It’s not about Chocolate

Preached on 10 March 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The first Sunday in Lent, Year C

It’s not about chocolate or coffee or Scotch or junk food.  It’s not about swearing or complaining or watching TV or using facebook.  It’s not even about using plastic or fossil fuels.  It’s not about eating fish instead of meat.  It’s not about working at a food bank or a soup kitchen.

In fact, it’s not about you at all.
It’s about Jesus.  Maybe today, we can just focus on Jesus and not make it about us.
This is about his identity and vocation as the Son of God; and how he will live out his vocation.

In Luke’s telling of the story, Jesus’ testing in the wilderness comes right after his baptism in the Jordan, when the Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove and the voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the beloved, in you I am well-pleased.”  Just like Matthew and Mark’s telling of the story.  Except Luke tucks in Jesus’ genealogy, his family tree, right in between those two events.

Luke traces Jesus’ lineage back through Joseph, back to King David, back to Judah, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, back through Noah, to Seth, and Cain, all the way to Adam, who is also named, Son of God.

Now that same Holy Spirit who anointed Jesus at his baptism, fills him and leads him into the wilderness where a spiritual battle is waged.

When he emerges from the wilderness, still filled with the Holy Spirit, he will go to his hometown, to Nazareth.  In the synagogue, he will read from the prophet Isaiah about proclaiming Good News to the poor and release for the captives.  He will say that the scripture is being fulfilled in their presence, that day.  We heard about that just a few weeks ago.

Right now, though, let’s spend some time with Jesus in the wilderness, where, filled with the Holy Spirit he’s tested by the devil.

Everyone already knows Jesus is the Son of God, in this story.  Luke’s been telling us that since the very beginning with the angel’s annunciation to Mary and then at his baptism and in his genealogy.  But what does that mean?  How will he live out that truth?

These temptations we hear about today, are uniquely targeted at Jesus, his identity and his mission.  Each one is a challenge, “In whom will you place your trust?”

They are intended to make him doubt himself, his identity.  They try to draw him away from trusting God and instead to trust whatever the devil lays before him.

Even the devil knows he’s the Son of God.  The “if” in the first and third temptations is better translated as “since.”  It presumes the truth of the “if” clause.

Since you are the Son of God, and you’re famished, do something about it.  Save yourself.  Feed yourself.  Turn the stones to bread.

This is directly related to his vocation, but twisted back on itself.  Later in his ministry, we will see Jesus miraculously multiply loaves and fishes, but to feed others, thousands, in fact, by putting his trust in God.

Jesus responds, quoting Deuteronomy, “One does not live by bread alone.”  His trust is in God.

The second temptation is also related to his mission.  He has come to inaugurate the reign of God; a reign of justice and peace.  The people hope for and even expect a Messiah who will come with great power to overthrow the Roman empire and restore the throne of David.

The devil offers him that power (as if it were his to give) if only Jesus will worship him.  Here, the if has its more familiar, conditional meaning of if you do this, then I’ll do that.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if he just took the power from the current rulers and established his own superpower?  But, Jesus rejects the devil.  He will not gain power by playing by the world’s rules.  No, God’s kingdom of Justice and Peace is outside of worldly powers.

His response is the heart of Jewish prayer.  Worship the Lord, your God; serve only him.

In the third temptation, we find them in Jerusalem, the city toward which the whole trajectory of Jesus life and ministry is directed; the city where he will ultimately go to the cross; the city from which the church will be born.

The devil returns to the formula, “since you are the Son of God…” and he quotes the psalms in which there is a promise that the angels will protect the one who puts their trust in the Lord.

“Since you are the Son of God, prove it.”  Here, in Jerusalem; not only at the center of the political world of the people, but the religious heart of Judaism, the devil challenges him to jump off the top of the Temple.  Show us who you really are; see if God will save you.

“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” Jesus responds.  It’s one thing for God to protect him from danger, it’s something completely different to purposely put his life at risk for self-aggrandizement.

And yet, we will see him return to Jerusalem and to the cross, where he will face a similar temptation; to be saved and protected from suffering.

This is a battle in the spiritual realm.  It is a battle over Jesus’ identity and vocation as Son of God and what that will mean.  He comes out of the wilderness, still filled with the Holy Spirit and with trust in his Father, to begin his work.

So, you see, it’s not about us at all.

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The Glory of God in Daily Life

Preached on 3 March 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

Over the past few weeks, mountains have figured somewhat noticeably in our readings – going up them, coming down; mountain tops and level places.  Seeking God in prayer and finding God among people.

Today, not only do we have Jesus and the three disciples going up the mountain and then back down again, but Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai and even our psalm has God on his holy hill.

Today, on this last Sunday after the Epiphany, we have Jesus and the three disciples go up the mountain where there is a spectacular encounter with God.  There is glorious light, people long-gone talking to Jesus, Jesus himself and his clothes changed to dazzling white, the cloud, and of course the voice from heaven.

Then they go back down again.

Before we go into that though, let’s take a look at the longer arc of Luke’s story.  I think it always helps to understand how one piece fits into the larger picture.

I’m going to back up to Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fish.  The next scene is Jesus alone with his disciples.  He asks them, “What’s the word on the street?  What are people saying about me?”  Then, he asks, “but what about you?”  Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah of God.”

Jesus then tells them for the first time, that he must suffer and die.  He foretells the Passion.  Luke then goes on for a paragraph teaching about discipleship.

Then Luke tells the story of the Transfiguration followed by the healing.  And again, Jesus foretells the Passion.

So, the Transfiguration is sandwiched between two prophesies of the Passion.

There’s a pattern in Luke.  Go up a mountain to pray, then come back down and encounter the greatness of God, the healing of God, the liberating freedom of God – in the crowd, in the messiness of daily life.

What grabs you about the story of the Transfiguration?  Do you wish you were there? Or thankful you’re not?

What details stand out?  In Luke’s telling, we hear what Elijah and Moses are talking about with Jesus: his “departure” that he is about to accomplish in Jerusalem.  Now, departure is not used here as a euphemism for death.  No, the word in the Greek is Exodus which evokes all kinds of meanings and images in our minds; well at least in mine.

It makes me think of release and liberation; of a journey to freedom not just for one, but for many, for a whole people.

Jesus is going to Jerusalem to fulfill the purpose of his entire life; to release the captives and draw them to liberation in their true and only home.  Their home in God.  Not only by his passion and death, but by the whole package – death, resurrection, ascension to God, and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all humanity.  That’s what they are talking about.  Wow.

Then what do they do?  They go back down the mountain, back to daily life, to a crowd of people.  And then Jesus literally releases a boy, captive to demons.  The boy is liberated and restored, healthy and whole, to his family.

And all are amazed at the greatness of God.

This is what Jesus does.  He reveals the greatness of God in daily life.

What about you?  Do you long for that mountaintop experience of God?  Or maybe you’ve already had one or more.  Do you ever get a glimpse of the greatness and glory of God in your daily life?

Lent begins on Wednesday.  As we move forward, we will be experiencing a number of changes and challenges as a parish as well as in our daily lives – especially as we move more fully into transition and welcoming a new priest.  Maybe we could pay particular attention, watching for a glimpse of the glory of God all around us.

 

 

 

Sermon on the Plain, part 2: Extremist for Love

Preached on 24 February 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

The Sermon on the Plain, part 2: Extremist for Love.

The writer of Luke from the very beginning, sets up a recurring theme that we see throughout the Bible:
The theme of reversal.  We first hear it in Mary’s song, the Magnificat, which is borrowed from Hannah’s song in the book of Samuel.  She glorifies the Lord for scattering the proud in their conceit, casting down the mighty form their thrones while lifting up the lowly, and filling the hungry.

In his first sermon in Nazareth, Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah and then claims that this Scripture is being fulfilled that very day.  Again, we hear about reversals: good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed.

Then, last week, in the first part of the sermon on the plain, we heard him offer a set of blessings and warnings, each with a reversal.  Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of God, blessed are the hungry who shall be filled, those who weep who will laugh, those who are reviled because of him, whose reward is great.  But woe to those who are rich, who are filled, who laugh, and who are held in high regard; they have received their reward.

The kingdom of God does not look like the status quo.  It is not the promise of a future reward.  The kingdom of God is now.  It is within us.  It is possible to dwell there even in the midst of this broken world.  Part 2, what we heard today, is not separate from this.  Jesus continues, preaching what sounds unthinkable.  Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you.

Jesus reveals the character of God as unbounded mercy and love for all of us.  He calls us to reveal this character of God by embodying it in our own lives.  We can’t do it by sheer will, but only through the grace of God.

We are already blessed and loved by God, not because we are “doing it right,” but because loving is the very nature of God.  Our response to the world with love and mercy flows out of that reality.

Still, I struggle with this.

On the one hand, I think Jesus really means it.  Love not just your neighbor, but your enemy.  Turn the other cheek.  Give, lend, forgive, not just those who will do the same for you, but those who won’t.  And you will experience the kingdom of God within yourself.

On the other hand, these verses have been used so often by people with power in order to bolster and perpetuate injustice, oppression, violence, and abuse.  Those who suffer are told to turn the other cheek.  Don’t stand up for yourself.  Love your enemies.  Forgive them.  Wait.  Wait for some future reversal.  Wait for justice.  Wait for freedom.  Wait.

How do we square this teaching with the promises in our baptismal covenant: persevere in resisting evil; strive for justice and peace; respect the dignity of every human being (including oneself)?  For that matter, how do we square it with the reversals in the first part of the sermon?

I find it particularly jarring because this is Black History Month.  We’ve been seeing highlights of African Americans in history; reading about some pretty amazing people, their lives, their achievements and their contributions.  The history books have ignored them and often their achievements have been attributed to white people.  But of course, one doesn’t have to be amazing to be worthy and valued; to deserve love and justice and dignity.

Oppression doesn’t cease simply by the passage of time, though, not even centuries.  Alongside those stories of amazing people in history, we hear the news stories of racial hatred.  Whether it’s actual hate crimes, or racist speech or discrimination or bias, or just plain bad and hurtful behavior toward people of color, we see that this country is still steeped in the sin of racism.

It’s one thing for Jesus who, like those to whom he was preaching, lived under the occupation of the Roman empire, it’s one thing for him to preach this message of radical, extreme love.

Or for Martin Luther King to likewise preach to those who like himself lived under segregation laws and oppressive racism.

But who am I, a white, comfortable, middle-class person, with an education, the fancy robes, a paycheck, and a microphone; who am I to preach this message to love your enemies and those that persecute you?

I cannot, in good conscience, tell people who may be oppressed or abused at home, at work, at school, or in their community to just turn the other cheek.

Yesterday, I read Martin Luther King’s letter from the Birmingham jail.  It was addressed to a group of white clergymen who had written an open letter to him and to the people protesting in Birmingham in 1963.  He challenged them, responding point by point.

When it came to them calling him an extremist, he wrote that at first, he was offended.  But then he embraced the label.  He pointed out that Jesus was an extremist; an extremist for love and he cited this Sermon on the Plain, and listed other biblical figures as extremists.

Perhaps I can square Jesus’ sermon with all those other principles this way:

When we resist evil; when we strive for justice; when we love those whom the world deems unworthy; when we challenge the powerful, we will be met with resistance.  Guaranteed.  At times, we will be met with persecution or even violence.

We then can choose to respond with malice, with hatred, with violence; we can choose to retaliate.  OR we can choose to respond with mercy and forgiveness and love.  We can choose, through the grace of God, to be extremists for love.

 

Still, I struggle.  I guess the best I can do is pray that through the grace of God, I can persevere in resisting evil – both within myself and in the world around me – while embodying God’s mercy and love, even for those who do me harm.  Because I, too, need God’s unbounded mercy and love.

What about you?

Perhaps through the grace of God, we can become extremists for love.

 

 

 

View from the Plain

Preached on 17 February 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

“Like all the gospels, Luke was written to equip ancient believers with the vision, convictions, and tools they needed to navigate their way in an imperial society – a system that was not going to go away on its own.  Luke did not urge those believers to overthrow the system, but the Gospel did tell them that they were participants in a seismic, divinely-directed shift toward renewal. Those participants were not spectators, but agents endowed ‘with power from on high.’ They were empowered to love, sacrifice their prerogatives, and enact the gospel through generous hospitality.”  That’s what Matt Skinner writes in his overview about preaching the Gospel of Luke in year C.[i]

Ancient believers in an imperial society.  A small number of people with little influence and no power.  What do they have to do with us?  Well, we may not have an emperor, but there are very large, powerful entities that have a great deal of influence on the shape of our society and the world.  Our society, too, can be difficult to navigate as believers.

God’s vision for the world has not changed.  We, too, are called to be participants in God’s renewal, empowered by grace to love, to give of ourselves, and to live the gospel in the little part of the world we inhabit.
How does today’s reading equip us?
Well, it reveals to us something about the heart of God.  It reveals God’s priorities and a bit of God’s vision.  It also reveals to us our own biases, to some extent.  And there’s even a bit about how we might go about participating with God.

So, let’s start out by backing up a bit.

If we had been here last week, we would have heard Jesus call the first three disciples, Peter, James, and John.  Right before today’s reading, Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray through the night.  When day comes, he names the twelve apostles.

So, first he centers himself in God through prayer.
Then he gathers a community; he’s not going to go about this alone.

Today, we see them go together back down the mountain to a level place where a great multitude of disciples and other people have gathered.  They’re from all over the countryside, even from as far away as Tyre and Sidon, way up north.  They have come to be healed, to be restored, to see him, and touch him.

Jesus doesn’t go up the mountain where everyone can see him; where he can preach to them.  No, he and the chosen apostles go down to be with the people.  It’s significant that it’s a “level place.”  Here there are no lowly, no high and mighty.  It sounds a bit chaotic, all those people jostling, trying to see Jesus, to touch him, to be healed.

Jesus and the apostles move about among them and see to their needs.  All are healed.  Only then, does Jesus look up and begin to speak to the people gathered.

What does this tell us about God’s vision, about God’s priorities?  We see that the priority is to be with people; to be among them, to heal them, to free them from the demons that hold them captive.

And what about his preaching?

If we’re not uncomfortable, we’re probably not paying attention.  Not only does each blessing and woe point to a reversal, but each one is usually seen both by the people on that ancient plain and by us, as the opposite of what he says.  That’s what I mean by revealing our biases.  Where do you want to find yourself in that list?  And how does it begin, with a “Blessed are those” or a “woe to those…?”

Here’s a challenging question, how do you feel about other people in each of those circumstances?  Do you look up to them?  Do you look down on them?  In today’s reading, there is no looking up to or looking down on.  Everyone is at the same level.

Now, let’s look at the words, blessing and woe.  This isn’t a pronouncement of a final judgment between the saved and the damned.  No, this is in the present.

Evidently, there are a few different words that are translated as “Blessed.”  In this case, according to one commentator, it has the sense of feeling satisfied, unburdened, at peace.  So often we speak of being “blessed” when we have good fortune; when things are going well.  We might even see that as a sign of God’s favor.  That’s not what this is about.

Being blessed may be more about our standing with God, our trust in God.  So, we can be blessed even in poverty or hunger; even when weeping or when we are reviled or hated.

Similarly, “woe” is not a curse, but a word of warning: “Watch out!” Or “Beware!”  It’s a call to repentance, to a change of behavior.

It’s a warning that, You may be doing well right now, but that doesn’t mean you’ve earned it, or it will always be true.  It doesn’t mean that you’re God’s favorite.  And especially, beware, lest you forget that you are reliant on God’s grace.

The blessings and woes bring us up short; they make us say, “wait a minute, I thought I was…” fill in the blank.  They invite us to ask ourselves, and to ask God, “who am I?”  Where do I stand with God?  How would God have me change my behavior?  Does my wealth or health blind me to God’s presence in my life?

And finally, what does today’s gospel reveal to us about God’s vision?  I think we see God’s desire to be with us and among us.  We see God’s vision of a world without poverty or hunger, a world in which our community shares our joys and comforts us in sorrow.  A world in which all may live with dignity.

Next week, we’ll hear the rest of Jesus’ sermon.

[i] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=5256

Today

Preached on 27 January 2019 at Church of the Ascension Seattle Washington
The third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

Today.  Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your presence.  This is Jesus’ hometown sermon.  Sometimes that’s the most dangerous kind – they already know you, your history.  They watched you grow up.

He’s been preaching and teaching around Galilee, but now he’s come home.  The words he reads from the prophet, Isaiah, are no doubt familiar to the people.  But then he sits down.  And all eyes turn to him.  They’ve heard the stories; they know what he’s been doing in the other towns.  He looks them in the eye and says, in essence, This is Real.  It’s True.  And it’s right now.  Today.  In your presence.

While the NRSV translates it as “has been” fulfilled, it’s actually more of an ongoing meaning:  It has been fulfilled, is being fulfilled, and it will continue being fulfilled in every Today.  It’s not about a particular date in history.

We’ll see this proclamation of Good News play out all through Jesus’ ministry.  We’ll see the release for those held captive by demons and disease.  People who are blind will receive their sight; hungry people will be fed, and so on.  It doesn’t end with the sermon on that day.  It doesn’t end at the cross or even the ascension.  The fulfillment of God’s promises continues, as we see in the ministry of the Apostles.  It doesn’t end with them, either.  This Scripture continues to be fulfilled in every Today.  It is not only a declaration, but a promise.

When you look around you, what do you see?  What do you focus on?  It’s easy to notice what we think God should be doing.  But what is God already doing? In this Today?

As Evelyn Underhill wrote, “God is always coming to you in the Sacrament of the Present Moment.  Meet and receive God there, with gratitude in that Sacrament.”

It has been a joy to spend the last, nearly a year with you; to be part of your community; to meet and receive God in this Sacrament of the Present Moment, over and over again.  To see God at work in and through the lives of the people of Ascension.

You have a lot to celebrate.  This has most certainly not been a fallow year, a year of rest.  No, we’ve continued and expanded our programs and ministries.  People have stepped into new roles, onto new ground, tried new things.  And we’re looking to the future, to what this new year holds for us.

You’ll hear a bit about some of those things when we move over to McLauchlan Hall after communion.
Like how “Becoming Beloved Community” is moving forward from learning about and talking about race and racism, to taking action; making some small steps to dismantle racism.  And we’ll hear about how Outreach Ministries are reaching out to include more of our people.

You’ll learn about the many opportunities to join together to form the bonds of community and Spiritual friendship as we support one another in our lives in Christ – from the littlest children to our members who need a ride to church.  Think about what you might like to do with your church friends, to support our mission and ministry.

You see, when Jesus says, “Today, this Scripture has been / is being / will continue to be fulfilled in your hearing, it’s not only a declaration; it’s not only a promise.  It’s an invitation.  An invitation to partner with Christ to fulfill the Scripture in every Today.

What we do, does make a difference, no matter how small that act seems.  God is already at work in our lives – through our lives – for the sake of the world.

As one commentator wrote, “Jesus’ sermon is ours to finish.  Well, not to finish, but ours to keep on preaching; ours to make sure keeps happening.”

Today.  And every Today.

 

You have kept the good wine until now.

Preached on 20 January 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The Second Sunday in Epiphany, Year C

“You have kept the good wine until now.”  That’s what the steward says to the bridegroom.  And you know what?  Neither one of them actually knows what just happened.

This is the very start of Jesus’ ministry in the gospel of John.  His first sign.  The first time he reveals his power and glory and purpose. The first instance of the grace upon grace that John writes about in his prologue.  Not a sermon.  Not a healing or an exorcism.  Not a call to repent; not even forgiveness.

No, John tells us that Jesus’ first sign is unexpected abundance at a joyous celebration of a new relationship; the joining of two people in marriage, two households, two families.  It is a sign of God’s utter delight in us in our humanity.

This sign happens in a very public place, but almost no one is even aware of it.  Jesus, of course, the servants who fill the jars with water and then draw out wine know and possibly Jesus’ mother may be the only ones.  Apparently, the disciples find out because John writes that they believe in him because of it.  But everyone else?  The steward and the bridegroom, the bride and the guests they all enjoy the results, but they are unaware that a miracle has occurred.  Jesus was not trying to call attention to himself, you see.

Everything about it seems wrong, though:

  • The wrong person; when his mother points out the problem Jesus responds, “What concern is that to you or me?”
  • The wrong time; “My hour has not yet come,” Jesus says.
  • The wrong vessels; nobody stores wine in stone jars.
  • The wrong wine; you’re supposed to serve the best wine first
  • The wrong people are witnesses; the servants, not the bridegroom.

And yet, it’s perfect.

  • The bridegroom and the family are saved from the shame of running out of wine.
  • The whole party benefits from the grace without even knowing what’s happened.
  • We see God’s delight and God’s desire for our

I wonder if we’re a bit like the wedding guests in the story; enjoying the gift of God’s abundant grace, but missing the sign.

How do we look for and recognize the signs?  Do we see better in hindsight?  I wonder if there’s a part of us that resists seeing them?  Do we prefer to attribute those gifts to our own inherent goodness or merit, to our own hard work alone, without acknowledging God or the countless people and other factors that have helped us along the way?  Maybe we need to pay more attention, look for them with expectation.

You can be sure that God is giving us an abundance of exactly the gifts, the grace that we need, right now.

“You have kept the good wine until now.”
That’s what God does.  That’s what God is doing here, with us.  The marvelous thing about it is, That doesn’t mean that God has been holding out on us, that there hasn’t been good wine all along.  The best, in fact.

It’s more like God is the master sommelier, always pairing the perfect wine with the food on our plate.  God perfectly matches the gifts God gives us with the opportunities we have.

Do you think that might connect with our reading from Corinthians about spiritual gifts?

Paul writes to the brothers and sisters in Corinth about the gifts they receive from God.  He reminds them that the gifts are for the building up of the community.  They receive a whole variety of gifts – and he names them – but no one should think that their gift is better or more important than another.  God is the source of all of them and all are needed.

What is the good wine God is providing in abundance right now, here at Ascension?  And what are we doing with it?  Are we trying to save it, put it in the wine cellar for a special occasion?  Are we hiding it, hoping no one will notice?  Or are we pouring it out, seeing that everyone is included and treasured?  Are we sharing God’s delight?

Often, we see gifts as problems to be overcome rather than grace to be embraced.  I think the gift of a tight budget may be one of those.  I bet you never thought of it as a gift.

Now, I’m not trying to romanticize poverty or tell people who are truly struggling financially that they should feel lucky.  No, not at all.

However, maybe you can remember a time in your life, like maybe living the dorms in college, or when you were first starting out; or remember a time in the life of Ascension when there wasn’t much money.  So, you had fun by being together.  You worked together to get stuff done, whether it was preparing a meal or painting a room, fixing a fence or cleaning up the kitchen or the garden.

By coming together to accomplish something, we build community and form friendships.  We get to know each other better, discover the gifts in one another.  We share our lives and our stories.  And in all that knowing, we can learn to discern what God wants us to do.  Together.  So, you see, even a tight budget is a gift of grace.

Next week is our annual meeting.  I urge you to come.  We’ll learn about the gift of a tight budget and about the many opportunities to experience the grace of God’s abundant gifts shared in community.  Coming together to care for one another, to take care of our place, and to care for our neighbors, we build up our community; we care even more deeply about one another.

Lord, you have kept the good wine until now.
Sisters and brothers, let us rejoice and be glad.

You

Preached on 13 January, 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
Baptism of our Lord, Year C

You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own. Forever.  This may well be the single most important Truth about you and who you are.  It’s what the priest says while marking your forehead with oil when you’re baptized; a proclamation of what was already true.

Now here’s the trouble I keep running into.  Baptism, like all sacraments, is God’s action.  And, it’s a mystery.  Not a puzzle-to-be-solved-if we-only-knew-enough mystery, but a truth beyond our ability to explain or even to understand.  It is a mystery that can only be experienced.

And so, every attempt to talk about what it means or what is happening or why, always diminishes it.  They all fall short.  But still we try.

Baptism is about being named and claimed by God as a child of God.

At Jesus’ baptism, God names him and claims him as God’s own.  Every year, on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord.  Now, each gospel-writer has a somewhat different way of telling the story.  This year, we hear from the author of Luke.

First, I want to acknowledge that the baptism John did was not the same as the baptism done through the church.  We hear a bit about that in our reading from Acts.

There are a couple of details are unique to Luke.  In this account, John speaks of the One who is to come after him as having a winnowing fork in his hand.  That he will separate the wheat from the chaff and the chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire.  You get the sense that John is expecting judgment, separating the good guys from the bad guys; rewarding the good and punishing the bad.

On the one hand, we often interpret this as being about heaven and hell after we die.  On the other hand, it sounds like John is expecting the One to come – whom we know to be Jesus – to meet out judgment right away and set the messed-up world to rights.

That’s not exactly what Jesus does, though, is it?  Have you ever noticed that there are a lot of expectations presented that Jesus doesn’t quite fulfill – and in many cases doesn’t even come close?

Maybe there’s another way of understanding the wheat and the chaff and the winnowing fork.  In listening to a discussion of this week’s lectionary, I heard one person suggest a different possibility and it got me thinking.

What if the wheat and the chaff are actually within each of us?  Every healing, every exorcism, every act of forgiveness is a winnowing, separating the wheat from the chaff.  Jesus cleanses us, purifies us, restores us, keeping that which is good and nourishing and fruitful (the wheat) and ridding us of the chaff within us.

Perhaps the judgment of the winnowing fork is not so much about rewarding or punishing our behavior.  Rather it is about restoring our souls; setting us to rights within our selves and our relationships and most importantly setting us to rights in our relationship with God through Christ.  To my mind, this understanding is more in keeping with the whole of Jesus’ life.

Another detail in Luke’s account is that after Jesus is baptized and is praying, a voice comes from heaven, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well-pleased.”  God speaks directly to Jesus.  God sees him.

Seeing is a central theme in Luke’s gospel.  Over and over again, we will hear that Jesus sees someone; someone whom the others disregard, ignore, dismiss, someone whom they see as unworthy and undeserving.

That word, “You,” focuses our attention on Jesus and calls us to come near and see him more clearly.  It call us to see all those whom Jesus sees:  those we may be tempted to ignore, avoid, or just plain pretend we don’t see.  When God says, “You,” we may even hear God’s voice, God’s call to us, saying “You are my beloved child.”  To hear “you” is to be regarded, even favored by God.

And then, then we say that same “you” to others, to those who so desperately need to be seen, to be regarded, to know that they are loved by God.

Baptism is a response to that love.  In just a few minutes, we will renew our baptismal vows, recommitting ourselves to a life in Christ.  I want to talk a little bit about a couple of those vows.

The first vow in the baptismal covenant is to continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and in the prayers.  That is about your ongoing involvement in a community of faith.  Christianity is not a solitary religion.  We need each other; it is a faith practiced in community with others.

Every time someone is baptized, you, the people gathered, vow to do everything in your power to support that person – that infant, that child, that man, that woman, that parent – in their life in Christ.

It doesn’t mean only the individuals whose baptism you attended, as if you’re keeping track.  It’s a vow we make to one another – all of us.  The truth is, we need one another.  This community needs each and every one of you in order to live the life Christ calls us to.

As we move forward through this transition and into this new year, we need to prayerfully discern, What will you do to support this community in its life in Christ?

How will you support the children as they grow in Christ? Their parents and families? The church offers numerous opportunities to share your life, to give of your time and creativity so support one another in order that each may grow into the full stature of Christ and serve the world in his name.

Because, you see, You, each and every one of you, are claimed by God as a beloved child.  You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own.  Forever.