Today, the church celebrates the Baptism of Jesus; another world changer forged in water. Jesus was also a leader who put others before himself, and was kind and generous to all people, be it friend or foe. As such, many would follow even if it would cost them their life.
While Shackleton developed his skills on the high seas, Jesus got his from reading scripture and shaped his life accordingly. In Luke we learn that when Jesus was only 12 years old, he was in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, and asking tough questions. “Everyone who heard him was amazed by his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:46-47).
Long before Jesus was baptized, the prophet Isaiah wrote these words. I invite you all to imagine hearing them as Jesus first did. And think about how they might shape who you are.
Read Isaiah 42:1-9
When you heard these words, who did you imagine Isaiah talking about? I’m sure it wasn’t anyone in seats of power in Washington DC. Imagine being a politician and running on a platform of mercy – caring for the weak and vulnerable, executing justice among the nations, or heaven forbid, releasing prisoners from their cells. What would Fox News call you? Or how would Twitter or SNL would roast you?
So who than is this one chosen by God, who does not break a bruised reed or extinguish a dimly lit wick? Believe it or not this is a hotly contested question.
Was it a person? Someone like Shackleton who did the impossible to ensure his entire crew made it safely home after being shipwrecked in the darkness of winter and no hope of survival. Some argue it’s a collective group – like Israel or the United States – who believed they were chosen by God to bring justice into the world. Because it’s written in poetic form, there are those say Isaiah’s words are symbolic, a metaphor for living life.
When I asked my wife who she thought this passage was about her answer surprised me. She said, “It sounds like you.” (I know many people who would beg to differ. Including myself.)
To her credit, she meant it allegorically describing the way I evangelize. “Despite challenges and doubters you face,” she said, “you do not quench their light or grow faint, instead you persevere and grow through it.”
Although I love my wife’s perspective of me, given my Christian upbringing, it’s difficult to see anyone other than Jesus in this passage. Who else checks off all these boxes? But believe it or not, and I know what I’m risking by saying this, my wife is right too suggest that maybe God is not just talking to us in this passage, but talking about us as well?
It’s easy for us to read Jesus these words, but not so when it comes to seeing who we are in them. That’s why I asked you to hear these words as Jesus did. Jesus took the scriptures to heart and used them to defined who he as and all that he stood for. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus declares, "I did not come to abolish the laws or the prophets; but to fulfill them.” This is how he understood his ministry and how he ushered in the Kingdom of God.
watch service here
Sadly, many of us view the Bible as some dusty old history book, forgetting that it’s the Living Word of God. We need to read these sacred text less like a history lesson and more like a user manual for living life. Like Jesus, we need to take these words and infuse them into every aspect of our lives. This is how we, in our own baptism, participate in the Kingdom of God; leading the way for others to follow.
The gospels are filled with examples of Jesus living out the word. One in particular is like our scripture reading today. In Luke 4, Jesus is asked to do the reading at his hometown church. The Rabbi handed him a scroll from the prophet Isaiah.
Standing before family and friends, he read, “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” (Luke 4:18-19). At the end, Jesus didn’t say, “This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God.” Instead he broke tradition and declared, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (v. 20).
On one hand, Jesus is boldly announcing who he is, and on the other he’s calling us into action. To not only be hearers of the word, but doers as well.
Like trekking across Antarctica, living faithfully in God’s word is a risky endeavor. So maybe we’d rather make Isaiah’s passage about Jesus, because it’s easier to let him do all the heavy lifting. We give Jesus the responsibility to deal with others so we don’t have to.
We say Jesus loves. Jesus saves. Jesus heals. Jesus does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. That is true. But if we only see Scripture talking about Jesus, then I fear we’ll miss out on the bigger blessing that God has given to the world.
Like I said last week, we are God’s beloved children, chosen in Christ to participate fully in God’s redemptive grace. We are stamped with God’s love and filled with the Spirit of Christ to be a light to the nations.
It’s our job to stand up for justice…without shouting, breaking, fainting, or quenching. It’s our job to free people of the bonds that bind them without judging, shaming or belittling anyone in the process.
It’s our job to be a living example of God’s covenant to all people, despite of where they’re from or what they believe. God has called us in Christ …to lead the way of the greatest exploration of all time: the journey back to God’s loving embrace.
Jane Goodall once said, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
Just as Jesus cared for the bruised and the hurt, so must we. Is there someone in your life who needs their pain soothed or a hurt mended? If so, lead the way by being the healing balm they need to be well.
Just as Jesus cupped his hands around the dimmest wicks until it was able to shine brightly, so too must we. Do you know someone whose light is barely flickering and in danger of going out? If so, then strengthen and stoke that ember until a bright light shines within them.
Jesus led by example. And in doing so opened the eyes of the blind to see God in their midst. Do you know someone who’s having trouble seeing God’s love and grace? If so, lead the way by being God’s love and grace for them.
Let us not forget that the same Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism is the same Spirit sealed within us at ours. Same is true about his mission and ours. Just as Jesus left the wild, raging waters of the Jordan to proclaim the gospel, so too are we called to participate in God’s Kingdom as a fulfillment of God's Word.
Jesus changed the world by living fully and faithfully to God’s word, so too are we do the same. We can do this because God has anointed us with all the abundance of God’s glory at our disposal.
And so, in the name of Christ, go and be the person who changes the status quo, who stands up for justice and fairness for all people.
Go and be the one who heals the broken and opens the eyes of the blind.
Go and be the one who frees other’s from the prisons they have put themselves in.
Go and be the light of Christ that leads others on the great exploration of life, and bring them safely home to God.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010) pp. 218-223.
Morrell, Margot and Stephanie Capparell. Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons From The Great Antarctic Explorer. (New York: Penguin, 2001) p. 15.
As the leaders of our country launched another war in the Middle East, we can learn from the wars we fought right here at home, on our own streets against our own brothers and sisters. The race war. The gender war. The war on poverty. The war on drugs. We've gotten too good at starting wars. And have failed at nearly all of them since the end of the second great World War. Yet the little battle that King fought was not won in the courts as much as it was won in the hearts of the people.
In some hearts there is love. In others there is hatred. But to "build a nation in which neither punishment nor privilege is attached to one's race, skin color, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other human difference" requires one thing, writes Adam Russel Taylor. "It starts with an understanding that we are beloved by God." We are all made in God's image. We are all tagged and marked by God's finger print. We are all made equally valued and respected by God, no matter our vices, shortcomings, or political affiliations and contradictions.
If we believe this to be true, that we are beloved children of God, then we ought to treat all people as if we are going to wake up tomorrow and they are going to be our roommate, our in-laws our neighbors, our spouses, our doctors, our teachers, our fellow human traversing the same creation albeit different paths. We ought to care for each other and look out for one another's best interest.
War is not the answer. Love is.
It all begins with God's love for us. It is God who first reconciled with us. It was God who redeemed us. And in the end, it is God who created a community of beloved people. It all starts with having love for each other, and a willingness to be committed to finding a common ground to begin building a beloved community of empathetic and supportive grace. "It's a community in which we are constantly seeking to build and restore right relationships," writes Taylor.
What might restoration and reconciliation look like if our hearts look like God's? Given our success rate with warfare, I'd say it's worth a try.
Taylor, Adam Russell. Sojourners: Vol. 49, No. 1. January 2020, p. 10.
Epiphanies happen not just in angels, stars, babies, and water, but in ordinary moments like holding a hand, or watching a sunset or driving to work. They can pop up immediately or gradually appear over time. For Christians epiphanies are given to us by God, to awaken us to the mysteries of God in Christ.
I think the scripture that was chosen for today speaks to those points and gives us a new vision of who God is, and who we are as created beings in Christ. Read Ephesians 1:3-10 here.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
Ephesians is a wonderful letter that was written as a call for Christian unity, and to be holy and right before God. Years ago, when I read these opening verses, I had an epiphany. Dare I say one that was divine, profound, and life changing. Yet it’s so simple I almost overlooked it. What was it? God chose me. I am loved and valuable to God who has blessed us all in Christ. Talk about a revelation!
When I feel alone or get down on myself for messing up, I have these words to remind myself that I’ve been chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and sealed by the Holy Spirit. I’m not making this up to feel good about myself. I already feel good knowing this was God’s plan for you and me since the very beginning.
To understand that I am ‘in’ Christ not only changes the way I see myself, but it also encourages me to move beyond myself to become a larger part of God’s eternal vision.
The expression ‘en Christo’ or ‘in Christ’ occurs 216 times in Paul’s letters alone. According to Richard Rohr, ‘en Christo’ is “Paul’s codeword for the gracious, participatory experience of salvation.” As Rohr points out, “We’ve never been separated from God.” Instead we’ve been “living inside this cosmic identity” that has already been put in place. God chose us long before we chose God. This not only saves us, but it drives and guides towards true Christlike transformation. “We are all in Christ, willingly or unwillingly, happily were unhappy, consciously or unconsciously.”
By this revelation I take Paul at his word, that we all possess the power to live holy and rightly before God “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.”
watch the service here
Now spiritual blessings are different than material ones. A person may have great material wealth yet be bankrupt when it comes to the spiritual blessings of joy, peace, wisdom, contentment, or just being in a right relationship with God.
As we move into a new year and decade, I looked back over the last ten years to see what I accomplished. I changed careers. I learned (and forgotten) ancient Greek and Hebrew. I earned a Masters of Divinity while beating cancer. I got ordained and moved my family across the country to lead my first church. I then moved my family back to plant and shape this new church. In the last decade I also visited 8 countries on four separate continents.
I may not have attained much material wealth along the way, but spiritually I feel rich beyond measure. While going through some great challenges, it was hard to see what God was doing. But because God chose me, I am always alive in Christ. And I am free to live this way or not.
Too many of us waste life trying to obtain things that are worth much less than the spiritual blessings God already gave us in Christ.
We chase after meaningless things so we can keep up with the Jones; we sell ourselves short to belong to some group or team or tribe; we seek to have more likes, more followers, and to build up an image that lives or dies by other people’s opinions. Obtaining wealth, being a part of things and enjoying a good life is fine, but God has greater plans for you and me.
Before the earth’s foundations were set into motion, “God had settled on you as the focus of his love.” God didn’t just choose you for his team but God built a team around you. Before the very first sunrise ever appeared, God adopted you to be his beloved child.
Let that sink in. God knows everything about you and chose to accept you for who you are – rich or poor, sinner or saint – you’re already on the best team. We areno surprise to God. He knew what he was getting into with us. Instead of throwing in the towel with disappointment because of our inability’s, God came to be with us, as one of us.
I want you to say out loud, “I am a beloved child of God. I am worth more than any earthly treasure.” This should be our mantra for the new decade?
British journalist and renown atheist, Marghanita Laski, made an amazing confession on TV once when she said, ‘What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness.’ She added, rather sadly, ‘I have no one to forgive me.’ In her statement lies Paul’s great epiphany – that in Christ, God has done for Laski according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
It’s that grace, in my humble opinion, that God reveals the single most important blessing in Christ. Grace is both the power and the vulnerability of God made manifest in Christ; not just for our sake, but to the entire order of the cosmos. I can’t imagine life without grace. Think about it, sick days wouldn’t exist, being late to an appointment would be unforgivable, and every bad thing you ever did would forever define who you think you are.
Because of God’s grace, we need not hold on to our past but only move forward and closer to God. So what I want you to know is that: In Christ, we have God’s grace. In Christ, we have God’s peace. In Christ we are united to God’s perfect love. If we believe God is love, then we need to seek and find this love in and all around us; and to share that love in all our wonderful and difficult relationships, responsibilities, and circumstances.
It’s up to us to claim the truth – God chose us…and we are loved no matter what. This is where our faith comes into play. Faith is how we are able to see God’s will for us. I like to say we have faith in Christ so we can have the faith of Christ. By faith we are able to see others with Christlike eyes, and love our enemies with a Christlike heart.
As faithful children of an all loving God, it’s up to us to share this good news to help others know who they are.
As God’s children we too are a people of forgiveness and reconciliation, called to heal ourselves and others with God’s love. We are called to be united, to tear down the walls between us and our neighbors. We are called to seek peace and to stand up for justice and fairness, and to live in Christ as Christ lives in us. How blessed are we, and every other human being, to belong to the same God of Love who chose to be with us and to dwell in us.
As you leave here today, I encourage you to receive God’s love and to relax in it. To sit and breath in God’s love as you exhale the mantra, “I am a beloved child of God. I am worth more than any earthly treasure.”
As we move from Christmas to the New Year, let us not worry about you’ve done but what you can do not, today, knowing what God has already done for you in Christ. It’s in this grateful place that God transforms you in the most unexpected ways. Awakening in you an epiphany, for others to discover who they are…in Christ.
Nouwen, Henri. You Are The Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living. Convergent Books: 2017.
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ: How A Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe. Convergent Books: 2019.
Read: Luke 2:8-14
Now that school is out, my wife has returned to her rightful place on the sofa to binge watch a new batch of Christmas movies. Which really aren’t that much different than the ones from last year. Or the year before that. As someone recently described, “These movies all seem to come from the same candy cane factory.”
The story lines are pretty much predictable, big city girl…small town boy…snowstorm…a kiss…and Christmas is saved. It’s also a safe bet that carolers dressed like 19th century Dickens characters will show up and sing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy.
Like the sugary holiday movie, this is one of those happy tunes that promises to fill us with comfort and joy. But recently I heard this song in a different light. As I was trying to play it on the guitar, I noticed this majestic proclamation is sung in a minor key…like the ones you find in most blues songs. And if you’ve know blues music, then you know why the name is appropriate.
In a recent essay on this subject, Margret Manning pointed out that the juxtaposition between the minor notes of the song and its uplifting lyrics suggests that joy is not simply found in things that make us happy, but also in times of sorrow.
With only three letters, ‘Joy’ is a short but powerful word. It appears 145 times in the bible which tells me it’s important to understand. According to Merriam-Webster joy is “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune; or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” This definition leaves me to wonder what if you don’t get your way, does that mean you don’t experience joy?
Theopedia describes joy as “a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope.” I think this definition brings us closer to what God is trying to tell us – that joy is not a feeling you get when something good happens. That’s happiness. Happiness lives in the head. It comes and goes depending on your experience or mood.
Joy is different. Joy is permanent. It lingers deep within our hearts whether we feel it or not. Famed British author C.S. Lewis said it best when he wrote, “Joy is an experience no one would ever exchange for all the happiness in the world.”
In Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, joy is one of the seven fruits of the Spirit along with love, peace, faithfulness, patience, gentleness and kindness. It’s not a fleeting or passing emotion but a holy gift from God that helps us navigate the ups and downs of life. And so, as we look to this small but bright flickering light, we know we are able to rejoice no matter what we are up against, if only because God is rejoicing in us.
In Luke’s gospel, as the angles hovered over the dark earth heralding in the reign of Christ, joy entered into creation in the bleakest of times. Through Christ, God brought glad tidings of comfort and joy.
One of the first people to feel the joy of Christ, was John the Baptist. While still in his mother’s womb John leapt for joy when a pregnant Mary entered the house. He carried that joy with him, and held on to it in the loneliness of the wilderness and the struggles he would face out there as he ushered in the Kingdom of God. Even in prison with the threat of death looming over his head, John’s joy did not diminish. He knew that no matter how difficult his life got, joy was present if only because God was present within him.
This is hard to hear or understand when you’re in a bad mood or when someone or something steals your joy. But you might take comfort knowing that not even Jesus himself was immune to the pain and sorrow of this world.
Manning says, “the tidings of comfort and joy which we desire come as God entered into a suffering world – not removed from it.” Whatever you are going through, right now in your life, you can rejoice knowing God is there with you; in a person who understands your pain and knows what it’s like to suffer.
I know that it’s hard to rejoice when people you love get cancer or when your friends abandon you. It’s hard for me to find joy as long as gun violence permeates our communities, as the homeless situation in our nation worsens, and children still don’t have enough food, or clean water, or a loving parent nearby. Joy isn’t easy to come by when you’re alone in your house, or overworked, or out of work.
Which is why, as Henri Nouwen once said, “We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
Jesus is God’s greatest joy. Therefore we have to make the conscious decision to seek and welcome him into our daily life. We have to wake up every morning and choose to see and do what Jesus did…if only so others may find their hope, their love, their peace and their joy.
When we choose to be with Jesus, to be imitators of his love, a deeper sense and understanding of joy begins to grow in us and all around us. It becomes manifested in us, in the way we love and care for one another, in the way that we give and receive the Christ within us all.
I invite you to chose to welcome Jesus as those shepherds did on that Christmas morning. I invite you to receive him as your utmost joy, and to live in his Spirit, bearing its good fruit in all that you do.
As you leave here today, I want you to know that we don’t experience joy because life is good. We experience it because God is great. God does not come and go like happiness. God sticks around, and is always there whether we know it or not. When life kicks the joy out of you, God is there kicking it back in.
Because God has chosen you and me to carry this light into the world – to shine our hope, love, peace and joy as bright as the host of angles who first brought glad tidings to those shepherds watching their flocks by night.
Manning, Margaret. Sowing Tears and Reaping Joy. A Slice of Infinity devotional, December 17, 2019 (accessed 12/17/19) https://us5.campaign-archive.com/?e=2ee208b3a9&u=45b75085e6ab57e339ea89d67&id=1b4bf221eb
While looking through some past post for a future post, I stumbled upon this from April 2016. In a four part message on “Joy in Philippi” I wrote:
“Ego and anger are the opposite of love and joy. Anger leaves us vulnerable to attack. Conflict, as you might know, opens the door that allows our joy to walk away or be stolen. But here's the twist. The love Jesus calls us practice also leaves us vulnerable. To love as God loves us forces us to always seek a common ground instead of a battleground. This doesn’t mean we have to be the same, or think the same, or dress the same. Christianity isn’t a robotic ritual. Jesus calls us into a way of life built upon the strong bond of God's love for us. Just as we are connected to God through Jesus we are to be connected to one another through the same love.”
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"...how he went about doing good..."