Monday, January 26, 2015

Looking Ahead to February 1, 2015 -- Do Not Worry

The Scripture Reading this week is Matthew 6:19-34

The Sermon title is Stop Worrying!

Early Thoughts:  It is about priorities.  That is what will determine how much we worry, or what we worry about.

And what we end up worrying about also shapes how we live.

If we worry about building up storehouses how does that drive our choices?
If we choose to worry less about having "enough" how might that change our choices?

At the same time, it seems wholly unrealistic to not worry at all about things like "what will we eat" or "where will we live" or what will we wear".  There is trust and faith and hope.  Then there is being hopelessly naive.

Isn't there?

But let us be honest.  Our priorities could sometimes use some realignment.  We probably do worry too much about some things and not enough about others.  And while we are being honest, let us admit that worry and anxiety, particularly over things we can not control, tend to rob our lives of zest.

So maybe we can agree that we should stop worrying so much.  We could trust more.  And we could ask ourselves what is most important in life.

Can't we?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Looking Forward to January 25, 2015 -- Beatitudes and Woes

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Matthew 5:1-12
  • Luke 6:20-26
The Sermon title is Blessed or Cursed??

Early Thoughts:  Blessed or cursed.  Which are we?

I am sitting here on Martin Luther King Day and have just finished scrolling through Twitter posts under the hashtag #MLKalsoSaid.  You can read them here.

And then I go back to the Gospel passages.  And are we the hungry  or the poor or those who weep or the persecuted?  Or are we in the other categories....

Whenever I read Matthew's version of the Beatitudes I, to a degree, hear Luke in my head.  Partly because I prefer Luke's version (well actually I prefer Luke's Gospel as a whole as it is my "favourite" of the four) as I find it strikes closer to the bone.  I suspect it says more of what we need to hear as we strive to be followers of the Way.  Does Luke make clear what Matthew only hints at?  If some are blessed than others are not so blessed.

Dr. King reminded (and continues to remind) us that to live into the Kingdom of God means acknowledging that the world is not currently a just place.  And in order for it to become a just place we need more than minor changes.  Luke's blessings and woes reminds us that there are winners and losers in those changes.

So which are we?  Which should we be?

Or maybe the real question is WHEN are we blessed and WHEN should we understand that we are on the wrong side of the equation?  Because then we can consciously choose to work towards the Kingdom.

Dr. King said that the moral arc of the universe is long but is bends inexorably towards justice.  HOw will we ride that arc?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Looking Forward to January 18, 2015 -- Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

The Scripture Reading this week is Matthew 4:1-25

The Sermon title is Who Will He Be? Who Will I Be?

Early Thoughts:  So far in Matthew's Gospel we have learned a variety of things about Jesus.  He has been called Jeshua (Jesus)--the one who saves, and also Emmanuel--God-With-Us.  We are told that the heavens announced his birth as the King of the Jews.  We have learned that John recognized him as the one who would come, the one who is mightier than John, and that at his Baptism the Holy Spirit alighted on him as he was named God's Beloved.  Now what?

Now how will he live out the build up?

One of the things I have always seen in the story of Jesus in the desert is someone figuring out who/how he will be in the world.  And that can not have happened without the presence of the tester.

Because of years of traditions we tend to see the "devil" as someone who is trying to lead Jesus astray, as the demonic face of evil trying to stop the good from triumphing.  I suspect such an image would be foreign to Matthew as he wrote this story down.  It appears that this is more a story of being tested than being tempted.  Not being led astray but refining from a variety of options who he will be, how will he live out the calling of Messiah.

Who will Jesus be?  Will he feed the hungry?  Will he overturn the laws of nature? Will he come in power to rule?

OR will he be something totally different?

And once Jesus gets a clearer picture of who he is he goes straight to work.  Building a following, spreading Good News, changing the world.

Who are we in response to meeting him?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Looking Forward to January 11, 2015 -- Jesus and John the Baptist

The Scripture Reading this week is Matthew 3:1-17

The Sermon title is A Most Powerful Act

Early Thoughts:  What is baptism?

Is it a washing away of sins?
Is it a Christening, a naming ceremony?
Is it a commitment to live a changed life, a transformative experience?
Is it a membership rite?

OR is it all of the above?

I think the last answer is the most accurate.  Overall.  My fear is that oftentimes in the church we talk about baptism as primarily a naming ceremony and membership rite.  Do we lose the transformative nature of it?

If we remember and embrace that possibility of transformation baptism becomes one of the most powerful acts we have in our faith tradition.

I remember reading long ago that Constantine, though famed for "Christianizing" the Roman Empire, refused to be baptized until just before his death.  There was a time in the church when a baptized person was forbidden from serving in the Legions or as a government official.  Baptism and Imperial rule were seen as mutually exclusive.  To be part of the Imperial system (and especially the Emperor) required one to do things that were antithetical to being a part of the Kingdom of God.  In Saving Paradise the authors point out that there were a number of occupations that were not considered acceptable for those who had been baptized (see page 121).  Baptism was intended to be something that transformed one's life.

Admittedly that is a lot to ask of baptism in a culture where many people are baptized as infants or young children.  It makes a lot more sense to talk about committing to a transformed life when we are talking about adults or teens either getting baptized or re-affirming their baptismal faith than asking that of a person still incapable of speech.

So what is baptism?

In baptism, and in the ongoing discussion and learning and growth that makes for life in the church, we open the door for transformation to happen.  As people of faith we are encouraged to re-affirm, to re-state, to re-new our baptismal faith on a regular basis.  This reminds us of the power of the act, it reminds us to be constantly opening ourselves to God's work in our hearts and lives, transforming us and the world.

That pouring of water is a mighty act of faith indeed!