A Reluctant Jesus?

January 20, 2019

John 2:1-11

One of the greatest barriers that we encounter in our lives is self-doubt! Even as you speak it, you can hear how it is directed internally. It is not doubt that is poured onto you by a boss, neighbor, or family member. It is doubt that we heap upon ourselves. It is a barrier that we construct when we are hesitant and reluctant to move forward.

I am no stranger to self-doubt. I still battle it from time to time. It usually rears its ugly head when I feel that I am possibly in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if I am not quite sure if the words that I have to say really matter in the whole scope of a conversation. I struggled with it in seminary as I was surrounded by classmates that grew up in the church and knew a lot more of the Bible than I did. I wondered if I was in the right place at the right time and would have to take a moment to pause and give thanks for the many possibilities that I had been given. Even at a time of hesitancy, Jesus takes a moment to pray and listen to how God is guiding him in his walk with humanity.

This morning, we must venture outside of Luke’s gospel to hear the story of the wedding at Cana. In the gospel of John, the turning of the water into the wine is the first sign that Jesus performs that points to his glory and divinity. Yet, as we listen to the gospel lesson, there  appears to be a bit of a reluctance on his part to move forward.

First, there is the conversation with his mother around the wine running out, and his response, “What concern is that to you and to me?” It almost seems to be a get behind me Satan moment that we will encounter when Peter questions Jesus. He then tells her, “My hour has not yet come.” What exactly is he waiting for? We are left wondering why this hesitancy. Why this reluctance to help with hospitality. He truly has the power to make or break this wedding party. If the wine runs dry, then so does the wedding celebration. A wedding celebration in the time of Jesus would last for an entire week. Imagine what would happen if you ran out of wine in the middle of the week. Most likely, there would be a bit of shame.

While Jesus shows a bit of reluctance, could there have just been a tinge of self-doubt? This is the first sign that he will perform, so maybe he won’t get it right. Perhaps, he is just beginning to understand the ministry that lays in front of him and his hesitancy is a result of this. The words of Jesus’ mother are simple, “They have no wine.” She is pointing to the need at hand and putting the ball into his court to see what will happen next. The divine mystery at work.

Our world today, is not immune to need.

In a world where for so many there is no clean water—let alone fine wine—where is the extravaganza of God? In a world where children play in bomb craters the size of thirty-gallon wine jugs, why the divine reluctance? In a world where desperate mothers must say to their small children, “We have no food,” why has the hour not yet come? [In a time when we argue with those we disagree and call them names, why not a little divine intervention?] No matter how we rationalize divine activity, we still want to tug at Jesus’ sleeve and say: “they have no wine.”[1]

There is something much greater that is realized in our gospel lesson. While Jesus may seem a bit reluctant, he does pause and listens to God. While he thought it was not his time yet, he must have sensed that the Spirit was working through his mother to call him into action. In that action, he does not hold anything back! He goes all in!

As we hear, he instructs the servants to fill the thirty-gallon jugs with water. And, they fill them to the brim! There is a great abundance that Jesus pours forth for all to experience that are celebrating at the wedding feast. While, the first wine may have been of a decent quality, perhaps like Mogen-David, this wine that Jesus has called forth is even greater! Perhaps a nice cabernet, or even a port! He does not hold anything back to be shared with the people.

This is a precursor of the ministry that he is going to begin with the disciples. He will be sharing the abundance of God with everyone that he encounters. It is amazing that this first act of Jesus is not a healing, or a sermon, or even an exorcism. His first act is to share the abundance of God with all that are gathered. This is a foretaste of Jesus’ ministry, and a foretaste of the kingdom to come. It is here that Jesus will welcome all people into his embrace.

Each and everyone of you are called to share in this ministry with Jesus Christ. Are you possibly a little hesitant and reluctant like he appeared to be? Are you afraid to lift your voices over the noise and distractions of your daily life? If so, you are not alone. I am with you in my own hesitancy and reluctance at times. But more important, Christ is with us as we are called to walk along our brothers and sisters in humanity. Jesus comes to us with vessels that flow over the brim with an abundant love from God. May you be filled with that overflow of love and grace and be a sign for others seeking God.

Let us pray. All encompassing God, we give thanks for the signs of Jesus that reveal is glory to all. May we learn to embrace these signs in our own lives and live into the grace that only comes through you. Amen.


[1] Carol Lakey Hess, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, 263.

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A Multitude Gathers

All-Saints

November 5, 2017

Revelation 7:9-19

Shall we gather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod, with its crystal tide forever flowing by the throne of God. We’ll gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God. The imagery that we receive from our opening hymn this morning as we remember the saints that have lived among us is wonderful. The river of life. The flowing water that we find in our baptismal font. The water that flows over us and cleanses us of our sins. The water that joins us to those saints we now give thanks for.  It is a familiar hymn.

The familiarity does not end there. The gospel lesson should sound familiar as it was read just over six months ago during the season of Easter. A return to the Beatitudes is never a bad thing as we are reminded of those that are blessed among us and what the kingdom of God looks like.

You may have even connected the Revelation reading to our entrance into Holy Week earlier this year. An entrance in which Jesus is paraded into Jerusalem, and only him and possibly us, on this side of the story, are aware of what is about to play out in the days to come. If you recall, Jesus was paraded into Jerusalem as people were shouting, “Hosanna” and waving palm branches.

Once again, we have palm branches in our midst. “There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”

I find it unusual and amazing that suddenly the author of Revelation forgot how to count. Earlier he counts that there were seven churches and seals. There were twenty-four thrones and elders. In the preceding chapter, we read of 144,000 of Israel being sealed with protection amidst the catastrophe. That is 12,000 from each tribe of Israel.

He is then shocked with such a multitude of people that the number at the throne of God could not be counted. This multitude comes from every nation, tribe, and race. How big could this number be? Everyone that had lived on the earth up to that point? Did you know that today, that number would be well over 108 billion people.

The book of Revelation has been used to scare people into doing. It has been used as a threat. If you don’t follow the law of God to each word, then you will not be among those 144,000. Books and movies have ran with these themes, like the Left Behind series, and left people in fear and an impression of God that does not reflect the God that we witness in Christ Jesus.

When we begin to use the bible as a hammer to try to nail in certain points against those we fear as our opponents, we do not leave much room for God. We do this to ourselves and those that we feel think differently than us. We are quick to raise our palm branches to celebrate what we think is good, and when we are later let down we find it hard at times to get back up.

This morning we remember those saints that have left us in this earthly world this past year. These losses that we have experienced have come expectantly due to long term health issues. Others have been more sudden and we are left wondering and have had little to no chance of getting to say our final goodbyes. That one last, “I love you,” before they died.

Some of us may be still mourning the loss of a friend or family member. Some of you may still be grieving the loss that you have experienced more than a year ago. While the person we have said goodbye to is no longer suffering, we may be suffering in our own hearts. God did not promise that there would be no suffering. God does not promise us an easy life where we receive everything we want and then some.

We seek answers for all of our questions and are still left wondering. People try to comfort us with words from the Bible, which at times are taken out of context and leaves us with even more questions. It is impossible to put God in a box when we do not fully understand the mystery ourselves. It is in that mystery that we find hope and ultimately love.

Salvation belongs to our God as Revelation says. It does not belong to anyone else. It is not something that can be given to us by someone in power. Salvation only comes to us through the love and grace of God and the son, Jesus who came to us incarnate and walked along side us to experience the same suffering that we experience.

It is this same salvation that is revealed to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection on Easter Sunday. The promise of life that we witness is given to us and the believers that are gathered around the throne of God. It is the white robes that have been washed in the blood of the lamb that symbolizes their death in the waters of baptism and the new life that is found there.

This is the reason that we too give thanks for those that have been baptized this past year. They have died their first death to the sins of this life and have been washed clean and now stand side by side with all of the saints of the world. The saints that have gone before us and the ones that are still alive. This is what a saint looks like today. Just like you and me. There is nothing special, just the grace of God that has washed over us in the waters of baptism.

Does the grace of God end there?

I can’t tell you. That is the mystery that is our God. A mystery that we will not fully experience until the kingdom of God comes into our own view. The Beatitudes that Jesus preaches this morning speaks to not just a time to come, but the time that we are presently in, and the time that was. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” and on and on.

In Revelation, hear the hope of the kingdom to come and the promise that God has made. “The one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Jesus will indeed wipe away every tear from every eye. Indeed Jesus is there in the present as well as the grace of God bringing us to the multitude that worships and praises God. As we join in the multitude this morning, we are surrounded by the saints, both living and dead. We gather for communion in the promise that we are communing with all of the saints of heaven. It is here that we find comfort and love.

Let us pray. God, our savior, we give thanks for all the saints. The saints that have guided us through our lives and continue to do so today. We pray for those still mourning, that you may bring peace to them and the love you share abundantly. You are the God who was, is, and is to come, and in this we receive your grace and are gathered into the multitude. Amen.

Life in the Water

Water surface

 

Matthew 3:13-17

Grace and peace to you from the Triune God. Amen.

The Christmas season has left us. Many of us have already taken down our Christmas trees and decorations and have packed them up until this next year. We will be doing the same after worship this morning. While we may be moving forward in the liturgical year, the idea of Emmanuel, God with us, is something that we should carry with us through Epiphany, into Lent and Easter, through Pentecost and right up to next Christmas. God with us, Emmanuel, never leaves us.

There could not be a better reminder than the one we get this morning in the baptism of Jesus. In the very waters of the river Jordan, Jesus is named and called into service. If there had been any question in the past about his calling, that is answered now in his identity received in baptism, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” You too, receive your identity in the living water that washes over you in baptism.

As God swept a wind, or the Holy Spirit, over the face of the waters in Genesis, that same Spirit is present with Jesus in his baptism. Water is essential to life in more ways than one, and it is through the water that we enter into community with one another.

As we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord this morning, I am also reminded of its personal significance in my life. It was on this day eleven years ago, that I was baptized alongside the rest of my family. It was in the waters of the font at Peace Lutheran Church in Charlotte that we now had the visible sign of our new identity in Christ washed over us. We had been walking alongside our newfound community for close to a year and were now called to serve in a greater capacity. In that calling, our identity was confirmed, and the Spirit flowed through that breathing water. It is no accident that I personify the water.

The water that we encounter in baptism is full of life and as it is washed over us in baptism, or as we dip our fingers in it to mark the sign of the cross on our bodies, we are reminded of its life-giving characteristics. In its life, it gives us life. In our baptisms, God is present in the water and through the Word as it is spoken to us. For many of us, this may be our first real encounter with the Trinity, as we are baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I don’t believe many of us truly stop to think about this. Do we stop to think about the significance of this sacrament, or do we just take it for granted as something that we do?

I will be honest with you. I did not look too deeply into it when I was baptized eleven years ago. I knew it was the next step in the journey. Yes, I talked to my pastor about it and what it meant, but did I truly understand it? Heck, I had already been coming to the table for at least 7 months and had met Jesus in the bread and wine, and was now opening to the waters of baptism. I did not experience anything special in the water, no aha moment! Yes, it was moving, and I was excited, but I did not see angels coming down from the rafters.

But after that day eleven years ago, God started working in mysterious ways in my life. I was called out of my comfort zone into new and exciting opportunities in the church. And I am still learning. I am continuing to learn from Christ working in my life and the Spirit calling me and pushing me, and at times pulling me in new directions. I have recently been reading The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr and he tackles the subject of our lack of truly experiencing the Trinity. He writes:

Do you ever wonder why Western atheism is on the rise? Why does the Christian West, by far, produce the highest number of atheists? What I believe, and have dedicated my life to reversing, is that we have not moved doctrine and dogma to the level of experience. As long as “received teaching” doesn’t become experiential knowledge, we’re going to continue creating a high quantity of disillusioned ex-believers. Or on the flip-side, we’ll manufacture very rigid believers who simply hold on to doctrines in very dry, dead ways with nothing going on inside.

And so we have two big groups in the landscape today: those who throw out the baby with the bathwater (many liberals and academics)—and those who seemed to have drowned in the bathwater (many conservatives and fundamentalists).

How about allowing the bath water to keep flowing over you and through you?

It is anyway, but we can considerably help the process by gradually opening up the water faucets—both the cold and the hot.

The water that is washed over us in our baptisms is alive with the Spirit. It calls us into relationship so that we can encounter God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in everything that we do. Yes, we are not always going to get it right. Look at John the Baptist, he denied Jesus’ request at first to baptize him, because he thought it should be the other way around.

In this relationship, we are asked to be in conversation, because that is how a relationship works. There is some give and take. There is some struggles and questioning. There is doubt and belief. Through it all is Emmanuel, God with us. The God that we encounter in the waters of baptism, and the God that comes to us full of hope in an infant child in a manger are forever with us. In this presence, we are given our identity as a “child of God.”

 

Baptized in Your Love

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Aren’t the many attributes of water amazing? There are not too many elements that are stronger and have the power that water does. Water gives us life, and it can also take it away. From the story of the flood in Genesis to our present day floods down south where we can witness houses swept away, the destructive power of water is made very evident and real. Yet, what is it that we turn towards to quench us and refresh our spirit? It cleanses us and gives us new life.

Water can quench us on a hot day or while in the midst of exercising. It is also used as we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This isn’t just any old baptism that we are speaking about this morning. This is Jesus’ baptism! This is the Son of God being baptized before he is about to begin his ministry! There is power in this action and the water that washes over him. In Jesus’ baptism he acknowledges that he was born into a world that is full of sin and is in solidarity with it.

Many of you, if not the majority of you, do not remember the day that you were baptized. You may have a certificate of that day, possibly even pictures of the actual event or celebration that took place afterwards. In the Lutheran Church we baptize infants and it is a joyous event, as well as any baptism at any age. It is just much easier to carry an infant around the sanctuary welcoming them to the family of Christ than it is an adult.

I guess the one thing that I like to think I have in common with Jesus is that we were baptized at about the same age. Many of you know my story or have heard bits and pieces of it along the way. Our celebration today of the Baptism of our Lord is actually the Tenth Anniversary of my families baptism. I have the ability to remember the events and reflect upon the pictures that were taken. The funny thing is though, I was a little disappointed.

I truly wanted to see some doves or experience them descending upon me. I wanted a huge AHA! moment to happen within my baptism. Yes, it brought tears and I was happy. However, where were the fireworks? I had high expectations. Not much different than those that were following John the Baptist. They were looking for a Messiah and they were hoping that he was it. In a way I expected a total life change in that moment, right there! It does not happen quite like that though, unless by chance you are the Son of God.

Even post-baptism there is still a lot of stuff that goes on in our lives and at times a lot of the stuff we wish did not happen. It is in our baptism though that we may start to see a few more glimpses of Christ and the burning away of the old. As John says, “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.” We all carry around some chaff. Some crap that we would just like to be rid of. The promise that comes in our baptisms is not one of perfection. We are not suddenly in this utopian wonder place where everything is neat and clean and we get everything we want. There is a promise that we receive in our baptism!

The promise that comes in our baptism is a promise of love. No matter what mistakes we make in life or what fools we make of ourselves. Christ is present in all of them. Lenny Kravitz sings a song titled Baptized. It speaks to this love and the redemption that comes in the cleansing waters.

I don’t wanna look around
And be turned to stone
All my darkest days awoken
I’m looking for a new way
I can’t make it on my own
Lead me to a place wide open
I need a love that takes me higher
So high I’m never coming down
I don’t wanna know emptiness
Take me down to the water
Wanna be baptized in your love
Far away from the loneliness
Take my heart and wash away the fear
Let me be baptized in your love (1)

The story of Jesus’ baptism in Luke is slightly different than our other gospel writers. He is not singled out. He does not have a conversation with John the Baptist. Jesus is baptized with many other people. People that are broken and in need of healing. People that are weighed down by the pressures in their lives. I picture them lining up as John baptizes each person individually, eventually coming to Jesus. That same love is bestowed upon Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

That love is multiplied as we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is in our one baptism that we are surrounded by God’s love with is perpetual; even when it feels we are surrounded by darkness.

We find Jesus praying after he is baptized and this should be an example for us. What begins in our baptism is lived out through our daily life and in prayer as we continually ask for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Jesus was empowered and guided through prayer throughout his entire ministry, so too should we embody the same life of prayer.

It is here that Jesus’ ministry begins.

So, Now What? Where are we called to go? For our ministry has already begun. In everything that we say and do we reflect what is important in our lives and where our heart resides.

How do your words and actions reflect the water that washed over you in baptism?  How do you reflect that never-ending love that you receive? May you always remember that love.

 

(1) Baptized written by Terry Britten, Gerry DeVeaux, Lenny Kravitz)