Pouting in the Pit or Preaching to the People?

If I had been assigned the task of putting together the Old Testament, it would probably look a lot different than the one we use today.  First of all, I would take the opportunity to get rid of some of the folks I’ve never liked.

I know David is a pretty significant character, given that he is the ancestor of Jesus and all, but the whole infidelity thing has always bothered me—so, either David would have to go, or I would revise the story to take out his transgression.

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I would keep Deborah, for sure.  And maybe write a little more about her— we don’t really have enough female leaders in the Bible, right? 

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Elijah and his wonder-workings are too good to pass up, so he’d stay.

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Elisha, on the other hand, would have to go. After all, I think it is highly inappropriate to retaliate just because some little boy has called you – ‘baldy.’ (- 2 Kings 2:32-35)

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In my version of the Old Testament, Amos would stay with his beautiful metaphors of God’s justice rolling down like cascading waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

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Hosea would have go—his divine marriage metaphor just doesn’t work for me. —    (Hosea 1:2-3:5)

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And some of the smaller, minor prophetic books seem redundant, so I’d probably cut some of them and add someone a little more modern like Dorothy Day or Martin Luther King Jr.

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But the person I’d be least likely to include in my canon would be Jonah.  Sure, it makes for a great story, being swallowed by a fish.  But if you look at his character, it just doesn’t meet what I like to think of as good family values.

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Let’s see, the first time he ‘got the call’ from the Lord, Jonah went running the other direction.

In fact, he tried to hide from God by getting in a ship with a bunch of sailors and going to sea. Jonah must have known what God had in mind.  God must have known that God wasn’t going to cause destruction upon those Ninevehites.  Jonah must have known that God was merciful, even to those who run away.  And Jonah, in his indignation, did not want the good news to come to people like them.  Jonah thought he could keep the good news from the Ninevehites.  So he wimped out and ran as far away as he could from God’s call.

Okay, maybe not the first place that I would go if I were hiding from God, but this is Jonah’s story, not mine.  Not only does Jonah not listen to God, but he tries to make things better by getting the sailors to dump him overboard.

Jonah goes into the ocean only to be swallowed by a giant fish.

I don’t recall enough of my high school biology classes to remember much about fish anatomy.  I presume they must have ample stomachs.

But one big enough to hold a person, for three days? 

Or maybe Jonah was just a petite person?

I’d be curious to know what the Biblical literalists do with this one.

At any rate, Jonah’s marine home is short-lived, as he is literally ‘vomited‘ by the fish onto the shores of Nineveh.  God comes to him a second time, as we have in today’s lesson.

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I wonder why God is so patient with little Jonah here. It’s equally as unbelievable as Jonah’s being swallowed up by the fish.  He’s already proven himself to be a bit of a weasel and reasonably fool-hardy to boot.  Why God didn’t look for another more qualified person to prophecy to Nineveh?

But God tells Jonah, again, to go to Nineveh.  Get up, God says, Go to Nineveh and proclaim the message. 

So Jonah, grudgingly, picks himself up out of the sand and wipes off the fish goo.  His fists are clenched, his face twisted, as he stomps off to do the ministry he was called to do.

We never get to find out why it is that Jonah is so opposed to going to Nineveh.  We don’t know why these people, the Ninevehites, who were so eager to hear good news, were the object of Jonah’s disdain.

Why did Jonah dislike them so?  Why is it that sharing the good news was so awful for Jonah, that he would have preferred the cold sea to ministering to them? Was it because the Ninevites were different than Jonah?  Was this an ancient ‘race problem’?

Perhaps Jonah wanted to claim God for himself, and not share him with those of a different lifestyle and culture?  Was this an ancient case of ‘affirmative-action’?  Did Jonah think that these non-Jews were getting special treatment?

Maybe Jonah was upset because he had been faithful to the covenant, keeping the law, and earning the love of God, while the Ninevehites—who had done none of these things, were about to receive this very same love of God.

Was he mad because he had played by the rules, the same rules that had gotten him ahead in life?  Was Jonah jealous that God would waste his time on people he refused to get to know? 

Jonah, in his refusal to go to Nineveh, was saying that he knew more than God.  Surely, you don’t want me to go there, to those people, Jonah was speaking.  You wouldn’t want me to spend time with people who don’t share my same values, could you?

God, Jonah must have been thinking, you must have misspoken.  I’ll just wait over here for a while until you come to your senses.  Indeed, your message can’t be for people like them.

I said earlier, how I would choose to keep Jonah, among others, out of the Hebrew Scriptures.  I mean, his story is disturbing, perhaps too distressing. There is a part of Jonah’s story that hits a little too close to home.

There is a part of Jonah’s story that looks a little too much like myself, like someone I wish I were not.

It’s the part of me that get jealous when I hear other people’s good news.  It’s the part of me that gets angry when it feels like others get rewarded for not following the rules.  It’s the part of me that would instead judge a person based on stereotypes then get to know her for myself.

And its this same part of me that fakes happiness for a friend when deep down I am scowling with envy.  It’s this little, but persistent part of me that would instead remain in my insecurity than enjoy the Nineveh’s of the world. 

It’s the part of me that would rather pout in the cold stomach of a fish than celebrate what God has done. 

There is this pit, deep inside of me that resists being seen.  There is an ugliness that shows itself when one’s guard is down.

And it is from this pit that we find ourselves doing things for which we are later ashamed, like feeling for our wallets when we walk past a person of color, like only having friends who look like us, like thinking less of immigrants or the working poor.

These shameful parts of ourselves show themselves at unexpected moments.  We try to hide them by insisting that, ‘yes, I have black friends,’ or ‘skin color doesn’t matter to me.’ But our ugliness keeps us, like Jonah, sitting in the pit of a fish, holding us prison to our jealous fears and insecurities. 

But God doesn’t want us to stay in these pits.  God doesn’t want us to stay in the stomach of a fish when there are places like Nineveh that have yet to hear the good news.  God offers us a way out of our hatred, our isolation, and our shame.

And God doesn’t want us to rewrite scripture or pretend that there are not parts of us yearning for connection and security.  God knows that we are held prisoner to shame and envy. But God does not want us to live that way.  God does not want us to keep on living in the stomach of a fish!

That’s why God sent Jesus to us.  That’s why God offers us a new way to live, a new way that doesn’t see envy before humanity.  God teaches us this new way to live. God frees us from our pits of despair in the simplest of ways.  We don’t need to stay bound by our ugliness and insignificance.

Because God loves it away. 

God loved little Jonah, stuck in a fish, insignificant next to giant Nineveh, the giant sea, and the giant fish.  God found little Jonah, who had tossed himself away to sea, who was afraid of all that life had to offer and returned him to safety.

God seeks us out, especially when we feel insignificant, especially when we are isolated, and returns us to dry land.  God loves us out of our shame.  God loves us out of our insecurity and our envy. God loves away any ugliness that may be buried deep inside.

But the story doesn’t stop here. 

God rescues us from the pit, so that we may be freed to go to places like Nineveh, that we may be able to love others as we have been loved.

God rescues us from the isolation that we may connect with others.  And those of us, like Jonah, who know what it feels to be trapped in the pit of a stomach don’t forget this feeling of insignificance.

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But instead of being bound by this feeling, we use it to seek out others who may feel or who may be treated that way.

God sought us out, so we can do nothing else but seek others out, and share with them this great love that has restored our humanity and given us life.

Because with God’s love, no one is insignificant, no one is shamed, and all are made whole.

Amen.

 

Advent I – Three Parts of the Bible We Need to Know.

This first Sunday of Advent out focus is on being patient while we wait and watch. And for some of us, it might be a harsh lesson to learn. I’m afraid that in our instantaneous culture, something we must use our best skill of patience as we trust in the work of God. No doubt, Paul talks about patience as being a fruit of the spirit and there are some among us for whom patience is a spiritual gift. For others of us, we have much to learn from our sisters and brothers for whom patience is an innate spiritual gift.

I mean, after all, for what are we in a hurry? Some of you might be asking the obvious. Watching and waiting. For what? And what Mark seems to be telling us is that we are waiting for the coming reign of God. In one of my classes at Luther Seminary, I took this summer on sabbatical, one of the authors of the books we used encouraged us to read the bible as an entire story (which is directly opposite of what many have been taught). We show, rightly so, that the Bible is almost like a library of 66 books each with its own unique chrematistic and set of circumstances. This author thesis is that we should understand the Bible as a missional statement of who God and what God is up to in the world. His argument does have a point.

So, in light of our scripture text from Mark this morning, maybe we could think of the bible as having three parts.

Part I: Genesis One. All of creation is under God’s authority; which includes people. God’s power is over us is what the reign of God is all about (we talked about this last Sunday). We were created so that God would reign over us.

Part II: Genesis 2 and 3: Creation falls through the human creature’s rebellion at God’s authority. Adam and Eve disobeyed God: ‘You can have everything except this one thing…” and what was humanities response? “But we want just this one thing…” And then Adam blames someone else for his rebellion. “It was Eve’s fault.” and then Eve blames the serpent.

Part III: is Genesis 4 through Revelation 22. God acts to restore the fallen relationship and God’s divine authority. From Genesis 4 through the end of the Bible, the story is about how God continues to work to restore power over us so that we might be able to enjoy life as God intended experience to be. Of course, with the New Testament, being justified and restored with our creator comes through Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection.

And getting back to the first message of waiting and spiritual practice of patient and waiting for God’s restored authority over the earth, it seems that some of us have woke to this divine reality. And even still, the Bible records that everyone will be made aware of the reign of God at the end of the world (Phil. 2:10-11). The end will come eventually, but the spiritual awaking can come now.

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So, using the three parts of the biblical story, we can use them as the backdrop for our Advent awaking. And that is the first step in the Advent Awaking. It is waking and the awareness to understand the direction we are going isn’t working. The secular trend and values are dysfunctional. It leads to disaster. While all around the world is walking on the dead-end street called secularism, we can write an alternative story. The alternative story has been written long ago. It’s called the Bible! We can wake to the reality of God, our creator, the one from whom we came and the one to whom we must one day offer an account.

The second stage is commitment. People who are spiritually alive know there is a better life narrative. They aren’t consumed by what is happening around them. They “hear” the song behind the words spoke. And yet, the amazing thing about God is that God will take us as we are, searching and or aware of God’s presence. God starts with us wherever we are willing to start.

And the third stage is entering into a fellowship with the mission. Once we make the personal commitment to walking the way of Christ, the realization will sink in that it is about me. It’s about the body of Christ. Every Sunday that we gather to worship God, there is the real possibility that someone will wake up to God who is at work in the body of Christ. People will realize that they cannot make it in life on their own, that they must be a part of something larger than themselves. It happens. We’ve all seen lives that have been transformed by the power of God working through the body of Christ. People to wake up to God’s advent.

As Jesus reminds us, “Be awake, keep alert; for you do not know when the time comes.” It might be today, tomorrow, or years and years awake. But Christ will come. Rest assured. Christ will come. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

“Keeping the Edges Hot” a Reflection on Matthew 25

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Each year, after we hear God’s promise of eternal life on All Saints’, we focus our attention on the return of the Son of Man. When we reflect our awareness to what happens around us, it seems to be fitting that following our remembrance of God’s promise on those who have already entered eternal life through our commemoration of the saints, at some point, all we have known and will know will come to an end. We call this the cycle of life, and while our culture does it’s best to distract us from thinking about the end of things, the gospel calls us to be aware of the reality of life.

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         Jesus tells the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids as a way of inviting our attention to the details of our life. In a real sense, it is a parable about spiritual literacy which, according to our passage means being alive to what life is telling us and an awareness of the presence of God in the darkness of the night.

         There are all kinds of delightful and essential things that are happening in front of us, but we often miss most of them because we are either too busy to notice or not awake to realize what is happening. Which seems to be Jesus point in telling this parable.

         This past week in our confirmation class, our class discussed how Christianity is similar and dissimilar to other world religions. Our youth talked about Buddhist and how meditation can lead to Nirvana or an enlightenment as a life path. Buddha says everything in life comes down to one thing- staying awake and being aware. And you remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? “Watch and pray,” Jesus says. “Remain with me.” He tells the disciples. And yet, the Bible reports that the disciples are unable to remain awake.

         God is in the details, and if we are not paying attention, we will miss the message. Paying attention requires disciple and practice. As a community of faith whose core is the Gospel message, we lift up and affirm our spiritual practices as a way in which we remain aware of the presence of God as a way to express our faith in Jesus Christ as a different way to live and be in this complicated world.

What does it mean to pay attention? Being alive and awake in the case of Jesus parable is to live intentionally without reservation in the here-and-now. To be attentive, we must put ourselves in a place where we are open and receptive and entirely present. This takes work and practice. There is no one “right” way to practice an awareness. Psychologist tells us based on brain scans that people who have a spiritual practice of consciousness and alertness have created more Alpha waves in their brains which in turn translates into a less stressful life and peaceful feeling. And conversely, if we are not aware and alert we can be distracted and eluded from what is supplying energy to our lives a thousand times over.

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         How often has each of us not fully embraces those moments of grace, epiphanies, and great insights because we have been too wrapped up in a hurried pace of life? Too busy to slow down to appreciate the good stuff that gives our lives meaning.

         Spiritually, too many Christians are just playing church. Just going through the motions. We say we want to follow Jesus as long as following Jesus fits nicely into my schedule and doesn’t require any time or monetary commitment from me. We might show up on a Sunday morning, but the message we come away with doesn’t do for us what it does for some of the other folks. We might not be aware of God’s presence in our life because we haven’t given any thought to the matter. And then we are in a rush to start the week ill-prepared because we’ve been so busy during the weekend that by the time Monday rolls around, and we get to the office, God’s message of life and meaning is as distant to us as last year’s vacation. Like the foolish bridesmaid who was ill-equipped for the darkness of the night, they were not alert for the moment at hand.   

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         Each day, each moment has its own needs. Each day has its own set of thoughts and words. Are we living in tune with what God is speaking to us? Because as the parable expresses no moment is trivial since each moment in time contains a spark of the divine. If we are not aware and present, we miss what God is speaking.

         Jesus parable of the bridesmaid is like our reminder of God’s grand banquet that is spread out before us, and God desires that we partake and seize the present moment to recognize God’s presence with us without any regret for the past or the future. Pledge to yourselves this moment and let the moment teach you. Surrender yourself to the moment and make it preach to you because the quality of each moment we are aware of the Life inside us determines the quality of life we lead.

         Where do we start? “Pastor, how can I be more in tune with the life that lives inside of me?” How can I be like the bridesmaid who was alert and awake? The starting point in the recognition that we are already on the journey. We can’t attain the presence of God anymore because we are already entirely in the existence of God. What is missing is our awareness. Little do we realize that God is maintaining us with every breath we take in. Maybe the best way to be aware is not so much about what we need to learn or even attain, but rather what things do I need to unlearn so that I am more aware of God’s presence?

         I mentioned that our confirmation students class time was about world religions. Some might wonder why it would be essential to teach the students about other religions when we are instructing them in faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a fair question to ask, and I would answer that all religious teachers without exception have recognized that we humans do not naturally see; we have to be taught how to see.

         And what that might mean for many of us is that to be aware of God’s presences in our lives, we have to accept what is often difficult to realize that it is God who walks alongside the problematic moments in lives. That’s why Buddha and Jesus say with one voice, “Stay awake! And Remain watchful.” We have to learn to see what is there because if we want to remain awake and engage in spiritual practices remember what a spiritual exercise is designed to do – religious traditions help us to get rid of the illusions we hold so that we can be fully present. Spiritual methods exist to help us see who we are, what is happening in life and what is True. On the contrary, our mass culture is like scales over our eyes. We only see life through the material eye which will always desire to acquire more and more.

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   So then, if we are to believe and take to heart these words of Jesus, then we must start with what spiritual teachers coin a “beginner’s mind.” That is to be aware of the voices inside us that presume that we already see what God wants us to see. A beginner’s mind starts with the reality that I know nothing and has everything to learn. A beginner’s mind understands there may be no sufficient answer and that the questions we ask or more important than any answer given. A beginner’s mind is merely an awareness. An awareness that we cannot live in the presence of God, but rather that we are entirely surrounded by God.

         St. Patrick said it like this: “God beneath us, God in front of us, God behind us, God above us, God within us.”

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         To be aware and live means that we cannot earn God. We can’t prove ourselves worthy of God, but rather than that to be awake and alert is to be attentive to the reality that God is already present and because of that, we can enjoy the present moment. Right here. Right now. For sure, there are moments when this happens smoothly for us. When life makes sense, and all is right with the world.

         But Jesus doesn’t leave us there. Jesus pushes us further to see past our social edges. Can you see the image of Jesus in the least of your brothers and sisters? How about your enemies are those whom would cause you harm? Notice this parable says nothing about commands, or church attendance, nothing about church law. Jesus parable is only about our ability to see.

         Perhaps what it means to have oil in our lamps is when we can see the image of God where we don’t want to look and see, then we know not with our own eyes, but with the eyes of Jesus. Amen.

 

God’s Great Reversal – Matthew 20:1-16

I’m going to share a truth that we know is true, but for some reason, it’s easier for us to deny it.  The truth I’m speaking of is that sometimes life just isn’t fair.  It’s a reality that sooner or later we’re all going to face.  It’s best that we are learning this fact while you are in your first half of life than waiting until old age to discover this truth.  In fact, you can learn this truth in nursery school – Sometimes lives deals us lemons.

Sometimes that’s the way things happen, isn’t it?  Sometimes life isn’t fair.  So we learn to deal with the unfairness.  So, let me tie this life reality in with the Gospel text today.  It’s a crucial point that I don’t want you to miss in the text.  Saying life isn’t fair is not the same as saying that God isn’t fair for two reasons.  First, of all, because God doesn’t owe you and me anything at all.  Like Luther said on his deathbed, “It’s true.  We’re all beggars.”  And second, God’s justice doesn’t work the way the world’s justice works.

Saying life is not fair is not the same as saying God isn’t fair because God doesn’t owe us anything at all.  In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, the very opposite is correct.  We owe God everything:  our time, our talents, and our treasures.  The very life that lives inside each of us has been gifted to us; even the breaths that you take, the clothes on your back, the food that is prepared for you, even your health to some extent is a gift from God.   The simple fact is:  God doesn’t owe us anything.

As active disciples of Christ, we commit our lives to God.  We resist the urge not to show up or to sleep in on our Sunday morning to worship God.  We spend our hard-earned money and resources to support the work and ministry of our congregation.  We spend time in prayer and the study of Scripture when we could be golfing or some recreation.  Our confirmation students could do something with their one hour on Wednesday nights other than talking about faith formation.  You see, as active Christians, we follow Jesus, the landowner into the vineyard, where we are called to do the work of God.

For us, active disciples of Christ, things may not always seem the way we would like.  It doesn’t seem fair to us that some deserve God’s grace when they don’t even show up or participate.  We are the ones, after all, who’ve done most of the work, we tell ourselves.  The laborers in the parable that began picking the first hour of the day picked more grapes than those who started picking the last moment.  If that were to happen today, there would be an uproar; labor strikes and unions would lash out. It is only right that the reward for our work should be consistent with the time we put into our efforts.

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But this parable has nothing to do with economics, at least in the sense that we understand the economy.  It is not a description of how employers should treat workers.  It is, after all, a description of how God works in the kingdom of heaven.  God’s goodness may or may not be entirely understandable.  We don’t fully understand the grace of God.  And based on this parable, we may indeed think that God doesn’t operate fairly.

God’s not fair, according to our limited human reasoning.  In fact, if we put ourselves in the place of the laborers who started at sunrise or midmorning or even early afternoon, we have missed the point of the parable.  Jesus is the one who works from sunup to sundown.  Jesus is the one who has borne the burden of the day and heat.  Only Jesus has earned us salvation.  The grace is that God still calls us towards God’s self and gives us the full wage.   God offers you the promise of salvation, not because you have worked hard enough but because Jesus has done it for you.

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God gives us more than we can ever earn.  The Bible teaches that the wages of sin are death, but it is God who gives life.  The laborers in the vineyard all received a full day’s pay regardless of the hours they worked.  We have all been given salvation, irrespective of the sins we’ve been under.

And perhaps even more remarkable is that God has entrusted us to do God’s work.  In baptism, we’ve been given the work of a lifetime, and at the table, God renews us and then sends us out as labors to plant the seeds of God’s word, to speak to those who have never heard and to proclaim the word anew to those who have fallen away.

ripe-47423__480.jpgRemember that the kingdom of heaven is a gift, and in a way, we’re all latecomers, aren’t we? In Christ, it’s never too late to come home to the mercy of God. Thanks, be to God.  Amen.

 

 

Dealing with Conflict – Matthew 15

 

With all the traveling I’ve done this summer, I pulled out an old book on cd and listened to it as I was driving around the country. The book was about guidelines for having meaningful conversations with other people and how to react when communication become what the author calls “crucial” which is an emotionally charged discussion when the stakes are high. His point is that when we engage in critical conversation the most primitive part of our brain, the Amegda takes over, and cause us not to think clearly. Thus, when the stakes are high, and we need to be able to reason at our best, we are not able to because our brains are wired to the fight or flight response to a threating situation or conversation.

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The key in these types of situation is to be self-aware of our response and knowing how to keep the conversation safe so that both parties feel open to contributing to the shared pool of common knowledge. We often shy away from the crucial conversation because they are challenging and we don’t want to upset or disappoint the other person. Often avoiding issues is no good either. It could lead to a passive aggressive attempt to get back to a person if we don’t talk through an issue, or sometimes conversation that isn’t handled well can lead to violence or hurt feelings.
I think Jesus knew that there were going to be disagreements and conflicts when well-meaning people gather. Jesus knew this wouldn’t be easy for you and me to practice our faith together as children of God.

images-4When we are honest with ourselves, sometimes we as people of faith must be engaging in a crucial conversation about a matter that is important to us individually as well as the Body of Christ, but in this passage from Matthew’s gospel Jesus lays out a method for handling sin within the community of discipleship.
How does it work Jesus’ first step is to talk straight with others. You’ve got a problem with someone else? Deal with it directly. Don’t embarrass the person in public – deal with him or her one-on-one. Don’t do it over the phone or letter. Words on paper can be misinterpreted. Do it in person, and don’t beat around the bush. Get right to it. But we are dealing directly with that person, point out the fault and resolve the situation. Don’t talk behind the others back, tear them down. If you don’t have the gumption to deal directly with that person, then keep your issues to yourself. More harm is done to others with “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but did you know….” Speak, speak, speak; don’t keep your mouth shut. You will be held responsible for your silence and for the consequences of your unwillingness to talk.
You see, you can either speak it out, or you will act it out. In the long run, talking with someone is always more productive than acting out by not have a crucial conversation with someone else.

Of course, there are also some folks who have no problem with straight talking. In fact, the trouble is they seem to enjoy it too much. I don’t think that is what Jesus or Paul had in mind when discussion about the conflict in the body of Christ. Paul says when you must speak the truth to a loved one, a friend or fellow church member, tell the truth in love.

As hard as it might be for some of us, it is our job and obligation, to speak the truth lovingly and genuinely when someone has sinned against us. And if the straight talk doesn’t work in resolving the problem, then get other involved, Jesus says. It’s a systematic process, take it to the elders. And if nothing else works, then be done with them. In the end, we are called to love not to be like by everyone. Sometimes our call to love is tough.

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How do you deal with others who have caused problems for you? Jesus has the answer. With straight talk, due process, but most of all, with grace. Knowing that we are all human and everyone we meet is carrying a heaven burden. All of us; there are no exceptions. By treating one another with Grace, you will be fulfilling more than the law and the prophets; you will fulfill the gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

THE WEARY WAY: Reflections on the Road to Emmaus Story – LUKE 24:13-35

The Road to Emmaus from Luke 24:13-35

Have you ever met anyone famous? Or maybe somewhat famous? Or perhaps just have been in the same airport or restaurant as someone well known?

In early April, I attended the opening day celebration for baseball by attending the home opener for the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

 

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Waiting in line to enter Busch Stadium on Opening Day 2017.

 

This year’s home-opener featured a team *from Chicago* that won the World Series in 2016, and, is a team that most in St. Louis would consider the Cardinals greatest rival.

The energy on opening day was incredible. People filled with spirit and cheer because of the return of America’s “favorite past-time” following a long offseason.

Folks are everywhere around Busch Stadium for opening day. Many are across the street to gather in the BallPark Village waiting for the gates to open and the crowds to begin to file in on Opening Day, find their seats and wait for the greatest living Cardinals and the current team to be introduced. It’s quite the spectacle with all the Clydesdale Horses prancing along the warning track making their way to home plate.

 

 

Despite my lack of intimate knowledge of the appearance of former Cardinal greats, I convinced myself while standing in the BallPark Village that on the second-floor balcony, I spotted Bruce Sutter, a pitcher from the 1970-80’s who arguably developed and perfected the split-finger fastball pitch.  Bruce was standing near the VIP club waving down to the crowds with a scepter in his hand.

 

For many seasoned Cardinal fans, this would not be so remarkable a feat as Sutter is well known in the St. Louis Area.  And yet,  I had a sense of pride in my ability to recognize this well-known figure based on his appearance from a distance.

So, if I, a casual, yet passionate, fan could recognize a Cardinal great somewhat out of context, I’d like to think that I could have spotted the risen Jesus Christ if he had chosen to accompany me just a few days after his resurrection.

Moreover, you might say to me that I’m relying more on my own ability to recognize someone, and while that’s true, the Holy Spirit also assists us in “seeing” the personhood of others.

The Holy Spirit opened the eyes of two early disciples of Jesus shortly after his resurrection on a rural road as they walked.

As Luke, tells the story, we, the reader get to be in on the joke. Luke says of these two travelers, returning home, perhaps, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. As listeners of this story, we are stunned to find out that anyone could fail to recognize the risen Christ, especially two of his closest followers.

But that is just what happens. Cleopas and his companion, just happen to be joined by Jesus on their walk to Emmaus. And instead of instantly recognizing who he is, they take him for a stranger. And they fail to figure out who he is until the end of today’s lesson when Jesus breaks bread with them. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

 

 

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“The Road to Emmaus”  artwork by He Qi. 1997. 

As easy as it is to kind of laugh at poor Cleopas and his companion, thinking of them as fools who don’t know their leader, I must say I just may be able to recognize myself—and maybe a few others in their plight.

Cleopas and this fellow traveler without a name, I sometimes imagine her as his wife, were among the faithful. They were friends with the 12 disciples, we learn later, which suggest they were among the inner circle.

Their statement of faith, which they somewhat humorously share with the stranger-Jesus, uses all the right language, hits all the highlights. Surely, they would have passed any confirmation test on their first try.

Cleopas and companion were dedicated and faithful followers. They had certainly been to church Easter Sunday. Well, not just to church—they probably helped cook the churches’ Easter brunch. Surely, they had attended all the Lenten services, probably helped with the Wednesday meals, most likely had washed more than their fair share of dishes.

They were the type of couple that we can imagine as dedicated and faithful. The sort of people to volunteer, to show up, to serve on the committee after committee, the kind to come to church not just on Easter but 2 Sundays into it. And I imagine that they had become weary.

In all their efforts to be faithful, their vision had become blurred. They missed seeing the most famous person. Perhaps their dedication had gotten in the way. Maybe the stress of leadership, their stubbornness, their investment in an outcome had slowly squeezed Jesus out of the picture. So that when he showed up, they had no idea who he was.

What sort of objects blur your vision? What is grabbing so much of your attention that you are unable to realize that Jesus is right next to you? What is keeping your life out of focus?

Perhaps Cleopas and his companion were caught off-guard by the trauma of Jesus’ death. Perhaps this experience was too much to handle, more than they had bargained for, their grief eating them alive.

I wonder what kind of stress losing not only a dear friend but a leader can cause. Isolation? Need for distance? An overwhelming desire just to forget everything and leave town?

This is the part of the lesson that begins to look familiar, at least to me. Cleopas and his companion remain the center of activity. Disheartened at what has happened. Stuck in the middle of the story, unable to see through to the end.

They look for an escape, a way out, one that doesn’t require believing in something so extraordinary. They look, to perhaps, shed themselves of idealist principles. They can’t take any more disappointment or disillusionment. Wanting to get away from a life of faith which brings on struggle, despair, and cynicism.
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And how familiar is this road—the one that makes us believe change is unlikely, one that drains our energy, one that makes us feel any real work done will not make a difference.

One thing the faithful know is that the life of the faithful can get weary. It can feel pointless. This weariness can erode our hope; it can blind our sense of purpose, can diminish our drive to keep at it.

And it is just then that Jesus shows up, re-enters our lives.

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I like this Jesus… this Jesus that Luke writes about. It’s not a neon-tee-shirt Jesus or an extra-large billboard on I-80 Jesus. This is a reserved Jesus.  

Jesus is a little cunning and a lot clever.

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A Jesus who bides his time, very willing to let Cleopas and company do the talking, a Jesus who is not just offering answers but is willing, encouraging really, of Cleopas and companion to come to their conclusions.

What kind of presence draws you within? What type of conversations keeps you up past your bedtime? What kind of stranger is so compelling that you can’t get enough? That, however, long or short your conversation is, you are left wanting more?

We don’t get to know Jesus’ motivation for not blurting out that he indeed is the risen one. But we do know that because of his actions, his ability to remain mysterious, Cleopas and his companion are left wanting more.

They practically beg Jesus to stay with them. Jesus has listened to them. He has taught them. They are compelled to stay with him, to be close to him. They invite Jesus to stay.

And that’s when it happens. As Jesus breaks bread, their hearts turn, re-turn to him, their eyes are re-opened and they re-congnize. They re-know Jesus once again.

If you are one of those people who can recognize Jesus in everything, in every moment, in every person, then you have a lot to offer the rest of us. But if you are like Cleopas and his companion, like me, like so many others, and you can’t always make out Jesus, even when you have your glasses on and he is right in front of you, this story brings good news.

Our vision may not be perfect, but Jesus’ is.

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He comes over and sits right beside us. He IS patient with us. He listens to us. Wants to hear what we say. He recognizes us from a distance.

Even more shocking, he recognizes us close-up. Despite, maybe because of our blemishes, our imperfections, our choices that look ugly, no matter the lighting. Jesus knows who we are, comes to us, recognizes us, and walks along on our journey with us.
He is companion, listener, teacher, and provider. He promises to show himself so that we may recognize him and be witness to what he has done and is doing in our lives.

Today we get to experience this promise. Today we welcome Cameron Hill into the fold. We promise on his behalf to tell him what we know, to show him what we have seen.

About Jesus in this world; about Jesus in our lives. About a hope so high we cannot avoid it. About a love that is always gathering us in, despite, and especially when we try to run away from it.

And then we do what we do every Sunday.

We come to the table for nourishment. Because when everything else has gone astray, when hope seems lost, when God feels distant, when disillusionment begins to steal our souls, Jesus opens our eyes and shows his love to us.

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Crumb by crumb, drop by drop, God gives us something to chew on, liquid love to restore our souls.

And with a restored vision, we may continue our journey, sharing this meal, hearts burning with love, to all that may receive it.

Amen.

Easter- Evidence or Experience? A Sermon for Easter

 

The Bible makes a definite point that Jesus died.  He hung on the cross until he was dead.   It wasn’t a spiritual death, but a physical one.  His body was dead.  The heart of man stopped beating.  Furthermore, when he was taken down from the cross by the soldiers, they made sure there was no mistake about it – they speared him in the side to drain the blood.  Eventually, the body of Jesus found its way to the tomb of a wealthy man, Joseph, because Jesus had no tomb of his own.  The body was laid to rest in the grave, and the tomb was sealed off from the world, placing a stone in front of the grave, the guards were ordered to watch the tomb to protect the order of the empire from the people’s uprising.

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Everyone thought the story was over.

The death of Jesus on the cross was like a baseball announcer thanking everyone for coming out  to watch the game following a disappointing home team loss,  but it’s now time to return to your cars and depart for your homes.

The game was over. Even those who followed Jesus had already returned home try to make sense of all the events that took place.

 

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Then early on that third day, the gospel accounts record that the women – Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb to out of respect for their spiritual leader to anoint the dead body with oil and spices so to remove the stench of death. We are not sure what the disciples thought about their teacher, but no could have suspected that he rose from the grave.  That’s just not humanly possible, nor does it follow any logic of the natural order!  As Jesus hung on the cross, folks though he was just one more honorable person who had said and done some amazing things, but who died like everyone else.

 

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The Bible says that early on that first Easter when the women arrived at the tomb, they met an angel of the Lord, who came and rolled the stone away.  The women boldly make their way to the tomb when the angel appeared the men, the guards were the ones who stood in fear and were rendered useless.   “Don’t be afraid,” the angel told the women.

You remember those words, “Don’t be frightened!” Don’t you?  They happen all the way back when at the beginning of the gospel at Jesus’ birth when the angel speaks to the shepherds on the hillside.   This time the words are articulated to the women as he announces the good news of Jesus resurrection.  “Jesus isn’t here.  Come and look for yourselves. And then, go and tell…”

And then Jesus appeared to them, calms them, and tells the women to continue to Galilee and to tell the men to go to Galilee where his brothers will see him.

You have before you and have heard for yourselves the story of Jesus resurrection.  None of us were there that day, the gospel writers left us this evidence of the resurrection.    This morning I want you to know that there is a vast difference between the evidence of Easter in God’s Word and the experience of Easter.

This Easter morning, I can stand before you and offer you every possible view of the empty tomb.  I can try to explain to you in human ways in which the empty tomb might be possible, and I can point you to all the evidence of Easter, with all the emotional fanfare of the celebration of the Easter season. But what I cannot do for you that you should decide for yourself is to experience the empty tomb.

What I’m getting at here is the experience of an empty tomb to deepen our faith and trust in the resurrection of Jesus.  Evidence only can do so much, but the important step is going to the empty tomb of Jesus for yourself.

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The Easter story was never really meant to be argued about if it’s true, or real, or relevant, a waste of time, or otherwise.   Look at those Easter Lilies; they don’t argue; they just bloom.  The changing of the seasons doesn’t argue or listen to our popular opinion on the matter, the seasons just come.  Same as the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon.  It just is part of a natural process.  Around these parts, we could say the same when a farmer buys a bag of seeds and plants it in the earth.  It just does with it does without argument.  The same thing is true for music and beauty.  Sure, we have our favorite styles of music, and each of us has a differing appreciation for the beautiful things in life, but music and beauty are meant to inspire us and beckon us into a deeper appreciation of life.

The Easter story was made to invite us to experience the resurrection of Jesus as being true.  It’s intended to invite us into a deeper understanding of God’s love and grace.  The Easter story is only genuine when we experience the resurrection of Jesus and the impact that resurrection has on our collective life together.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the occasion to proclaim God’s Word to many who have lost a dearly departed loved ones. And one simple verse that we preachers proclaim at the time of death is from the Gospel of John 14 in which Jesus assures us: “In my father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you?”  It’s Jesus way of saying to his disciples, believe me!  Trust me!  I’m not pulling your leg.  “And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may also be,” Jesus tells us there will be a reunion and a resurrection.

Like the fear experience by the guard at the tomb on that first Easter morning, death can and does create much anxiety in our life.   The Apostle Paul says that death is our last enemy that Christ has defeated for us.  But also like the words “Do not be afraid” that appear at the beginning of the gospel and Jesus’ resurrection, on the other side of all our lives at our birth, the prospect of coming and begin born into this world must be scary.  Think about it.  There is no way we can be born into this world understanding all the differences and ways of being.  We live without air in the womb.  How then can we live with it and breath on our own?  We live without light in the womb, yet how can we imagine the world without light?   In a certain way, birth seems like it is a death, wrenched away from all that sustains us in the womb.

But in the miracle of creation, God has prepared a place in this world for us.

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They say that a newborn’s first experience of the world, our first awareness in this life is of the strong arms that surround us and keep us warm; eyes that consider ours with love and tenderness.  Someone had anticipated our coming.  Created is a place for us to dwell.  Unknown to us we began to develop an awareness of our eyes and start to see the light, unknown to us was that we had a pair of lungs that we would need to breathe, ears to hear.  If God so carefully planned our entry into this world, what would make us think that he would have anything otherwise prepared for when we depart? Remember Jesus saying: “I go to prepare a place for you.

Sisters and brothers – Easter isn’t something that we can prove happened.  At the end of the day, Easter isn’t about the evidence of Jesus resurrection.  Faith, after all, is not provable.

Think about the last time you cried.   For some of us it may have been as recently as this week, others we may have gone for an extended period without the need to shed tears.   What is a tear?  It depends, doesn’t it? I can give you a dictionary definition of crying, but I’m not speaking to your personal experience, am I? Here’s the evidence:

A tear is a drop of the watery saline fluid continually secreted by the gland between the surface of the eye and the eyelids, which serves to moisten and lubricate these parts and keeps them clear of foreign particles.” 

That’s a tear?  Really?

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I give you no more evidence of Easter – I want to invite you to be aware of Easter and experience God working through the power of our final enemy –death- to create life.  Ask a child, “What does Easter mean to you?” and she might say (as my 4-year-old told me at Aldi) this week, “Easter is about the Easter Bunny and the chocolate rabbit.”  Ask a teenager, “What does Easter mean?” and he might answer that Easter means, “Christ rose from the dead.”  And if you ask a mature person of faith the same question, “What does Easter mean?”  That person might reply:

“Easter means that I have only begun to live.” 

The good news of Easter isn’t only that it is a celebration of a future gift in another life, but that it is ours to experience right now!   Today!

Easter is getting in touch with that same power that brought Jesus out of the tomb and into life.

Come to the tomb and see for yourselves!  You don’t have to fear like the guard at the tomb, but stand strong with the women – the Mary’s.  Don’t bend down in shame, hold your heads up high and proud.  And for Pete’s sake, don’t look for evidence of the resurrection.  It’s not there, at least in any form we can prove to the world! Just trust that experience of transformation will happen without anything we think, say, or do.  It’s all God!  So, embrace the resurrection moments.  Embrace the experience of the Lord who is risen and alive!  And who comes to offer to walk with us.

No matter what else comes our way.  Christ goes with us!  Amen.

Water and the Word: Lutherans and Baptism

From the looks of it, baptism may not appear to be a miracle, but it is the most important step in the faith of person.  It can looks so ordinary – a couple of ministers in robes, a couple of parents, gathered around a bowl to say a few words and splash some water on a baby who many times is a sleep.  Who’d ever guess that this might just be the most important event in someone’s life?

But, isn’t just like God, you know….the God who was born in a manger, to hide what might be the most miraculous event in a simple ceremony.

Baptism is a miracle in it we hear the Word of God and the washing of water in which God declares each of us to be God’s own beloved. Where we are taken into the communion of other saints, and are given a future that God promises to us that not even death or the devil will be able to destroy.

To understand the importance of this sacrament, we need to back-fill the biblical story all the way back to the first chapter of the first book in the bible, Genesis.  Where Adam and Eve experience the fall from paradise.

Christian understanding is that it was because of turning their back on God that God cast them out of the garden and because of this, everyone is born into what St. Augustine calls “Original Sin”.

The bible speaks of the wages of sin as death.  In that we all will die as a result of the fall.

St. Paul talks about the “old self” before baptism, as being the Old Adam, as in the Adam before the fall.

And I think we can carry this a step further in Lutheran’s understanding of baptism.  The Old Adam in each of us loves to attach baptism and ignore the promise that God has made to us in the water and the word.  “Water”… humph…   “Water!  Whoever heard of water and God coming to us?  We flush our toilets with water and now you’re telling me that God is coming to me through means of water? Ha!

Hear how silly of a claim that is for a non-believer?

But baptism isn’t just water for Lutherans, it is water along with the Word of God.  The water and the Word cannot be separated.  Apart from the Word of God, the water is just water.  Apart from the water, the Word is still God’s Word, but the sacrament isn’t there without both.

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Make disciples of all nations” Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel.  How does this happen?   We make disciples through baptism, “baptizing them in the name of the father, son and holy spirit.”

Let’s face it.   That’s the easy part.  The sacrament is the easy part.  But that’s not where Jesus ends it.

And teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you, remembering I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20

Go therefore” The syntax of the text is a command.  We receive Jesus’ command to go.

So why is it, if our baptism into Christ is so full of grace and gifts, isn’t it hard to understand why the world isn’t clamoring for it, shouldn’t our calendar be so full of scheduled baptisms that we find it hard to fit them all in?

Actually though, the truth of the matter is quite the opposite.

There isn’t a gift, next to Jesus himself, that the ‘Old Adam’, the world, and the devil have a deeper hatred.  Baptism, as we say in our liturgy is about a death.  It is the funeral for the Old Adam, but it’s also about a birth.  It’s the birth of your new identity.  So, it’s no wonder that the Old Adam in us wants to attach God’s promise to us in baptism. 

See, the Old Adam in us likes things the way they are because they please us.   The ‘Old Adam’ in us wants to attack God’s promise to make it seem as though we are doing something for God —  not something that God has done and does for us.  As a result, people wind up fearing, loving, and trusting in what they do and what they can do, and it demishishes what God has done for us.

I’ve heard it said on many occasions from pagans, atheists, and unbelievers, that baptism is a magical, good luck charm and a life after death insurance policy so that we won’t be afraid to die.  I can see their point, based upon their observation of laissez-fare cultural Christianity in which one is baptized but that’s the extent of their faith life.

And then, on the other side, the super-pious ignore Baptism as if God can’t do what God has promised, and needs our help in god’s assistance.  This can lead us to believe that we can concentration on our own convictions and decisions for Christ, and to trust in our own “experiences” as being the truth.

At the end of the day, the fact is, Christ has commanded Baptism.  Baptism shouldn’t be scary nor is it malicious…. It is a loving order that God has directed to the Church.

And so, I leave you with this question.  “What’s the point?”  Here again, in the Small Catechism, Luther says that baptism is about the forgiveness of sin, redeems from death and the devil, and the offer of eternal life.  

Our baptism was a mini-judgement.  As the Word of God was spoken to you and the water washed across your face, God has judged you already.  You’ve been told the verdict and what it will be on the last day.  “Not guilty,” and the same words at God’s Son Jesus were uttered, “This is my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.”  After God’s judgement, then we receive the gifts of the last judgement: forgiveness, deliverance, and everlasting life.

The old Adam in us hears this and says, “Wait a minute, there has to be a catch somewhere.  Nothing in life is free.  How can god do that?” So, the Old Adam hunts around for a good response.  “This stuff is too good to be true.”  Where’s the catch? What’s the hidden agenda?”

Aha” old Adam finally reads Luther’s response.  “We have to believe it… that’s the price tag.”  There’s a method to this logic.  If we just have enough believe in God.  If we convince ourselves that our believe in God is sufficient, surly God will be pleased with us, right?

God doesn’t work that way, though.  There is no catch, not trap, nor hidden agendas or even a price tag on baptism.  It is only a free gift.

God wants you to believe, but God isn’t waiting for you to come up with enough belief or trust on your own. God gives what God commands– making a believer out of you, and putting to death the old Adam.

Baptism is just the entry point into the Christian faith.  From our baptism onward, God sends the Holy Spirit to work in us each day to make believers out of us.  Then there’s the old Adam that says, “It can’t be a gift. Somehow there’s got to be a catch to everything.  And what about the people who are baptized and never do anything about it? There must be something we have to do ourselves to get what we want from God.”

No” says god.  “There isn’t a catch. All I have to give is yours, and I’ve already given everything you need in your baptism, as a gift.  All I want is to make a better believer out of you.  And I’m doing that myself.  There’s nothing more that can be done.

“I started on you on the day you were baptized, and I’m going to keep at until the day I take you to myself.”

Sisters and brothers, when we are able finally see and recognize the gift God has offered, is what will finally destroy the old Adam.

Finally we can jump off the merry-go-round of trying to self-justify and just be the man or woman, girl or boy who God has created you to be and nothing more.  It is God setting you free from yourself.  Knowing the promise, we are freed from trying to impress God.

You are freed to call on God as Abba. You are free from trying to impress people with your old Adam’s religion.  You are free to speak the word to your neighbors, telling them of all that God does and gives.  You’re free from your own doubts and judgements.  You are free to believe what God has already told you and will tell you each new day:  He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” That’s you.  In our baptism we can be sure of that.

Amen.

Lutherans and Creeds: The Apostles’ Creed in the Small Catechism

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Referencing the Evangelical Lutheran Book of Worship (ELW) page 1162.  Apostles’ Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism.

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  1. First thing first: What’s the point of a Creed? Christianity is a “creedal” religion in that it has always been theological.  Theology for my purpose is defined as:  “Faith seeking understanding. “(Anselum of Canterbury).
      1. A Christianity without a creed first arose in the sixteenth century when “individual seers” came to the forefront of Christian thought known as Christian mystics.
    1. As one might imagine– discussed and debated by critics of “Creedal” Christianity, and rightly noted that the Apostles’ creed (read: any creed) isn’t biblical. They are correct in that point…. But…. The need for a creed arises out of our human need to share our intellect about who/what in an attempt to describe the triune God.
    2. Creeds attempt to give an articulate, intelligent expression to our faith in the triune God, and they serve to provide good order for the faith life of the Church.
      1. Bear in mind that every creed was fashioned at a specific time in history and the ‘great’ creeds of the church where often fashioned around a time of turmoil to help give definition to faith in the Triune God. Creeds typically weren’t written during quiet times in the Church history!  
      2. Moreover, the creeds are not only marked with a specific time in history, but also by their catholicity. They (creeds) are universal in nature and can be applied to any context and culture.  This is to say that a Christian Creed can never be sectarian in nature.  It has to, and must be, universal and to stand the test of time.  In other words, the creeds are timeless in that each generation confesses the same believe in the triune God.
    3. For our life of faith, creeds are most often used in worship. It is both uniquely a personal statement of faith about what I personally believe, and a confession our faith as the gathered body of Christ.  IN that when we say “I believe…”  we mean to say both “I believe” individually and “I” as the One gathered body of Christ.
    4. From their earliest forms in Christian history, the creeds have been associated with the entry point in to the Christian Church – baptism and/or the affirmation of baptism.
  2. The Three “Great” Christian Creeds (in Western Christianity)The Apostles’ Creed– not sure exactly on the historicity of the creed… Legend holds that the Apostles’ Creed was composed by the Apostles on the 10th day after the Ascension by/through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t recorded in scripture.  We do know, however, that a version of the Apostles’ Creed was floating around 100A.D. and was most likely developed by the church in Rome.
      1. This included the language that Lutherans (and other Christians) still use in baptism liturgy known as the “Interrogatory Creed of Hippolytus”(c. 215A.D.) … “Do you believe in God the Father? I believe in God…”
    1. The Nicene Creed was adopted by the Church in 325A.D. to hold together a common faith and hold the church together.

And lastly, (although seldom used any longer in liturgical worship) is the Athanasian Creed which originated in the 5th century as an attempted to the Holy Trinity

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Luther on the Apostles’ Creed in the Small Catechism

  • Luther believed the Apostles’ Creed, like scripture, “speaks of Creation, Redemption and final sanctification” which, for Luther, were the “great deeds” of God.
  1. First Article of the Apostle Creed “on Creation”(turn to  ELW p. 1162)
    1. For Lutherans, when we confess the first article of the creed (according to Luther) we express three things:
      1. It is God who has made me and all the created world. Therefore, we are, according to Luther, “indebted” to God for everything we have. We could not live one hour, nor would the world exist, if God didn’t care for it.
      2. God’s good and mercy are the only reason why God created me and all the world and why God preserves me and all creation.
      3. It is my duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey God because God is good and merciful.
  2. Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed – “Redemption Article” Christ redeems us from sin, death and the devil. This is the confession of faith that we will use tonight that Luther wrote as an explanation to the second article.
    1. The “Who, How and Why” of the Creed:
      1. WhoJesus Christ and no one else in Heaven or on earth is the Lord of the Church. He is the Son of God and born of the woman, Mary.
      2. HowBy his life on Earth, His deeds, and the power that is His, Jesus Christ abundantly deserves the name “Lord of the Church” through his sufferings and death in which he has redeemed me from sin, death and the devil.
      3. WhyJesus Suffered and died and became my Lord in order that I might be his own, live under him, and serve him here on earth and in heaven.
  3. The Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed- The Holy Spirit and His “Workshop” Here Luther speaks of the Works of the Holy Spirit in terms of the Past, Present and Future. By the “Work Shop” Holy Spirit, Luther speaks of the church has the Holy Spirit’s workshop. “There we have God’s Word and Sacraments, which Christ provides…it is in the church that the Holy Spirit continues to work on me and make me ever more pleasing to God.
      1. The past – in past times, the Holy Spirit has sanctified me by bringing me into the Christian Church and keeping me there.
        1. H.S. invites me into the gospel, shows me my sin, created faith in my heart, and separates me from the Devil.
      2. The Present – I believe the Holy Spirit sanctifies me in the Present by granting me daily forgiveness of my sins.
        1. Daily the Holy Spirit forgives my sin. “The Holy Spirit forgives my sins daily and abundantly and so provides for my soul as God the Creator provides for my body.”
        2. The future – I believe the Holy Spirit will in the Future wholly and forever sanctify me by raising me from the dead and granting me everlasting life.

The Holy Spirit will raise me from the dead

The Holy Spirit will sanctify me forever.

Creeds and believers

In our scripture text from Matthew tonight we hear Jesus ask his disciples “who do people say the son of man is?  Some say John the Baptist, but other Elijah, and other Jeremiah, or a prophet.”  And then Jesus ask them personally, and it’s Peter’s confession of who Jesus is “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”.  That was Peter’s confession of faith in its earliest form.  And our faith, in large measure stems from what we confession individually and corporately each week in our creeds.

Knowing that our faith always has to do with invisible things, things which our eyes cannot see nor our hands grasp.

A New Identity – Jesus and the Woman at the Well

Jacob’s well stood at the crossroads outside of town in Sychar in Samaria as the scripture reading tells us.  Though it still head good, clean drinking water in reservoir, by the time Jesus was around it was more of shrine than a well.  According to the Old Testament tradition, Jacob in the ancient Israelite past bought this land, dug the well and left it to Joseph, his favorite son.  Joseph, when he died, was carried back from Egypt and buried there. 

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But this history meant nothing to the woman who was at the well in our gospel text.  She was there in the noon day heat to get a drink of water.  The well was only a drinking fountain to her.  Being outside of town, the well was remote, not many people went around the well, especially in the noon day heat.  She had it all to herself, at least she thought.  No women in her right mind would come to draw water in the noon day heat.  That’s the way the woman wanted it, far away from all the town’s gossip and watchful eye.

She had managed to make a mess of her life.  As far back as she could remember, there had always been a restless urge in her, an unsatisfied longing, and a thirst that could not be quenched.  She went through life as one possessed, looking for love in all the wrong places.  She had married the wrong men, eating and drinking and being merry.  She made promises and quickly had to break them.  She was used and because of her abuse she lost her self-esteem.  She lost herself.

So when she arrived at the well that hot mid-day afternoon, it never occurred to her that the man she saw there would reach out in her direction.  He was a man, a Jew, maybe even a rabbi.  She was a woman, a Samaritan, living in sin.  The wall of separation between them was high.  Women and men didn’t speak in public; especially a Samaritan woman and a man of the Jewish faith.

images“Give me a drink,” this man said to her.  And in the discussion that followed, this woman at the well in Samaria found both her true self and God. Jesus speaks to the woman at the well longer than he does to anyone else in John’s gospel.  Longer than he talks to any of the disciples, longer than he talks to his accusers, longer than he talks to his own family.  In fact, this Samaritan woman is the first person Jesus revels his true identity to in the Gospel of John.  She is the first outsider to guess who Jesus is and to tell others about him.  She is the first evangelist, John’s Gospel tell us, and her testimony about Jesus brings others to faith in Christ.

line-in-sandIn Jesus’ presence she found herself and the reality of her own sin. 

Jesus must have had a way with cutting through the small talk and getting to the heart of the issue.  He looked into her eye, and she could not put off the guilt.  And so in a moment of complete disclosure, this woman, who was considered untouchable by the divine and the Son of God stand face to face with no pretense about their identity.  Both stand fully lit at high noon for a bright moment in time, everything that separates this woman and Jesus fall forgotten to the ground.

When Jesus came, the woman of Sychar found in him peace for her troubled spirit, answers to her questions, and the living water of God’s forgiveness and grace for her soul.  Jesus spoke words of hope to her:  “Those who drink of the water I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  But even more than these words was his presence—the calm strength of Jesus, the sound of authority in his voice, the assurance of his love.  She must have been assured that Jesus was God.  And somehow, she stood face-to-face with him.

I’m sure that the gospel writer, John intended this story to follow the story of Jesus and Nicodemus.  We heard that story last week.  After encountering Jesus in the middle of the night, Nicodemus (a leader of the Jews), falls silent when he learns who Jesus truly is, and then in the very next chapter of John’s gospel, we see an irreligious fallen woman at the water well when she takes an unexpected step:  she is the one who acknowledges Jesus as the messiah, not Nicodemus.  She is the one who remains in the light of the day and spreads the good news of Jesus.  She runs out after meeting him and tells others about the man she just met, bringing them to the good news of Christ, and as a result of her testimony, the Bible says that many came to believe in Jesus.

It’s as if John intended to place these two stories back to back for the reader to see the difference between the two.  You might recall that Nicodemus meets with Jesus in the dark for fear that others would discover he met with this itinerate preacher.  But, here is this fallen woman meeting with Jesus in the light of the day at noon.

And notice what Jesus does.  He deals with this woman’s thirst, and not her sin.  He reached out to her, not to cast shame and send her further away from God’s presence, but Jesus empowered her, he literally transformed her life.

Few of the people around Jesus have as much to tell about him and his effect upon them as the woman at the well in Samaria. 

The truth is, we are all like the woman at the well, and we all thirst for the Living Water that God provides.  We thirst for a savior who will meet us where we are on our level, not in some far away distant space, but a God who is like us.  The beauty of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well is that God reaches out to all and welcomes everyone to taste the living water.  No matter who you are, what you’ve done or haven’t done, you are all invited.  So come, accept your invitation and come.  Receive a drink way down in the well of Living Water of God’s grace. For in Christ, we are forgiven, redeemed, and refreshed by this living water.

In Jesus name.  Amen.