Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sermon for January 22

The reading

First I wanted to start with a quick note.  For many people the last verse of this reading is familiar as “do not be afraid, from now on you will be fishers of men”.  For many centuries, that is how this verse was translated.  Over the past 40 or 50 years a lot of research into the language (Koine Greek) and social context of the New Testament.  It was discovered that during New Testament times, the Greek word for a group of men, a mixed group of men and women or even a group of 100 women and 1 man was the same (all used the male word).   As Jesus gave his first disciples their first mission, he meant that they would be fishers of all people, that they would tell the good news to everyone.  More recent bible translations like the New Revised Standard (which we usually hear at worship) have updated the verse to reflect this more clearly.

Luke 5:1-11
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,  he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."  When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"  For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;  and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people."  When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

The message

Today’s sermon is one that I have shared 3 or 4 times during my ministry.  I only have 2 fishing stories and I have not been fishing since the last time this reading came up so I do not have anything new to add.   As I prepared for today, I realized that the first few times around, I focused too much on the stories and made being fishers of people seem  obvious and easy.  

First I wanted to share my two and only 2 fishing stories (bear with me if they are repeats). The first time was about 20 years ago, My family and I saw a sign that read something like “NY C Parks Department offers free fishing lessons, all equipment needed will be provided”.  We decided to go and when we arrived, we were given a soda can with a piece of string, a hook and a plastic spoon (to catch worms for bait)   The lesson was throw this string in the water and roll it up with the can when you get  fish.  We did not catch any fish that morning (we honestly got bored in about 20 minutes and called it quits).

My second trip was a few years later. I heard a friend at church talking about fishing and I said “fishing is so boring, why do people bother” and then I told the sad tale of my only fishing trip.  The man I was talking to has spent most of his life on the water, in the Navy, driving commercial boats and then in the shipping insurance industry.  He laughed at my experiences and then offered to take me out on his boat to show me how fishing was done.  We went out on his boat and he had 15 or 20 fishing rods to pick from, all sorts of different hooks, baits and shiny stuff and a vast knowledge of the area we went out to.  We had a great trip and caught 4 or 5 fish that morning. 

I have always compared these 2 stories and mentioned that Jesus making his disciples fishers of people was like my second story, he gave them everything they needed to do the work, to share the Gospel with joy and confidence.   

I wanted to focus less on the stories and say more about how Jesus equips us to be fishers of people (an area that we are all very weak in).  It starts with trust in God’s promises. Jesus tells  his disciples to cast their nets in an area where they failed to catch anything in all night.  They listen and trust Jesus advice. They witness God’s power in nets filled to the point of breaking, they know that with God, all things are possible.  Is also means being present with people. Jesus is on the boat with them, sitting with them as they cast their nets and celebrating the catch with them.   

Jesus equips his followers, the 1st century fisherman and us all these years later, by showing us to trust in God’s promises and to be present with each other.   The promises to us are much bigger and much different than a net of fish.  Jesus promises us that our sins are forgiven, that God’s kingdom has room for all people,  that good will overcome evil, grace, love and compassion will overcome all of the things that separate, hurt or scare us.    

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sermon for January 15

The reading 

Luke 4:14-30

 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.  He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,  to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"  

Jesus said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, "Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, "Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.' "  And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown.  But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;  yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."  When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.  But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The message  (I had no prepared manuscript today so I tried to write what I said, not sure how accurate it is though)

My first sermon was at Redeemer St John’s Lutheran Church in Brooklyn. It was over the Summer after my first year at seminary.  This congregation was the first Lutheran Church I attended after I left the Roman Catholic Church and the community was incredibly welcoming and supportive.  I was excited to do my first sermon there. Despite many pastors and professors warning us “you can’t say it all”, that exactly what I wanted to do.  This would be the most amazing, interesting and educational 8 minutes anyone there ever sat through.  I wanted to cover everything I learned during my first year at Seminary and teach good Lutheran theology (again all of it).    I was up till late making each word perfect and profound.  As it turns out, when you try to say it all, it just ends up as a confusing mess that’s hard to follow, packed with unknown theological terms and not exactly amazing to sit through.    After the sermon, people were nice, saying “great job”, more meaning “its great that you did the first one than great I understood that”.   One person did grab me after church and said “I need to talk to you about your sermon”.  I figured okay, someone is going to be honest.  What he said next surprised me, he told me “I did some terrible things in the past, things I knew God could not forgive, after hearing your sermon, I think God does forgive me”. I resisted the urge to say “you got that from what I just said” and simply listened.  At first, it was verification that I was amazing but after I thought about it, I realized that it was the Holy Spirit at work through us and sometimes even despite us, that God’s word works.    

This week, we heard Jesus first Sermon.  In Luke it is a little out of order.  To set the tone for the entire Gospel, Luke starts Jesus public ministry with this message that the kingdom of God is for all people.    It happens right after Jesus is Baptized and overcomes temptation  by Satan in the wilderness.  Of course, since the crowd in the synagogue knew of Jesus teachings, power and miracles, he must have already started his work. At first, Jesus declares that he is the fulfillment of the promises in the prophet Isaiah, that he is the long expected Messiah.   People respond with joy, excitement and amazement.  Instead of being happy with this, Jesus realizes that this reaction means the people do not get it.  Jesus goes on to talk about God’s saving work amongst the non-Jewish people, about God’s care for all people.  After this, the crowd tries to kill Jesus, he just gave away their kingdom to outsiders.  I knew the Holy Spirit was at work when someone heard the message of God’s forgiveness. Jesus knew the Holy Spirit at work when people were confronted with God’s vision for the world and realized just how different it was.    

Tomorrow,   we celebrate the work and memory of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the only pastor to have a Federal holiday.   Like Jesus almost 2000 years before him, Martin Luther King also  taught that God’s kingdom has room for everyone. that the rich and poor, uneducated or scholar, black, white, Asian, Hispanic or anything else were loved by God and saved by God’s grace.  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sermon for January 8th

The reading

Luke 3:1-22

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight,
    and the rough ways made smooth;  and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah. John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

The message
A preacher was finishing a sermon on temperance and the evils of alcohol.  He ended his sermon by declaring with great emphasis “if I had all the beer in the world, I would take it down and pour it into the river and if I had all the wine in the world, I would take it down and pour it into the river and if I had all the whiskey in the world, I would take it down and pour it into the river”.  At this time, the pastor sat down, satisfied that he got his point across and the worship leader stood up, smiled and announced “please join us as we sing hymn 423, shall we gather at the River”.

On a more serious note, rivers have always been a significant part of human civilization and social and religious life. Many of the great ancient societies thrived along rivers, the Mesopotamians along the Tigris and Euphrates, the Egyptians along the Nile as well as various cultures and great societies along the Amazon. India and Hinduism had the Ganges and the Israelites had the Jordan. Even here in New York, our city was built on trade along the Hudson River.  Rivers provided a source of water, transportation, trade, irrigation for crops and good soil to develop life sustaining agriculture on.   

This morning, about 30 years after the first Christmas, we find John the Baptist at the river.  He is preaching repentance.  John does not simply mean performing the external rituals and sacrifices for the atonement of sins, but he is talking about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, John is demanding changes in how people think, see the world, and act towards others.  John is also proclaiming the fulfillment of prophesy, that Christ our savior is born, the long awaited Messiah is here, the kingdom of God has arrived.   John develops a large following, Many people come to the river to be baptized, to experience relevant faith and actual  joy in their relationship with God.  To put it mildly, John is anti-establishment, anti-the ways things are and anti- religious people just going through the motions and thinking they are holy.      John is regarded as a prophet, as a powerful and holy man but this bothers other powerful and holy men.  Eventually John is arrested and shut up through the removal of his head.

Before John’s arrest and death, he baptizes Jesus. This is Epiphany; this is one of those moments when the world starts to figure out just who exactly it was born on Christmas, that this child is God with us.  In Matthew’s Gospel, we see Epiphany in the 3 kings or Magi and the gifts they bring, here we see it in the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus and God declaring “You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased”. 

John’s baptism and the baptism we receive are similar; both are for the forgiveness of sins.  For John, it was a work, a decision inspired by God, a symbol of change and call to reform. For us, baptism is even greater, it is God’s gift, a moment when we are killed to sin and given new life, we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection (an event still about 3 years away during John’s life).   Immediately after Jesus' Baptism, he goes to face temptation in the wilderness where he endures extreme attempts  by Satan to draw him away from God.  His baptism is the source of strength to endure 

This act of Baptism, done by John at the river and done for many of us at the start of our lives is in many ways is a just like a river.  Baptism flows and follows us through our lives. To come back to my opening joke, we can pour our sins, grief, doubts and anxieties into baptism, and they will be washed away, they will not bother us anymore.  Like the role of rivers in ancient and developing civilizations, Baptism is the center of our faith, the foundation it’s built around and its source of energy and strength.   Luther had the spiritual practice of facing doubts, struggles and trials with the simple words “remember you are Baptized”.  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sermon for January 1, 2017

The reading

 The reading

Luke 2:21-38

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem

The message 

From now until Easter we will go through the Gospel of Luke.  Each week, we will look at another chapter or so of the third Gospel.  I wanted to start with a little background about this book and its author. The Gospel of Luke is probably the third of the 4 gospels written after Mark and Matthew but before John.  There is some consensus that the book was written around the year 80 or 85.  According to the oldest traditions, the author of Luke was a physician and co worker with St Paul during his missionary journeys to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to non- Jewish communities.   The author of Luke also wrote the book of Acts which tells about the life, disputes and development of the early church including details about those missionary journeys. 

In this Gospel, Luke presents a very logical and intentionally ordered argument that Jesus Christ is God’s son and the universal savior, sent to save all of humanity.   Some of Jesus very well-known parables including the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are only found in Luke.  In each of these teaching stories, God’s saving love for all, including the outsider, the disobedient and sinner is expressed.  Luke does connect Jesus to Jewish traditions and Old Testament scripture. We see this in the efforts to show Jesus is born in Bethlehem and Joseph is from King David’s family line. We can also see this in today’s reading where Mary and Joseph follow the instructions of the Jewish law in circumcising, naming and presenting Jesus in the temple. (Genesis 17:12  For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner--those who are not your offspring  and Exodus 13, which connects these rituals to a central moment in the history of God’s interaction with the world   Set apart to me every firstborn male – the first offspring of every womb among the Israelites, whether human or animal; it is mine.”  then you must give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. Every firstling of a beast that you have – the males will be the Lord’s. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to release us, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of people to the first born of all the animals

The life, death and resurrection of the Messiah, will be expanded throughout  Luke’s Gospel to include all people.  We started the Gospel of Luke right before Christmas with the story of Mary hearing the news that she would give birth to Jesus. Luke starts the story of Jesus birth with the census, the routine government work of counting all people. On Christmas Eve, I suggested that this was a sign that to God, all people count, an idea that is in line with all of Luke’s Gospel. In the Christmas story, angels appear to shepherds, a people that no one wanted around and a job no one had much respect for.  Today, the revelations of Christmas come to holy people who were deeply respected, faithful and obedient.  We also see that Jesus comes from a poor, well from a not rich family, their offering of a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons indicates that they did not have a lot of resources. The proper offering at the temple was a lamb but in cases where a family could not afford that, cheaper turtle doves or pigeons could be offered   By half way through the second chapter, God’s saving work has already been seen, heard and felt by the outcast, the poor and the holy (although not mentioned in Luke, Matthew tells us that around the time of Jesus birth, wealthy kings, wise men or magi also come from far away to worship Christ).   

The main characters in today’s reading, Simeon and Anna, both teach us important lessons and urge us to keep faithful.  Today is New Year’s Day. Last night, I assume many of us were waiting for Midnight, counting down the last moments of 2016 and living in the first moments of 2017.  Many people were waiting for that moment to do things, to quit smoking, start a new diet, cut back on soda, not gamble, attempt to reconcile with estranged loved ones or lots of other popular resolutions.  That change in time was the moment they were waiting for to start something new or something they have put off for too long.   

Here at our church, we have been waiting for, planning and preparing celebrations for our 150th anniversary year.  That starts today, right now we are in the middle of our first worship as 150 year olds. We are in the midst of 150 what we have been waiting for, we are invited to ask, what now.   Once Simeon and Anna, witness what so many people were waiting for over hard and anxious centuries, they respond with praise and joy.   Simeon declare his proclamation of faith and joy, my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.  Anna shares her words of praise and prophesy

Today, we hear the same news that the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, Mary, Joseph and the magi  hear, that Christ, the savior of all, is born. We are challenged to ask “how will we respond”.  As I thought about the ending of today’s message and its connection to our 150th anniversary, I wanted to start a new project, called 150 days of service. Basically I want us to work together and do 150 days (150 x 8 for 1200 hours) of service work.  Over the months of 2017, we will keep track of what we do and see if we reach our goal.  We will count anything that we do because we know God loves us and we want to share that news. It can include events at church, school or in the community.  (I’ll have more information about this soon).