Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sermon for Epiphany Two, Year C, 20 Jan 2013

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Year C
January 20, 2013

Isaiah 62:1-5                                            Psalm 96
I Corinthians 12:1-11                          St. John 2:1-11  

Hymns:  410, 423, 304, 433

 The reading from First Corinthians today focused on the gifts God gives to the church and to individuals.  And we all know that God blesses us with many gifts in our lives.  In the Gospel of John for today we hear the story of the first of the signs or miracles of Jesus, turning the water into wine.  The passage ends with the statement that “his disciples believed in him.”  

I have always found this rather interesting.  We are told that after his sign they believed in him.  What exactly does the author mean by this?  After all, they had already left everything, family, jobs, friends to follow this itinerant preacher.  They must have already believed in him at some level already.  They had made sacrifices already just to follow him. 
Honestly, would any of us given up our lives, our livelihoods, and our family to follow someone we didn’t believe in? 

But I think as we look at the development of the followers of Jesus, as we continue to watch them in the Gospel stories, we see that their faith continually deepens as they live with and follow Jesus.  As they see him at work in the world, their faith is strengthened at every turn.  So they obviously had an advantage we certainly don’t, they got to see Jesus at work, they had the opportunity to know him.  They could see him touching the lives of those around Him, they could see him performing signs, and they could see him living out a life which they experienced every day. 

It is true that if we look we can indeed see Jesus at work in the world around us too, but perhaps it takes us a little more effort to see it.  We hopefully see Jesus in different ways and in different places in the world.  We hopefully see Jesus in our actions and in the actions of our fellow believers.  But in order to do this our eyes must be attuned to different things. 

Hopefully we see Jesus in the life and work of the church, although since it is filled with humans like each one of us there is always the potential for failure.   We may see Jesus just by observing the miracles of nature around us, particularly in a beautiful place like Alaska.  We see Jesus in the work of our community food back.  We see Jesus in others around us as we see them living a life of faith seeking to serve and help others. 

But I think the most important way to see Jesus in the world around us it by becoming more sensitive to what Jesus is doing in each of our own lives.  Unfortunately, it is far too easy to overlook.  We can so easily get caught up in all the activities and events in our lives that we actually miss seeing Jesus at work in our lives. 

How do we tune ourselves in to seeing Jesus at work in our life?   While there are probably many answers to that question, I’m convinced of the power of a very simple practice.  That is the practice of gratitude. 

As we get in the habit of being attentive to the things we have to be grateful for in life, we become more and more attuned to what is occurring our own lives and how God is at work in our lives. 

This practice has transformed how I look at things in my life and my ability to see God at work in my life.  I encourage you to undertake this gratitude challenge.  With Lent approaching, perhaps you can adopt it as your Lenten challenge to list the things you are thankful for every day.  And don’t forget the “small” things to be grateful for.  I think that is where we really tend to miss the boat in remembering thankfulness. 

A thankful person is a transformed person and a thankful church is a transformed church.  Let us work together to transform ourselves and St. Peter’s.  We can turn St. Peter’s into an oasis of gratitude and recognition of God’s work in our life and in our midst. 


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent, December 14, 2008

Third Sunday of Advent
Year B
December 14, 2008
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 Psalm 126
I Thessalonians 5:16-24 St. John 1:6-8, 19-28

In the name of the triune God who created us, who loves us, who redeemed us, and who cares for us.
One of my favorite Advent hymns is "On Jordan's Bank." It is found on page 63 of your LBW. The words go like this:

1. On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Come, then, and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings from the King of kings.
2. Then cleansed by every Christian breast
And furnished for so great a Guest.
Yea, let us each our hearts prepare
For Christ to come and enter there.
3. For Thou art our Salvation, Lord,
Our Refuge, and our great Reward.
Without Thy grace our souls must fade
And wither like a flower decayed.
4. Lay on the sick Thy healing hand
And make the fallen strong to stand;
Show us the glory of Thy face
Till beauty springs in every place.
5. All praise, eternal Son, to Thee
Who advent sets Thy people free,
Whom, with the Father, we adore
And Holy Ghost forevermore.
Today we hear the story of John the Baptist, a particularly appropriate lesson for Advent. The lesson starts out with the words "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him." Being sent from God is not always a great thing by our standards. While John had some followers, those in power were really threatened by him. In fact, his words became so threatening that they eventually lead to his imprisonment and finally his death. He never gained worldly good or significant recognition in his life time. The life of a prophet is usually lonely.

Today I want you to pull out your insert and follow those two lines with me again. But I’m going to change a few words this time. "There was a person sent from God, whose name was Lucy. She came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through her." I figured I would use Lucy as an example since she is such a new addition to the church family and can’t really speak for herself yet.
This time I want you to read it with your name. Try it out. Go ahead.

How did it feel? I want to take a short moment now and let you just think about what it would mean if that verse was speaking about you. Did you believe it in your heart when you read it? I hope so because it is absolutely true. There is a person sent by God and guess what? That person is you. And you. And you. And little Lucy. And me.
To me it can be pretty overwhelming. You are that person sent by God. I am that person sent by God. You are that person called as a witness to testify to the light. It can be pretty overwhelming. We think of our personal failures and wonder how in the world we can be a witness to the light of God.
I have to wonder if John felt exactly that same way I suspect he might have been a reluctant witness for God. How much better to live your comfortable life without these annoying interruptions from God.

How are you and I going to respond? Some of us may be tempted to argue with God. Something along the lines of “Lord can’t I just go to church and support the church? Isn’t that enough God?” Perhaps our response will be that of Moses or Jonah. Basically a "not me Lord! Are you crazy God?" No one will listen to me Lord. Moses thought he didn’t speak well enough. Any excuse. How many excuses do we have for God?
Our initial desire to say no to the call of God in our life needs to be changed to a yes. We need to decide to respond like Samuel, saying "speak lord, for your servant is listening", then what?

How do we fulfill our commission to be a witness to testifying about Jesus? I think many peoples greatest fear is that we will have to go door to door to strangers like the Mormon's or the Jehovah Witnesses. Or do we have to pay an annual Temple assessment as in the Jewish tradition? Or do we try and keep it a secret like the Episcopal tradition?

Well we don't have to do it any particular way. One approach will not fit every circumstance and every need. Fortunately we don't even have to dress up in uncomfortable clothing and eat grass hoppers like John. But we do need to overcome our fears and anxiety to say yes to God. Sometimes not even really knowing what that yes to God will mean. We need to realize that God chooses us and that God will be with us. In our weakness God’s power is made even more manifest. Paul believed that he could do all things through the power of the strength of God in his life. Do we really believe that?

But one thing we absolutely do have to do is be a witness for God. There is no getting around that call of God in our lives. Each in our own unique way. Each of us as God has called is. It will not be the same. But that way God reaches out to so many other people.

It is our job to announce to others that the Lord is near. Advent can be a challenging and risky time for us. It calls us to evangelism like no other season in the Church year. So let each of us commit to the work of evangelist in our own lives as we respond to the call of God.

Sermon for Christmas Eve, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve
Year C
December 24, 2012
                         Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7                                     Psalm 96:1-4, 11-12
                           Titus 2:11-14                                          St. Luke 2:1-20   

The lessons for today start off with the light shining on people who have walked in great darkness, those who have been living in a land of deep darkness.  People throughout history have been living in deep darkness.  Just look at the world around us, at the people around us and it is very easy to see.  There are many people in need of a light shining in the darkness of their lives. 
And then the light shines.  My experience has been that nothing is quite a dramatic of the sudden appearance of light in total darkness.  From something as simple of being in a pitch black room and having the lights suddenly turned on – not the best of experiences sometimes.  To being out in the middle of no where when the moon or stars appear.   Light bring hope.  Light brings the potential for change in our lives. 
This opening statement seems just as applicable today as it was thousands of years ago when it was first spoken.   Darkness seems to be all around us.  And that darkness seems to take so many forms.  The recent school shooting in Connecticut is just one recent example.  And while the loss of innocent lives to crazed murders is one very clear example, there are sadly many of them around us.  
There is also spiritual darkness around us.  And I’m not just talking about people not going to church, or being hostile to the Christian faith (sadly many of them have very good reasons for such hostility).  I’m talking about people who claim to be Christians who pervert and twist the very Good News, the light of God that they are called to be a witness of.  I’m talking about people like James Dobson and Mike Huckabee who proclaim that those innocent children and adults slaughtered in Connecticut were slaughtered because God happens to be very pissed at the United States for all gay rights, for supporting the right of women to make choices about their bodies, and for removing prayer or kicking God out of school. 
I wonder just what kind of God it is they believe in who feels that the only way to strike out at apparent wrongs in the country is to murder innocents.  After all if God was really pissed at the gays, I’m sure God is perfectly capable of targeting us directly!  And I don’t even know what to think of people who believe in such a powerless and capricious god.  To me this is totally crazy.  Quite frankly I find these people no better than the crazies from the Westboro Baptist Church.  They are all a stain on Christianity. 
So those of us rather simple people who believe we know something of the true light of God have quite a task set ahead for us.   We need to proclaim the truth of the light of Christ in the world both in word and in our deeds.  As the first words from the reading from Titus state:  “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all…” 
God’s light, the light of the incarnation is available to all.  You don’t have to be born a certain way to receive it.  You don’t have to belong to a particular socio-economic group to receive it.  It is there for all.  It is there for each of us here this evening.  It is there for those absent as well. 
You see, God does not see humanity as many of us tend to see it.  We judge by external factors, those factors primarily being how close others are to what we might be.  Roman catholic scholars have coined the phrase “God’s preferential option for the poor.”  The phrase was developed in response to the obvious demonstration of God’s preference to the power and powerless and disadvantaged. 
The difficult part of our work in spreading the light of God in the world when so many have been driven from any consideration that God might have or even want to be a part of their life.  We have to fight against the evil and unchristian message of people like James Dobson who sadly get coverage of their misguided and wrong ideas of God. 
Quite frankly, I don’t blame people who are not the least interested in what Christianity is about based on the things they hear on the news portraying a most unchristian view of Christianity.  I cringe from some of the things I hear.    It makes our call doubly difficult. 
So what are we to do?   We are celebrating the great event of the incarnation of God in the world.  We are celebrating the coming of the light into the darkness.  We need to share this light to our friend and neighbors.  And it can be done in the simplest of ways.  We do not need a public platform or crowds.  The light of Christ can be shown in everything we do as we live our lives. 
We show it by a simple act of kindness, or a kind word.  We show it every time we look out for and protect those less fortunate than ourselves.  We show it each time we speak a word in defense of those unable to defend themselves. 
It is something that needs to become a part of who and what we are.   While speaking the truth of the light of Christ in the world is very important, it is not nearly as important as each and every one of us living the light of Christ in the world.  That is when it shines most brightly for all those around us.