Saturday, January 19, 2013

Second Sunday after Epiphany: What Do You Bring to the Party?

One of the big concerns for my daughter’s wedding was to make sure that we had enough food for the party. We got a count of the guests – I was pretty sure my daughter’s count was way too high but - well - you don’t want to run out. So we made sure we had enough, more than enough, to serve our wedding guests.

It wouldn’t do to run out of food at your daughter’s wedding celebration.

It wouldn’t do to run out of wine at their son’s wedding feast.

I bet the groom’s family in today’s gospel did every bit as much planning for their big celebration. They counted and recounted, planned and saved. 

I’m sure the groom’s family thought they had more than enough to meet their needs.

As it turns out, enough wasn’t enough.

The unthinkable happened – they run out of wine.  And Jesus meets their need - turning water into wine.

An awful lot of wine.

Really good wine.

Jesus has the servants fill six stone jars – 20 to 30 gallons each.  Which means between 120 and 180 gallons of wine.

That’s a lot of wine – especially since the party’s already halfway over!

Their cup overflows!

Wine in abundance, and much better than the wine already served.  The steward goes to the bridegroom and says, “Hey buddy. What’s up with that?  Everybody serves the good stuff first, but here - the party’s in full swing and a lot of people won’t be able to tell the difference anymore – and now - you finally bring out the good stuff.”

The good stuff …in abundance.

What we think is good and what we think is enough is nowhere near the abundant good stuff God has for us.

 I think too often we look at what we have and say it’s not enough.  And we forget God takes jars of water and turns it into abundant wine.  Jesus takes 5 loaves and 2 fish and feeds 5000.  

God gives in abundance.  Sometimes God gives us more than we realize we have.

Paul teaches the Corinthians (and us) that everyone who believes has the gift of the Holy Spirit. Not only that, but the Holy Spirit gives gifts and abilities to each one of us – gifts we are to use for the benefit of our church, our community, the world.

Paul gives a list - wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation of tongues.  Paul gives other lists of gifts in other places: prophecy, teaching, expectation, and giving, leadership, compassion, evangelizing.[i] 

You may not think God has gifted you in any special way, but God has. Maybe it’s visiting, or hospitality, or knowing when someone needs an encouraging word. Maybe it’s an ability or skill that can be used to help someone in need. Maybe you think your gift is small – more water than wine.  That’s ok.  We know what Jesus can do with a little water!

So what do you bring to the party?

Today we hold our annual meeting.  We going to talk about how we have used what God has given us over the last year and think about how we can use the gifts God continues to give us to serve our church our community and our God.

We’re going to look at our plans and think about how Jesus turns our water into wine.   

We’ll think about the gifts God has given us – and ask God how we might be able to bring those to the party God wants to throw for the whole world.

[i] Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. In fact later on in first Corinthians 12 Paul names additional gifts.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Baptism of Our Lord: Named, Claimed, and Walking Wet

Readings for this Sunday: Isaiah 43:1 – 7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14 – 17; Luke 3:15 – 17, 21 – 22

A pastor was teaching his confirmation students about baptism. They read Luke’s story of the baptism of Jesus, and the pastor asked, “What does it mean when God says to Jesus “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased?””

One of the students responded, “That was Jesus’ daddy saying that he loved him.”

True story.

Sometimes it really does take a child to point out the truth.

Luke’s telling of the baptism of Jesus is pretty short and to the point.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”[i]

“You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am will pleased.”  Sometimes we question why Jesus got baptized in the first place – and one of the big reasons is that at Jesus’ baptism, God names him and claims him.

Baptism is about identity - who we are.  The reading from Isaiah today teaches us a lot about who we are, whose we are, and how that identity is revealed in baptism.

God says:
·        I have called you by name, you are mine. 
o   Plain and simple, God looks at us and says, “(your name goes here), you are my child, you are mine.” In baptism we are named and claimed as God’s children.

·        You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.
o   I’m not sure that this needs any explanation. God loves you. You are precious, valued for who you are.
o   And while I don’t think that needs any explanation, I think we need to sit with a little bit – sometimes we gloss over it: yeah, sure God loves us, God loves everyone, God is love… And we just plain miss the meaning. God loves YOU - and that makes you indescribably valuable, infinitely precious.

·        Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
o   We get this part about baptism. Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, right? I mean it says so right in the opening prayer of our baptism ritual, “
§  In holy baptism our gracious heavenly father liberates us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.[ii]
§  By water and the word God delivers us from sin and death and raises us to new life in Jesus Christ.[iii]
o   So it’s understandable that we might think, “Okay, I’ve been baptized. My sins are forgiven. Good to go, got my ticket to heaven.” But that’s only a tiny bit of what baptism is about.  Baptism is not a “once and done” thing. Sure we only need to be baptized once, but God’s promises for us in baptism continue throughout our lives.
o   God continues to work throughout our lives to help us grow, to help us become the people God created us to be. Sin sometimes gets in the way of that – think of sin as those things which confuse us about our identity as children of God, and draw us away from relationship with God. Baptism grounds us in our identity. Martin Luther encouraged people who were struggling temptation or despair to proclaim, “I am baptized!”  Remembering our baptisms is a way to remember our identity as much loved children of God, and to turn our hearts back to our Father.

·        When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 
o   This is part of those promises that continue - God is with us, always.  No matter what.  Through every place we go in life, through every joy we experience, every tragedy we endure, God goes with us, redeeming us, working all things to our good.

And just in case we missed it the first time, God reminds us again:
“Do not fear, for I am with you; I will gather you to me from wherever you go, because you are called by my name, because I created you for my glory, because I formed you and made you and you are mine."

Baptism is about identity – about being named and claimed as child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross Christ forever.

And this is all God’s doing.  God loves us, loved us before we knew that we should love back.  God comes to us – God always comes down.  We just spent Advent and Christmas talking about how God comes to us, becomes one of us in Jesus Christ. In the passage in Luke today and the passage in Acts, we hear about how God comes to us in the Holy Spirit.

When I taught our confirmation students about the Apostle’s Creed, when we got to Third Article, about the Holy Spirit, we learned:
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightened and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.[iv]

We cannot do it ourselves.  The good news is that we don’t have to – God always comes down.

That’s one of the things that we remember every time we baptize a baby - that we come to God as helpless as a baby. And God holds us, and love us, who cares for us. Like a loving parent, God smiles at our first steps, encourages us to walk, and picks us up when we fall down.

It’s a lifelong process, this growing up as a child of God, this living into our baptism, this walking wet in the world. 

A couple of quotes I gleaned from a blog[v] - these are from the comments -and I think they really get at what baptism is all about:

“Baptism is a lifelong experience. It is God bathing you, hugging you, pouring scented oils of gladness over you, dressing you and sending you off into a baptismal life in the world.”[vi]

“What I do know is that the One Who Matters is present and acting – somewhat aggressively, actually – to make me a beloved child of God. And every day for the rest of my life, that identity will bless me, dog me, frustrate me, challenge me, and drag me into relationships that change everything.[vii]

How do we live out our baptismal promises – how do we walk wet?

Sometimes it helps just to have a reminder. That’s one of the great things about our sacraments – is our first communion kids learn, we have stuff. We have water, and bread, and wine, stuff that helps us remember God’s promises.

One year when we did confirmation camp back home, we spent the day talking about baptism. And at the end of the day during our worship, we talked about how water can help us remember that God has claimed us, and forgiven us, and walks with us, encouraging us and loving us. We talked about how when we wash we could remember how baptism washes away sins – Martin Luther used to take a moment in the bath and say, “I am baptized.” We take a drink of cool refreshing water, and we could remember how Jesus is the living water.  And when we played in the pool after worship that day, we could remember how much God loves us and gives us good things. At the end of that worship, we had the students walk through the sprinkler on the way to the pool area, saying to them as they entered the water, “Beloved child of God, you are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit forever.”

We are going to reaffirm our baptisms in a few minutes.  There will be an opportunity during that time for you to come to the font, dip your fingers in the water, and receive a baptismal blessing.

I hope you’ll take the time to ponder:

How does it change your day if you go through it remembering you are a much loved, child of God?

How does it change your day, to remember, you are God’s beloved child, called and sent to make a difference in the world?

[i] Luke 3:21, 22.
[ii] Lutheran Book of Worship, pg 121, Holy Baptism.
[iii] Evangelical Lutheran Worship,  pg 227, Holy Baptism
[iv] . Quoted from "Lutheran handbook" page 205
[v] David Lose, In the Meantime, “What is Baptism?”
[vi] [vi] Comment by Tom Olson, Jan 11, 2012 on David Lose’ blog post “What is Baptism?”
[vii] Comment by Glenndy, Jan 10, 2012 on David Lose’ blog post “What is Baptism?”

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Epiphany: What Star Are You Following?

Readings for this Sunday: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1–14; Ephesians 3: 1-12; Matthew 2: 1-12

What would it take to get you to drop everything, pack up your camel, and journey hundreds of miles?
Just to follow a star.
The Magi saw the star in the sky, and knew it meant a special king had been born.  They wanted to worship that king. So they dropped everything, packed up their camels and started on a journey of hundreds of miles, following a star.
They followed the star, across rivers, over hill, through desert.  They followed the star to Jerusalem, right up to the palace.
It made sense. Where else would you look for king- even a new born King- but in a palace? So they go, and ask Herod, “where is the newborn King of the Judeans?”
They had no way of knowing
-     they were in the wrong place,
-     asking the wrong person,
-     the wrong question.
They had followed a star to this point, but you see Herod followed a star too. And there was a big difference between the star the Magi followed and the star Herod had his eyes on.
Herod was King of Judea, by Roman decree – he had buttered up the right person, and greased the right palms. Herod’s claim to the throne was only secure as long as the Romans kept him there. He wasn’t from the line of David - he wasn’t even really Jewish.
And that made him very insecure – insecure to the point that he had already murdered one of his wives and a few sons, all because he thought they were trying to take his kingdom from him. He would do anything to keep his kingdom.
So when the Magi came to the palace, and said, “Where’s the new baby king? We followed his star and it brought us here.”  Herod was very, very afraid.
He wanted nothing to do with a star that led to a new King. Truth be told, he wasn’t all that interested in following a star that might lead to God. No, the star Herod followed didn’t shine over Bethlehem. The star Herod followed rose out of Rome and pointed to power and wealth and status and the necessary violence to preserve that power.
Herod would not follow this star the Magi followed, but he would follow the magi to rid himself of a possible rival and threat to his power.
Since it was in Herod’s best interest to find out where this rival new king was, he cooperated with the Magi.  Calling together the priests and the scribes, he asked them “What does the Scripture say?”
So, the chief priests and the scribes got together and did little research.
It wouldn’t have taken them very long to find the information Herod wanted. They knew the Magi were following a star that led to the Messiah. They themselves were looking, and hoping, and praying for the Messiah. They would have poured over the Scriptures many times, looking for clues that would tell them when God’s Messiah would finally come.
In fact, they probably didn’t have to even go look it up – where else could the Messiah be born but the city of David, in Bethlehem?
And so they tell Herod, “The Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem.”
And that’s the end of their part in the story.
It’s actually a little surprising. After all, the priests and scribes have just sent the Magi to the city of David to find the Messiah – Israel’s long awaited Messiah. You would’ve thought at least a couple of these religious folks would’ve gone with them.
Why didn’t they? The chief priests and scribes were following a star that provided them security and prestige and some power. They were guarding a tradition, preserving Jerusalem and the Temple, their religious practice, their identity as Israel, the chosen people of God.  They were cooperating with the Romans to ensure the safety of the people – at least until Messiah came to free them!
They followed a star of ritual and tradition, a star that said that Israel was God’s only beloved one, that God would send a conquering king to rid them of their oppressors.  The star they followed lead to Bethlehem and a conquering king, not a helpless infant.
They had no time to follow the Magi’s star, but waited to see if the ancient prophecy was true and God was bringing a Messiah to rid them of Roman rule. Besides, what could these people from the East, these Gentiles, possibly know about the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob?
The Magi left Jerusalem to follow the star.  Somehow these outsiders knew that if they followed the star they would encounter God. And they didn’t hesitate to drop everything, pack up the camels and follow.
And when the star stopped over the place where Jesus was, they rejoiced.  They gave gifts.  And these outsiders from far away were the first ones to kneel and worship Jesus, God-with-us.
It was worth dropping everything to follow the star.  It was worth it all to come into the presence of God.
What star do you follow?
I recently read a book called “Breakfast with Buddha.”  It’s about a guy who ends up taking a cross-country road trip with some sort of guru. They make various stops along the way and one of their stops is in South Bend Indiana at the campus of Notre Dame University. He is checked in to his hotel, looking around the room, and he ponders:
 It occurred to me in one of my many fruitless musings that if the term religion were defined more broadly—and I believed it should be—then the real religion of Notre Dame would be not Catholicism but football. After all, did they get a hundred thousand screaming fans for Mass on a Sacred Sabbath morn? Did the parishioners come early for the service and set up barbecues in the rectory parking lot? Return year after year to relive memories of a favorite sermon? Buy pennants, sweatshirts, and bumper stickers with the name of their church emblazoned on them?
And then, in the midst of this somewhat irreverent reverie, I wondered what my own religion might be. If I defined it that way, that broadly, as the primary focus of my thoughts and passions, what would it be? Family life, perhaps...
Or maybe I belonged to the First Church of Good Eating. Or work. Or sex. Or money. What occupied the very center of the stream of thoughts that ran through my gray matter night and day?[i]
Everyone has a star they follow. That thing that would make them drop everything, pack up their camels, and journey hundreds of miles to find it.
The newborn King who the Magi worshipped would later put it this way “for where your treasure is your heart will be also.”[ii]  We usually hear this text when we talk about money and giving, but it also talks about something much bigger.
It talks about the star you follow.
It talks about where that star leads.
It talks about a star so enticing that you are willing to drop everything, pack up your camels, and journey hundreds of miles.
What star are you following?

[i] Merullo, Roland (2008-08-26). Breakfast with Buddha (Kindle Locations 2137-2151). Workman Publishing. Kindle Edition.
[ii] Matthew 6:21