Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, January 16

Can I offer you a word of critique, without it being heard as a criticism?

This morning I was reading Hebrews 5:7-14.  The closing verses express a frustration: "About this we have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing."  The writer goes on to say "You need milk, not solid food."

There is only one way to become more knowledgeable about our bibles.  That is to read our bibles.  There is only one way to learn the history of the Christian family.  That is to study this history.

It may seem like a daunting task - to suddenly know the bible.  Out of frustration, too many will fail to start.

It is a new year.  Make yourself a promise, a simple promise.  In the next four months, read one book of the bible's many books.  Get out a piece of paper and take some notes.  Write down your questions.  Ask me or another mentor of yours.

There is milk enough to nourish and sustain all of God's little ones.  That milk will never run out or be taken away.  It would be helpful for a few to move toward more solid food.  And that move begins with the smallest and most achievable of goals.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Devotion - Monday, January 15

You will have no classes today, in observance of the M.L. King, Jr. Holiday.  You know this.  But I wonder if you know how contentious has been the decision to have this day as a holiday?

It was not universally and immediately agreed that there should be an ML King Holiday.  In fact, many fought against it and refused to comply.  

You can do your own search of the web for reasons, and there were (are) many.  What I want to say to you this morning is doing God's work is never going to result in a joyous outburst in the world.  When God's Word and God's mission are lifted up, change is called for and folks become uncomfortable.

Rev King insisted that this nation of ours match its religious talk with the way we looked upon all our sisters and brothers.  He spoke first of race, then he began to speak of poverty.  He asked for justice and he insisted on the dignity of each individual regardless of their skin color, wealth, or prominence in society.  

It was one bullet which took his life; but there were many who wanted him silenced.

Observe ML King Day appropriately.  Consider well how the world responds when the word of God is spoken and applied in our community.  It remains a battle (a life-robing battle) to see that the least among us are fed, clothed, visited, and set free.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, January 11

John 14:14 - "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it."

This is a promise Jesus made to his disciples.  This is a promise to which Jesus' disciples have continued to cling.  It is a promise which demonstrates Jesus' care for us and compassion toward us.

It is not a promise which Jesus fails to keep.

We sometimes fail in our application of this promise.  Jesus is put to the test - asked for things which would satisfy our curiosity or prove our convictions.  This promise is mis-heard as a wishing-wand or as a magic trick.

Jesus wants what we want.  Jesus touches the sick and transforms the lives of the broken.  John 14:14 encourages us to "ask," but Jesus already knows and Jesus is as eager as we to see the hurting stop and the world made right.

So Jesus makes this promise to us.  And this promise resonates in our ears and in our hearts and in our lives.  We cling to it and see in it just how precious we are to the Word made flesh, to the creator of the cosmos.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, January 10

This mornings readings included Jeremiah 23:1-8.  The prophet speaks of the work God will do to call back together his people.  The image is of a shepherd who locates the lost sheep and makes of them one flock.

I love this image.  It is powerful and comforting.

It is an image much larger than the smallness of my own experience, but it does open my eyes to the significance of what God is doing now.  While I celebrate with you the time you had away from school and this place, it is powerful and comforting to see you return and for this community to be restored.

On Monday I helped with Orientation for transfer students.  They have it rough - coming in at the middle of the year; coming in as juniors.  So much of what we do to welcome folks as part of the August rush is not repeated in January.  The experience reminded me how fortunate we are to have one another, as a buffer against all the stresses and strains and challenges.

God is calling us into the community of Jesus.  God serves as the shepherd who gathers us and leads us and makes of us a powerful and comforting flock.  I hope you can see it, too.  And that you will be sustained by the love and care and support of one another.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sermon - Baptism of our Lord - Year B

Mark 1:4-11; Acts 19:1-7                                                                     

                                                            Be Silent and Receive the Gift

            Sermons are supposed to answer questions, not ask them.  But I have a question for you this morning, “Why was Jesus baptized?”  He was not baptized in the same way that you and I are baptized.  Our baptism is into the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We are baptized in the name of the LORD Jesus - thus the necessity (pointed out in our second lesson for this morning) for those in Ephesus to receive the lying on of hands.  Their baptism, John's baptism, was in some way different from the baptism practiced by the Christian community.

            So why was Jesus baptized?  Especially since the baptism he received was John's baptism.

            I hate to ask questions and then fail to provide an answer but I have to tell you now that I am not going to come up with one any time in the next eleven minutes.  There are theories and explanations; there are doctrines and theological justifications - but there is not a final answer to the question of why Jesus was baptized.  It is one of those things which just happens.  We are at a loss to explain it - but somehow it speaks to us and Jesus’ baptism becomes an important part of our experience of God.

            But we are rational people.  We like explanations.  Many of us are academicians.  We spend our lives looking for answers.  So it bothers us, not knowing why was Jesus baptized.  Why did he receive John's baptism? 

            Our Gospel lesson for this morning is very clear what it meant by John's baptism, it was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mk 1.4).  John's baptism was offered to that brood of vipers, who had somehow been warned to flee from the wrath to come.  It was a ceremo­nial bathing associated with one's decision to turn their life around.

            The people who came out to John, listened to his sermons and became aware of how far they had drifted from the places God wanted them to be.  Those who entered the waters of the Jordan River had come to realize their sinfulness and they were acknowledging their desire to do better. 

            I do not mean to minimize the importance of a baptism of repen­tance - but it is not the same thing as the baptism we cele­brate in the Christian church.  a baptism in the Christian Church is a baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  We baptize one into the death and resurrection of Christ.

            The story in Acts 19 exposes this difference.  Paul is passing through Ephesus when he encounters some disciples.  He asks them if they had received the Holy Spirit.  Actually he asks them if they received the Holy Spirit when they became believers - a subtle comment perhaps - but one that does raise the question of what is absolutely essential for one to be considered a disciple of Jesus.  Here is a group whose theology did not even include the Holy Spirit yet Paul addresses them as brothers and sisters in the faith.  Sometimes we get awfully picky about what one has to believe or confess or do before we will consider them a part of the community of Christ.  Paul seems much more willing to accept these folks - even though there is a gaping hole in their theological fabric.

            Paul encounters these folks in Ephesus and asks them if they had received the Holy Spirit.  As he tries to understand why they haven't even heard of the Holy Spirit, he hits upon the symbol of baptism.  These believers had received a baptism of repentance - they had come to an awareness of their sinfulness and their need to turn to God.  But they had failed to receive the gift of baptism into Jesus - they had not experienced the confidence associated with the Spirit's coming to dwell in the very midst of their lives.  Their baptism was all about what they had decided to do – the baptism to which Paul wished to expose them is all about what God intended to do.

            If we accept the Biblical witness regarding Jesus, then we must admit that he had no need for John's baptism.  Scripture speaks of him as one who knew no sin.  So why would scripture include this story of his baptism (a baptism for repentance) at the hand of John?

            Again – I have no final answer.  I will acknowledge with you that Jesus’ baptism by John seems to be a way to link his life with the lives of those who would later be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  His baptism unites him with those who are being baptized.  His baptism yokes him with the baptism of you and me. 

            It is not that Jesus needed to be or had to be baptized – he wanted to be.  He wanted to share our life and our experience and he wanted to give us hope and promise.  And so, Jesus was baptized.  And in so doing, he transforms baptism.

            After his baptism, after his death, after his resurrection; baptism became a way of experiencing this desire on the part of our Messiah.  Baptism became the way that we could once again acknowledge that a God who didn’t have to do something, did do something.  Did it because God wanted to be a part of our lives and our world.  Did it, so that we might never again have to bear the weight of our sin.  Did it, so that having been set free from the burden of our transgressions we would be free to love and serve God.  God didn’t have to do this; God wanted to do this.

            We baptize, not as some outward sign of an inward change of heart.  We baptize, in order to provide physical confirmation of a spiritual reality. 

            The Church has never doubted that God may be found along a stream or in a baby’s cry or in the midst of a beautiful piece of music.  We may experience God in any number of settings.  What we believe and teach is while God may be present to you in those places, there are two places where God promises to be present.  One is at the table where we share The Eucharist and the other is in the baptismal waters.  God’s desire to enter our world is made real in God’s promise to enter our lives through baptism.

            By now you have caught on that I am really not all that interested in an answer to the question, “Why was Jesus baptized?”  The answer toward which I move is “Why are we baptized?”  True, there a number of writings, and scripture itself speaks of our baptism as a baptism of cleansing.  But Christian baptism is not John’s baptism.  It is not a baptism of repentance.  It is a baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ.  Whereas John’s baptism looks at the change of heart made by a sinner, a Christian baptism has God’s activity as its focus.

            The baptism of John addresses what we plan to do.  The Baptism of Our Lord speaks of what God is doing.


Amen.