Jesus Didn't Observe the Sabbath

 Inspired by Luke 6:1-11

If you’ve come here expecting a sermon on how the Sabbath is a day of rest and leisure or a time to worship and strengthen your relationship with God, then you’ve come to the wrong place. But before you turn your screen off, I know, you’re probably thinking, “Pastor, give us a break for crying out loud! Why do you gotta ride us so hard!” If it makes you feel any better, and it probably won’t, but I too was surprised at the sermon that I ended up writing. I too am in need of some rest. I too wonder when God will just let up a bit. I read this passage and thought, finally! We get to talk about rest and relaxation! Only to dive deeper and remember that this is not what God meant for the Sabbath. Oh well, it was a nice thought while it lasted.

So, before we talk about this story from Luke, we should remind ourselves of how it all began in the first place. And for that, we have to return to the Hebrew scriptures. Now, before your eyes glaze over, just bear with me, I’ll try to keep this short and sweet. The seeds of the Sabbath first get planted way back at the first creation story, when God rested on the seventh day—which is probably where we first associated Sabbath and rest. If God can take a day off why can’t we have our barbecues and a beer on Sunday, right! Well, not so fast.

Fast forward to Mt. Sinai where God is giving the Ten Commandments to Moses. One of which is of course, “Keep the Sabbath day and treat it as holy, exactly as the Lord your God commanded: Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Don’t do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant who is living among you—so that your male and female servants can rest just like you.” And then the author adds a very interesting connection and wrote, “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That’s why the Lord your God commands you to keep the Sabbath day.” Hmmmmm, interesting. So, even then, the Sabbath wasn’t just for the Jewish community, and, the reason for it has connections to their slavery in Egypt. Hmmmmm. We can’t stop there though, we gotta keep moving.

Later in the Hebrew scriptures we find out that the Sabbath didn’t only apply to the seventh day but also to the seventh year! Every seven years they were commanded to observe the Sabbath by forgiving all debts, as well as, freeing all slaves! But it didn’t end there! Every seventh seventh year, meaning seven times seven, the forty-ninth year, all land was to be returned to its original owners, and a year long festival of Jubilee, as it was called, was to be celebrated! Ok, so, clearly, the Sabbath, was way more than, was farther-reaching than, simply a day off every week, right! The Sabbath was about bringing life, a burst of new life into weary old bones. Whether those bones were seven days weary, seven years weary, or seven times seven years weary! Whether those bones were your bones or your neighbors bones, it didn’t matter. Wherever a burst of new life was needed, it was commanded. See, I told you I’d keep that short and sweet! Now, let’s turn to our story from Luke now that we have all that in mind.

By the time we get to this time period, the Jewish elites have taken the idea of Sabbath and ran with it! And by “ran with it” I mean, ran it into the ground. In their defense, they did with it what any group of humans would have done with it, and if we’re honest, what we continue to do with it. But more on that in a sec. Luke’s first story in this passage is of Jesus and his followers minding their own business, walking through a field of wheat, like their filming a breakfast cereal commercial, and they can’t even do that without getting into trouble! They get accused by the Pharisees, the religious elite, of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus then reminds them that even King David broke the law by eating the temple bread when he was starving. Did Jesus just say that rules were made to be broken? Hmmmm, let’s keep going.

Next, we find Jesus on another Sabbath, at the synagogue where he comes across a man with a withered hand. Jesus knows that all eyes are on him, watching to see what he’s gonna do. So, he asks them a question, “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” Without waiting for an answer, Jesus tells the man to stretch out his hand, and it was healed, answering the question for them. Because Jesus knew what the Sabbath was all about. Not only did Jesus know his Bible but the Christ was there when the Sabbath was first created! There was no need to lecture Jesus about the Sabbath! But they did anyway, and so, he showed them what Sabbath looked like. It looks like life, a burst of new life, in tired old bones. It wasn’t about time off, or a day of leisure, and it certainly wasn’t about being the Sabbath police, handing out tickets to anyone who wasn’t observing the Sabbath.

Jesus didn’t observe the Sabbath—as if it was something to be witnessed, as if it was something to be watched, as if it was something to passively behold—Jesus didn’t observe the Sabbath. Jesus lived it. Jesus was the very embodiment of the Sabbath. And Jesus calls us to do the same. And not just as recipients, though that is certainly important, but Christ calls us to be deliverers of Sabbath as well—bringers of bursts of new life, to tired old bones, no matter how old, whenever we come across them. Saint Ambrose, one of the great early-church theologians, shared this about this passage from Luke, writing to his own readers, “You heard the words of the Lord, saying, “Stretch out your hand.” But you who think that you have a healthy hand beware lest it is withered by greed or by sacrilege. Hold it out often. Hold it out to the poor person who begs of you. Hold it out to help your neighbor, to give protection to a widow, to snatch from harm one whom you see subjected to unjust insult. Hold it out to God for your sins. The hand is stretched forth; then it is healed.”

Like Jesus, Saint Ambrose knew that the miracle in this story wasn’t just in that withered hand but also in the hearts of all those who witnessed it, who got to see first-hand what the Sabbath really looked like, who got to experience the Sabbath, the real Sabbath, for the first time, in ways that they were never taught before. Now, some of those who saw this walked away angry and bitter that day. And before we judge them too quickly, we must remind ourselves that their whole world was being rocked by Jesus, causing them to question things they’ve never questioned before, doubt truths they thought were solid truths, rethink their entire theology. That’s a tough place to be in. Not everyone is ready for that right away! That is scary, shaking ground to stand on! God knows we’ve had our share of people leave us for more stable ground! I’m sure most of you know what that journey is like, as your theology has changed over the years, as your perspectives have changed, as your ideologies have changed. It can be a tough road but it’s a road that many of us take because it’s a road that brings new life to the tired old bones of this world, it’s a road that brings grace, it’s a road that brings Sabbath.

So, there were those that left angry and bitter and then there were those who followed Jesus with a renewed, emboldened, passion to not only receive the Sabbath in a new way but to be the Sabbath for others, as they continually saw Jesus demonstrate time and time again right before their eyes. Those who followed Jesus had their own metaphorical withered hand healed and restored, healed from whatever was hindering their path with God, healed from whatever chains were holding them back, and were now ready to use it to bring new life into the world with Jesus. That is their story, and it is ours as well, as we continue to stretch out our own withered hands, to be healed of whatever hinders our own journey with Christ to bring life into this world, ready to bring Sabbath to whoever may need it: those who are hungry, lonely, persecuted, treated unjustly, or who, like us, may just need a break. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Catch & Release

Inspired by Luke 5:1-11

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve fishing with my dad at Lake Berryessa. My dad would get me up super early, I mean, God wasn’t even up yet, still dark outside! And though it was difficult to get up, I don’t remember complaining. Once we left the house, still dark by the way, I’d catch a quick nap on the way. We’d stop in the little town of Winters and go to the same bait and tackle shop. There we’d get the same three things, as if it was part of the ritual of the day: we’d get our minnows, I’d get a pack of beer nuts, and my dad would get a cheap cigar. He’d always whisper to me, “Don’t tell mom”, with a smirk on his face because we both knew full well that mom already knew. From there our adventure would continue to the lake, to the same spot every time, just on the other side of the glory hole. We’d park on the side of the road, grab our gear, and walk down some very steep, rocky terrain to get to our spot.

By this time the sun was coming up and we’d fish from the shoreline there for the rest of the morning. Well, my dad would fish for the rest of the morning. I’m not sure how long I lasted. I’d start out fishing but the lure of adventure in that rocky terrain was too great and before long, off I went to explore. I’m sure that unnerved my dad but I don’t remember him ever getting mad at me for not fishing. I’m guessing my dad was just happy to spend time with his son, just like I was just happy to spend time with my dad. Because forty years later, I don’t remember the fish that we caught, or how cold it was in those early morning hours, or how tired I was, or even how tasty those beer nuts may have been. I remember a dad willing to spend quality time with his son, with love and what I’m sure was a healthy dose of patience, to connect in ways that go beyond words.

And that’s really why I share this with you today. For me, fishing is all about connection, in a variety of forms. As I child, fishing allowed me to connect with my dad. As I got older and before I had kids of my own to take fishing, I realized yet another connection that fishing provided me, and that was with nature. There is something quite magical that happens when a fish first bites on your line. All of a sudden you are literally connected to nature in ways that mere words can’t describe. So much so that I always catch and release so that someone else can experience that same connection that I just had. Whenever I have fished alone, I was never really alone, even when I don’t even get a nibble on my line. But of course, I’d always rather fish with someone else so as soon as I could, I had my girls with me and to my surprise and delight, my girls still like to go fishing with me. I’ve never asked them why they still do, but I know for my part, it all has to do with the connection that is fostered between us and nature, with every fishing trip.

As you may have already guessed, connection is the name of the game today as we read this story from the early days of Jesus’ ministry as Luke tells it. In this passage we find Jesus newly tested in the wilderness, newly baptized, having just delivered his inaugural address, and had just performed his first exorcism and first healings, and what is the next thing he does so early in his ministry? Asks for help! We’re only five chapters into this Gospel and Jesus is already looking for help! What kind of an all powerful, cosmic wonder is this Jesus? We’re not even two months into this ministry and he’s already recruiting some assistants!

I think this passage from Jesus’ early days of ministry is chock full of valuable lessons and that’s a huge one. Knowing that even Jesus didn’t try to do this alone might be the greatest source of comfort that we could ever ask for, especially when this work of ours brings it’s share of enemies, as we explored last week. But even aside from the enemies, this work can be daunting. There are so many causes for us to champion, so many in need of help, that it can be easy for us to become overwhelmed at best, complacent at worst. It’s easy to fall into that old trap of thinking, what difference could little ol’ me make anyway? This is where Jesus’ genius comes in. In what I think was a move to be an example for us, Jesus asks for help. Because really, do any of us really believe that Jesus couldn’t have done it alone? But the important thing here is, he didn’t. He knew that together we are stronger. And not just in terms of getting things done, but in the support that we can offer each other in this often-daunting work that we are called to. We are stronger together, in every way that matters, as we connect with each other, there’s that word again, as we do God’s work together.

And speaking of comfort, the next lesson I’d like to highlight from this story may provide even more comfort than working together. And it comes from Peter’s reaction to the huge haul of fish that Jesus helps them bring in. Peter realizes that this Jesus is no ordinary prophet or rabbi and it scares the living daylights out of him! Why? Because he knew he wasn’t qualified to be part of this movement that Jesus was starting. Or as Peter put it, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” And what is Jesus’ response? He asks him to join anyway! Now, if the daunting nature of following Christ isn’t enough to cause you to run for the hills, the temptation to think you’re not qualified just might do it. How many times have you thought, “I can’t do that! What do I know about that? I’m not a good enough person to help other people on their path of following Christ! I can’t even figure this out for myself!” Any of you ever have thoughts like that? I do. All the time. Which is why this part of this story is so meaningful for me. I hear Jesus telling us that there are no qualifications, that there is no good enough anyone can be, and maybe more importantly, I hear him acknowledging that we are indeed sinners, and even still, Jesus says to us, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” Which brings me to my final lesson that I’d like to highlight from this story.

Back to fishing. Jesus calls us to be fishers of people. Now, in the past, this has been used in colonialist ways that hurt a whole lot of people in the process. Whole civilizations have been wiped out all in the name of “expanding the kingdom of God.” Just ask my ancestors, the Aztecs, oh that’s right, you can’t, they’re gone, wiped out by “good-meaning” Spanish conquistadors who were just swinging by the new world to spread the good news. You’re picking up the sarcasm, right? My point is, fishing for people hasn’t always taken on a catch and release mentality. Too often it’s been more like catch and become one of us or be destroyed. I really don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind when he told Peter to that he’d be fishing for people from now on. And I’m assuming you’d agree with that. So what did he mean? Going door to door and telling people about Jesus? Volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen? Going to worship every Sunday? Reading your Bible more? I know, listening to more Christian radio! Ok, I’ll turn down the sass. I’m not saying that doing any of those things is bad, but I also don’t think that is what Jesus is talking about here.

I believe that it’s all about connection. I think Jesus was using this image of fishing because he knew how fishing connected them to nature, how it connected them to the sea, how it connected them to providing for their families, how it connected them to their communities, Jesus knew the power of connecting with people! And so, when Jesus tells Peter to go and start fishing for people, he’s telling him to go and connect with people in the same way that fishing has connected you to the world around you in so many wonderful and life-sustaining ways! No go start connecting with people, Peter, because that’s the only way we’re going to truly communicate God’s unconditional love and salvation for all!

This my friends is why this work is so hard, so daunting, but it’s also why it’s so needed. Because often times the people that need God’s unconditional love the most, are people who are very different from us. And so, for a congregation that is mostly white, that means being called to find ways to connect with people of color. For a congregation that is mostly straight, that means finding ways to connect with people from the LGBTQ community. For a congregation in which most members find themselves above the poverty line, that means finding ways to connect with people who are below it. You get my drift? Is that enough examples? I’ll stop there? Why is this so hard? Because it’s so much easier to just throw some money at some good causes and call it a day. But connecting with people, really connecting with people, putting yourself in places where you can spend quality time with people who may need it the most, takes time, effort, intentionality, authenticity, not to mention a healthy dose of patience, and it will cause you some discomfort. But, it’s the only way to truly communicate God’s unconditional love and salvation for all, in ways that mere words just cannot, as well as find partners in this work that we are called to, and to release them into the world to do some fishing of their own. It’s a tall order, I know! I’m right there with you. But it’s work that is needed now more than ever, and we get to be partners in it with Christ, who continually forgives our sins and says, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” Thanks be to God. Amen.


The Inaugural Address

 Inspired by Luke 4:14-30

This week is a busy week! There is so much going on in the world. Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which couldn’t come at a better time as our nation seeks to come together in unity and repair the damage done by political extremists. Also this week the senate begins another impeachment trial, as if we needed another reason to glue our eyeballs to our screens. And on top of that, we will inaugurate our next president this week. Like I said, this is a busy week, with a lot on the line no matter what your political persuasion may be. Now, as many of you know, I don’t select the Bible readings that we use for worship. They are preselected years in advance in what is known as a lectionary. But as many as you also know, these readings sometimes come at the eeriest, most well placed times. Because today, as theologian Craig Koester pointed out, in the same week that we will hear the inaugural address of a new president, we read this Biblical story of Jesus’ own inaugural address according to the Gospel of Luke. Now, if that ain’t the work of the Holy Spirit I don’t know what is! But the timeliness of this story goes far beyond even that as we will see, so let’s dive in.

Our story begins with Luke telling us that Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus sounds pretty pumped up and if you’re wondering why or where he went to since last week’s story you’ll have to back up a bit to a portion of the chapter that we skipped. You see, just before the story that we just read, Jesus went to the wilderness for forty days of temptation. So, after passing that test with flying colors, he is riding a bit of a high and who could blame him. This is the power of the Spirit that Luke is referring to and this is the frame of mind that Jesus is in as we read this story. Let’s just say that Jesus is feeling quite confident. So, like the good boy that Mary and Joseph raised, Jesus goes to temple on that Sabbath, and he gets chosen as the day’s lector, the one who gets the high honor of reading the scripture for the day. Now, I don’t know if it was a preselected text or not but the text that Jesus reads is a doozie, and his commentary on it was nothing short of jaw-dropping for them I’m sure.

Jesus reads from a passage of Isaiah known as Third Isaiah. It’s the portion of Isaiah that scholars believe was written after the exile, after God’s people have returned from captivity and back to their homeland to pick up the pieces of their lives and rediscover who they are after such a devasting experience. This passage that Jesus read was the author's attempt to give God’s people hope for the future while the chips were down for them, while they were at the lowest point in their lives. As a side note, this is why a basic understanding of the Hebrew scriptures is so necessary to get the most of the Gospels, which is why I love the Narrative Lectionary that we use. So, it’s with all this in mind that Jesus addresses the temple worshipers, his first audience, with this hopeful passage from Isaiah. Now, let’s pause there and remind ourselves of the context here. First, just like a new president’s inaugural address, Jesus here lays out what he plans to do. Second, typically an inaugural address tries to unite, not divide, even if the sole purpose of that unity is to help gain followers and support to move forward on the intended agenda, often promising to throw a bone even to the opponents.

This is where Jesus strays from a typical inaugural address. Not only is his address divisive, but it doesn’t even promise anything to the very people that could have helped raise Jesus to greater power and influence. Oh, it’s full of promises! Jesus promises good news and rescue and health and liberation, all great promises to make in an inaugural address but who does he make these promises to? The poor. The captives. The blind. The oppressed. Not only are these groups of people on the fringe of society, but they are people who have no power, no influence, no ability to make Jesus’ mission any more effective, let alone any resources to support his agenda. From a political perspective, this should be required reading for what not to say in an inaugural address. But as we all know, Jesus was no politician. He would have been impeached in his first year! Because Jesus was clearly not here to make friends in high places, he was here to do work. And the work that he had planned, and by the way the work that Christ is still engaged in, is the work of social justice and equity for all—and that is rarely going to earn you any popularity points, then—or now.

I imagine there were a lot of people scratching their heads after Jesus read this scripture passage and said that this was what he planned to do, that this was who he was about. I imagine there were some that were trying to figure it all out, maybe thinking that Jesus was still talking about them, that this good news was for them. So, Jesus reminds them of two stories, two stories that we have read since starting the Narrative Lectionary over two years ago. The first one he mentions we read just a few months ago, the story of the widow from Zarephath. Remember that one? It was the story of the widow and her son that were about to eat the last of their food and die of starvation. Great story but guess who the people of Zarephath were? Outsiders! Gentiles! Not who they considered to be God’s people! Jesus tells them that there were many Jewish widows in need but God chose to rescue an outsider! Next, Jesus mentions the story of General Naaman, which we read a couple years ago. Naaman was healed of a skin disease by washing in the Jordan River as Elijah instructed him. Guess where Naaman was from? Syria! Also, an outsider! A Gentile! Not who they considered to be God’s people! And Jesus, once again, reminds them that there were many Jewish people with skin diseases but God chose to heal an outsider.

Why did God do these things back then? Because God’s people wouldn’t. Because God’s people continued to ignore the very people that God had intended them to care for: widows, orphans, the poor, the sick, and immigrants seeking refuge. And guess what, Jesus says, you still aren’t, so here I am to continue God’s work that you should all have been doing anyway. As expected, they were furious! And they ran him out of town like a dirty salesman selling snake oil. But all Jesus wanted to do was give out grace to those who needed it most. And so, off he went, into the sunset to do just that, in as many other cities as he could get to. Leaving many enemies behind along the way.

It's a story that examines some of our most basic human behaviors and puts them under a spotlight. Even when offered a gift like grace and mercy, freely given, humans have a tendency to make it all about themselves, even to the point of hoarding these gifts from God, meaning we expect that all of them are for us. The people who threw Jesus out of town were furious because they realized that Jesus wasn’t including them. And Jesus wasn’t including them because they weren’t poor, they weren’t prisoners, they weren’t blind, and they weren’t being oppressed. In other words, they had already received God’s blessings but could not even acknowledge that, and they ended up throwing the savior of the cosmos out of town.

This story is not only a call to continue Christ’s work of justice in this very lopsided world we live in, but it’s also a warning to Christ’s followers. I believe that Luke is warning anyone who chooses to follow Christ, that the ways of Christ will not be a very popular road. In fact, it’s gonna make you some enemies. Just ask any church that has cast away it’s judgmental theologies against the LGBTQ community and made the decision to welcome them fully, out loud, in writing, and God forbid display a rainbow flag! Every single one of those churches can tell you stories of the enemies that made and the members that they lost.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For me and many others around our nation, it’s a day for us to remember the journey our country has been on toward the work of equality, how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go. Our next hymn has come to be known as the black national anthem. First written as a poem by civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson at the turn of the last century for the celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, it was later set to music by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson. It has been included in Lutheran hymnals since 1978. The rendition that you are about to see and hear is from a Stanford University acapella group. The video has some commentary at the beginning before the hymn is actually sung. My first instinct was to cut the commentary out and just give you the hymn. Why? Because they mention Black Lives Matter and I thought that would be too controversial and offend some people. But now that I have finished writing this sermon, it would be quite disingenuous to do that and so I’ve decided to leave it in. And if I lose some popularity points by doing so, well, I’ll rest easy knowing I’m in good company. Thanks be to God. Amen.


What Should We Do?

 Inspired by Luke 3:1-22

As I write this sermon, it is the morning after insurrectionists stormed and invaded the capitol building of our nation. It was one of the most horrifying sites I have ever watched on television. It’s right up there with 9/11 and every police brutality caught on video. Just when we think we’d seen it all, especially after a year like 2020, we witness our very own capitol be overrun by homegrown terrorists, the very place where we lay our most cherished hopes and dreams for this great nation of ours, the very place where we believe that positive change must come from—desecrated. The news doesn’t often bring tears to my eyes, and I know that’s probably hard to believe cuz y’all know how big of a cry baby I am, but yesterday I was surprised at how quickly tears came as I watched the first images appear on my screen of the mob reaching the senate chamber, and then treating it as if it was their living room, or worse, ransacking it.

There was an image that really hit home for me like a punch to the gut, and I’m not entirely sure why, to be honest, I’m still trying to process all of this, which is probably not the best time to write a sermon but whatcha gonna do. Anyway, it’s this photo of a manchild hanging from a wall in the Senate chamber. When I first saw it, I was utterly disgusted at the disrespect being demonstrated. As I listened to the commentators on the news reflect on what they were seeing, I noticed some interesting words being used, words like desecrate, profane, and defile. Words often used in religious contexts. I found that interesting because, one, those words came to my mind as well, and two, it caused me to question if those were indeed the right words to be using. It caused me to ask myself, what is holy to me? What is sacred? Because my initial reaction to that manchild hanging from that wall was as if he was hanging from the cross in our sanctuary and I have to ask myself if that is the appropriate reaction, and continue to ask myself, what is holy? What is sacred?

Let us allow that to simmer a bit while we turn to our Bible story that we have before us today. I’m not sure if you could have selected a better story after a week like this past week if I had chosen it myself! The passage centers around the baptismal ministry of John the Baptist, with Jesus’ own baptism only occurring in the final two verses, almost as if it’s a footnote to this story. The real star of this show seems to be John, or more precisely, John’s ministry, or even more precisely than that, God’s ministry through John. We don’t know a whole lot about John really. We don’t know what transpired in his life from the last time we saw him, leaping within Elizabeth’s womb when Mary visited, to this moment in his adult life. However, in this passage, we get to know him, we get to know what makes him tick. And we also find out why God chose Elizabeth and Zechariah to be his parents, because what they taught him while they raised him, really shines through in this story.

The story begins with John baptizing people in the Jordan River area, and Luke points out that these baptisms were being done as a sign that the baptized were changing their hearts and lives, and wanted God to forgive their sins. These baptisms weren’t for show. And these baptisms, as a professor once taught me, weren’t fire insurance. Meaning, they weren’t intended to keep people out of the fires of hell, or at least not the way that many have believed in the past. They were an outward sign of what was happening within: a changing of their hearts and lives, with a desire to move beyond their troubled past and forward with God. But what does that look like? I mean, it’s one thing to stand on a riverbank and yell, “Repent! Change your hearts and lives! Seek forgiveness!” But what does that even mean? Again, what does that look like?

That’s when something really interesting happens in the story. Three groups of people show up that quite honestly, surprise John. The first group we’ll call the haves, as in, the “haves and the have-nots.” These were the haves. The second group were tax collectors. And the third group were soldiers. If this story were written today, these groups would probably be the rich, the dishonest businessmen, and the police, because the military was used more like a police force in that day, especially in Roman ruled Judea. Each one of these groups asks the same question, and it’s a question that, after the events at the capitol yesterday, many of us are asking, “What should we do?” When these three groups stroll into John’s baptismal gathering, he gives them a stern lesson on what these baptisms mean, almost as a warning, so that they know what they are getting themselves into. Again, John wants them to know in no uncertain terms, that these baptisms are not for show, this isn’t some kind of production, this ain’t no magic show, and this certainly ain’t no tent revival! What’s happening at these baptisms is real, it’s changing people! And John questions whether these three groups are really ready for this.

And so, in response, each group asks, “What should we do?” In other words, what do we need to do, knowing who we are and what we do, to prove to you that we are ready for this baptism, that we in fact are changing our hearts and lives and want to put our troubled pasts behind us and move forward with your God, John!” His answer to each of them is beautifully, no masterfully simple. In typical John fashion, he doesn’t hold back and hits them where it hurts, plucks their most sensitive nerve. To the haves he says, share what you have with those that don’t. To the tax collectors he says, don’t take more than you're supposed to from people. In other words, just do your job and nothing more. And to the soldiers he says, treat people fairly, don’t harass, and be satisfied with your paycheck. Which is another version of, just do your job and nothing more.

This is some pretty profound stuff here! Notice that none of his answers to them are overtly religious in nature! Sharing, not stealing, being fair, not harassing, going home satisfied with your compensation, this sounds more like a meeting with the HR department! Notice also that he doesn’t say they have to leave their jobs, or become poor themselves. He also doesn’t say things like pray more or worship more or read their Bibles more! None of that. Just go and be decent people for crying out loud! Because in a world filled with indecent people, that’s how the world will know that your baptism is working, that your God is not a fake, and more importantly, that our God is the source of grace and mercy in a world that seems to be lacking.

Which brings us back to where we started, at the capitol on Wednesday, when many of us were asking something like the crowds from our story asked, “What should we do?” What can we do? How can we respond? If we were to ask this question of John the Baptist, our resident teacher for today, I believe he’d respond with something like, “Remember your baptisms.”  Remember your baptisms, is what I think his advice would be, and sound advice it is. It another way of saying, return to the core of who you are. And as baptized Lutheran Christians, the core of who we are is Christ. And if our core is Christ then we are called to live out our baptisms to the best of our ability, knowing that we will often falter in that endeavor and will continually need to fall on the mercies of Christ. But the mercies of Christ do not allow us to give in, do not allow us to surrender to sin, but rather the mercies of Christ call us to persevere in the eternal fight against sin.

What does that look like? Well, remembering John the Baptist’s teaching is a great place to start! Being generous with our sharing. Treating people with equity. Fulfilling our various vocations selflessly. I mean, imagine a world where we all just did those three things! And we haven’t even gotten to Jesus’ teachings yet! Return to our baptisms. Return to the core of who we are. That can be our response to the horrific events at the capitol. Because at the end of the day the core of who we are is not a flag, it’s not a person who holds public office, it’s not a political persuasion, it’s not the constitution, it’s not the Bible, it’s not a church building, and it’s not a federal building. It’s Christ. Christ is who we hold sacred. The ways of Christ are what we proclaim as holy. Thanks be to God. Amen.


That Time Mary & Joseph Lost the Kid - or - Jesus the Brat Child

 Inspired by Luke 2:41-52 

Depending on the day of the week that Christmas falls we don’t always get two Sundays during the twelve days of Christmas but this year we do, and we get this wonderful little story from Jesus’ childhood! I really love this story, for a few reasons. We don’t get much from his childhood in the Bible. In fact, unless you count the visit of the magi, as Jesus may have already past his second birthday by the time of their visit, this is the only story that we get from his childhood. Which is kind of odd if you think about it. For such an important biblical character, you’d think more stories from his early years would have made it into the Bible. Notice I said, “made it into the Bible.” We actually have lots of stories from Jesus’ childhood, they just didn’t make the final cut of the big book, which makes this story all the more important! If you ever get a chance to look up some of those stories, I highly recommend it! They make for some entertaining reading!

My favorite stories from this group of writings, involve Jesus and birds. Maybe because, like me, Jesus really liked birds! There’s one story of him accidentally killing a bird and when he picked it up it came back to life. And there’s another one of him making birds out of mud, which he then made come alive. These are real stories that people were passing around after he died! Then there’s some more, let’s say, unsettling stories from his childhood, like when one day he was playing in a creek and built a damn out of mud to make a pool and one of his friends broke the damn, which led the child Jesus to kill him. Ok, I can see why that didn’t make it into the Bible. But what I like about these stories is how human they make Jesus, which is also probably why they dismissed them. The early church, especially during the time when they were putting the finishing touches on the collection we now know as the New Testament, was still wrestling with who, or more precisely, what Jesus was. Was he a God? Was he a man? Was he both and if so, how does that even work? And since they were wrestling with these questions, they had to be very careful of what they allowed into the Bible. Hence, this one lonely story from his preteen days.

And if there was ever a preteen story, this is it! I’m not sure if I should title this sermon, “That Time Mary and Joseph Lost the Kid” or “Jesus the Brat Child!” So, let’s dig into this story. After leaving the big Passover celebration in Jerusalem at the ripe old age of twelve, Jesus decides he wants to stay and so he does, while everyone, including his parents, leave. Now, I don’t even want to get into how Mary and Joseph could not account for his whereabouts, let’s just say cultural differences? Anywho, they leave their traveling cohort and go back to Jerusalem to find him. Now, let’s pause there and contemplate what this story tells us about Jesus. The traditional view would tell us that Jesus was wise beyond his years, knew who he was, and where he needed to be. My view, Jesus was just a typical brat of the preteen variety. Why not? Centuries ago, we concluded that Jesus was fully God and fully human, even though we don’t know exactly how that works. So, why not just lean into the fully human part for this story?

Which brings us back to why I love this and even those other stories from Jesus’ childhood so much. They humanize Jesus. They ground Jesus. They bring him down to earth, where we dwell. Once they find the brat child Jesus, they begin to scold him, telling him how worried they’ve been. His response? He says, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I’d by in my Father’s house?” Wait a sec, did he just pull a “didn’t you know” on his own parents! I can’t stand it when I share something with someone and their response is, “Didn’t you know that?” And it doesn’t matter the tone of voice used, it always comes off snotty. Well, of course I didn’t know that! Otherwise I wouldn’t have shared that! Or in Mary’s case, “..otherwise I wouldn’t have been worried sick for three days you snot-nosed little brat!” If there was ever a bratty preteen response, this is it!

But let’s get back to the point I’m trying to make here before I get too worked up. One of my favorite bands is the Foo Fighters and one of my favorite songs of theirs is called My Hero. It’s a song that speaks to the heroes in our lives, but particularly the ones whose power does not come from superhuman abilities, but rather, come from very ordinary humanness. Some of the lyrics go like this:

There goes my hero

Watch him as he goes

There goes my hero

He's ordinary

Don't the best of them bleed it out

While the rest of them peter out?...

There goes my hero

Watch him as he goes

There goes my hero

He's ordinary

It’s a rock song but here’s a more mellow acoustic version that I’d like to share with you.

The last time I used this song in a sermon was at my internship site in Birmingham, Alabama. I remember one member taking me out to lunch after that sermon and part of our conversation that day was about how much he didn’t think Jesus was ordinary. To his surprise, I totally agreed with him! That’s the beautiful mystery of it all! Some days I need a savior that is more like Superman. And other days I need someone who is more like me, even the bratty version of me. I find comfort in knowing that Jesus can relate to us on so many levels, even when we are found lacking. Jesus isn’t my hero just because he’s the ruler of the cosmos! But also because, especially because, he cared enough to experience all that makes a human human, and still loves us unconditionally. That’s a hero in my book. That’s the Jesus that Luke will present to us in this extraordinary Gospel. Thanks be to God. Amen.