Monday, January 27, 2014

Everyday Places

When you heard the gospel read this morning about Jesus deciding to leave Galilee, to leave Nazareth and move to Capernaum beside the lake what was the mental picture you created in your mind?
Jesus moved into a condo by the lake. He went walking in the morning beside the sea where the fishermen were bringing in their catches from the night’s fishing expedition. Some were sitting in their boats or beside them straightening and/or mending their nets. What a peaceful setting.
But then Jesus begins preaching and teaching. His message is similar to John’s in that he’s exhorting the people to repent. And he’s calling some to follow him.
First Andrew and Peter drop everything and follow him along the beach and then James and John leave their father to take care of business and they too follow Jesus.
And then, all of a sudden, Jesus is teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news and healing people of every disease and sickness.
Why did Matthew record these events like this? Why did he begin with this peaceful, serene picture of strolling along the seashore? Why did he then jump to Jesus teaching and healing in the towns of Galilee?
I believe it may have been to show his readers that Jesus went to where the people were. He went to where there was the greatest need. He went to those who were anxiously waiting for the Messiah and he began by tending to their needs.
Think about this for a minute. Where does God find you? Doesn’t God find you wherever you are whether you’re working cattle or waiting on customers at McDonald’s or talking with a neighbor about Joe down the street who’s fighting to breathe and may not be with us many more days? Isn’t that where God finds us, right in the middle of our daily ordinary lives?
Don’t we encounter God in the midst of our work and leisure and doesn’t God speak to us then about the need to change our routines, to reflect, to repent. Doesn’t God still call us, just as Jesus did, to come and follow him? Doesn’t Jesus meet us when we’re struggling and somehow put his hand on us and heal us and then give us the opportunity to join him in his work to move on from the challenges and struggles of our lives?
My friends, John began by exhorting the people to repent and be baptized in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus went to the Jordan to be baptized and begin his great ministry in Galilee.
Jesus’ ministry was different than Johns. They both were calling the people to repent and both were baptizing, John with water and Jesus with the Holy Spirit.
John and Jesus were preparing the people for the new thing God was doing. I believe that the Message is the same for us today. God is preparing us for the new thing he’s doing.
How do we discover what that is? How do we know that what we’re doing or about to do is the right thing?
I believe it happens when we read God’s word, reflect on those words, and pray…and listen. Listen for God’s whisper, pay attention to those folks we encounter in our everyday lives, and notice when we’re encouraged to do something we think we have no talent or skill to do. Be willing to leave everything and follow the One who’s calling us to follow.
Good friends, Jesus is still calling people to follow him. The work is not yet done. There are still folks who need to hear the good news of God’s kingdom here on earth. There are still many who need healing…in body, mind, and spirit.
Is God calling you today to follow Him? Remember Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid. It is me…I will be with you, always.”
  Friends, the fields have been prepared and God is calling you and me to carry on the work that was started by our ancestors, those saints who’ve gone on before us. The seeds have been planted and now we are called to tend to the plants and maybe help with the harvest. Are you ready?
Let those with ears to hear, listen. Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

If Jesus Showed Up Today

          If Jesus showed up at your school today and asked you to follow him what would you do? If Jesus walked by your house and said, “Come, follow me,” would you?
Just what would it mean to follow Jesus today? What would it mean today to drop what you’re doing now and follow Jesus? Who would Jesus call today, you…me…your neighbor?
What would it mean, what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus the Christ? What do we have to repent of? What do we need to change? Are we ready to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Do we believe that the world cares about the nearness of the kingdom of God? Are we willing to risk following Jesus when he calls us?
Listen to this poem by Rev. Roddy Hamilton:
Will you follow me he asked—and we never hesitated because it was an adventure, and we never tired of those, the risk, the randomness, the gamble.
Will you follow me he asked—and we dropped everything that we held, and which held us dear at the prospect of fresh bait and rich pickings at his side.
Will you follow me he asked—and we defied convention and conviction, traded waves for dusty roads to weather new storms.
Much later, will you still follow me, he asked—and we hesitated because it had become hard. He spoke in riddles, tangled our thoughts like well-worn nets and slipped through our hands like wriggling fish.
And then he talked of death and of betrayal, and we realized that it was no longer an adventure but a one-way path to danger we were on. And we watched friends turn away, unwilling to forfeit any more for one who spoke of sacrifice as the only way, and cursed our disbelief as the work of the devil.
And yet we could not turn back. Whether out of fear or out of habit or out of curiosity we stayed with him, harboring our doubts, hedging our bets, trying hard to trust in the one for whom we had so readily, so carelessly abandoned our security, for there was nowhere else to go but onwards. There was nothing else to do but finish this journey. There was no-one else but he who chose us. Will you still follow me, he asked. And we did.

Friends, Jesus is still calling disciples to follow him today. Will you answer his call to drop everything and follow him?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cast a Stone into the Water; Make a Ripple

When you were a kid did you ever toss a stone or rock into a pond? What is created from that action, ripples? How far do they travel? If we take the time to notice we’ll see that the little waves generated by the rock hitting the water travel all the way to the shore. The waves keep going until they run into something solid. The energy created by the rock keeps going until it is transferred somewhere else.
Last week we remembered and celebrated Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist at the Jordan River. Today’s gospel lesson from John tells us Jesus went back to the river and there John gives testimony that Jesus is the One they’ve been waiting for, the Messiah.
Because he testifies that Jesus is the Messiah two of John’s disciples leave him and follow Jesus. Jesus notices and stops and asks them what they want. They reply that they want to know where he’s staying. So, he invites them to follow him and they spend the afternoon with him. Then they go back home.
It doesn’t end there. Andrew, one of the disciples, goes to his brother, Simon, and tells him they have found the Messiah. The next day they go back to where Jesus is and Jesus gives Simon a new name, Cephas (Peter). And the reading for today ends there but that’s not the end of the story, is it.
In the gospel of John we read that he goes back to the river and he invites Philip to follow him. And Philip went to find his friend Nathanael and invited him to come and see the Messiah. Nathanael was skeptical. He didn’t believe a rabbi could come from the small village of Nazareth.
Jesus’ said, as he approached, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.” Of course Nathanael wanted to know why he said that and Jesus told him how he’d observed him beneath the fig tree. That’s all it took. He was convinced that Jesus was the One, the Messiah everyone had been waiting for. So, he followed him.
These men were the first called by Jesus to follow him. They stayed with him until he was arrested and taken away to be crucified.  They committed their lives to being his disciples.
Because they wanted to be like Jesus and learn everything he had to teach them we are here this morning listening to the Word being read and the Message being proclaimed. 
God cast a rock, Jesus, into the pool of humanity and the ripples are still being carried to the distant corners of the world. The energy created when Jesus began his ministry still hasn’t dissipated. I don’t believe it ever will.
I may need to qualify that statement. It never will as long as there are people committed to giving their testimony to others who may be skeptical like Nathanael.
If the Story quits being shared I can’t imagine what God will do then. Maybe that will be when Jesus will return. I wonder.
I want to go back to the part of the story where Andrew and his friend follow Jesus. Have you ever wondered why they would leave John and follow Jesus? What prompted them to do that?
Jesus and his disciples were all from Galilee. In Acts, when the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples gathered in the upper room, the disciples begin to speak in different languages and the people outside cannot understand how they knew how to do that because they were all Galileans. They implied that people from Galilee weren’t intelligent enough to learn other languages.
Actually the opposite was true. Galilee produced most of the rabbis how taught in the temple of Jerusalem and in the synagogues in the villages. All the boys and girls went to school to study the Torah, to memorize it word for word. Then at about 10 or 12 the girls stayed home to learn how to keep house and the boys continued to study.
If they were the best of the best of the Beth Midrash then they would seek a rabbi they respected and wanted to learn from. They’d ask to follow him.  These young men were called the talmidim. They would leave everything they had and follow the rabbi so that they could learn to be like him. They listened, they watched, and they imitated their rabbi. The talmid wanted to be exactly like their rabbi.
If they were dedicated and disciplined enough they would become teachers themselves and pass along what they had learned from their rabbi.
Now we understand why Jesus’ disciples dropped their nets and left their families to follow him. They called Jesus ‘Rabbi’ out of respect for him as a person and a great teacher.
Jesus had such a huge following because he fit the description of a 1st century rabbi who was at the most advance level of learning. They were many talmidim who wanted to learn from him. That’s another reason why there were so many around him when he was teaching on the mountain or at the lake. And that’s why the Pharisees were so afraid of him.
He taught like someone who had received training from the best of the best. That’s why they questioned by what authority he taught because there were many who had his knowledge of the scriptures.
And that’s why people still gather in worship to hear the lessons from the Scriptures. They desire to learn from Jesus. They want to hear again his word. They want to imitate him, to be like him.

And when they learn it all they will teach others. They will give testimony and the ripples will continue until everyone has heard the Story of God’s love for the world in Jesus, the Christ.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Water & Grace

Why did Jesus go to the Jordan River to be baptized by John? Why do some parents want to have their children baptized in the first months of their lives and other parents want to wait until their children are older maybe even until they are ready to be confirmed? Why is it important for believers of Jesus Christ to be baptized?
Does pouring water on someone’s head give them supernatural powers to resist temptations, and not sin? Does being baptized mean that we’re saved and our sins forgiven?
We know that the water poured into the font is water that came from the tap that came from the water treatment plant downtown. It is safe to drink. It can be used to wash our cars, water our gardens, and take baths or showers. It is just ordinary water. There is nothing special or magical about this water.
So, what is it that makes the sacrament of baptism so special, so important to our faith? Why do we celebrate and remember Jesus’ baptism every year?
One of the first things I learned when I entered elementary school was that I should wash my hands, often.  I didn’t know that it was so important to have clean hands but my teachers apparently thought we needed to be educated about cleanliness. So, they taught us how to wash our hands properly.
We know now that, especially at this time of year, it’s very important to wash our hands often to minimize the transmission of germs. Even then we still cannot escape getting colds and flu viruses.
Water is vital to the process of cleansing our bodies and removing the things that would make us ill. Baptism with water symbolizes that same process of cleansing, washing away that which would make us ill.
Water provides nourishment for us and for all living things here on earth, plants, animals, and people. Without water nothing survives. Without water the planet and everything on it will die.
Baptism by immersion is symbolic with dying, going under the water as Christ was buried in the tomb and coming up out of the water gasping for air is symbolic of  conquering death just as Jesus did when he rose from the tomb in the garden.
Last Sunday we witnessed the baptism of two children and were asked to remember our own baptism. As part of the service we all professed our faith and stated that we would commit to guide, nurture, and encourage these young folks to know and follow Jesus the Christ and to faithful members of his church.
This is a serious commitment we all made. It was a serious commitment Jesus made when he was baptized by John in the Jordan. From that time on his life was given wholly to doing God’s will here on earth. We promise to love and serve God for the rest of our lives too.
The gospels don’t say much about Jesus’ life from his birth until his baptism except for Luke giving us the story about him staying behind in the temple, at the age of twelve, in Jerusalem talking with the religious teachers. All that time in between was preparation for this great ministry to the people of Galilee.
So, this day when Jesus went to the River was an important day. It truly was the beginning of the rest of his life. It was the beginning of the rest of our lives too.
The day we were baptized was the beginning of the rest of our lives too. And everyday we work to improve on the day before asking God, trusting in God’s covenant of grace, to forgive us for our failures to live fully into his covenant.
At the font we recognize that we are united with all churches in baptism. We may not all be allowed to participate in the Lord’s Supper together but if we have been baptized we are accepted into any congregation as one of God’s children.
When Jesus was baptized is one of the few times that God was present as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Have you ever wondered
what grace sounds like?
I think it sounds like water:
Water lapping on a beach is like a lullaby.
Water burbling in a stream is like laughter.
Water dripping from leaves
sounds like falling tears.
Water pouring from a jug
is the opposite of thirst.
Water splashing into a font
is soaked with the loch-deep fullness
of the love of God saying,
“This is my beloved”.
Water of Jordan,
pouring over the head of Christ
willingly, needlessly welcomed,
one with us, echoes still in every baptism.
When we hear the water of baptism
over the head of one of us,
adult or child,
that splash and drip and pour,
we hear all that.
We hear that echo of the grace of God
and we are welcomed willingly,
one with Christ,
we recall that we are beloved.
I think grace sounds like water.
Water pours
pours a story
a story of grace
a grace for all
for all the world
the world is given
is given a hope
a hope of new life
new life from old
from old into new
into new ways of living
ways of living rightly
living rightly with each other
with each other we journey
we journey here and now
here and now to the water
to the water of life
the life of the one
the one baptized
baptized with the name
with the name: Jesus
Rev. Roddy Hamilton, New Kilpatrick Parish Church

Thanks be to God for his cleansing grace. Amen.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Light...and Joy

Light and joy, these two just seem to go together like chocolate and almonds, like ice cream and Hersey’s chocolate syrup.
John begins his gospel by going way back before the beginning of time, the time when there was chaos, a time when the Word and God were one and through the Word and God all things came into being.
In the Word was life and in that life was the light that drove back the darkness. It was light that no amount of darkness could overcome, not even the blackest dead star in the universe. This Light was the creator of that star that died but still lived in the darkness…and this Light could restore that star to life.
The Light of the World, the Word, brings joy to a dark and dismal world, much like new babies make those holding them radiate joy. The Light of the World finds the chink in the darkness and breaks through and fills the void with light.
The One who was the Light became flesh, became human, and lived among us. John came to testify to the Light and then to decrease so the Light could increase. 
Think of John as the summer solstice, the longest day of the year with the most light. After that day the amount of daylight decreases until the winter solstice, the time when we celebrate and remember the birth of the Light and from that day on the Light begins to increase as Christ’s ministry increased.
John testified about the One who would surpass him, the One who would increase as John’s ministry decreased.
On this day of bitter cold our hope is that as the days lengthen the rays of light will strengthen and the land will come alive with the warmth and power received from the light.
May the Light of Jesus Christ that streams from heaven make us come alive with the grace and power of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. May it be so.

Thanks be to God for sending the Light into the world. Amen.