Bread of life from heaven

Jesus was ready for him.

Out there for in the wilderness, for 40 days and nights Jesus was out there fasting, preparing for what was to come.

Forty.  Bible-speak for a really, really long time!

It rained for 40 days and nights on Noah and the ark.

40 years – how long the Israelites wandered in the desert.

40 days and nights – that’s how long Moses fasted while transcribing the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai.

40 days and nights – Elijah fasting in the desert before receiving his commission from God.

Out there in the wilderness, the Devil was waiting for Jesus with one thing on his mind – find a way to entice him to sin, to rebel against God’s plan, maybe to even find a way to cheat the plan. Out in the desert… no one will know.

Now, word about tempters. They can’t MAKE you do anything. Rather, they work by getting you to doubt yourself and to question yourself. They work to get you to question who you really are, to question what it is you REALLY trust.

So it is no surprise that is where the devil focuses – with Jesus’ identity.

IF you are the son of God – in other words, how do you REALLY know that you are the son of God? Can you trust him?

It worked one time before, did it not? Back in the Garden, that little incident with Eve? Adam and Eve had everything going for them – best neighborhood in the kingdom, best food, best of everything.

And yet, for them, something was missing. And that’s where the serpent gets them – he plays on their insecurity by telling them God didn’t give you the whole story, he’s holding something back and as a matter of fact, God wasn’t exactly trustworthy. You aren’t going to die if you eat this fruit but you will be like God.

That’s the devil’s plan. Get Jesus to doubt his own identity. Get him to suspect that God isn’t as trustworthy as he says he is. Get him to think he needs more.

Maybe that is part of the human condition – we just don’t feel complete, that we are not enough.

Is the something more out there what is missing in our lives? Then we will be enough? Then we could trust if our criteria are met? Because people around us are going to let us down – if not now, eventually?

If we could just find that perfect something to fill up the void, the emptiness, the hole (spell) that keeps us from being whole (spell).

Our identity is so much more that what we don’t have. What will it take for us to understand that?

Our second object of Lent in plain sight is bread.

What’s the first thing the devil uses to entice Jesus not to trust? To get Jesus to think that he’s not quite enough?


For those among us who are on special diets that forbid carbs, and most importantly bread? What do you miss most? Just out of the oven, warm and delicious bread?  And the smell…oh the smell! It’s just heavenly!

We might even call it bread from heaven!

Looking back to the Old Testament, there was another bread from heaven – manna! It literally fell from the sky each morning. The Israelites scooped it up and made bread.

God’s gifts each morning. A portion for just that day. No hoarding or it got wormy. God shows them, morning by morning for 40 years that God provides. God can be trusted. God says to them, you are my people and I am your God.

This was part of the humbling process as described in the book of Deuteronomy. Moses makes three addresses to the Israelites. In the first address, Moses reminds them that 40 years of manna prepared them. Humbled them by drawing attention to God’s sustaining presence with them during all 40 years.

Here’s the punch line to the first address about God’s actions: [God] fed them daily with manna “in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

Here’s the interesting connection: Jesus quotes from chapter 6 and 8 in response to the devil’s three temptations. Jesus quotes from Moses’ first address.

Out in the wilderness, God humbles the Israelites, instructs the Israelites and strengthens the Israelites for 40 years. 

Out in the wilderness, for Jesus it only takes 40 days for humbling, instruction and strengthening by God.

In Jesus baptism and what we heard from the cloud on the mountain last week, that is what gets conveyed to him – God identifies – “this is my son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased.”

It is also in our baptism that we are first called, “child of God,” and define ourselves by what we DO have – an ultimate and essential relationship with God that cannot be broken.

That is what the devil tries to do with Jesus and with us – break that relationship by getting us to call into question our trust and reliance on God.

Can we trust God for our nourishment?

Can we trust God to love and care for us?

Can we trust God enough to serve God and not some other gods?

Each time Jesus responds with an answer.

Live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.

Being baptized children of God is not like a magic elixir for the easy, pain-free life.

Being baptized children of God isn’t an inoculation. It doesn’t mean we are immune from ever doubting.

Being baptized children of God doesn’t mean that we won’t sin and fall short of the glory of God.

These struggles will still go on for us, there will be needs that will go unmet, that we don’t get a pass on having doubts and that there won’t be times when we’re restless because we feel that something is missing.

Being a baptized child of God means that we don’t have to do it alone.

Our baptism gives us a relationship with God and it is this relationship that helps us focus on what we DO have – God’s promises, gifts and grace. Most importantly, we have forgiveness and new life that was won for us at the cross.

A new life that comes from heaven, just like bread, and a promise that we can trust.

Listen. Be raised. Be bold.

Peter wanted to preserve the moment. Lock it into place. But it is so overwhelming and he really doesn’t know what to do. Peter does what Peter does best…talk. A lot.

God interrupts him in mid-babble. It takes God to shut him down and shut him up.

“This is my son, the beloved…LISTEN to him.” Peter hits the deck with his hands over his ears and eyes squeezed shut.

And then it’s over. It’s silent.

LISTEN to him.

Listen TO him.

Listen to HIM.

Listen to him…and keep on listening. (Original Greek)

The world gives us so much to listen to. The noise can be unbearable. It leaves our ears ringing.

We just want to squinch our eyes shut and plug our ears.

Jesus does something that is not recorded in any of the gospels. He touches someone not in need of physical healing. He touches Peter, gently as says, “Get up.”

In the silence of the mountain, Jesus says, more accurately from the Greek, “Be raised.” The same word that the women will hear at the empty tomb…he has been raised.

What DOES it mean to listen to Jesus? Are we going to like what we hear?

The disciples surely didn’t. As they are descending from the mountain, Jesus tells them was going to die. Not very comforting.

Today, each of you were invited to take a rock, reminiscent of the scree that would have been found at the top of the mountain.

Jesus has said to you, be raised.

What is stopping you? What is weighing you down? What are the rocks in your life, like this scree, that cause you to slip and fall or hold you down?

Jesus says, be raised, be resurrected, be a new creation. He wants to free us from all that weighs us down and holds us back.

And do not be afraid!                           

Bible speak God is going to do a new thing, it will blow your mind and knock your socks off. And you are invited to be a part of it!  AND, it will change your life.

It changed Peter’s life.

Peter wanted to put God in box – a booth or tent to be exact. God just wanted him to listen.

It is a moment of clarity – albeit a fleeting moment of clarity for Peter – but the clarity will come back to him, on another day, on another hilltop in the not-too-distant future that is Good Friday.

Peter is so much like us. Peter likes to get it right, he likes to be in control and he doesn’t like to make mistakes.

But more often than not, Peter doesn’t get it right, has to be reminded that he isn’t in control and he makes mistakes…really big mistakes.

Just like us.

Through it all, Jesus stands by Peter, even when Peter didn’t stand by him, Jesus reminds him that he is indeed called to lead the disciples and the new church.

Peter is called the “Rock” even if right at the moment he is nothing more than a ball of mush.

Like Peter, we try our best – sometimes we have the right answers and sometimes we don’t. Like Peter, sometimes we have moments of clarity and moments of denial.

Like Peter, we falter, fail, fall on our knees only to be lifted up by the very one who calls us brother or sister, dusts us off and sends us back out there to do it all again.

That’s what being bold is all about.

Three imperatives, one from God, two from Jesus.

Listen to him and keep on listening.  

Be raised.

Do not be afraid.

In the silence hear Jesus saying, “Get up and do it again. I am with you.”

Our world today doesn’t give us space to be silent, to ponder, to reflect, to listen as Jesus.

Silence is uncomfortable for most.

In a few moments we will leave this place, the alleluias will fade away and silence descends.

Ash Wednesday almost upon us and 40 days of Lenten reflection begins.

Make space to listen to the voice of God wherever it might be heard.

God’s voice is present. God does talk to us through the people around us. Through the ordinary in our lives as well. Through the noise of our lives.

God talks to us because, we too, are in need of transfiguring moments in our lives. God is trying to get our attention. We have a part to play in God’s unfolding drama.

God calls us beloved, blessed, salt and light and to be that to those in the world around us in ways that we cannot possibly imagine.

God calls us to be bold women and men.

Listen and keep on listening to Jesus.  

Be raised.

Do not be afraid.

Jesus says, Remember, I am with you. Be bold.

It’s not just about you…it’s all about THEM!

Matthew 5:21-37.

These texts hit us where we are – no one gets out unscathed from these passages – every single one of us can hear and see ourselves in these texts. Every one of us can say “this was meant for me”.

So here’s some good news. This passage isn’t just about you…but it has everything to do with THEM.

While it’s not just about you, not about where you see yourself in the text, not about how it is meant for you, it is all about the beloved community living together in peace, harmony and love.

It is about all of our hearts, souls, minds and loving God and loving neighbor as ourselves, and becoming followers of Christ.

Love God. Love neighbor. Make Disciples. These are the core purposes of the church as stated explicitly by Jesus. The greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-39) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

You are salt. You are light. We can’t live without you. (See last week’s blog post). Now, this is how we live WITH each other, this is how we live with them, our neighbors.

Because this text is about the other person. Back to the salt and light analogy – they are only good when they work in RELATIONSHIP with something else. Remember the salt gets thrown away if it has lost its saltiness – in other words, when it can no longer work in relationship. And what good is light if it illuminates nothing?

Being salt and light, being followers of Christ, being a part of God’s kingdom right here on earth, right now, is all about RELATIONSHIP!  And that is what these texts are speaking to – the relationship that we have with and for the OTHER person – it’s all about THEM, it’s all for THEM.

And this is one of the issues with the law – specifically our response to it — that Jesus is pointing out. What is the law about? Following the rules, doing the right things, coloring in the lines, staying out of trouble. Jesus is showing us that the old understanding of the law has missed the intent of the law.

The law – the Big Ten – as in Ten Commandments, is about relationship with God and with others.

The problem begins when we get really hung up with the ins and outs of the law, that we begin to keep the law for the sake of the law and not for the praise of God or the sake of the other – for our neighbors.

Martin Luther’s famous catechism question, “what does this mean” — which many of you had to memorize – the commandments always speaks to relationship with either God or our neighbor.

When we understand the law only in legal terms, it becomes a check list of what we did and didn’t do. Let’s see…have no other gods before you…working on it…honored mom and dad today…did my best. Honored and kept the Sabbath holy – well, hey, I’m in church, aren’t I? Check!

Jesus wants more. Jesus wants our hearts.

He calls us to look beyond the law to see where God wants it to take us – holding the welfare of our neighbors in our hearts … and trusting that they are holding our welfare just as closely in their hearts.

And while Jesus doesn’t at this point in the gospel come right out and say, he is transforming us into beloved disciples.

Jesus is changing – transforming – our perception of reality with a change in perspective, a change in disposition. In other words, Jesus calls us to think about how our behavior reflects our relationship with God and with each other and with the community.

Jesus wants to transform our hearts and minds into a different way of thinking, a different way of living and a different way of being in the world, rather than get hung up on the law.

Jesus’ sermon is quite clear that he hasn’t come to change the law but to fulfill the law – its true meaning and substance.

It is the same law that was given on Mount Sinai, it’s the same law meant to show the Israelites how to live in relationship with God, self and others.

It’s the same law that is given to us. It’s all about choosing God and choosing life. In our baptisms we covenant to learn and take it upon our hearts as well. So it will be most helpful if we a keep thumb in the book of Deuteronomy and Isaiah, two books that Jesus knew well, as we read these passages.

Here in Matthew Jesus pulls out murder, adultery, divorce and the taking of oaths.

Why these four? They have everything to do with our hearts. They have everything to do with a healthy communal life with God and neighbor.

The spirit of “you shall not murder” is that we are not to lash out with hateful words. Anger and insults equate to murder.

Rather, Jesus would have us extend the hand of friendship and reconciliation. And in doing so we love our neighbor.

And who is our neighbor? EVERYONE!!! NO EXCEPTIONS!!!! All means all.

When it comes to adultery, Jesus is saying to the community that the idea extends also to objectification and pursuit, not enticement. And men, this is NOT man-bashing but read closely. Jesus points to the men to remedy the solution and not the women. Men, take responsibility for what you do and don’t do. And don’t blame it on the women.

Jesus, who teaches in parables, to me, takes the edict to “cut it out” a bit far.

For Jesus divorce equates with abandonment. In the 1st century patriarchal, male dominated society, it was divorce on demand. Wife displeases you for any reason, she gets the pink slip. But it wasn’t just the woman, it was the children as well who were left without benefit, without recourse, without protection. The beloved community has no place for callous desertion and leaving people to die.

Finally, Jesus tells us to let our word stand on its own strength.  No need to lace it with religious talk – God’s not impressed.

The heart of the matter is in fact our hearts. And our hearts are to be turned to kindness, responsibility, friendship and respect. And that our words, along with our hearts, are to be strong, trustworthy and filled with integrity. Choose God. Choose life!

Jesus is reminding us that the law is good but it is not enough just by itself to lead us into a life of righteousness. Jesus is telling us that the law is more than telling us what to do and what not to do. It is about our heart and life – life as a follower of Christ.

 It’s not just about you or me, but about our neighbor – it’s all about them! 

You are salt, you are light…and we can’t live without you!

Hey YOU! You there! You ARE salt; You ARE light.

Jesus says YOU are the salt of the earth. YOU are the light of the world.

Jesus doesn’t give us a choice, doesn’t make it conditional, doesn’t give us an option. We are what we are. Right now. Right here. You and me.

We are salt. We are light.

Jesus tells us like it is.

That is really what the Sermon on the Mount is about. Jesus telling us like it IS, changing hearts and minds for God. And a changed heart for God, for Jesus and for discipleship brings about real transformation of body and soul.

Jesus is hanging out with a bunch of losers, by 1st century Mediterranean standards. They are the sick, afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics and paralytics. Society has pushed them to the margins. Not a priest or a scribe among them. 

It is in the margins that we always find Jesus. Look who Jesus calls among his closest friends and chosen students: a couple of fishermen, a tax collector and zealot – 12 in all – disciples.

Jesus begins the transformation of their hearts, souls and minds when Jesus tells the whole lot – the people living in the margins and the disciples – you are blessed.

Up until now, no one has told them you are blessed. Because if you were sick, afflicted with various diseases and pains, a demoniac, epileptic and paralytic, you didn’t see yourself blessed.

You are light. You are salt. You are blessed. Those are powerful words. It gives us something that we cannot give ourselves – it is a precious gift.  

You are blessed and that was tantamount to God saying to you, “I LIKE you.” Yes, we know we are loved, but Jesus is saying to them and to us – I LIKE you!

Try this – say to yourself – or better yet – say it aloud “Jesus likes ME !”

That feels different doesn’t it? Simply verbalizing this reality changes our perceptions of ourselves.

When our perception of reality changes, when we begin to see ourselves differently, then our perspective changes, reflecting the transformed heart.

What Jesus is and will continue to do is to change, to TRANSFORM their perception of their reality.

Here, he didn’t change their reality; he was changed how they THOUGHT about their reality.

They were still on the margins. They were still on the mount listening to Jesus. Others may see and label  them as the sick, the diseased and so on. What important is that they no longer see themselves as “those people”.

Jesus is changing them from the inside out. He is changing their hearts. Simply by changing their identity, calling them blessed and offering an invitation.

YOU are salt; YOU are light. Without salt and light we cannot live.

So, not only are you blessed, Jesus likes you, but you are something in the Kingdom and you have an important role to play. We can’t live without you.

Be in life-giving relationship with others.

Salt and light are not important by themselves. Their importance comes from interaction with other things. They act in relationship to something else.

Salt has many uses – it flavors, it preserves, it cleanses. But it doesn’t do it alone. It must interact with something else in order preserve, clean and flavor.

 Alone, it’s just salt. In relationship with something else, it is so much more – good taste, food that can be eaten in a few months and not make you sick, your wound heals.

Likewise, light too, gives illumination to something else. Light functions to help us to see, keep us warm. By itself its just light but in relationship with us, it becomes life-giving, and illuminating.

When Jesus says to us: You are salt; you are light – he is telling us that we are to be in relationship with others.

Jesus is calling us as he sees us now – salt, light, his disciples. And with that, comes responsibility. Jesus has given us, along with the disciples, a new identity. What difference does that make in our lives?

Because Jesus calls us salt and light, we are called to live salty, light emitting lives, reflecting God’s love, sharing with our neighbor and growing in faith.

We are called to live into that identity and to act as if that makes some kind of difference in our lives.

So Jesus calls us salt and light and KNOWS that we will be and do just that. Because it’s true and Jesus says, “very truly I tell you…”

Which is Jesus speak for, “Stop and pay attention – this is important. This is life-changing.”

Jesus is making it clear that he is not here to change the law in way shape or form. In fact, he is echoing what we heard in the Isaiah passage this morning. God wants your changed heart.

AND, you’ve got to do one better than the scribes and pharisees. And here’s why – their heart is not in it. What they do is superficial, transactional. What does that mean? Transactional means say to God, “I am doing good works and now you are to bless me. That’s the deal. So pay up.”  And we know that’s not how it works. God pays on a grace-based economy.  

Jesus turns this around. You are blessed, you are salt, you are light…now go and do good works. Be who you and I are. Baptized children of God. Claim and embrace this identity. And in doing so, we will fulfill the law, bring it to life, take it to heart, and embody the spirit of the law.

Jesus is following the tradition of Isaiah. What Jesus says is not an innovation but an extension of the law and the prophets. This is why we hear Jesus say that he didn’t come to change the law.  

The best way to understand righteousness is in terms of transformation – that change happens from the inside out and that the outside actions matches the inside transformation.

This is Jesus invitation to complete and total transformation in heart, mind and soul as his disciple and a reminder that the kingdom of heaven is above all a relationship – with God, with Jesus and with others.

Salt and light are always present. Without them there is no life. We need them in our lives.

A pinch of salt and a spark of light can make a tremendous difference. Be who you are. Because it’s not just about us – it’s about everyone else, too.  

You are salt; you are light.Life just isn’t complete without you!

Of rituals, crowns and baby boys!

Rituals fill our lives with meaning and love.

Many rituals that we do as church help us to pause and ponder, think about the light of Christ and how Christ lights our world with love, grace, mercy and kindness.

February 2 is one such day. Yes, it’s Ground Hog Day! But for the gathered community in Christ, it bears other distinctions. Forty days after Christmas is “Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.” When Epiphany used to be the day on which Christ’s birth was celebrated it made sense. Rather than change the presentation date, the church fathers decided to leave it right where it was.

This day also goes by another name: Candlemas. This is the day that candles to be used in worship during the year are blessed. There’s an interesting saying that goes along with Candlemas that has been said for centuries:

If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, Winter, have another flight.

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go, Winter, and come not again.”

So if the bright sun “overshadows” the brightness of Candlemas Day, there will be more winter. However, if the light of Candlemas Day radiates through the gloom and darkness of the day, the end of winter is near.

I think it sounds a lot like the Ground Hog day saying. See a shadow (which you can’t do without sunshine) and its six more weeks of winter. Don’t see a shadow, because it’s cloudy, the spring comes early.

In our family we have certain rituals around New Year’s Day as well as Epiphany, specifically 12th Night party. But this year was different. We were traveling abroad. So there were no black-eyed peas, collards and pork consumed on New Year’s Day. They were not a part of the French cuisine in any way, shape or form. And there was no Twelfth Night Party. It was weird and different.

While in France, we bought this sweet Danish-type cake. I noticed that it had a strange decoration around the edge but I didn’t think much of it until later that evening when we all enjoying a piece. Jai was enjoying a piece and bit into an object and said, “What the ….?” (And I’ll just leave that there) as he pulled a tiny porcelain Disney figurine.

The label was in French. We put two and two together and figured out that we had purchased Galette des Rois or King’s Cake, which appear in the French bakeries at the beginning of January. They don’t look like the cakes that we will get around Mardi Gras time here in the states. And that paper decoration around the edge? It’s a crown that you can put on.  

In Europe they celebrate Epiphany as old Christmas and the visit of the magi. In fact, Candlemas is 40 days after Epiphany and marks the official end of Christmas.

While we were missing our rituals, we stumbled into another one that provided a special meaning and filled a void, at least for me.  

That is what rituals do – they mark daily and special events in our lives that recognize the sacredness of life, perhaps a special milestone and the presence of God in everyday life.

And so Mary and Joseph traveled the 60 miles from Nazareth to the temple in Jerusalem to complete one such ritual – a marking of a milestone and the presence of God by presenting Jesus to God in the temple and the purification of Mary. With two turtledoves in hand, because they could not afford a lamb, they dedicated their first born son and in essence gave him away to God.

There was a man and woman that had waited their entire lives for that day. One had been guided by the Holy Spirit and the other was always there.

Scooping up Jesus Simeon begins to sing. It is a strange song…Thank you God, I’ve seen it all and now I can die. I have seen salvation – the salvation of the whole world. I have touched the face of God. I am free to go in peace, as you, God, have promised.

Anna, of the tribe of Asher, which means “peace” joins in praise of this child that would redeem Jerusalem.

Seeing is believing but for these two believing is seeing – salvation and redemption. They saw God in the face of a little baby boy.

Rituals are important…they are a constant reminder of the relationship that God has with us. God is here – in the form of an infant, in the bread and the wine, in the water of baptism.  

And this is the place where God can be seen and more importantly God’s salvation for all people is experienced.

We use ordinary things… bread, wine, water,  and even candles… to remind us that God is present.

And in the ordinary-ness of our lives – dusty houses, piles of laundry, the stack of papers on our desk – God is here.

And God is with us as we clean our houses, wash our clothes, and move those papers from one pile to another and catch them as they fall over.

Each minute of each day of our lives, God is here with love, mercy and salvation.

God is here – in the face of each other, in this community.  

And this is the place where God can be seen and more importantly God’s salvation for all people can be experienced.

“…my eyes have seen your salvations which you have prepared for all peoples…” sang Simeon. For all peoples, not just him. All means all.  

God’s goal is to redeem ALL the world, all God’s people.

How is this world to know if they are not told about God’s love? We are called to carry the light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory of your people Israel.

The blessed candles that we receive this morning are to remind us to carry the light of Christ to all the world, praising and praying and proclaiming!

We are called to praise, pray and proclaim!

Praise God in our everyday lives.

Pray for God’s guidance in our study and direction.

Proclaim God through our lives lived and share him God with our neighbors.

And we go forth knowing that we have been filled with wisdom and the favor of the Lord rests upon us, too!


What would you answer if someone asked you, “what is your calling in life?” OR “what is your ‘call story’?” What would you answer? How would you answer?

Several years ago Lilly Endowment funded a research team that studied sense of vocation and calling with those preparing for ordained ministry and the communities that they serve. Few of the parishioners felt that the hours spent at work mattered to God or the church much less make a difference in the world or even in their communities.  Many did not see a direct connection between what they do and what they believe. This leads to a feeling of not being called. 1

 When people say to me, “I wish I could do something like you do” as if what I do is somehow more meaningful than their current profession, I get very sad. Because what you do is no less important than what I do and in many ways what you do is so much more important than what I do. We’re all children of God – and that makes us equally loved, cherished, valuable and called.

 This brings us to our scripture reading from this past week: Matthew 4:12-23. Jesus is responding to his call and also calling others to be a part of the mission that God has given him.

John the Baptist’s call lead to his imprisonment and eventual beheading. Jesus withdraws off of the beaten path, not to run from Herod, but to retreat to listen and respond to God’s call. Then Jesus calls the crowd to repent, to turn around and go the opposite direction, and to be a part of the proclamation of the kingdom.

He then goes on to call the disciples who will be encouraged to fish for people by casting God’s net of love and grace that gathers anyone and everyone on whom it falls.

Not everyone’s calling is the same. Only four in the crowd were called to be part of the Jesus’ closest 12. But that didn’t make all those other calls less important or needed. They were just different.

Perhaps we’ve gotten the cart before the horse. Before there is “doing” there is “being.” 2

Think about Jesus and how he was prepared for the monumental ministry that he was embarking on. Before anything got started, Jesus fully understood who and whose he was. He knew who he was. He knew and understood where he belonged and what he was about to do. He knew what to be before he moved on to “do”.

John, too, knew and understood how he fit into the picture. He knew that he was called to prepare the way for Jesus. He knew what to be before he moved on to “do.”

Peter, Andrew, James and John – did they know fully what they were getting themselves into? Did they have any idea what it meant to be “fishers of men?” What they DID know was that Jesus chose them – these ordinary fishermen – Jesus saw something in them and chose them. They didn’t know exactly what they were to do but they knew what to be at that moment.

We are called to be children of God. And when God calls us children of God that means we are valued and honored and loved. We are called to “be” before we move onto to “do.”

So how do we figure out what to “do” after we get our heads around “be.” Does that mean that we will intrinsically know what we called to do? In truth it can take a lifetime to discern. I didn’t get a clear picture until I was well into my 30s.  Add to all of this that there are many ways to respond to God’s call – numerous was to “do”.

We come each week to hear God’s word, to splash in the bath and be reminded of our baptism and to be nourished by the one who love us more than anything – Jesus Christ. Living out our baptismal promises through our words and deed. One of the places that this happens is in our relationships.

However God may use us, it is important to remember that first God calls us to BE. God has called us to BE his children. God has called us to BE his BELOVED children. And this is where we belong. From there, we can trust that God has got this…and that it will be OK.

But what about our communities of faith – what does this mean to all of us? What is God calling us to be and do in this place?

God is calling Resurrection to BE a gathering place for those whom God loves.

God is calling Resurrection to BE a place that welcomes the least, the last, the lonely, the lost and the left behind.

God is calling Resurrection to BE a place of acceptance.

God is calling Resurrection to not only welcome all – because all means all – but to go beyond welcome to invite and include.

God is calling Resurrection be a place where God’s word is taught, where the good news of the kingdom is proclaimed, where we splash in the waters of baptism and are nourished at the table, where all can find healing and a peace that passes all understanding.

Jesus heard his identity proclaimed at the River Jordan and then went to work proclaiming the kingdom and inviting all that would hear to turn towards the kingdom.

Dear church, beloved children of God, we too hear our identity. From that moment on, from that day when we are marked with the cross of Christ and claimed as beloved child of God, from the youngest to the oldest, God calls us to be at work in God’s kingdom, right here on earth.

We are the church – not this building, not this place – but us gathered together are the church along with millions of others.

All of us are God’s beloved children, showered in the grace and love of a God who loves so very much, a God who wants us to turn toward the kingdom and proclaim that love and grace to a world that needs to hear it.



“Just come and see!”

Have you experienced something so wonderful that you couldn’t wait to tell someone, anyone and everyone? Did you have trouble describing the experience, finally saying, “oh, just come and see what I’m talking about!”

John the Baptist is so excited. He was there! He saw and heard it all! The heavens opening, the voice of God speaking, the spirit of God as a dove descending. He had a front row seat and now he must tell someone, anyone and everyone who would listen that the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is here!

I’m wondering if John’s disciples are caught up in the story and listening to John relive the experience again and again and again. The very next day, John sees Jesus and wastes no time. Look, look here HE IS! Here is the Lamb of God. John’s two disciples follow Jesus, leaving John.

Crowds begin to follow Jesus. And he asks them a question.

Now if a bunch of people were following me, I think that I would ask them, “what do you want?” or “ can I help you” or “why are you following me?” Jesus he asks, “What are you looking for?” These are the first words we hear Jesus say in the gospel of John.

What are you looking for? Well, this morning it could have been my keys, my glasses, my cell phone or all three.

Truly, delving in deeper, some of us answer a job, enough money, peace in our families, quick and easy solutions to a difficult and nagging problem, something to get us through a challenging day, something to make our lives better. Anything to make us feel just a little bit better about ourselves, our lives, our community, our country, our world.

When Jesus asks that question, he is asking the crowd and he is asking us, “what are you seeking?” And the disciples don’t give him a direct answer but rather counter with a question themselves.

Were they avoiding having to answer? Was it too difficult to verbalize? Is it too difficult for us to verbalize what we are looking for because in verbalizing we give voice to something we would rather not acknowledge to ourselves, much less publicly. For in verbalizing it would make the emptiness in our lives all to real?

And so the disciples ask, “where are you staying?’ And that’s a loaded word in the gospel of John – “stay”. It also means remain, stay, live, dwell, last, abide, endure, continue, a place to be.

Isn’t that what we all want? A home, a meaningful relationship, community, a place to be?

And that’s what the disciples wanted as well – to be a part of something larger than themselves, to have meaningful relationships, a place to be.

And so Jesus says to them and says to us, “Come and see.”

This is a wonderful invitation with no strings attached, no probing questions, no expectations, no qualifications, no accusations – just a simple invitation with three words: come and see.

What are we going to come to and see? God?

A common exercise during most VBS programs is to talk about God sightings At first they have a difficult time. And adults are no different. Seeing God is such a foreign concept for everyone.

We’re really good at naming the places that we expect God to be – personal tragedy, anxiety, hurt. But actually seeing him? That’s more difficult. Yes, it’s easier to see him in the large events, but what about the mundane, everyday stuff that goes on?

Then comes the challenging part – sharing those sightings. It feels clumsy, uncomfortable, perhaps even alien. It’s hard work but so crucial to what we are called to do and be in this world. It is in the sharing of where we see God that we give something of ourselves, something that for many of us we find intimate and personal.

It is in this sharing that relationships are forged and connections are made.

To go the next step is even harder – embodying Jesus’ words and inviting someone to “come and see.”

The power of “come and see” – of invitation is before us in this passage from John. From Jesus’ intitial invitation to the first disciples who followed him came the many of the 12 closest disciples of Jesus.

Andrew finds a place to abide, remain and to be. But before he leaves, he goes and gets his brother, Simon. “We have found the Messiah –come and see.” Simon gets a new name – Peter, the rock on which Jesus builds the church.

It doesn’t stop there – in the verses that follow other disciples are invited to come and see: Phillip, Nathanael, the woman at the well who invites her entire village.

Jesus asks us “what are you looking for?” and we respond, “where are you staying?” Are we really asking can we find a home with you? Are we worthy enough? Does it matter what we have done and where we’ve come from? Can we be in relationship with you?

“Come and see!”

Here at Resurrection there is much to be found – a community of acceptance that reflects the love Jesus, a place where we reach out, a place where we love, a place where we care for each other, the community and world. But if we don’t say to others around us, “come and see!” how will they know about what we’ve found here in the 6710 Plank Road?

In this coming week, may you notice God in big and small ways, share that experience with someone and invite them to come and see all that is going on here in this community at Resurrection. And we have a lot going on – God is here and active in our lives. We feed our homeless at local shelters, support other outreach organizations such as Hope House and Micah ministries. Souper Bowl of Caring is in two weeks, even meetings where we struggle with how best to walk to the future where God is and has already in store for us.

And what if they say, “no, I don’t think so…” That’s OK!! We’re called to invite and to say, “come and see.” Keep leaning in. Keep asking. Invite them to the fun things we do here at RLC. The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest so don’t take it personally. You’ve done what you’ve been called to do. And you’ve planted a seed.

God loves you and will do amazing things through you! Just come and see!

Staying focused and keeping our heads in the game…

Epiphany is one of my most favorite seasons of the church year. Every Sunday between now and February 23 (Transfiguration Sunday) in the scriptures that we study an aspect of Jesus’ character will be revealed. For the first Sunday after the Epiphany we get to witness, through the eyes of Matthew, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River.

More importantly we come to understand how Jesus keeps his focus and his head in the game.

John has just finished saying, “I baptize you with water …the one coming after me …he is much more powerful and I am not even worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit.” And right on cue, Jesus appears on the scene to be baptized.

John doesn’t want to do it.

All four gospels record the baptism of Jesus. All four gospels to squirm at this point. How is it that the one without sin has come to the Jordan to be baptized? It doesn’t make sense.

John asks a question of Jesus, “do you come to me?”  He understands who Jesus is. He knows whose Jesus is. What purpose does it serve that Jesus comes to be baptized? John knows it should be Jesus baptizing him! And so he asks the question, “do you come to me?”

Yes, Jesus comes to John. “…it is proper for us to in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, it’s time to receive the mission, get your head in the game, get focused and get to work.

For Jesus, getting his head in the game means that he lives out the incarnational God that he is. No, he doesn’t need to be baptized but God has joined us on the journey through Jesus. So, yes, be baptized!

This baptism is a two-person proposition. Jesus must seek it (it is right for us to do this); John must do it. This is God’s plan and it must be so. That is the path to righteousness.

What does this righteousness look like? For Jesus, it is both inward and outward – an inward desire paired with outward actions.

This is the first act of Jesus’ public ministry and he is obedient to God’s will, God’s calling for his life and all that is before him. Jesus is on a mission – God’s mission. It begins with laser-like focus.

Yes, Jesus is the messiah but he is a humble messiah. He walks the same path that we walk though his walk is very different. Setting the example for us, he is not so unsure of himself that he has to hold onto power. It will be at his weakest point that he will be the most powerful.

And God punctuates this whole scene with a simple statement – “this is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus’ identity is affirmed. Before and above anything else, Jesus is God’s son, the beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

Jesus is focused. He understands who and whose he is before he begins the enormous mission before him. The first test will come soon. The same Holy Spirit that descends on him will take him by the hand into the desert for a 40-day fast and a tempting three-day conversation with Satan.  

If Jesus has just one ounce of doubt, one degree of misunderstanding of who and whose he is, if he mistrusts the relationship he has with God, it will leave him open to temptation. He must stay focused and keep his head in the game. And he will do that knowing that he is God’s son, the beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

Before we start any mission, we too, must be focused and have our head in the game.

We must understand who and whose we are and understand the relationship that we have with God so that we, too, may resist the temptation to make it our mission, our call rather than God’s mission and God’s call to where we are to be and who we are to be at this place and in this time.

The most important thing that we can hear from the scripture is that we, too, are God’s beloved. And perhaps that is the hardest to hear and understand.

Why is that? Because all our lives we hear other names that people call us – stupid, loser, chicken, fat, dumb, clumsy – think about the names that people have called you.

Names are powerful – we are given names. We take names for ourselves. Names give us pride. Names shame us. Names can make us great. Names can reduce us to nothing. The old adage – sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me – is undone. It’s a myth. The cold, hard reality is that names are powerful and they can hurt deeply.

Our earthly names do not define us, they do not give us life and none of them provide for us redemption. BUT God’s name for us does. God’s name gives us life. God’s name gives us redemption.

In our baptism GOD calls us his child, his beloved.  Who we are: beloved child. Whose we are: of God. Names are powerful but God’s name for us is so much more powerful than any name that we could be given here on earth.

NAMED by God as his beloved child and CLAIMED by God when we are marked with the cross of Christ forever, we have the promise of the Holy Spirit, we are given the promise of life with God forever.

So who are we? Beloved child! Whose are we? of God! This means that no matter where we go, God goes with us.

Who are we? Beloved. And Whose are we? Child of God. This means that no matter what we do, God does not abandon us.

Named and claimed – we can go forth to face the challenges of the world before us.

Named and claimed – we can, with boldness, answer God’s call to his mission.

So the next time someone asks you what’s your name tell them, “I’m a beloved child of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, and focused on answering God’s call to mission.”

And if that is too much to remember, simply say,” I am a beloved baptized child of God.”

We wait for…peace

Between a rock and a hard place.

We’ve all been there…having to make a decision between two options, neither of which are very good. It’s an intolerable situation – faced with making a choice, neither of which would have a pleasant outcome. Perhaps a decision that will have life and death results. It’s called being between a rock and a hard place, a very uncomfortable place.

That’s where Joseph find himself…making a decision that will have life and death results. Divorce Mary quietly or loudly – a broken promise was a broken promise. We don’t know what went on between Mary and Joseph or Mary’s father and Joseph when it was discovered that Mary was pregnant. It couldn’t have been a pleasant conversation. Certainly wasn’t peaceful.

First century marriage customs are different – many of the marriages were prearranged between the men of the family when the children were, well, children. Love was not the issue. The bride did not expect love, companionship or comfort.

The idea of marriage was to join two families together, not individuals.  And most of the time it was done to gain economic or political advantage. It all came with a price — a bride price, which was paid by the husband-to-be. 

Betrothals were about a year long and were binding, just like marriage. Only death or divorce terminated them and if the betrothed died before the actual wedding date, the surviving spouse to be would be considered “widowed”.

And, the honor code was simple – you didn’t take something that was not yours and that included someone’s betrothed wife. And since the child was NOT his, Joseph was entitled to a refund of the bride price. The families were in crisis – confused, hurt with dreams dashed – and terribly embarrassed.

Joseph lived his life according to the law of Moses – he was righteous in that respect. He loved Mary but now he found himself hurt and disappointed – and betrayed. His espoused wife had obviously been unfaithful. The evidence was clear. She was pregnant and Joseph knew he wasn’t the father.

She faced death by stoning and when they caught up with the father – well, he could face the same penalty – again for taking something that was not his to take.

It was a dark day indeed for Joseph, son of David. His rock and hard place. Two choices. Both bad. The outcome – the scandal – so much to bear.

Joseph was also a kind man. Rather than to have her stoned, he resolved to divorce her quietly, as if there is such a thing. He lived by Micah 8, “what does the Lord require of you? Do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Love wins over Deuteronomy and its laws. And how would you stone the Holy Spirit anyway?

That’s what the angel called him – “son of David” – King David – right out of the Old Testament — now there’s a man with a story rife with scandal.

Matthew, in vs. 1-17, of this same chapter, takes great pains to draw the genealogical line from Abraham right up to Joseph. Contained in that line are the names of “other” women – Tamar, who slept with her father-in-law, Rahab the Amorite Harlot, Ruth the Moabite, and the wife of Uriah – Bathsheba, who became David’s wife.

That’s what it means to be a part of the family – no one is perfect and yet God works through all the imperfection to create something wonderful and beautiful and good and God’s purpose will not be thwarted. God does new things through old sinful ways and habits of God’s people.

Do not be afraid… those places between rocks and hard places scare us. Fear – opposite of faith – stops us in our tracks, makes us contemplate and do things that aren’t in God’s plan. It is precisely in those places that the divine is most creative.

 It takes a dream and an angel to awaken Joseph to something beyond his wildest imagination – God is revealing a new thing that God is doing in the world. 

God awakens us to the possibility that it just might not be about us, but something much bigger, beyond all comprehension is going to happen, and that all God is doing is beckoning us to take God’s hand for an adventure of a lifetime. It may make absolutely no sense to us. 

This is scary stuff . No less for Joseph. It took an angel to convince Joseph. Take Mary. Take the child. Name him Jesus.

YOU name him Jesus. It was the father that did the naming and therefore the claiming of the child. That was the 1st century paternity test. It still didn’t sound logical.

Because simply put, there are times that to us, God is not logical. What we have here is a baby named Jesus, the fulfillment of a promise that is a baby that is going to be named Emmanuel.

Emmanuel, which means God with us.

A baby is born, who is going to save people and that he is also God manifest – God with us – Jesus and Emmanuel.  God makes a promise and then in surprising ways, fulfills it.

Jesus is that promise kept. And this passage also reveals the character of God to us. Not only does he keep his promises in ways that we don’t expect and might find strange, but God goes above and beyond.

Here, not only has God kept his promise, but broadened it. This promise is not just for David and all his kinfolk as well as Israel, but it is for all of us. And now that Jesus is called “Emmanuel” begins to make more sense.

“Emmanuel” – which means, literally translated from the Hebrew, – “the ‘with us’ God.”  The bible was written because God had much to say to us and it is a book of faith to be believed. Jesus is the ‘with us’ God who saves the world from its sins.

This narrative that contains unexpected, surprising and even jaw-dropping events helps us to see God as one who will do the unexpected. It helps us to see God as one that will not quit.

God’s creation is a work in progress, always changing, not always making sense, sometimes downright inconvenient and confusing. God is always at work, never tiring and always surprising.

God is the ultimate promise-keeper. And this is never more fully understood than in the cry of a child, born of an unwed pregnant teenager out back in the stable.

As we bring this Advent season to a close, may we listen for God’s word of love, grace and mercy today and always, knowing that God is coming, God is here and that in the end, everything will turn out OK  — even when we’re face with impossible situations, rocks and hard places — because God has promised to always be Emmanuel.

Fear not. God is doing a new thing. And God has invited us to be a part of God’s amazing, creative, redemptive work. And find peace in that knowledge! We wait for what we already have…

We wait for…joy!

“Are you the one?” What an odd question to ask. What a very odd question for John to ask.

Last week, we read of the confidence of John the Baptist as he proclaimed the coming of Jesus, as he pointed out that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah.

But nothing has changed. The problems are still there. The oppression is still happening. Prophets, like him, are sitting in jail cells, rotting and ignored, contained. Joy? It’s long gone.

But now he asks, “or are we to wait for another?” John’s confidence is gone, he is having doubts, he’s wondering if he has gotten it right, as he sits in prison and waits. He is looking for the Messiah to release him from his jail cell.

He waits for the one that is to come, this one who will baptize people with fire; his winnowing fork is in his hand and he will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Where’s the fire? Where’s the Messiah!

No wonder John was confused by this Jesus. What kind of prophet is this? Prophets eat wild locust and honey – this Jesus eats with sinners. Prophets dress in camel’s hair with belts around their waists, signifying the perpetual mourning for the degradation of Israel. Jesus wears the traditional dress.

John was looking for a Messiah who would come preaching fire and brimstone, open up a can of you know what, kick you know what and take names. But this Jesus brings forgiveness, healing, love and mercy.

Instead of marching on Jerusalem and taking the town by force, this Jesus has thunderous condemnation, not for Caesar, but for his own people and for the Pharisees.

“Are you the one is to come, or should we wait for another?” Same question we ask when God doesn’t act the way we would like for him to act or do what we want or expect him to do.

And so it shocks us when Jesus sends a message back: “what do you think?” It is a bit unnerving when we realize that Jesus is rebuking John for looking for an old testament style messiah.

Go and tell what you see and hear. Blind people see. Lame people walk. Lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised. Poor people hear good news and it is brought to them. Miracles – prophets don’t perform miracles, but this messiah does!

And these are not just miracles in terms of healing. These are miracles of restoration. These miracles restore people to community. Isn’t that God wants – to restore people’s relationship with him. To restore joy?

Jesus, too, is restoring people to community. Blind people were cast aside – denounced as sinners. Lepers were cast out of society and relationships. Lame people were not even allowed to approach the altar. Now these people are restored to the community that excluded them.

Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at Jesus for doing these things. What would cause people to take offense at actions that are done solely for the sake of the other; and that give justice to the least of these?

Is Jesus telling John and his disciples and telling us to stop looking for that mind-blowing sign in the sky and focus instead on the invitation to be a part of the kingdom of God? Look for the joy in and among us?

After John’s disciples leave, Jesus heaps praises on John and declares him the greatest of the prophets. And then we encounter verse 11.

Yet even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

John is relating to the world in the old way. And he was the greatest of that age. But there is a new age now. The new age and new world order that Jesus describes in the beatitudes.

In the new age, we are invited to relate in a new way. We are to seek good for the other. We are to give to others as we find ourselves. This is a new way of doing discipleship. Choose this way and already you are greater than John the Baptist, greater than anyone in the old age.

John never got out of that jail cell. He was beheaded. We don’t know if John got to hear the good news of Christ. All we know is that he was looking for all the wrong things in all the right places.

Jesus came to help us see all the right things in all the right places. He came to help us see the world through God’s eyes. He came to help us hear the Good news. He came to give us a promise of eternal life with God.

As we come back to John’s original question, born out of desperation and loss of hope – are you the one who is to come or should we wait for another – we also have to ask ourselves another question – is this a Messiah that we can live with?

Can we handle a God who desires us to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with him? To treat others as Jesus would treat them?

Or are we looking for a vengeful, frightening God?

Can we deal with a God who comes to us in Jesus offering forgiveness, showing mercy, calling us all to repentance?

Or do we just want God to do it and leave us out of it so we don’t have to examine how we think or questions our actions.

God never shows up in ways that we expect him and the kingdom of heaven manifests itself in ways that we can never imagine. But God does show up and the kingdom of heaven does draw close and we know this simply because he sent Jesus to embody that promise. As Advent reminds us, we are called to wait, expect, see, hear and listen. And to do so with joy.

Because we wait for joy and we already have it.