Far from the Shallow Now

over your head

Luke 5:1-11 NRSV

Early one morning, Jesus is standing on a beach preaching to a large crowd of people. The crowd that had gathered, and were probably still gathering, is so great, Jesus felt like they were about to push him right into the lake.

As he is preaching, he sees two boats left on the beach by some fishermen who were washing their nets. He gets into the boat belonging to Simon, and asks Simon to anchor the boat a little way from the shore, where Jesus continues his sermon to the crowds from the boat.

Luke doesn’t record the words to Jesus’ sermon, but from his sermon in the very next chapter, we could probably take a good guess: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Love everyone, even your enemies…” –a sermon of a abundant mercy, extravagant grace and miraculous love that can change the world.

After Jesus finishes his sermon, he suggests that he wants to do a little bit of fishing himself. He to says to Simon: “Let’s leave these shallow waters and let down the nets.”

Simon responds, “Master, with all due respect, I, along with my long-time business partners, James and John, have fished these waters all night long, and we haven’t caught a thing.  Yet, if it will make you happy, I will go out a little deeper and put down the nets.”

It is then that a miracle happens.

As soon as the nets hit the water, they catch so many fish that the nets begin to break. They quickly call out to James and John to get the other boat and offer them a hand.  And when they come, they fill the boats with so many fish that both boats begin to sink.

And as Simon takes in the overwhelming scene— nets breaking, boats sinking, fish everywhere, a scene of failure and scarcity transformed into triumph and abundance, a scene of what can happen when you leave the shallow for something deeper, what can be experienced when you obey the commands of Jesus—Simon is overwhelmed, and falling down at Jesus’ knees, he says: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” “Go away, get out of here!  Leave me alone!”

It was as if Simon suddenly realized that he had only thought that Jesus was finished with his sermon. Jesus is fishing, but he is still preaching. Jesus is still revealing God’s abundant mercy, extravagant grace and miraculous love. Believing he is underserving of God’s love, how unworthy he is of such abundance, Simon asks Jesus to go away.

But Jesus never goes away easily. “Simon, not only are you worthy to receive this miraculous love, you are worthy to share it with others, so do not be afraid; for you are no longer going to be catching fish, you are going to be catching people!”

“I am asking you, Simon, along with your business partners James and John, to leave your shallow, contained, little world to venture out with me into a deeper, revolutionary, larger reality. The truth is, Simon, I need you to go deeper. I need as many people as I can get to go deeper. The problems of the world are too great and your lives are too short to waste any time wading in the shallow. And the grace of God is too extravagant. The mercy of God is too abundant. The love of God is too boundless for you to keep it all to yourselves!

I need you to leave your shallow, safe world of spending all of your time making a living, meeting the needs of your immediate family, and I need you follow me into the deep, risky reality of sacrificing your time to make a difference in the lives of others, meeting the needs of the human family.

I need you to leave your shallow life that feeds you and your children, and accept a deeper life that feeds every child of God.

I need you to move beyond your shallow, narrow mission of mowing and watering your own lawn, and accept the deeper, wider mission of caring for the entire planet.

I need you to lose the apathy towards issues that do not concern you and your limited of circle of family and friends to possess a deep empathy towards all who experience injustice.

I need you to move beyond your shallow understanding of success. Simon, no matter what you have been taught, success is not defined by the amount of fish you catch, the size of your bank account or even how many children or grandchildren you have. Your success is not defined by the size of your budget or the number of people sitting in the pews of your synagogue. It is so much deeper than that!

Your success will be measured by how many people you helped to know the love of God.

I need you to go deeper, Simon. You too, James and John, and be my disciples and fish for people. Do the hard, messy, oftentimes frustrating work for meeting the needs of people, caring for people, loving people. I need you to move far from the shallow now to do the deep work of grace.

I believe the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. summed up what Jesus was trying to say to Simon, James and John, when he said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Now, here is what I believe is the real miracle in this story. It’s verse 11. After Jesus invited them to leave the shallow for something deeper, to leave catching fish for catching people we read: “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”

This is miraculous because when it came to accepting the extravagant grace and love of God revealed in the large catch of fish, Simon, seemed to have some difficulty: “Get out of here, Jesus! I am a sinful man!”

However, when it comes to following Jesus to a deeper life, to love others, to live selflessly and sacrificially, he, with James and John, leave everything and follow.

This seem even more miraculous when we consider it is the exact opposite of how most of us work. We seem have no problem accepting the grace of God. We have no issues receiving the love of God. But we prefer to keep it shallow. We prefer to keep it safe, keep it contained, keep it to ourselves.  We are reluctant to go deeper.

Because going deeper can be dangerous. Going deeper can be costly. Going deeper can be overwhelming. In the deep, fish will break your nets, and people will break your hearts.

Eddie Donavan from the Fort Smith Boys Home illustrated this when he spoke to our Kiwanis group this week. He said several people say they would like to help at the Boys Home, but when they come to the home and begin to interact with the boys, boys who have a plethora of needs, they immediately realize that they are in way over their heads.

So here is the real miracle:

Jesus says: “Simon, from now on, you will be catching people.”  And Simon drops everything and follows.

And the good news is, I am blessed to witness this very same miracle today. For you are also following this Jesus. Not only have you accepted the grace of Christ, but you are making an effort to share it with others. For you are here, with First Christian Church, part of a movement for wholeness in our fragmented world.

My friends, you are in deep.

Some might say that you are in over your head.

You are far from the shallow now.

You have gathered here this morning with a group of people who are called Disciples of Christ, disciples who have decided to go on a journey to share the abundant mercy, extravagant grace and miraculous love with all people. And we know this journey is not an easy one. This journey is not a comfortable one. And today, this journey is not a popular one. This journey is a risky, and it is costly.

You have decided to go on a journey with a church that has several members who are committed to the deep and difficult work of recovery through Alcohol Anonymous.

You are on a journey with other members who do the deep and oftentimes discouraging work with persons addicted to narcotics;

With others who do the deep and demanding work of leading a summer camp for troubled boys;

With others who do the deep and daunting work of with people who are homeless;

With others who do the deep and draining work of being Court Appointed Special Advocates for children in the court system;

And with others who do the deep and disturbing work with foster children.

You have decided to go on a journey with a church that is committed to following the deep, difficult and sometimes dangerous way of Jesus.

We know, we could just to Disciples Hall after worship and enjoy a shallow plate of spaghetti together. Enjoy what we call some good ol’ christian  fellowship. Share a laugh or two.

But we are going to go deeper than that.

We are going to listen Gary Udouj from the Adult Education Center and Heather Edwards from the Literary Council as they share opportunities for us to give of ourselves, sacrifice some of our time, to do some very deep work with people whose lives are literally hanging in the balance.

We know, we could just send checks to ministries that feed the hungry, but we are going deeper than that. We are going to work with organizations like Antioch Youth and Family, and movements like the Poor People’s Campaign, and we are going to work alongside our elected leaders to do the deep work of rooting out some of the causes of hunger and poverty and come up with solutions right here in Fort Smith.

Yes, my friends, today, you are in deep.

But I believe it was John Shedd once said: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

We are on a ship with Jesus. He is the captain who has navigates our journey out of the harbor. And we are far from the shallow now.

Advertisements

Called to Ministry

MISSION TRIP 2018

Mark 6:6B-13 NRSV

I think we sometimes need to be reminded of the peculiar way that the Kingdom of God was started in this world, to be reminded how Jesus began his ministry on this earth ushering in the reign of God. As the Son of the Most High, the Alpha and the Omega, the eternal Word who became flesh, the one through all things came into being and the Messiah of the world, do it all by himself?

He certainly could have. But instead, he goes out, finds, and calls together a group of some of the most ordinary people in the world to do get the Kingdom started. And not only were they ordinary, they were also

imperfect. They stumble, fumble and bumble behind Jesus proving over and over that they have very little idea of who Jesus was and where Jesus was taking them. Yet, this is how God works in our world. It is the way God has always worked.

In Genesis, we read that God creates the world: the mountains and seas; the valleys and streams; every animal, every living thing in the water, in the air and on the land; the sun, moon, stars and all that lies beyond. Then, God creates human beings, gives them a garden, telling them to look after it and tend to it.

It is as if God says, “You know, I have really enjoyed creating all the beauty and order in this world. Of course, I could take care of it all myself, but I want to see you do it.”

Likewise, Jesus comes into the world making all things new, creating, recreating, reordering; ushering in the Kingdom of God. He touches and heals, welcomes and includes, defends and forgives, turns water into a lot of wine and a small basket of food into a great feast, all as a sign of that Kingdom of God was coming. He redeems and restores the lives of the lost, the poor and the marginalized. He chastises judgmental religion and exorcises demonic forces.

And then it is as if he says, “You know, I’ve enjoyed doing the holy work of God, demonstrating the reality of God’s reign, but now I want you to do it for yourselves. Now, it’s your turn. I am commissioning you to do my work in the world.”

Today’s scripture lesson is this commissioning. I believe it’s important to notice here that Jesus sends them out to do exactly what he himself does: to preach, teach, heal, and to overcome evil.

And Jesus chooses people who to these things who, as far as we can tell in Mark’s Gospel, have no apparent qualifications to do these things. Their only qualification is that they are chosen and commissioned by Christ. And that is enough.

If we are to be the church God is calling us to be, it is imperative for us to recognize the fundamental truth that God does not work alone. Our God is in the business of calling disciples, calling ordinary folks like me and you, and commissioning them to be his ministers in this world.

It’s important for us to realize that all of us are ministers—those to whom Jesus has delegated the work of God. My job as senior minister, at best, is a coordinator, and an encourager and an equipper of you, the ministers.

After finding out that Lori was going into the hospital this past week for a procedure, someone came up to me this week and said, “Jarrett, as our minister, you come and pray for us when we have surgery, but who comes and prays for you when you have surgery?” I said, “I’m lucky, for I have an entire congregation of ministers who pray for me.”

One of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor, has written a wonderful meditation on ordination and preaching, stressing the importance of the preaching of all Christians.  It’s called The Preaching Life.  In it, she writes:

Somewhere along the way we have misplaced the ancient vision of the church as a priestly people—set apart for ministry in baptism, confirmed and strengthened in worship, made manifest in service to the world. That vision is a foreign one to many church members, who have learned from colloquial usage that ministermeans the ‘ordained person,’ in a congregation, while lay personmeans ‘someone who does not engage in full-time ministry.’ Professionally speaking that is fair enough—but speaking ecclesiastically, it is a disaster. Language like that turns clergy into purveyors of religion, and lay persons into consumers, who shop around for the church that offers them the best product.

Taylor writes of the need to revive Martin Luther’s vision of the priesthood of all believers, who are ordained by God at baptism to share Christ’s ministry in this world.

Nowhere in the scriptures do we find God saying: “Go into the world and make nice Christians out of people. Bring them into the church so they can sing some hymns, pray and listen to a sermon that will make them feel like they are good, religious, moral people who are on their way to heaven. Form a type of club. Hire a full-time club president to be there for the comfort, security and entertainment of the club members.

No, what we do find in scriptures is Jesus instructing us to go forth into the world and make disciples. And what do disciples do? Sit on a pew every Sunday? Sing, pray, and dream about heaven? No, they do what Jesus did. They preach, and they teach. They welcome, and they include. They accept, and they forgive. They clothe, and they feed. They heal, and they fight injustice. They love, and then, they love some more.

But you say, “I can’t do those things. I can’t preach. I am no preacher. That’s why we pay you to be the “preacher!”

Barbara Brown Taylor continues writing: “

While preaching and celebrating the sacraments are two particular functions to which I was ordained, they are also metaphors for the whole church’s understanding of life and faith…Preaching is not something that an ordained minister does for 20 minutes on Sundays, but what the whole congregation does all week long; it is a way of approaching the world, and of gleaning God’s presence there.

We are all preachers, and whether or not you realize it or not, some of you have been preaching all week.

Our mission team has been preaching the gospel of Christ every day this week in New Mexico with hammers and nails and screws and saws, helping to add on a room to a church building in addition to leading a Vacation Bible School.

Some of you preach the grace of Christ every week by working with recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Some of you preach the love of Christ mentoring young people as a Boy Scout leader or camp director.

Some of out preach good news of Christ to the poor by making distributing sandwiches to the food insecure through the sack lunch program.

Some of you are physicians who preach the healing of Christ to people who are suffering. Some preach the hope of Christ to people who are homeless. And some preach the comfort of Christ my volunteering at the hospital.

Although you do not get paid by your employer to preach, some of you preach every day at work and at home. Many of you preach a sermon of unrestricted grace to a co-worker, a sermon of unconditional love to a customer, a sermon of undeniable hope to a friend, to a neighbor, even to a stranger.

And many more of you; although you had other places to go, other things to do (some of you no doubt even felt like staying home), you got up this morning to come to this place of worship. You didn’t know it, but your smile this morning made someone else smile. The handshake that you offered was heartfelt. The hug you gave was sorely needed. Your simple words of greeting brought someone encouragement and another peace.

Mark’s gospel teaches us when you do all these things in the name of Jesus, then you are ministering. Yes, I’m happy to say that some of First Christian Church’s best preaching does not come from this pulpit on Sunday mornings. But it comes from the people in the pews who have answered their calling to be preachers every day of the week.

These are serious times, and Jesus is calling. He is calling ordinary people like me and you everyday to do ministry. Where has Jesus called you to ministry?  What is the work you are equipped and called to do? There is perhaps no more important question. For it is simply the way our God works, the way God has always worked in this world.

Let us pray:

O God, you do not work alone in this world. You reach out and call ordinary folk to be your disciples. We thank you for your graciousness in calling us. Give us what we need to be faithful disciples. You have given us good work to do. Keep giving us the gifts we need to keep doing your work. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Invitation to Communion

As we sing our hymn of communion, may we open our minds and  hearts so that we may hear the voice of Jesus—calling us and commissioning us to be his disciples, God’s representatives, God’s ministers in this world. All are invited to receive these elements representing the body of Christ because all are called to be the body of Christ.

On a Self-Denying, Self-Giving Mission

Time Magazine

Matthew 16:21-28 NRSV

As our facebook profile picture suggests, the First Christian Church of Fort Smith is on a mission.

We are on a mission to be a church of extravagant welcome. We want to live up to the identity statement of our denomination and truly welcome all people to the Lord’s Table as God has graciously welcomed us. Because when we graciously and generously welcome others, we welcome God. When we compassionately and lovingly include others, we include God.

And when we say we include God here, we are saying that we believe the spirit of the Risen Christ is actually present, moving, working, stirring, prodding, pulling, pushing, and calling us to be on this mission, and I believe he is calling us in the same way he called the first disciples, with the simple, yet profound words:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Jesus says that the first thing we need to do is to decide if we want to follow him. He said: “If any want to be my followers…”

You have heard me say that I believe the reason there are so many empty pews these days on Sunday mornings, is because of the perception that many have of the church. Instead of seeing a group of people who have made a decision to follow Jesus, they look at the church and see some type of religious club created for members to make them feel holier and more superior than others.

This is perhaps why the first thing Jesus says we must do once we decide we want to follow him is to “deny ourselves.” This thing called “discipleship,” this thing called “church,” is not about us. It’s not about making us feel spiritual, righteous, enriched or blessed. It is not about achieving a good, better, happy or successful life, or even gaining an eternal life. It’s about dying to self.

Church is not about receiving a blessing. It is about being a blessing.

It is not about having our souls fed. It is about feeding the hungry.

It is not about finding a home. It is about providing shelter for the homeless.

It is not about prosperity. It is about giving everything away to the poor.

It is not about getting ahead. It is about sharing with people who can barely get by.

I recently saw a church billboard inviting people to their church by saying: “Help people win.”

The problem with that is that our faith is not about winning. It’s about sacrifice.

I believe the reason some churches fail to look like Jesus today is because, in our attempt to entice new members, excite new members, gain new members, we have made the church about us. We say: “Come, and join our church where we have sermons, music and programs that are certain to enrich your life.” Instead of saying: “Come, join our church, where you will be given opportunities to give your life away.” “Come, join our church, where you will be encouraged to sacrifice and selflessly serve.”

Jesus said, “Let them deny themselves, and take up their crosses.”

I don’t know how it happened, or precisely when it happened, but I can understand why it happened. At some point we have interpreted taking up and carrying our crosses to mean something completely different than what Jesus intended. The crosses we bear have become synonymous with the suffering that we involuntarily have to put up with in life.

We say: “Diabetes: It’s my cross that I have to bear.” “Arthritis: It’s the cross I carry.” “Migraine headaches: It’s my cross.”

However, when Jesus is talking about cross bearing, he is talking about something completely different. He is not talking about some kind of involuntary suffering that we are forced to endure for being human. He is talking about the suffering that we voluntarily choose for the sake of our mission to be a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.

Jesus is talking about living a life so transformed by the love of God that we cannot remain comfortably complacent while others are suffering from disease, grief, disability, poverty, a catastrophic flood, abuse, addiction, discrimination, or even from bad choices they have made.

Forgiving someone who has wronged us and continues to cause indescribable pain in our life, may be a cross Jesus is calling us to carry.

Visiting residents in a nursing home when a nursing home is the last place we want to be, may be a cross Jesus is calling us to bear.

Spending our time mentoring a young adult raised in foster care when we already have little or no time for ourselves, may be a cross Jesus is calling us to pick up.

Agreeing to volunteer to feed the food insecure when our own cabinets are almost bare, may be a cross Christ is calling us to take up.

Choosing a less lucrative career path because we feel called to serve others might be a cross Jesus is asking us to carry.

Loving all of our neighbors as ourselves knowing that loving some of our neighbors will inevitably cost us something is a cross Jesus wants all of us to bear.

Donating to the Week of Compassion Mission fund to help hurricane victims when our own budgets are tight, or making plans to go rebuild a flooded home when our own homes need some work, is a cross I believe Jesus is calling us to carry.

Standing up for the dignity and rights of minorities, of the poor, of those marginalized by the culture and by bad religion, is a cross that I believe Jesus commands all of us to take up.

I believe the reason some churches are failing to look like Jesus is because they only encourage their members to do what makes them happy, what brings them satisfaction, what makes them comfortable. “Do you love kids? Do children make you happy? Then help us with children’s church!” “Do you love going to the hospital to visit sick people? Have you always wanted to be a nurse? Then serve on our hospital ministry team!”

However, as a leader of this church, I am going to lead you to do things may not only be uncomfortable for you, but I am going to lead you to do some things that actually might cause you to suffer.

Because, you called me to be your pastor. You didn’t call me to be your activities director.

That’s because we are a church. We are not a club. We are far from perfect, but we have intentionally made a decision to follow Jesus by denying ourselves and taking up a cross.

This is what makes being a pastor so difficult, especially being a new pastor. Because, like most pastors that I know, I want you to like me.

Seriously, right or wrong, that is perhaps the most stressful part of my life right now. Does my new congregation like me? After all, I like them. And besides that, they pay my salary, and I have two kids in college!

However, because I am called to be your pastor and not your club president, and because this mission we are on together is not about what either one of us like, it is my calling to lead us to do things we may not want to do, to go to places we may not want to go, to love people we don’t want to love, to include people we would rather exclude. And I realize how difficult it is to always like someone who is leading you in that direction. Jesus’ disciples certainly did not like Jesus leading them in that direction.

I suppose it’s a cross that I have been asked to carry. But may God forgive me, may the Spirit convict me, and may the elders of this church have a special meeting and call me out, if I ever succumb to the temptation to be your pastor without carrying a cross.

Finally, Jesus says, “After you make the decision to follow me, after you deny yourselves, and after you pick up your crosses, then I want you to follow me.”

Notice he doesn’t say to walk down a church aisle and publically confess he is our personal Lord and Savior. Notice he doesn’t say: “Have a personal relationship with me.” And notice he doesn’t say to “worship me” or “study me.”

Jesus says to “follow,” which denotes going, moving, action; not sitting in a pew or in a Sunday School classroom. Jesus wants us to go and do the things that he does, share the same radical grace that he shares, go and do what we can to lavish this world with his revolutionary love even if it costs us everything.

It’s important to make this sanctuary, our narthex, our chapel, Disciples Hall, and every Sunday School room, even every restroom, a place of welcome every Sunday morning. Because, when we welcome others here, we welcome God. And if we don’t welcome God here, then I am not sure what we are doing here. We’re certainly not doing church. It’s important to come together in this beautiful place to worship and to study together each week; however, church should never be limited to any place or time.

We are a church that meets in this place, but we are also a church that is on the move. We’re on a mission 24/7, following the risen Christ, loving our neighbors as ourselves, sacrificially denying ourselves, courageously taking risks, generously giving our gifts, leaving behind family and friends if we have to, as we feed the hungry, fight for the marginalized, stand against the haters, care for the elderly, include the disabled, befriend the stranger, provide shelter for the down-and-out, restore shelter for the flooded-out, give hope to the despairing, bring to life the aspirations of the Dreamer. Whether or not people like us for it, we’re going follow wherever Christ leads us, throughout the River Valley, into eastern Oklahoma, across our entire region, down to Lake Charles, then maybe over to Beaumont, Port Arthur, and in and around Houston. Though none go with us, we still will follow. Our cross we’ll carry forward together, not one step back. Until we see Jesus, no turning back, no walking it back, no dialing it back, no turning back, no turning back.

 

 

Invitation to the Table

When we share the bread and the cup from this table, we remember that for our sakes, Christ denied himself and carried a cross, Christ gave himself, poured himself out for us.

We also remember that this is the one we have decided to follow. We remember that we have been called to deny ourselves and to carry a cross. We are called to give ourselves, to pour ourselves out for the sake of others.

As we sing our hymn of communion may we pray for the courage to follow the Christ wherever he leads us. And may we remember that he invites all of us who have gathered here to follow him.

A Bunch of Losers

forest-gump1

Luke 14:25-33 NRSV

I have heard people say that one of the reasons that they do not belong to a church is that the church is nothing more than a “bunch of losers.” They say we are weak, and we weaklings find strength in numbers. They say we cannot handle life on our own, so we use religion, faith, and church as a crutch to help us get along in this broken world.

Now, as bad as it might be for us to hear this, these critics of faith and religion may have a point. Sadly, their critique of Christianity, especially here in North America, may be justified.

To understand where they are coming from, all we have to do is turn on our TVs at almost any time of the day. There we will find countless preachers with great hair, bright smiles and big dimples promoting a health- wealth-and-prosperity gospel offering strength to the weak. Or we only have to walk into any Christian bookstore and see the shelves that are literally full of books promoting this message of self-help and good fortune.

I believe this is the reason Jesus may have become a little irritated with the large crowds that often followed him during his earthly ministry. One day, noticing the growing number of people following behind him, like a scene in Forrest Gump, Jesus suddenly stops, turns to the masses and says something like: “Do you people really know what this is all about?” Like someone asked me when I first moved to Enid, “Do you really know what you are getting yourselves into here?”

“Because I am not so sure the crowd would be this large if you really knew!” says Jesus. “Do you really understand what you are signing up for here? Do you really get this journey called, ‘discipleship’? Because, I have a sinking suspicion that most you do not have a clue.”

I suspect that the large crowds were following Jesus that day for much of the same reasons some people attend church today. They were looking to get something out of it. Some sort of blessing, reward, some kind of direction, perhaps a better handle on things, a little attention, keys to a better, more successful and prosperous life. They were looking to strengthen their families, be a more productive businessperson, get a leg up, receive a helping hand, get a little boost, a shot in the arm, a pat on the back and maybe just a little dose of something to help feel a little bit better, at little more righteous, a little more holy than all of those people who were not following Jesus.

As the church critics and cynics say, “They were merely looking for a crutch to help them to cope with everyday living. They were a bunch of losers looking for something, anything, to help them become winners. Because after all, isn’t that what God is all about: winning?

And noticing what was going on, Jesus stops in his tracks, turns and says to them, “You people really do not get this, do you? This journey called discipleship is not about making your family stronger. In fact, this could tear your family apart. This is not about making you feel superior or more holy than the ones who are not following. This journey will humble you! It will bring you down to your knees! This is not about self-help. It is about denying self. And this is certainly not about obtaining any keys to a more successful and productive life. It is not even about helping you cope or get a better grip on your life as it is. This is about losing your life. This is not about winning. This journey called discipleship is about losing.

So if you really want to follow me on this journey, you better think long and hard about it. Because this journey is not about receiving any reward or gain. In fact, the opposite is true. This journey is going to cost you. And it is going to cost you every possession you have. And guess what, there is even a cross involved. And you, my friend, are going to carry it.  So you better do some calculations, you better do a good ol’ gut check, you better look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you really have what it takes to follow me on this journey. For this journey is not for the weak, the timid or the reluctant. It is for the courageous and the heroic. Some say that it is for the crazy and the foolish.

So, if you are a loser looking for something to make you a winner, this may not be for you. But if you are an ordinary person who really wants to find true life, life the way God intends for it to be, I am looking for a few good people who are willing to take some risk and lose it all!

This church has two wonderful practices that define who we are as the Disciples of Christ. The first one is what we call Believers Baptism. One of the reasons that we do not baptize infants is because we recognize that there is some cost involved to becoming one of Jesus’ disciples. Although the gift of salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, and there is nothing we can do to earn it or deserve it, walking with Jesus as disciples is a risky and costly venture. So, we wait until a child is of an age where they can weigh and calculate that cost. We call it the “age of accountability.”  They have to be able to do some accounting. And that age is different for different children.

The second practice that defines who we are as Disciples of Christ is Communion. Every Sunday we remind ourselves of the cost that is involved on this journey we call discipleship. We break bread remembering that God through Jesus loved this world and all of us in it so much that he was willing was willing to suffer greatly for us. We share a cup representing the blood of Christ remembering that God’s love for us compelled God to pour God’s self out, empty God’s self through the life and death of Jesus Christ.

And we are reminded that we as disciples are called to take this same journey, carry our own crosses. We come to church not in search of some crutch to help our broken selves, but to be reminded that we are called to be willing to break ourselves for others, suffer with and for others. We come to church not looking for something to help us improve life, but for the courage and the opportunity to pour our lives out to help others.

I firmly believe that fully embracing this identity is the only way we are going to change the way the local church and the Christian faith is often perceived by those people who have all but given up on organized religion. Instead of being a bunch of losers looking for the church to help us become winners, we need to be a bunch of ordinary people who are willing to be a bunch of losers, willing to lose our very selves.

Then, we will not only have life the way God intends for it to be, we will be the witness to the world of the love that God calls us to be. And if we pay attention, there are examples of this witness all around us.

I have a friend in Raleigh who left a good paying job to become the pastor of a group of homeless men and women. He looks to the generosity from friends scattered all over the country to pay for a roof over his head and to put meals on his table. Loving God more than self, he gave up much, risked much and lost much to love a group of people who can offer him little in return.

There are people right here in this room who have given up much to not only do missions in other parts of the world like Peru and the Dominican Republic, but also right here at home. You give of yourselves constantly to minister to the poor and needy here through Loaves and Fishes or Our Daily Bread. Others here could have chosen more lucrative careers, but instead you answered a call to serve others as social workers, school teachers, nurses and other service oriented professions. Others have sacrificed much to provide for children, other family members, and even friends or employees who have exceptional needs.

Just this week, some of you gave up, lost an entire Wednesday evening, as you did yard work for people who needed it through Hearts for Care.

So to all of the church skeptics and critics, I want to say this: I understand that no one wants to be associated with a bunch of whiney losers who are always looking to get something, to find something to make their lives better or to get something just to help them cope. And I know that is why some people in the church are very attracted to the health and wealth evangelists and the always-smiling prosperity preachers.

However, I belong to the Central Christian Church of Enid, Oklahoma, a church that is full of a bunch of losers of another sort: a bunch of courageous and faithful losers who have made a commitment to always strive to love God and others more than self; a bunch of self-denying, selfless losers who are willing to risk it all to put the needs of others over their own needs and wants.

And no, we are not perfect. We all have our selfish moments. But we have decided to try our best with the help of God and each other to follow Jesus on a risky journey called discipleship— a journey of self-denial, self-giving and sacrifice, believing that it is the only journey that leads to real life, life that is truly abundant and eternal.

We believe “losing” is what “winning” really looks like. And yes, as crazy and as foolish as it may seem, we do know what we have gotten ourselves into!

Burning Down the House

Jackson Weibling Baptism

Luke 12:49-53 NRSV

I’ll never forget what the youth minister said to me right after I bought a brand new car back in 2003. It was a time when I was not a very happy person.

My father-in-law had just died. As a senior minister, I was coming to the harsh realization that it was absolutely impossible to please everyone. The youth minister knew this.

It was during this time I traded in my pick up truck that was just a few years old. The youth minister said, “Jarrett, when most people get a little blue, they might go to the mall a buy a new outfit or get a new pair of shoes, maybe a new piece of furniture, but you go out and buy a brand new car!”

At the time I remembering justifying the purchase by saying that my truck got poor gas mileage, and it just wasn’t very practical driving back and forth to the hospital. I needed something smaller, more economic.

But the reality is that the youth minister had a pretty good point. I, like so many American consumers, thought that I could maybe buy me a little bit of happiness. I could perhaps purchase me a little bit of fulfillment.

We buy new furniture. We hang new clothes in our closet. We park a new car in the garage. And we might even buy a whole new house. But guess what? We are still unhappy. Things at home are still not right. Our spouse is still distant. The relationship with our children is still not what it should be. And our souls are still filled with discontent. On the outside our home looks beautiful and whole, but on the inside our home is broken and is in danger of falling completely a part.

So what do we do? We do what I suppose most good God-fearing Americans do. We go to church. We say: “Maybe that is what is missing in my life. Perhaps the church is the solution to building a happy home, the key to good relationships, the key to my happiness and my fulfillment.”

So we come to this place. We attend Sunday School. We come to worship. We sing and we pray and we listen, and we take communion, and we sing and we pray.

After the first week, nothing really changes in our lives. But we realize that what’s broke didn’t break overnight, so it probably wasn’t going to be fixed over night. So we do it again the next Sunday, and the next and the next. We even start having family devotions, holding hands and saying grace at our meals and praying at bed time. But, still, nothing at home changes.

We’re still struggling. We’re still lost, and the confusion is painful. We are still unhappy. Things are still not right.

Why? Why hasn’t religion worked? Why haven’t things gotten better? We got Jesus. He’s supposed to help our families. He’s supposed to be the glue that keeps us together, right? After all, you know what they say?  The family that prays together stays together, right?  Well, according to our scripture lesson this morning, not necessarily. In fact, according to Luke, Jesus may be more of a home-wrecker, than he is a home-maker.

Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No I tell you, but rather division!”  Luke even softens this a bit for us, for in Matthew Jesus sounds downright violent: “I come not to bring peace, but a sword!”

“I will divide father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

St. Francis of Assisi became a knight in the wars with Perugia and had a promising future ahead of him. His father was proud of his son, but the problem was that Francis kept going to church and praying and asking God what he wanted him to do. Over time, he became convinced that God did not want him to be a French troubadour or a dashing knight, but rather to be a follower of Christ, a genuine disciple. God wanted Francis to serve the poorest of the poor.

Francis heard the scripture say, “Sell all that you have and give it to the poor” and with a startling naïveté he said, “Okay.” And he sold all that he had and gave it to the poor.

But his father took exception, for what the boy gave away really wasn’t his but was given to him by his father, who had no urge to take the Bible literally.  He threw Francis in jail, then took him to court.

It was then Francis said, “No longer is Pietro Bernardone my father, for, from now on, my father is in heaven.”

Sometimes, Jesus sets father against son and son against father.

But that is not the same Jesus that we go to church to get. Is it?

We go to get a different kind of Jesus, a Jesus of our own making.

For many of us, our faith is just one more materialistic thing we own. Many Americans have trivialized Christianity to the point that Jesus has become just another commodity that is supposed to make our lives easier, better, more productive. That’s why we go to church. We go to get this product called “Jesus” to make us feel better. He’s like a new pair of shoes, a new outfit, a new piece of furniture, or a brand new car. He is something that fulfills our desires, our wants, our needs. He is something that helps us to do the things we want to do in life.

But as nine-year old Jackson Weibling told me about his baptism that we are celebrating this day: “Having Jesus in my life means that I can no longer do the things that I want to do, but only the things that God wants me to do.”

Rev. Marianne Williamson once said, “When you ask God into your life, you think God is going to come into your psychic house, look around and see that you just need a new floor or better furniture, and that everything just needs a little cleaning—and so you go along for the first six months thinking how nice life is now that God is there. Then one day you see that there a wrecking ball outside. It turns out that God actually thinks your whole foundation is shot and you’re going to have to start all over from scratch.”

Our problem is that we have so trivialized Jesus, we think of Jesus as someone who comes knocking on our door with a bouquet of fresh flowers to brighten the whole house up when in reality, Jesus comes knocking with a flamethrower to ready to burn the whole house down.

We thought that all we needed was a little bit of family prayer time.  So we prayed for two minutes a day. And it didn’t work. We were still cold.  Why?  Because we can’t pray for two minutes a day, patch that prayer onto an otherwise unchanged life and expect it to be different.

Jesus does not come into our lives so our behavior will just be a little different, but so that everything will be transformed. Jesus is not some sweet commodity we can pick up at church to bring home and meet our needs and fulfill our desires. Jesus comes to change our needs and transform our desires!

And we don’t get Jesus. Jesus is not something that can be got. It is Jesus who gets us.

If Jesus is something or even someone that we get, then the church really does become just another product whose members are merely consumers. Thus, like going to a store, the spa, or the local cineplex, church becomes some place we go to get something. Some go to get fed. Others go to get nurtured and pampered. Some go to get entertained.

However, if it is Jesus who gets us, if Jesus is about us giving ourselves to the God revealed in Christ, then church means a radical, self-denying, sacrificial way of living.

If Jesus is about giving one’s life away, then the church becomes something much more than a self-help center offering self-improvement workshops.

Sunday school and Wednesday Night Fellowships become less of a time to get fed, physically and spiritually, and more of a time to pray for others, celebrate the joys of life with others, and even suffer with others. It becomes a time to build a community of selfless love and forgiveness with others. Bible study becomes less of a time to acquire more biblical knowledge than others and more of a time to consider how the scriptures inform our service to others.

Sunday morning becomes less about what God has to offer us and more about what we have to offer God. When we eat the bread, we do not consume it. When we drink from the cup, we do not merely swallow it. We allow it to consume and swallow us, every part of us. And we commit ourselves to presenting our own bodies as living sacrifices, pouring our very selves out for others in the name of the God who emptied God’s self out for us.

And every day of the week, we become much more than Christians who possess exclusive tickets to heaven in hand. We become the Light, even the fire of the world.

So for all of us who have been settling for an innocuous faith:  look out the window. The torch is lit. The wrecking ball is swinging. So let’s get out of the house!  Let it do its work. Let it bring destruction of all that holds us back form God. Let it all burn down to the ground. Then let our lives be rebuilt on the only foundation that can give us life.

We Must!

cane ridge

Luke 13:31-35 NRSV

I love to read how the forbearers of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) stirred up thousands upon thousands of people in the late 18th and early 19th century. Some estimate that when Barton Stone held his revival at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801, nearly 30,000 people showed up. That’s 10% of the entire population of Kentucky.[i] Can you even imagine that?

Today, I believe a good question we should ask ourselves is: What in the world were these folks preaching? How did they start a movement that would later become one of the largest denominations in North America?

I believe they simply had the audacity to fully commit themselves to following Jesus at all costs.

Following Jesus was not something that they did casually, haphazardly, timidly, or reservedly. They followed passionately and fervently, eagerly and urgently. And following Jesus was not something that they did privately. They followed Jesus very publically. And they did not care who they offended, or if those with political or ecclesial authority opposed them for it.

They unashamedly imitated Jesus who said, “Oh, King Herod, wants to kill me? Well, you tell that fox that I must keep doing the business of the one who sent me. I must keep liberating people from demonic evil, systemic, cultural and personal. You tell Herod I must keep bringing people healing and wholeness today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. And you tell them that I must take this mission all the way to Jerusalem. That’s right, you tell that fox for me that I must do these things. Not that that I might do these things, not maybe, not that I am going to try, but that I must be on this way.”

I believe Barton Stone simply put the word “must” back into a Christianity that had grown apathetic, moderate and mainstream.

He preached that Christians must put God’s word over culture, the way of Jesus over the way of the world. We must denounce all man-made creeds and confessions, and we must commit ourselves to following Jesus at all costs.

“Oh, the presbytery thinks we’re going against the doctrinal grains of the church do they? Oh, the government thinks we are bucking the political system? Well, you tell those foxes that we must keep following Jesus today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. We must keep fighting for the inclusion of all at the communion table. We must keep preaching against the demonic evils of slavery. We must keep standing against the power of the clergy over the laity, the power of Bishops over the clergy and anything else that does not jive with Jesus! You tell those foxes that we must be on this way.”

I do not believe we can overemphasize how committed our forbearers were to the gospel even when the gospel was directly opposed culture. At Cane Ridge, during a time when Presbyterians believed only like-minded Presbyterians could receive communion, Presbyterian Barton Stone invited an African-American slave, a Baptist, to not only receive communion, but to actually serve communion. And if you could ask him why he included this man, I believe he would simply say, “I must include him.”

And later, when Stone inherited two slaves, he immediately emancipated them. Trouble was that they were living in Kentucky long before the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. So what does Stone do? He tells his family and his two former slaves, “Pack your bags, because we must move to Illinois because our new friends must be free!”

And thousands of people from all over the then expanding United States responded to Stone by saying, “We must join this movement!” And by 1960, the movement they started exploded into a denomination with 1.6 million members.

Now here’s the troubling news. In 2012, we only had 625,000 members. Since 1960 our denomination has had a 60% decline in membership.[ii]

There are many complex reasons for this decline. However, this morning, I want to suggest that one of the reasons is that somewhere along the way we have taken the word “must” out of our church vocabulary.

We have lost our passion to follow Jesus at all costs. We have lost our drive to place the law of God over the law of the land to the point that it creates some opposition. We have lost a sense of urgency to be a powerful movement for wholeness that upsets the powers that be in our broken world. Our faith has become more of something that privately changes our souls instead of something that publically changes the world. Our faith tends to embrace the culture instead of challenging the culture. Watered down by peer pressure, our faith has become mainstream, mainline and moderate.

In fact, when you look up the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on Wikipedia, you will discover that we are described as a “mainline denomination in North America.”

Barton Stone would roll over in his grave! For he followed a Jesus who was far more upstream than mainstream, more radical than moderate, always swimming against popular currents of culture. He followed a Jesus who must be on the way to truth and life, even if it upset folks along that way.

Do you remember the story of twelve-year old Jesus when he did the unthinkable by leaving his parents behind? When his upset parents finally found him in the temple, Jesus asked, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house” (Luke 2:49)?

After healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, the crowds used all of the peer pressure they could muster to prevent Jesus from leaving them, but he replied, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God in other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

Warning the disciples who resisted suffering and persecution, Jesus said: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).

When he encountered a man who needed to stop stealing from the poor, Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).

Right before his arrest on the Mount of Olives Jesus describes his death by saying: “For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me” (Luke 22:37).

Jesus selflessly and sacrificially travels to Jerusalem, to the city that is known to kill the prophets, not casually, haphazardly, timidly or reservedly. But with passion. With eagerness. With urgency in his steps, conviction in his heart, and the word “must” on his lips.

Now tell me when is the last time you have ever said aloud or silently:

“I must share the love and grace of Christ with someone today.”

“I must find a way to love this one who no one else loves today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.”

I must find a way to forgive this person who has hurt me today, the next day, and the day after.”

“I must feed someone who is hungry.”

“I must share hope with the hopeless.”

“I must do my very best in preparing to teach this Sunday School lesson for these children this morning.”

“I must make sure my children are in Sunday School this morning.”

“I must attend Sunday School this morning.”

“I must visit the nursing home this afternoon.”

Truthfully, as a pastor, I do not hear many folks use the word “must” in the church these days. I hear the word “might.” “I might, if nothing else comes up.” “I might if everything else goes alright this week.” “I’ll check my calendar, and then I might think about it.”

And I hear the word “try.” “I’ll try to help out if I don’t have somewhere else to be.”

And I hear many “maybes.” “Maybe I’ll be able to work a little on that project. Maybe I will be able to give a time this week.

And sometimes I hear all three: I might try harder to be more faithful, maybe.”

But think about what kind of church this would be if we all had the same type of urgency and passion as our Lord. “Can you help with our children on Wednesday nights?” “I must help with our children.”

“Can you serve on this mission project? “I must serve on it!

Will you follow Jesus at all costs?” “We must!”

The good news is that I believe this urgency and this passion can be as contagious in the twenty-first century as it was in the nineteenth century.

I believe Central Christian Church can bring revival to our city as we encourage many others to join us saying…

I must join this movement for wholeness in this fragmented world.

I must join this mission to share the gifts God has given me.

I must serve on a ministry team to make a difference in this world.

I must take a stand for the Word of God, even if it gets me into some trouble.

I must do what I can to change this city, our region and our world even if it goes against the powers that be.

I must follow Jesus even when it is not popular or socially acceptable.

I must love my neighbor as myself.

I must do unto others as I would have them do unto me, even if my friends forsake me, and my enemies wish to do me harm.

I must deny myself, pick up my cross, and carry it wherever my Lord leads, even if it means losing my life. Let us pray together.

O God put conviction in our hearts, urgency in our steps and the word “must” on our lips as we serve selflessly and sacrificially all the way to Jerusalem, in the name of Jesus the Christ, Amen.

[i] Duane Cummins, The Disciples: A Struggle for Reformation (St. Louis: Chalice Press), 2009.

[ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Church_(Disciples_of_Christ)

A Word from the Lord

cialis

Luke 4:14-29 NRSV

Tom Long tells the story of an incident that occurred in a church one Sunday morning in Charlotte, North Carolina. The minister had just finished reading the scripture lesson and was taking a deep breath before launching into the sermon when suddenly, a man, a complete stranger, stood up in the balcony and startled everyone by proclaiming in a clear, loud voice: “I have a word from the Lord!”

Shoulders tensed and heads swiveled around and upward to see the source of the interruption.

What “word from the Lord” did this man possibly have to bring to the people on that day?

Well, no one will ever know, for the ushers, says Long, “bounded like gazelles” up to that balcony, and before the man could utter another word, they had escorted him down the stairs and out the front door.

Now, with Long, I don’t blame them. I understand. The apostle Paul said we ought to do things with some semblance of order, and his was way out of order. Who knew what this guy had in mind. But it does cause me to wonder a little bit.

Isn’t it strange? Sunday after Sunday countless preachers in innumerable pulpits spread out their sermon notes, clear their throats, and begin their sermon, saying, or at least implying, that they have a word from the Lord. And nobody tenses. No heads swivel in alarm. No ushers leap into action. Instead, people sit back in their pews, crease their bulletins, silently check their watches, and settle back for the sermon. For that is what you’re expecting isn’t it?  A sermon. Right? Not a word from the Lord.[i]

This is exactly how it was on that Sabbath day in Nazareth. Joseph’s son Jesus was home for the weekend and had been asked to read the scripture lesson from the prophets and to preach the sermon. The congregation knew Jesus well. They knew his parents and remembered him as a little boy. They were no doubt proud of the reports that had filtered down from Capernaum and other towns about his preaching and teaching. So, they settled back in their pews to hear what this articulate young man had say. What were they expecting? A sermon. Right? Not a word from the Lord.

Part of the reason I believe we expect a sermon instead of “a word from the Lord” is that as much as we do not like admitting it, we really would prefer not to hear such a word. We prefer a simple sermon. We prefer some nice religious words, some nice sweet thoughts to help get us through the week. What we expect is a little “chicken soup for the soul.”  Some good advice to help make our lives run a little more smoothly, some encouraging words to help get us through the week.

A word from the Lord is completely different. A word from the Lord is disruptive. A word from the Lord is uncomfortable.

A sermon can be can be easily forgotten and even completely ignored. But, a word form the Lord must be heeded. A word from the Lord is sharper than any two-edged sword. For a word from the Lord is news, real news. It is news that turns our whole world upside down. A word from the Lord changes everything and forces us to adjust our lives to that change.

It has been said that most people who pick up the newspaper every morning or watch the evening news are not so much interested in the news as they are in confirming that the world is pretty much the same as it has always been. “Democrats are still not cooperating with Republicans and vice versa.” “It’s going to be windy today, again.” “There was another small earthquake in Fairview.” “The Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions are still not going to the Super Bowl.” “Yep, that’s the way the world is, it’s the way it always has been, and it is the way it always will be.”

I am afraid that is why many of us come to church. We do not go to church to hear any news. Instead, we go to church to have the things that we have always believed about God confirmed. We listen to the sermon to have the way we have been practicing our faith all of these years affirmed. We’d really prefer not to hear anything new. We’d rather not hear anything that challenges our beliefs, calls the way we practice our faith into question or creates any urgency to change. We are really not interested in hearing any real news.

For real news is unexpected. Real news is surprising. Real news is disturbing. Real news means the world is not the same as it was yesterday; therefore, I cannot live my life in the same way. A word from the Lord is real news.

It is news that demands change. It is news that demands a complete reordering of priorities. It is news that causes us to see the whole creation in a brand new way. It is news that moves us and mobilizes us to take some kind of action. It is news that often requires sacrifice. It is news that necessitates us doing things that we do not want to do and going to places that we do not want to go.

So, thanks but no thanks. Preacher, I think I’ll be just fine with a simple sermon instead. Either say some words to reaffirm what I already believe or maybe give me a little antidote that might help me live a happier, healthier life. Give me some good ideas that might fix some of the things that are ailing me.

I am afraid we often want a sermon to be like some new prescription drug that has just been FDA approved. Much like the ones whose benefits are being touted these days on nearly every other television commercial.

Do you have frequent heartburn? Are you tired of being tired? Is depression making you depressed?  Do you have trouble going to sleep? Do you have difficulty waking up? Do you want to avoid diet and exercise? Do you want to lose weight and still enjoy the foods you love? Is it painful for you to walk your dog? Is your hair falling out? Do you have a going or a growing problem? Do you need to put some excitement back into your relationships?

And then, in nearly every commercial, after the person begins taking what they asked their doctor to prescribe, there is all of this exuberant celebration: dancing in the streets; jumping up and down; digging for clams; running around in the yard with your dog and your water hose; even sitting outdoors and watching the sunset while holding hands with your significant other in separate bathtubs!

As a pastor, I oftentimes wonder if this is not how we oftentimes promote church. If you channel surf through the religious channels, you will find that there is no shortage of preachers who sound like they are spokespersons for some new drug. “Are feeling depressed?  Are you drowning in a sea of debt? Are you empty inside? Does your marriage need a boost? Then pick up the phone and make your pledge, send in your check, and sit back and wait for God to pour out God’s blessings!”

I am not exactly sure, but I suspect that is what many people were probably expecting when they showed up to hear Jesus’ first sermon back in hometown Nazareth. They came expecting a sermon, a little pat on the back, a little stroke of the ego, a little feel-good-pick-me-up to get them through the week, not a word from the Lord.

So, when Jesus stood up and began to speak, no shoulders got tense. No ushers tried to muscle him out into the street. People smiled and whispered to one another how proud they were of this their product, and how Mary and Joseph must be tickled pink to have such a fine son.

They came expecting a little sermon. But instead of a sermon, they got a word from the Lord. Jesus began to say things like, “For the gate is narrow and the road is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

The crowd gets really quiet!  Someone whispers, “I know he didn’t say ‘difficult,’ did he? I thought God was all about making things easy! I thought sermons were about making us happier.”

Jesus continues:

“Love your neighbor, including your enemies. Be a blessing to the poor and to all who hunger and thirst for justice. Stand up for the liberty of those oppressed and bullied by culture. By the way, people will persecute you for that, utter all kinds of evil against you for that, but pray for those who persecute you. Forgive those who have wronged you. Don’t judge. Accept others as I have accepted you. Deny yourself. Pick up your cross and follow me. Die to yourself. Don’t just hear these words, but do these words.”

And then, his words began to sink in. “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Today. Not yesterday, not in times gone by, not someday, but today.  Fulfilled.  Not read nicely, heard sweetly, or barely remembered, but fulfilled. In your hearing. Not in somebody else’s. Not just in Abraham’s, Moses’, Elijah’s, and Deborah’s, but in you.

And the Word of the Lord was also not just for them. Jesus said it was for all people. It was also for outsiders, foreigners, those marginalized by society, widows and lepers and others who were not a part of their synagogue, their faith, or even their culture.

And it then became obvious that this was not just another simple sermon. This was a word from the Lord. This was news. Real news. God had come. God is present. Here. Now. Today. God is here, and God’s love is for all people, even for the lepers of Syria in and the widows in Sidon.

The world was now changed, for the Word of God had come, and the Word had come for all people. The Word of God had been made flesh and was now present in all its demanding fullness. And you could fight it, you could try to hurl its presence off a cliff, or you could accept it, you could follow it, but there was no way on earth you could ignore it.

Each Sunday morning, our worship is about the gospel truth, the amazing good news, that God is alive and present to us this day, as alive and present here as Jesus was to those worshippers in Nazareth. Thus some shoulders here this morning should be a more than a little tense, for there is work for us to do!

God is here! God’s kingdom is now! God speaks words of love and of grace, of mission and of purpose, of vocation and of duty, that are fulfilled in our hearing. Words that, if we listen and respond, will send us out from the pews into the public square to transform our world.

[i] https://www.cathedral.org/worship/sermonTexts/tl080601.shtml