Martin Luther described the Holy Bible as the "cradle of Christ"...in other words: The Manger.
Not only at the Christmas stable, but all year-round,
God's people are fed at this Holy Cradle.
We are nourished at this Holy Table.
We are watered at this Holy Font.

This blog is a virtual gathering space where sermons from Bethlehem Lutheran Church (ELCA) and conversation around those weekly Scripture texts may be shared.

We use the Revised Common Lectionary so you can see what readings will be coming up, and know that we are joining with Christians around the globe "eating" the same texts each Sunday.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

January 13 -- Baptism of our Lord Sunday

John the Baptist was a truth-teller.

Known any truth-tellers in your life?  I think they tend to be kind of weirdos.  Truth-tellers.  “Awkward” is a truth-teller’s middle name.  Their words sear, but we try to ignore it, or laugh it aside.  Truth-tellers:  Nothin’ to lose, no one to impress.  They often seem a little unhinged.

Now, I don’t mean someone who is cruel with their words...and their cruel words somehow settle into your mind as truth.  I think of all the bullies that say mean stuff that their victims start to believe is true -- that’s not a truth-teller.  That’s a liar, in fact.  

I mean a real truth-teller.  Someone who truly says it like it is.  Sometimes very eloquently.  But often not from a position you’d expect.  Those are always the great movie characters, right?  The trash-man in the movie, who always speaks the true and wise word.  The seemingly crazy, old bag lady.  The blind beggar. The bartender. The child...truth-teller characters.

And it’s often tempting to want to prop up that truth-teller and have them (not you) just give a piece of their mind (i.e. your mind) to the big, mean opponent, or at least one who holds power over you.  Propping them up, puffing them up...

Puffing up a crazy, mouthy, articulate classmate to go after a professor. Tell him! Tell him!  (I’ve done it & had it done to me)
Puffing up a brother or sister to go after a parent.  Tell him!  Tell him!
Provoking a council member, puffing them up to go after the pastor.  Tell him!  Tell him!  Give ‘em a piece of our mind!  
Puffing a legislator up to go after a president.  Tell him!  

Then if the results go bad, if the response is negative, even hostile, well, it’s not your hide.  No one even needs to know you put ‘em up to it…

I guess what I’m saying is that we can take advantage of crazy truth-tellers.  They’re “out there” anyway, so the temptation is: “Well, may as well get them to work for us...or at least entertain us.”

You kind of get the sense that the people in Luke’s gospel, surrounded by the big, mean Pharisees, the Herodians and the Roman empire -- bullies -- opponents, higher-ups, to be sure, more powerful than they, were puffing John up to go after them.  Tell ‘em, John!  Go tell ‘em!
But all John does is tell the truth.  He doesn’t incite violence, he tells the truth:  “What should we do?”  Share.  Give a jacket away if you have two.  Give food to anyone who is hungry.  Nothin’ to lose, no one to impress.  And John calls us to share.  He doesn’t fall for the puffing up games people play.  

That’s it, John!!?  You’re not going to rip them a new one!!?  You’re not going to verbally lambast them?  You’re not going to declare war on them?    

“No,” says John, “just share; be kind to one another.  Everyone could use a little more of that.  Be gentle.  Do the right thing.  Be honest and upright in your business dealings.  Don’t extort money from people.  Don’t rip them off.  Don’t cheat...and be happy with what you have…

“And one more thing: [this gets us to our text here] This one Jesus, is it.  I’m going to engrave that into your consciousness by baptizing him.  
[slowly] This one Jesus is the embodiment of truth -- of what I’m challenging you to do: This one Jesus is the embodiment of sharing, of not cheating the poor, of welcoming the outcast and feeding the hungry.  This one Jesus, who I baptize is the embodiment of truth.”  John is a truth-teller and a truth-baptizer.  He baptizes the truth.  The truth is not cruel; the truth is love.

And you know you’re on the right track to truth, when the powers try to shut you up, when you are saying things that sear in their simplicity.  Truth-telling, truth-baptizing got John thrown into prison.  He told the truth about Jesus, and he told the truth about Herod’s adulterous wrong-doing with his brother’s wife.  Everyone else turned a blind eye.  

Ever been in situation where everyone is turning a blind eye, and it takes the innocence of a child or an outsider or a newcomer to say, hey, this is wrong!   (Clergy group: “There’s a lot of ego and competitiveness in this circle.”)

John the Baptist -- John the pointer (if I ever had a pointer dog, I’d want to call him either John or Luther) -- John the baptist simply points to Christ.  The true WWJD prophet.  Don’t extort, cheat, lie, hog the best for yourself.  Truth-teller.  Not mean, not cruel.  Just honest and clear-headed, even if a little “out there”.  Although interestingly, did you notice: doesn’t say anything here in Luke’s gospel about John eating locusts and wild honey, wearing camel’s hair.  Maybe John was a little more main-stream, according to Luke.  

And friends in Christ, John was certainly in the main stream, the river’s main flow, to be sure, when it came time to baptize.  John preached repentance and new life, through baptism.  A changing of ways, the forgiveness of sins.  Through this water!  

You know, ancient teaching has us using cold water for baptism?  Luther missed this.  He warmed the water up for babies.  But baptismal water — especially practiced among our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters — is supposed to be cold.  Stinging.  Because this Christian life is not an easy one.

Shane Claiborne: “My life was great...before I met Jesus (gave everything away, loved my enemies, prayed for bullies…)!”

The truth hurts.  It stings.  These cold waters of baptism make us jump a bit, cringe a bit.  John the Baptist’s long, pointy finger pokes at us and guides us to follow after this one Jesus.  The truth is eerie.  

This one Jesus -- the embodiment of all truth — is already out there sharing.  Already out there in the snow — on January 13, 2019 — Christ is already out there sharing warmth with all who are cold, nourishment with all who are hungry.  This one Jesus — to whom John points and baptizes — this one Jesus — upon which a voice from heaven comes booming down: “this is my Son the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” -- this one  Jesus is the embodiment of John’s truth-telling.

In an age where truth seems to be up for grabs (in a post-truth era), sisters and brothers in Christ, John calls us back, and sends us after Christ.  And in an age where truth seems to be a distant dream, our God — incarnate in Jesus the Christ, who is “already out there” always in and with the world, moving down the path — stops, turns to us, loves us, and beacons us to come and follow, to come and join this way of truth.  This love, this forgiveness, this walk of mercy and grace, this path of love is ours today and always.  For you too, a voice from heaven says, are God’s beloved child!  

Thanks be to God!  AMEN.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

January 6 -- Epiphany Sunday

Highly quoted author, speaker and consultant in Lutheran circles, Peter Steinke (writes a great book called Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times), has noted the root of the word “disaster”.  Do you know what that word literally means?

It comes from the negative Latin “dis” (connoting not being able to do something, or a lack of something) and “aster” (star).  So literally a disaster is when you have no star to follow.  Fascinating, isn’t it?!  

So ancient sailors, loosing their way at sea in the fog and the clouds — no star to follow.  That’s a literal dis-aster.

Contrast that to this day’s text of the journey of the Magi. (btw, the text doesn’t say how many magi there were, just that there were 3 gifts, so artists have always assumed that 3 wise men went with those 3 gifts, but there could have been a hundred star-following wise women and men and their children all hiking through the sands from the East…) The point is, they had a star to follow, and they did.

Disaster is when we have no star to follow.  Problem is, there are lots of stars in the sky. [pause]

Which star are you (at least) tempted to follow this new year?  Is it the star of fame and glory?  The rock star?  The pop star?  The sports stars or military stars?  The political stars?  The gold stars of school and accomplishments?  Perhaps the shooting stars…like the housing/stock markets?  

It’s hard to find the star of Bethlehem amid all the competing stars.  
But here’s a clue:  STOP LOOKING UP.  [pause] For Christ always comes to us from underneath—from where you’d least expect—from the manger, from the shepherds, from the poor, from earthly stuff like wheat, grapes, and water.  From broken and flawed people, hurting congregations, tragic situations, from simple every-day moments amid hectic schedules and frightening seasons.  The magi, the text says, bowed down, to pay him homage.  Bow down, look around on the floor of our world, to find the Christ child.  Look to Bethlehem, that is, the most out-of-the-way, insignificant, underneath, little town.  And that’s where the star, the light of Christ, stops and stays.

This is such a wonderful story.  Because it has cosmic implications.  This love and presence of Christ, that comes from below, has the ability to move the stars!  To call people from all corners of the earth to gather, to praise, and then to go home by a different road: changed.

It means God’s love for you, calls you, as far off in a distant land as you might be—as downtrodden, or hopeless or sick or afraid as you might be.  God’s light, albeit hard to see at times, God’s star rises in the east—the bright morning star—symbolic of hope and a new day—Christ Jesus’ star rises in the east and lights your way this new year of 2019, this new year of life that God has given us!  (I see this as a year of healing here at BLC!)

The same star that world leaders saw, “Three Kings” as the songs and art pieces go, world leaders, the wealthy and powerful and wise—the same star that guided them, that came to them, and lit their path, comes to you and guides you…even today.  That’s how dear you are to God.  Not forgotten in some far-off land, but forgiven...and guided.  

What a gift that Bethlehem star, that eastern star in the sky is for us!  God’s love for you moves stars!  

And so in response — not because we have to — but because we can’t help it: in response, we bring our gifts — our gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  (What is that for you?  What are our treasures?)  And then, looking down, bowing down, kneeling down, we pay him homage.  How can we do that with our lives?  What can we bring?  How can we serve and give and trust evermore in this Christ child?

For we need not dwell in dis-aster.  For we have a star to follow!  A star of love, a star of life, a star of hope, a star of healing, and a star of forgiveness.  

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we too have been changed, by this star.  So changed, so transformed that we are about to pray for people beyond just those we like and love.  Prayers of intercession: have you noticed our ‘rubrics’ for the prayers of the people (p.14): “Having received the Word of God’s relentless grace and faithfulness, we can’t help but turn outward and pray for others.  The love of Christ compels us.”) Our prayers — and not just our prayers: our words and actions, our ministries here at BLC — aren’t just focused inward, it’s not just about us and “our” building and “our” people and our success and our failures, right?!  No, we can’t help — having received this relentless grace — we can’t help but reach outward to people and situations far from our own, even if those are people and situations right here in our neighborhood.  We can’t but turn outward to people from far-away lands (like the magi in the story).  

We even pray for our enemies.  For the “Herods” of our government and our world.  [pause] That’s how transformative this Christ light is!  

We have been changed, by this star.  So changed, so transformed that we have hope, in the midst of winter darkness.  We have a way, and that way is Christ, and that way is Love, and that way reaches beyond borders and oceans.  

Even when the world comes crashing down around us, God’s people, looking down, not gazing up, looking down at this earth, God’s people find the hurting, the oppressed, the sick and the lost, and there with them is Christ.  “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  That’s how changed we are!  [Rome, Isola Tiberina, Hospital Island]

We have been changed, by this star!  So changed that we go home now by another road.  So changed that we “gonna lay down our sword and shield, down by the riverside” as the old spiritual goes.  We’re gonna “hammer our tanks and our guns into stethoscopes and gardening tools”...to modernize Isaiah’s vision of hope.  We are so changed that now we practice peace (not just pray for it, we practice it).  We’re not going back to Herod now, the road of violence is not our road.  We’re going home by a different way.  

For God has given us a star.  We are free of dis-aster, sisters and brothers in Christ, for we have a star.  And in that star is the hope, and the salvation, of this whole universe.  And in that star is your freedom and everlasting life.  For in this star is peace.  TBTG.  AMEN.