Archive for January, 2009

3rd Sunday In Ordinary Time

Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; Mark1: 14-20


I.        Way In

A.      Things happen by the water

B.      I notice it when I lived by the ocean

1.      I go down and sit at the beach to watch, pray, read

2.      there are others there, too

C.      It’s the power of God and the wonder of God’s works

1.      power of the sea

a)      crashing surf, steady push of the wind

2.      see what has washed up on the beach

a)      shells, driftwood, beach glass

D.     I go there as a witness and leave with something new

1.      go to see what God is bringing up, showing me

2.      go to pray, think, read, just look

3.      leave with something new

a)      answers, more questions

b)      shell, glass, wood

(1)   some are whole

(2)   some are broken

(3)   all are reminders of God’s shaping and making

(a)   beach glass=something beautiful from broken cast-offs

E.      I have noticed it here, too

1.      in a different way

2.      Friday, riding around in the country

a)      kept passing, crossing over the Great Miami River

b)      places where it was still frozen over

(1)   great sheet of ice

(2)   some places where the current was strong enough

(a)   to cut through the ice

(b)   or keep it from freezing in the first place

(3)   moving water – such a force of nature

(a)   power to break through ice

(b)   power to form smooth and round river rocks

(c)    power to cut through rock

(i)     make canyon’s walls

F.       Today’s readings – 2 stories take place at the shore

1.      Jonah

a)      Starts like a regular story

(1)   Look at what happened before

(2)   Begin with J. lying on the beach having just been regurgitated by a giant fish

b)      Is the fish story true?

c)      Jonah reluctant to go to Nineveh

d)      J. resented God’s mercy, preferred God to be full of wrath

(1)   Was he a prophet or just a curmudgeon?

(2)   Talking words with power to change? Or just condemning the people of Nineveh?

e)      See the power of God to change a whole city

2.      Jesus

a)      This is where his ministry begins – Galilee, at the shore

b)      Describes Jesus’ ministry

(1)   Proclamation

(a)   Prophecy is fulfilled

(b)   Repent

(c)    Believe in the good news

(2)   “Follow me” and your life will be different

(a)   used to fish for fish, now fish for people

(3)   Simon, Peter, James, and John

(a)   Immediately dropped what they were doing

3.      Transition

a)      “unreal” quality of these two stories

(1)   Jonah

(a)   Man thrown overboard

(b)   giant fish swallows him up, then spits him on the beach

(c)    goes to town with a word from God that changes the whole town right away

(2)   Jesus

(a)   Goes down to the “town dock”

(b)   Invites 4 fishermen to come with him

(c)    And they do…immediately

b)      Have to suspend reality and let these sink in

(1)   Have to act “as if” God has the power to bring about such radical change

(a)   God’s word can change a whole town

(b)   God’s call can bring people to a new way of living

II.      Exercise

A.      Introduce

1.      Trust me with something different today

2.      this is not going to be like the usual sermon time

3.      Invite you to suspend reality, and use your imagination

B.      First

1.      Imagine you are at the shore and Jesus comes looking for disciples

a)      There doing your work, mending nets, maybe you’re there reading or playing in the sand

b)      Jesus comes to you and says he is about to change you completely…your not going to do like you used to do, from now on it’s going to be completely different

(1)   What do you hear around you? (nature, people)

(2)   Jesus is giving you freedom

(a)   Like Nineveh was free to completely change, repent

(b)   Like Andrew, James, John to a new way of making a living

(i)     Like Simon – with a new name

c)      What’s it like on the second day?

(1)   Now that you have a new way of living?

(2)   What are you doing you didn’t used to do?

(3)   What aren’t you doing that you used to do?

C.      Second

1.      With someone else

2.      Suspend reality, imagine…

a)      Jesus has visited this church, it’s not like it used to be

b)      What do you see happening?

(1)   Turkey Trot, Christmas Concert, Deacons to Alpha and Jackson Towers, work of committees and other groups …

c)      Don’t worry about the “right answer”, don’t worry about whether “it’s allowed”

d)      Suspend reality…act “as if” God has the power God claims to have

(1)   “as if” God has the power to change Nineveh

(2)   “as If” God has the power to give four fishermen a new life

3.      What’s happening, take a few minutes and share this with someone else

a)      where is God calling you … tugging you

D.     Third – With someone else – Remember, suspend reality

1.      First, imagine

a)      Where are you in this new thing God is doing?

b)      What is God doing with you?

c)      Where is God using you?

2.      Second

a)      How do you make this happen?

b)      What is God calling you to do?

III.    So What?

A.      New life here

B.      What do you imagine?

C.      You have suspended reality and dreamed

1.      first steps in making room for the HS?

2.      that’s how the HS acts…

a)      you have suspend reality – open to Spirit’s work and presence

b)      you have acted “as if” this really happens

D.     This is your church – this is our church – it’s the Body of Christ

1.      “open the doors and there’s all the people”

2.      You are the church, you are the Body of Christ

E.      I’m going to ask you do something else brand new

1.      the scriptures are becoming God’s Word among us

2.      you have imagined yourself in the Word, and shared it with someone else

3.      Invite folks to share what they have been talking about

F.       One person can’t do it all, part of my job is to provide leadership, to help you create the space where God’s will can be done

1.      we have decided to follow Jesus

2.      we have learned the power of suspending reality and imagining what God is doing

G.     “and Jonah set out,”

1.      he heard the call of God to go someplace he really didn’t want to go to

a)      but Jonah set out anyway

H.     like Jesus down at the shore

1.      calling others, calling you, calling us …

I.        Let us set out, come and see …

1.      like we said last week, can anything good come out of it?

a)      Come and see!

2.      Follow Jesus, he’ll have you doing something new…fishing for people

3.      and Jonah set out, open to the presence, work, and power of the Holy Spirit

J.        So let it be with us . Amen.


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Usually I preach from an outline, this week I used a written manuscript.

1 Samuel 3: 1-10; John 1: 43-51


            Sleeping in church is an age-old tradition, one which I have been known to keep.  Now, I’m not going to call any names, but I know of some others who keep that tradition, too, from time to time.

            Sometimes you can get away with it.  But those other times… The worst is when you snore.  Forget about keeping it a secret then.  Hopefully, your spouse or somebody sitting nearby will hear you grunt a little and punch you before you really start sawing logs.  But if you’re like me, a snore is pretty hard to hide.

            What about the head jerk?  You know when you nod off and wake yourself up?  Then you jerk your head back up real quick, as if it was the most natural move in the world to make.  Believe me; it’s hard to hide a head jerk.

            Sometimes, other parts of your body jerk when you go to sleep.  Kazy says that when I fall asleep, I usually do a full body jerk or two.  I found that’s not just when I’m in bed, either.  Once in seminary, I was sitting in Dr. Kathleeen O’Connor’s Old Testament survey class.  I took as many classes as I could from Dr. O’Connor, her classes were like a dance.  It seemed like she was always inviting her students to join her in the dance as she moved through her lecture with grace and poise.  Her perspective was astounding and precise, and she has an excellent academic reputation among Bible scholars.

            For all of those reasons, I always wanted to sit on the front row.  I didn’t want to miss anything Dr. O’Connor said.  And for all those reasons, I felt like such a jerk one day when I showed up to her class after having stayed up most of the night before working on a project for another class.  I felt like a jerk because I was sitting right up front, front and center, right under her nose, and I was getting so sleepy that I could barely hold my head up.  Anybody with any sense would have moved to the back of the room to sleep, but not me.  I was in my usual spot on the front row, at the very center of the room.

            I was sitting right under Dr. O’Connor’s nose when I fell asleep and woke myself up with a jerk.  This was not a head jerk, but a full-body jerk, and when I jerked my arms, I pushed my big old study Bible right off of my desk onto the floor at Dr. O’Connor’s feet.

            Wham!  It sounded like a gunshot.  And she never even ;lost stride, she just went right on talking about the Babylonian exile or whatever she was on that day while I reached under my desk to get my Bible off of the floor, trying to act like I had it all under control.

            I managed to stay awake for the rest of class.  Knocking my Bible on the floor and humiliating myself in front of a favorite professor was kind of like falling asleep at the wheel.  The adrenalin or whatever it is kicked in and I managed to stay awake for the rest of class, but I was so embarrassed that I called Dr. O’Connor later to apologize for sleeping in her class.

            The boy, Samuel, as Jean read for us just now was supposed to be sleeping in church.  Hannah, his mother, had brought him to the temple just as she promised.  She made a promise with God before Samuel was born that if she was able to have a child, she would see that he served God.  God was good to God’s word, and Hannah was good to hers, she brought the boy Samuel to Eli, the High Priest.

            They were living in a time when “the word of God was rare…visions were not widespread.”  Israel was not currently at war with anybody, but war was often nearby.  Just ahead in chapter four we read that the Philistines were getting ready for war against Israel.

            They had lived in the Land of Promise for long enough to establish a way of life for themselves that must have seemed unimaginable when they were slaves in Egypt or wandering in the wilderness.

            They said that the word of God was rare and there were hardly any visions, but that surely didn’t mean that God wasn’t still paying attention.   And on this particular night, that rare word of God came to young Samuel while he was sleeping in the temple near the Ark of the Covenant.  “Samuel.  Samuel,” he heard the voice.

            It must have been Eli calling; there wasn’t anybody else in the building.  He ran to Eli and said “Here I am.”

            “I didn’t say anything, go back to bed,” said Eli.

            Samuel went back to bed.  Soon, the voice came again.  “Samuel!”

            Again he got out of bed, and went to Eli.  And you notice it doesn’t say that he ran this time.  I wonder if he was thinking Eli was playing some kind of joke in him.  He went to Eli again and said, “Here I am, you called me.”

            It was the middle of the night, Eli was tired too.  “No, son, go back to bed.  I’m not calling you.”

            Samuel goes back to his bed, probably a pallet on the floor, like Eli says.  Now Samuel must be around 12 or 13, stilled called a boy in the scriptures, but we know he’s old enough to be receiving religious training in the Temple.  Do you know any 12 or 13 year olds?  They can be hard to figure out, can’t they?  By this time Samuel is either angry about being woken up by whoever is playing a joke in him, or scared about this mysterious voice in the church in the middle of the night – which can be kind of a spooky place anyway.

            He had just gotten back to sleep when he was awakened for THE THIRD TIME.  Again he went to Eli, again not running.  “Here I am, you called me,” he said.  I bet his polite responses were getting a little forced by now.

            By this time, Eli had figured it out.  It was God – YHWH Elohim who was calling.  Eli told the boy what to do if he heard the voice again.  Can you imagine going back to his pallet after being told to answer next time because it was God – I AM, who was calling?

            The scriptures say this time that Samuel went to lie down in his place.  This time, notice that it doesn’t say he went to sleep.  Would you?  Could you sleep if there was a chance that God was about to speak to you?  Then the voice came again, “Samuel.  Samuel!”

            Just like Eli told him, Samuel responded.  “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

            And that’s where our reading for today ends, but the narrative continues with, “then the Lord said to Samuel.”  We know that after that Samuel grew in the Lord.  The scriptures say that the Lord was with Samuel and never let his words fall to the ground.

            So the first lesson for us out of today’s reading: even though we are tempted to get up and run when we hear God’s call, the best thing to do is to listen to the plan first.  We want to seem responsive and we have learned that that means to get busy.  But that busy-ness is about like stumbling around the house half asleep.  Before we can really follow God’s call we need to listen to what God has to say.

            Now let’s go to the gospel reading where Jesus is calling his first disciples.  The first ones came from John the Baptizer, remember how we said that his ministry was always pointing away from himself and to Jesus?  That’s what happened this day, because Jesus’ first disciples were formerly with John.  But when Jesus came along, John said, “Look, there he is, the Lamb of God.”  That’s the one John had been preparing them for and when Jesus came along they went with him.

            They say with raising children, one thing you have to give them is wings to fly on their own someday.  This is what John’s followers were meant to do.  When Jesus came along, they would go with  him.  So they went with Jesus, Andrew and one other.  And the first thing Andrew did was to evangelize and go get his brother Simon, who Jesus called Cephas or Peter. (which means Rock)

            In Galilee, Jesus found Philip who followed Jesus and went to tell his friend Nathanael who wasn’t such an easy sell.  Nate wasn’t so sure about this Nazarene, he figured he was just some hick, some redneck like all those others, “Yeah, like anything good can come out of Nazareth,” he says.

            “Well, just come and see,” Philip says.  And Nathanael came to see what the deal was with this hick from Nazareth.  Nathanael responded to Philips invitation to follow the call of Christ, and both of their lives changed.

            This is where a preacher is reminded of a story Will Willimon tells[1].  Rev. Willimon is the Dean of the Chapel at Duke, and he got a call from an irate parent one day.  It was the father of one of his students who called to say that he held Rev. Willimon personally responsible for his daughter’s ridiculous decision to put off graduate school to “throw it all away” to go do mission work for a year in Haiti with the Presbyterian church.

            The father saw this as an absolute waste of her time and his money, with a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Duke, she was going to dig ditches in Haiti.  “You were completely irresponsible to encourage her to do this,” the man said to Rev. Willimon.  This was one mad daddy.

            Willimon was able to calm the man down somewhat and suggested that it was really her parents who started this process with their daughter.  They were the ones who had her baptized and read the Bible to her.  It was her parents who took her to Sunday School and Youth Group.  Rev. Willimon said, “You’re the ones who introduced her to Jesus, not me.”

            “Maybe so,” replied the father, “but all we ever wanted her to be was a Presbyterian.”

            Following Jesus rarely ends us up where we thought we would be.  Rev. Willimon says that’s why we bolt the church pews to the floor, or at least want them to stay in the exact same place with all the other properly placed church furniture.  It’s the same reason for having the worship service printed up in a bulletin (hold it up) and keep things in the church predictable and in order.  He suggests an inner fear.

            We tend to tie everything down, whether with bolts and screws or with tradition and habit, to make church as predictable, settled, and fixed as we can, because the stories we hear in this place are about people whose lives have been radically changed after hearing their name called.  We believe in the living God, and we are perhaps a little afraid of what God is up to, on the loose even when the word of God seems rare, and visions are not widespread.  Even the living God who comes out of little redneck village like Nazareth.

            When you hear the word of God, it’s not usually what you had in mind.  It turns things upside down, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.  Servants are leaders.  Barren women, like Hannah, have babies.  Settled people, like the fishermen Jesus first called, leave their life’s work to follow some hick from Nazareth.

            Maybe we think visions aren’t widespread.  We may think the word of God is rare.  Maybe we think the living God ought to be living in decent, respectable neighborhoods.  Maybe we think the living God ought to live in a particular way, particularly we may think God ought to sit where he belongs in church, and stand when he’s supposed to…like we do.  But God’s calling comes in completely unpredictable times, from completely unpredictable places, and urges us to unpredictable places.

            On the evening of December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks left a hard day’s work as a tailor’s assistant in Montgomery.  She was tired and got on the bus to go home.  In the segregated south, black people had to ride in the back of municipal buses.  And the color line could always be moved back if the white people needed more seats.  Black people were not allowed to sit if any white people had to stand.

            Rosa Parks was sitting on the forward-most row in what they called the “Colored Section” when a white man got on the bus.  There were no more seats, so the bus driver told Mrs. Parks and the other black people in her row they would have to get up.  The white man was supposed to get a seat, and all the black people on the row had to get up because no black people could occupy the same row as a white person.

            We don’t hear much about Rosa Park’s seatmates, but we know about Rosa Parks.  Like Fannie Lou Hamer said in Mississippi, she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”   Her feet were tired, and her face must have been hot with anger and fear, and I know that God spoke words of comfort to her, as she sat there while the driver stopped the bus, and went to get the police.

            As the Montgomery Bus Boycott began, God called somebody else.  “Martin.  Martin!”  God was calling.  Rev. Martin Luther King knew from the start that he was being called to a dangerous calling, but he was being called to a just calling.  If you read his speeches, you will know as he did that God was always with him, and his words would never fall to the ground.  Even on the eve of his murder, as he spoke to the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, he said that he may not get there with them, but the day would come when a lady like Rosa Parks could sit where she pleased, unrestricted by the ignorance and fear of others.  Dr. King’s life was never the same after he heard God’s call, and through him, by the grace of God, neither was anybody else’s.

            Be ready.  God is calling you.  That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?  Be careful how you respond.  Listen first, before you hit the ground running.  Be open to the living God who lives where Jesus walks through cities and hamlets calling people from their ordinary lives, often away from comfort and predictability, saying I am doing something exciting here.  Come and see.  Come and see.

So may it be with us.  Amen.

[1] William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Sept 10, 1995

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Baptism of the Lord

Baptism of the Lord

January 11, 2009

First Presbyterian Church of Sidney, OH

Rev. Joe Hinds

Mark 1: 4-11; Genesis 1: 1-5


I.        Way In

A.      Baptism here last month

1.      heavens weren’t torn apart

2.      don’t remember a voice from heaven

3.      but I do remember the way we gathered …

a.      to witness the covenant God has sealed with Allisson Blasquez

i.        and her church family – her Christian family

B.      Part of the Baptism liturgy I use calls those of us not being baptized that day ..

1.      to remember our baptism

2.      or one we have attended for a friend, family member

3.      …. to remember God’s claim on us – God’s covenant

a.      who we are and whose we are

C.      I don’t remember my baptism

1.      I was 4 months old

2.      but my mother told me there were about 10 people standing up at the front

3.      we were at Crawford Street United Methodist Church

a.      Vicksburg, MS

b.      where my great-grandfather had been a pastor

4.      Momma said on that day  I was surrounded by aunts, grandmothers, great-grandmothers (I think) …anyway a big crowd

5.      but I always remember the baptism of my own children

a.      Miller and jack in Birmingham – SHPC

i.        our friends and pastors, Rev.s Waters and Weitnauer

ii.      and Pauly at SCPC in EHNY

·         Kazy and I were ministers ourselves then

·         but we were parents that day

·         beloved friend from ATL, Rev. Johnson came to baptize Pauly,

D.     I also remember Robert’s baptism

1.      one of my youth group members in BHM

2.      Baptized on Easter Sunday

3.      as the whole family stood around the font, Dr. Waters began his comments about baptizing Robert, a young man who had gone through confirmation and was ready for baptism

4.      as Dr. Waters made the statement that we will baptize Robert today …

a.      he reached his hand in the font

b.      and finding it to be without water

c.       he looked up and said, “But we’re not going to do a dry baptism

i.        I was sitting at the front

ii.      and I guess I was the first one in the congregation that Dr Waters made eye contact with

d.      He said, “Joe, would you go put some water in the font.

e.      took the font

f.        didn’t know where they water usually came from

g.      first thing I saw was the drinking fountain

h.      filled the bowl there

i.        later Rev. Water talked about the “common, ordinary” water we use

j.        I said to somebody next to me – yes and it’s cold too



Common water, but what power it has when God uses it.  Think about  the Genesis text  … remember what the scriptures say, that there was a formless void with darkness covering the face of the deep as a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Just water, common water, but what power when God uses it.  Because from this same formless void, God’s wind, the word in Hebrew is ruach, which also means spirit, swept over the face of the waters, and by the seventh day God was resting from creating all that is.

            Imagine all known universes as a swirling mass of formless void with darkness over deep, then a mighty wind from God swept over it just before God said, “Let there be light.”  One thing I could imagine as I listened to Jane read that text was the magnificent power of God, seen in wind and water.  You’ve seen this power in a mighty river, lake, or ocean

            What power there is when God uses it.

            Recently, I was reading an article by a preacher about baptism stories in the media.  I remembered one of his examples, it was from “All in the Family.”  It was the one where Archie Bunker wanted his new grandson to be baptized, but Gloria and Michael would have no part of it.  They weren’t interested in organized religion.

            So Archie got his grandson out of the house on some other pretense and took the boy down to the church where they met with the minister.  Archie told the minister that he wanted his grandson “done.” The minister tries to explain that baptism is not something just “done,” he talked about commitment and covenant, but Archie wasn’t interested in all that, he just wanted his grandson “done.”  The episode ends with Archie alone in an empty church sanctuary holding his grandson delicately.  Archie reached into the baptismal font and drew out his hand, dripping with water, and placed it on his grandsons head.  With all hope and trust in his powerful and mysterious God, Archie repeated the familiar liturgy, “I baptize thee…”

            Another example comes from the movie “The Apostle,” which was directed by Robert Duvall who also does a wonderful job of playing Sonny Dewey, a Pentecostal preacher from Texas.  Sonny is the pastor at a rather large church until he leaves town to avoid getting arrested following an incident where he took a baseball bat to his youth minister who was having an affair with Sonny’s wife.

            Leaving behind a comatose youth minister, a broken marriage, and a sick, elderly mother, Sonny heads for a new life in Louisiana.  Sonny is ready to make a new start in Louisiana and is prepared re-commit his life to the Lord.  He wants to seal that commitment with baptism, and there being no preachers around, Sonny finds a nice river where he wades in, and prays this prayer, “With great humility, I ask permission to be accepted as an Apostle of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and with your gracious permission I wish to be baptized as an Apostle of the Lord.  Therefore, without witnesses, I baptize myself in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost…and in the name of Jesus.”

            That’s the first time I ever heard of somebody baptizing themselves, but I have heard of people doing like Archie Bunker.  Even though these are both unusual, Archie and Sonny both know what a powerful thing baptism is.

            John, who we read about in Mark’s gospel, performed a whole lot of baptisms.  People came from all over to listen to him; he preached forgiveness, repentance, and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ.

            Then John is the one who baptizes Jesus Christ, himself!  Now the Baptism of Christ has a day on our church calendar, it always follows Epiphany, but we don’t make a huge fuss over it. It hardly gets the notice of Christmas or Easter, we know it’s important but it’s not such a huge day for us.  We should notice that the narrative of Jesus’ birth is only in Matthew and Luke, but the account of Jesus baptism is in all four gospels, plus Acts and Romans.  This baptism is a big deal!

            Even before Jesus arrived on the scene, John was preaching to the people about new life as covenant people.   He told them to repent, which means literally to turn.  To repent is to totally turn – to reorient your life in a new direction.  Repentance is not being truly sorry for something you got caught doing.  Repentance is admitting the error of your ways, and committing to a new way of living, turning completely from the old ways.

            When they asked John what they should do to start living their lives as reoriented people of God, John told the crowds that anyone who had two coats must share with somebody who has no coat, and do the same with food.  These are basic marks of a reoriented life, living as Christ teaches, lessons John got from the same place in the Hebrew scriptures.

            We all know that it’s not the sacrament of baptism that changes us, there’s nothing magic about the water we use.  John the Baptizer did not offer any magic baptism, but he knew the power of the sign of baptism as a seal of commitment to a new way of living.  Just as God’s wind, God’s breath, God’s Spirit, blew over the deep, powerful waters at the creation of the worlds, God’s ruach blows over the waters of baptism – ordinary water, but what power when God uses it.

            There’s nothing magic about the water, but the wetness it leaves on the skin is a sign and seal of the power of God in reorienting lives.  Jesus knew it, John knew it, Sonny knew it, even Archie Bunker knew it.

            The power comes from God.   In John’s ministry, he was constantly pointing away from himself towards God.  He never claimed his own authority or power, only that whatever he did came through the power of God in Christ, whose sandal strap he was not even worthy to tie.

            God’s breathtaking power is evident when Jesus comes to the waters of baptism, and as he was coming up out of the water he saw the heavens torn apart not just opened.  The Greek word is schizomai, which translates into English as split or ripped.  It’s the word schism comes from.

            Then God’s Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove.  The Greek word we translate as spirit is pneuma which also means wind.  Remember our Hebrew lesson from before;  Ruach, meaning wind, breath, or Spirit?  The same wind of God’s Spirit that blew over the waters at the creation descends on Jesus at his baptism, as quiet as the flight of a dove with the power to create worlds from the swirling deep dark.

            That is the power of God in baptism, and the same empowers us to emerge from the waters of baptism full of the possibilities of new life.  In the Presbyterian Church, we baptize a person one time.  But we can remember the power of that baptism, and we can acknowledge the change over our life it marks, and even though it may have been some years since that day, every day is new to us in God’s grace, it’s like emerging from the waters of baptism every day into a new life in God’s possibilities.

            And every day we rise, as we stand there dripping wet we hear the words of John – to share what we have.  Dripping with new life, as pools of water form at our feet, we hear the teachings of Christ to forgive others as we have been forgiven, to love one another as he has loved us, and to go and make disciples of all nations.  This new life means a lot of things we have to do, but we must not think of it as a job.  It’s a new life, one that builds a community of faith built on the unity of Jesus Christ which is for all people.

            I want to go back to the example I was telling you about before, from the movie The Apostle.  After his baptism, Sonny, who was now calling himself the Apostle E. F., started preaching again.  He eventually moved into a renovated old church building out in the country.  He called his new church “The One Way Road to Heaven Holiness Temple.”  I won’t tell you how the movie ends, but as long as he was preaching, he called himself, “a genuine, Holy Ghost, Jesus-filled preachin’ machine.” Sonny preached about the power of Baptism. “Power!,” he would say as he banged on the podium, or ran up and down the aisles.  Power!   — that’s not my style, but we know about that same power of God  (hymn we’re about to sing)


We use ordinary water for baptism.  But what power it has when God uses it.



·         Where do you find the power to keep going every day?

·         Where do you find the power to even get out of bed some days?

·         Where do you find the power to continue to believe in love in a world that is filled with hate?

·         Where do you find the power to continue to believe in, to even work for peace in a world that is addicted to violence?

·         Where do you find the power to continue to believe in good as unimaginable horror and wickedness comes with each page we turn in the newspaper?

·         Where do you find the power to continue to believe that ultimately God’s kingdom will come and God’s will, as revealed in Jesus, will be done in all of the creation?

·         Where do you find the power to be a disciple of Jesus in this world?

            But you see, these things are not the last word.  That’s why Jesus teaches us a new way of living.  We don’t have to believe that violence and evil are the last words, because God in Christ shows a new way to live in the face of all that.  Let the fanatics who rave about these things on radio and TV have these wicked things, let the paranoid editorial writers rail on new world orders and whine about their moral dogma.


            We have been empowered by the powerful Spirit of God.  We may not change the whole world in our lifetime, we may not even change anybody else, but when we remember the power of God and the mark of our baptism, we remember that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to:

think more clearly,

feel more deeply,

love more generously,

speak more truthfully,

serve more faithfully,

give more lavishly,

live more fully.


            That is the power of God, marked in the water of our baptism.  Maybe you will notice the baptism foint as you leave, there’s water in it, feel the water on your way out and remember your baptism.  Put a little bit on your forehead if you like.  Remember the power of God in your baptism.  Common water, but what power it has when God uses it.  So may it be with us.  Amen.


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Matthew 2:1-12 “Home by another way”


I.        Way In

A.      It takes a while to run through all the Christmas movies: Grinch, Frosty, Charlie Brown, White Christmas, Christmas Story, etc.

1.      The Bishop’s Wife, 1947, starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven).  Have you seen it?

a)      Story of a city pastor (played by David Niven) who was elevated to Bishop

(1)   In his new office, the Bishop he lost touch with people: parish, family, and friends

b)      Bishop obsessed with construction of cathedral, which became the goal of his ministry

(1)   wealthy parishioner willing to foot the bill

(a)   demanded tributes, plaques to her late husband all over the place

c)      Bishop prayed to God for help

(1)   God sent Bishop help, an angel (Cary Grant)

(2)   Bishop assumed angel was sent to help him build cathedral

(a)   don’t we like to think our plans are God’s plans?  especially in the church

d)      But the angel really helped:

(1)   restore Bishop’s relationship with wife, daughter, parishioners, and friends

e)      Angel took time to get to know the wealthy parishioner

(1)   Bishop had become most acquainted with her checkbook

(2)   Angel, Dudley, discovered she was building the cathedral to soothe her guilt about her husband

(3)   helped her discern a deeper desire to help less fortunate

(a)   instead of spending her millions on the cathedral, she decided to help the poor

f)       As the movie ended:

(1)   Bishop returned to loving family

(2)   and returned to preached the Christmas sermon in his former parish church

(3)   the little church that was fading away

(a)   now filled with new life

(b)   Bishop’s preaching was filled with new life

(c)    stress over new cathedral was over

2.      The Bishop had asked for help with his ministry

a)      Bishop assumed that that meant help with building the cathedral – that’s what he wanted, surely God agreed with his bishop?

b)      but what he got was help restoring his relationships with his family, parish, and friends

(1)   and a reminder that restoring relationships, breaking down barriers, and serving the poor had more to do with the greater ends of the church

(a)   than building a big, new, expensive, cathedral

B.      Bridge

1.      Where the Bishop wanted to go was to a place of meaningful ministry

a)      he thought that meant building the cathedral

b)      the angel showed him another way to get there

(1)   another way to reach meaningful ministry

(a)   restoring relationships and serving the poor

(b)   this is what builds up the Body of Christ

2.      The angel took the Bishop home another way

II.      Tell the Story

A.      “Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem asking ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?”

1.      doesn’t say 3, like the hymn

a)      although there were 3 gifts given (gold, frank., myrrh)

2.      says they were magi, doesn’t say kings

a)      magi – Greek for astrologers, a learned class from Persia

(1)   which was to the east – or Oriental direction, the opposite of Occidental)

B.      Their arrival in town was noted, people knew they …

1.      said they saw a star announcing the birth

2.      coming to pay homage/respects

C.      King Herod heard about them

1.      “he was frightened”

a)      more like he felt threatened

(1)   Herod was King!

(2)   didn’t want any other kings about

(3)   Like somebody going into the Oval Office to tell President Bush they heard there was a new president coming up – “Oh wait, there is”

(a)   it would be like somebody coming into President Obama’s office in a few weeks to say there’s a new president coming in.

2.      called a council of chief priests and scribes

a)      asked them where the prophecies said the Messiah was to be born

(1)   they quoted Micah 5:2 (read Mat. 1:6)

(a)   Messiah would be born in humble hamlet of Bethlehem ( ~x,l’ƒtyB  House of Bread)

(b)   Messiah would lead the people like a shepherd, not a tyrant, a despot, or even a king (as the world knew a king)

D.     Herod called the Magi

1.      told them to go and find the child, then report back to him

2.      from Cotton Patch Gospel

a)      “I heard there’s a new king coming ‘round, and I’d like to shake his hand.  I’d like to shake it real good”

E.      Magi found Jesus

1.      paid respects

2.      gave him gifts

F.       They had been warned in a dream about Herod

1.      so they left for their own country by another road/home by another way

III.    So What

A.      The King of the Jews

1.      Born in a humble hamlet, in a barn

2.      A king, but a shepherd

a)      not a king who sends young men to die in battle while he sits in an office

b)      not a king who collects tributes from his subjects labor to sit in fancy robes under a jeweled crown, upon a gilded throne

c)      but a shepherd who will gather in his flock himself to save their lives

3.      Jesus was God’s gift to the people, and that’s where he stayed

a)      he never belonged to the church officials of the day

B.      When the Magi met Jesus, they were filled with joy

1.      they knelt before him

2.      and gave him their most precious gifts

C.      Then they went home by another way

1.      they did not want Herod to know where Jesus was

2.      they also went home as changed people

a)      they had found what they were looking for

(1)   and they were amazed at what they saw

(2)   they left different

D.     We have done the same

1.      we, too heard the angels call

a)      the messengers during Advent

2.      We came to see on Christmas Eve

a)      came to worship, pray, and sing

b)      to heard God’s Word, the familiar story

c)      to stand in candle’s light and sing of the Holy Night

d)      to greet friends and prepare for Christmas Day

3.      We exchanged gifts in the tradition of the Magi on Christmas Day

a)      and hopefully remembered God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ

4.      May we also be changed by what we find here

a)      the Living Lord, Jesus Christ

(1)   who invites us to a feast today

(2)   invites us into relationships, fellowship,

(a)   satisfying work and ministry to be done

5.      Come as you are, leave different

a)      God loves us as we are, and he loves us too much to let us stay that way

6.      As we listen for God’s call to us

a)      let us pay attention to what God says, and what God shows us

b)      like the Bishop in the movie, it’s not what we expect all the time

7.      How is God changing you?  How is God sending you home by another way?

a)      We are starting a new year

(1)   you have a new pastor

(2)   I have a new congregation

(3)   we have expectations and dreams

(a)   of making a difference

(i)     in this community

(ii)   on this corner

(iii) onthis day

(a)   in the name of Jesus Christ

(4)   don’t forget the life-chgaing power of God

(a)   by the power of the HolySPirit

(b)   in the name of Jesus Christ

(5)   don’t forget the spirit of compassion and care that has guided this church for many years in faithful Christian witness

(a)   we know something of that spirit in the name Dorothy Love

(i)     her legacy is the wonderful retirement community bearing her name

(ii)   but you know that spirit of compassion and care did not leave this place when DLRC moved across town

(b)   that spirit is still here …

(a)   that same spirit of compassion and caring remains

(b)   and I believe that is the spirit present in 2009 as we rededicate ourselves to this work of ministry

(6)  the name Dorothy comes from Greek  Δωροθέα

(a)   who knows what it means?

(b)   A gift from God

(i)     Friends, I believe this spirit of compassion and care remains at the core of our life and ministry

(ii)  ministry is, after all, a gift from God – Δωροθέα

b)      May we be changed by Jesus and sent to do his ministry

(1)   to be his feet as we walk along the journey of restoration and reconciliation

(2)   to be his hands as we serve one another in love and mercy

(3)   to be his voice, speaking out on behalf of those nobody wants to hear from

(4)   let our heart be full of his grace and love and guide our bodies in his ways of peace and justice

(5)   So may it be with us.  Amen

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