Sunday, January 26, 2020

John 15:1-8 - Where Do you Live? (A sermon Written for a Wesley Covenant Service)

My mother and father are from in Baltimore. My mother likes to say that she grew up on the right side of the wrong side of town and my father grew up on the wrong side of the wrong side of town. This is another way to say they both grew up poor my mother just grew up a little less poor than my father. My mother never talks about there not being enough food, just life was hard and money was tight. On the other hand my father used to tell a story about his mother going to the store, counting out the money and coming to the conclusion that she did not have enough money for both milk and flour. She always bought flour because flour can be made into bread if mixed with yeast and water and baked or made into gravy if you put it in a pan with just water. (when I was growing up we made paste with water and flour – so I can only imagine how paste like this gravy must have tasted).
As I am sure you can imagine, were not many options for a young man from a poor family growing up in on the wrong side of the city, several of my older uncles became construction workers, they helped build several of the noticeable buildings and one of them helped build the tunnel that takes you under the harbor if you are traveling through the city on I-95.  My father joined the military, not like there was much choice for a young man his age at that time with the draft and all, but he decided at some point to make a career of it.  They would give him steady pay, an education and they would get him out of the slums of Baltimore.
While my father had grown up in Baltimore, my grandfather was from Kentucky. When the coal dried up he left Kentucky to make a better life for himself and his family. When I was 16 my family traveled to Gooserock, Kentucky.  We saw the little post office, and the bar that make up that town.  We traveled down a small road and turned up the gravel path that now runs alongside of Rockybranch creek.  I met some of the children and grandchildren of my grandfather’s siblings.  Their lives are VERY different than mine.  Just as my father had gotten out of Baltimore, my grandfather before him had gotten out of Kentucky.
Because of these two migrations from one place to another, the lives of myself and my sisters were unimaginably altered. This is because, where we live matters.
 In this passage Jesus calls for us to live in him.  Well he uses the word, “abide.”   But abide means to dwell, to live.  This is about setting down roots, about building a house, taking up residence, allowing the place to shape and change your life.  My grandfather’s life was shaped and changed by his choice to leave Kentucky and move to Baltimore.  My father’s (and subsequently my) life was shaped and changed by the fact that my father decided to leave Baltimore and allow the military to decide where he would live.  Our lives are shaped and changed by where we live.  Jesus wants our lives to be shaped and changed by him.  We are to find our dwelling place in him, to dwell, to live in him. 
It is easy to think that we live in Cambridge, or in the Boston Metropolitan Area. And we do.  It is easy to think that we live in Massachusetts or the United States.  And of course we do.  And our lives are shaped and changed because we live in these places.  Anyone who has lived or spent any time in a place different than where they grew up, has a glimpse into how where they lived shaped them. 
There are the obvious things, like accent.  I remember when I first moved to Kansas, as soon as I opened my mouth, people would ask me where I was from, and since I was most recently from ENC, I would tell them I was from Boston and they would say, “Yeah, I can tell by the way you talk.” 
But there are other things as well.  I when I was in Romania, I became profoundly aware of how time conscious we Americans are.  When we say we are going to meet you at 3:00 we try to be there between 2:55 and 3:10.  But we would never think of showing up at 3:30 without apologizing or calling to let the person know we are running late, but in Romania it is almost as if you are arriving at 3:00 as long as 3 is the first number so you are “on time,” if you arrive at 3:00 or if you arrive at 3:59.  The way I view “on time.” Is shaped by where I live. 
When I lived in KS, I was always kind of annoyed at how my friends and my husband acted as if they were taking their life into their hands, when they let me behind the wheel.  It really kind of annoyed me.  After we lived here for several months, Mike turned to me one day and said, “Living here, suddenly the way you drive makes sense.”  I did not even know it but living in Boston shaped the way I drive.
But where we live physically is not what Jesus is talking about in this passage.  Jesus is talking about in whom we live.  As Christ’s disciples we live in Christ.  We allow Christ to shape and change us in much the same way the environment of where we live shapes and changes us.
We want Christ to shape us more than our country does, we want Christ to have more bearing on our lives than living in the US affects how we view the meaning of “on time.”  We want Christ to transform our whole view of time and how we use it.  We want Christ to change us more than our state does; we want Christ to affect us more than just than just our accent or the way we talk.  We want Christ to shape how we use our words, what we say and to whom we say those things.  We want Christ to affect us more than our city does; we want Christ to affect more than just the way we drive.  We want Christ to form the way we move in all aspects of our lives, where we allow our feet to takes us, what we do with our hands and how we reach out to those around us, touching them with the love of Jesus Christ physically and spiritually.  All aspects of our lives in some way are shaped or formed and are affected by where we live.  We want Christ to have that kind of all encompassing affect on every aspect of our lives.  Our actions, our thoughts, our words, with whom we interact and why, as well as how we interact with each and every person we encounter during the course of our day.
Today we are making a covenant, a covenant in which we are vowing, committing to abide in Christ, to allow all of who we are, everything we do and everything we say to be shaped, molded, formed, changed by Jesus Christ.  Together we are covenanting to abide in Christ; to allow Christ to be the vine, and for us to be the branches of that vine, taking our nourishment, our growth, our very existence, our life and death from Jesus Christ.  We are to live in Christ, to abide in Christ.  Let us come together this morning and covenant together to abide in Christ, to allow Christ to shape and form us more than our country does, more than our state or city does, let us let Christ be the most formative and shaping force in our lives. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

John 1:29-42 - Witnessing Jesus

I don’t know where Jesus was heading that day.  I don’t know what he had on his agenda.  I don’t know where his day planner told him he should be or by what time he was suppose to be there but on this day, Jesus was going about whatever it was he had set out to do as he was going merrily about his day, he was interrupted by John the Baptist, who decides that at this particular moment as Jesus walks by would be a great time to declare to all those within hearing distance who it was John believed Jesus to be.
I don’t know if you have ever spent much time comparing the 4 gospels and how they relate the story of Jesus to their readers and now to us, but each one tells us about Jesus in a different way.  Many of them will tell us the same the same event in Jesus’ life but they will tell us about the event in Jesus’ life in a different way.  Now the first three gospel writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke tend to be fairly similar to one another but John, John’s telling of the life of Jesus is quite different than the other three.  The other three pretty much begin their retelling of Jesus’ life with narrative, while John begins with a theological exposition about Jesus being the Word of God.  All the other writers let us figure out who Jesus is as the story of Jesus’ life unfolds but John, there is no mystery, there is no surprise, John gets straight to the punch line and then tells us the conclusion we are to come to  before he even introduces the story’s main character.  He begins by telling us who Jesus is and then gives us the events of his life which show us how it is he came to this conclusion.
John’s narrative begins with John the Baptist explaining that he is not the messiah but that the messiah would come after him.  Then John the Baptist tells us, who is actually the messiah.  John looks up and sees Jesus passing by and declares that although he himself is not the messiah but merely the one who come before preparing the way, this man right here passing by just now is the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  He then gives an explanation as to why it is he has come to this conclusion.  He knew Jesus was the messiah because God told him that the one on whom he saw the Spirit of God alight like a dove would be the messiah and John saw the Spirit alight on Jesus, therefore Jesus must be the messiah, God’s anointed.
Once John knows to whom he has come to make the wa, he cannot keep the information to himself.  It is almost as if he has to make sure everyone he knows, knows that Jesus is the messiah.  Because the very next day, he hijacks Jesus’ day again.  He is standing around, (it seems that in John’s gospel, John the Baptist has a lot of time on his hands) with two of his disciples and Jesus is walking by once again, having nothing better to say than what he said last time, he tells his two disciples to look, here is the lamb of God.  At this point John’s disciples must have understood what this cryptic phrase meant perhaps figuring if they went and checked him out John would stop bothering this poor man as he walked by every day.  So they left John and began following Jesus.
Now this is kind of strange.  Here Jesus is just going about his business and two days in a row his cousin calls out to those around him telling all who will here that Jesus is the lamb of God and now two of his followers are now following him, so Jesus turns to them and asks them a simple question, “What are you looking for?”
And these two disciples being ever so good at understanding and quite good at following simple instructions and having the ability answer basic questions, completely fail to answer Jesus’ question by avoiding it all together and asking him another question, “Where are you staying/abiding?”  Since they were already in the game of not answering each other’s questions clearly and precisely, Jesus answers by telling them to, “Come and see.”  So they followed Jesus to his home to go and see.  They must have liked what they saw because not only did that stay with him and become his disciples but one of them, Andrew went to get his brother Simon, to tell him he needed to come and see this guy, he is the Messiah.  Simon then in turn, comes to see this Messiah his brother had found.  Immediately Jesus sees him and tells him that his name is no longer Simon, but will from hence forth be Cephas which when translated is Peter.   So as we conclude the narrative we are looking at this morning Jesus now has his first three disciples, the last of which will be a pivotal figure, not only in his life and ministry but in the founding and building of the church.
When I began my sermon, I was going to look at what it meant for Jesus to be the Lamb of God, but as I worked my way through the passage this week. I kept coming back to the latter part of the passage when these two disciples decide to leave John, baptizing by the river and follow Jesus.  Jesus asks them as very good question, “What are you looking for?” And it seems all they want to know is where it is that Jesus is living at this point in his life.  
Although it does not come across well in English, when they ask him where it is that he is staying or abiding, depending on the translation you are reading, what they are actually asking Jesus is a much more complex question.   Thing is translating something from one language to another is always a tricky process.  Words in one language often times have meaning and connotations which are nearly impossible to carry over into another language.  Sometimes in order to get the full picture of what one seemly simple word means in one language you need a whole sentence to explain when you translate that one word into another language.  The word used here in Greek is not so easy to bring into English.  The word which is translated, “staying” or “abiding” actually means two things at the same time when John uses it here in this passage. 
The first meaning is fairly simple; Andrew and his friend are asking Jesus where is the location of the place where he is living.   But on another level they are also asking Jesus, “What is at the center of Jesus’ being?”  “What defines who he is?”  “What is at the core of who he is?” Which then makes Jesus’ answer to them all the more interesting; Jesus does not tell them what it means for him to be the Messiah.  Jesus does not explain to them about being the Son of God or even give them a brief description about what his purpose was here on earth.  Instead, Jesus turns to them and simply answers “Come and see.”
So they went with him to see. Jesus took him to where he lived and by spending the day with Jesus they saw who he was.  They were convince by what they saw in Jesus, they saw in whom he abided, they saw what was at the center of his being, they caught a glimpse of who Jesus was and what he was up to and decided they wanted to be a part of that. 
But it did not stop there.  Andrew was so impressed by what he saw in Jesus that he sought out his brother and decided it was pertinent for Simon to also come and see where Jesus abided.  Jesus was not just another rabbi, he was not just another teacher or a prophet he was the real deal, he was the one they had been seeking for and it was evident in who he was, it was evident in how he went about his life, it was evident in all he did and all he said.  It was evident and he wanted his brother to come and see what he saw.
I don’t know why you are here this morning.  I could fool myself into thinking that you have come here this morning because you have figured out what profound speaker I am and that that you came here this morning just to hear what amazingly profound wisdom I would bring before you this morning, and if that is the reason you came this morning, I am a little more than flattered that you think so highly of my speaking abilities.  But let us be realistic, we all come to church on any given Sunday for our own reasons.  Some of them are good and noble reasons, of us are here for some more self serving and sometimes we get up, get ourselves ready and find ourselves within these walls out of habit and little more.  We have, for whatever reason, found ourselves within these walls, listening to this sermon this morning, standing with John on the street and hearing him say, “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  
There are several places we can be this morning, when it comes to this passage.  We might be among those who are simply here this morning.  We came because it is a good place to be.  Our friends are here.  We have always gone to church.  We like church, but there is not much more to it than that.  We are bystanders in a way, just there on the street, or by the river or where ever it was when John looked up and pointed Jesus out that day.
We are here.  We have heard John’s testimony.  John is telling us that right here, is Jesus is the messiah, God’s anointed, the one who was God and is God, and the Word of God and with the Creator when the earth’s foundations were laid, here is the one who came to take away the sins of the world. 
Here we are, just minding our own business, going about our lives and suddenly we see Jesus, someone points him out to us.  Someone tries to explain who he is.  Perhaps, what they have to say to us makes sense, perhaps it does not.  What does it mean that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world?  What is this person talking about?  Perhaps, they speak words about Jesus and suddenly the whole thing makes sense. 
Either way, we find ourselves looking up and seeing this Jesus for the first time.  He is right there passing by, what do we do? Are we like these two disciples who have heard the witness of John and know that this Jesus is someone worth checking out.  Do we see this man, this teacher, this messiah and want to tag along to see what he is all about?  Perhaps we don’t even know why we are going to check him about, but something about him, something about what is said about him, something attracts us and we find that we are interested, that we want to see what this man is all about.  We want to know what it means for him to be the messiah.  We don’t completely understand but the idea of him taking away the sins of the world sounds pretty interesting.
So some of us are choosing to go check this Jesus fellow out for the first time this morning, but there are others of us who have already been checking him out. We have already decided he is worth checking out.  And as we have checked him out.  We have listened to what people have to say about him, followed him around for a while.  Spent some time getting to know him, trying to understand what he is all about, coming to an understanding of who he is, and what is at the center, the core of all that he is. As we have come and seen, we find that we like what we see.  We want to be more than mere observers, we want to be a part of what he is all about.  We want to follow him, learn from him, and learn to be more like him.  We have seen who he is, we have seen what he is all about, and we want more, we want be disciples. 
But being a disciple is not like being an observer.  It more than simply coming and seeing.  Choosing to be a disciple is the choice which moves us from watching and observing, to doing.  Choosing to be a disciple is the choice which moves us from coming and seeing, to going and doing.  It is the choice to embrace the one we have been observing, to follow his example and to seek to live as he lived, to speak as he spoke, to love as he loved, to learn from his teachings, from his life and from who he is and seek to be a person who is like himn, to be moved by the one who moves him, to have at the center of our beings the same God of love, mercy, justice and forgiveness who is at the center of who Jesus is.
You see there is more to following Jesus than just showing up and listening.  There is more to following Jesus than coming and seeing.  Once we have seen once we know who Jesus is we must them choose to stay, and not only to stay but to do as Andrew did and be moved to action by what we have seen, moved to action by who we have seen and do our best to share with those around us who it is we have come to believe in.  To invite those who we love and those who we encounter in our day to day lives to come and see what we have seen, to come meet the one we have chosen to follow to come to know what we have come to know. 
This passage is a circle.  It begins with John saying, “Look!”   Which causes these two to go and see who it was John was calling for them to behold.  They went and saw and who they saw and it changed them.  Who they saw caused them to choose to follow, to choose to be disciples and in turned caused Andrew to then go and invite his brother to come and see and Simon heeds his brother’s invitation and chooses to come and see for himself who this Jesus, messiah is, bringing us full circle so to speak.
As people who here this morning we are somewhere on this circle; we may be at the top of the circle, with someone calling to us to come and see, we may be somewhere along the circle observing, “seeing” what there is to see, judging for ourselves what we think of this Jesus, messiah person, we may be among those who have chosen to follow Jesus, to be his disciples and as such there is nowhere else to go but be changed by what we have seen, infuse our lives with who Jesus is, and what Jesus is all about and then like John and Andrew invite those around us to come and see, to come and learn, to come so that they may know what we know, so that they may know who we know and also be changed by who he is.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Thoughts on the Baptism of our Lord and The Gift and Command of Sabbath Rest

Add caption
Matthew 3:1-17 - The Baptism of our Lord
What was John doing?
What was he preaching?
Baptism was a symbolic “passing through the waters”, when are other times when the people of God “passed through water”?
So what does passing through the water symbolize?
Why is John baptizing people?
What does it mean when we are baptized?
Why does Jesus come to be baptized?
What happened after Jesus as baptized?
Who saw these things?  John?  Jesus?  The crowd? 
What does the dove mean?   
What does the voice say?
What does that mean?
What can we learn from what Jesus does here?  What does this teach us about God?  What does this teach us about how we should act and what we should do?  

Exodus 16:13-27 & 20:8-11 - Sabbath Rest: A Gift and a Command

I pair these passages together because Sabbath is a blessing and a command.
What was the Israelite’s’ first inclination when given the gift of a day without work?
In what ways do we “go out to gather” when God calls us to Sabbath? When God calls us to rest?
In the chapter 16 passage – what is the context of this blessing?
How is Sabbath a blessing for the Israelites? How would a day of rest be different from the lives they lived in Eygpt?
In what ways is it significant that God gives Sabbath as a blessing for the Israelites first (before the 10 commandments)?
In what ways is Sabbath a blessing or a gift?
Sabbath is first a Blessing and then it is a command. Why do you think God needed to command a day of rest?
Are you more likely to do something that this is offered to you as a gift (a blessing) or because it is a command (because your “have to”)?
Is is easier for you to think of resting as a gift God has given you or as a command that must be followed?
What does it mean for it to be “a Sabbath to the Lord?” How do we give our “rest” to the Lord?
 What can we do to better observe a “Sabbath to the Lord?”

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Thoughts on Epiphany and the God who Rests

During the month of January, our congregation participates in something we call Sabbath Month. Following the busyness of the Advent and Christmas Seasons and the rush and the hurry in which our culture participates in the time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we choose to slow down, reconnect and remember we worship a God who calls us to rest.
We have much more informal services in which we talk and interact a lot more than we would. Each week we look at a passage about Sabbath Rest along with our sermon passage.
The "sermons" during Sabbath month are "interactive". For me this involves just as much study and prep but a lot less prepared words for me to say. I ask a lot of questions and see where we go with our discussions and follow where the Spirit leads.
If you are reading this please look at my notes, and contemplate the questions. Ask them of yourself, ask them of your friends.
I hope you will also find time to reconnect with your faith community, as well as with God.
Take time to

Matthew 2:1-12 - Epiphany a Light in the Darkness
Today is Epiphany Sunday, it begins the season of Epiphany.  What do you know about Epiphany as a Holy day of the Church?  What does it celebrate?  What is important about this celebration?  What are we celebrating or commemorating?  What is the Epiphany?
Questions I have as I read this:
Verse 1 – Who are these wise men?
Verse 3 – Why does this trouble Herod?  What do these words of the wisemen mean to Herod
Verse 3 – Why is all Jerusalem troubled as well?
Verses 7-8 – What does Herod’s actions say to the wisemen about his intentions?
Verse 10 – Why do they rejoice simply upon finding the place, before they even go in?
Verse 12 – What is with the gifts?
Gifts – These are actually typical gifts given to dignitaries.  The later two also had restorative and healing properties which would be useful. 
Theologians typically assign spiritual meaning: Gold – kingship, Frankincense – priestly, Myrrh – to point to his death
This is the time of the year when we experience the most darkness. Even as our days get longer, most of that light is added at the beginning of the day, when we are first waking, meanwhile most of us come home in the darkness of early night. 5 or 6pm can feel like 8 or 9. When my Dr. first told me to start taking Vit D in the Winter months, she told me, we live in New England, we are all Vit D (Sun) deprived in the winter. There simply is not enough sunlight to make our bodies happy. This cold dark time of the year, is the perfect time of the year to think about the Magi and their star. These are men who work in the darkness. Astrologers, need to do their work at night in order to “read” the stars and understand their movements. The magi were men who were accustomed to darkness?
What role does darkness play in the story?
What do you think about when you think about darkness?
Have you ever felt like you were in the dark?
What do you think it means to be people who are accustomed to darkness?
How were the magi accustomed to darkness?
In what ways are we accustomed to darkness?
Is it easy to find what you are looking for in the dark?
What do the magi see in the dark? What do they find? How do they find it?
Epiphany means to reveal something.  An epiphany is what you have when a new fact is revealed to you.   This passage is the primary Gospel Epiphany passage. 
What is revealed to them in the dark?
Who or what is revealed here?
What can we learn about darkness?
What can we do when we are in the dark?
How do we allow Christ to be revealed to us, when we are in the dark?
            What is the Epiphany we have revealed to us today?

Genesis 2:1-4 - The God Who Rests

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.  And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

What does it mean for God to rest?
Why do you think God rests here in Genesis? Is God tired?
What is the purpose of rest? for God? For us?
What can we do to rest? How can we include practices of rest into our "everyday lives"?