Author Archives: Sandy Bach

God Moves…Into the Desert

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil[a] led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil[b] said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil[c] took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    to protect you,’

11 and

‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13 NRSV)

Jesus is still wet from his baptism in the Jordan River.  Water clings to his clothing; his hair is dripping wet.  And God’s words still ring in his ears: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22b)

Next thing he knows, the Holy Spirit that had descended on him during the baptism experience leads him into the wilderness: lonely, barren, rocky, and haunted by wild animals.  The outcome of the forty days will make or break Jesus’ new ministry.

“Since you’re the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

Jesus has no problem seeing the hunger in people’s eyes.  There’s not enough food for everyone.  If he could fix that, the world would be a better place.  He’s tempted by the instant remedy: let’s take all these stones and change them into bread.

It’s a creative solution.  It makes use of all those stones that have little purpose and people would finally eat.  Instant solutions are tempting.

We see hunger and poverty all around us.  If only we could find instant solutions.  People would no longer need to suffer. We would no longer need to feel guilty about our abundance.  It would be a better world, wouldn’t it?.

Jesus responds to the temptation: “It is written…”  In his most difficult moments he remembers scripture.  He has memorized scripture and it is a part of who he is.  How often have you quoted Psalm 23, “Yea though I walk through the valley of death…”  When have you found yourself reciting the Lord’s Prayer?

Jesus responds, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'” (Luke 4:4b)

This vision isn’t enough.  Feeding people is important: physically, spiritually and mentally.  His ministry will  need to be bigger.

“I’ll tell you what.  If you’ll bow down and worship me, I’ll put you in charge of all the kingdoms of the world.”  There’s his chance!  To bring real peace to the world.  To spread his ministry of Golden Rule love to everyone.

This is an easy trap.  We worship lots of worlds: our nation in relation to the rest of the world, our pocket books and check books, even our church denomination and/or building!  We put these in between God and us and they get in the way of our relationship with God.

No.  This isn’t going to work.  Jesus quotes scripture again.  Love God and serve God only.  This vision is bigger, but it’s still not enough.  Jesus needs something bigger.

Instant remedies are too narrow.  World domination adds to the problem rather than solving it.

“Okay,” the Devil tries again.  “Let’s go to Jerusalem and remind those in the Temple who’s in charge.  Throw yourself down and show them that God has your back.  The angels will stop you from being hurt and everyone will want to worship you.”  The Devil even uses scripture to prove his point just like Jesus is doing.

Jesus, tired and hungry and worn out by temptation and trial, must have seen through this one more easily than the others.  God’s Spirit didn’t leave him alone in the wilderness, but remained with him.  God had had Jesus’ back all along.

“It is written,” Jesus  returns to his scriptural roots.  “Don’t test God.”

Spend enough time in the wilderness and humility finds you.  Spend time being beaten down from the desire for instant solutions to pressing problems with no relief in sight.  In the wilderness, you find yourself wondering if God would be generous enough to call you home tonight.  Or contemplate taking your life because you can’t take any more.

Try praying over and over again, “God, I can’t take it any more. Please do something!  Anything!”  Spend enough time in that kind of hell, demanding that God stay with you because God is all you have left.  Humility fills your starving soul.

Jesus stands there watching temptation walk away until a more opportune time.  Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, he returns to Galilee and begins his ministry.  Testing and temptation have strengthened him for the job ahead.

He now has a mission statement.  It comes from scripture, of course.  Most of his answers come straight out of scripture.  He shares his mission statement with his friends and family in hometown Nazareth:  “to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives andrecovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

That’s a large vision.  It’s God-sized mission.

Dear reader, before I end this, let me share one more thing.  Jesus didn’t just surmount temptation, he allowed it to strengthen him and to develop his sense of God’s call.  Often we do the same, perhaps without realizing it.  Often we leave the wilderness stronger for our experience, even though we went through it kicking and screaming.

Gut, here’s the thing.  Sometimes we fail miserably.  Sometimes we succumb to the instant solutions or decide for the political answer.  Some times we put barriers between us and God.

When you do, remember a couple of truths.  First, you’re not Jesus.  Second, God hasn’t given up on you.

When we can’t do what Jesus did, we pray, “What would Jesus have me do?”  Return to scripture.  Return to the stories that make sense to the situation.

Most of all, pray.  As we begin this Lenten season, what wilderness are you experiencing.  Take it to God in prayer.  Then see what comes from it.  You just might be surprised to at the discoveries you make.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

Advertisements

Good News? Or, Bad Advice?

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.[a] Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”  (Luke 6:27-38 NRSV)

Last week we read about Luke’s version of the Beatitudes.  Jesus comes down from a mountain after a night of prayer and meets his followers where they are.  They have traveled from far and wide and I suspect they come from a variety of economic conditions.  The vast majority were probably poor.

Jesus speaks words easy to listen to if you’re poor and hungry; difficult to hear if you’re rich.  You’re blessed if you’re hungry, and trouble is coming your way if you’re full.  You’re blessed if you’re weeping, poor, or hated.  The kingdom is yours.  But if you’re rich, laughing or thought well of, watch out.  Trouble lies ahead.

I suggest that we not look at last week’s scripture from one side or the other, but from the middle.  Get right with God; drop those idols (as much as possible) and then look around.  Look to see who’s laughing and who’s weeping and why.  Don’t be afraid to gaze on the poor and the rich.  Take stock of those who are hated and those who are highly respected.

What you will probably see is a hardy dose of reality mixed with glimpses of the kingdom.

If last week was difficult, put your seats belt on.  There’s turbulence ahead.

Love your enemies, bless your abusers, turn the other cheek, give your shirt and your coat, as well.  Love your enemies.  Jesus says it more than once.

Again, I suggest that we go to the heart of this scripture rather than view it as either/or.  Either I love my enemy or hate him.  Either I turn my cheek of I slap him back.

At the heart is the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  (v. 31)

The story goes that Rabbi Hillel was approached by a young man who told him that if he could teach him the whole law while standing on one foot, he’d convert.  The wise rabbi gazed on him for a moment and then lifted one leg, saying, “That which is despicable to you, do not do to a fellow.  That is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary.  Go and learn it.” (Shabbat 31:7)

If we’re right with God, we can see the pain of others and we can respond to them the way we would want to be treated.  Being God’s beloved children, we do not respond as a Casper Milquetoast.  We respond with dignity.  If turning the other cheek is your course of action, do so with dignity and love.

Perhaps we could turn to Paul for assistance with this.  “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.'” (Romans 12:19-20)

As Jesus walked this earth, he was enacting a future of equality for all.  The rich and poor, the bullies and the abused, all sharing in the Messianic Banquet.  All are equal: the ungrateful and the wicked as well as the merciful.

So what do we do with all this?  We continue getting our lives sorted out, if we haven’t already done it.  We quit hanging on to stuff: the stuff taking up space in our closets, the stuff clogging our hearts from loving others, the stuff that hangs around like baggage controlling how we think and act and respond.

It’s a life long task, but the closer to the center we get, the closer to understanding the beatitudes and loving enemies we come.  With listening ears on Jesus we discover better ways to respond to those who would rather hurt and bully others.

Jesus was generous just as His Father is generous.  We, too, can be generous.  We begin with ourselves: treating others as we would want to be treated.  We move to God who is full of mercy and extends that mercy.  Then we look to the other with love.  Not an easy, squishy love filled with valentine hearts and candy.

No, a love that is filled with grace, even to those we would rather turn our backs on or drop a bomb on, and seek to understand the human and divine.

It’s a tall order.  Few of us will completely succeed.  Knowing we’re saved by grace through faith, though, makes us ready and willing to seek the kingdom.

Love others.  Love yourself. Because God loves you.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Pie-in-the-Sky?

17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.  (Luke 6:17-26 NRSV)

We need a lot of perspective on this text.  A whole lot.

To begin with, we need to know where Jesus came down “from.”  He came down from a mountain where he had spent the night in prayer with God.  The following morning he called his disciples and chose the inner circle of apostles.  Apostles would be the “sent ones.”  Thus begins some 100 verses of teachings for these sent ones and anyone else interested enough to listen.

He came down with his disciples and apostles to a level place.  A place on the same level of those he served.  A place where Emmanuel could demonstrate the truth of “God with Us.”  He came down to this level place to find people from far and wide who were waiting to be taught and to be healed.

Jesus reverses the expectations.  First he heals.  How we can we hear what he has to say if we’re in pain or suffering?  How can we take in the Spirit’s words when unclean spirits are in the way?  First he heals.  Then he teaches.

He looked up at his disciples.  And now, God’s eyes are on them.  God’s eyes will remain on them.  The disciples (now apostles) will be seen by God.

The next expectation is the message itself.  Blessed are the poor, woe to the rich.  Blessed are the hungry, woe to the full.  Blessed are the weeping, woe to the laughing.  Blessed are the hated, woe to the well spoken of.

I’ve known no hunger in my life.  I have known periods of not being able to pay the bills, but not real poverty.  I’ve wept and I’ve laughed.  There’s a list of people who I don’t particular like and I wouldn’t be surprised if some outright hated me.

I wonder if many of you are nodding your heads.  So are we blessed?  Or are we facing woes? 

Jesus tells us to rejoice and leap for joy because your reward is great in heaven.  So, if you’re poor and needy and weeping, etc., hang in there.  Heaven is coming.  Some day you’ll be in a better place. 

That can’t be right.  That can’t be what Jesus means.  And here’s why.  Nowhere in scripture does it say that we’re NOT involved with God.  We are intricately involved with God and God with us.  We’re reminded over and over again that the poor are always with us; that wealth of any kind is treacherous and will be our undoing if we aren’t extremely careful; that we can’t serve two masters and survive.

Scripture reminds repeatedly to give alms; to open our hands to the poor and needy; not to allow anyone to go to bed hungry; that when we turn our backs on those in need of any kind, shame on us!

If Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted, then he can rejoice: I’m truly afflicted. 

Jewish and Christian tradition refuse to see the poor and hungry as cursed.  Nor are they considered impure.  Think about the homeless guy you encountered.  Did you cross the street to the other side?  How about the woman panhandling at the traffic light?  Did you avert your eyes?

Jesus announced in his hometown that his mission statement was to “bring good news to the poor…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.” (Luke 4:18-19b NRSV)

Every action, every step, every prayer, every healing ties back to this mission statement he borrowed from Isaiah.  In his blessings and woes, he’s raising the poor and hungry and weeping and hated to his level.  He’s raising them up and he’s pointing us in their direction. 

And he’s saying to the rich and full and laughing and well spoken of, “Shame on you if you’re not doing anything about this!”

Sometimes we cross the road to avoid the homeless or we avert our eyes from the woman at the stop light.  But, dear reader, I also trust that you write checks often to help others help these very folks.  I know that you keep them in prayer, even as you cross the street and avert your eyes.  And there are times when you approach with a smile, a prayer and some money to help them.  And perhaps you even notice in that split second occurrence the sense of God’s grace touching both of you.

Jeremiah says it best.  “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NRSV)

I have a picture of a tree that has stood on the edge of a lake for more than 50 years.  It stands about ten feet above the beach with half of its roots bared.  Even so, they are entwined with each other and have dug into the sandy shore.  This tree has withstood high water and drought, wind, extremes of temperatures, even kids climbing its branches. 

That tree reminds me of Jeremiah’s encouragement to trust God.  When we trust God, our roots grow deep and our bank accounts become secondary; we entwine our roots with those who also trust God and we work together for the God’s kingdom.  Most of all, we are able to find joy even in our weeping.

When Jesus lifted his gaze to his disciples he began to teach them that the world is upside down and inside out when compared to the kingdom of God.  So, when you feel hated or excluded or hungry, know that God sees it and blesses it.  God knows all about it.  Lean into God.  Trust.

Because you’ve just had a glimpse of the world as it really is.  And it pales in comparison with God’s intent.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 

 


Unworthy. Inadequate. Called anyway.

Once while Jesus[a] was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.  (Luke 5:1-11 NRSV)

When Jesus reveals God’s glory, he doesn’t mess around.

Sitting in the boat, finishing up a teaching session with the crowds, he turns to Peter.  He and his friends have had a long night without much to show for it.  They’re cleaning their nets and getting ready to go home and get some sleep.

How often did that occur?  How often were they successful with their catch?  I’m told that 70% of Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs.  The stress, the uncertainty of the economy, the low wages, job insecurity.  When the day ends, they’re content to go home.  They don’t want to throw their nets in.  They’re tired and worn out.

Jesus has other plans.  Even though Peter believes Jesus’ request is in vain, he complies, anyway.  Perhaps he sensed something about this man and he couldn’t say no.

The fish is so bountiful that Peter has to call in help to complete the catch.

Finally, the last of the fish are hauled into the boats.  The men look around them: fish up to their knees!  Peter falls to those knees in awe and wonder and amazement.  “Go away from me, Lord!  I’m a sinful man!”  He now understands that he’s in the presence of the holy and divine.

Others have felt that presence.  Isaiah, when he entered the temple filled with God’s presence and all he could see was the hem of God’s robe.  Moses approached a burning bush and received the order to take off his sandals, for he was standing on holy ground.

We can often tell when we’re in the presence of the divine.  God’s grace and blessings come unexpectedly.  They surprise us.  They unsettle us.  We feel unworthy.

On his knees (or as close to it as he can get surrounded by all those fish) Peter expresses his awe by confessing his sinful condition.  Martin Luther was heard to say that those who see their need of grace are in the best position to find it.  Confession truly is good for the soul.

Jesus reassures all of them.  “Fear not.”  And then he issues the call.  “From now on you will be catching people.”

God is at work.  There are new horizons to explore; new boundaries to push through; walls to break down.

The neighborhood was in a bad part of town.  Poverty and crime lived side by side.  What caused some of the residents to begin growing vegetables is unknown to me.  They couldn’t use their back yards, though.  There was too much shade.  So they planted in the front yards.

Before long, neighbors who had once barely talked to each other were gathering in yards comparing notes on their gardens.  How do you get so many tomatoes on your bushes?  You might try planting that bush closer to the shade for better production.

A few fish jumped into their nets.

Soon they were able to eat the fruit of their labors.  That led to a predicament.  What to do with the table scraps and peelings.  They began composting.  They decided on one compost pile which everyone could use for spring planting.  Some more fish jumped into their nets.

Ten years later Commonwealth Urban Farms has nets bursting with fish.  They are able to sell the compost.  Customers purchase produce in February with the guarantee of 25 weeks of produce provided to them free of charge.  A green house and a hoop house have been built.

Community has become united rather than divided.  The neighborhood is safe.  Land once abandoned to burned out homes and blight have been revitalized.

The fishing nets are full to bursting.

What have you seen in your corner of the kingdom?  What gives you hope?  Where are the nets filling up with fish?

Sometimes it’s hard to see.  Growth can be slow.  Other times growth is killed by the spirit of unkind competition.  Discouragement rears its ugly head.

God’s call is an amazing occurrence.  Yet, we often come face to face with our limitations.  And we give up.

But God in Christ calls us.  And when we follow, we enter places we never dreamed we’d go.  We experience the indescribable.  We hurt.  We feel joy.  Eventually, we learn to look for the unpredictable and we shy away from routine.

I have known greater joy in serving God than at any other time in my life.  I’ve known the heartache of disappointment when my nets were empty.  I’ve known the joy of bursting nets.  I wouldn’t give any of it up for anything.

In this world where everyone we meet has a broken heart, it’s good to be able to see the fish in the nets.  It may be as simple as seeing someone offer help to a homeless person or as complex and huge as an organization building a homeless shelter.

Whatever it is, know that God is at work.  And each time you experience it, remove your sandals for you truly are on holy ground.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Who? Me!?!

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”  (Jeremiah 1:4-10 NRSV)

It was a lovely warm evening; typical of Southern California.  My family and I were at church attending the pot luck supper.  While I waited for the serving line to begin, I slipped out the door and wandered towards the sanctuary.  Surprisingly, the doors were unlocked.  I entered quietly and reverently.

I loved this sanctuary.  The deep blues of the stained glass windows gave an aura of mystery.  As the sun began to set, the sanctuary darkened, but I wasn’t afraid.  I was only eight years old, and darkness usually scared me.  But not tonight.

I walked down the long center aisle and stopped about half way down.  I looked around and listened.  That’s when I felt it.  A presence.  Comforting, loving.

It would take several decades for me to remember that moment of God’s presence made known.  Deep down, though, I  must have remembered it because I was never far from a church home.  I strayed away at times, but never for long.  I always returned to find that presence.

This passage from Jeremiah speaks to me.  The word of the Lord didn’t come to me on that long ago night.  But, the presence spoke volumes.

Jeremiah says, “I’m only a boy.”

God says, “I will be with you.  I will send you.  I will deliver you.  I give you my words that you will speak.”

God’s “I’s” are firm.  Jeremiah’s only response is to go where God sends him.

It won’t be an easy ministry.  God is clear from the beginning that Jeremiah will pluck up, pull down, destroy and overthrow.  Later he’ll begin to build and to plant.  He’ll speak to the people of Judah; they won’t listen.  He’ll try over and over again, and come away wondering why they can’t understand what is in front of their eyes.

Four years ago I visited with people who wanted desperately for President Obama to be impeached.  They couldn’t understand why others couldn’t see what they thought was obvious.

These days I visit with other folks who want to see President Trump impeached.  They can’t understand how his followers can be so blind.

Truth is a strange word in our post-modern world.  We have alternative truth; truth that politicians spin to their own advantage; fake news; even truthiness.  Was that what it was like in Jeremiah’s day?  Was it difficult to see that Judah was headed to exile?  When you’re living in the midst of history, it’s hard to see the hand in front of your face.

For 40 years Jeremiah used words and creative actions to get God’s word to God’s people.  Eventually, Babylon conquered Judah and took the inhabitants into exile.

So, where’s the good news in all this?

Some people look on the world and see only decline.  Perhaps God is in their plucking up, pulling down, destroying and overthrowing.  If that’s the case, then God is also at work to buidt and to plant something better and more faithful.

In Cleveland, OK, Arlington Park provides good wholesome, entertainment for the local residents.  Bands play under the protection of a band stand; park benches and tables are available for picnics; flea markets and art shows are popular.

But it wasn’t always that way.  Once it was the sight of some decrepit buildings that housed the fire and police departments.  The City refurbished other space and each department moved into nicer accommodations.  Then the buildings were torn down to make way for the new park.

Plucking up, pulling down, destroying and overthrowing.  Sometimes we have to go through the painful and destructive in order for the new to be planted.  Such was the case for Jeremiah.  His ministry would see the fall of Judah.  He would then be able to send messages of hope to the exiles.

Later the exiles returned and began to build and plant.

A child born in Bethlehem would be born several centuries later.  He would preach and teach and heal and feed.  He would eventually endure a mock trial and be crucified.  But, God would have the final word in resurrection.

Fear not.  If we live in troubled times, know that God is with us.  God hasn’t given up on us.  God will do God’s work to bring about something better and more faithful.

Our job is to answer the call when God taps us on the shoulder.  Our job is to make our corner of the kingdom a better place for having been here.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Spiritual Regifting

12 1-3 What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives. This is complex and often misunderstood, but I want you to be informed and knowledgeable. Remember how you were when you didn’t know God, led from one phony god to another, never knowing what you were doing, just doing it because everybody else did it? It’s different in this life. God wants us to use our intelligence, to seek to understand as well as we can. For instance, by using your heads, you know perfectly well that the Spirit of God would never prompt anyone to say “Jesus be damned!” Nor would anyone be inclined to say “Jesus is Master!” without the insight of the Holy Spirit.

4-11 God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:

wise counsel

clear understanding

simple trust

healing the sick

miraculous acts

proclamation

distinguishing between spirits

tongues

interpretation of tongues.

All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.  (I Corinthians 12:1-11 The Message)

First Church, Corinth: Spiritually Gifted. Service Minded. Doers.

Also: Competitive. Easily Led Astray. Individualistic.

This fledgling congregation was birthed in the midst of a cosmopolitan city.  Poverty rates were high.  Probably 30% of the population were slaves.

They lived in a society grounded in honor/shame.  If you behaved dishonorably, you dishonored your patron.  Behave properly and “mind your betters” kept you save from shame.

The Corinthian Church members had to make their way through this system of patronage and the worship of a variety of gods.  They couldn’t help bringing their culture into their church.

Paul reminds these fledgling congregants that they live in the world, but they are not of the world.  They’re behavior must be honorable to God.  By behaving in a dishonorable manner, they dishonor God.  For Christians, their patron took second seat.

There’s so much he has to teach them.  So much they have to learn about being honorable Christians.  In this particular part of the letter Paul turns to spiritual gifts. No one gift is better than another.  And remember that if God is their Patron, than we honor God when we worship Jesus and affirm that “Jesus is Lord.”

That’s a big deal.  Our every action and our very words tell others who we worship.  When we honor others and speak wisely, we honor God and we are saying, “Jesus is Lord.”  On the other hand, when we accept the world view of life and behave disrespectfully, we dishonor God and we’re saying in so many words, “Let Jesus be cursed!”

How do we affirm Jesus as Lord?  One way, is through “Spiritual Re-gifting.”  Re-gifting is both popular and infamous these days.  If we receive a gift that doesn’t suit our needs, we can push it to the back of the closet, give it away or wrap it up for someone else.  Many say that re-gifting shows a lack of respect to the original giver.  That when you fail to put the gift to use, you’re dishonoring yourself and the one who gifted you.

Each and every one of us are gifted.  The Holy Spirit gifts us in many different ways. Contrary to culture, these gifts are meant be given away!  If you’re a teacher, teach.  If you’re a healer, heal.  If you’re a giver, be generous.  Spiritual gifts aren’t meant to be held onto not used.

In John’s Gospel we read about Jesus’ first “sign.”  This sign occurred while he was attending a wedding in Cana with his mother.  Any wedding was the event of the season and the celebration lasted for days.  To run out of wine was to dishonor yourself and your guests.  It just couldn’t happen!

At this particular wedding, though, it did.  There was nothing the host could do.  He had nothing left in his storeroom to offer his guests.  Jesus’ mother encourages him to do something about it.  He orders the servants to fill up six stone water jars with water.  They did as they were told.  Then he told them to draw some of the water so that the wine steward could taste it.  They did.

Jesus blessed the host with the very best wine.  He expected the host to give the wine to his guests.

The wine steward was impressed beyond measure with the quality and quantity of this wine.  “You’ve saved the best for last!”  What the servants knew and the steward didn’t know, was that Jesus had produced wine from water.

Jesus made it happen.  The servants were entrusted to serve it.  They weren’t to keep it to themselves — they were to give it away.  A form of Spiritual Re-Gifting!

What gifts do you share for the common good?  What has God given you that you’ve re-gifted, perhaps multiple times?

I believe you’re doing it already.  And as  you come to realize what you’re doing, I trust that you’ll do more of it.

Spiritual re-gifting honors God, honors you and, most of all, honors the recipient.

One Spirit.  Many gifts.  Many ministries. Many Deeds.

Give it away and see what comes back.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


I’m Proud of You

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-25033a" data-link="[a]”>[a] 16 John answered all of them by 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<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-25034b" data-link="[b]”>[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 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.”

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler,<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-25037c" data-link="[c]”>[c] who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 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;<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-NRSV-25040d" data-link="[d]”>[d] with you I am well pleased.”  (Luke 3:15-22 NRSV)

It was spring.  The snow of a long winter had finally melted.  It was time to get outside; time to clean up the yard and make those minor repairs to the house.  I was sixteen: awkward, shy.  Trying to figure out who I was.  Trying to figure out what I would do after high school.

I had spent the day helping my dad scrape and paint the window frames.  Then we decided, unbeknownst to my mother, that the white porch railing needed to be black.  We scraped and painted for several hours.

We were cleaning up our mess when my Dad turned to me and said, “I like you.”

“Thank you,” I responded, not quite knowing where that had come from.

“You know,” he continued.  “We love our children.  Sometimes they aren’t easy to like.  I like you.”

Wow.  I treasured those words in my heart.  I was likable.  Maybe I’d make it in this world after all.

Luke doesn’t spend much time on Jesus’ baptism.  Matthew gives a better description.  Luke mentions it almost in passing.  So, let’s look at it that way.  Let’s not look at the baptism of Jesus, but what happened after.

Jesus was praying.  After he was baptized, he prayed.  Was it immediately after or did he go to a secluded place to pray?

This moment in the baptismal waters were important.  He entered them not because he was sinful or had anything to repent.  He entered into the waters with you and me and the rest of the world.  He came out of the waters a man ready to begin his ministry.

While he was praying, the heavens opened.  The Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.  And then we hear God’s voice, “I claim you as my own.  I’m proud of you.”

When was the last time someone has said those words to you?  “I’m proud of you.”

Was it recently in a conversation with a friend?  Or has it been so many years that you can’t remember?

I’m proud of you.

What’s there to be proud of?  I mean Jesus was worthy of being claimed.  He was the Son of God.  He wasn’t sinful.  Of course God was proud of him.  That’s the easy part.

But, what about us?  Oh, sure, we begin the day with good intentions.  We’ll smile more, notice people around us with greater interest, speak peace-filled words.  Then we get out of bed.

We make our way through our day judging others; arguing our point without listening to others; fighting and clawing our way to … what?

Perhaps you remember the day you were baptized.  Perhaps you were baptized as an infant.  Perhaps you haven’t been baptized, yet.  Remember it anyway.

Think about that baptismal font filled with water made holy by God.  Think about the water in that font as the Psalmist describes it.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.  (Psalm 29:3-4 NRSV)

God is Lord of the waters.  Lord of the waters in that baptismal font; Lord of the waters of creation.  God is over all and in all.  When you remember your baptism, you might think of fresh, clear water that can’t hurt you.  This Psalm reminds us that God isn’t a puddle of water; God is all powerful.  To choose baptism is to choose to enter into the dangerous water and give yourself fully and completely to God.

And while Jesus entered his baptismal waters, Herod was locking up John the Baptizer for speaking truth to evil power.

Your baptism isn’t sweet; it’s powerful.  In those waters you are marked with the invisible sign that you belong to God.  And God is proud of you.

Still not sure?  Let’s see what the prophet Isaiah has to say:

43 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.  (Isaiah 43:1-2 NRSV)

Don’t fear.  Why?  Because God calls you by your name; you belong to God.  Don’t fear.  Why?  Because when you pass through the waters and the rivers overwhelm you (which they will) God is with you.  When the fires of hell are scorching your feet (and they will) God is with you.

Yes, we’re a pretty messed humanity.  We often get it wrong.  We misunderstand; we take our anger out on those who may not deserve it; we point fingers; we judge.  Don’t fear.

Don’t fear because God knew you before you were born.  God gifted you with spiritual gifts to share with others.  God is with you.  God knows you’re trying.  And God is proud of you.

So gaze into those dangerous baptismal waters.  Consider your life and how much it means to be God’s beloved child.

Then hear God’s voice: “I’m proud of you!”

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


%d bloggers like this: