Saturday, February 23, 2013

Second Sunday in Lent: The Hen vs. the Fox

We started our study this week of “Making Sense of the Cross.”  In a lot of ways that’s what we do in Lent – we think a lot about the cross, pondering Jesus’ death, trying to make sense of it, to understand what it means for us.

One of the big discussion points in the first chapter is that what you see in Jesus is what you see in God. Or another way to put it, Jesus in his life, his ministry here on earth, his death and resurrection reveal who God is.

So what does today’s reading reveal about God and what is God doing?

The Pharisees show up and warn Jesus that Herod is out to kill him. They urge him to leave, to go away from this place to somewhere safe.

Did the Pharisees care that Jesus was in danger?  Maybe.  It’s entirely possible that these particular Pharisees were sympathetic to Jesus.

Maybe it was one of those “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” things- the Pharisees didn’t like Herod, and Herod was threatening another Jewish teacher.

Or maybe this was a way to get Jesus out of their hair – Herod is going to kill you, so you better leave, better quit all this healing and casting out demons and teaching your radical ideas, and challenging the way things are.  Stop your ministry – or at least go somewhere else.

Whether it was genuine concern or an attempt to divert Jesus from his ministry – the Pharisees warning was a temptation to for Jesus to abandon God’s call on his life. 

Jesus doesn’t take the bait.

Jesus’ response – “Go tell that old fox Herod exactly where I am and what I’m doing.  It won’t matter.  I have a mission and nothing is going to get in the way of that mission.  I’m heading to Jerusalem, and until I get there, Herod can’t touch me.”

This is a picture of complete and total trust in God. 

This is a picture of a God who will stop at nothing to bring humanity back into relationship. 

A God who will fiercely protect God's children. 

Just like a mother hen.

Jesus turns to face Jerusalem and laments what will happen once he gets there: How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.

This is a clear reference to biblical images of God sheltering people under God’s wings.  Usually the bird is an eagle.  But here Jesus chooses a chicken – a mother hen.

It’s an unusual image for God.  Eagles, the lion of Judah, - usually when God is likened to an animal, it’s a strong animal, a powerful animal, an animal of fierce protection.  A lowly chicken would appear to be rather the opposite of that.

But if you know anything about chickens, you know that a mother hen is fiercely protective of her chicks. A rooster will fight, and fight viciously at that. Or if he senses that the danger’s too great he’ll fly away.

Not a mother hen. She clucks over her chicks from the moment the eggs are laid.  If she finds a good place for food she’ll call to them, encouraging them to eat. She spreads her wings, covering her chicks at night, keeping them close to her for warmth and protected from danger around them. She will put herself between her chicks and any threat – standing up to snakes and coyotes, outsmarting foxes and raccoons, vigilantly on the lookout for hawks and skunks and the occasionally stray dog. She stands her ground – any fox that wants her chicks will have to go through her first!

Any fox will have to deal with her first.

So we have Jesus, the mother hen, pitted against Herod the fox.

Apparently the baby chicks of Jerusalem would much rather play with the fox then take shelter under their mother’s wings.  Sometimes we flock to the danger of playing with the fox.  We turn a deaf ear to our Mother Hen calling us to run to the protection under her wings.

Jesus longs to gather Jerusalem – longs to gather all his baby chicks who wander this way and that way, unaware of the danger that surrounds them, enticed by the fox:

Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first.

Which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter. She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her -- wings spread, breast exposed -- without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart, but it does not change a thing. If you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.”[i]

Fiercely protective, sheltering, nurturing, giving everything for us - God’s mighty hand and outstretched arms are most powerfully revealed on the cross.

There’s an old saying – I asked Jesus how much he loved me.  Jesus said, “This much” – then he stretched out his arms and died.[ii]

[i] Barbara Brown Taylor, The Christian Century, 1986, as quoted at
[ii] I could not find a source for this quote.  It was referenced in a few different websites and the only attribution given was anonymous.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Who do you say God is?

Who is God?

What is God like?

There are lots of ways we describe God.  The Bible has lots of names for God and lots of images to describe who God is – Father, Shepherd, Creator, Redeemer, Lord of Host, Almighty God, Ancient of Days, Alpha and Omega.  Some of our favorite ways to think of God center around God’s power and majesty.  After all, we’re talking about the One who created the universe out of nothing.  We’re talking about the great I AM – the One who rescued the Israelites from Pharaoh with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

Then there’s the “omni’s.”  You know:  omnipotence (all powerful), omniscience (all knowing), and omnipresence (ever present).  All in all, when we think of God we often think of power and might.

Any maybe that’s why the cross – in fact the whole idea of incarnation, that God would deign to become one of us, be born as a helpless baby, live among us and die just like us – throws us for such a loop.  It really messes with our image of God to see vulnerability.

So we try to separate God from Jesus, somehow limiting how much “God” was in Jesus while he was on earth. 

Jesus didn't make that kind of distinction.  In fact, Jesus taught when we looked at him, we could see the Father:    
                           Jesus says in John 10:30, “The Father and I are one.” 
                           In John 10:38 and in 14:10-11, he says, “The Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
                In Luke 10:22, Jesus says, “And no one knows who the Son is except the Father, 
                         or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

Jesus reveals the Father.  We get important clues about who God is by looking at who Jesus is, how he acted, what he taught – everything about his life.  And his death – and that includes the cross.

“Because what you see in Jesus is what you get in God – I like that! – you need to rethink all the talk about God’s attributes in light of what actually happens to Jesus. And once Luther did that he realized that the God we see in Jesus is quite different from that God-of-attributes he’d imagined. Luther says that this God – the one revealed in Jesus on the cross – is vulnerable rather than powerful, approachable rather than distant, and is someone you can count on receiving mercy and grace from rather than judgment. Ultimately, Luther observes, this God is the one who understands everything we go through because, in Jesus, God went through it all too, even death.” (Page 20, “Making Sense of the Cross”)

When you think of God, what picture comes to mind?  What words do you use to describe who God is and what God is like?

What are the words and images you use to describe Jesus?

How do these words and images differ?  How are they the same?

Does it change the way you look at God to remember that what you see in Jesus – including the cross and resurrection – is what you see in God?

“What difference does it make to remember that God, in Jesus, knows what it’s like to be human?”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Cross - How do you make sense of something that made no sense?

Talk about making sense of the cross! The one you followed for three years, your teacher, your friend, – and someone you considered to be God’s son – has just been crucified. You and the other disciples are huddled in the upper room in shock. Everything you thought Jesus was going to do, everything you believed about the Messiah, all died with Jesus on the cross.

That night nothing made sense, especially not the cross!

It couldn’t make sense to them – without the resurrection. And even with the resurrection, it still took them a while. The initial reports of the women that Jesus had risen were not believed – even Peter and John’s account were viewed with skepticism. When Jesus himself appeared to them in the upper room, they thought he was ghost!

“When Jesus died, all the hopes his early followers had about him and for him died, too. The one they thought would redeem them, the one they called “Messiah” and “Son of God,” was now dead. So when they experience the resurrected Jesus – or, in the case of the gospel writers, heard about the resurrected Jesus – they realized God was up to something they had never, ever expected. It took them a while – and I mean a long while – to figure it out, but ultimately they were convinced that Jesus’ death and resurrection changed everything.” (Page 12, “Making Sense of the Cross”)

Imagine you were there Good Friday evening - that you didn't know the end of the story.  How would you feel?  What questions would you have for God?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Crosses Everywhere - what does it mean to you?


This week we being our Lent Bible Study.  This is the second year we have participated in our synod's Big Read - churches from all over our state are reading and discussing the same book.  This year's book is David Lose's Making Sense of the Cross.

I'm excited to add this on-line study component.  Hopefully this will be a place where we can ponder together what the cross means - what Jesus did for us through the cross, why the cross was necessary, and other questions you might have.  

This week's study is based on Chapter 1 - "A Man Hanging on a Tree."

Ascension Lutheran Church, Columbus OH
The cross.  

We see it everywhere - stained glass, wood carvings, atop steeples.  It's on jewelry, on clothing, accessories - my current purse sports a rhinestone studded cross.  There are plain crosses, jeweled crosses, crosses with wings, crosses with crowns, crosses with Christ hanging from them.  

Crosses everywhere.

Especially in churches.

It's the central symbol of the Christian faith.  Most of the Lutheran churches I've been in have a cross as a focal point in the worship space.  Our Creeds have an almost step-by-step account of Jesus' death (and resurrection).  

Zion Lutheran, Lima, OH
But do you ever wonder just what the cross means? Does the image of such a horrible death trouble you - do you wonder if it was necessary, if there was some other way?  

What is God doing in the cross?  Lutherans talk about the theology of the cross - an idea that says who God is and how God saves us is best understood in light of the cross.  God is most clearly revealed in the cross, and the cross is where God's power is displayed at it's mightiest.  (Yes- theology of the cross is about a whole lot more than just that, but my simple explanation is a starting point.) 

The cross is a startling image.  If we think about the way we usually talk about God - all those 'omni's- power, and perfection, and righteousness, the cross is the last place we would expect to find God.  In fact, the whole idea that God could die, that a god would stoop to suffer such an ignoble death was a major hurdle to people in the first century.  Gods were supposed to be powerful, to be able to protect you, to defeat your enemies.  How could a god who died at the hands of humans possibly be able to save you? What kind of God is that?

It's a question we still struggle with today 

To ponder today:
Pollock Lutheran, Pollock SD
“If, as Christians confess, the cross is the place where we see God revealed most fully, then we need to reconsider all of our assumptions and statements about God in light of what happens to Jesus, the man ‘hanging on a tree.’” (Focus statement for Chapter 1 of the Study Guide for Making Sense of the Cross)

What do you think?
Peace Lutheran, Herreid, SD

If the cross is so clearly the center of our faith, why ask questions about it?

What does the cross mean to you?

What questions do you have about the cross?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

First Sunday in Lent: Whatcha Gonna Do?

Readings for this Sunday:  Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91; Romans 10:8b-31, Luke 4:1-14

Today’s the first Sunday of Lent. Last Sunday we stood on the mountain top with Peter and James and John and saw Jesus revealed in all his glory, heard the Father say, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

It’s a fitting end to the season of Epiphany which starts with the baptism of Jesus. In the gospel of Luke we have Jesus praying after his baptism, when the Holy Spirit descends on him as a dove, and the Father says to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.”

Baptism and Transfiguration are book ends to Epiphany - revelation in no uncertain terms that Jesus is the Son of God.

If Epiphany reveals who Jesus is, Lent reveals what the Son of God has come to do.

If Epiphany always starts with Jesus’ baptism, Lent always starts with Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

Immediately after Jesus hears the Father’s voice and is filled with the Spirit, he’s led to the wilderness and to an encounter that defines what Jesus has come to do.

Now I know that in our translation, the devil says, “IF you are the Son of God…” And maybe that implies that the devil is tempting Jesus to doubt God’s clear affirmation that Jesus is indeed God’s Son. And that’s certainly one way to look at it. 

I think there’s a better way to translate that “if.”  That little Greek word also means ‘since.’

Jesus is full of the Spirit, sure in the knowledge that he is God’s Son.  And the devil knows exactly who Jesus is – I mean every demon Jesus encounters says “Lord” or “Son of God."   

Jesus is the Son of God – no doubt about that.  But what is it that the Son of God has come to do?  What does it mean that the Son of God has taken human form and lives on earth?

“Since you are the Son of God…”

“What are you going to do about it?”

“Since you are the son of God, turn the stones to bread and eat your fill – why should God be hungry?”
Jesus has the power to turn stones to bread – later on he will use that power to take five loads and two fish and feed 5000.  Jesus uses his power not to take care of himself, but to care for others.

“God’s given me all this to rule. I’ll give it to you – just bow down, declare your allegiance to me, and we’ll share this power.”
Jesus calls out the devil in his lie.  While the devil may exert influence over the kingdoms of this world through deception and pride and violence, those kingdoms - the whole world - are God’s and God’s alone. And the only one Jesus owes allegiance to is God.  There’s no compromise, no sharing of power here – Jesus is here to do God’s will, to reconcile all of humanity to God, and that means ultimate defeat for the sin, death and the devil.

“Since you are the son of God, no harm can come to you. Go ahead check it out –prove to everyone that you are God - jump off and let the angels catch you
Ever the trickster, the devil misquotes the very Psalm we read this morning, twisting it to urge Jesus to display his power in a cheap stunt.  Jesus chooses not to call the angels that day.  Nor does Jesus choose to call the angels when the soldiers come to arrest him, and put him on trial, and nail him to a cross.

The story of testing and temptation reveals who Jesus is and what he’s going to do about it:
·                 He’s not tempted by bread, because he is the Bread of Life.
·                 He’s not tempted by kingdom of the world, because he’s bringing the kingdom of God to the world.
·                 He’s not tempted to prove who he is by a display of power and glory, but throughout his ministry he will show just who the son of God is – and in doing so reveal God’s love –
o   by serving humans not being served by angels;
o   by rescuing the sick and the lost not himself;
o    by obedience to God’s will, not grasping at divine rights;
o   by loving us enough to die for us.

Jesus answers the devil’s tests and says “no” to the ways of the world, and “yes” to opening himself to allow God to work through his life – and death – to reconcile humanity.

Defeated, the devil leaves Jesus in the wilderness.

Defeated, but not giving up, the devil waits for an “opportune” time.

We’ll hear about that opportune time in five weeks.

At the opportune time, the devil enters into Judas, and plans for betrayal are laid.

At the opportune time, an easier way out dangles before Jesus as he kneels to pray in the garden, and he asks, “If it’s possible take this cup away from me. But Father, your will be done.”

At the opportune time, Peter denies that he even knows Jesus, and at that moment Jesus looks at him with sadness knowing his disciples all deserted him.

At the opportune time, when Pilate says he finds Jesus to be innocent, the crowds cry “crucify him”.

At the opportune time, the religious leaders, and the soldiers and even one of the criminals next to him mock him as he hangs on the cross, saying, “SINCE you are the Messiah, the Son of God, save yourself.”

At the opportune time, the devil thinks he’s won.

The resurrection says otherwise.

The resurrection says that even though the devil continues to wait for the opportune time

– and we all know that we humans face temptation
                and that there are times we walk in the wilderness

– we never walk through the wilderness alone.
 Just God led the Israelites through the wilderness,

 just as the Spirit led Jesus through the wilderness;

God goes with us through our own times of wilderness. 

We too are filled with the Holy Spirit.  And through the Holy Spirit, we can face our own wilderness temptation.

Sure, we’re not Jesus, so sometimes we fail and give into temptation.  We turn our eyes away from God and onto ourselves.  We choose paths that lead us away from God’s purpose in our lives.  We forget who we are and whose we are.

Part of God’s promises to us in baptism – “child of God, you are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit forever” - is that regardless where we wander in the wilderness, the Holy Spirit is with us, seeking to remind us that we are beloved children of God, to bring our eyes back to God, and to lead out of the wilderness, still full of the Spirit,  strengthened by our time of testing, and ready to live the lives God created us to live.

This is the first Sunday in Lent – the first Sunday in the season of the year we take time to examine our lives as children of God.  We spend 40 days intentionally in the wilderness, reflecting and praying and confessing.  We spend 40 days, waiting for God, led by the Spirit, turning our eyes to Jesus who gives us the strength to resist temptation, and teaches us how to follow in his footsteps.

Forty day to ponder how Jesus’ temptation and his death on the cross – and everything during his ministry on earth - reveal that the Son of God came to teach us about God's love.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Unexpected Gospel: Thoughts for Lent

So I'm doing my morning devotions and I mosey over to Busted Halo's Daily Lenten Calendar - to be confronted by the gospel according to Katy Perry.  OK - so it's not gospel per se, but it is a extremely good Lenten thought for meditation:

"I pray for humility, honestly, because it's very easy to get caught up in this world." - Katy Perry.

I preached this last night - more or less.  I talked about the fine line between doing things because we love God, and doing those same things to get an "attaboy" from the people around us.  About turning our faces to God and reflecting God's light and love to the world.

I don't think I was a clear as Ms. Katy.

And so I have to confess this morning, my gut reaction to seeing a devotional though and wanting to immediately dismiss it because of my own personal bias against her public image and her music.  Sorry Katy - I promise to take you and others whom I would dismiss because I don't like your opinion, or musical style, or fashion sense or whatever, much more seriously.

Because you know what - we all bear God's image, and from time to time each one of us delivers up bit of God's wisdom to the world.

And Lent is all about looking for God's presence even in the most unexpected places.

So today, I will pray for humility, and will pray that God will open my eyes in those places where I'm caught up in the world, so I can see God's presence.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down - Ash Wednesday and Lent

Ash Wednesday is here already!  It seems like we just finished Christmas and Lent is starting!

It's time to turn our thoughts toward this somber season of reflection, prayer and strengthening our relationship with God and each other.  The Lent mid-week series is planned, and my congregations are doing a Lenten Bible Study on David Lose' "Making Sense of the Cross."   I'm trying something new this year - I'm hosting an on-line discussion of the themes of the book.  Next week, I'll post a quote, or a question, or both every day and invite discussion.

Until then, I thought I'd post some Ash Wednesday and Lent idea for you to get started on all that reflecting, praying and strengthening!

Need a quick refresher to what Lent is all about.  Busted Halo - the folks who brought us "Advent in 2 minutes" has your back with Ash Wednesday and Lent in 2 Minutes.  Great information - yes, they are Catholic-types, but most of us from main-line denominations have very similar practices to those described here.  And if you're not a Catholic, or main-liner, it's a really good way to see what your siblings in the faith are up to this time of year!

Also from the folks at Busted Halo, a Lent devotional calendar:  Fast - Pray - Give.  I like this calendar because it's short, uses popular culture for devotional thoughts, and has practical what-does-this-mean-for-my-life activity.

One of my favorite Bible commentators is David Lose.  He doesn't know this, but he has been a strong influence in boosting my daily devotional life.  I started following his blog In the Meantime last year during Lent.  What he had started as a Lenten devotional blog morphed into a year round devotional blog - and my Lenten devotions morphed into regular daily devotions.  Thank you David!  He's doing another round of Lenten devotions - and that's in addition to the other faith-and-thought-provoking blogs you'll find on his page.

And if you are wanting to deepen your daily prayer life, I found a couple of ideas for praying the daily offices (the traditional hourly prayers).  A blogpal clued me into Lutheran Church of Honolulu's Daily Prayer Page - it has Morning, Noon, Evening, and Compline prayers with links to the Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal's assigned Bible readings for the day.  I admit - I covet their webpage!  So much good stuff to help their congregation (and everyone who goes to the web page too!) to grow in their faith.  As we work on the web pages for my congregations, we'll be copying (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!) at least some of their content.

Another idea for those who tweet - is the Virtual Abbey @Virtual_Abbey, or online at  I love the idea of gathering as a community and praying - with people from everywhere across , well, the whole world!

That's all I have now.  As I collect other ideas, I'll post them here!

Remember you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.
Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down.
Fall down in sin.
Fall down in sorrow.
Fall short of the mark.

God formed us from the dust of the ground,
and breathed life into us.
God breathes on us still,
Dust and ashes, shadow of the cross,
God picks up we who have fallen,
Dusts us off
and sets us free.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Transfiguration Sunday: Close Encounters

I saw a video yesterday that made me laugh.[i] It was called “A bear encounters a washing machine.”

Some people were shooting a commercial for a washing machine out in the frozen wilderness.   You can hear them talking, setting up the scene.  Someone says they’ve run a line from the frozen lake to the washer, so they have water to run it during the commercial.

Then someone hears a noise.  A bear – a big brown bear - comes meandering into the area. The crew scurries off to safety as the bear comes over to investigate the washer.  It stops in front of the washer, and stares.  Then it rises up on its hind legs, lifts its front paws up as if to strike…

There’s a gasp from everyone huddled a safe distance from the bear, as it takes off its coat and shoves it in the washer, and starts it. (Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of computer-generated stuff going on here, but bear with me).

It passes the time, listening to music, sitting in the director’s chair, doing a little dance in its skivvies, playing a guitar.  Finally, the wash is done and the bear pulls its coat out of the washer – its shining white coat.
A voice says, “That is insane – it got THAT clean on a cold cycle.”  The bear dons its coat and walks away - transforming from a brown bear to a polar bear as it leaves the scene.

The next shot is a close up of the washing machine.  But the story doesn’t end there.

The scene switches – now there are 2 bears standing there, one in its skivvies while the washing machine runs.  She’s talking to the next bear waiting its turn for the machine.  The shot pans away and there’s a whole line of bears waiting for their turn at the washing machine.

I saw this clip because a colleague[ii] posted it as an illustration of the Transfiguration.  It stuck with me all day yesterday.  I thought about that bear and wondered how we experience transfiguration.  Does it make those around us want to line up to get what we got?

It made me think of all the unexpected encounters and how it changed the people in today’s gospel

Jesus, of course, is transfigured, revealed in all his glory.  God’s words reveal his identity.  Maybe this is not 
such an unexpected encounter - it happens while Jesus is praying.  We hear in Luke’s gospel that Jesus often would go off to a deserted place (a wilderness) to pray.  Jesus praying was a common sight to his disciples. In fact, Jesus’ prayer life so impressed his disciples that they asked Jesus to teach them to pray like he did. And Jesus taught them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.

Prayer figures in several important events in Jesus’ ministry – at his baptism, Jesus was praying with the Holy Spirit descended and God called him his beloved son. Jesus spent the night in prayer before he selected the 12 disciples. Immediately before this reading, we read that Jesus was praying just before he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Which led to Peter’s astonishing declaration Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. And of course, we’re all familiar with the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying for strength and courage as he faced going to the cross.  Jesus even prays from the cross – Father forgive them, Father into your hands I commend my spirit.

Prayer connected Jesus to the Father – an openness to the will of the Father that was reflected in Jesus’ ministry.  Grounded in that relationship to God, Jesus was well prepared for what was waiting for him when he came down from the mountain – not only for the demon-possessed boy, but for the journey to the cross.

How do we encounter God in prayer?

The two groups of disciples have very different encounters. Peter, James and John encounter Jesus in his glory, see Moses and Elijah, and hear the voice of God!  God commands them to listen to Jesus and Peter’s foolish talk about building shelters is silenced by God’s words.  They barely have time to process what they have seen and heard before they are thrust back into the work-a-day world, before they are face to face with demons - the same spirit the other group of disciples encounters unsuccessfully. 

What are the demons we face?

How do they keep us from being able to listen to Jesus?

Do we use prayer to take time to listen to Jesus?

 The father and the son encounter Jesus.  There is no doubt that the son was transfigured – he was healed, all that had been locked away by the spirit was now released.  The father had his son restored to him in perfect health.  The crowd seeing the boy’s healing, was overwhelmed by God’s greatness. 

Where do we encounter God? 

How are we freed and healed by our encounters with God?

Do the people we meet see our healing and want to line up to get what we got?

The story doesn't end on the mountaintop, or with the healing of the boy.  It doesn't end with the cross, or even the empty tomb.  It goes on, God revealed to us, revealed through us.  We walk off with our shiny white robe washed in the waters of baptism.  Transfiguration is not just something that happened on a mountaintop a long time ago - it happens in our lives every day. 

There’s a song I really like that’s about transfiguration – about the changes that happen to us when we encounter God, when Jesus is revealed in our lives.  It’s ‘Shine’ by the Newsboys.  The chorus goes: 

make ´em wonder what you´ve got
make ´em wish that they were not
on the outside looking bored
let it shine before all men
let ´em see good works, and then
let ´em glorify the Lord

[ii] Thanks liz at

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: Everyday Prophets

Readings for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany:  Jeremian 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6, 1 Corinthians 13, Luke 4:21-30
The sermon is based on Jeremiah 1:4-10

I remember that conversation.

Or one very much like the conversation Jeremiah had with God.

I had decided to go back to college and get whatever degree it was that would help me be a better Christian education director.  I been working at my home congregation for a couple years, really liked the work, really felt that was what God was calling me to do.

God had other ideas.

So I was exploring what I needed to do and found out I had to go to seminary. Not so bad- a couple years I’d have my degree. I was feeling pretty confident that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to.

The first inkling I had that maybe God had other ideas was one Saturday night of worship. Pastor Grueter had just started his sermon. I looked at him and thought, “I could never do that. I could never preach.”

As quick as that thought left my brain, a new thought entered – “why not?”

I shoved it away.

But it wouldn’t go away.

Over the next several months, the thought came back to me again and again – become a pastor. And each time I pushed it away. Finally the thought became so persistent that it occurred to me that maybe God was trying to tell me something.

So I started asking questions. And talking to people. And exploring the possibility that I was being called to ordained ministry.

And the more “yeses” I heard, the more I argued with God.

God certainly couldn’t want me...I wasn’t smart to go to seminary...I wasn’t deep enough to write sermons...I wasn’t spiritual enough to be a pastor...I wasn’t holy enough, wasn’t good enough.

Besides, I was too old to spend the four years it would take to get an M.Div.

Sound a little familiar?

“Ah Lord, I don’t know how to speak.”

“I’m only a boy.”

The word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah – and he argues with God.

Turns out when you argue with God, God wins.

So Jeremiah does become a prophet, called to preach repentance to Judah. It’s not an easy task. Jeremiah’s message is unpopular. The king of Judah is certain that God would never allow Jerusalem invaded. The leaders are confident in their own righteousness. And Jeremiah’s words fall on deaf ears. In fact, at one point Jeremiah’s scribe writes down the message Jeremiah receives from the Lord, delivers it to the king, the king has the scroll read, and as each portion is read its cut off the scroll and tossed in the fire.

The book of Jeremiah is full of Jeremiah’s prophecies, and how they fell on deaf ears. In the book is full of Jeremiah’s complaints to the Lord about the hardness of the people’s hearts, about how they ignore him, about how they threaten to kill him.

If you read the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah comes off as a whiner.  He’s afraid of preaching God’s word. He’s afraid of what people will think. He’s afraid of what is the King might do to him. He complains about stomach problems as his compassion for his people tears him apart - he sees what is going to happen to them.

And I think that’s why I like Jeremiah so much. He’s a real person, full of anxiety, fear, reluctant to answer God’s call; sure he is so inadequate that God could never use him.

And yet - God does.

Because it wasn’t about Jeremiah.

It’s about God.

God prepared Jeremiah from the very beginning: “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you…”

God was with Jeremiah every step of the way: “Don’t be afraid for I am with you to deliver you.”

And God gave Jeremiah exactly what he needed to do the work God called him to do: “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Each one of us is called. Now it’s easy to look up at me and say, “Yeah, but, you’re the pastor. I could never do what you do.” That’s the thing – God doesn’t call us all to be pastors. The last two Sundays our New Testament readings from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians remind us that God gives each one of us different gifts, to be used for different purposes, as members of the body of Christ. God doesn’t need a congregation full of pastors.  But God does need a congregation full of each one of you with the gifts each one of you is given to be used in this time and place.

Yeah, but…

I’m only …

A boy…

A farmer…

A teacher….

A housewife...

A rancher…

A retiree…

A "whatever it is that you do in life"...

A wherever it is that you find yourself placed.

Sure, some of us are called to be missionaries, or to sacrifice everything for the good of others like Mother Teresa, or to be some sort of big Christian hero. Some of us are called to be prophets.

But most of us are called to simply live as witnesses to the resurrection, as proclaimers of God’s love right where we are. We are called to be everyday prophets in our lives as parents and children, friends and neighbors, students and bosses and employees.

God looks at you and says, “Don’t say ‘I am only’…. I choose you, I send you, and I will give you everything you need to proclaim my love to the world.”


What if we looked in the mirror each morning and said, “God knew me before I was formed, God chose me before I was born.  God sends me to bear the good news into the world.”

What if we looked in the mirror each morning and said, “God is with me every step of the way, I don’t have to be afraid.  God’s got my back whatever happens.”

What if we looked in the mirror each morning and said, “God has put God’s words in my mouth, and God’s love in my heart.  God has set me here, now for God’s good purpose, and God sends me today to bring God’s light and love me to those around me.”

What difference would that make in our lives each day?

More importantly, what difference would it make in the lives of those around us?