Monday, January 16, 2017


Sermon Summary (1/8/17), “Child of God”  Matthew 3:13-17

I marvel at the power of baptism.  We had a powerful service here on Nov 6th where we had 12 baptisms.  There were tears in some eyes, joy in others.  There is a mystery in the power of baptism that may take us a lifetime to understand, but it is there.  Power.

Our understanding begins with the Baptizer (as Mark calls him) a cousin of Jesus.  They may have played together as families gathered in Jerusalem for Passover.  John the Baptist, born to elderly parents, may have been raised in Qumran with the Essenes who believed in ritual baths for cleansing.  It may have been where John developed his idea of baptism of all for the forgiveness of sins.

John’s idea of baptism was radical.  Never before had a Jew been baptized; proselytes, yes, but a Jew had never before been baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  They were chosen after all.  The religious authorities would never submit to such a thing.  But, the tax collectors knew.  After being baptized they asked John “What now shall we do?”  He said, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”  The soldiers knew and were baptized.  Even the crowds knew, were baptized and asked. John told them “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”  All were sinners and needed repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Why then was Jesus who was without sin baptized?  It has been debated since the beginning.  William Barclay says, “The deepest meaning for [Jesus] undergoing baptism for the forgiveness of sins is to identify with sinful and sorrowful humanity.”  Identify with us.

God identifies Jesus with us in another way.  At Jesus’ baptism God declare, “This is my son the beloved in whom I am well pleased.”  Hearers heard this a Messianic declaration (Ps 2:7) and a phrase from Isaiah’s servant song (Is 42:1).  God declaring Jesus as his Son and propelling him on mission of servanthood and sacrifice.

We at our baptism are declared a child of God with the full rights of inheritance, and we too are on a mission to become followers of Jesus on his ministry of servanthood and sacrifice.  We are claimed as children of God at our baptixm.

In a story of illegitimate child growing up with difficulty and shame, a pastor told him, “I know you, I can see the family resemblance.  You are a child of God.  You have a wonderful inheritance.  Now go out there and claim it.”  It changed the life of Ben Hooper who later became Governor of the great state of Tennessee.  Power.


Sermon Summary (1/1/17), “First Things First”  John 1:9-14

I received a Stephen Covey book, First Things First, for Christmas 1995.  It would have been great New Years present too, when we determine those things that are important and resolve to do them, to keep the main thing the main thing.  Covey believes we ought to live a balanced life: Life (physical), Love (social), Learning (mental), and Legacy (Spiritual).  I heard him on Oprah summarize by saying we need to live like we’ve just had a heart attack (in moderation), talk of others as if they could over hear us, treat the half life of all know-ledge as two years, and live as though we had a face-to-face meeting with God every 90 days to account for our thoughts and deeds.

To keep in balance, Covey also recommends that we plan with a weekly horizon (God’s horizon for us) according to our roles, eg. Spouse/Parent/Child, Worker/Co-worker/Boss, Friend, Christian, Volunteer, etc.  We may get out of balance occasionally, eg harvest time, but out goal is to get back in balance as soon as we can.

John Wesley, founder of Methodism, believed in goals, too, especially spiritual goals and knew we can’t do it alone.  We need to meet with others to hold ourselves accountable.  He devised 21 questions to ask of one another to keep us on track.  We will consider only the first.  Are you ready?  Here it is: “Is Jesus Real to You?”  Repeat it, roll it over in your mind.  Is Jesus real to you?

Our Scripture is  St. John’s Christmas story, the Word becoming flesh, the Incarnation.  Of course Jesus was rejected by his own (Is that where we are today, ignoring Him, ambivalent about him?  Non-real to us?)  But, but he says, “to all who received him, who believed in his name he gave the power to become children of God.”  Wow!

But let’s look at those two words that allow us to make Jesus real: receive and believe.  “Receive” is not just a hand shake, it’s deep hospitality, it’ inviting him past our front step, through the parlor, into the kitchen to sit at our table in conversation so that he becomes real.  And “believe in his name”; name was far more than a label, it is the essence of a person.  Remember what the angel told Matthew? “And you shall call his name Jesus because he shall save his people for their sins.”  Savior.  And John calls him “Word,” the creative power of God according to the Jews, and the wisdom and reason of the gods according to the Greeks.  That is the indescribable essence of God that we are to believe to make the Incarnation real.

Resolve to find a time at your table to make Jesus real in 2017.


Sermon Summary (12/25/16), “Why Christmas is a Big Deal”  Phil 2:5-11; Col 1:15-20

Have you ever wondered about the first Christmas Carol?  I mean the first one recorded, written down?  Mark was the first Gospel written and the birth narrative was ignored entirely.  It was the life of Jesus the mattered to Mark and his sources.  Luke and Matthew were written 10 or 15 years later telling the story of the birth and the angels singing to the shepherds.  Those stories weren't part of the letters and teachings circulating in the time of Paul.  But the Jews were singers (we have the Psalms!).  What were they singing about Jesus?

We have at least two hymns in the letters of Paul: First, Phil 2:5-11 is clearly a hymn of the early church and would have been established long before Paul wrote his letter.  In it, it says “and being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, he humbled himself.”  Being born in human likeness.  That my friends is the incarnation.  That is Christmas.  That is a Christmas Carol.

A second hymn is found in Colossians 1:15-20.  It tells us of the Supremacy of Christ, what Christ, Creator of all things who was before all things gave up to “be born in human likeness.”  The incarnation is a big deal.  We need to look beyond the manger to the One who came to reconcile all things, including us to Himself.

There was a time that I was far from Christ.  Oh, I believed in God, but supposed that he set all things in motion and we were pretty much on our own.  Our son, Curt challenged me saying “If Jesus came and stood right here in this room, you would think otherwise.”  In other words, if I believed in the incarnation, things would be different.

I gave it serious thought.  Suddenly it made sense.  God exists.  It takes far more faith not to believe than to believe.  And it makes sense if God exists, he would want to reconcile his creation to himself.  And it made sense that he would become like us to do so.  And it made sense that it would make sense that he would do so by doing the greatest act of love that one can for another, to give his life for us.  And if God would do that for me, he was a very personal God.

The incarnation is a big deal.  It is a big deal to me.  The incarnation is what we celebrate at Christmas.  God coming to stand in the room of the world as a very personal God, a sacrificing God, reconciling the world to him, me to him.  For me, Christmas is a very big deal.