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Tuesday, January 30 2018
Some things that many of us grew up with are disappearing, or at least they are on their way out. Some things are even becoming extinct.
Who can give me some examples of things that we used to use all the time, but aren’t in use anymore – or they are on their way out? (incandescent light bulbs; movie rental stores; cameras that use film;)
How many of you have gotten rid of your landline telephone? Yeah – landlines are disappearing, aren’t they! And answering machines. We don’t need those anymore either.
And those big, bulky TV’s? Nowadays we just hang them on the wall.
Interestingly, many young people don’t watch TV on TV’s anymore. They stream them on phones, tablets, laptops and PCs, instead.
How many still use a VCR? The VCR has been replaced by the DVR – and even the DVR is being replaced by On-Demand.
How many of you still use the yellow pages? Or a phone book for that matter?
Personal checks are on their way out; Most millenials don’t bother with checks anymore.
Bar soap is being replaced with body wash and loofahs.
I’ve even read where cold cereal sales are plummeting. It seems that – and this is no exaggeration – it seems that young people complain that having to pour cereal into a bowl, add milk, and then clean up the bowl and spoon – is too inconvenient in the morning. Cold cereal is being replaced by yogurt and breakfast sandwiches.
I guess like the buggy whip of a hundred years ago, these things are seeing the end of their usefulness to us – as they are being replaced by newer technologies, and things that just work better and easier.
Now we can take issue with whether the demise of some of these items is good or bad. But there are a couple of items on the list that I did not mention – like the hand-written letter, the honey bee, and the Ash tree – these are approaching extinction – and should that happen – well – it will not be so good.
Now I really do want to talk to you today about Jesus. More to the point – I want to talk to you about Jesus as an agent of change – that there are just some things in life that Jesus would like to see become extinct. And for our purposes today – let’s call it “the Jesus Effect.”
In today’s Gospel reading we meet Jesus in the town of Capernaum. Capernaum was a small fishing village on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. The remains of this town are still there, and you can see it if you ever have the opportunity to visit Israel. You can visit the ruins of what many believe to be Peter’s house there – and just a few hundred feet away – you can visit the ruins of a synagogue that was built anywhere from 200 to 400 years after the time of Jesus – but most likely it sits on the site of the synagogue where we find Jesus teaching in today’s Gospel reading from Mark.
So here’s the story. As Jesus is teaching – we read that suddenly – a man with an unclean spirit comes into the synagogue. Now quite frankly, Bible scholars today question just what the Gospel writers – like Mark in today’s reading – just what they mean when they mention unclean spirits. People in those days believed in demonic possession, and some today suggest that this was just a way for people of that day to describe certain physical or mental or emotional illnesses that they just didn’t understand.
Now as far as I know – I have never witnessed or experienced what some might call actual demonic possession – in other words – situations where people are actually possessed by a demon. Certainly not the kind that the movies show us anyway. If you’re old enough to remember the movie, “The Exorcist” then you know what I mean. But on the other hand, I cannot say that demonic possession does not exist in the world simply because I have never witnessed it. I have read about it, but that’s about it.
It’s like the graffiti someone saw on a wall: “Forget to pay your exorcist . . . and you will be repossessed.”
But what I find interesting in today’s account of the encounter that Jesus has with this man who has an unclean spirit – is that Jesus holds a conversation with the man – but it is not the man who is speaking – but the demon who possesses him who speaks. Listen!
"What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him."
Interesting isn’t it? This reading is still right at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel – Chapter 1. Before any human being – including any of the disciples – before anyone other than the voice of God the Father at the baptism of Jesus identifies who Jesus is – and remember that at the baptism of Jesus the Father calls Jesus “My beloved Son,” – but before anyone else identifies who Jesus is – it is the demons who recognize Jesus as the “Holy One of God.”
Now, no matter what the man’s situation may have been – whatever it was it was not good – but the effect on the man in this encounter with Jesus – is that he is changed. The demon is cast out. The man is healed, and made whole again.
And once again we are told something of who Jesus is. Number one, the unclean spirit identifies for us that Jesus is the Holy One of God. And number two, we learn – and this is so important – we learn that the powers of darkness cannot stand up to Jesus. So #1, we learn that Jesus is the Holy One of God, and #2, we learn that the powers of darkness cannot stand up to Jesus.
I offer this to you as an example of what I want to call the Jesus effect.
So what does this mean for us? Well, wouldn’t it be wonderful for us – and the people we live with – the people we love and who love us – wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could make certain behaviors and attitudes become extinct? Quite frankly – we do wrestle with the powers of darkness in our lives. Call them demons – unclean spirits – OR call them destructive habits – lousy attitudes – stinkin’ thinkin’ – or those times when you need a checkup from the neck up. Or a self-centered, me first way of living. In other words – sin – and remember that the definition of sin is the self turned in on the self.
Folks – whatever it is – you put a name on your own demon – but whatever it is, there’s not a one of us here today who doesn’t need to have an encounter with Jesus – the Holy One of God – not a one who isn’t in need of the Jesus effect. This is especially true for those of us who are caught in the grip of an evil that we just are powerless to overcome by ourselves.
Let me share with you a story. “A certain Army man had been a heavy drinker for 35 years. For all those years he had been angry – angry at everyone and everything. Finally, he encountered Christ and his whole life changed.
“He was speaking once before a group of medical people. He told them of his personality change, how he was now sober as he once had been drunk; considerate as he once had been severe; concerned for others as once he had been selfish and self-serving.
“A psychiatrist, who believed that personalities are so firmly set in early life that no one can change, protested to the Colonel that at his age a person could not have such a radical transformation.
“‘Well,’ replied the Colonel, ‘that may be true. But I am under new management – I answer to another authority – the highest and truest there is.”
So who’s authority are you under today? Your own? Your own authority? If so – as Dr. Phil would say – how’s that working for you?
Folks – what are your best demons? And believe me, I’m not here to beat up on anyone today. But what are your best demons? We all have them – including myself. Some sin – something that needs to become extinct – and which only Jesus can handle for us. What is it? Anger? Bitterness? Strife? Envy? A complaining spirit? A critical nature? What is it that has a hold on you and you really want to get rid of it? To name it is half the battle. You know you can’t fix something that you don’t identify, so put a name on it. And then turn it over to Jesus. He’s our change agent. Ask him to take it away – to teach you how to replace it with something that builds up rather than this thing that tears down. The thing that needs to become extinct.
Because I’m here to tell you today that Christ's teaching – and Christ’s authority – have the power to transform us. Just ask the demon-possessed man. Ask the Apostle Paul. Ask Martin Luther, or any man or woman who has had a ife-changing encounter with Jesus Christ.
True change comes when you and I address our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Surrendering our hearts and lives to Him. Not always easy, I know.
But ultimately it comes down to trusting Christ to be the change agent we need. To do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And when you see transformation in your life – and others see that change in you – then you will know that you have been touched by Jesus. Then you will know that you have been touched by the Jesus Effect.
The Scriptures tell us this universal, eternal truth. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If God is for you, then who – or what – can be against you? And since God is for you – then that must mean that God is with you. It’s the Jesus Effect. And that – my friends – that changes everything.
Monday, January 22 2018
Psalm 62:5-12, Mark 1:14-20 “Remaining Faithful”
There’s a question I’ve heard lately. In one way or another, it seems to be all over the place. Maybe you’ve detected it as well. It’s come up in conversations. Sometimes it’s asked because someone is curious. Other times it’s asked because of what someone has read in the Scriptures. Most of the time it comes from someone's experience.
I’ve heard this question asked throughout the news. It’s asked when we read stories about how our country's confidence in our government is approaching all-time lows. It’s asked when stories explain how the stock market is soaring, yet wages remain stagnant. It’s asked when there are stories about the opioid crisis, sexual assault, and false alarms of a nuclear attack.
I’ve heard this question even asked in the church. It’s asked when people start discussing church attendance. It’s asked in the midst of people’s frustrations and sorrows. It was even asked on Wednesday at Zion and St. Paul’s “God on Tap,” when people gathered together to have a beverage, alcoholic or not, and discuss theological topics.
Again, in one way or another, it seems to be all over the place. Regardless of where I’ve heard it, it’s become an ear-worm. It’s a question that I’ve asked myself many times over the last eight and a half years. Just when I thought I wouldn’t have to answer it anymore it just came back.. Perhaps you already know the question. Maybe you don’t know, but underneath you do. The question that I keep hearing is, “When life is full of chaos, how does a person remain in the Christian faith?”
This question isn’t easy to answer. Many times we try to answer it with simple cliches. We might tell someone or tell ourselves, “Everything happens for a reason.” Or, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Or, “God will take care of it.” Or, “This is to test our faith.” Specifically, in the midst just trying to get through our daily lives, sometimes we will listen to these sayings just to grasp at something for comfort. I will admit it; there have been times that I’ve not only heard these sayings but also did a miserable job and said them to others.
In the end, these sayings fail to provide any comfort. If anything they make us feel annoyed and dismissed. Then we are left more frustrated and still with the question, “When life is full of chaos, how does a person remain in the Christian faith?” Of all of the questions that’s the one, I would’ve loved to ask Jesus’ disciples.
There are many questions I would’ve liked to ask them. For instance, “What was the most important thing you learned from Jesus?” Or, “What made you marvel more; Jesus teaching, preaching, or performing miracles?” Or even, “How could you make a fool of yourself so much?” But that original question is the primary one I would have loved to ask. “When life is full of chaos, how did you remain faithful?”
They knew what it was like to experience the highs and lows of this world. After all they experienced, after seeing Jesus crucified, after becoming apostles and dying themselves, more importantly after they left everything to follow him, how did they remain faithful?
As we heard in our Gospel lesson, when Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea - for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left and followed him.
This story sounds almost too good to be true. What did the disciples know that we're not seeing? What made it so compelling to leave their profession and follow a stranger? Did they not like to fish? Were they bored out of their minds? Regardless of the reason, it sounds almost too romantic to leave what they did and follow Jesus.
Picture it if you will. Imagine for a moment being at home, at work, or at school. We are in the comforts of our daily routines. Although we are stressed out with deadlines, packed calendars, and the pressure of excellence, we are relatively content. We have a place to sleep, food on the table, and heat to stay warm. For some of us, we have plenty of money in the bank, pensions, healthcare, and retirement accounts.
Then imagine out of nowhere a stranger coming up to us and says, “Follow me. I will make you gather and instruct other people.” It already sounds strange. We don’t know anything about this person or where she or he came from in originally. We don’t know why she or he came up to us personally or why they share this with us.
Then this unknown stranger said there is a catch. The catch is that we have to give up our houses, our families, our pensions, our careers, our phones, and the internet. By the way, I’m going to take you on a journey where you will experience the highest of highs and lowest of lows. You'll be placed in harm's way, you will meet people you don’t associate with now, and there’s a chance you will be killed.
I’m guessing for most of us there would be warning signs in our heads that say “Go the other direction.” For these first disciples, they didn’t go in the other direction. These first disciples followed Jesus. Whenever we want to refer to the disciples of Jesus in a positive way we often go back to this story.
We often forget that the disciples didn’t always remain faithful. Just because they left everything and followed Jesus that didn’t mean life was comfortable. They abandoned Jesus during his crucifixion. Still, he knew this ahead of time. I’m sure he knew this when he first called those disciples that fateful day as they were fishing.
Perhaps that’s why Mark didn’t start Jesus’ ministry with the disciples following Jesus immediately after his baptism and temptation. Again, as we heard, Jesus came proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.” Jesus wasn't threatening us as we might tend to think; instead, it’s a promise.
Mark began Jesus’ ministry with the promise of God’s good news, which is God’s kingdom coming into this world. In other words, it’s about God remaining faithful in our changing world, our society, and our lives. So, maybe we are asking the wrong question, “When life is full of chaos, how does a person remain in the Christian faith?”
Maybe the question we are really asking is, “Where’s God in the chaos?” When life is in shambles, when we don’t know where to turn, when we can’t explain how to continue, when there aren’t any mottos left to latch onto, when there aren’t any signs, that’s when faith comes into practice. But it isn’t our faith in God; instead, it’s God’s faith in us. When everything is in disorder it’s about God promising to remain faithful to us as our God. It’s about God remaining faithful as our rock and our salvation.
We hear those same words in our Psalm for today. These words that are from God and to God help us articulate that God is our rock and salvation. Our Psalmist wasn't just telling about his own experience. He proclaimed that God is everyone’s hope and refuge and we shout those same words.
The Psalmists didn't just say these to make the next cliche. He spoke out of his own experience. The Psalmist was describing that out of his hardships and chaos he ultimately trusted God to deliver him. Don’t you see what this means? These words aren’t just a fantasy or dream; these words come from someone’s reality. The Psalmist experienced it when God delivered him through those chaotic times. The disciples experienced it when Jesus called them before they followed. Other people have experienced it first hand that God remains faithful to them.
That’s what many people encountered one Spring Monday morning. It was graduation day at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. That day there were hundreds of students receiving their diplomas. The late nights, the long days, and overwhelming work finally came to an official end. This was the day all of us were waiting to arrive. Perhaps some of you have experienced this through your own educational experiences.
Each of us began seminary in a similar situation. There was an the inner and outer feeling that we were supposed to do something else in our lives. Some of my other classmates left lucrative careers. I remember some of my classmates shared with me what they did before they entered the seminary. Some were engineers, a few were lawyers, and a couple of classmates were doctors. One of my classmates told me, for many years before seminary, she was a teacher and lived in a camper in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home.
Each of us came to the seminary with our own story. That’s what most people ask when someone wants to know why we enter into it. But that’s not the fascinating part of our stories. What’s the compelling piece is why some of us stayed.
Throughout my time I heard what some of my classmates endured. A few of them got divorced because their spouses didn’t want to be married to a minister. Some of my classmates had numerous family members die while they were in school. Some of my classmates fell on financial hard times. Some of my classmates even fell into deep depression and anxiety. Still, in the midst of all of this, each of us continued on this path.
Well, when I got to the campus we had our first ceremony. The whole university was gathered together in the courtyard. Every school was there - the business school, law school, medical school, theology school, among many others. Once that ceremony finished, each school had their own ceremony. After a couple of hours passed, it was our school’s turn. We met in a large Methodist church just off of the campus. Like many other graduations, we lined up in alphabetical order and proceeded to the church as a massive pipe organ played Pomp and Circumstance. Upon walking in, I noticed every person, graduate, family member, and professor with smiles on their faces. After a few prayers and speeches, each of us walked across the stage and received our diplomas.
When I got back to my seat, I noticed every student had their arms around each other. Then the professor of pastoral care stood up and gave the final prayer. In a soft, calm tone, he began. “Gracious God, we thank you for this day. Every day has been your day. Every day from now until eternity will be your day. But today is their day. It’s the graduates day.”
Then those smiles turned to tears. Every parent, spouse, student, and family member was crying, but not because they were sad. Everyone was in tears because of the overwhelming joy of God carrying them through those years. Underneath, everyone understood what God could do to bring everyone through those difficult times. Underneath, everyone witnessed first hand how God was their rock and salvation. Underneath, everyone experienced the promise of God’s good news.
Being in the Christian faith isn’t about God promising to remove hardship, pain, or death. It’s about God promising to remain faithful to us through those hardships, that pain, and even death itself. It’s about God promising to be our rock and our salvation. It’s about God promising us good news of Christ’s resurrection.
Being a Christian is not about evil being defeated before our eyes, but rather that, in the words we heard near Christmas, that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
That’s the good news. The good news is not, finally, a word of obvious victory but rather of sustaining courageous hope. The good news is experiencing the fullness of God’s kingdom when everything looks empty. The good news is God sending others to step in and lift us up. That’s the promising good news of God’s kingdom. That’s the promise I want everyone to hear today. The promise is not that God is a God of control. Instead, God, the God of grace and mercy, has, does, and will remain faithful in bringing resurrection and redemption.
Tuesday, January 16 2018
Vicar David Sivecz
John 1:43-51 “Come and See”
Maybe he had a feeling. Maybe he had a hunch. Maybe there was something there. We don’t know. All we know was that Jesus decided to go to Galilee. But he wasn’t alone. Along with him there were a few disciples that he inherited from John the Baptist. They were Jesus’ first disciples.
Earlier in the Gospel of John, as Jesus was passing by, John the Baptist spotted him. In a loud voice, John proclaimed, “Look here is the Lamb of God!” The first couple of disciples heard John and followed Jesus. Do you ever wonder why and how they left everything to follow him? Was it John proclaiming him as the Lamb of God? Was it Jesus’ charisma? Or was it Jesus’ invitation? When the disciples asked where he was staying all Jesus said was, “Come and see.” Unsure of what to expect they came and saw, and their lives changed forever.
But apparently, it seemed these disciples weren’t enough for Jesus. He wanted more. He desired to change more lives. Upon arriving in Galilee, Jesus found Philip. We don’t know if Jesus was specifically looking for him, or just anyone in general, but he found Philip.
Philip heard about Jesus. He learned the stories that Moses wrote in the law and heard the prophets speak. So Philip knew. He knew Jesus was a remarkable person. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Philip became excited when Jesus appeared. When he saw Jesus, it was good news, and something he was waiting for and expecting. What good news have you heard in the past? What are some positive experiences you’ve encountered or witnessed? What brought you such overwhelming joy? I’m seriously asking. You can shout them out loud. (Congregation answered).
Philip had that same feeling when he found Jesus. Overcome with excitement Philip would’ve been drawn in Jesus’ direction ready to copy his every move. So, we’d figure he’d go when the Rabbi, the Messiah, and the one they call the Lamb of God told him to “Follow me,” he would’ve followed.
But this was not what Philip did; rather was moved to do the unlikeliest thing. He turned and went in the other direction. It does not make much sense to me either. If Philip was waiting all this time for Jesus then why would he go the other way? Why didn’t he just stay in the presence of Jesus? Why didn’t Philip start to learned from him?
Think about what happens when we receive that good news? What do we do when we’ve become overwhelmed with joy? Just look back to what happened a couple of weeks ago when the Buffalo Bills finally made it to the playoffs. I know that seems like eons ago and some of us are just finally getting over the loss.
But do you remember what was it like around here? The local news made it their primary story. It even hit national headlines. For instance, “It’s Finally True. The Bills are Going to the Playoffs.” “Bills End Their Playoff Drought, and Tears Flow.” “Seventeen Years. Drought Over.”
Every time the Bills came up in sporting news, they showed replays of their last playoff game. People were posting it on social media. Everyone expressed their excitement by wearing Bills gear and singing the Bills “Shout Song.” Even after the New Year began, fans went to the airport to show the Bills their appreciation. Many people had been anticipating this for such a long time.
It was such a long time coming that it was as though the Bills won the Super Bowl. I even reminisced when I asked a few high schoolers in Sunday school if they remember what it was like for the Bills to be in the playoffs. When they looked at me with blank stares on their faces I realized they weren’t born then. That’s why so many people were excited. It was that long ago that nothing could hold them back from celebrating. People were so thrilled that they just had to share this good news with others.
When we receive goods news, when we have an incredible experience, when we witness something so special our first act is to share it with others. When we become excited about receiving good news, we have to shout it out. There’s something inside of us that can’t stop us from holding it inside. It’s as though if we don’t tell it to others, we will burst.
Perhaps that’s why Philip immediately left Jesus. Overcome with such excitement he probably felt the need to share this news. But he didn’t just go and tell anyone he went and found Nathanael. They must have been close friends because Philip didn’t look for anyone else. He wanted to share this news with someone he knew.
Once Philip shared his news Nathanael seemed unfazed. Instead, he became a skeptic and tried to dismiss Philip quickly. It didn’t matter to him. It didn’t matter that this was the proclaimed Messiah. It seemed too good to be true. There’s nothing wrong with being skeptical.
Skepticism means we question the validity or authenticity of something that appears to be factual. Sometimes we call these people downers, pessimistic, or cynics. Some of us sitting here are skeptics; whether it’s about life, the economy, our government, or even the church. There’s usually something we’ve seen, learned, or experienced multiple times that has made us this way. As a result, we want some form of proof or evidence to validate any facts. What each of us are searching for is something more. We are challenging the status quo. Being skeptic is alright.
But we aren’t the only skeptics in this world. There are many people outside of the church and the Christian faith who are also skeptics. People don't want someone telling what to believe. Instead what others are looking for are people who will have a conversation. They are looking for people who will listen to them. They are looking for people who will also be challenged and dig more deeply into our faith.
As for Nathanael, what seemed to make him a skeptic was when he heard that Jesus came from Nazareth. Apparently, he didn’t care much for those who came from Nazareth. Nathanael didn’t care about someone that came from that other area. He didn’t care about someone who was from nowhere. How could anyone come from such a city? How could anything good come from such a small town? How often do things happen from the mundane and unknown?
There was nothing wrong with Nathanael being a skeptic because of where Jesus lived. However, Philip didn't just argue with him. Philip just extended an invitation. He didn’t debate, berate, or put down Nathanael. Instead, Philip’s words were so simple, not abrasive, not belittling, yet just casual. All he said was - “come and see.”
“Come and see for yourself, Nathanael.” “Come and see what you don’t believe.” “Come and see what’s miraculous.” “Just come and see why I’ve told you the Messiah is here.” “Come, see and be a part of something special.” “Nathanael, come and see even if you don’t fully understand why I want you to experience that same joy.”
What if we were a “come and see" people? There was something that called to each of us to “come and see” this place known as Zion Lutheran Church. But what was it? What was it about this church that made you “come and see” for yourself? I’m sure each of us can articulate what it was that brought us here, not just today, but from the very beginning. If we remember what it was, then maybe it will be easier to invite others. Possibly we won’t have as much difficulty inviting people to be a part of this community. Again, I’m actually asking. What brought you to Zion? (Congregation answered).
You see, it wasn’t just someone or something saying to you Zion is a great place. It wasn’t only someone telling you about Zion. It wasn’t even someone just explaining why Jesus or church matters. There was someone or something that said “come and see” for yourself. That’s all we are summoned to do.
I will never forget the one time someone invited a bunch of youth just to "come and see" how their lives could change. This person was a friend of mine named Bill. As a youth director, he planned to join together with another church to take two youth groups to Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a mission trip.
Now Bill had a gift for working with youth. It was natural for him. Even though he stands six and a half feet tall, he was a kid in an adult’s body, in a good way, which helped him be a youth director. He knew how to relate to people who were in middle and high school. He knew how to listen. But more importantly, he knew how to care.
He often told me how he would come across many middle and high school youth and invited them to church camps and mission trips. As many of them did, they made excuses or said they were busy. Somehow he got so many to go that about a week before the mission trip to Milwaukee he needed another chaperone. He knew I was waiting to move to Cincinnati and didn’t have much going on, so he asked me.
Well, I was also a little hesitant. Still, Bill just told me to come and see all of the wonderful experiences he had on these trips. Before I knew it, I was spending eight days, non-stop. with over 40 youth, and seven other chaperones. Over the next week not only did I see how gifted these youth were, but how, through someone saying just “come and see” were changed through this mission trip.
Over the course of those days I saw how they were transformed into gifted and passionate church leaders. They were eager to express God’s love in countless ways. They sorted clothes at a clothing distribution center. They helped build a community garden. They painted old houses. And they even took time to play with children. It was amazing to see how many of them came out of their shells to love and serve others. It was amazing to witness how they grew closer to one another. It was amazing to experience the joy on their faces from someone saying just “come and see.”
It’s our role to invite people to “come and see” what Jesus Christ will do through them. That’s how we make disciples. It’s not our role to create perfect people or upstanding citizens. Instead, we are seed planters, and much like Nathanael, people will see greater things.
What people will see are broken relationships mended, families restored, and more fulfilling lives. People will see they aren’t alone in this world, they free to be themselves, and can rely upon others. People will see that there is hope, joy, and happiness that is just around the corner. They will see there is nothing to fear, have anxiety, or worry over.
All it takes on our end is just to ask someone to "come and see.” They don’t have to sign up for anything or make an immediate commitment, but just come and see for themselves. Three simple words. They are words that extend an invitation. It’s not only an invitation to come to church. It’s not just an invitation to become a disciple. It is an invitation to be in an abundant relationship. It’s an invitation to participate in a journey alongside each other. It’s an invitation to be an apostle on a daily basis.
It won’t be easy. It will take time and patience. There will be uncertainty and doubt. But just ask others to "come and see.” Ask them to just "come and see” what God has done. Ask them to just “come and see” what God is doing right now. Ask them to just “come and see” and be moved to experience greater things than they’ve ever known.
Tuesday, January 16 2018
Vicar David Sivecz
Mark 1:4-11 “Accepted”
Do you enjoy a good movie? Well, I do. As my New Testament professor once joked, “If you want to know about theology read novels.” Well, since I read plenty of theology books, I tend to watch movies in my spare time. Although I occasionally catch them on television, there are times when I prefer to see them in the theaters. There is just something about standing in line - sometimes outside - waiting with friends all excited to see something that I’ve expected for months to come out.
Once I spend plenty of money on a movie ticket, I will enter the lobby and get a whiff of the popcorn. I can’t help but listen to the sound of it popping. If that isn’t enough, the smell of it surely grasps my nose. After it’s pulled to the counter, I will reach for my wallet, pull out some money… only to buy a box of candy. Hey, I said I like to hear and smell the popcorn.
After, I’ve gotten a ticket and bought some refreshments, I finally reach the theatre. With the lit aisles, I find a seat to be ready to watch the previews. Again, after another half an hour goes by, it’s time for the movie. The lights go down; the screen opens, and… (the Star Wars theme was played).
The movie begins. I’m sorry I have Star Wars on my mind. Because of the holiday season, I haven’t seen it yet, so don’t spoil it for me. If history serves me well, I can only guess that it begins the way other Star Wars movies start. I can picture it right now. The screen is pitch black dark. The big yellow words scroll into outer space. The Star Wars music plays in the background, as I try to understand the beginning of the story quickly. Star Wars has one of the most epic beginnings. Regardless of where we are or what we are watching, we know Star Wars from the beginning. It can’t be mistaken for Star Trek or any other Science Fiction movie. No other film has that same beginning.
Beginnings happen in many different ways. Sometimes when we read a book or watch a movie, it begins by jumping right into the action. Other times it begins by sharing specific information. Regardless of the story, the beginning often plays a major role in how we follow it. Beginnings provide us with a background to what we will hear and see. Beginnings set the stage to help us understand what is to come.
Two weeks ago, on Christmas Eve, we heard the Gospel of Luke shared with us the beginning of Jesus’ life. It’s the same story told every year. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and placed in a manger. Although it’s the only Gospel that tells us that story, the other Gospels have their own “birth story.” When I say “birth,” I mean that each Gospel has it's own beginning to Jesus’ life.
Unlike Luke’s Gospel, Mark’s Gospel didn’t tell the famous Christmas story. It didn’t begin with Jesus as an infant. It didn’t even begin with a lineage or a prologue as the other two Gospels. Instead, Mark’s Gospel began with John the baptizer appearing in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism for repentance for the forgiveness of sins. What Mark began with was the baptism of Jesus.
For many of us, it might not make sense that Jesus was baptized. If Jesus was sinless and came from heaven then again, why did Jesus need to get baptized? For some of us, who come from other church traditions, we learned that baptism is an outward sign of an inward commitment to God. For others of us, we believe that baptism means the washing away of sin and having a clear path to heaven. Perhaps, that’s why many of us continue to perform this ritual. Friends and family will come from all over to witness an infant or an adult, get baptized.
If your earlier experience of being baptized in the church was similar to mine, you were baptized six weeks after you were born. Like many people who grew up in an Eastern European Lutheran church, parents learned they had to get their child baptized as soon as possible. Before a child went out of the home, they had to get baptized before anything happened in his or her life. It was that crucial.
However, what if our baptisms were more than just a one-time event? What if our baptisms aren’t just something that happened in the past or help us in the future? Rather what if our baptisms impacts every facet of our lives inside and outside of this building?
In the baptism of Jesus this what we see. We see God claiming Jesus as God’s own. As we heard, “Just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from the heaven said, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Within our baptisms we aren’t committing to God, we aren’t given a direct line to heaven; instead, God claims us as one of God’s children. We become one of God’s beloved. Don’t you see what this means? We don’t need to “fit into a mold.” We don’t have to be pressured by society and have to fit in, if we want to get ahead. Our families, our friends, our children and ourselves aren't forced to be someone we are not.
But on the other hand, being someone who is claimed by God is the exact opposite. As a child of God, God accepts us as we are. God embraces us and values us with all of our scares, warts, and wounds. There is nothing more important or necessary in leading a healthy, productive life than feeling accepted.
Within our baptisms God promises to claim and accept us. It means we have a new beginning, the possibilities are endless, and we get another chance to experience a change. That’s what happened to former televangelist Jim Bakker. Maybe some of us remember him. He was sent to prison for a number of fraud charges in the early 1990s. What he shared after his immediate release from prison is perhaps a testament to God’s acceptance.
It began when he transferred to his last prison. Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, said he wanted to help him when he got out by getting him a job, a house to live in, and a car. During his fifth Christmas in prison he thought it over and told Franklin, “You can't do this. It will hurt you.” Jim explained that the Grahams didn’t need his baggage.
Franklin Graham looked at him and as he said, "Jim, you were my friend in the past, and you are my friend now. If anyone doesn't like it, I'm looking for a fight.” When Jim Bakker got out of prison, the Grahams sponsored him and paid for a house and gave him a car to drive.
After his first Sunday out, Ruth Graham, Billy Graham’s wife, called the halfway house where he was living and asked permission for him to go to the Montreat Presbyterian Church with her that Sunday morning. As he walked in, the pastor welcomed him, and Jim Bakker sat down with the Graham family. To his surprise, there were two whole rows of them. Every Graham aunt, uncle and, cousins were present.
When the organ began playing, the place was full, except for a seat next to him. Then the doors opened and in walked Ruth Graham. She walked down that aisle and sat next to inmate 07407-058. Jim Bakker had only been out of prison 48 hours, but she told the world that morning that he was her friend.
Afterwards, she had him up to their cabin for dinner. When she asked him for his address, he pulled this envelope out of his pocket to look for it. In prison, he was not allowed to have a wallet, so that's all he could carry. After five years of brainwashing in prison, he thought an envelope was a wallet. She walked into the other room and came back and said, "Here's one of Billy's wallets. He doesn't need it. You can have it.”
We can say whatever we want about Jim Bakker. At that time, not only did it seem as though God accepted Jim Bakker after prison, but the Graham family also accepted him. That’s the other side of being God’s beloved. Just as we, the church, remember how much God loves us and accepts us we are sent to accept others.
When society wants to shun, shame, and castaway people we remember where they began. They began in the loving arms of God. Even when we forget and fail to do so, it’s because of our baptisms there is nothing that can remove God’s claim on our lives. Not even our failures, our sins, our mistakes, other people, and our rebellion can take it away.
Baptism was not only the foundation for the life of Jesus it was also the foundation for his ministry. It wasn’t just a one-time event; instead, it was the beginning of Christ’s long journey to his death and resurrection. We are impacted by this through Jesus breaking into our world in his own baptism.
It’s through that same Holy Baptism we continue to live in that covenant with God and among God’s faithful people. It’s through that same Holy Baptism we hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper. It’s through that same Holy Baptism we proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
If those words sound familiar, they are said every time we baptize someone in the church. Yet, that’s not the only thing we do. Immediately afterward, we light a candle, and we say “So, let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” That’s what we are going to do before we sing our next song (“You Are Mine”).
When you walked in here today, you should’ve received a candle. It’s the same candle we used on Christmas Eve when we sang “Silent Night.” Today we are going to light our candles in remembrance of our baptisms. As we pass our light, similar to what we do on Christmas Eve, to the person sitting next to us. What I want you to do, as you pass your flame, is say four words… “You are God’s beloved.” Don’t just it say it, but say with gusto or enthusiasm. Say it like you believe the other person matters. Say it as though God accepts them.
If we are sitting here and haven't baptized; don’t miss out on it. You can be a part of this. You matter and are accepted by God as well. Better yet, find a time and get baptized. As I said it’s not about what you need to do; instead it’s God actively working in you. So, join us and see how being claimed as God’s child will bring transformation.
What a way to begin a new year. It’s perfect by remembering that we belong to God. Although many of us have launched into the new year with full force, with the Christmas season is a distant memory, the wrapping paper is decaying in the ground, and most of our decorations are boxed up ready for next year, we can’t forget that God accepts us as God's beloved children.
As we’ve gone back to school, work, and to our daily routines, as we’ve experienced the January snow, freezing temperatures, and high winds, we need to remember God’s claim on our lives. Even when nothing says welcome to the beginning of a new year like the Buffalo Bills finally making the playoffs, we absolutely need to hear that we are accepted as God’s beloved.