The Kingdom of God: LIKE A HEN
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, March 13, 2022
TEXT: Luke 13: 31-35
“I desired to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” v.34
31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
During this season of Lent the Gospel scriptures are stories about Jesus that lift powerful metaphors about the kingdom of God. We were taught that every story about Jesus and every story that Jesus tells answers the inquiry: what is the kingdom of God like?
Last week we recounted the story of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. And how the third temptation by the devil was to take Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem and challenge him to jump! To jump because it was promised in scripture that the angels would catch him lest he “dash his foot upon a stone.” The kingdom of God is like an angel or an eagle ready to bear you up, up to where the hurt and troubles of your life cannot harm you.
Today’s passage centers around a lament. A song or poem about sadness and grief. Jesus speaks a lament over the city of Jerusalem. The city was Jesus’ destination, the final destination of his earthly journey. Earlier in this same Gospel, Luke tells us: “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” [Luke 9: 51] But as he approaches the city, Jesus is warned by some Pharisees to “get away from here.” [v.31] Why? Because Herod wants to kill him. Not his father, Herod the Great wanted to kill Jesus as the baby in the manger but rather his son called Herod Antipas. The royal family carries on the threat.
The Pharisee’s warning only angers Jesus, who replies that he has work to do and Herod’s threats will not stop him in the least. “I am busy” he says. “Today, toomorrow and the third day.” These words a reminder that his upcoming death on the cross will be a logical contiuation of his life and works. He must be on his way because “it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.”[v. 33b]
But Jerusalem, the Golden City, the center of worship and sacrifice for the Jews, hasn’t lived up to what God had intended. In our bibles we read that Jerusalem will be…”the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes as his habitation to put his name there.” [Deut. 12:5] Jesus knows this truth and has offered his love to the people of Jerusalem countless times and has been rejected. You know how it feels to offer your love to someone you care about only to have them spurn you, turn away from you, act as if you don’t exist.
So Jesus shares this lament for Jerusalem.34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Jesus begged to give the city his protective care but they refused his offers.
To this very day Jesus is still coming to Jerusalem…to our “Jerusalems” and is always calling us “to life, to more life, to new life.” [interruptingthesilence.com] So, when are we like the original Jerusalem so adamant in refusing to accept our Lord? We are “Jerusalem” when
- When we have our lives on autopilot…not thinking..just going through the familiar motions of living
- When we are holding onto angry thoughts and grudges and are not forgiving
- When we refuse to listen to the other
- When we believe the only way is our way
- When we hang onto past hurts, guilt or loss
- When we refuse hospitality and to welcome others
- When fear overtakes us and prevents us from acting in loving ways
- And finally, when we are so stuck in the past and that is the way things were always done, that we cannot try anything new or different.
Fear, anger, hostility, inability to listen, our way or the highway, on and on it goes. These are the times we are the “Jerusalem” that Jesus still tries to comfort, protect, and offer his love to. As a hen gathers her precious chicks under her wings and nestles them in the downy feathers of her breast, just so Jesus offers us his protection and love for our lives.
The lament assures us even this morning, this day, that God loves us, GOd roots for us, God’s help is available for any problem or trouble, and finally, God always gives us the freedom to choose between good and evil.
Today and in this coming week, open yourself to take shelter under the mother hen who gavae you birth and loves you dearly. Go willingly to her, rest in her warmth and protection, gain strength from her strength, be not afraid. Let us pray.
Gracious God, You love us so dearly we can barely take it in. A love so deep, so strong, so fearless that we too become Christlike in our discipleship and service to one another. Keep us in the shadow of your wings that we might fear no evil and grow up in every way into a likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
LIKE AN EAGLE
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, March 6, 2022
TEXT: Luke 4: 1-13
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Today’s Gospel Story is “Jesus’ Temptation in the Wilderness.” Immediately after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist, he is “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness. For forty days he ate nothing and during that period he underwent a series of challenges or temptations by the devil. The Gospel of Luke gives us touchstones in Jesus’ life. First, in the Temple at age twelve Jesus begins to understand God as his father in a most special way. Then, when he was baptised, God appears as a dove and a voice announces that this is my Son, the beloved. Now in this story, Jesus is ready to begin his mission and ministry. However, he needs to be ready. Is the time right? God’s Holy Spirit leads him into the wilderness desert to prepare him for his awesome mission.
This may be the most sacred story in all of scripture because it had to be told by Jesus himself to those who would later share it in their gospels. Only Jesus was present during those forty days. He walked alone as Myrtle sang so beautifully in her song. Nobody walked it for him.
Most likely you have heard about these temptations before. Jesus was very hungry after forty days without food, the devil urged him to turn the stones lying about in the desert into bread. It was a try to get Jesus to rely on material things, maybe even use them as bribes to follow him. Jesus replys that real life is not found in material things. “One does not live by bread alone.”
Then the devil transports him to the top of a very high mountain. The type where you are so high, you are looking down on creation. And he offers Jesus a trade off. If you worship me, all this will be yours. Come on, Jesus, just compromise a tiny bit, and this will all be yours. That’s a very good offer because Jesus needed to recruit people to learn about and carry on his mission. Basically Jesus replies that there is no compromise with the world of evil gain. “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him,” Jesus replies as he turns down the offer.
The devil doesn’t give up easily. He knows scripture well, miseuses it, but knows it well. He now spirits Jesus to the center of his world–the top most point on the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple is situated on the highest point in the city–referred to as the Temple Mount or Mountain.
What a beautiful view that must have afforded. Looking down over the Golden City. Crowds of people in the temple courtyard and throughout the city, shopping, eating, talking with friends. Then the devil says “Jump, jump my friend, and you will attract more attention than if you brought a Super Bowl TV commercial. Go ahead, you can’t buy publicity like this because God’s gonna send angels to catch you before you hit the ground.” The scripture promises this.
Jesus answers him “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Suddenly, the devil disappears but we are reminded only until another “opportune time.” “Being tested” will be an ongoing opportunity for Jesus and for us as well.
“For us as well.” Hmm. Lent is a time for us as well to think about our temptations. Someone once said that our ability “to repent and to resist temptation comes from our relationship with God and the grace of His deliverance rather than from our own strength and initiative.” [workingpreacher.org, 021416] Remember that verse in Hebrews? Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.”
There are many temptations that we encounter as we go through life. Things like these. The temptation to stay angry with someone who has done us wrong; the temptation to gloat over an enemy down on his or her luck; the temptation to eat too much or drink to much; the temptation to take something that isn’t ours–to copy someone else’s homework, to borrow something and not intend to return it, to conveniently forget to repay someone. The temptation to cut corners, to intentionally forget something important to someone else. The temptation to look at or listen to something that is not edifying for our souls. The temptation to be opinionated, bullying and unsympathetic. You know, this list goes on ad infinitum.
Many of the things that tempt you and me, followers of Jesus, often seem impossible to surmount! But if you remember what I shared earlier there is hope to overcome temptation. Someone shared that our ability “to repent and to resist temptation comes from our relationship with God and the grace of His deliverance rather than from our own strength and initiative.” [workingpreacher.org, 021416] Our relationship with God. The grace of God’s deliverance.
St. Paul writes in his letter called 1 Corinthians, chapter 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he wil not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” During the forty days of Lent we are encouraged to draw close to God and experience grace firsthand. Draw close to God by praying evey day; draw close to God by not just reading scriptures but by studying them and thinking about them. Just get the Upper Room [on the table inthe lobby by the church office] or purchase the online book we are using for Lent in the prayer group and you will have ample material to read, to meditate upon and to grow your faith deeper.
During Lent pray daily, read and study scriptures and finally reach out in acts of charity and service. I mentioned last week that the United Methodist Committee on Relief is receiving money for their relief efforts for Ukrainian refugees. You can write a check and put it in the offering or mail to the office or you can go to the church website and give online. There are always many opportunities to help and serve others around you as well. Our temptations to do nothing in these matters are temptations that we must overcome. “Our temptations will never compromise our relationship with God, but will bring to the surface God’s amazing grace for us in times of need.” [sermoncentral.com]
God is with us through every temptation we encounter in our lives. We are never alone. We may well imagine God’s love like an angel ready to catch us if we fall and hold us up, or like an eagle that will soar with us above the difficulties of this world and remind us that God is always with us and loves us dearly. Let us pray.
Gracious God, Sometimes it feels as if the things that tempt us are too much to overcome. We are weak but you are strong. Bear with us, help us overcome, keep us near the cross and keep the cross near us. Lift us this Lenten seasonlike an angel, like an eagle, up into a higher altitude of faithfulness and discipleship. Amen
THROUGH JESUS’ EYES: SEEING THE ANCESTORS
“Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.” v.30
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, February 27, 2022
TEXT: Luke 9: 28- 43
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Let’s think about ancestors for a while this morning. Many of you are interested in your genealogy. You’ve done some pretty sophisticated research and constructed some quite detailed family trees. More recently, the DNA tests have become popular too. Have any of you completed one of those DNA tests? You know, Ancestry.Com or Twenty Three and Me? What did you find out? Anything surprising? I gave Robb one of those tests a couple of years ago and he receives about one email every few months that they have found additional cousins. He might be up to fifty some by now. Either they are mistaken or the Irish relatives have been very prolific.
My African American friends have a most beautiful way of referring to their departed family members. “My son is with the ancestors now.” “My husband is with the ancestors.” “ Our loved ones have gone home to the ancestors.” Someone once wrote: “To forget one’s ancestors is like a river without a source or a tree without roots.” There is something deeply compelling to remember our loved ones and accord the respect their lives demand in the honorific title, the ancestors. Yet, this is precisely what today’s scripture lesson is about. Jesus and his ancestors
This scripture called “The Transfiguration of Jesus” has many important elements surrounding the appearance of the ancestors. It is also a perfect way to start the introspective season of Lent in which we take on spiritual discipines in order to draw closer to God. This scripture “gives us a glimpse of who Jesus really is, resurrected, ascended, glorified.” [bryontaylor.com, 021013] It is a continual reminder that the cross is not the end of the story of Jesus. That God has more in mind and we are part of that plan.
Today’s episode happens during intense prayer on a mountaintop, just as Jesus is about to set out for Jerusalem and the final part of his mission, death on the cross. It is absolutely essential for him to take the journey to it’s end, the conclusion of his life and earthly mission. And so, this climb up the mountain with Peter, James and John and an evening of fervent prayer becomes a pivotal point in the life of our Lord.
The location of the Transfiguration, the mountaintop, adds to the power of this drama. Have you ever stood on a mountaintop? Maybe you hiked up. Maybe you took a ski lift or gondola. Maybe you drove your car up. Think for a moment about a mountain that you have been on top of. On the top of a mountain one feels very, very far away from the world. Like the song goes: “On the top of the world looking down on creation.” The vista from any summit is expansive and stunning. You can see for miles. Wherever you travel, montaintops are magical spaces, perfect for miracles.
During Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness, the devil “ took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Miracles happen on the mountain top as Jesus prays and the disciples struggle to keep their eyes open. Jesus’ appearance is suddenly changed, transfigured, he glows and his clothes become as bright as looking into the sun. Too bright to gaze at comfortably. Then two men appear alongside Jesus–two spiritual ancestors. Two men whose purpose is to help Jesus complete his mission to Jerusalem and his sacrifice on the cross. The bible tells us that the two men “appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” [v. 31]
The first ancestor is Moses, the great leader, the favored one of God, the one who received the Ten Commandments during his own mountaintop experience so many centuries before. Moses lived life under the shadow of the wings of God, obeying God, witnessing the Burning Bush, confronting Pharoah to let the Hebrew slaves go, leading his people forty years through the wilderness to the promised land. Though at the end of their journey, Moses was not allowed to cross over into the promised land because of an incident of disobeying God’s instructions. Perhaps he was present on the mountain to encourage Jesus to obey God by finishing the journey. To go to the Holy City Jerusalem, to offer himself up as a sacrifice, to make a way for all of us, sinners, to transcend this life and enter into the next.
The second ancestor who appeared on the mountaintop was the Prophet Elijah. We learn about him in the Book of Kings in our bibles. He was a prophet and miracle worker, living in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Ahab. He defends the God of Israel over the Canaanite God Baal. He was so beloved of God that he never tasted death. Do you remember what happened to him? Think of the spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” A fiery chariot and horses came and took him away to heaven. Perhaps he was at this transfiguration meeting to reassure Jesus that God would take Jesus to himself one day and death would be but an empty tomb.
What happens next is even more spectacular than the transfiguration and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, God visits the mountaintop in a cloud that surrounds them all including Peter, James and John. 35 “Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen…”
This Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, the forty days of the Lenten season begin. I encourage each of you to observe Lent in ways that you might grow a deeper, stronger faith. On Wednesday evening we will start Lent with a clean slate, confessing our sins, receiving forgiveness, sharing The Lord’s Supper with one another and receiving the ashes from last year’s palms as the mark of the cross on our foreheads. Please take time to join by zoom or in person. Let us pray.
Gracious God, How we love your Beloved and Chosen Son who came that we might have forgiveness of sin and eternal life. We thank you for our own spiritual ancestors, mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles who shared the faith with us and taught us to love. We thank you for the opportunities in these coming weeks to grow closer to each other. Amen.
THROUGH THE EYES OF JESUS: SEEING OTHERS DIFFERENTLY
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” v.36
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, February 20, 2022
Text: Luke 6: 27-38
27 “But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Last week we looked at the Beatitude portion of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain” which shares lessons like “blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the poor, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” And we were reminded how these Beatitudes urge us to reorient our lives, to live for eternal life not just for the things that we can pursue for ourselves now in this life.
I also shared four warnings from these Beatitudes which I invited you to write down: wealth, comfort, having fun and popularity. Warnings about the things we often seek that separate us from the kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate. None of which are bad in themselves but often lead us astray from the core values of our faith. As someone once said: “We can become so comfortable in the world that we become spiritually lazy….We don’t see faith that is characterized by sacrifice, diligence, passion or singlemindedness.”
Today’s passage continues the challenge. These verses set the tone for an unbelievable request from Jesus: love your enemies; do good to the haters; bless those who curse you; pray for your abusers; if someone hits you, let them hit you again; if someone demands your coat, give them your shirt as well; give to every beggar; if someone borrows from you, don’t ask it back. And then the grand finale of Jesus’ requests: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Golden Rule. Whew!
At it’s most simple, this passage calls us to respond to the world as Jesus did “loving, blessing, praying and offering.” in order that the world’s gridlock of “hatred, judgement, blame, recrimination and violence” be broken. [sacredspace.ie] This is impossible! We may protest. There is no way that we can live out the commands of this teaching. But, St. Paul teaches us otherwise when he proclaims: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” [Philippians 4:13]
The scripture today summarizes Christian ethics. First, our way of doing things is a positive one. We are called to be actively doing good things. Secondly, not only are we doing good things we are called to do the extra thing! Turn the other cheek, give the shirt along with the coat. We are not just seeing how much better we are than the average person, we are comparing ourselves with God. Thirdly, the reason for Christian conduct is that “it makes us like God.” We know that “God’s love embraces saint and sinner alike.” [Barclay, p.95]
Our faith ethic means that we are to “collaborate” with Jesus and “to live on a higher level of loving” than the average person who is not on the kingdom path. We are to become a channel for God’s compassion. Our responses to the teaching of Jesus means we will not depend upon our own power alone “but on the grace that comes from God.” [sacredspace.ie] As St Paul reminds us “[We] can do all things through Christ who strengthens [us].”
The very first verse of today’s scripture lesson is “love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you.” Our lives and the world would be a very different place if we could all follow this edict. The love in this passage is not like “falling in love” where we easily go where our heart leads us. The love in this passage involves our willingness to change our attitude about someone and to “seek nothing but their highest good.” [Barclay, p.93]
For us to live into today’s scripture we must be willing to draw our strength from God; to be willing to put on a new attitude especially toward persons we have difficulty liking; and to keep trying even if we are not successful in our attempts to love our enemies. We can do no less. Here’s your assignment for the week. A practice exercise. Pick someone who doesn’t love you. Maybe even someone you might call an enemy. Enemy is a strong word, maybe it is somebody you do not see eye to eye with or someone you avoid or actively dislike.
Do the following. Pray for that person every day. Speak with that person. In your contact with that person be a good listener and a kind listener. Don’t argue. Don’t insist on being heard. See if in your careful listening there might be something to begin to soften your attitude toward that person by understanding him or her better. Keep praying. Become aware of the changes happening in you as you channel God’s love and grace toward another child of God. Let me know how it goes. I’ll be waiting to hear. I will close with a prayer that I discovered recently. Let us pray:
Lord, “I pray that I may be open, transparent and free in letting the Divine image in which I am created be seen and experienced” by those around me especially my enemies” so that I might love, bless, pray and offer” Your love to them. Amen.
THROUGH THE EYES OF JESUS: WHAT BLESSEDNESS IS
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven…” v.23
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, February 13, 2022
Text: Luke 6: 17-26
17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. 20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
The back story to today’s scripture lesson is that Jesus has just been to the mountain and has prayed an entire night. He has spent those hours with his Father in Heaven communingwith him and receiving the blessing and power that only the Divine Parent can impart. When he comes down from the mountain that morning he is ready for ministry, and prayer is guiding his steps. First, he chooses his twelve disciples. Then, he turns his attention to the crowd that has gathered. They have come to listen to this rabbi whose reputation is spreading, they have come to be healed of physical ills and evil spirits, they have gathered because they “sought to touch him because power went out from him.” v.19 On that day scripture records that he “cured all.” v.19
Jesus’ teaching has come to be known as The Sermon on the Plain in the gospel of Luke and a similar teaching has been recorded as the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew.
Both are very similar and may very well have been Jesus sharing the same message to different crowds of people. Although the locations are different, the gist of both is the same–God is creating a new realm and it is up to us to be part of the new creation or not.
This sermon, the Beatitudes, isn’t always an easy one for us to appreciate. Someone wrote that it is a series of “bombshells.” But you know if Jesus has just touched you with the power of his healing hands and you no longer are filled with anxiety or you know longer have a wound that will not heal or you no longer are blind or hard of hearing or filled with dreadful worries, you might hear these words not as bombshells but as the loving promises of a God who will not forsake the poor, those who hunger, and those filled with sorrow.
The four warnings from these Beatitudes are simple. These are warnings about the things we often seek and love that separate us from the kingdom Jesus came to inaugurated.
The first warning is wealth. While wealth is not a bad thing per se, it often causes us to feel totally self-sufficient. More importantly, it prevents us from understanding and having compassion for the poor. When our lives are measured by the finances we have, we have a very false sense of security and where to place our trust.
The second warning is comfort. When we feel secure and comfortable in our lives it is very difficult to feel compelled to act for those whose lives are spent in misery and want. Refugee families, homeless men and women, families affected by domestic violence, so onand so forth. To be selfsatisfied and smug, we have little motivation to reach out to others.
The third warning is having fun. By having fun I don’t mean we can’t ever laugh and enjoy ourselves. But how much worldly fun do we have to engage in? How many fun nights out partying? How many vacations at casinos gambling? How many pranks that hurt others? How many mean comments on social media?
Finally, the fourth warning is popularity. Having the most “likes” on Facebook, being voted the most popular kid at your school, constantly putting yourself out there to garnish applause, attention and attraction. Worldly popularity contrasts mightily with the Godly quality of “everlastingness.”
Jesus taught these Beatitudes because “we can become so comfortable in the world that we become spiritually lazy….We don’t see faith that is characterized by sacrifice, diligence, passion or singlemindedness.” Wealth, comfort, having fun and popularity make us fit into the notions of success in this world but God has chosen a different path to His kingdom.
Jesus makes it pretty clear–if you choose the way of the world, you have it now. If all your energies are to “obtain the things which the world values, you will get them-but that is all you will ever get.” [The Gospel of Luke, William Barclay, p.91] But if you wish to live in a way that fits you, that grooms you, for eternity, you must make some choices. Some not very easy choices.
The challenge of the Beatitudes for every one of us today is this: Will you be happy in the world’s way? Or in Christ’s way? Think about it in the week ahead. And think about how you might choose to live in a manner that puts you on the path to eternal life–the real life to come. Let us pray:
Good and Gracious God, Let the power that emanated from Jesus’ healing hands on that long ago day, be a fresh power falling upon each of us this day. Let us be rich in love and grace, let us be healers and uplifters, let us share our wealth with those less fortunate, let us count our sacrifices as blessings not losses. Let us be your disciples for this day and in this place. We give you thanks! Amen.
THROUGH THE EYES OF JESUS: SEEING A WIDER PLAN
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” V.21
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
Sunday, January 30, 2022
Luke 4: 21-30
21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 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?” 23 He 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.’” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 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; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” . 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 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 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Today we finish with the scripture passage we began last Sunday. Jesus is preaching and teaching all around the Sea of Galilee in many local synagogues and his reputation is spreading fast. On the day in question he is worshipping in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, and in reading aloud the Isaiah scroll Jesus sees his future as clearly as if he were looking in a mirror.
The Isaiah scroll that Jesus reads from describes the roles he will undertake as Messiah and perhaps most importantly it begins with the words “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me.” v.18. Elsewhere in scripture we know that when the Spirit of God rests upon people they are “given power to do what God wanted them to do.” [Barclay, p. 58]. Jesus is God’s beloved son.
Then Jesus read that the Messiah is to “bring good news to the poor” [v. 18]. Messiah comes so that the “poor, week, afflicted and needy” are not alone! [Bibleteacher.org, “Jesus First recorded Sermon] He will “bind up the brokenhearted.”
Another role that the Messiah will fulfil according to Prophet Isaiah is “to proclaim release to the captives” v.18. A different bible translation reads: “opening of the prison to them that are bound.” Jesus sees that his life’s mission is coming to break the bondage of sin. To free us from all that holds us back and prevents us from becoming the people that God would have us become.
Not only will he release us from the bondage of sin, there is more! He will also “ to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In other words, a judgement day is coming! As Jesus looked into the mirror that Prophet Isaiah provided, the mantel of God’s Spirit rested brightly and beautifully on his shoulders, and he was ready finally to be the Messiah.
Today’s scripture reading picks up where last Sunday’s left off. 20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
- So far so good but then the congregation begins to question. Isn’t this young guy just the son of Joseph? Don’t we remember him as a little kid? What makes him so special? How can this scripture be about him? Tongues were wagging. Jesus response is to point to the difficulty of being taken seriously in your hometown. Then he takes it a step further by sharing two examples to try to further define Messiah’s role.
The stories he chooses are about prophets Elijah and Elisha. Stories his listeners would have known well. He reminds the folks that Elijah in his first example, during a time of draught and little food, was sent to the home of a foreign woman in Sidon. He asks her for water and a piece of bread. She tells him that she is down to the end of her food. She and her son are preparing to die from the famine. Elijah tells her not to be afraid, to go home and to make a loaf of bread with the tiny amount of flour she has remaining. Bring him something and keep the rest for you and your son. His promise? “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.” [1 Kings 17: 14]
Then Jesus shares a second example of prophet Elisha curing a foreign soldier named Naaman of his leprosy. [ 2 Kings 5] In both stories the love of God was poured out on strangers and foreigners. And this was more than the congregation at Nazareth could stomach. They were jealous, they were insulted, they wanted to shut Jesus up. 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 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”
Can you believe it? Sort of gives us a different perspective on Jesus doesn’t it? Not everyone was inspired by his words to become a disciple. Not everyone could understand how the so-called Messiah could say such things! What did strangers and foreigners have to do with him and with them? Messiah is for us!
Fortunately at the end of the story Jesus escapes and lives to preach another day! But not without first planting some really important seeds. Seeds of new understanding. Seeds that Messiah has come for all peoples because all are made in God’s
I spent a lot of time this week thinking of how this story might impact us this day and within the confines of our local church. What are the thoughts about sharing what we have, that is, living out our faith, that might make us super reactive? You may have some ideas about this that I would love to hear sometime.
What came to my mind because I was working on our statistics this week was our current ideas about ministry for children and youth. Especially after I put a zero besides every survey question that asked about how many ministries we have for children or youth. Very sobering to see that.
But as I thought more about it, I could see there wonderful opportunities to pull upon new persons and new ideas about sharing our faith with the next generation. It may look very different than it looked even five years ago and I expect it will look nothing like the Christian Education of our youth.
If you look into this month’s newsletter—sent out on Friday, you will find there my invitation for anyone who has a serious investment in ministry for the next generation to email me and I’ll set up a special session for us to work on this “headache.” This will be entirely centered on the gifts people bring to the table, their willingness to share their gifts because they are invested. If you are not invested, don’t come. If you just want to perpetuate the failing status quo, don’t come.
But if you believe that God will keep the flour and oil flowing until this draught of no ministry for children is over, and if you want us not to be afraid to reach out not ony to our church children but to the childrens in our communities as well, please let me know you will be coming.
The message in today’s gospel lesson is spread the love of Jesus. Don’t limit who you reach out to or what you do to your own people. Stretch your faith, trust in God to supply what is needed and expect a miracle that you can’t ever imagine!
Let us pray.
Good and gracious God, how frustrating and saddening it is to come to a house of worship without the smiles and laughter of children and teens. Please move upon hearts to step up to plan together some new avenues that will open doors as we revitalize our faith sharing with the next generation. Help us to trust that you will supply everything we need including children from our neighborhoods who have yet to hear your Good News. Amen.
THROUGH THE EYES OF JESUS: LOOKING IN THE MIRROR
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
January 23, 2022
TEXT: Luke 4: 14-21
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” v. 15
Luke 4: 14-21
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
As I prepared for today, I realized that I had never thought about these scripture verses as being Jesus’ very first recorded sermon. Today practically every sermon from every preacher is recorded someway and preserved. Video camera, sound recording, movie film, manuscripts and in these past couple of years, recorded and saved to the vaults of zoom in the cloud. I guess I better be careful what I say!
I was also thinking, surely Jesus preached many times before all around Galilee but this day, someone must have been led by God to write down his words. Maybe not even knowing that this was to be the Messiah’s big reveal, a faithful follower went ahead and found some papyrus later and made notes. Most likely gospel writer Luke himself.
Luke reminds us that Jesus was no stranger to worship. Luke writes: “he went to the synagogue on Sabbath day as was his custom.” Stories about Jesus were spreading around Galilee and he was held “in high reputation.” [The Gospel of Luke, William Barclay, p. 53.] Every town in Galilee, of which there were at least 200 villages with a population over 15,000, had its own synagogue. At the time of Jesus, three million people lived in Galilee.
And, up until this fateful Sabbath in Galilee, the mission of Jesus was being only slowly revealed piece by piece down through the ages…by prophets, psalmists and even angels! But this was the day that Jesus himself would look into scripture and see himself as clearly as if he looked into a mirror. For the very first time he could envision himself and his future as messiah. Thirty years earlier at his birth the angels announced to the shepherds in the fields: “For there has been born to you this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2: 10-12. To the folks nearby Bethlehem Jesus was a poor boy born to poor parents. To the angelic host he was Messiah, a brilliant Light come into the world.
Last Sunday we read in scriptures about Jesus’ first miracle. Changing the water into wine at the wedding in Cana in Galilee. He told his mother that it was not yet time to reveal who he was.
The passage from the Isaiah scroll that Jesus reads describes the roles he will undertake as Messiah and perhaps most importantly it begins with the words “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me.” v.18. Elsewhere in scripture we know that when the Spirit of God rests upon people they are “given power to do what God wanted them to do.” [Barclay, p. 58]. Prophet Isaiah describes it well:
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [the father of King David], from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord…” 11:1-2
Let’s review some of the responsibilities of Messiah that Isaiah highlights.
One is to “bring good news to the poor” [v. 18]. Messiah comes so that the “poor, week, afflicted and needy” are not alone! [Bibleteacher.org, “Jesus First recorded Sermon] The poor, not just the financially poor, but the poor in spirit as well, those whose hearts are broken. Jesus came to “bind up the brokenhearted.”
Have you ever been afflicted with brokenheartedness? The person you trusted failed you, your job was prematurely ended, you were betrayed, a family member has gravely disappointed you? Hundreds of years previously, the Psalmists also wrote songs about the one to come who “ is near to those who have a broken heart.” Psalm 34: 18 and the one who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3
Another role that the messiah will fulfil according to Prophet Isaiah is “to proclaim release to the captives” 18. A different bible translation reads: “opening of the prison to them that are bound.” An angel told this to Mary before his son was born: “[You] will bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1: 21 In other words, Messiah is coming to break the bondage of sin. To free us from all that holds us back and prevents us from becoming the people that God would have us become.
Messiah will release us from the bondage of sin, and there is more! After his Sabbath at this synagogue, Jesus, the Messiah, began to preach a “heads up” message to all: “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Matt. 4:17. Jesus took to heart Isaiah’s words that Messiah would begin “ to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In other words, a judgement day is coming!
Our own mirrors can show us a lot about ourselves. Are we decent to leave the house, have we dressed nicely, is our hair neatly combed? When Jesus opened Isaiah scroll he saw himself as Messiah, the responsibilities, his being descended from King David, and most importantly, he could see the mantel of God’s Spirit that rested so brightly and beautifully upon his shoulders. He was ready finally to be the Messiah.
20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
We will continue the outcome of this startling revelation next Sunday. This scripture passage does not end here because yet another surprise is waiting to reveal itself.
Let’s close with prayer.
Good and Gracious God, We rejoice in your Son who came to share good news, cradle broken hearts in his hands, repair our brokenness and forgive our sins. Help us to live up to our role as your beloved children so that others will know of your love as well Amen
THROUGH THE EYES OF JESUS: THE FIRST SIGN REVEALED!
“But you have kept the good wine until now.” v.10b
Rev. Vivian Rodeffer
Sunday, January 16, 2022
Text: John 2: 1-11
John 2: 1-11 The Wedding at Cana
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Let’s think about weddings for a while. About our experiences as participants or guests. The guest list, invitations, venue, the menu, music, photography, lodging for out of town guests, the rehearsal dinner, what will we wear. People who like to handle details and intricate plans, love weddings! One bride shared years ago that her mother was even repainting the living room. That the color just wasn’t right for welcoming the newest family members. No detail can be overlooked. Our music director shared with me that her family was so eager to drive to their wedding venue on the big day, that they left without her, the bride! She had to hustle a ride to her own wedding.
While we spend literally days and weeks planning for modern weddings most last at the most a few hours. Weddings in Jesus’ day regularly stretched into a few days. And hospitality in the middle east was a sacred duty. The wedding in today’s scripture happened in the town Cana in Galilee. Jesus and his mother were there, his disciples were there. It was a local event with friends and family. Jesus joined in the happy rejoicing for this occasion.
But a major problem surfaced at the wedding. And the servants realized it first. And then the caterer must have heard. And then the guests started to whisper. Through the thirty years that they lived together, his mother Mary must have turned to Jesus many times when something was wrong. He was her son and she depended upon him. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine. Even in this gospel story when it seems like Jesus is refusing her request. Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.
At that point Mary may have been unclear how Jesus was going to address this problem but she knew for certain that he would address it. So she said to the servants: Do whatever he tells you to do! She was trusting in Jesus even when she did not know what was going to happen.
We know the rest of the story—the servants bring six stone pots, they fill them with water as Jesus asks, and then they serve the wine to the guests. And not just any old Boone’s Farm or Tiger Rose brands of cheap wine, even the wine steward, upon tasting it says: You have saved the best wine until now.
The major problem in today’s gospel lesson was the wine ran out. Jesus’ very first miracle, the very first sign that he was the son of God and that even bigger and better miracles were down the road, was his making sure that there was enough wine for the celebration to continue. What happens when we run out…maybe this story is for us as well. When we run out of hope, of courage, of health, of inspiration etc.?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shares just such an account of running out of something very important, courage for the task at hand. I am sharing from his autobiography.
“One night toward the end of January I settled into bed late after a strenuous day. Coretta had already fallen asleep and just as I was about to doze off the telephone rang. An angry voice said, ‘Listen, [expletive], we’ve taken all we want from you; before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.’ I hung up, but I couldn’t sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point.
I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. I had heard these things before, but for some reason that night it got to me. I turned over and I tried to go to sleep, but I couldn’t sleep. I was frustrated, bewildered, and then I got up. Finally, I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up.
With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. I sat there and thought about a beautiful little daughter who had just been born. I’d come in night after night and see that little gentle smile. I started thinking about a dedicated and loyal wife, who was over there asleep. And she could be taken from me, or I could be taken from her. And I got to the point that I couldn’t take it any longer. I was weak….
With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory: “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now, I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. Now, I am afraid. And I can’t let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’
It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Martin Luther, standup for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world.’
I tell you I’ve seen the lightening flash. I’ve heard the thunder roar. I’ve felt sin breakers dashing trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus saying to fight on. He promised to never leave me alone. At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.” [The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., pp 76-78]
And just as God provided the courage for Dr. King when his own courage ran out, when we run out of hope, of courage, of health, of money, of friends, of whatever—you name it…the Lord will see us through as well.
It is most meaningful that Jesus’ first miracle, his very first sign, is performed at a wedding because the main purpose of a wedding is two people making a covenant of love and caring with one another. For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish. Prophet Isaiah wrote this:
5 For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you. [Isaiah 62: 5]
The new wine of this gospel story represents the Niagara Falls of grace that pours over everyone of us, every day, no matter what. Just as no wedding party guests on earth could ever drink those 180 gallons of wine made in the six stone jars, “no need on earth can exhaust the grace of Christ; there is a glorious superabundance of it.” [The Gospel of John, Vol. 1, William Barclay, p. 121.]
A pastor I mentored for seven years, Rev. Rob Lewis, who also had his PhD in New Testament Studies. Shared an article from WordPress.com about those whom God rejoices over :
“Our new name is the name God calls us: Beloved, cherished, Saved, and Sanctified. The world might call you distressed, anxious, sick, un-well, poor, disadvantaged but that is not the Lord’s verdict about you. God reminds us that we are in God’s hands.
Our new name is a name the world cannot hear but will someday know because God calls us and God holds the world. Just because the world is not tuned to the reality of God’s grace, does not mean that this grace is either absent from us or absent from our world or absent from those who do not and cannot recognize it. We draw encouragement and strength from the reality of God’s presence as God reminds us that the Spirit is with us, that the Son has come for us, and the Father sent the Son.”
In Conclusion. I want you to remember that God rejoices over you this day; and, know that the Lord will see you through whatever you are going through right now. Through Jesus’ eyes, his very first miracle at Cana in Galilee, still happens daily.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, Sometimes the things we are going through knock the wind right out of us, make it hard to trust in you. Help us to place our trust in your love for us, your blessings for us through all times—good and bad; and that today is a brand new day and you will see us through it no matter what. We thank you and praise your holy name for your overflowing and abundant grace. Amen.
THE WATER THAT NEVER CEASES TO FLOW
“And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased.’” V.17
Rev. Vivian L. Rodeffer
January 9, 2022
Text: Matthew 3: 13-17
We’re going to think about water today. This is the Sunday of the church year when we consider Jesus’ baptism so it is fitting that we take this theme. And we can easily associate this gospel story with the baptisms that we witness right here in our church. Think for a moment about our baptisms. [Pause] We are only ever baptized once….so anything after that is remembering our baptism.
One of the destinations for travelers to the Holy Land is a stop at the Jordan River to remember their baptisms. I’ve been to that spot a couple of times. There is a store and a locker room for persons to change into a gown to be baptized in so their clothes stay dry, there are all sorts of souvenirs such as little bottles to take Jordan River water home. Here’s a little known fact: all of the water for the city of Jerusalem comes from the Jordan River. You can fill those bottles in your hotel. The water is a lot cleaner and drinkable too!
I remember standing in that river water with my colleague Rev. Glenn Ferguson, catfish circling us and my ankles burning from the nitrogen fertilizer runoff in the river, as we helped people from our churches to remember their baptisms.
Scholars point out that it was quite unusual for Jesus to ask to be baptized because only converts to Judaism were baptized. The non Jews would be asked to repent of their sins and then would be invited to be baptized by John and others. It is thought that Jesus’ request had to do with his foreknowledge that he would be the messiah for all people. Baptism would be a holy action by God in the lives of all believers from that time forward.
For thirty years Jesus led a pretty unremarkable life in Nazareth. Because Joseph was a carpenter more than likely Jesus learned that trade and worked in the family business. Then came the season when his cousin John started his ministry…the voice in the wilderness crying.
John the Baptist appeared and began preparing those around him for the messiah. Not only did John the Baptist call people to repent of their sins he also “summoned men and women to righteousness.” He “challenged them what they could be” and “he set before them the good.” [Matthew, Vol.1, William Barclay, locations 1036 & 1044]
“John was preparing the way for the king….The people recognized John as prophet, even after years when no prophetic voice had spoken, because he was a light to light up evil things, a voice to summon men and women to righteousness, and a signpost to point them to God… [Barclay, location 1067]
Jesus would have heard word of John the Baptism and something within him would have clicked. John was preparing the way, preparing the hearts of the people. Jesus may have realized: Now is the time for my ministry to begin.
As soon as he was baptized Jesus was led into the wilderness and was tested. His time of beginning to truly understand his mission and ministry as the son of God.
The words heard after his baptism are very important words. “This is my Son, Beloved One, in whom I am well pleased.” As soon as Jesus head these words he knew two certainties about his life.
“This is my Son, the Beloved” is from Psalm 2:7. Jesus knew, really knew that he was messiah, the son of god. The next words: “with whom I am well pleased” are taken directly from Isaiah 42:1. They are from Prophet Isaiah’s Song of the Suffering Servant. The two certainties he learned were that he was messiah and that his would be a ministry enveloped by his own suffering. His suffering on the cross would be the way that he would lead us back to God.
The Jordan River continued to flow that ordinary day when Jesus was baptized. He most likely came back to the bank and sat for awhile and dried off in the sun. And in his heart saw clearly what was ahead for him.
That same River flows today. Two thousand years later and reminds us of our baptism vows. The never ceasing actions of love and justice that every single one of us are called to as beloved children of God. The membership vows and baptism vows found in our hymnals ask these questions of us:
- Will you repent of your sin?
- Will you accept the freedom and power God gives you?
- Will you resist evil?
- Will you resist injustice?
- Will you resist oppression?
- Do you confess Jesus as your savior?
- Will you trust his grace?
- Will you promise to serve him as your lord?
- Will you acknowledge that all the peoples of every culture and color and walk of life are God’s beloved children?
It is in our living out the answers to these questions that we keep God’s Spirit flowing through the life of the church and through our world.
We live in a new time and a different culture than our ancestors. But what has remained the same is for followers of Jesus to love God and love neighbor as we love ourselves. That is our life’s work. Nothing less, nothing more. Let us pray:
Gracious God, the expectations for us as we come out of the waters of our baptisms are not easy. We will have to speak out for those who have no voice, we may be called to give up the status quo so that others might advance, we may have to love our enemy and pray for those who have been against us. Give us the freedom and power that you’ve promised so that we might follow you more nearly. Amen