Joining In

A sermon based on Genesis 11:1-9 and Acts 2:1-21 preached on June 4th, 2017

Sermon audio

Today we celebrate the many ways that God gives us new being. How we are forever and constantly invited into a life that is not ours but something given to us.

Pentecost is when we the Church realize that our life, our vitality, our meaning and purpose aren’t something that comes from within us. It all comes from somewhere else. Beyond us. We are not who we are on our own.

On the morning of that first Pentecost, the disciples were held up in a tiny room. Their minds, hearts, lives—their very purpose was gone, shrunk down and withered away. Frozen in fear. They thought they were alone. Abandoned. Orphaned. Left to themselves to make life work from here on out. Then they heard a rumble that came from the heavens.

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It is through Holy Spirit that we are given live, purpose, vitality. Holy Spirit represented by tongues of fire, tongues of speech, wind, and water.

Pentecost fire is not the sort that burns. It’s the sort that refines. Cleanses. Helps something made hard and rigid melt down into something pliable, shapeable, able to be remolded again.

Tongues of speech. Not the strange jibber-jabber heard in Holiness churches, but a new language that’s given to us so that we may understand one another and be understood by one another. We read the story in Genesis of the Tower of Babel where God confuses the languages of the people until they can no longer understand one another. What happens in Acts 2, on Pentecost, is the undoing of Babel.

Now, on this day, with the presence of the Holy Spirit with us, we have the ability to understand one another again. We borrow language that isn’t ours, and with it, we speak. We speak in the varied languages of our lives. We understand and are understood. And that’s a tremendous gift: to be understood. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit who speaks among us and between us.

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Holy Spirit comes upon us as wind, reminding us that we are born from borrowed breath. It is God’s breath that inflated Adam’s empty lungs and gave him life. The same is true of us. Until God breathes Holy Spirit into us, we have no life.

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And water. The waters of baptism are poured out upon us as a sign of this gift, the Holy Spirit. Water is another reminder that we are not our own. Without water, we wither away. It’s another life-giving gift. Something that we do not and cannot give ourselves; water is given to us. With the waters of baptism, we say that with God and with the people of God, we find ourselves. That being human is to belong. That to belong is to be human.

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Each one of these—tongues of fire, tongues of speech, wind, and water. They are all things that invite us into bigger life. Holy Spirit life.

Andrew, Brennan, Leela, nothing magical has happened today. But you did do something wondrous just now: In a world that prizes individualism—do it yourself-ism—you have just proclaimed with your presence and your voice that you will no longer live your life alone. You have in a few different ways, declared that doing life together, joining in, is the only way for you to find your purpose, your life, your shape, your language, your breath, yourself.

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The same is true for all of us. We all need to be reminded of the together-way. Life not only lived but formed and given meaning in and through the practice of Holy Spirit-community. And just like the disciples on that first Pentecost, this is just the beginning of our journey together.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Hello, My Name Is…

A sermon based on Luke 3:21-22 and Isaiah 43:1-7 preached on January 10th, 2016

Sermon audio

What’s in a name? Perhaps when I ask a question like that, your mind goes directly to Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet.

What’s Montague? It is nor hand, or foot, nor arm, nor face…O! be some other name: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet!

That’s Juliet struggling with her identity as a Capulet and Romeo a Montague, and the very real significance of those two names. What is it about names?

I remember coming home from school—my brother and I were latchkey kids—before ever stepping into the house, I would run to the mailbox and sort through each piece of mail. Rare were the days there was a piece of mail for me, but everyday I hoped there was. On those rare days, though! It was so exciting to flip through all the junk and find an envelope with my name on it! What kid doesn’t like to see their name spelled out in big huge letters?! It means that someone out there, whether they had any idea who you were or not, took a moment to type or write your very own name out onto a piece of paper. “Someone out there knows I exist! That I’m a person with an identity all my own.”  It’s a rite of passage, and it is like magic, too!

What is it about our names?

The Bible is full of stories about people who are called by their names—chosen out of a crowd for some special reason. People like Abram and Sarai in Genesis who were wandering the desert as nomads—two unknowns who kept to themselves, more or less, anonymous—then that moment when all of that changed. A voice rose up from somewhere—who knows where, really—and spoke their names.  “Abram, Sarai.” And from that moment on, their lives changed. No longer anonymous desert wanderers, God said that Abram and Sarai would now be called Abraham and Sara, the Father and Mother of nations.

We only have to flip a few more pages to Gen 32 where Jacob wrestles with a strange presence who feels a whole lot like God to him. And God asks Jacob his name, and Jacob grunts it out while he’s still wrestling with this presence, and God says,

No more. Now you will be called Israel…he who wrestles with God.”

There are many more stories like this in between, but perhaps the most notable name change in the New Testament comes when Saul, the Pharisee and Christian-killer, powerful and noteworthy among the leadership of his day is blinded by light along the Damascus Road. The book of Acts tells the story. His eyes were so damaged by this light that scales developed over them, and it took 3 days for them to fall away, but when they did, he was a brand new man, a different person. He was immediately baptized, and God gives him a new name. “Paul,” which means small or humble. When you meet Jesus, you’re no longer the same. Your name may or may not change, but your entire identity does.

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In all these cases and more, when we are called by our name, it affirms that we are known, and all of us want to be known. More than anything else in the world, we want to be known.

And then we have the story of Jesus’ baptism, where once Jesus is lifted out of the water, there’s that voice again, from who-knows-where exactly. And this time it says: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in You I find happiness.” Beautiful, affirming words! Words of validation and blessing. Which one of us doesn’t need to hear these words, or ones like them, spoken to us by others?

And then the words for today from Isaiah, from that voice again:

Don’t fear; I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine…You are precious in my eyes, honored, and I love you.

With words like that, God gives us identity and value, gives us a place to belong, affirms us as His own.

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Luke doesn’t take long to tell us the story of Jesus’ baptism. Just these two short verses. But in them is something that all the other Gospels don’t have. We have this little, wondrous sentence right at the beginning:

When everyone was being baptized, Jesus was also baptized.

John the Baptist was a popular guy, people stood in line for hours to be baptized by him. When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming, he didn’t move Him to the front of the line. There’s no VIP passes for Jesus here. Jesus is just one of many in and among the masses that day. He stood in line and waited for His turn just like everyone else did. The browbeaten and the sick, the forgotten and the disenfranchised, they formed lines in the hopes of being restored through the waters of baptism, hoping there could be a new beginning for them, and Jesus joined them. The line was long and it moved slowly because John the Baptist took his time with each and every one of them. I imagine he asked them their names and then he repeated each name, lifting it up so God would hear it and affirm it. Then he immersed them.

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Hello, my name is Patrick. I have tough days and I have good days. On the tough days, my legs don’t work for me. And on those days, walking from here to there might as well be a trek through the Himalayas. I walk around with a funny gate, a bit slouchy. Sometimes, I have curled wrists and fingers that get stuck. I have no control over the toes on my left foot, and most of the time my muscles are tenser then an angry German army sergeant. I have to hold onto something or lean against something in order to stand at all, and because that hasn’t always been the case for me, I get really frustrated by that. But I am loved, and I am confident in this love even in my awkward movements and all those times I wished my body worked better for me. I am made in God’s image, and this body I have, although complicated and cranky, tells a beautiful story of suffering and difficulty, challenge and determination, defeat and victory—it tells a story of a tough road walked. And I am still walking.

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And all of us, we are husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters; coupled, single, divorced, widows and widowers, both whole and broken at the same time, each one of us with a story not so different than mine, perhaps. Full of both victories and defeats, triumphs and regrets, happy times and sad ones, too.

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Notice the words in our passage from Isaiah this morning.

When you pass through the waters…when you walk through the rivers…when you walk through fire.

Not “if, “ “when.”

God doesn’t give us free passes. There will be raging fire and troublesome waters. Hills and valleys. Darkness and light. They will happen over and again throughout our lives. God’s presence doesn’t assure us escape from any of these things. God only promises to endure them with us.

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One of the scariest words in the English language is “perfect.” I think we should vote perfect out of office. I wonder if you’re with me on this?

Perfect has been in charge for way too long apefectnd has spent its time in office ceaselessly and easily convincing us of way too many lies. Lies about this world and how it works. Lies about ourselves. What we need to be and have and do. Perfect has kept us scrambling. Perfect has kept our terror alert on high for years. We have bowed down to Perfect before. We have let Perfect into our homes. It has sat along side of us on our couches. Perfect has spoken into the little ears of our children, way too young to hear what it has to say.

Perfect has been on billboards and on the covers of magazines. In movies and on TV. Perfect is everywhere. What Perfect says, we repeat. What Perfect wears, we wear. What Perfect eats, we eat. Perfect intimidates us. Perfect has us between its fingers. And we may even be addicted to Perfect. But Perfect has been oppressing us for way too long. It’s time for a new administration. It’s time we said goodbye to Perfect. The idea of Perfect is one of our culture’s most dangerous traits. We chase after it, but it’s always two steps ahead of us. There’s no catching Perfect. But still we chase.

It’s time to do Perfect in. Let’s put something more realistic in its place.  How about Acceptance?  Wouldn’t it be nice to stop chasing Perfect, to stop where we are to catch our breath, finally, and turn around to see that Acceptance was standing by our side all along, smiling with its arms out, eager to embrace us, saying to each of us, “I like you, just the way you are!”

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In the gospel according to Matthew, we hear Jesus use the word “perfect.”

Be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect.

But back when Jesus used the word, it meant something entirely different than what it means to us now. When Jesus urges us to be perfect, he’s asking us to be whole, entire; be complete; be mature and full-grown. God doesn’t ask us to do the impossible.  God encourages us to become fuller versions of ourselves. That’s God’s definition of perfect.

And we find God’s sort of perfect as we are raised up out of the waters of baptism, as we hear that voice that says to each us, “You are my daughters and sons. You are dearly loved—more than you could ever know; and in You, I find happiness.” Friends, we are loved, and we are—each and every one of us—children of God.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Part of a People

A sermon based on Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11 preached on January 11th, 2015.

Sermon audio

Today, we’re taking the moment together in worship to renew and reclaim our baptismal vows.

It doesn’t matter if your parents brought you to the waters as an infant and had you baptized before you knew it or if you came to the water as an adult and proclaimed with your own voice your faith in Jesus Christ, we are all invited today to proclaim once again our identity as daughters and sons of God, and to reaffirm our intentions to live our lives as faithful and willing and active disciples of Jesus.

It is through these waters that God has invited us to become a part of a greater whole.

The waters of baptism are adoption waters. They are a sign and a symbol that God has claimed as God’s own.

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There’s a few things that baptism is not.

Baptism isn’t a ticket to the afterlife, it’s more like an envelope handed to us by a travel agent—a letter sent to you in the mail from God. We are the ones who have to open that envelope, and we are the ones who embark upon the journey.

Baptism isn’t an end in itself, it’s more like the very start of new relationship.

And thirdly, baptism doesn’t enhance sacredness, it acknowledges it. We are already blessed as God’s sons and daughters. But it is through our baptism that we seek to find out what that blessing is for.

It is because of the call of our baptism that we take the time to participate in the life of the Church—faithfully gathering, knowing that as we gather regularly as a faith community, God will shape us into who God wants us to be.

There’s one word we can use to sum all of that up: “belong”.

We are not just baptized. We are baptized into something. Through these waters, we become a part of something bigger than ourselves. With the waters of baptism we claim that we belong to God and to community.

And it is here we gather today on Baptism of our Lord Sunday, around these waters to bless each other as daughters and sons of the living God, and to pledge to one another our intentions to be a part of a people–to embark together on a journey—faithfully gathering together along the way, supporting one another in the life of faith, and to recommit ourselves, body, mind, heart, and soul, and presence, to the faithful pursuit of discipleship.

Come, and be a part. Let us come to the waters.

 Reaffirming Our Baptism

Litany of Scripture

1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 17

Just as one body has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

For in the one Spirit we are all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Deuteronomy 7:9

Know that the Lord your God is God,

the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love God and keep God’s commandments.

Ephesians 4:1-3

Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Statement about Baptism

Profession of Faith

Do you renounce evil and the powers in the world which defy God’s righteousness and love?

I renounce them.

Do you renounce the ways of sin that separate you from the love of God?

I renounce them.

Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?

I do.

Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, following his Word and showing his love, to your life’s end?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you rededicate yourself to the mission and ministry of this church, faithfully and regularly attending worship and actively pursuing opportunities for service, mission, and discipleship here at Kuhn Memorial?

I will.                                                                                                                        

Confession of Faith Using the Words of the Apostles’ Creed 

With the whole Church, let us confess our faith. Do you believe in God the Father?

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving for Baptism

Invitation to the Waters

Coming to the Waters

You’re invited to:

  • Dip Your Hand in the Waters

As music is played, you will be invited to walk up to the table at the front of the sanctuary to dip your hand in the waters to remember your baptism and to renew your commitment to discipleship. 

  • Take a River Stone

You are invited to take a stone from either the bottom of the bowl or from the cup of stones next to it. This stone signifies for you that you are God’s own and you have been called through your baptism to be a part of God’s church here at Kuhn Memorial and in and for the world.

  • Light a Tea Light

You are invited to light a tea light to signify the Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus and upon you at your baptism. It still burns within us who have been baptized. 

As we process, we will sing Down to the River to Pray – Insert

Faithing

A sermon based on Psalm 105:1-6 and Matthew 14:22-33 preached on September 7th, 2014.

Sermon audio

This story is iconic. Whether you’ve ever opened a bible or heard a sermon preached on it, been in a bible study or Sunday school lesson about it—this story is a familiar one.

The phrase “walking on water” has made its way into our culture’s common vernacular. The phrase is used for the kind of people who we look up to—who do the miraculous and make it look easy—who regularly and effortlessly accomplish the impossible. Our mothers walk on water, social workers walk on water, so do nurses, and teachers—or at least the best of them.

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I’ve mentioned before that Mythbusters is one of my favorite TV shows. The Mythbusters are a bunch of scientists and special effects artists who try to recreate the stuff that happens in movies to see if they’re possible in real life. They also take common phrases like this one and test them out too.

In one episode, the Mythbusters tested out whether in any circumstance walking on water was scientifically possible. They strapped floatation devices to their feet and stepped out onto the surface of a pool—and they toppled over.

They went to a lake and thought that maybe if they got a running start, they would hit the water so fast they’d be able to glide across the surface like a skipping stone. When that didn’t work, they got a track and field Olympic medal winner to try it—and she sank into the lake just as fast as they did.

The myth was busted, they declared. It doesn’t matter what clever tricks you have up your sleeve, despite our best efforts, no one can walk on water. It’s scientifically impossible. Quite a surprise, huh?

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We miss the point of this story when we focus on what’s possible about it and what isn’t. “How did Jesus walk on water?” is not the question we should be asking ourselves as we read this story —his ability to walk on water is not the point.

The question we should ask starts with a “What” instead: “What does this story have to teach us about living out our faith in Jesus?”

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A common image the early church used to describe itself was as a boat—a boat out at sea. Many of the original disciples were fisherman. They knew boats well—they lived their lives on boats—spent their days on them, both before and after Jesus.

The image of a sailboat full of your fellow believers, blown by the wind of the Holy Spirit, was very commonly used to describe the early church. The very early church was a boat. So, those in Matthew’s congregation, this story’s first hearers, knew right away that is was more than a nautical tale involving 12 disciples and Jesus.

This was Matthew’s way of sending his congregation a bigger message and telling them a more significant story. A story about them. Matthew’s church was a persecuted people. Matthew wrote his gospel to a church in the throws of martyrdom. Followers of Jesus hid out, they needed to keep quiet about their faith because those who didn’t stay quiet were fed to lions in Roman stadiums—one of only a multitude of ways early followers of Jesus were being persecuted. If the 1st Century church was a boat, it was one caught in the middle of a storm, surrounded by threats.

In verse 24, our text says the boat was being battered by the waves and a strong headwind. The Greek word there is much stronger than “battered”—a better translation would be “persecuted.” The early Church was a boatful of believers caught in the chaos of martyrdom. On ever side, their lives were in danger. In over their heads and afraid, these early Christians wondered where Jesus was in the midst of their suffering.

This is a story about how Jesus comes to all of his disciples—the original 12 as well as the billions around the world today, in the middle of threatening seas, to speak words of peace and strength:

Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid!

No matter where we are or what we’re facing, Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and he comes speaking words of assurance and peace.

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Notice, though, what doesn’t happen in this story. Nowhere in this passage does Jesus calm the wind and waves.

There’s another story very similar to this one in chapter 8 were Jesus was already in a boat with the disciples. He falls asleep, and the disciples wake him up because there was a storm and it was too much them. There, Jesus orders the wind and waves to die down.

But in this story, there is no word from Jesus that calms the wind and the waves. Jesus does not deliver the disciples from the battering sea. He doesn’t come promising to stop their persecution. Jesus does not still any storms here.

All that Jesus offers is his presence, and all the disciples get is Jesus’ encouragement. It’s the promise of Jesus’ presence that gives the disciples hope even though the wind and the waves continue battering their boat.

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Throughout the Gospels, Peter comes off as a blockhead. He puts the “duh” in “disciple”. Peter’s the one who acts before he thinks. He’s the giddy one who blurts out everything that crosses his mind. He never holds back a thing. But in this story, Peter’s eagerness leads to one of the most memorable moments in the whole bible. Peter steps out of the boat. He may even take a few steps on the water. A strong headwind comes along and we all know what happens. It’s the same thing that happened on Mythbusters. He starts to sink.

“What was Peter thinking?” we say to ourselves. Did he really think he could walk on water? Maybe he should have just stayed in the boat. This is Peter being a blowhard, again!

But when all the other disciples, with all the torment of the wind and persecution of the waves building up all around them, stayed in the safety of the boat, it was Peter who stood up and walked into the chaos, to be closer to Jesus. It was Peter who stepped outside of the comfort of that boat and risked his life, putting all of his trust into the hands of Jesus, summoning up the courage to take the first step outside. Risk, courage, trust—Peter shows us that these things are the stuff of true faith. What Peter shows us is that faith is a verb.

This isn’t Peter being an idiot. This is Peter being a disciple. This is Peter turning faith into action.

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See, we’re comfortable keeping faith a noun. Faith is something we have rather than something we do. We think of faith as believing certain things. It’s something we carry around with us as we would a possession. Faith, we think, is something we have. It stays inside of us, in the safety of the boat. Away from the waves.

But, what if faith is also a verb? What if it’s not only something we have but it’s something do?

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This story is full of action. Jesus sending the disciples away. The boat fighting a strong headwind, being battered by waves, Jesus walking toward the disciples, Peter getting out of the boat and walking toward Jesus. In this story, Peter’s faith is another verb. Peter doesn’t so much have faith as much as he faiths.

In spite of everything he knows about what’s outside of the boat, the chaos of the water, the wind throwing the boat wherever it wants to, Peter steps out and risks his life to walk with Jesus. Peter doesn’t simply have faith, he practices faith. He turns all that he thinks and believes into a verb and acts on in. And for a moment—just a split second—in the midst of all the wind and waves battering the boat—Peter walks. And, yeah, he starts sinking immediately and needs his Lord to reach out his hand to rescue him, but at least he took the risk to step out in the first place.

So, when Jesus says to Peter,

You of weak faith,

he’s not telling Peter that he his faith is too small, but that he didn’t faith enough.

Peter, next time, faith more, Jesus is saying.

While all the rest of the disciples were just fine staying in the boat—safe, away from all that threatened them out there—not faithing at all, at least Peter took the chance. At least Peter took his faith and turned it into a verb and did something with it—stepping out and putting it all in Jesus’ hands.

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There’s a book out there—it’s become a very popular one, called, What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be Christian? Really? Is this the approach to take? A faith that just eeks by? Does Jesus ask us to play it safe? To put only parts of ourself into this venture called discipleship.

Maybe I’ll just dip my toes into the water and test out how things feel.

No. That’s not faithing. That’s staying in the boat with our life vests on. Both Peter and Jesus would scoff at the idea. Following Jesus is never safe, never halfway, never measuring out our devotion to God.

True discipleship knows nothing about moderation. Following Jesus is an all-in, full plunge into deep waters. Taking strides out onto the waves, just like Peter did, trusting that Jesus is there if we start sinking.

The question of discipleship is this: Am I willing to move outside of myself and trust Jesus—even if it means stepping out into uncertain and chaotic waters?

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Was Peter crazy? Yeah, he was to think he could walk on water. Maybe we should all be the same kind of crazy. Maybe we should take the same risk he did and step out, confident that Jesus is out there and doesn’t want us to stay inside the safety zone of our little boat.

Peter walked toward Jesus, like every disciple should do—stepping out in faith, risking our own safety—even our own lives, to be closer to Jesus, knowing that even if we fail at faithing and begin to sink, Jesus is right there reaching out for us and will pull us right back up again.

Possessing faith is just fine. Lots of people have faith, but they never use it outside their little boats. The real work of the Gospel happens we when we take the faith we have and turn it into a verb.

Let’s step out and start faithing.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Who’s Thirsty?

A sermon on Exodus 17:1-7 and John 4:4-29 preached on March 23rd, 2014.

 Sermon audio

Jesus does something very dangerous. It isn’t the first time he breaks age-old rules in an attempt to get to know the hurt and the disenfranchised among him—to offer them healing and new life simply by being in their presence.

Jesus approaches people who have been deemed by law or by social convention unapproachable, he reaches out to heal those who are considered un-healable. He speaks to people who he should not speak to. And this time it’s a woman, not only that: a Samaritan woman.

The social and religious boundaries in place during Jesus’ time never kept him from connecting with the wounded and the humiliated. And here we have the deepest example of Jesus’ compassion. Here, Jesus ignores so many different taboos by speaking to this woman at the well. Among all 4 gospels, this is the longest conversation that Jesus has with anyone, including his disciples. And if he cared at all about the social and religious rules of his day, he wouldn’t have had this conversation at all.

Jesus is going through Samaria. No, there’s a better way to say that. John, this gospel’s writer, says it like this, and I wonder if you heard it:

Jesus had to go through Samaria.

Jesus is well into his journey to Jerusalem. And Samaria was in the way. John says it like it’s the worst place in the world, there’s so many other nicer ways to put it than this: “Jesus had to go through Samaria.” What a terrible place filled with even worse people—those Samaritans!

In Samaria there was a well. Jacob’s Well. Both the Israelites and the Samaritans claimed this ancient well as their own. And, for both, it was a holy place. This well in the middle of this contested land was the very same one that Jacob and his 12 sons—the sons whose decedents became the 12 tribes of Israel—drank from. Jacob was the father of Israel and of Samaria. And this water was still flowing through this ancient well just as it did thousands of years ago. It still gave water to the parched people who traveled to it everyday. Women hiked up its hill with their jars in tow, gathering enough water in their jars to keep their family hydrated—a little to cook and clean with, too.

This is no place for a man to be. It was the women who fetched their family’s water, and a man going up to a well when he knows he will encounter a woman. Not a smart idea. Husbands jealously claimed their wives as their own, and there was no good reason for any man to approach a strange woman—and it was even worse for a man to put himself in a situation where he was all alone with one. Jesus knew better. But up to this well he climbed anyway.

Village wells were the water coolers of their day. Women congregated at Jacob’s Well in the early morning before sun made the day unbearable. They brought their jars and the latest gossip and up at the top of the hill they stayed, kibitzing, commiserating, and socializing. Being a woman in Samaria was oppressive, and time spent away from husbands and fathers—time spent with other women was as refreshing as the water they had come to fetch. It must have been something all the women of the village looked forward to each day. But that was in the morning and maybe later in the evening after the sun went down. It was high noon in Samaria when Jesus came trekking up the hill to ask for a drink. It could be that Jesus thought they’re wouldn’t be anyone up there that time of day. It was way too hot. But there she was.

This one Samaritan woman must have been an outcast among all the rest of the women in her village.

We don’t know why, but if she was up at Jacob’s Well at the hottest part of the day, then she knew she would be there well after all the other women had left. She may have been banished from their presence. Unaccepted by all the rest. But whatever the problem was, it was bad enough that she came to the well when she knew she would be there all by herself.

Jesus approaches her and asks for a drink. The woman at the well (notice we never learn her name) must have felt nervous. This was not the situation any woman of her day wants to be in. Frankly, she probably just wants to be left alone.

Jesus is thirsty and asks her for a drink. But as this conversation unfolds, we find that there is more than one person on the hilltop who needs their thirst quenched.

This Samaritan woman thirsts for something that this water has never satisfied. She doesn’t even know what can quench her thirst—this unmet need she has. All this scrambling everyday—trudging up to the top of this well in the scorching sun. Something to fill more than her jar. Something to fill the parched places inside of her. Maybe she’s been looking for something like living water all of her life. Those parts of her that thirst for something deeper—that need to be brought to life again.

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This woman has been married 5 times and is now living with another man.

Whenever we read this story, we think that Jesus is calling out this woman for doing something sinful: for getting divorced 5 times. But as we learned a couple weeks ago when we were going through the Sermon on the Mount, that’s not what’s happening here at all. You’ll remember that women had no control over their divorces in Jesus’ time.

Husbands were well within their rights to hand their wives divorce papers and send them out of their house whenever they wanted and for whatever reason they wanted. Wives in this day were completely disposable. So when Jesus tells this woman her own story—that she has been divorced 5 times—Jesus isn’t trying to humiliate her by bringing up something she’s ashamed about, Jesus is saying that he knows how unfairly she has been treated by others. He is being compassionate to her and telling her that he understands the hardship that she has been through.

Can you hear her sense of frustration? Her disillusionment? Do you see the drudgework assigned to her? Can you feel the weight of her life hoisted upon her shoulders—dropped like a ton of bricks onto her chest?

Jesus seems to know that this woman carries something a whole lot heavier than this water jar by her side. There’s a heaviness to her being. She is seeking deep relief. Jesus knows that she has had enough hardship and disappointment in her life—that she has been treated unjustly for far too long and that she thirsts for something more. Deeper relationship. Something trustworthy and reliable. Something that would bring her more life.

This is a story of transformation and liberation. There are so many who live parched lives—who seek to be refreshed and restored by a different sort of water: a kind of water that revitalizes our spirits.

Yes, Jesus knows we thirst—and what we thirst for, and Jesus has a selfless and insatiable thirst to restore us all to wholeness and to free us from our burdens.

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And that water jar. Everyday she trudged along with that heavy thing. That was one of the weights this Samaritan woman carried. Walking back and forth across her village—up and down that hill where Jacob’s Well stood.

That jar was her burden. One of many. Maybe that heavy water jar was a symbol of all the things she carried inside of her. Its load was just a sliver of the entire load she carried in her heart and in her soul. All those broken relationships. Her husbands who threw her out on the street. Those other women who congregated every morning at Jacob’s Well—the ones she used to get along with.

Yes, the weight of that water jar represented the weight of every burden she every carried.

Did you catch the part where she left her water jar behind? Up there on that hill on that particular day, this woman was freed from what brought her down for so long, and she ran down into her village—the very village full of people she was estranged from, and she said to those same people, “Come see!”

Come see a man who has told me everything I’ve ever done!

Presbyterian pastor Anna Carter Florence stops us there and suggests there is more hidden inside these words from the Samaritan woman…

Come see a man who has told me everything I’ve ever done…and loved me anyway!

Jesus is the One who finds us where we are—in the bone-dry places where we have for too long carried our too heavy loads.

Jesus finds us there and offers us living water.

All praises to the One who frees us. Who loves us just as we are…who made it all and finds it beautiful.

Alleluia! Amen.

Becoming Human

A sermon on Matthew 3:13-17 preached on January 12, 2014.

Sermon audio

Where can I find a bottle of water in this town?

The chemical leak into the water supply in Charlestown has affected a surprising amount of counties throughout West Virginia. It has come close enough to affecting us that on Friday morning, I listened closely to the radio to find our whether or not the shower I just took may have been the end of me.

It is in these situations when we’re forced to stop using something as important as water that we realize how much need it, how essential it is for us, how we rely upon it for most of everything we do.

Water is life, and when a resource usually given to us in abundance is suddenly taken away from us—from hundreds of 1,000’s of people throughout the state, we are reminded again of how necessary and vital a resource like water is.

It takes a situation as pressing as this one to remind us all how we are creatures who rely upon so many natural resources. In almost every aspect of life, we are sustained and regenerated by water.

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The waters of the Jordan ran strong and deep through the northern parts of the Judean territories. This is the river in which John was baptizing 1,000’s of people. Jews and gentiles alike were coming to him to be cleansed, washing away old things and starting a new journey with God.

In some places, the rushing waters of the Jordan River knocked you off of your feet. In other places, the river ran slower. It was in those slower places that people bathed, washed their clothes by beating them against the smooth, wet rocks just at the surface of the water. People walked miles with their empty pails to gather water for their families. Water to drink and cook with.

The waters of the Jordan River gave life to the Judean people in many ways. And it was in this river that John was baptizing people to new life. Water used by God to cleanse and renew us.

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Jesus had not yet begun his ministry. He traveled the 50 miles from Nazareth to the Jordan River. Curiously, Jesus uses John’s baptism to kick off his earthly ministry.

Why chose baptism? It’s water and a few words. It’s surprisingly ordinary. Baptism seems all too human a thing for the Son of God.

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In the movie City of Angels, Nicklaus Cage is an angel named Seth who comes to earth to help a woman who has lost her way. Maggie, Meg Ryan’s character, is lonely and stuck in her career.

After making several visits to patients at the hospital she works in, the angel Seth begins falling in love with Maggie. And as he falls in love with her, his eyes open up to the beauty of the world too.

Maggie explains to Seth that beauty is so much wrapped up with the small things like the tastes of certain foods, good books, a gentle touch from a loved one. Seth begins to wonder what a piece of cake tastes like, what it’s like to breathe in oxygen, to feel a feeling, or to hold somebody close. These are things that angels know nothing about.

After talking to many of his fellow celestial beings, Seth decides to become a fallen angel, which in the imagination of this movie means ending his life as an angel so that he can become a human being.

As a new human being, Seth is fascinated by all the basic human things we all take for granted. He notices the crunch of ground beneath his feet with every step he takes. He cuts his finger with a knife while slicing peppers for dinner and he loves that his finger begins to bleed. Being human, he thinks, is perfect! Even with its struggles and ambiguity (or maybe because of them) life as a human being is wonderful.

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To be human is to be physical. To have senses and to be sensed by others.  We are substance and body—flesh, bone and sinew. Fully embodied creatures that God has created in God’s perfect image. And although none of us are perfect, and although our bodies do fail us, we are exactly who God has created us to be.

Through Jesus, God knows what it feels like to breathe in oxygen, to know the struggles as well as the glories of the human body. To chew food, to bleed when cut. To cry out in pain when we’re hurting. Through Jesus, God experienced the ordinariness of our lives and came to share in it with us.

In order to understand baptism, we first have to understand that God was gracious enough to become one of us. God had to know what it was like to feel water against skin.

It is through the incarnation—God taking on flesh and coming to us—that we understand what baptism really is about. It’s about God becoming human.

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There are some who believe that we’re all just souls temporarily housed in these bodies. That it’s the soul that is Godly and our body that is sinful and must one day be discarded. We’ve all heard this idea before. Like we’re really made of two parts—that one part of us is from the earth and the other part is from heaven. That we’re souls trapped in cages made of flesh and bone. And one day the real us, the part of us that’s important to God, will be released from this earthly prison that is our body. In Jesus Christ, God says none of that is the right way to see ourselves. In Jesus Christ, God says that by being completely human, we are completely God’s. We are made just like we’re supposed to be. That we are made to be whole creations blessed by the One who came to be one of us.

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John the Baptist almost refused to baptize Jesus. John thought there wasn’t any need to. John was right in a way. Jesus had no sin that needed to be cleansed. There was no separation between he and God that need to be reconciled through the waters of baptism. But Jesus insisted to John that he needed to be baptized.

It was through his baptism that Jesus showed the world that God’s Word was now living among us. Jesus’ baptism shows us that God’s Word was now tangible, touchable. That God’s Word now had skin that was able to get wet. God’s Word now had breath to hold inside of his lungs. Eyes that close as John dunked him under the waters of the Jordan. Jesus’ baptism showed us that God had indeed become one of us. Jesus was God’s big “Yes” to how good it is to be human—to have an existence even within the limitations of our bodies.

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I think becoming human is a process. We’re not all that humane, after all. There is brokenness and hurt throughout the world, and most of it we inflict upon each other. I don’t think we have to look far to see where most of the evil in the world comes from. We human beings fall short of God’s desires for us, and whenever we hurt or minimize another, we’re basically saying to that person that we refuse to see what we have in common. The most evil acts in history have occurred when someone was able to overlook the humanity of another, and whenever one of us is able to do that, violence happens. Sometimes we shake our heads at how inhumane we humans can be towards one another. How inhumane we can be towards all of creation.

Really, I think that we are a people who, with God’s help, are becoming human. It is through acts of compassion and kindness that we see glimpses, just glimpses, of our humanity.

In this world, so bent towards hatred and separation and violence, it takes some effort to find how we are human.

I think God asks each of us to become fully human, to step forward on a journey to becoming human beings.

Perhaps that’s God’s image for us.

Perhaps that is what incarnation is—to one day be fully human beings and be the creatures our Creator intends for us to be.

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It is through the waters of baptism that Christ shares in our humanity.

Washed in the waters, God declares Jesus fully human—a son dearly loved—one of us.

It is through the waters of baptism that God joins us with Christ and incorporates us into the family of God, calling each of us a dearly loved child of God. It is through the waters of baptism that God claimed Jesus as His own. And it is through the same waters that God has adopted us and challenges us to be a truly human family of God.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful. Amen.