Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dropping Our Nets

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 4:12-23:

Today we have a fish story to tell.  I’m sure that all of us have heard at least one fish story in our lives, and most of us have probably even told one or two ourselves, about the one that got away or about how big the fish, which the person hearing the story never saw, really was.  There’s a great scene in the movie Dave, in which Kevin Kline, who is pretending to be the president, has his arms in a machine which replicates his movements using enormous robot arms, and so he stretches his arms out and says “I once caught a fish this big,” and of course his fish story is amplified by the mechanical arms.  I wanted to show that clip this morning, but when I did a search for it on YouTube, I didn’t find it, although I did find out that there are apparently a lot of people named Dave who fish and have posted things on YouTube.

For some reason, fishing tends to bring out these stories, more than most other activities in which we engage.  That most famous of all authors, anonymous, once wrote “An answer to this question, is greatly what I wish; does fishing make men liars, or do only liars fish?”[1]  I’m going to be honest, I don’t like fishing.  No offense to those of you who do, but to me, fishing is about as exciting as watching paint dry.  But the Bible is full of fish stories, and today we have one of the most well known.  Of all of the fish stories we know, today’s is one of the biggest.  In fact, this passage, or at least the line about making the disciples “fishers of men”, is probable one of the most famous.

The passage begins, first with the announcement of John the Baptist’s arrest, which will lead to his execution and serves as an example, which will be played out again, of what discipleship looks like, the arrest leads to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee.  Next we are told that Jesus began to proclaim “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near,” which is at the core of Jesus’ message, then we have the calling of the first disciples, followed by a summary of Jesus’ activities in proclaiming the reign of God which he will follow throughout the remainder of his ministry.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Descending Like A Dove

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was John 1:29-42:

Last week we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism from Matthew, at the end of which we are told that the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon him.  This week we hear a similar account, except that this time it is John the Baptist who is reportedly telling the story to us, before moving into telling us John’s version of the calling of the first disciples.  Next week we move back into Matthew’s account with Jesus calling the first disciples there, and so I am going to hold off on talking about the calling until next week, and instead we are going to look at the Holy Spirit, because that is one of the questions I hear a lot is who and what is the Holy Spirit.

Now for those of you who grew up using the King James Bible, or liturgies based on the King James, you probably know of the Holy Spirit as the Holy Ghost.  That is still the language we sing as part of the doxology each week after the offering is received (praise father son and Holy Ghost).  The term was changed for several reasons.  The first is that our understanding of ghost is a little different from that of the 17th century, and we don’t want people either thinking of something scary or even something nice, like Caspar the friendly Holy Ghost.  The second reason is that spirit is sort of a closer approximation to the Greek and the Hebrew terms that it is being used.

One of the reasons we don’t understand the Holy Spirit is because the church has not always been very clear about it.  In the Nicene Creed, which was the church’s formalization of Trinitarian theology, in which we say that there is only one God, but God has three parts, it originally said “We believe in the Holy Spirit.”   That is what is still contained in the Apostle’s Creed, but that doesn’t really give us any information.  Later at the Council of Constantinople in 381, this was added to so that it included, “we believe in the Holy Spirit, the lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the father and the son, who with the father and son is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.”  In the doctrinal standards of the United Methodist Church, we state that we believe in “The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.”  Those are a little fuller statement, but they have more to do with the Spirit’s relation in the trinity rather than about what the Spirit does or how we experience it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Down to the River

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 3:13-17:

A man is stumbling through the woods, totally drunk, when he comes upon a preacher baptizing people in the river.   He proceeds to walk into the water to see what’s going on. The preacher turns around and is almost overcome by the smell of alcohol, but asks the man, "Are you ready to find Jesus?"  The drunk answers, "Yes, I am." So the preacher grabs him and dunks him in the water.   He pulls him up and asks him, "Brother have you found Jesus?"  The drunk replies, "No."  The preacher shocked at the answer, dunks him into the water again for a little longer.  He again pulls him out of the water and asks again, "Have you found Jesus my brother?"   The man again answers, "No,”  By this time the preacher is at his wits end and dunks the drunk in the water again -- - but this time holds him down  until the man begins flailing his arms and legs, and then the preacher pulls him up and again asks, "For the love of God have you found Jesus?"  The drunk wipes his eyes and catches his breath and says to the preacher, "No, are you sure this is where he fell in?"

Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, and so I thought it would be the appropriate time to teach you more about baptism then you’ve ever known, and maybe more than you’ve ever wanted to know, in help us understand what baptism is and what it does so that it might begin to make more sense and give more meaning to us.

So where did baptism come from and where did it begin?  Most people’s answer is that it begins with John the Baptizer, as we have in today’s scripture.  John is calling people out to the Jordan River to be baptized in repentance of their sins, but baptism, or at least a similar practice, is older than John.  In Judaism, in order to be ritually pure, people, both men and women, would have to enter into what is known as a mikvah in order to be ritually cleansed.  There were actually mikvah at the entrance to the temple in Jerusalem that people would enter so they would be ritually clean when they entered the Temple grounds. In addition, some Jewish sects required that gentile converts not only be circumcised, but that they must also take a ritual bath in order to be cleansed and die to who they were and be reborn into something new.  Orthodox Judaism still requires this for converts.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Three People from Somewhere

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 2:1-12:

Today represents the last vestiges of Christmas.  Kids go back to school tomorrow, and adults who have been off for the holidays return to work.  People have taken down their trees and the ornaments and decorations have been packed up and returned to storage, or maybe like me everything has been piled in one location waiting to be packed up.  The surprises and the excitement of the season are gone, along with the songs and the decorations, and yet today we celebrate epiphany, which represents the official end of the Christmas season, this is another one of those times in which the church is out of sync with culture.

Some of you have heard me say this before, as much as Fox News might like to talk about a war on Christmas, I have to be in agreement with Diana Butler Bass that it’s not a war on Christmas, it’s a war on Advent, because Christmas doesn’t end on December 25, Christmas begins in December 25, and it officially ends tomorrow with Epiphany.  Epiphany, means appearance or manifestation, and it commemorates the arrival of the wisemen as the manifestation of Jesus to the gentiles.  In many cultures, especially in Latin countries, Epiphany is more important of a Holiday than is Christmas and is celebrated through gift-giving and parties.  In the Orthodox church, it is the third most important day of the year following only Easter and Pentecost, and for many years the Orthodox church celebrated Christmas not on December 25, but instead on January 6 and there are still some churches which follow that tradition.