His characteristic of opening-mouth-and-insert-foot
As a beneficial character trait
That he needed for his group of disciples?
Maybe he saw within Peter
The potential for becoming
An effective preacher, witness, and leader
In the first-generation church?
Perhaps Jesus knew that the genesis of his church
Needed to expand into modern day
Turkey, the Balkans, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia?
… and Andrew was just the right person to do it?
Quite possibly Jesus had the foresight to know
That James was the one he wanted
To bear witness to his Transfiguration?
Maybe Jesus considered all the rest
But decided that only James could bear the burden
Of being the first to be martyred for his faith?
Maybe Jesus looked upon John,
And knew that he would be the one
He could count on to comfort his mother
As she witnessed his crucifixion?
In a similar way,
I’d suggest our Gospel asks us today
“What is it about YOU
That inspired Jesus to call YOU to join his fellowship?”
Is it your willingness to witness?
Is it your willingness to preach?
To open prison doors?
To collect and distribute food to the hungry?
To make friends and build houses for people without four walls and a roof?
Is it your capacity to love, and to be loved?
To get on the floor with a toddler
And play and laugh with joyful abandon?
What is it about YOU
That led Jesus to claim YOU
As his own?
Invite Jesus into your life,
To make his home in your heart.
Let the light of Christ shine
And chase away all darkness in your life.
Look to Christ.
Listen to his call.
Respond with confidence and determination.
Take part in this fellowship Christ has called together
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
| Centering Prayer |
“In the beginning was the Word.”
The great philosopher John Locke observed
that words are “the sensible marks of ideas.”
In today’s gospel we learn that God has a new idea;
Indeed, God has a history of developing new ideas.
If God has a signature line, it would be
“I have a new idea!”
Experiencing our gospel fresh
Makes us think back to the original idea
From the words,
“In the beginning…”
Our gospel author intentionally calls to mind
The idea of Genesis;
That God was, and is, and will forever be
a God of creation.
Creation is God’s idea.
It is more than a plan.
It is God’s way of doing business;
An essential core of God’s divine nature.
God transformed an idea into action
And six days later the world as we know it
Was birthed and brought into being.
Our gospel author known as John
Tells us that God’s creation was fully God’s own.
God was, and is, responsible for every atom,
And all the space in-between,
in the cosmos.
Our divine Creator has a hand in
– Nature: earth, fire, air, and water
– Life: plants, animals, and humans
– Being: personality, conscience, and soul.
Being a God of new ideas,
Of always being in the business of creating,
Means that God is never stuck in the past,
Content to be a prisoner to what was,
what has been,
or how it was always done before.
And neither should we.
John paints a portrait of a forward leaning God,
Always on the cutting edge
Of transforming today’s dreams and ideas
into tomorrow’s reality.
It was, and is, an evolutionary leap forward
From just creating things
To creating life.
Yes, God evolved.
The idea that carbon-based cells
Can be filled with divine breath
And spring to life is simply astonishing.
God brought together physics and chemistry to create biology;
That the Holy Spirit might breath life into the world.
God has an intimate hand in the creation of each and every life,
– From seed to sperm,
from egg to mitosis,
from blood to every beating heart –
God has, and continues to be,
the one and only source of life.
Left to its own ends,
Life is pretty chaotic, unorganized, and ultimately meaningless.
Life without direction becomes self-centered, self-serving, and self-absorbed.
We live, we work, we procreate, we die.
We create artificial means to gauge success, such as money, property, or things.
But, at the end of the day,
the body returns to ashes,
and everything we’ve accumulated is redistributed to the next generation.
Even God is able to see the futility of life lived inside a spinning wheel.
God’s new idea was to call, to covenant, to command, and to provide directive council.
It wasn’t enough to set the world into motion
Only to step back and watch the chaos begin.
God jumped in, made covenant with our father, Abraham,
To forever be our God, and we, God’s people.
God sent Moses,
Gave us Law, a framework for living together in peace, justice, and faithfulness.
Righteousness became our new salvation;
Life lived in complete harmony with our creator.
The Lord gave us direction,
Speaking through the voice of chosen prophets,
in an effort to reveal God’s divine will.
Judgment was quick, but just and fair.
One would think this would be a great plan;
An idea so good it would be
The last idea God would ever have to implement.
Yet, from the beginning,
From the very start,
When humans received the gift of personal will and free choice,
It is as if we’ve been in an eternal struggle with the very one who has given us life.
We are tempted to sin,
drawn to the darkness,
insistent on exercising our will.
We’ve never been able to let it go,
Let it be,
Or to just let God.
What was needed was a new idea.
Life by itself wasn’t sustainable.
God’s new creation,
Reported by John,
Is light, the light of all people.
God’s new idea,
Was to bridge the chasm between heaven and earth,
Directly enter this world through Mary’s womb,
And to become the guiding light;
that will overcome the darkness,
that will save all people.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
God’s new idea was to send us his son, Jesus.
The Word of God
Became the Flesh of God.
Instead of speaking through others,
God came, was born Jesus, and did the talking himself.
More than just talking, Jesus did the dying and the resurrecting, too!
In doing so,
Life took on new meaning.
Life became fulfilling.
Life took on a new purpose.
No longer are we simply meant to live, to breed, and to die.
We are meant to love, and to be loved
– to love our God, to love our neighbors, to love our enemies.
We are meant to forgive, and be forgiven
– to make things right with those we have crossed, to make things right with our God.
We are meant to save and to be saved
– to live forever redeemed, restored, and perfected eternally giving glory to God.
Moses brought the Law.
Jesus brings grace;
Not a free pass, mind you;
Healing and restoration for all those we have broken
If only we ask for forgiveness
and desire to not sin again.
The light of Jesus reveals truth wherever it shines.
Secrets are no more.
Nothing can hide,
For darkness is no more.
The last vestiges of temptation and sin are conquered.
All is revealed to God
Who stands as our eternal arbitrator.
Grace and truth defines Jesus Christ
Just as creation is the signature of God.
Where does this leave us today?
2023, merely a week away, will be a new year,
filled with new opportunities,
yet, filled with the same old temptations.
The Word didn’t become flesh for us to continue to live in 2022,
1990, or 1965, for that matter.
God’s new idea is made into flesh
To bring love to the new year,
To spread forgiveness of sins and proclaim pardon in 2023,
To be God’s grace revealing God’s eternal saving truth in 2023.
Take a look at the people around you.
They may appear to be the same old family members and friends.
But each is filled with God’s new creation, new ideas, new possibilities for the New Year.
Ask yourself, “how is Christ working though you to bring love, redemption and salvation into the world?”
God is not only creating something new within you,
But something new within each and every one of us.
Take a look at this bread and this wine we are about to consume.
It may appear to be the same old communion served the same old way.
But in this bread and in this wine
– in this body and blood of Christ –
is the illuminating truth
that will not only sustain you,
but will continue to light your way today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
| Centering Prayer |
Fear is a powerful motivator.
Fear was an effective tactic used by Ms. Eggleston,
my 6th grade teacher.
We called her “Old Eagle Eye”
because of the way she stood at the end of the hall when we passed;
and looking over her cat eyed glasses.
Not much happened outside of her
all seeing power.
It was as if the hallway was the land of Mordor
and the eye of Sauron was always watching.
Fear is a powerful motivator for changing behavior.
I love trains;
not toy trains, mind you.
The real thing.
I love the railroad industry
and the horsepower, technology, the Surface Transportation Board, and people who make it go.
So I read as much industry information as possible;
I always have.
I’ve learned over the years,
by reading, direct observation, and talking with employees,
just how dangerous the rail industry is;
and it has been this way from the very start.
It is said
the rule book is founded
on the blood of railroad men and women who paid the price.
The result is perhaps the most strict work environment
any place on the planet.
In every American rail company,
rule violations by an employee quickly results
in swift, harsh punishment.
Qualifying for positions is hard, time consuming, and requires a lot of education.
can quickly result in catastrophe.
As a result of decades of intense regulation and an emphasis on safety,
a railroad job today is one that has a very low risk of injury or death
compared to other industries.
If you fear for your job,
you’ll jump through hoops to keep it!
Fear is a powerful motivator.
Consider how fear is, or has been, weld:
Stalin, less your village be deported to the gulag or worse.
The Roman Catholic Church, lest you be sent to hell for your sins.
Putin and his thug army, lest your village be shelled to oblivion.
The school yard bully, lest you have your lunch money pounded out of you.
The SAT test, lest you not get into a good school
Stalin got a slowly simmering society but will no opposition.
The Pope used to (emphasis on past tense) get churches with filled pews.
Putin is destroying power, water, utilities, with the occasional apartment complex.
The school yard bully got two milks instead of one.
And educational tutoring services thrive in the months before each test.
It is hard to hear our Gospel for this morning and not be afraid.
It sounds like Jesus is using fear as a tactic
to keep his followers alert for his return.
Everyone is eating, drinking, and having a good time one day,
and only Noah and his family are left behind the next day.
Everyone else was killed.
(Yes, later-day interpreters
who insert into scripture misaligned rapture theology
get it backwards.
Noah didn’t get it backwards;
Noah and his family were the ones left behind.)
Two people working in the field.
One is taken and one is left.
Two people working the grist mill.
One is taken and one is left.
It all sounds rather arbitrary on the surface
but Jesus knows
that no two workers,
no two disciples,
Some are eager to work
and are selected at six in the morning.
Those less eager
don’t get hired until the end of the day.
Jesus knows there is great diversity in the labor pool;
as there would be
great diversity among his followers.
Some will be all in,
will be persistent procrastinators.
Jesus knows the problems of identifying
that day and that hour.
He knows the nature and characteristic of people.
Everyone might stop working,
gather in Times Square
hold hands, and
start singing Kum Ba Yah.
There’d be chaos and pandemonium
if we knew the date and time.
His kingdom would REgress,
as opposed to PROgress,
which is what he desires.
“Better not to tell them,”
Jesus probably thought to himself.
“A little bit of fear is good for them
especially if it keep my disciples alert and awake.”
It is easy for us to look around our sanctuary today
and feel pretty smug.
We might feel like we will be the ones spared;
passed over, if you will.
After all, we’ve showed up.
We’ve ponied up.
We’ve dressed up.
We’re the ones who make the effort
week after week
to ensure our faithful presence, prayers, gifts, and service.
Why wouldn’t we be the ones spared by God.
Why wouldn’t we be
left behind to complete God’s kingdom?
Our Gospel for today calls us to self-examination;
are we doing everything possible
to remain alert and awake for imminent return of the Son of Man?
Fear is a powerful motivator;
welcome to Advent!
Advent is a season of anticipation
and today is the launch.
We take four Sundays to remember the Christ child who came.
We recognize the Christ present and at work in the Body assembled here.
And we anticipate the Christ that is promised yet to come.
Christ has come.
Christ is come.
Christ will come again.
Fear may be a powerful motivator,
but for the faithful follower of Christ,
we are given the confidence to
transform fear into anticipation,
changing our behaviors,
as is God’s will,
into a community preparing for the return of Christ!
Yes, Christ will be coming
like a thief in the night, Jesus teaches us.
So instead of being paralyzed with fear,
begin to prepare a way for him!
Let us bring down the mountains and fill in the valleys.
Let us gather our weapons and recast them into
plows, planters, and harvesters.
Let us complete the transformation of this world
to be God’s kingdom
as it is in heaven.
Beloved, set your hearts and minds about the business of preparation.
This is where the anticipation of Advent is found:
– Staying awake and alert
means loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength
and our neighbor as ourselves.
– Staying awake and alert
requires of us a feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Things have to change!
The poor must be lifted up.
The hungry need fed.
The sick need healed.
Prisoners need reformed and reintroduced into society.
Those mourning need comforted.
Peace makers need to strike new deals.
And the disabled, orphans, and widows need cared for.
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
| Centering Prayer |
Generally, we Americans bristle at the thought of monarchy.
Abusive, totalitarian monarchies drove immigration from every corner of Europe to the Americas.
It was one of our signature characteristics
Won for us in our Revolutionary war;
the idea that we would break from the king and elect our own leaders.
Colonists didn’t like heredity making that decision any more than we appreciated our tea being taxed.
We don’t like privilege.
We don’t like entitlements.
And we don’t like being told what to do by wealthy, privileged, entitled, kings or queens.
Yet, we still have this pathological voyeurism when it comes to royalty.
I admit, I tuned in for the wedding of Charles and Dianna and
was tragically shocked by Dianna’s death.
Most recently, I watched with interest the funerals of Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II.
On this, the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year,
we celebrate the Reign of Christ, or,
what used to be known as Christ the King.
By removing the word king,
we de-emphasize monarchy;
and by adding reign,
we more properly place the focus on God’s kingdom.
(or so I’m told by liturgical scholars!)
Through the past twelve months,
we’ve walked the pages of the Gospel of Luke,
from manger to ministry,
from passion to death,
and on Easter Sunday, we stepped with Christ out from the empty tomb
as people redeemed, saved, and commissioned for duty.
“Go make disciples,” the resurrected Jesus tells us,
with an authority that can only be described as “Divine.”
Yet, it was only a few days earlier
that Jesus’ broken body,
was hanging on the cross.
He was flanked by two opposing criminals like
our altar cross flanked by candles,
his bloodied, dying pulp elevated above the mocking crowd,
even as his followers “stood by, watching.”
One criminal, with one foot in the grave, and the other anchored by Satin,
temps Jesus with blatant self-interest:
“Are you not the Messiah?
Save yourself and us!”
Religious leaders scoffed at him with sarcasm
and with similar temptation,
“He saved others;
let him save himself,
if he is the Messiah of God,
his chosen one!”
They even mock him with twisted sarcasm
by posting a derisive inscription for all to see:
“This is the King of the Jews”
the very title Herod Antipas exclusively reserved for himself.
As if 40 days of dealing with the Devil in the wilderness wasn’t enough.
Saint Luke paints the picture of
hell-bound criminals and religious leaders
sharing the same boat
that is opposed to Christ and
bent on his destruction.
To which Jesus replies,
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
When Jesus makes his cross the symbol of forgiveness
he gives us a taste of his heavenly monarchy,
not one like we have rejected- wielding autocratic brutality,
rather, an eternal reign by a grace wielding King.
Many today may view the redemptive grace of Jesus Christ
as Christianity taking a soft approach to crime;
easy on the Law.
As if Christ gives us a get out of jail free card;
so eat, drink, and be merry!
for tomorrow we are forgiven anyway.
Luke’s narrative this morning tells us otherwise.
Forgiveness from the cross defines the eternal, all-inclusive monarchy of Christ!
Only a divine King has the power and authority to rule with such grace.
A judge and jury,
the gallows and the guillotine,
are replace by
“My son” or
“go and sin no more; your faith has made you well.”
The grace of God,
Through the cross of Jesus Christ,
outdoes bruit force
When it comes to Christ and his Kingdom.
Grace vacates your conviction,
Extends forgiveness, parole, probation, and pardon.
The grace of God,
Through the cross,
Brings healing to repair the damage we have caused because of our sin and offenses.
“Go and sin no more.”
At the same time, Jesus is not alone.
The passive crowd stood by, watching.
It is easy for us to be critical of their posture,
but it is important to remember how powerless they were to earthly authorities.
Any attempt at intervention would have brought swift, violent reprisals.
With their spears and swords
Were formidable deterrents.
Do not underestimate the value of this crowd of witnesses, however.
God apparently had other plans.
These are the people who will soon bear testimony to both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
They are essential first-person,
eye-witness accounts that will warm people’s hearts and change people’s minds.
Witnesses to the crucifixion of Jesus
are the first people
to become subjects under the new reign of Christ
and to be empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit
to gather new subjects
into Christ’s heavenly kingdom.
Jesus is not alone on the cross, either.
The opposing criminal is balanced by another crucified for his crimes.
Instead of deriding Christ,
This man recognizes his own faults
and takes responsibility for his crimes.
“We have been condemned justly,” he proclaims.
“We are getting what we deserve for our deeds.”
In an attitude of confession, a willingness for repentance, and with an acceptance of the justice imposed upon him
this second crucified criminal expresses
extraordinary faith with his sincere petition:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus assures him,
“today you will be with me in Paradise.”
In a similar way to the passive crowd,
today we are called to be faithful witnesses
– paying careful attention to the disciplines of Bible study, prayer, and worship;
not taking our eye off of the cross of Jesus Christ –
while at the same time, we are called and commissioned
to spread Christ’s kingdom by the power of our testimony.
This is how we celebrate the reign of Christ;
by expanding his Kingdom.
In a similar way to the penitent, faithful thief on the cross,
with sincere humility,
petition our King,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
It doesn’t take much to rebuke the opposing competitors to Christ’s Kingdom,
just faith the size of a mustard seed;
just the faith that has already been given to us from God above.
This preemptive gift of faith,
called “prevenient grace”;
it is what God gives us before we know of it, asked for it, or needed it.
Prevenient grace is unearned, undeserved, without price.
Prevenient grace makes it possible for each of us to directly petition Christ,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Keep your eyes on the cross.
It is your forgiveness and mine.
Yet, the cross is more.
Jesus has transformed the cross
And it now has become the symbol for the eternal reign of Christ.
Watch, testify, make your petitions directly to Jesus;
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.“ When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
| Centering Prayer |
People are gullible.
We want to believe what we believe.
We seek justification for what we believe.
We can look at facts and each draw separate conclusions;
Each according to our personal biases, needs, wants, and motives.
This alone should make us critical of other people’s conclusions.
Personally, I want you suspicious of mine
Because it is a healthy means of self-improvement
And it keeps me honest!
It also means that we should always be examining our own conclusions.
People are persuadable.
Our gullibility makes us vulnerable to the opinions of others.
We like to fit in;
Go with the flow,
Not make any waves.
Sometimes it is good to be persuaded.
We learn, we adapt, we grow.
New information allows us to grow our world view and mature.
Sometimes being persuaded is a liability;
Some call it “being a flip-flopper.”
It can be a sign of indecisiveness,
A lack of confidence,
Or a sign of weakness.
People are naturally paranoid.
A little dose is healthy;
It comes down to self-preservation.
Being suspicious helps keep us alive in an environment filled with danger.
Too much paranoia, however,
Becomes the natural default for those who can’t or won’t make the effort to draw their own conclusions
And if left unchecked
Can lead to unhealthy lifestyles;
People are overconfident.
We think we are smarter than we really are.
I know I am.
In my own mind, I’m downright brilliant.
I’m also sufficiently self-aware to know that this is not true.
We believe we can think our way through any problem,
Solve any puzzle,
Find a solution to any perplexing issue life happens to deliver.
We are confident.
We are can-do type of people.
We have been marinating in self-esteem since childhood.
We believe we can do anything.
We are Americans, after all!
Gullible, persuadable, paranoid, and overconfident.
That’s the human condition.
It is a blessing, and a curse.
People haven’t changed much these past 2,000 years.
In fact, not only was Jesus teaching his disciples about their present circumstances
He is also reaching to the future to speak to us here today.
Jesus is providing us tools with which we can use to make sense of our world.
In the time of Jesus,
And in centuries to follow,
There were individuals who claimed to know future events
Based on present circumstances.
“The Temple is destroyed and the nation is defeated;
This must be a sign of the apocalypse.
This must be a sign the end is near.”
“Don’t you believe it!” Jesus clearly states in today’s gospel.
For Luke and his audience in the early first century church
The Temple had been destroyed.
Luke was authored after the destruction of the Temple in 72 AD.
The nation was defeated.
Rome had burned it to the ground.
The few survivors were scattered to the far corners of the world
(known as the “diaspora”).
The people were gullible, persuadable, paranoid, and had a complete loss of confidence.
The end isn’t near,
Jesus reassures his future Apostles and church planters.
Persecution may be a reality.
Death was a certainty.
“Do not fear,” Jesus assures.
“I will give you words.”
“I will save you.”
The curse of being naturally gullible, persuadable, paranoid, and over confident is that we draw similar conclusions about the future
Based on current world circumstances.
Don’t believe one word of it, we hear Jesus echoing today.
“Volcanoes and earthquakes,
War in Ukraine,
North Korea firing off missile left and right,
Car jackings and mass shootings,
Hacked emails, ransomware, and the dark net,
Are all signs the end must be near!”
From Watch Tower tracts to Hollywood movies and music,
We are constantly being tempted to believe in rapture, apocalypse, and the end of the world.
Just stop it.
What makes our generation any more exceptional than the prior 39 going back to Jesus?
“Beware that you are not led astray,” Jesus proclaims.
“Do not go after them …
The end will not follow immediately.”
Though fear monger politicians and snake oil peddling preachers
May be spreading terrifying tall tales,
(Often to pack their pews and fill their bank accounts)
Jesus is crystal clear:
Don’t believe it.
Future events cannot be foretold.
Neither can the will of God be maligned, corrupted, or railroaded
To satisfy human will.
Prophesy means looking at the horizon,
Seeing the storm clouds,
And drawing the conclusion that it is going to rain.
Prophesy does not convince God to put the clouds in the sky.
Prophesy does not predict when it will rain, how much it will rain, or how long it is going to rain.
Neither does prophesy draw conclusions that storm clouds are the result of God’s judgment.
Mostly, it rains just because it rains.
Prophets are not oracles or fortune tellers.
Mostly, prophets simply watch and listen and faithfully report what God wants them to hear.
A life lived in fear is a life of missed opportunities.
Fear prevents us from building up the kingdom of God:
Of eliminating barriers that divide us,
From ending poverty that plaques us,
Of establishing justice, mercy and grace throughout the land.
Fear prevents us from placing our trust in God.
We become fearful of placing our dependence in anyone other than our selves.
We don’t want to depend on others, and we don’t want to depend on God.
Fear creates false idols;
We trust our bank accounts, not God.
We build bigger and better barns.
We stockpile our treasures
And justify our hoarding by saying we are just “saving for a rainy day.”
We trust our instincts, not the word of God.
Fear makes us hibernate when we get home, lock our doors, and complain that the world is going to hell in a hand basket.
Fear breeds distrust and causes us to do irrational things.
Fear leads us to distrust people who look or believe differently.
Fear sucks us into get rich quick schemes,
Leads us to invest in swampland,
And opens our wallets to unproven cures.
Don’t drink the cool-aid!
Do not follow those who breed fear and discontent.
Do not be terrified
When you hear threats of terrorism, war, end times, a culture divided.
Do not be afraid.
God is in control.
God’s got this.
God has already saved you.
The assurance of Jesus is not always welcomed as good news.
Arrest, persecution, and death await.
Bad things do happen to good and faithful people.
Within two sentences
Jesus says some of you will be put to death,
Then promises “not a hair of your head will perish.”
Indeed, though all will die a mortal death,
Eternal life with God is a gift that can never be taken away.
Instead of fearing trials, temptations, plagues, and famines-
Instead of fearing the pain and suffering that life ultimately serves to everyone,
Jesus gives us another strategy,
Another tool for our faithful living:
Take the opportunity of pain, suffering, and persecution
To testify to the redemption and salvation of Jesus Christ.
Testify to the dirty world who it was that washed you clean.
Testify to the world who embraces death and destruction
Who it is that has saved and recreated you as Christ’s disciple.
Instead of standing at the grave and fearing death,
Look into the face of death and proclaim
I believe in both the cross and the empty tomb.
I believe in both death and resurrection.
I believe Jesus both died and was raised
And in doing so,
Won for us victory over the grave
And the gift of eternal life.
Testify your faith when life fails you.
Lift high the cross of Christ
When walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
Proclaim the sweet name of Jesus even when the devil looks you square in the eye.
Place your trust in God.
Refuse to succumb to fear.
When given the opportunity to witness, speak up and speak out!
Sharing your personal testimony repeatedly builds confidence.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
| Centering Prayer |
Our hope is in Jesus Christ.
Our hope is in Christ crucified and risen from the dead.
On this sacred Sunday
the saints from our church family and community
Who have died in the Lord this past year
And who now have received the fulfillment of hope;
The forgiveness and absolution of every sin,
and, the gift of eternal life.
Jesus Christ is what unites us.
He holds us together as one.
Our beloved saints
Were baptized by the same water that flowed over the Lord
When he was baptized in the chilly Jordan;
The same water that we were baptized with
Before our own font,
or in our own stream or lake.
Our beloved saints lived as sinners,
Much as we do,
Yet, returned to God’s house of prayer
To seek forgiveness and absolution of sins.
Our beloved saints
Sat in these same pews and chairs,
And experienced the Word proclaimed
That gave the foundation for hope.
Our beloved saints
Came humbly before this same altar table,
And celebrated the sacrament of the Eucharist,
Bread and wine,
The Body and Blood of Christ,
Broken and shed for each and every one of us.
Indeed, Jesus Christ is what unites us.
From Ephesians 1:11-23 we read:
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, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Today, we join with the saints
For the praise of Jesus Christ, and his glory,
As the Apostle Paul so eloquently wrote to the church in Ephesus.
Praise God from whom all blessings fall!
As the heavenly host sang
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!
Give thanks to Jesus Christ for his inheritance,
His gifts of grace
To each of his disciples.
To know Christ,
To grow deeper in love with Christ,
To develop an understanding of the inheritance Jesus has given to us,
Like the saints before us,
We’ve been given a Spirit of wisdom and revelation.
Wisdom and revelation opens the eyes of our hearts
To know the hope to which saints are called.
Allow me for a moment,
To use the Gospel to bring our celebration of saints
Into the context of our current state of affairs.
Wisdom and revelation are in short supply this (and every) election cycle.
It appears “truth” has been the first casualty.
There are as many truths as there are news channels on cable television.
Without discernment that leads to God’s revelation,
There can be no truth,
Only half-truths, lies, and damn lies.
Jesus people, do not despair!
Jesus gives his disciples, you and me, our politic,
If only we choose to listen, to think, and to open our hearts.
The politic of the Christian are not Republican or Democrat,
Liberal or Conservative.
The Spirit has given to us the inheritance of Jesus;
His grace and
Today’s word comes from his “Sermon on the Plane.”
With saints who have gone before us,
We are united with Jesus Christ and his Gospel politic.
What say you about the poor?
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God, … But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Jesus responds.
Wisdom comes when we discern God’s will
To wipe poverty off the face of the earth.
Poverty is the result of greed, theft, embezzlement.
Christ calls us to love our neighbor,
Not to swindle or steal from our neighbors.
Disciples of Jesus are called to teach the world,
By word and example,
How to love our neighbors, especially the poor.
What say you about the hungry?
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” Jesus responds.
Like at a restaurant when more friends arrive,
Is not God calling us to add another table?
To pull up more chairs?
Extend the table and add more chairs
Such that everyone who is hungry might be fed.
And, oh yeah, for those who have the means,
Pick up the check for those who don’t.
The weaponizing of food,
As is being done in the Russian Ukraine war,
Is an ghastly politic
That is contrary to the politic of the Gospel.
There is no reason for anyone to go hungry in the world today,
Either in North Korea, South Africa, Guatemala, or under the Court Street bridge.
It’s up to us, as Christ’s disciples, to ensure everyone is fed.
What say you about those who weep?
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Jesus proclaims.
Saints who have gone before us tasted death and grief,
For many, numerous times in their lives.
Much of death and grief in our experience
Is at the natural conclusion of the life cycle.
Yet, there is also a secular politic of death
Being played out on battlefields
With horrific civilian casualties and
Refugees fleeing the violence.
Grip global adversaries in war, or near war,
Leaving unintended, collateral damage spewing in every direction.
There is even a death politic in American culture
Where schools fail, crime roams, and families divide.
America cries with death and grief.
The world moans in travail with senseless murder and mayhem.
Yet, know this to be TRUE:
The politics of death have no rule over
Our Savior who triumphs over the grave!
Disciples of Jesus are called to stop the violence,
Stop the murder,
To heal and restore humanity
Such that every life is valued,
And only natural causes lead one home to eternal glory.
Comfort those who mourn in every circumstance.
God blesses, and calls us to open our hearts to those who weep.
Hold the world tenderly in the loving embrace of Jesus.
Dry the tears with assurance of faith,
Spoken in the language of love.
What say you about those who hate you?
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Jesus taught.
Certainly saints who have gone before us have tasted hatred,
Just as we have.
Hatred goes both ways;
Hatred that grows from envy or resentment,
Hatred that festers from discrimination or exclusion,
Hatred that is deeply rooted in our history or original sin.
Christ’s Gospel politic
Is a call for every disciple of Jesus to love enemies,
To do good to those who hate,
To bless those who curse,
To pray for those who abuse.
This is a far different politic than what is espoused by the world today.
The standards for Jesus’ politics
Are set extraordinarily high.
Many would call them naive;
Bless those who call you naïve,
Who hate you,
Who exclude and revile you
And who defame you on account of the Son of Man.
Turn to them, Jesus tells us,
And give them your blessing.
Jesus Christ unites us,
Joining with us,
Together with every Christian
Upon whose shoulders we now stand.
Our inherited gifts are forgiveness of sins
And the salvation of our souls.
Make faith our body politic.
Unlike social politics
Faith in Jesus Christ will never fail you.
Faith in Jesus Christ will always lead to an inner transformation from sinner to saint, to God healing and blessing the world.