Roles, Gifts, Fruit…

I have been reading a book by C. Peter Wagner called Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow. It is an interesting book. The chapter I am on now is about 4 things Spiritual Gifts are not. They are not Natural Talents, Fruit of the Spirit, Christian Roles, and Conterfeit Gifts. So my talent to play the bass, or my pastor’s talent to play the guitar, or write new songs for litergical use are not gifts of the Spirit. At least according to Dr. Wagner. I believe these are gifts of the Spirit. Dr. Wagner also says that only Christians receive gifts from the Spirit. We as members of the body of Christ have been given a gift to use in the ministry of the church, but only members of the body have been given a gift. If you do not believe, then you could have a natural talent for something, but it is not a gift from God. And our gifts are only temporal, only the fruit of the spirit is eternal, as 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, all things will pass away but these three Faith, Hope, and Love will remain. Well Dr. Wagner also says that the fruit, being that it is singular is love and the other words listed are mearly attributes of love. So faith, or faithfullness as it is listed in Galatians 5:22-23, is a part of the Fruit of the Spirit. Yet according to 1 Corinthians 12 it is also a gift. So how can it be temporal and eternal? I guess one could ask the same thing for us, for we are temporal, yet we are eternal as the body of Christ. One other thing he comments on is how an atheist can have a natural talent, that God can transform into a Spiritual gift if the start to believe. Doesn’t this mean that everyone has been given a gift of the Spirit, and it just has not been discerned as that yet. And is not everything we have truly a gift of the Spirit. Luther said we all have a vocation, a call to do, a part of the plan of God that no one else can fulfill. We are all called upon to further the kingdom by doing our part. That means we all have a gift, all of us, and we need to use our gift to the furtherment of the kingdom, not for personal gain. Just remember we all have gift(s) of the Spirit, and we all have roles to play in this game of life, and if you are just a little fruity it will help sometimes.

Get Your Broom

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Grab your bucket. Get a mop, and bring a broom, and some towels, and cleaners. Today is going to be a day of exciting cleaning. Some of us may remember Spring cleaning, some of us might have heard about it, and others of us may have no idea what this is. Spring cleaning is a time to remove all of the dirt and dust built up over winter. To air out the house, remove the storm windows and clean them really good to store them away until next year, and put in the screens so the fresh air from outside can come in. We need to take out the rugs and beat out the dust, and straighten up our rooms, and closets. Spring cleaning is the time to remove the winter clothes and bring out the spring/summer attire. We need to straighten up the attic and the basements.

Now it may seem a little early for me to be talking about spring cleaning, I mean after all the gopher did just pop out of the hole last week, so we still have 5 more weeks until Spring is here, but today, Ash Wednesday, as we begin our Lenten trek, it is time for us to think about our personal spring cleaning. Also the word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Lenten which means spring. Most of the time spring cleaning is done in a day, or a weekend, and it may stretch out into a week, but we have 40 days to work on our spring cleaning, to get us started.

We can start the process of sweeping out our hearts and our minds. As the candidates for baptism in the early church would have done in this time, learning about the faith into which they were going to be baptized. Cleansed from the thoughts of the world, and drowned in the life giving words of the faith. A 40 day trek of catechetical training or for us a 40 day trek in looking more at our selves and cleaning out the cobwebs in our attics and basements, our minds and our hearts, our guts. We can see the biblical meaning behind the 40 days, in the 40 days of Jesus’ fast at the beginning of his ministry, Moses stayed on Mount Sinai 40 days, the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and Elijah’s 40 day fast on the way to the mountain of God.

And as in all spring cleanings, it is not good enough to dust around the things on the shelf, or push them to one side or the other to do the dusting. We need to remove all of the items and clean each on individually, and then the shelf. And before we think we are through and put the things back on the shelf, we need to also move the shelf and sweep and dust behind it. We need to make sure the dust and dirt of winter are gone, and the wonderful spring time smell can over take us. We can not just rearrange items in our houses when we do spring cleaning to keep from having to clean a part of the house, and in our personal spring cleaning we can not just rearrange our lives to suit our own needs. We need to allow the cleansing waters role over our lives and allow the one who made us new, and claimed us as his children, arrange our lives as he wants it to be arranged.

Jesus kind of gives us an outline for how our lives should be arranged through our gospel text for today. He discusses acts of righteousness, or piety as our text says. First off though. Jesus does not say these are things we should be doing, he does not spend any time saying that Alms giving, praying and fasting are necessary things for our faith. Why is that? Because he expects that as faithfully practicing Jews, these things are being done. And as faithfully practicing Christians, these are things that are happening. So we are to gives Alms, which is giving over and above the tithe that was expected in the worship practice of Jesus’ day. And we are to pray, this is more than just when you feel like praying, Jesus is referring here to the pray offices, or specified times of pray that were required in the Jewish faith practices, and we are to Fast, to go without something. All of these practices are meant to be done in piety towards God, and not so that others give you praise because of what you are doing. The question of having public verses private faith is not is what at stake here; rather it is where the heart truly lies. Are these acts being done out of righteousness, or piety the translators have chose to render the word, or are these acts being done so we individually receive the praise. Jesus never condemns these faith practices, but condemns the motives that are behind the faith practice. Are we in our lives storing up treasure where moth and rust and thieves can destroy what we are trying to save? Or are we storing our treasure in heaven, where nothing can destroy? Where are our hearts?

As we start this years Lenten journey. Let us sweep out our hearts, let’s clean out the cobwebs, let’s move everything out and let our lives be arranged by the one who created us. Remember the words to Jeremiah in Chapter 1 verse 5 “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.” We are all named and claimed by God in our baptism, in our burial in the water, and our rising to new life. Lent is a time of reflection on our baptism, our dying to self, and allowing the one who knew us before we were born to claim us as his own.

As we receive the sign of the cross on our foreheads this evening, and here the words, “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” remember our mortality, and remember that ashes can suggest cleansing and renewal. Ashes can be used as a cleansing agent in the absence of soap, and tonight we can think of them as a reminder of our baptism. Water both stifles and refreshes, drowns and makes alive. So the ashes also remind us of our mortality, and of the renewal we have in cleaning out our lives and allowing God to have control.

As we go through our spring cleaning, let us remain faithful disciples of Jesus in the world. And go countercultural to our times, by being transformed through God’s claim on our lives, and our embracing the words “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Society wants us to think we are worth it, and we should not think about our mortality. We need to live for the day, and reach for the golden ring. Yet if we can live in the understanding of our mortality, and the fact that we are worth it, we are worth the death of our savior, to the one who claimed us as his children, inheritors of his kingdom, then we truly have begun our spring cleaning. We can live in the understanding or mortality, knowing the cross of Christ puts sin to death, and live in the promise Christ will raise us out of the ashes of our death to eternal life with him.

So remember you are dust and to dust you shall return, and get you broom and let’s do some cleaning. Amen


Matthew 17:1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. 17:2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. 17:3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli’jah, talking with him. 17:4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli’jah.” 17:5 He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 17:6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. 17:7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 17:8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 17:9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead.”

What are you just sitting there for? Don’t just sit there, do something! This is a line I’m sure most of us have heard before. We need to be doing something. In our fast paced society, where we need easy mac, to speed up the time it takes to make macaroni and cheese, we need to be doing something. There is always something to do. That is what it seems Peter is doing here. He is needing to do something. Struck by the awe inspiring event that just took place. Can we imagine what Peter was thinking… There we were walking up the hill. Jesus asked me, and James and John to come with him up this mountain. So we walked up the side of this hill, and there right before us, Jesus turned form the guy in the dirty robe with dirty feet, to shining brilliantly white. And he was talking with two other people, could that be Moses, and Elijah? What in the world is going on here, I mean I just said he was the messiah, but I never expected this, we need to do something…

That is usually our first reaction to most things. Let’s do something. Let’s get busy and get this done, so we can move on to the next project. We need to stay busy. So Peter suggested they stay there and put up 3 tents, booths, or tabernacles, but what happened next. If we look at our text, we see that Peter is saying something in verse 17.4 and then verse 5 starts “While he was still speaking,” Peter was interrupted. Now this is probably something most of us can relate to. We are interrupted all the time by people. But has there been a time you can remember filling a little taken aback by an interruption. Maybe it was in a meeting when you were given a great idea you had and the boss interrupted you saying that is not a good idea. Or maybe in class you were talking with a friend or relating an idea to the class and the teacher interrupted you saying I am teaching the class, please listen to me. In moments like these we feel smaller, demeaned; our worth is taken away from us. Imagine how Peter felt, God interrupts Peter! If ever there was a time to feel about 2 inches tall, it might be when one is interrupted by God! Matthew presents the scene as if God were indicating to Peter, while he was still speaking, “Shut up and listen to me!”

We are so busy doing sometimes, we forget to stop and listen. Just like Peter we miss the point, we miss the word. Peter is one of the 3 inner circle disciples. He is the one disciple that truly gets it. He knows who Jesus is, we see this in Chapter 16 of Matthew, Jesus said to the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you Peter! Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah, he understood who Jesus was. But he could not listen to what Jesus had to do, because after his confession Jesus told them he would have to go to Jerusalem and suffer and die, and Matthew continues the story that Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He could not hear what needed to be heard. He knew who Jesus was. He knew who God was, but that was not enough. Peter wanted to do something about the glorification of his Lord, but God wanted him to listen. And keep listening. The word in the Greek implies action that continues forever. This is my Son the beloved, listen to him now and keep on listening to him for ever. Just as Moses did when he went up onto the mountain and received the commandments and the laws from God, he was with God for forty days and forty nights, and he listened to God. God wants us to listen to Jesus. The silence in our service is meant to give us time to listen to God. Our prayers are times when we can listen to God. Jesus listened to God. He is the Beloved son of God because of his faithfulness to fulfill all righteousness, and he understands doing what God requires is more important than his own life, God requires him to be faithful to God’s righteousness.

And we are named beloved sons and daughters of God, if we stop and listen. Baptism is a connection of water and word. Luther says that baptism is water enclosed in God’s command and connected with God’s Word. And the sacrament of the Altar, Holy Communion is also connected with the word, the benefits of the Eucharist come to use according to Luther through the words given for you and shed for you. With out the word of God, our sacraments are nothing more than water being poured over some one, and bread and wine, but when we listen to the promise made through the word of God, these earthly elements become life changing, life transforming. We through these sacraments are transfigured into the likeness of Jesus. If we listen closely we can hear God claim us. In Baptism, God names us and claims us as his own. Just as he did to Jesus in his baptism, God names us his beloved, ones in whom he is well pleased.

Just like Peter it is not enough for us to know who Jesus is, but we must listen to what he has to say, and act accordingly. Jesus really did not want to hear what God had to tell him all the time, but he listened and acted in righteousness, to do what God required even when it required his own life. He tried to have the cross removed from him, if it is possible remove this cup from me, yet not my will but your will, be done. What you tell me to do, I am listening. Speak Lord, your servant is listening. We need to stop and listen, for that still small voice. Peter was lucky. He had the cloud role in the God boom in, “Peter, excuse me, but listen up!” We do not always get this, most times God comes to us in a still small voice, speaking ever so gently, but if we are listening, oh the wonderful things we can hear. To be called beloved by the creator of the cosmos. Peter James and John reacted correctly to the booming voice of God, to fall prostrate on the ground in fear. But when we feel the touch of God, and hear him say to us, “Get up and fear not my beloved child. I am with you, and will never leave you.” This can give us the strength to go on and do the work he has called us to do. To go into all the world, making disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you. We can do, because we take the time to listen.

Embrace Jesus, and listen to God. Do not be afraid to stop, and do nothing to sit in his presence and listen to him. He will be with us always even until the end of the age, and he has called us to do a part no one else can do. Listen, ever so closely and hear him say to you, you are my beloved. My daughter, my son, in whom I am well pleased. I love you and will never leave you, just listen. Listen.


Drag Net

Matthew 4:12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; 4:13 and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Caper’na-um by the sea, in the territory of Zeb’ulun and Naph’tali, 4:14 that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 4:15 “The land of Zeb’ulun and the land of Naph’tali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — 4:16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 4:18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 4:19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 4:20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 4:21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zeb’edee and John his brother, in the boat with Zeb’edee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 4:22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 4:23 And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.

This is a gospel passage most of us are familiar with. Fishers of People. We hear about it in Mark, Luke and Matthew. John has a rendition of the calling of the first disciples which we heard last week. But Fishers of People is one we are all familiar with. But I admit I don’t know much about fishing, and really how does one go about fishing for people? What I do know about fishing is it requires a fishing pole, which could have a real of fishing line on it, unless of course one is fly fishing, then you just have a pole and a line, I think. But any how fishing requires a pole and some line and a hook. And bait. We need to have something for the fish to come after, to entice them to the hook. Well ok, if we are going to be fishing for people then I guess we need to find us the right pole, and the proper line to hold the weight of the people we are going for and we need the right kind of bait.

What kind of bait is right for people? What kind of worm would attract a person? Well a gummy worm may work for some people, but certainly everyone does not like gummy worms. If I was going to think about bait for Pastor Scott, I would get some chocolate covered nuts. And for Pastor Carol, one could set out a nice frosty mug of A&W root beer, of maybe some Swedish fish or Twizzlers. And what kind of hook should we use? I mean we do not want to hurt these people when we catch them. If we take a closer look at the passage from Matthew we can see that this is really not the kind of fishing we are talking about. There is no rod or reel, or fishing line or hook required. The fishing we are talking about is using a net. James and John were in the boat with their father and servants mending the nets after the catch from the morning. The fishing we are talking about is using nets, where the fish do not have the choice of bite or not bite, but the fish are dragged from life out of the water to their death.

Now this is not a very appealing thing to me to think about. Am I really suppose to go out and drag people into church. Jesus says come and follow me, and lets get people and drag them out of their old lives and have them die to that and bring them to a new life in the church. Are we really supposed to drag people into church? I wonder what acolytes think about being dragged into worship, or if they are dragged into worship? Pastor Carol and talked about this the other day on the way to a meeting. The word Acolyte comes from a Greek word which is used twice in our text today. The word comes in verse 20 and 22, and immediately they left their stuff and followed him. The word for acolyte comes from the word to follow. An acolyte is one who follows the presiding pastor around and helps them, one who serves. Isn’t that really what all of us are to Jesus? Are we all not called to be followers of the one who first sought us out? Jesus calls us to be followers and then we become disciples. A disciple is someone who learns from a teacher or master.

Now in Jesus time a person would seek out a rabbi, or a teacher to follow as a disciple. The rabbi would not lower himself to go looking for students to follow him, or learn his teachings, but that is just what Jesus does. Jesus called these four men, to follow him. He did not promise them anything in return to follow them; they did not follow because he said they would get anything. He said follow me and do this job, follow me and fish for people. Jesus called them from one type of fishing to another, not to get something, but in a sense to give something.

The call of Peter, Andrew, James and John is a foreshadow of all of our calls. As Douglas Hare says these 4 represent “all future believers whom Jesus irresistibly summons to follow him. It may not be necessary for all to leave professions and possessions behind, but all must leave their world behind and enter the new world into which Jesus invites them.” We might think these men and we chose to follow Jesus of our own free will, and in some sense we do. We chose to be present at this worship service, we chose to be present where the Word and Sacraments are presented. We chose to study scripture and ponder its meaning. However on a deeper level we know that we are all really just caught in God’s net. We were all dragged from life to death. We were all given the promise of being inheritors in the kingdom of god through are snare in the net of God’s love. Augustine said “I could not seek you, if you had not already found me.”

We are all sought by God, and called to come and follow him where he leads. We are called not because of what we get, but we are called to do something, called to evangelize, called to Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

We are called to follow Jesus, but to be ourselves, the one who God has made, and sought for a particular part in his plan. A great illustration for the fishing and being dragged from life to death in a net is found in the movie Finding Nemo. Towards the end of the movie there is a scene where Nemo, his dad Marlin, and Dory are swimming in the fishing channels, and Dory is caught in a net with a bunch of other fish. As the net is pulled out of the water, Nemo says he can save Dory. Marlin exclaims he does not want to lose Nemo again, but he reiterates he can save Dory. So he swims in the net and tells all the fish to swim down. So as the boat’s winch is pulling the net up and out of the water and fish on the top are pulled out of the water and are dying the other fish start to swim down, pulling the net back into the water. Nemo saved Dory, by getting the fish united in a single task. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians “all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” The fish were united in the task of freeing themselves from the net, it is not our task to free ourselves from God’s Drag Net. It is this net that holds us in his love, as he first sought us. Our task is to be overjoyed to be in the net, and to help others see the wonders of dying to self and allowing the drag net of God’s love to pull us to him.

Help us to respond as these four men did, immediately, to the persona of our Lord who says “Come behind me, and I will make you fishers of people. Give us all the strength to set aside our fears and follow the authoritative nature of Jesus and his word which inspires us to total allegiance. Open our hearts and minds to total abandonment of self to your control, and relax in the drag net of your love. Our task is not to fight the net, or try to escape the net, as Douglas Hare says “Our task is to share a faith that is exciting enough to be contagious.” Remind us you sought us first by dragging your net, and hold us in the love of your drag net. Amen

What does it mean to Fish for People????

The one aspect I am stuck on is the call to leave behind the life we have always known. This is what most of us think about in this story. The men were called, and immediately left their boats, nets, and families to follow Jesus. Not for what they would get, but because of the job he called them to. They left their lives behind them, and never went back, right?

Well no I do not think so, they probably were never more than a few days from their homes. They even return to Peter’s home later in the Gospel of Matthew. God is calling us to a life of service to him. But that does not mean we need to or have to or should severe the ties we have with our old lives. While we are new creatures in Christ, we are also called to a vocation in the body of Christ. It is all of our resonsibility to be the light to the world, not the light to our congregation. We must cast our nets, and drag in those who are not a part of us, so they can die, just as we did in the waters of our baptism, and receive the promise of becoming inheritors of the kingdom of God, and eternal life. We are called to a new life, sometimes this is within our old life. We are called to be doctors, lawyers, judges, painters, builders, clerks, nurses, teachers, janitors, insert occupation here, with the new call to spread the love of God and “catch” those who do not know the promises made to us by God. As Douglas Hare said “Our task is to share a faith that is exciting enough to be contagious.”

Our call is to live and follow Jesus immediately, and always. To be repenting. to keep repenting, and to look into the face of Jesus and to seek To be where Jesus is, to stay close to Jesus, to drown in the Spirit, to worship in Truth, To be where Jesus is, to walk in his ways, to have Jesus rename us, again here today. We need to seek to be where Jesus is.

We are called to immediately follow, to be overjoyed being caught in God’s net of Love, and spread that love to all we can net…

Hope Recognized

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 1:2 He was in the beginning with God; 1:3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 1:7 He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. 1:8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. 1:9 The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. 1:11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 1:12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 1:13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. 1:15 (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.'”) 1:16 And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.

We don’t seem to recognize this gospel reading to be a Christmas story. It does not seem to have all of the necessary details. I mean where is the manger? Where is the baby? Where are Mary and Joseph? What about the angels, and the star? Where are the shepherds? Where are the wise men? There is nothing here which makes us recognize this story as a Christmas story, but maybe this is just the best Christmas story of all!

Most of you probably know who I am. You would recognize me if I was walking down the street, in a bank, or a store. Most of you can recognize your families, and would be able to pick them out of a crowd at say a football game, or a basketball game, or at the mall. Most of us probably do not remember the first time we looked at our mothers and fathers and knew who they were. Babies as young as a few months can recognize their parent’s faces. It is amazing how soon babies recognize the faces of those who love them. Baby ducks can also recognize their mother after seeing her and hearing her. When ducklings hatch, they immediately look around for something to follow. Usually the first thing they see is their mother. They will then follow their mother and she will teach them all they need to know to be grown up ducks. However if the mother duck happens to be away from the nest when the ducks hatch, they will still look for the first thing they see. And if a cat walks by the nest, the little ducks will follow the cat. Now this is not very good, because the cat will not be a good mother duck. The cat can not teach the ducklings how to find food, how to fly, or where to fly in the winter. And if the real mother duck showed up, then the ducklings may not recognize her. We need to recognize who we belong to, or who’s we are. God created the world and everything in it. Genesis 1:1-3 says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God said the word, and “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Everything that was created was created by God through Love. Everyone did not recognize Jesus when he came to earth, John says “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.” Even today people do not recognize him, but “to those who receive him”. How is it we receive him? How is it we receive the Word? The word used here for receive can mean either to take, or to receive. One, to take implies and action, and the other to receive implies some passivity. I do not have to do anything usually to receive a gift. And in order to receive a word, all I have to do is listen. Now I suppose it is possible to take a word, but usually we only get words from someone when they are ready to speak, so thus we are on the receiving end. And through our passivity of receiving this word, we also receive the power to become children of God. All of creation was passive in the creation, and even Jesus in his incarnation was passive, he had no control over his human birth, just as none of us had any control over our human birth. We were born without doing anything, it was a passive moment in our lives, now I am sure our mothers were not passive, but there was nothing we could do to keep from being born. Yet while everything in creation was passive, and had no control over being created, this creation can evoke responses. We can believe the Word about God’s intimate involvement in creation and the eternal origins of Jesus or not believe it. If we truly believe that we are to proclaim Jesus Christ to each other and to all the world, then we need to understand our every action is making known what God has done, is doing and promises to do. And this proclamation, the proclamation that God loves us can be accepted or denied. However, it is not our belief that makes God love us, and if someone where to say they do not believe, that does not undo the love that God has for all of us. The question is not whether we love God, but the question is do we believe that God has, is and will always love us, and live as children of God, accepting the power to become inheritors of the Kingdom. “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” as the Epistle to the Ephesians says. God loves us and this is a gift freely given, we can either recognize the hope we have, or not. Even if we are following the wrong mother, as the ducklings can, God still loves us, and there is always hope.

The epilogue of John is the most wonderful Christmas story, because it does not tell us about the baby in the manger, it does not tells us about the birth of Jesus, yet it is a confession of faith in who Jesus is. This is a Christmas story that is not about Jesus, it is a story of God. Christmas is more than the story of shepherds being created by angels. Christmas is more than the story of wise men coming from the east. Christmas is more than a story about a carpenter and his betrothed. Christmas is even more than the story of a baby in a manger. Christmas is a time when we can see concretely who God is and what God has done for us. God, the almighty, the all-powerful, who created everything that exists, is far beyond our understanding and comprehension. This same God came to earth. God came to us, as a human being in human flesh. This is God’s love in action. As John says later in chapter 3 of his gospel “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” More than all the pageantry of the nativity scene Christmas is a concrete demonstration of God’s love for all of humanity. Christmas is a concrete expression of God’s love for you and me.

We can live in the promise and Hope of Advent in Christmas and throughout the years because Christmas is not only a day in the past, it is not only a baby in a manger. Through the face of the infant in the manger we see the outpouring of God’s love for all humanity. God created Light, and the light over came the darkness. Jesus existed before the creation of the world. In some mysterious and unexplainable way, Jesus was involved in the creation of the world. This divine power was part of creating the universe comes to us as a human being. John says it very simply, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In Philippians 2:7-8 it says “but (Christ) emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Christmas is not just a day, but is a reminder to us of the love that God has for us. God came to earth to humble himself to redeem us to a right relationship with himself. Recognize who’s you are and the gift freely given to you. Live in the Faith, Hope, and Love given to us by God, and live life always in Christmas, the concrete expression of God’s love for us, in the out pouring of love in the face of the infant. Hope recognized in the face of an infant, in the face of Jesus. Amen.

We are filthy

Deep Water is the name of my Pastor’s Blog. I read this today and thought about how apropriate it is to think about what Christ has done for us, as we await the coming of his birthday. For 1 year now we have a tradition, ohhhh we’ve done it once (I know not much of a tradition), of singing happy birthday to Jesus on Christmas morning. To us, birthdays are the way we track how old we are, well If we were counting Jesus would be about 2007 years old, if of course Christmas was his “birthday”. It does not matter if Christmas is the actual day Christ was born or not. The reason we celebrate is the gift that was given, from the words of a 6th grader “the best present for Christmas is Christ’s presence!” The best thing we can ever hope for, believe in, trust in, is the presence of Christ, and he is coming to us, not only in 3 days, but always. He promised to be with us always even until the close of the age. We are filthy, just as Zane said, but we have been washed clean through the faithfulness of Jesus to come, and go to the cross where no one else could go to do what he did.

Remember this Christmas that Christ is present and he has washed us clean, through the waters of our baptisms, and as Todd said we are filthy rich in Christ.

With or Without Hope

Advent is the season of Hope. Hope is a kin to trust. Merriam Webster dictionary defines Hope as to cherish a desire with anticipation, to desire with expectation of obtainment, to expect with confidence: Trust. This Advent season we have heard about the imagination of advent, a people of hope in the greenlandians, and eschatological hope. Today I want to continue our look at hope in this season of hope, with just a little twist. You see advent is not only the season of Hope; it is the season of Promise and Hope. We can have hope because of the promises that have been made, and we can trust in the promises made through our hope.

We have hope in the promise, we can trust in the promise. But what is the promise? The promise of what? In our readings for today we heard two promises. But I would like to offer you 7 promises made by God for your consideration. First is the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. God Promised to make Abraham a great nation, the father of countless generations. Second is the promise to David, that his offspring will be the Son of God, and his kingdom will last forever in 2 Samuel 7:12-16. David’s descendant will sit on the throne of all eternity. Third is the promise made to Ahaz, found in our first reading for today, the sign of the young woman with child whose son shall be called Immanuel. Fourth is the promise to Mary found in Luke 1:32 that her son will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end. The Fifth promise is to Joseph, son of David, found in our gospel passage for today. The son your fiancé is about to have is the son of God, he is from the Holy Spirit, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. The Sixth promise is to an old man named Simeon found in Luke 2:25-35, and the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Christ. All promises made by God, all promises that could be said to have their fulfillment in the coming expected day of Christmas, the birth of our savior.

But let us look closer at the two promises from our texts for today. We can see we have two men, we have two promises, and as Pastor Scott said last week, we have one with imagination and one without. Ahaz was king over Jerusalem. His city was under siege and he did not know what to do. Isaiah, God’s Prophet, told Ahaz to ask a sign of God, and Ahaz being the pious Jew would not test God. He knew this was something you just did not do. But this was a sign he had no imagination. He had really no hope in God providing this sign for him, and could not image what would happen from doing this. So God gave him a sign anyway. God said the young woman (probably best translated for us today as teenager) was with child and was going to have a son and he would be called God with us. This child was born, and Ahaz was freed from the trouble he was in, but then wound up in even bigger trouble. He was a man of great faith, very pious in nature, but he had no hope, no trust in God fulfilling his request for a sign, and God gave a sign, a son Immanuel, God is with us!

Then there is Joseph, son of David, a man who also was very pious, and of great faith. He was faced with the dilemma of having to break of the marriage with Mary. You see he and Mary were in a prearranged agreement. They were betrothed to one another; they were in a contract of engagement. This is a very big deal in this time. Money or goods were exchanged by the families, and power was acquired or strengthened by the marital unions between families. And while Mary was not with Joseph she came to be with child. Now Joseph had to break off the marriage, because it was not within his rights to forgive Mary of this sin, he was pious and faithful to God. So according to Deuteronomy 22.23-24 Joseph was to find the man who was with Mary and bring them both before the courts and they would be stoned to death for their sin, so as to purge the evil from their midst. Well Joseph did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace or to have her put to death; he was going to break off the arrangement quietly. But this all changed when he had a dream. An angel came to him and gave him a promise. That the child Mary was carrying was the child of God, and that Joseph should take him and name him Jesus. And so Joseph imaged what it would be like to be in the life he had envisioned before Mary got to be with child and he believed the promise that Jesus will save his people from their sin. He awoke and did as the angel told him. He married Mary, and when the baby was born Joseph adopted the boy by giving him the name of Jesus. Usually the mother would give the child a name, but the father could claim the child as his own by taking the right to give a name, and so Joseph adopted Jesus into the blood line of David and Abraham, thus fulfilling the promises to David for one of David’s offspring to be the Son of God, and the promise to Abraham to be the father of many nations. Joseph had the hope to believe in the promise that this child would be, as the name Jesus mean’s in Hebrew/Aramaic, God’s Help or God’s Salvation.

We can hold what Karl Rahner said that God is our absolute hope. Because as Pastor Scott said, “Because we believe that God is real, that God loves life, that God treasures relationships, that God is the final goal of all creation because we believe these things, God is the source of hope that is a magnet for us Christians.” The promise is something we can believe in because of this absolute hope. Our absolute trust in God, our faith in his promise, through the hope that only he can give us. Today we get a fore taste of the feast to come through the Eucharistic meal we will share, with all who have gone before us, and all of those yet to come. This was promised to us, and in hope we can trust in God to be Immanuel, to be with us.

Earlier I said there were 7 promises give by God, and I told you about 6, well the Seventh is the promise God made to us. We see this in our readings from today. Jesus will save his people from their sin, and he will be called Immanuel. He came to fulfill God’s will, to return us to a right relationship with God the Father. He came to faithfully go, where no one else could go, to the cross, and redeem us to that right relationship. Through his faithfulness to keep the promises, we can trust in him and know we always have hope to see things differently, to image life with God. He also said he would be with us, “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” in Matthew 28:20. He is with us, and that is how we can hope in tomorrow, and believe in the promises of God.

As we await the coming of Christmas and the coming of the Christ child, remember we live in the hope and promise of his coming. We live in the realization of his faithfulness, the faithfulness to die a death, even a death on the cross, so we may have hope, so that we may believe in the promise. Martin Luther said “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” As we await the coming of Jesus let us remember our absolute hope is in God, and through this trust we can believe in the promise, the promise that Jesus is Immanuel and he is with us. Amen

Who is Emmanuel?

Isaiah foretold the coming of the son, the son Emmanuel…

But just who is this. IF we read Isaiah 7:10-14 to mean the coming of Jesus, which is what we await this advent season, then King Ahaz had to wait almost 750 years before the siege ended on his city and the prophecy came true. Did Isaiah really mean that Jerusalem would be under siege for that long? I do not think so. And also in Chapter 9 of Isaiah, we see a prophecy of a coming ruler, whose name will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Is this a foretelling of the coming of Jesus. Well in the light of the time, no. It can not be a prophecy of the coming if Jesus. These names are merely names given by the parents of the new king. This king will be a ruler beyond the reaches of any ruler before him. He will be the ideal Davidic King and will fulfill the promise that God has made to David, seen in 2 Samuel 7 and 23 and Psalm 89. David will have an ancestor sit on his throne who will be the son of God. We also see this in Psalm 22:7. But does this mean this is Jesus. No. This passage from Isaiah 9 was used as a rite of accession to the throne for each new King of Judah. It was said because the Judean’s lived in a hope. A hope that God would be faithful to his promise and fulfill the ancestorage of David with a great king. No king ever held up to this, but this passage was used to inaugurate each new ruler with the hope that this was the one. The names given to him where like the names given to Pharaoh’s of the Middle kingdom of Egypt. These Pharaohs were each given 5 great names as they ascended to their thrones. The king in Isaiah 9 is not divine or identified as God by being called mighty God, but is given this as one of the great names, and is better translated as godlike hero. These are merely names given to an ascending king, as the Judean’s hope this is the fulfillment of God’s promise to David.

However we as Christians can still take some hope from this passage. In this time of Advent as we await the coming of Jesus, the fulfillment of our Hope, Faith, and Love, we can read this passage from Isaiah and see in it the prophecy of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. You see no other king from the Lineage of David fulfilled this prophecy. Only Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Chosen one of God, the “King of the Jews” fulfilled this prophecy. We can have the hope that the Judean’s did, and know that our king is coming, our wonderful counselor, our mighty God, our everlasting Father, and our Prince of Peace, is not only with us, but is coming, in Paul’s already but not yet kingdom of God. We have the hope of his first coming, and the faith he gave us by being faithful to a death, yes even a death on the cross, and the love only he could have given us, through his sacrifice. Yet we still live in the hope of his coming to the completion of the kingdom, when the fulfillment of God’s kingdom is seen.

Live in the promise and hope of the season, and know that while the Old Testament Prophecies of the Messiah had a different meaning then, they still point to the one we hope in, Jesus our Savior and redeemer.

"Attitude of Graditude"

I admit I was shopping on Friday morning, or Black Friday as it has come to be known. I enjoyed this time of frenzied shopping, but I think the commercializm of Christmas has gone way to far, and the shopping season is becoming the engulfing notion for the end of November.

My family and I were in Cincinnati, OH for the Holiday to be with family. My wife and I went shopping Friday morning as I said at about 10 til 5:00 am we left my in-laws house, and went to the stores. I dropped my wife off at BestBuy and went to another store. Well I heard that some of those standing in line to get into BestBuy, which did not open until 6:00 am had been there since 9:00pm the night before. Now there was a good sale, but nothing that good. And is there not a need to be thankful for a day of rest, meaning there is nothing open, nothing to stand in lone for. Also on Black Friday morning, the police were called into disturbances in a couple stores in the area we were in. Neither of us (meaning me or my wife) were present at either of these locations, but heard from others who were. Welcome the holiday season, by fighting with some one over the last Barbie doll. Is this really what Christmas is about, or Thanksgiving?

Also I commented to my wife as we were driving to be with family on Thursday, Thanksgiving day, about all the stores and resturants and what not that were open on the way, how 20 years ago when we were young, stores and resturants were not open, and she came back with that that was true, and even gas stations would not have been opened. Now my wive’s grandmother had to work on Christmas at Wal-Mart, and K-Mart was open, and many buffet dining places had a Thanksgiving spread. Now I understand in our moble society that many could be away from family, unable to travel to be with them, and some do not have family’s. But 20 years ago, there were those without families, and those who could not travel to be with their family, but these were probably welcomed by others to join in their celebration…

I just wonder has the progression we have made a good one. We do not stop to give thanks, thanks for a family, a life, a country where we are free to drag the name of our political opponent through the mud, and worship whoever or whatever we want. But we can not take the time to be thankful for any of this, we have to shop til we drop and not let retail workers have the day off because we have to have it and now. We fight over special buys, and should be thankful for everything we have. Even the poorest in our country are the world’s richest people. We need to be thankful for the roof over our heads, the food we have to eat, the family we have, and fact that we are alive is reason to celebrate.

I believe that we as those who claim to be disciples of Christ, not the demonination, but those who are Christian, be that Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, insert demonination/non demonination here, need to reclaim this time of Thanksgiving, as it is through Jesus Christ’s giving his life we can be thankful, it is through his giving his love, grace and mercy we can be thankful. It is through this giving we can give. So in everything we have and everything we give, we need to be thankful, and have a day of rest. And time of reflection with family and firends on what Thanksgiving means, we need to get an “Attitude of Graditude” as my supervisor said in his Thanksgiving service proclaimation.

Remember why we can be thankful, and remember who has given us all things…

and now that we are in Advent, remember the promise that was made to us all, and the hope we have in the coming birth and return of Jesus Christ our king, our savior, our brother.