Sunday, January 27, 2013
Luke 4: 14-30, NT pages 61-62 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them expect to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. Sermon Your true friend is the one who tells you when a piece of lettuce is stuck in your teeth, and today I am thankful for Joe Overton who has been a true friend to me. A couple weeks ago I was able to have lunch at the Bridge, a fine assisted living facility on James Campbell Boulevard. There live several members of our church, and I was glad to sit down with a group of them: Joe Overton, Rufus Ross, and Dr. Harold Pryor. As we ate Dr. Pryor mentioned our service’s radio broadcast, as this month our service has been on the air, not every other Sunday as it has been for years, but every Sunday. The rest of the group chimed in their appreciation, but Mr. Joe Overton said, “I have just one more thing to say about the radio before we move on. Now I’m not saying it, I’ve just heard it said, that First Presbyterian Church has two fine preachers, but one of them would not make a living as a paid soloist.” I’ve told this story several times since, and it seems as though Mr. Overton was kind enough to point out the lettuce in my teeth, but others have noticed it as well. A daughter said to her mother, “They must not teach them how to sing in seminary,” and Ron Neal told me that he liked the way I sing, saying, “you just go on and sing loud, whether you know the song or not.” I have decided to do a better job of turning off my microphone – that alone may increase the number of our radio audience – and I won’t leave the ministry for a career in music. I’ll leave singing on the radio to someone else like Sarina-Joi Crowe, a young woman from right here in Columbia, who will be flying to Hollywood to join 36 other contestants on the next season of American Idol. This past Saturday Ms. Crowe’s voice teacher, Susan Manning from Central High School was quoted saying, “[Sarina-Joi] is just a delight to be around, she’s not a scatterbrain. She’s got focus, yet she maintains the life of a teenager.” It’s a good thing she has focus, as to make it going from home in Columbia to broadcast on prime-time TV from Hollywood, is going to take a lot of it. There’ll be lights, cameras, and action – there’ll be screaming fans, criticizing judges, and while she may be starting this journey with her mother and her teacher by her side, the farther Ms. Crowe goes in this singing competition the more family members who she’s never met before will be coming forward, the more friends will want to catch hold of her coat-tails. They’ll be excited, they’ll be proud, but if they’re not true friends, you can bet that they’ll also want something, and this is the way it has always been. Jesus said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” This is a hard saying of Jesus, and it’s these words, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown,” that bridge two very different scenes in a single scripture lesson. On the one hand you have Jesus, the hometown boy who also happens to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy – the long awaited Messiah – and the people who he grew up with are filled with pride to be connected to him, to know him, and, possibly, to benefit from their association with him. If he healed the sick in Capernaum, than think how he’ll heal the sick of his own hometown – but Jesus said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum’… But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them expect to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” At the suggestion that like Elijah and Elisha, those two great figures in Israel’s past, Jesus was sent to serve the foreigners of Sidon and Syria before his own people – his friends and his family were filled with rage and led him to the brow of a hill that they might throw him off a cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. This is sometimes the case – that to go on his way – to be true to himself and his purpose, Jesus had to disappoint and leave behind friends he had known so long that he never remembered being introduced as though he had always just known them – neighbors who watched from windows to make sure he stayed out of trouble – uncles and aunts who doted on him and would never let him forget it. To go on his way – to become the Messiah – Jesus had to be something more than Joseph’s son. For Martin Luther King Jr., the same was true. Certainly he expected resistance from Governors and police officers and Klansmen, but his partners in this movement for civil rights, some of them called him to slow down while others told him to hurry up, and King had to learn that being true to the dream God gave him meant disappointing even his own people. When I was in 7th grade I began confirmation class with the group of friends I spent all my time with. They were the group that I sat with in the school cafeteria, the group I played baseball with, and the group I cared about being accepted by, so when they all decided to go out to the rail road tracks rather than go into the church for confirmation class when our parents dropped us off I had to decide which way I would go. Whose opinion mattered most? Risk my friend’s rejection or give up on confirmation class? Go their way or go on my way? “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown,” and Christ chose rejection by his own people to go on his way, honoring his purpose, true to the will of God. And that is the harsh truth for you – to go on your way, to honor your purpose, and to be true to God’s will may well cost the acceptance of people you care about. Maybe you have a dream to go off somewhere and do something that no one in your family has ever done before, but to do it – to go on your way might mean the distain of your parents so you’ll try to forget it. Maybe there was love, true but forbidden, and to go on your way, to follow your heart, means turning away from what you’ve always known, so you push it down and hope it goes away. Or maybe it’s doing what you know is right, but to do it, to stand up for it, could mean losing your job or losing your friends – will you keep your mouth shut for fear of being thrown off that cliff or will you go on your way? When Christ was true to himself and to the will of God, though the crowd sought to do him harm, he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. Now go on yours, and while the crowd’s acceptance is tempting, those who are bold to do the will of God will have their reward. Amen.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
John 2: 1-11, NT 93 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. Sermon It’s a very particular relationship that mothers and their children have; there’s a depth that isn’t always obvious, but you can tell by the way mothers and their children communicate that this relationship often runs deeper than any other. “You look tiered Cathy,” my grandmother would say to my mother, and while, upon hearing this statement I might have gone upstairs to take a nap, every single time I ever heard my grandmother say “you look tiered Cathy” to my mother, my mother would always turn around and go upstairs to put on more make-up. You might say mothers are tactful, but their children hear them loud and clear. “So that’s what you’re going to wear.” It’s not a command to go and change your outfit, but it is. If a mother says to a daughter: “I’ve never seen anyone cook rice that way,” it might sound sort of like a compliment but I assure you it is not. Or the one that always works on me: “I know how busy you are.” As soon as I hear those words I can anticipate the level of guilt trip that’s coming next so most of the time I just say, “We’ll come, we’ll come” before I even know what I’m agreeing my family to attend. Of course it doesn’t always work. This week a young mother in Hobby Lobby told her daughter, “Now sit quietly on this bench while I check out,” and I assume that is exactly what she meant, but the fire alarm still ended up being pulled. However, when Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine” I am confident he knew just what she meant for him to do. It’s a statement; not a request, not a question, not a suggestion, not even clearly having anything to do with Jesus, but this son knows exactly what his mother means when she says, “They have no more wine” because sons know their mothers and mothers know their sons. The servants on the other hand – they understood what Mary was saying to Jesus about as well as you husbands can understand it when your wife storms out of the room because her mother just asked if there was going to be room for a house-keeper in next year’s budget. Jesus and Mary are communicating the way mothers and their children communicate – they hear each other just fine, but everyone else is left in the dark as to what exactly is going on and what happens next makes it only more mysterious. “Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. These servants may have thought they knew what was about to happen. The wine is gone, the guests have had plenty, so before someone does something that they’re going to regret this Jewish mother has convinced her son to sober these people up, give them a nice cold dip in the purification jars before they go home. That’s what these jars were for – we’ve heard the story so often that we forget that gigantic stone jars were used for anything else besides turning water into wine, but when Jesus calls for the stone water jars used for the Jewish rites of purification the servants would have assumed that Christ was going to get everybody washed off and right with God, make them all once again ritually pure after a night of eating and drinking. “They have no more wine,” the savants hear Mary say to her son, and what I am sure they thought she was saying was, “before they find any more to drink, see if you can’t baptize a few of them.” But, once the jars are full and ready for their intended purpose of making people ritually clean, just when we expect Jesus to go on with the purification ritual – clean the party goers, call them to repent of their drunkenness then baptize them, what happens instead is - what was once water becomes wine – and the party goes on, and the reputation of the bride and her groom are saved. In the gospel of John Jesus shows us who he is by being an instrumental part of something I had always assumed he wasn’t much in favor of – it makes more sense that he would be about supplying the Bibles at the Bible study and the prayer list for the prayer meeting – not the wine at the wedding feast. The wine runs out and Jesus asks the important question: “what concern is that to you and to me?” and you have to wonder – what concern is wine to Jesus? But his concerns, to some degree or another are your concerns, and that is something that is often hard to believe. That he would care about a bridegroom so much as to save him from the embarrassment of running out of wine. That he would care so much about his mother, as to do what she asks even when he doesn’t want to. This love is shocking – but it is only the beginning, for he will love you so much as to give his life to convince you that you are precious in his sight. Our first scripture lesson for this morning came from the Bible’s great book of love poetry. Many times great figures in the church have wondered whether or not this book was truly appropriate for the Bible, whether or not the Song of Solomon was fitting of scripture. Over time the explanation for its inclusion became: the Song of Solomon is love poetry, and captured here in the love between two people madly in love, we see the love that Christ has for his church. “Set me as a seal upon your heart,” a young man says to his love, but hear Christ saying it to you: “set me as a seal upon your arm, for love is as strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.” This poem fits him – and his love for you is not only as strong as death – after three days he rose again from the grace to prove that his love for you is even stronger. In this first miracle from the Gospel of John – see him for who he is and what exactly it is that he came to do – to be with you, wherever you are; to care for you and to take seriously your worries, your fears, your hopes and your dreams. “What concern is that to you and to me?” In this question is every voice that lacks concern, fails to comfort, and can’t understand. But as the water turns to wine – there is God’s empathy – there is the creator of the universe making your struggles his own. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Luke 3: 15-17 and 21-22, NT page As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Sermon Dignified is the word I’d use to describe the way I feel up here in my preaching robe. I feel dignified and distinguished and wise, but regardless of whether I actually am any of these things, certainly I did not feel as though I was last Saturday afternoon when I woke up on my bathroom floor. Last Saturday I suffered a severe allergic reaction to something I ate, and after itching, and then watching my face swell up, and then passing out in the bathroom, which is where the EMTs and the firefighters came to check me out, I felt neither dignified nor distinguished nor wise. There must not have been very much going on last Saturday in Columbia, because at least half the fire department and all the EMTs in town found the time to come to our house, and if I would have known they were coming I would have at least zipped up my pants. Regardless, the thought of them fills me up with gratitude. The thought of Sara holding me in her lap and of Lily and Cece’s worried faces, half the neighborhood walking over to lend a hand, and all of you praying for me makes me feel blessed beyond words – for it is not while I am in this robe that I know God’s blessing, but when I am surrounded by the caring embrace of people who love me. This is where Jesus finds himself in our second scripture lesson for the day: he is not alone, but surrounded. However, when this event is painted or captured in stained glass Christ is most often set apart from the crowd, but Luke tells the story differently. Jesus goes to be baptized by John, and when he goes he goes not on his own but “when all the people were baptized.” Can you imagine – even when Al Roker gives the weather report the crowd stands behind a metal fence. When celebrities drive through town their limo windows are tinted black so crowds can’t see in, and even when a seeing eye dog walks down a sidewalk he wears a vest that says, “Don’t pet me, I’m on duty.” Can you imagine then, Jesus Christ, the son of God, getting baptized when all the people were baptized? In our world the more separated you are the more special you are, but here is Jesus right in the crowd. “And when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In the same way that Jesus is also remembered as standing all alone with John during his baptism, so also are these words assumed to have been only for his ears. They are special words, life changing words, and if Christ stands by himself with only John the Baptist by his side, apart from the crowd and separated from them, then these words are only his. But here in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is not far from us but right beside us, and these words – they are not only his. “You are mine, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Of course, it’s possible to read this passage of scripture and reach the conclusion that these words belong to Christ alone, that they are meant for only his ears, but what then would be the point of his coming to earth if that were true? We already know that he is beyond us. We already know that we are below him. And if God’s power is anything like the powers that govern this earth than it only makes sense that God would be about the work of establishing power and distance and respect. He would not identify with us then, but like the rich and powerful of our world would rise up a fence to keep us out. He would make every effort to keep us in our place, to make sure that we remember that we are not the same but different – not colleagues but subordinates. And he would not eat with us would he – if God’s power were anything like the powers that seem to govern this earth than certainly God would demand a first class ticket and the curtain would be drawn to keep all of us in coach. However, here is his table – you are his guests. When he was baptized by John in the river Jordan he was not baptized alone. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” These words were heard at his baptism, just as I say these words to every child who is baptized in this church – it’s not these words that make Christ our example – it’s that unlike all of us, having heard them Christ was bold enough to believe them. Soon enough he will be tested - sent out into the wilderness without food or water to be tested by Satan himself. Not long after he will be rejected in his home synagogue on the Sabbath, claiming to be God’s anointed the crowd drug him out to throw him off a cliff. And where would this path of rejection lead but to the cross, crucified as a common criminal, but would Christ doubt his worth in the eyes of God? That is what makes him different. Only that is what sets him apart. Every part of Christ – his human body, his desire to dine with sinners, and his baptism here alongside people just like you and me – made plain is Christ’s desire to be with you, to identify with you, so that you would know your worth in the eyes of God. “You are mine, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The temptation is to believe that it can’t be true. Too much time has been spent to convince you that it’s not. How would the hierarchies of our world stand if it were? But it is – and no matter how this world tries to knock you down you must rise up again for through Christ God is saying, “You are mine.” No matter how many times you have felt put down or left out – baptized in his baptism you must remember that you are beloved. And whether it’s easier to believe that you’ve let him down, disappointed him, or made him question what he says here, Christ has come to be with you, and his presence is the great sign that with you God is well pleased. He was not baptized alone, but right beside you, and when God speaks to Jesus, hear the words that he heard for they are yours too: “You are mine, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Amen.