Lectionary Leanings – Celebrate!

December 28
Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Psalm 148, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40

While the Advent journey takes us through an emotional rollercoaster of joy, fear, humility, and anticipation, there is no other emotion to guide the days after Christmas than pure celebration. Each of the readings for this Sunday call us to take a deep breath of relief, to look around at the beauty of what God has done, and to simply enjoy it.

As an avid user of Facebook, I have come to realize that people are excited and grateful for many things in their lives. I frequently check on the status updates of friends and family and get to hear all about the amazing pie they just had at a local deli, or how terrific their new fuzzy socks are. But these updates are not always so material. Facebook is now often the first place where friends announce engagements or tell the world that they are expecting a child. We simply cannot be silent, we can’t hold our tongues (or our fingers) still one moment longer and must tell the world about the joys in our life.

The question is, do we do the same for those experiences of God’s grace? Do we rush to the computer to promptly type in “Katie just witnessed the good news of God in…”? Do we even share those encounters with the risen Christ when we head to church on Sunday? Sometimes, but usually not.

Our scriptures from Luke for this Sunday tell us of two people who simply couldn’t be silent when they encountered the Christ-child. Perhaps it was the fact that Anna and Simeon had been waiting for such a long time to see the Messiah. Perhaps they were just more in tune with the power of the Holy Spirit after lifetimes of faithful service to God. Or maybe they just allowed themselves to be overcome by the joy of the moment and couldn’t help but be silent. In any case, both Anna and Simeon rushed to the new parents and their infant son, God-in-the-flesh, and gave praise to God.

We don’t know much about what happened to Simeon after this encounter with God. He had been promised after all that he would not see death before he had witnessed the coming of the Messiah. But we do know that Anna simply couldn’t keep her mouth shut about the good news of God. Luke writes that she began to tell the story of this amazing child to everyone that was looking for redemption and hope in the city of Jerusalem.

She may have been eighty-four years old, but she wasn’t going to let anything stop her from sharing what she had experienced. Maybe she thought in the back of her mind of our text from Isaiah today: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest.” If an eighty-four year old woman can share the joy of this birth with all of those around her—why aren’t we?

Lectionary Leanings – All Will Be Well

December 14
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126 or Luke 1:47-55, I Thess. 5:16-24 , John 1:6-8, 19-28

A few summers ago in seminary, I participated in a course called “Church in the City.” We traveled around Nashville exploring many diverse neighborhoods and heard many powerful stories of how churches were impacting the communities that they lived in. Throughout our lessons that summer, one scripture kept coming back to us—today’s lectionary passage from the book of Isaiah. Whoever this author was, he was speaking to people in exile, people who were longing to go back home, people who were desperate for a word of hope. And his word of hope was that good news was on its way—that they would soon be set free and that God would lead them back to Zion.

The verse that really struck us, however, as we read this good news is found in verse four: “They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities…” Yes, God will lead them back, but they will be blessed with the opportunity to repair and rebuild and restore the devastation of many generations. That is what we witnessed in those communities in Nashville. Families that had been exiled by gentrification, individuals who literally had been imprisoned, churches that were broken down and falling apart, were returning to and reviving these neighborhoods, rebuilding the city around them.

This message of promise and hope from Isaiah was renewed this summer as my state of Iowa was devastated by flooding. Five months after the waters crested twenty feet above the flood stage in Cedar Rapids, many city blocks still look like a war zone. Many families have crowded into homes with friends or relatives or into the FEMA trailers delivered to the area. Exile is a very real concept to many of these close-knit neighbors who are now scattered across the city.

But little by little, they are returning to these flooded neighborhoods. Little by little, there are signs of rebirth. Whether it is another business reopening or another home that is gutted and rebuilt, the people of Cedar Rapids are raising up the former devastations. They are rising above the floods that threatened to overwhelm them. It has been amazing to witness how the good news and the grace of God have been present in the recovery. Strangers are going out of their way to help one another. Churches have become beacons of hope. There is a very real sense that while this was a terrible tragedy, while the way forward is unknown, God is there. And the people are not rebuilding alone.

There is a sense of pride, as there should be for the countless hours of hard work that have gone into making a dent in the devastation. But that pride is tempered by the knowledge that the job of the church is not to take credit, but to simply point to the gospel and the One who came to bring the good news to life. Like John the Baptist, we know that we are not the Messiah, but we are witnesses to the light of Christ that has broken into our midst. And we hold onto and proclaim the promise that “all will be well. You can ask me how but only time will tell.” (All Will Be Well, by the Gabe Dixon Band).

Wake Up!

This news story was posted yesterday on Yahoo News –

“Sebastian D’Souza hears the gunfire at (shah-trapati shiv-a-ji)) Terminus from his office across the street at the Mumbai Mirror tabloid.

He follows the sound through the sprawling station, slipping unseen through parked trains. When he first catches sight of the young men, he doesn’t realize they are the gunmen. They look so innocent. Then he sees them shooting.

“They were firing from their hips. Very professional. Very cool,” says D’Souza, the newspaper’s photo editor. For more than 45 minutes he follows as they move from platform to platform shooting and throwing grenades. Often, D’Souza isn’t even 30 feet away. The few police at the station are either dead, in hiding or had long fled.

There are billboards everywhere, signs of India’s economic boom. At one point, he photographs them standing beneath a tea company sign. They appear to be having a calm conversation. “WAKE UP!” the billboard reads.”

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

The season of Advent is a time of paradox. While on one hand we are preparing for the warm and beautiful scenes surrounding the birth of the Christ child, we are also preparing ourselves for the second coming of Christ. We find ourselves surrounded by this rich color purple, both because it is a symbol of the royalty of our Lord, but also the color for repentance and confession.

It is hard for a pastor to live in that paradox. It is hard to not give in to the cultural emphasis on Christmas – what with decorations and music being found in the stores before Halloween. As I chatted with other colleagues in this past week, we all struggled to take seriously the desperation and the seriousness that the scriptures from this morning call for. It’s almost Christmas after all, and wouldn’t a sermon on the apocalypse be a little too heavy?

We don’t want to talk about the darkness and evil in the world because this is supposed to be a season of joy and light, peace on earth and good will toward all.

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

Some days the darkness sneaks up on you. Some weeks it is hard to ignore. Most of my pastor friends were up long into the night re-writing their sermons. We simply cannot let the evil of this world go unnoticed this Sunday morning.

There are so many things that are heavy on our hearts this week. The loss of life in Mumbai. The trampling of a woman at a Wal-Mart on this Black Friday. Friends and family that have been laid off or fired. Tomorrow is World AIDS Day and we remember that there are now 33 million people living with HIV worldwide.

What does any of this have to do with Advent? We have to think back to the paradox of the season. You see, we celebrate Advent because we need to remember that God came down to earth as a vulnerable baby. We recreate nativity scenes and put stars on our trees to recall the shining light that led the world to the Christ child. We recite the promises of the prophets and remember that our God is faithful.

But we also celebrate Advent because we must remember that there are still promises left to be fulfilled. There is still darkness and evil in our world. There are still people crying out for healing and salvation. God’s work has begun among us, but it is not finished yet.

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

A friend wrote yesterday, “can anyone explain to me how any sale can be so good to not only line up at 5 in the morning but then to trample, to death, a worker at the store. And then complain when the store announces it is closing in light of the incident!

That new world, really, is it coming soon? Because some days I really start to lose hope in this one.”

Hope is what this first Sunday of Advent is all about – and yet it is hard to be hopeful.

We are desperate for the coming of the new heavens and the new earth. We are at the end of our ropes. We are waiting O God! When, are you going to act?

That desperation. That bold trust that God will come. Those are the things that this season is all about. That is why we start Advent with an apocalyptic vision:

From our gospel reading this morning we hear, “in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven… Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory…. When you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates… beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

Apocalyptic writings can be frightening to hear. They urge us that the time is coming, and coming soon, when God will set all things right. And they often do so with visions of disaster and tragedy, death and destruction.

Most days, we would hear those visions of apocalypse and have very little to connect us to the reality that birthed these types of prophecies. We don’t understand what could possibly be so hopeful about these terrifying visions.

But what we have to understand is that apocalyptic scriptures are not born out of times of safety and security, peace and well-being, but they are born out of times of desperation. They are written only in times of suffering and persecution. They are born out of a yearning for God to intervene.

As his people were being taken away to exile in Babylon, we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah this morning “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!… to make your name known to your adversaries!”

In other words – we are struggling down here, O God! Come and set things right!

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

Just who is it that should keep awake? Who is falling asleep? Who isn’t paying attention? In some ways, I feel like Isaiah is calling out to God to wake up. Wake up! Look at what is happening! Why aren’t you doing something?!

But perhaps Isaiah is speaking to us as well. Maybe Isaiah thinks that we are the ones who need the wake up call. Who need something as dramatic as the heavens tearing open in order to get our heads right.

Maybe the call is not to wake up to the reality of evil and darkness around us – but to wake up to the promise and the hope of our God. To stop letting the evil take us over, to stop letting it control our lives, and instead to wake up to the reality of the in-breaking Kingdom of God.

You see, Isaiah has some harsh words for his brothers and sisters, who seem to have succumbed to the darkness. He wants them to look around for themselves and to see that God has not left them.

“We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” God isn’t quite finished with us yet. God hasn’t finished shaping our world. God has not abandoned us.

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

In these seemingly dark days – with disaster and tragedy, difficulty and despair all around us, it is hard to see the signs of God’s presence. We are eagerly waiting for something dramatic to shake the earth to its core – to set things right once and for all. We are waiting for the grand finale – for the completion of God’s work.

And Advent is that time of year when we get slapped upside the head with challenging images of the heavens shaking and the earth trembling and voices crying out in the wilderness. Advent really isn’t a time for the soft and cuddly, but a reminder that the every present Kingdom of God is about to fully break into our midst – whether we are ready for it or not.

But perhaps part of our wake up call also needs to be prepared not for catastrophic billboards from on high, for cosmic signs and wonders, but to simply wake up and notice where God is already active in our midst.

Yes, Christ promises to return, and in the Advent season we eagerly await the return described in Mark. But Advent is also the reminder that God has already come down and made his life among us, and that while there may have been a star in the heavens, the presence of God was found in the ordinary. An infant born and laid in a manger of hay. Smelly shepherds coming in from the fields. A holy meal of simple wine and bread.

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

Wake up and look around you. Look with eyes wide open for the signs of the Kingdom of God.

Look for where hungry people are being fed by food banks all across the country.
Look for where the oppressed are set free through prison rehabilitation programs or through AlAnon.
Look for where the sick are healed, like our loved one Mike Schott.

If you look hard enough – you will see that God is still working. God is still active. God remembers the promises that were made. And know, that our hope rests in that God. That he will see us through.

Even now as we wait – as we look around – as we take it all in… we dare to hope.

Amen. And Amen.

Lectionary Leanings – Keep Awake!

My lectionary leanings for the next month or so are actually going to come from sermon starters that I wrote for the United Methodist Publishing House’s “Circuit Rider”

November 30
Isaiah 64:1-9, Ps. 80:1-7, 17-19, I Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

Isaiah thinks that we need a dramatic wake up call. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” we hear in the first verse. Mark, too, seems to be drawing our attention to signs and wonders in our readings for this first Sunday in Advent. Get ready! Be prepared! The signs are all around you!

Maybe we are too distracted by the Christmas music that has been playing in stores since the end of October. Maybe we have let the election steal our attentions for the past two years. Maybe our church has been so preoccupied by a building campaign
that we forgot to notice the gospel right in front of us. Whatever it may be, Advent is the time of year when we get slapped upside the head with the challenging images of the heavens shaking and the earth trembling and voices crying out prophetic words from the wilderness. Advent isn’t a time for the soft and cuddly, but a reminder of the ever present Kingdom of God that is about to fully break into our midst – whether we are ready for it or not.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the signs and wonders, but unlike Isaiah; I don’t necessarily believe that God has hidden from us. Maybe we just aren’t paying attention. Barbara Brown Taylor wrote in her sermon, “Late Bloomer,” (found in Gospel Medicine) “…what better way to live than in the grip of a promise… to wake in the possibility that today might be the day. To remain wide awake all day long, noticing everything.” What if the call to keep awake was not a call to be prepared for catastrophic billboards from on high, but to simply notice every day where God is present around us?

Yes, Christ promises to return, and in the Advent season we eagerly await the return of Christ. But Advent is also the reminder that God has already come down and made his life among us, and that while there may have been a star in the heavens, the presence of God was found in the ordinary. An infant born and laid in a manger of hay. Smelly shepherds coming in from the fields. A life lived among the people of God. A holy meal of wine and bread.

We claim and proclaim a Kingdom that is already here and not yet fully realized. To live in that tension is a call to be always aware of where God is active and moving among us, and also to be aware of where and when God is about to do a new thing in our midst.

Lectionary Leanings

1. Christ wants us to BUILD HIS CHURCH
2. The Church as a Living Body
a. WE don’t create it… Christ does.
i. Isaiah 51:1-2 “look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham and to Sarah – for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.”
b. Letting Go of our own ideas – both the “good old days” and the “we shoulds”
i. Romans 12:1-2 “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God… do not be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of your minds.”
c. BUT we have to use the tools that we have been given!
i. Romans 12:6ff “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us..”
ii. “The church will never be any better than we are.” – Peter Gomes
3. It takes all of us to be the church, not just some. This isn’t some country club that you have joined, this is a community of followers of Christ and starting this fall, we are really going to focus on what that means.
a. Each week until Advent, one way that we are called to “be the church” and “embody God’s Kingdom”
b. Then after we have explored each of those ways, I am going to challenge you to take a step of faith and to make a new kind of commitment to this church (will be covenant discipleship groups starting after the new year – and dividing the congregation up into classes w/ leaders). But first, we need to get back to the basics and remember what we are called to do.

Easter is for the Hopeless

A rollercoaster of emotions. In the sunrise service this morning we began a little bit differently and instead of starting off with the joy of the resurrected Christ, we began with the despair felt by Mary and the disciples because their Lord and Teacher was no longer with them. You see, for the disciples, Easter morning began with a hopeless situation.

Of all the things I could preach about this morning, it is that hopelessness that I think we should address. Sometimes in the halls of this church, but more often around the dinner table, or in the grocery store, or in the varied and sundry places that we gather in our lives – there is so much talk of hopelessness. We gossip about neighbors who just can’t seem to get their act together. We watch the evening news and everything seems wrong with the world.

We sit through this long, cold and snowy winter… and to be honest, I start to feel a little hopeless myself. This year has been especially bitter, and isolating. So many of our lives have been disrupted by weather that has kept us home, kept us inside and kept us away from the lives we are used to leading.

Not that if the weather was better we could have gone anywhere! With gas prices escalating, heating costs rising, and the simple cost of food going through the roof, it is a wonder we have made it through this winter at all!

After a while, the daily grind starts to take its toll and we become numb to all of that stuff around us. We find ourselves settling into the rut and start to believe that this is just the way it’s going to be.

This past year we have gotten used to a lot of things. Besides our economic situation, the violence of the world almost ceases to phase us. Our lives were rocked and our foundations shaken by the shootings at Virginia Tech last April… and yet a similar incident, closer to home at Northern Illinois University in February barely seemed like a blip on the radar.

Not to mention the violence and human rights violations occurring across our planet as war-torn countries continue to destroy the lives of innocent men, women and children. This very week marked the five year anniversary of our entrance into Iraq and often that situation itself feels entirely hopeless. It seems that no matter what we do, or maybe because of what we do, new groups and new people spring up to fight, instead of searching for ways to work together and to rebuild lives.

Now, I know what you are all thinking… Pastor Katie, it’s Easter morning… isn’t this supposed to be a happy day?! You know what… it is! But I think we also get so bogged down in the problems of our lives, in the problems of our country and the problems of this world that we forget the real promise of Easter!

I think that too often, Easter morning comes with it’s beautiful flowers and it’s joyful music and lovely tables set with ham and we enjoy it for a few hours, but then on Monday morning – life is back to the way it was. Nothing has changed. Nothing is really any different.

A few weeks ago, as we shared with one another the story of Lazarus, I read a poem by Wendell Berry. And the last line of that poem said: “Practice Resurrection.” Time and time again in the Christian faith we are called to be a “resurrection people” to carry the joy and the hope and the promise of the resurrection with us throughout our lives. Both of those two things mean that what we experience on Easter Sunday has to stay with us longer than dinner time.

In our gospel reading this morning, Mary goes to the tomb and she is not going with expectant hope. She is going to bring spices and oil and to continue to prepare his body for burial. You see, Jesus was laid in the tomb just before sunset and the beginning of the Sabbath Day and so the women did not have enough time to properly lay him to rest. So as the sun rose on this Easter morning, Mary Magdelene went to the tomb to mourn, to pray, and to say her good-byes.

She was someone who desperately loved Jesus. He was her Teacher and her Master. He offered her new life and a brand new beginning when he cleansed the demons from her life. And ever since that time, she had followed him faithfully. Then, in one fell swoop, everything that she had begun to put her trust into was taken away. Her Lord was gone. The disciples who followed him had scattered and those who remained were hiding out in fear of the Jewish authorities. Mary had no one to turn to and no where to go.

The only thing she knew to do was go to that tomb and rehearse a ritual practiced by Jewish women for centuries. She would go to the tomb to honor Jesus and to mourn for him properly.

But as our scriptures this morning remind us, when she arrived, everything was in disarray! The stone was rolled back and her Master was no where to be found! His body was gone! Desperately, she ran to the house of one of the disciples for she knew that some of them would be there… They have taken away his body! She cried out…. They have taken him and I don’t know where they have laid him!

Two of the disciples, run back to the tomb with her and find her story to be true. They enter and find the burial clothes there also, neatly folded and placed on the stone. They know that something has happened… but none of them really knows what it means.

I think many times in our lives, this is how we experience Easter. We know that something happened a long time ago, and we know that Jesus was raised from the dead, and we know the whole story and how it is supposed to go. But we don’t REALLY know what it means. We don’t understand the pain and sorrow of Good Friday because we all know how the story ends. Jesus comes back to life, is raised from the dead, saves us all and goes to be with God forever. Amen.

But that isn’t the end of the story! That is barely even a glimpse of the reality of what God is doing! The disciples knew something had happened, maybe even understood that Jesus was alive, but none of them were prepared for how their lives would change.

The power of the Easter resurrection didn’t just bring Christ to life. The power of the Easter resurrection took a rag tag bunch of disciples who barely knew their left from their right as far as following Jesus was concerned…. And turned them into apostles. It turned these doubting, stammering, disobedient fools into the leaders of a movement that would transform the world! When Christ rose from the dead, the Body of Christ that is the church was brought to life – a community was formed that would love and cherish and carry on the mission and the ministry of Christ!

Each and every single one of us is a living testimony to the power that Christ’s resurrection had on our world. Each one of us is who we are today and is in this place this morning because those first disciples experienced the risen Christ. And because that experienced so radically changed their lives that they had to tell others.

This morning is so full of images – the empty tomb – the voice of angels –

Mary’s encounter with Jesus – the promises made through the prophets coming true. It is so rich – so full – so basic to who we are as an Easter People.

Friday – sad Friday – the day we call Good Friday – is brushed aside in one glorious moment of realization. As Mary stood in that garden weeping out of desperation she heard her Master call her voice. One moment of startling fear and overwhelming joy – a moment of holy awe – as the significance of what is seen – and what is unseen comes crashing in.

Jesus is Risen. Death could not hold him.

And if it cannot hold him, it cannot hold us.

All that Jesus said about life and death

all that was understood only as idea – as a concept – as a vision

is made real in that empty tomb

and in that encounter in the garden.

Those disciples heard Jesus talk SO MANY TIMES about his death and resurrection and it just never sunk in. They couldn’t understand the promise because they never believed it would happen. So when Jesus shared his final meal with them on Thursday night they let him down and failed to remain faithful. And when Christ was crucified on Friday afternoon, they were paralyzed by their unbelief and forgot the promises he made to them. They couldn’t see past their own pain to remember the promise!

All that Jesus said about life and death

all that was understood only as idea – as a concept – as a vision

is made real in that empty tomb

and in that encounter in the garden.

Today, we share in that promise.

We share in the promises made to Children of Israel and to the entire world through the Prophets.

We share in the promises made to the disciples and to all who listened to Jesus as he walked towards his death upon a slab of wood.

We share in it – for the word that he spoke to them – and to us — is made true and real by what we testify to this morn, it is made true by the resurrection.

And more yet – it is made true by the testimony of our hearts. Hearts here among us – this very day – who have been touched by the spirit of the living Lord. Hearts here which have heard Jesus knocking upon the door and have opened that door and had him come in and dine with them. Hearts that encountered the risen Christ even today, thousands of years after the stone was first rolled back and the tomb shown to be empty and our Lord risen.

Hear again the words from the prophet Isaiah… the promise to each one of us:

 

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the

former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But

be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about

to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I

will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more

shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of

distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives

but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a

lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered

a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered

accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they

shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not

build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat;

for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and

my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They

shall not labour in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they

shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as

well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet

speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed

together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the

serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy

on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

 

The prophet Jeremiah, even as his city was being ravaged and destroyed by foreign countries, even though he knew that his nation was being torn apart, went out and bought a small plot of land and planted a tree there.

THAT is what it looks like to trust in the promises of our God. THAT is what it looks like to celebrate the power of God and the power of new life, even when everything around us seems so hopeless.

 

 

So what is this Easter morn?

It is God’s promise of a new day

It is God’s promise of a new life

It is God’s promise of a new world

coming to pass in our midst.

 

Jesus is risen. Death could not hold him. And it will not hold us either.

 

Mary, in the midst of all of her desperation and mourning saw Jesus standing before her but did not recognize him. She couldn’t see the promise that was right before her eyes!

Jesus even called out to her “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” But she does not recognize him.

Jesus is risen. Death could not hold him.

I think that Christ is calling out to us all the time, every day. He asks us constantly what we are weeping for. He longs to wipe away the tears from our eyes. And he wants us to see him, to recognize him as the Jesus who is alive – the Jesus who is risen – the Jesus who has the power to bring a new creation to bear on our lives. But our hearts are often so slow to believe, to trust, and to accept that he is standing before us.

There are so many things in our lives that we could feel hopeless about. Loved ones who die too young, People who work away their lives for a wage that won’t even put food on the table. Homeless families… including the 700 children who are homeless in Cedar Rapids, Iowa alone.

But the promise is that “No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime… They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.”

Wherever in your heart there is weeping, Christ promises to turn your tears into laughter.

Jesus is risen! Death could not hold him! And the forces that tear us apart in this world will not defeat him either!

Christ has risen! And we… as the body of Christ, in this time and in this place… are called to continually live our lives as a beacon of that promise!

We are to be like the prophet Jeremiah, who planted a tree, even though the world around him was falling apart. We are to find small ways to live out and practice the resurrection power in our world today.

Christ is risen! Let us crown him the lord of Life, the Lord of Peace and the Lord of Love and may we believe in his power to truly transform our lives.

Amen.

A Different Light

A Different Light…

 

There is a strange paradox in the church these days.  While we often use words like repentence and transformation – all words for radical change in our lives, the truth is, the church is often the LAST place that change occurs.  A friend of mine often reminds me that people come to church in order to escape from the rapid change happening in the world – it’s the one stable place they can turn to.  Or as any pastor could share when they have tried to make changes in their churches, the refrain is often heard: “we’ve never done it that way before.”

 

But change and transformation are exactly what lie ahead of us on the journey of Christian faith.  As one of my favorite bumper stickers reads: God loves you just the way you are… and loves you too much to let you stay that way. We might ask – how much is going to be asked of me? Or -what will be required?

 

The real question we need to ask as we begin to walk in the light of Christ is – how will it change the way that we see ourselves?

 

If you will remember from last week, Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist who decided to follow Jesus and then brought his brother Simon Peter along for the journey.  Matthew’s gospel this morning paints a different picture about how these two met Christ and why they decided to follow him.  Without making judgments as to which account is “right” or “wrong”  let us look at why Matthew chose to tell the tale this way.  What does his version of the call of these two brothers tell us about what it means to follow the light of Christ?  Once that small spark of faith from last week grows inside of us, what dark corners within our own lives will have light shed upon them?  And once we begin to see in this new light, how will we respond?

 

As Jesus began his public ministry, the first words that cross his lips are: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

 

Repent, for a great light has come into your lives!

 

Repent, because morning has dawned in your midst!

 

I’m beginning to establish some routines in my life as I begin my ministry in this place.  One of those morning routines is to sit at our dining room table at home with a cup of hot tea and my laptop computer.  I get a daily news summary through my email and as I slowly drink my tea and wake myself up, I try to orient my day around what is happening in the rest of the world.  As I do so, there is also a realization that our little part of the world is waking up as well.  Usually about that time of day I can sit at the table and look out our front window – past the trees, past the courthouse tower, and watch the sun rise.  At first there is a dull glow to the sky and then everything begins to transform into shades of pink and then orange until the sun peeks over the horizon.  Everything takes on a new radiance and gives a whole new meaning to Matthew’s gospel this morning. The people who sat in darkness – on them light has shined! Repent!

 

The Greek word that we translate into repent is metanoia…  it is a reorientation or a fundamental transformation in the way that we see… and not just seeing with our eyes. When we experience this metanoia we don’t just see the world differently – it changes the way that we see ourselves, others, it even implies a change in the way that we see God. Metanoia can be described as having a greater understanding of the reality we experience – to see things in their true light.  Often, we think of the act of repenting as owning up to past sins – yet true repentence is seeing ourselves fully – the good and the bad – seeing ourselves through the light of Christ.   Of course this entails that the dark and more insidious parts of our lives will be revealed – but it also can reveal gifts and strengths that have lain dormant or hidden.  Maybe a better way of understanding repentance is not through feelings of guilt, but as a new awareness of who we are and who we are called to be.

 

So as Jesus moved to Capernaum, the light of Christ dawned in Galilee.  And people began to see things in a different light.

 

People like Simon Peter and Andrew. People like James and John.  These two sets of brothers were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.  I used to think of fishing as a sort of leisure activity – lounging in the sun by a lake, waiting for a fish to come by and nibble.  That was until the Discovery Channel began to air their series: Deadliest Catch.  If you haven’t seen it, it is a show that follows fishing crews in the Bering Sea as they attempt to bring in the most king crabs during the winter season.  And it’s not easy work.  The worst storms occur during crab-fishing season and the waves can be as large as 30 or 40 feet tall!  Add that to the frigid 38 degree water and there is plenty of danger.  In fact, more than 80 percent of the fatalities Alaskan fishermen suffer on the job are due to drowning — either from falling overboard or as a result of a boat accident.

 

While the Sea of Galilee might not be quite as cold – the temperature averages from 60-90 degrees throughout the year – fishing was just as dangerous… especially considering that it was done without all of the safety equipment of today!  The Sea of Galilee is known for having violent storms caused by wind funneling down into the valley the lake is located in.  I read about a storm 15 years ago that sent ten feet high waves crashing into towns on the western shore.  Try to imagine those kinds of waves on the Lily Pond or the Coralville Reservoir and you get the picture.

 

Besides being dangerous because of the waters, fishing was also extremely labor intensive.  Nets were tossed into waters by the shore or dropped from boats and then drug to round up the fist. Those nets had to continually be washed and boats kept in repair.  Newly caught fish must be sold immediately or smoked or salted for storage.  Suffice it to say – Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John were not lazy young men.  They were hard workers whose families depended upon their labor.

 

But then the light of Christ dawned in Galilee… “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  And people began to see things in a different light. Jesus called out to these brothers: Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

 

As the light of Christ shone upon their lives, Andrew and Peter and James and John didn’t just leave their nets.  They left their jobs, they left their families, they seem to have left everything behind in order to start on this new path and follow Christ.  And as the light of Christ begins to lead us, we have to ask whether our families and jobs are hanging in the balance as well.  Thomas Long, a preacher and professor at Candler School of Theology says that in a sense, yes:

“In these stories of the calling of the disciples, then, Jesus disrupts family structures and disturbs patterns of working and living.  He does so, however, not to destroy but to renew.  Peter and Andrew do not cease being brothers; they are now brothers who do the will of God (Matt. 12:50).  James and John do not cease being sons; they are now not only the children of Zebedee but also the children of God.  All four of these disciples leave their fishing nets, but they do not stop fishing.  They are now, in the nearness of the kingdom of heaven, fishers for people.  Their past has not been obliterated; it has been transformed by Jesus’ call to follow.”

 

Maybe a better way of putting it would be to say that as the light of Christ shone upon them, these first disciples began to see their lives in a different light.  As Jesus called them to follow, they began to see the potential of who they could be.  They were challenged to really see themselves not just as brothers and sons and fishermen, but as a part of the Kingdom of God.  These were ordinary guys, but they discovered within themselves a new purpose and direction.  They didn’t have to have it all together… they just had to use the talents, abilities and life experiences that they already possessed in a new way.  Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John became disciples… but they never stopped being fishermen.

 

As we begin to follow the light of Christ, we too will begin to see our own lives in a different light.  If repentence and metanoia describe a reorientation of our perspective, then through the light of God, we will begin to see where we have been working for our own purposes rather than for Gods.

 

My own experience of this kind of transformation was not a dramatic shift in my life, but a subtle “a-ha” moment.  Last week I noticed that a few of you commented on who clearly I spoke… well, I have always been a public speaker.  While other kids in my class would get stage fright or be wary of volunteering for a demonstration… I was always the kid with my hand shot up in the air waiting to be picked.  I have never really been afraid of talking in front of others – the words just seem to come naturally and I find my rhythm.  This gift served me well in high school speech and drama events and in college it led me to pursue a degree in communications… with an emphasis on speech and rhetoric.  But what I was going to do with these skills… that was an entirely different question.

 

In high school – I thought I wanted to be a meteorologist.  And not just in the sense of the t.v. weather girl… I wanted to be a smart and knowledgeable meteorologist – doling out accurate weather reports and teaching viewers about el nino patterns.  Somewhere in college that path sidetracked as I became more and more involved in our religious life council.  I found myself speaking during campus worship and leading retreats.  But the idea of being a pastor never crossed my mind.  I eventually decided to attend seminary… but I kept telling myself that I would get my degree, and find a job teaching religion at a small college.  I thought I would use my gifts and my skills lecturing and helping students to find their way.

 

So there I was… not too far off of the path God had in mind for my life.  Slowly, as people began to point out to me the various gifts I had for pastoral ministry… not just the speaking, but my gifts of listening and wrestling with questions with others… I began to see my life in a different light.

 

It was as if a light had been turned on in a dark room.  At first it was just too overwhelming to think about, to hard to take in.  I questioned how my relationships with others would be different.  I worried about what it would mean for my future and that of my husband.  But gradually my eyes began to adjust to the brightness and things just seemed to make sense.  If metanoia is described as having a greater understanding of the reality that we experience – then I began to see how all of the pieces of the puzzle of my life fit together.  I saw where I had misplaced pieces, or where I tried to make pieces fit together that didn’t belong.  I experienced repentence and then I was able to embrace my calling and followed Christ.  That doesn’t mean that it has been an easy road to trod – but for now – I truly feel like this is my part to play in the Kingdom of God.

 

There was a pastor who was preaching one Sunday on these same four disciples and he claimed that just as the disciples were called to fish for people – so too, were we to become fishermen and fisherwomen for Christ.  After the sermon, a woman came up to him and said: “You know something, I hate fishing.  And as for fishing for people — I don’t have the kind of time available you talked about. Does Christ have any place for a harried mom with four children?”

 

The pastor thought about her question and realized that the message of Christ is not “Help Wanted – Fishermen Only!”  He writes that, “the point is that you and I were meant to become a part of the tremendous divine plan to bring light to a dark world.”[1]  That invitation comes to us whoever and wherever we happen to be. A carpenter might hear Christ call out, “Follow me and I will make you build people.”  A chef might hear Christ call out, “Follow me and I will make you serve the hunger of people.” Just like those first disciples – we are called to take the best of what God has given us and use it for the Kingdom of God.  Our act of repentence is not only realizing the places where we have failed in our lives… but also recognizing the gifts and strengths of who we are and how God wants us to use them.

 

As the light of Christ shines on us all, we are invited to take a good hard look at what is revealed to us.  Jesus calls out:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”  I challenge you as individuals and as families to think seriously about how your lives are a part of the Kingdom of God that Christ has begun.  Think long and hard about what it means to be a child of God in the work that you do outside of this church building.  Imagine what it might mean to walk with Christ in every aspect of your lives and open yourself up so that all the gifts God has given you might be used for the Kingdom of God.

 

In these past few weeks, I hope that we have begun to think of ourselves not just as individuals however.  I hope that we are beginning to think of ourselves as one body – as the Body of Christ in this place and in this time.  Together, we will need to allow the light of Christ to shine on our life as a congregation as well.  As someone who is new in your midst, I am beginning to notice the unique gifts and character that you have as a congregation.  In many ways however, those gifts often lie dormant and hidden away… like old hymnals tucked up in some corner of the building.  God has given this congregation a special calling to this world and together, with the light of Christ… we will discover what our unique task is in this place and in this time.  Isaiah reminds us that the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned…  The light of Christ has dawned upon us…  will we see things in a different light?

[1] http://www.lectionarysermons.com/jan24ser99.html