“Christ Alone,” Galatians 2:15-21; June 16, 2013, FPC Jesup

“Christ Alone”
Galatians 2:15-21
June 16, 2013, First Presbyterian Church of Jesup

SLIDE 2 - FPC MaumeeAs a Presbyterian pastor, some people find it strange that I do not personally have strong roots in the Presbyterian Church. When searching for a church, my family historically has picked churches based on the community found within the church. The church I’ve spent most of my life in, First Presbyterian Church of Maumee, was chosen by my parents because of the children’s programs it provided, as well as fellowship for my parents. I grew up in and into the Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian tradition, confessions, customs, and processes shaped how I experience God and specifically, God’s call for my ministry. But here’s something shocking, I do not believe that we as Presbyterians have everything figured out. And here’s something even more shocking, I think that’s okay.

30459-Least Still Christian_pThere’s a book that came out January of 2011 called “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian.” I like the concept of this book, a getting back to the basics of our faith.

SLIDE 4 - LutherIt is certainly not a new idea. When Martin Luther wrote up his famous 95 theses his main desire was to take the Christian faith back to the beginning, back to the core elemental beliefs that makes people Christians.

SLIDE 5 - FormingIf we hold to the Presbyterian tenant of being “reformed and always being reformed according to the word of God,” these institution shaking ideas of going back to the basics should excite us. But of course there are things that we very much enjoy about our tradition. We like the stability of history, the comfort of the way we’ve always done things. There is nothing inherently wrong in any of these things. What becomes troublesome however is when we believe that we’ve got it all figured out and that these man made rules of how to go about being faithful are the one and only way.

SLIDE 6 - LeviticusSometimes when I read Paul’s letters to all of those early Christian communities it sounds like he is simply giving them a talking to for a lot of things we don’t even do anymore. It’s tempting to read this simply as Paul scolding the Jews for their desire to maintain salvific legalism even after Jesus’ death and resurrection superseded the old law. Yes, that is in there, and I don’t know about you, but I’m under no temptation to return to all of the laws given in Leviticus. I have no desire to give up shellfish or cheeseburgers or try to figure out what fabrics I’m allowed to wear. And I’m not tempted to believe that any one of these practices will bring me closer to God, let alone will bring me salvation.

SLIDE 7 - SplitsBut that’s not the only legalism we’re dealing with. There are so many theological conventions, liturgical rituals, and sociological assertions that have developed over years and years of Christian faith, reformations, and denominational splits. In this cartoon it shows a membership class and the presenter has a chart that says “Churches and Christian Movements Throughout History.” The presenter says, “So this is where our movement came along and finally got the Bible right.” And one of the people in the class says, “Jesus is so lucky to have us.” While I value the history, wisdom, and community found in our denominational structure, the splintering of denominations throughout time points to the very religiosity that Paul railed against, saying, “But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” (Galatians 2:18-19) Paul tells us that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ. Period. The end.

Presbyterian pastor Heidi Husted Armstrong writes, “Salvation is never a matter of Jesus and something else: not Jesus and certain cultural practices; not Jesus and a certain spiritual practice or theological perspective; not Jesus and a particular income level; not Jesus and a specific denominational brand; not Jesus and one political party; not Jesus and being good enough. Just Jesus. If anyone or anything else can be said to justify the sinner, the gospel is derailed, and, in the words of Paul’s devastatingly abrupt conclusion, “Christ died for nothing” (v.21)”[1] The community of Galatia used to depend on the law to bring them to salvation. If they just followed all the rules they would be saved from their sinfulness. Jesus came about to bring another way, a new path to salvation.

SLIDE 10 - Shrek Jesus is a burner of old bridges. Like Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, Shrek, and so many action movies where the pathway crumbles behind the person who steps on it, as we follow Jesus, the old pathways fall away. Any way we try to access salvation apart from Jesus is like Wile E. Coyote trying to run on air. We are not left midair. Christ makes a new pathway, one designed for the forgiveness of all.SLIDE 11 - Midair

Emory professor, Wendy Farley wrote, “If we begin with faith, we can inhabit our traditions more lightly. We can enjoy the formation our particular community provides without insisting that it is the only way. Our faith can allow us to be nourished by tradition without assuming that those who practice differently have not knowledge of God. Faith gives us the confidence to honor our heritage, while recognizing the new things God is doing in other people’s lives.” [2]

I love the idea of inhabiting our traditions lightly. I think it helps to place the emphasis on our elemental faith in Jesus Christ, while allowing our traditions to compliment and support our faith, without overshadowing it.

SLIDE 13 - FeetThis passage also brings up a beautiful image, allowing Christ to live in us. We affirm that Christ came for all, and so might Christ live within all for whom He died, that’s to say, everyone.

Farley continues, “Through death and resurrection Christ comes to dwell in the human heart and to produce a community based not on social distinctions but on love. This community should reflect our common human situation as recipients of grace and bearers of the Divine. The Divine dwells in Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women. This indwelling reveals the essential intimacy that exists between humanity and its creator, an intimacy that even we cannot neutralize, because it does not depend on us but on the graciousness of the living God. Faith allows the indwelling of Christ to become more transparent. Free from the logic of a social world built on the oppression of others, we are able to recognize others as bearers of the Divine. Faith is the sire of unity, where God’s desire for us and our own desire are woven together.” [3]

When we acknowledge one another as bearers of the Divine we are compelled to treat each other differently, to open up our eyes a bit wider to recognize Christ in our midst. And once we do recognize Christ in the other, we must make room for all to experience Christ’s great love.

SLIDE 15 - Communion TableMaking room for all at the table of Christ may mean we get a little scrunched. We belong to a faith that affirms, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” We may approach the table as the last and then become the first, but what will we do from that position? At a certain point we need to cede our place as “first,” in order to allow others to come close.

This was also a concern of the Jews in Galatia. The first line of this passage could probably even be read with a bit of sarcastic bite: We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners.” (Galatians 2:15) The Galatians were concerned that if even Gentiles could be a part of this new covenant, could access salvation, that all of their law-abiding had been for nothing.

Slide17Why should they get to be a part of things when the Jews had done the hard work of establishing the community? You see, the idea of equality in the eyes of God is not so appealing when you think you’ve got the upper hand or the moral high ground. It’s tempting to think, what’s the point? The point is such equality expands the Kingdom of God. The second you perceive yourself as more worthy of salvation because of your great life or your good works you are missing the point. Your salvation comes not in spite of but because of your inadequacy. All are justified by faith in Christ. All of us, all of you, all of them, whoever the “them” is in your life. Those “others,” are also bearers of the divine image. They are also beneficiaries of grace.

Slide18In the time Paul wrote his letter to the community at Galatia the observant Jews would avoid eating with Gentiles, not because of any specific law, but because it would help to maintain purity of their faith. After observing the many dishes required to maintain a kosher kitchen I would imagine part of this avoidance was probably simply because it was easier. Christians who had been Jewish since birth and still desired to maintain these practices had a hard time sharing a table with Gentile Christians. It was difficult to bridge the difference between the old law and the new, and harder still to welcome others on equal standing to a table where they would always seem “the other.”[4]

SLIDE 19 - DenominationsIt can be tricky and strange to explain to people in other denominations why we do the things we do, especially when many of our practices are based on tradition or what we’ve found works best for us. What is important is to make sure people know that these practices are not what brings salvation, Christ is. We too are tasked with welcoming these “others” to the table.

SLIDE 20 Baptism and CommunionWe approach the table and the font not because we’ve got it all figured out, but because we are so in need of God’s redemption. The sacraments are not about getting right with God, they’re about getting honest with God. They’re about being vulnerable. They’re about showing up. And since we are all sinners, we all approach the table at an equal footing.

God through the Holy Spirit makes us able to receive the waters of baptism. God through the Holy Spirit turns bread and juice into a life-giving feast. Christ’s presence is forever renewed in our midst when we acknowledge Him, seek Him out, and put our faith in His redemptive power.

May you approach the table today seeking Christ’s redemptive power for you and for all, even those you never might’ve thought we’re invited. Amen.


[1] Heidi Husted Armstrong, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3

[2] Wendy Farley, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3

[3] Wendy Farley, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3

[4] Gregory H. Ledbetter, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3

Technology: the Future of The Church?

church-technology1I was interviewed today by a woman who is discerning a call to ministry. I love conversations like this because it helps bring me back to who I am indeed called to be, helps me touch base with the excitement of my eighth grade self and helps remind me of all the amazing people that both affirmed and challenged me in this call along the way. Bottom line, I am beyond blessed to be living the life to which I have been called.

She asked a question today that inspired me to give an answer she wasn’t expecting and I didn’t realize I so strongly believed until the moment I gave it. She acknowledged my use of technology: using in film in worship, using a Kindle while preaching, utilizing the social media, etc., and she asked if I think that technology is the future of the church.

I gave her a resolute “no.”

And so I feel like I need to explain myself.

When I was in college studying film production one of my production teachers showed us a video that was a grainy news story about a man who lived off of what people had discarded in dumpsters. After he showed it to us he asked us what we thought about it. People said how compelling the story was, asked questions about how the producers happened to find this man, how the story came about. We questioned the system that brought him to this point in his life, wondered about his future, wondered about the American culture of waste and consumerism. And then our professor asked about the quality of the film production. We all acknowledged that it was grainy, the audio was bad, and the camera was shaky. But we all agreed it was still a worthwhile story. The story was heard louder than the medium.

He said that he will teach us the technical aspects of film production, but those will all change in a few years time. What he really cared about was teaching us about storytelling. How to find a story, how to get people to share their lives on camera, how to make the audience care, these were the things that mattered.

This is exactly how I feel about the story and the methods of ministry. Technology is not the future of the church. Living an authentic witness to the truth and joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the past, present, and future of the church. The methods we employ to do this can and should change over time. When we are called to share the Word of God with people in a specific context, we are called to share in a method that will be accessible to people in their various abilities, learning styles, and cultures.

Bbibleand-MouseTechnology is a language that we use to convey God’s story, our story, and God’s story for all of us. Technology helps us to speak to people who are used to hearing many different aspects of life through technology. Film and pictures in worship services allow us to share God’s story to people who best receive information visually. Utilizing a Kindle allows me to preach in an ecologically friendly and fluid way without printing lots of papers each week and then shuffling them around in the pulpit. Utilizing Accordance helps me to get into the original Hebrew or Greek text, compare various translations, and spend some in depth time uncovering the way God has spoken to people throughout time. Technology is a phenomenal tool for sharing the ministry and mission of our church through Facebook and our church website. Technology enables our church to update our calendar and send out updates and announcements in a very immediate and accessible way. Technology allows visitors to actually find the church and figure out when to join us for what. Technology makes me better at ministering in the way that I both receive God and am able to convey God. 

Technology is very much a part of my ministry, but I am absolutely firm in my belief that not all are called to minister in the way that I am called to minister. I am also firm in my belief that while it is a very valuable tool for ministry, it is not the end all be all when it comes to being the church. Bringing people into relationship with Jesus Christ through a community of people who love God and one another is how to be the church. How that happens in your church context is the future of your church and thereby the future of the Church universal.

“Follow Me”: Fishing with Jesus; Psalm 30 and John 21:1-19; April 14, 2013, FPC Jesup

“Follow Me”: Fishing with Jesus
Psalm 30 and John 21:1-19
April 14, 2013, First Presbyterian Church of Jesup

Slide01Last week I was in my hometown of Maumee, Ohio. A river, the Maumee River, borders the city of Maumee. Maumee was formed in the early 1800s and it grew as the Erie Canal was built up in the middle of the town. Water as a means for commerce and fishing made Maumee into the city it is.Slide02Last week as I traveled about town, I saw hundreds of fisherman lining the banks of the Maumee river. It was quite a sight to see, especially from a distance: all the people gathered along that river.

Fisherman will tell you that there are ways to fish, and ways not to fish. There certain types of baits and lures that will attract different types of fish.

The fishermen on the river were all hoping to catch walleye. Walleye have become somewhat of a mascot for the area.Slide03 The local hockey team is the Toledo Walleye.  Maumee has giant statues of walleye around town painted by different artists and groups.Slide04

Fishing could also be said to be a mascot for Jesus’ ministry. In fact, in the early church when Christians wanted to connect with each other they would draw out the symbol of a fish on the ground to identify themselves.

Slide05Jesus’ ministry was surrounded with fishing. Jesus’ discipleship recruitment began by the sea, in the well known story in  Matthew 4:18-23:

“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”SLIDE 12 - Jesus on Shore

Luke’s version of this story in 5:1-11 foreshadows our New Testament story with an overabundance of fish that nearly sinks their boat.

SLIDE 9 - Loaves and FishesEach of the gospels (John 6:1-15; Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17) tells the story of Jesus and his disciples feeding thousands of people with a few fish and loaves of bread.

SLIDE 10 - Jesus on BoatJesus preaches from fishing boats, sails on fishing boats, travels with fisherman disciples and chooses fisherman for the important job of spreading God’s kingdom and building the church.

Slide11 Our New Testament lesson today gives us another fishing story. Jesus had died, and his disciples were still traveling about together, likely bonded in their shared grief and distress. And so, in their grief they returned to what was comfortable and familiar to them: they went fishing.

This was not line fishing, but net fishing. Line fishing is about the single fish, the flick of the wrist, the pull of the fish, the design of the lure, the technique. Net fishing is a different story. It isn’t about enjoying a drink out on a boat with your friends with a line in the water. It is labor intensive. It is about hauling and pulling. It is strenuous and persistent action. There’s a comforting rhythm to that sort of work.

The disciples could’ve been drowning their sorrows in busying their hands, but as they worked at this business of fishing long through the night, they weren’t having and luck. Then, all of a sudden they hear this voice from the shore saying: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some (John 21:6a).”

I don’t know what Peter thought but I think I would probably be thinking things like:
“Aren’t I the fisherman here? I know what to do.”
“I’ve already tried that side. It didn’t work.”
“I’ve always thrown my net on the left side of the boat.”

SLIDE 13 - CastanetsI love this cartoon representation of one of the disciples mishearing what Jesus’ shouted from the shore.

Even if they may have been confused or doubtful, they were willing to give it a shot. They threw their nets onto the other side of the boat and were overwhelmed by the amount of fish they took in, verse 11 says that their nets were “full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.”SLIDE 14 - Net

There’s been some debate over the significance of this number 153. Some says it is indicative of the 153 known species of fish at that time or of the 153 known and recognized nations at the time. All throughout scripture representative numbers like this are used as a way to indicate a whole. So these fish signify that the disciples brought in a metaphorical amount of all the fish or all the people.

These were the same disciples who had been asked to set aside their nets and follow God, but when things had gotten complicated, they picked them up once again. And in that moment, Jesus calls them out of their complacency into an act of faith. Being told to throw their nets on the other side reminds them what sort of fisherman Jesus had called them to be: of people, not of fish.

Slide15After this enormous catch of fish Jesus gathers the disciples around a fire and they cook their fish together. In this community they were reminded of all Christ had taught, multiplying loaves and fish, breaking bread, they are re-commissioned to go out into the world fed and nourished.

This is the beginning of the church, a group of people, getting together, being reminded of whose they are called to be and reminded how they are called to serve.

This is what we strive to do here in worship each week: gathering together in the presence of Christ to be nourished and to be sent.

Matthew 18:20 says:

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

SONY DSCThat means, when we gather together as a worshipping community, when we gather in Bible studies or Sunday School we are in the presence of Jesus Christ! We are gathering ourselves around the same sort of warmth the disciples felt at on that beachside bonfire. What does it mean for us to be in the presence of Christ?

In our time together are you reminded of your great God who loves you and reminded how you are called to serve. Are you listening to the call to throw your nets to the other side? Or are you stuck in the comfortable, in the familiar, in the “we’ve always done it this way”?

Our Psalm today talks of how easy it was for the Psalmist to praise God when things were easy, writing:

“I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’” (Psalm 30:6)

It was easy for the disciples to talk about fishing for people when they had Jesus standing right there beside them, guiding them in their ministry, answering their questions.

But when testing comes, things aren’t quite so easy. When the Psalmist was tested he was full of frustration, writing:

8To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication: What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!’” (Psalm 30:8-10)

We see this with the disciples. When Jesus was arrested even Peter, nicknamed, “the rock,” denied Jesus three times. When Jesus was crucified the disciples were thrown into despair.

Our Psalmist gives us our happy ending in verses 11 and 12:

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.  O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” (Psalm 30:11-12)

Jesus at the shore side reminded them that his death was not an act of abandonment. Jesus is not stuck in the horror of death; he is resurrected! He walks around breathing grace and emboldening the disciples in all of those teachings he had laid out for him throughout his ministry.

Christ is resurrected; the world has changed! Are we changing too? Is our mourning turned to dancing? Are we clothed in joy?

Jesus is forever giving opportunity for us to seek joy over despair and action over inaction. This is worked out in his conversation with Peter, as Peter’s three denials of Jesus are redeemed in three calls to love, three calls to action:SLIDE 20 - Jesus and Peter

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. After this he said to him, “Follow me.”” (15-17,19)SLIDE 24 - Follow Me

When big changes in our lives happen we need to learn to reframe our challenges to assets. If we get stuck in the hurt that has happened to us or the hurt that we have caused others we are unable to serve in the way God calls us to. Each week we pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” This means that we need to seek forgiveness, and we need to give forgiveness so that we can move forward to serve.

As lose sight and gain hearing, when we suffer personal loses we are more attune to the grief of others. Job loss can create opportunity to reexamine our lives and seek something more life fueling. Age or illness might limit some of the things you might have done previously, but it can also provide a new way of serving others that you were unable to do before.

Bozo fisherman using a net on the River Niger, Mopti, MaliIn our time of offering today we will be doing something new, throwing out our own metaphorical and literal nets to think about ways that each of us can minister in this church. Sara McInerny will be providing instructions of some very specific ways that each of us can serve the congregation and community. I encourage you to prayerfully consider where God is calling you. Note that I did not say “if,” but “where.” There is a call for each of us, but it might require you to shift your thinking, shift your expectations, and throw your nets on the other side.

The disciple’s act of faith, throwing their nets on the other side of the boat, brought enormous results. When we are obedient to God’s will for our lives the results are greater than we can imagine. Sometimes that means doing something different and sometimes it means doing it again.

Know that Jesus is standing on the shore side of your life pointing you to the great catch He has in store for your ministry. Amen.

“God’s Love Endures Forever” Lenten Practices: Prayers of Praise; Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Luke 19:28-40; March 24, 2013, FPC Jesup

“God’s Love Endures Forever” Lenten Practices: Prayers of Praise
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Luke 19:28-40
Palm Sunday, March 24, 2013, First Presbyterian Church of Jesup

Slide04Today is our last sermon in our series on Spiritual Practices. Throughout this season we’ve traveled through the Lenten wilderness of God’s instruction, hopefully growing closer to God’s will for us on the way. Since there are at least as many ways to experience God as there are believers we’ve certainly not exhausted the many ways to get to know God, but I pray this series has revealed at least a few more ways that you are able to connect to God.

Slide02Today in worship we’ve all already participated in today’s spiritual practice! As we watched or walked our processional of palms, sang our songs, and read our call to worship we were engaging in today’s spiritual practice: Prayers of Praise. So we can just check it our your list and I can just sit down, right?

Not quite. Even though “prayers of praise” are something we engage in all of the time, it’s still important to examine what exactly we are doing when we say our prayers, sing our songs, and wave our branches.

Prayers of praise are not an act of going through the motions, checking something of a list, and fulfilling an obligation. Prayers of praise are an act of love responding to love.

Slide03Let’s think about this, if you are talking to your significant other and say, “I love you,” in a monotone voice, once a week, and then go check that off your to-do list, how will they feel? Will they believe you? Will you believe you?

It’s important to know that God’s love of us is not conditional on our response, but we miss out in our own experience of loving God when we fail to notice acknowledge the depth and breadth of God’s love for us. We might even take God’s love for granted.

I know I fall into this problem sometimes, assuming the love of God, rather than joyously celebrating God’s love. When I get into a rut with expressing my love to God, I appreciate reading the Psalms. Like someone in love quoting a sonnet to their beloved, the Psalms give us words we can use to rekindle our appreciation for God’s love. The Psalms are filled with prayers of praise, including our Old Testament reading, Psalm 118.

Slide06Bookending today’s Psalm we hear the refrain: “give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!”In the Hebrew, the word we have translated as “steadfast love,” is “hesed.” “Hesed” is rich with meaning, it has been translated in older versions as “lovingkindness.” It is also used throughout the story of Ruth as the “covenant love” between Ruth and Miriam.

Slide07It appears in the stories of the Old Testament over and over as God insists on loving the people of God. It is an ongoing, unstoppable sort of love. It reflects loving acts of God throughout all of history, as well as our own, individual, immediate experience of God’s love and care for us. [1]

Psalm 118 was originally written as a hymn of praise. The Messianic Christ was a hope for the future, but eternal salvation seemed quite far off. However, God’s desire to provide for God’s people was a historical certainty.

Slide08With the waters of the flood all around them, God brought a rainbow and a dove to give Noah hope of a new world.

 

Slide09

Through the faithfulness of a terrified mother God raised Moses from river basket to leader of a nation. 

 

Slide10In seemingly hopeless circumstances, God brought a child to impatient Abram and laughing Sarah. This passage is regularly read in the Jewish tradition in connection with the Passover as a prayer of praise for God delivering God’s people from slavery in Egypt to freedom.

Slide11In the New Testament God’s saving power is brought to realization in Jesus Christ. Our New Testament passage today also provides an account reflecting God’s immediate presence and presence throughout history. It is the familiar account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. This is a story we’ve seen enacted year after year. We’re used to waving palms and celebrating with joy the beginning of Holy Week. This scene of crowds, palm branches, and a donkey carries a history far beyond what we see in this scene. It is a fulfillment of several prophesies from throughout scripture:

One of the prophesies is our Psalm today, Psalm 118:26: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD.” This verse is echoed in all four Gospels as Christ enters Jerusalem.

SLIDE 12 - Triumphal Entry Psalm 118 even gives instruction for the very procession that arises around Jesus’s journey. In verse 27 it says, “Bind the festal procession with branches.” And the crowds do, waving palm branches as Jesus passes.

Jesus’ chosen mode of transportation is identified in Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Jesus, himself quotes scripture by reciting Habakkuk 2:11, telling Pharisees who were nervous at the shouts of the crowds that even “if [the disciples] were silent, the stones would shout out.”[2]

All of these references to historical scripture were not coincidences, but were enacted to show the people that Jesus was the Christ that they had been waiting for. He is the embodiment of the God of Hesed. He is the one who carries out the covenant of love. He is the one deserving of praise.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was surrounded by prayers of praise. Luke 19:37 tells us that “The whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen.” They were welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem, but not as some celebrity they had only heard tell of. This was not their first experience of Jesus, they were responding to all the amazing miracles of Jesus’ ministry.

It’s also important to notice that they understood that they understood that Jesus’ actions were not only his own, but were an extension of God’s divinity, and they “praise[d] God joyfully.” They were acknowledging God’s “hesed,” God’s everlasting love that was presented to them through the ministry of Jesus. We too are called to praise God for the many ways God enters into our lives.

In Philippians 4:4, the apostle Paul calls us to “rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” When times get difficult this seems like a strange thing to do. There are certainly times that we don’t feel like praising God, but Paul encourages us to draw close to God especially in these difficult times.Paul continues saying, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6) By lifting up our concerns and directing them to God Paul tells us that, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

So how do we engage in this practice of prayers of praise? It is more than the recitation of prayers, it is a prayer that taps into a joy brought by love of God. It is an exultation, it is a dancing, a laughing, a forgetting our own selves for a moment so that we can more fully focus on God. It is letting ourselves be giddy in love with our God who loves and created us. Revelation 4:11 affirms our call to praise God: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)

Psalm 150:1-6 gives suggestions for how to praise: “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!  Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”

This text is not a simple description of what happens in worshiping God. In this text “praise,” is in the imperative sense. We are being urged, provoked, commanded to praise. This is the Psalmist saying, “hey you there, pick up an instrument, jump to your feet, and PRAISE!” We might find ourselves looking around and thinking, well hey, “the praise band does a great job, so they should be praising,” or “wasn’t everyone in the procession of the palms great with waving their branches?” But the Psalmist doesn’t leave this up for discussion, saying, “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” This means me, this means you, this means all of us! If we have air in our lungs we have the capacity to praise.

Praise might look a bit differently from person to person. Some may praise God through song, or instrument, some may praise through writing poems or creating art, some may praise God in showing appreciation for creation. The point is, we are all called to praise God, in whatever way we can.

In a few minutes we will sing our Doxology, a call for all of us to praise. May this be our prayer today:

“Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Amen!


[1] David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting On the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 149.

[2] Luke 19:40

“Water Into Wine;” Isaiah 43:1-7, John 2:1-11, and John 1:29-34; January 13, 2012, FPC Jesup

“Water Into Wine”
Isaiah 43:1-7, John 2:1-11, and John 1:29-34
January 13, 2012
First Presbyterian Church of Jesup

Slide01Have you ever read the Bible and felt like this? Like you’re being pointed in all sorts of directions and you’re not sure where to go? Or maybe you felt that it might mean something for your life, but your not sure which? And when you read more about scripture it you might hear even more of a confusing message?

Signs are really only helpful if we’re able to read them, and able to understand what the mean, and what we’re supposed to do in response.

This is also true when it comes to Jesus’ actions in the gospels. His miracles, including this one in Cana, are called “signs.” A sign points to something beyond itself. There needs to be a certain sort of understanding to be able to interpret a sign.SLIDE 4 - Arrow right

The thing about a sign is that it points to something beyond itself.  If you’re driving along and you see this sign you know that this line with the triangle at the end means that the road is curving right.

SLIDE 5 - ConstructionIf you see this one, you know there’s construction up ahead and you know to watch out for workers in the road.

 When Jesus does a miracle, more is going on that just what we can take in at first glance. Which is important to know, especially when we see a sign like his miracle in Cana. In a first read through it seems like all Jesus is doing is making some people happy at a party. The signs of Jesus tell us about who Jesus is, His mission on earth, and the new age He brings about by his coming. Slide06The signs of Jesus are truly “significant.” They point to who Jesus is and what he came to do. So, let’s unpack this story a bit and figure out what making wine at a party has to do with the mission of Jesus Christ and what it has to do with us.

Slide07When we first start out this story it’s a bit strange: when told by his mother, Mary, that there was no wine his initial response is “what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

Any parent or teacher who has asked a child to do a chore, go to sleep at bedtime, or learn a math problem might hear a familiar voice here: “Why me?” “Why should I care about this?” “Can’t I do it later?” “Ten more minutes?” When we know that this is Jesus’ very first miracle, it’s a strange thing to hear that he seemed reluctant, and even a bit petulant at his mother’s request.

Mary’s appeal brings images of a proud mother. She had confidence that in this situation Jesus could do something to turn it around. But really, making wine at a party? This is Jesus’s first act of ministry? This is what gets the ball rolling on a career as savior of the world? Winemaking?

SLIDE 8 - Water Into WineHowever, when we look at this one strange seeming inconsequential act in the scope of Jesus’ entire ministry, it makes a great deal of sense. Jesus is the bringer of living water and that water is transformed by His death, which we remember by sharing in the wine of communion. This one act, at the beginning of His ministry provides bookends to his life’s ministry. Christ gives living water and is transformed into wine.

Slide09Scripture is filled with imagery of water as challenging, saving, confronting, and life giving. As our students learned in WOW this past Fall, water is woven throughout the Moses narrative: carrying Moses to a new life, saving the Israelites from the Egyptians at the Red Sea, and flowing from a rock as a sign of God’s provision to the Israelites in the wilderness.

In our Old Testament passage today we hear the claim God places on us, which we commemorate in baptism: “I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”

Slide11In John 1:29-34 we hear of Jesus’ baptism:  “[John] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

SLIDE 12 - Jesus BaptismThis passage of Christ’s baptism comes right before the story of his first miracle. This is no accident. When Christ is turning water into wine, He Himself has already taken his place as the living water. In His baptism the Holy Spirit descends upon Him. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism it says that, God’s voice was heard saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[1] Though always connected, the trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all cited a specifically present during Christ’s baptism. Though Jesus was claiming God as father as early as when he was twelve in the temple, this claim by God that Jesus is God’s own son was the first public action by God that set Jesus apart as God’s son. And in this ministry Jesus does not go it alone, but goes in the company of the Holy Spirit, who is in and through all things.

On Christmas we celebrated Jesus’ birth, last week on Epiphany Sunday we celebrated Christ’s manifestation. These two scriptures Jesus’ baptism and Jesus’ miracle at Cana, bring us to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. A time when the living water came to life, living a ministry that would give live to all people.

SLIDE 14 - Water to WineThough this first miracle happens in the context of a party, this transformation from water into wine points to a future much more bitter than that of living water. Christ did not come simply to wash the world clean, but to transform the world through His life.

Though we use grape juice in our communion as we remember Jesus, there are reasons why Jesus’s death is remembered through wine and not grape juice. Sure there’s the cultural context of a community of disciples that would’ve been more likely to dine with wine than with water, but there are also chemical reasons. While both are bitter and sweet, wine can be abused. Wine can lift the spirits, but too much can cause personal harm and ruin relationships. Wine is in remembrance of Jesus’ death, in remembrance of the pain of crucifixion, and the horrors of Christ’s descent into Hell. We sample just a taste of this bitterness in communion, but we are not meant to intoxicate ourselves with the grief of Christ’s death.

Slide16This is not to say that we are powerless in this transformation as Christ moves the world from living water to eternal life giving wine. We have a role in bringing about the Kingdom of God, a role demonstrated by Mary in this story. Jesus is reluctant, but Mary prods Jesus towards this new ministry. Divine action and human initiative are linked. God does not need us to point to what is wrong with the world, but when we pray we are lifting up the concerns of God, making them manifest in our own lives, and we await an answer. We open ourselves to God’s action in the world. When we hear “my time has not yet come,” we are frustrated, we are annoyed, but we are also attentive to what will come next Mary, mother of Jesus, gives us an example of her own prodding at God, but also an example of how God’s will is to be enacted. “They have no wine,” Mary says. Jesus replies, “my time has not yet come.” She does not say, “ oh yes it does!” She does not rail against her literally holier than thou son,  but she leaves space for divinity to be enacted, instructing the servants of the house, “do whatever He asks of you.”

Slide18Here is the blueprint to divine transformation: When God’s concerns become our own, and we lift them up to God, faithful obedience leads to the transformation of our hearts and the world. God’s will can be enacted through us, but only if we are open to be changed by asking for that change, and discovering our role in transforming God’s Kingdom.

In our baptism Christ claims us as His own, as children of the Kingdom of God. We drink of the living water. We are cleansed of our sins and given new life. In Christ’s death Christ claims our sins as His own, giving us the ability to live eternally in God’s Kingdom and God’s grace. The good news is as Jesus transforms water into wine, Christ also transforms our lives through claiming us in baptism and redeeming us through his crucifixion.

 Raised arms womanThis is a message of hope that poet, Tom Lane writes of this in his poem, “If Jesus Could”: If Jesus could transform common water into wedding wine spit and dirt into new sight troubled sea into a pathway well water into living water Could Christ transform the waters of my life? shallow murky polluted stagnant sour into a shower of blessing?

May we be open to Christ’s transforming power in our lives and in this world, and open to how God is calling us to help transform the world for His kingdom. Amen.


[1] Matthew 3:17