This is the text for my Easter sermon, my final sermon at the ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish.
The text is John 20.
One Thursday morning a month, I have led a communion service at the Clark County Health Care Center. A couple of months ago, as I was preparing to lead the service, one of the patients asked where the regular pastor was.
Since I had been leading that service for the almost 2 ½ years since I added Nazareth to my pastoral responsibilities, I assumed I WAS the regular pastor.
One of the staff members said I WAS the regular pastor. He said, “No. The other guy wears orange shoes.” I had taken to wearing these orange crocs for one reason. They are comfortable. Yes, they stand out a bit. I thought I had other characteristics that were more memorable and distinctive, but for this person, it was all about the shoes.
So I made sure that I wore these shoes every time I went out there, so I could be seen and known.
Mary Magdalene is my favorite Apostle.
Now, if you are thinking, Pastor, she isn’t one of the Twelve Apostles, you are correct. Which is one of the things that makes her my favorite. But we will get to that towards the end of my message.
Now each Gospel tells about the discovery of the empty tomb and the resurrection with slightly different details, and we tend to blend them all together. For the next few minutes, just focus on how John’s Gospel tells this tale.
She gets up early on the pre-dark hours of Sunday morning (a woman after my own heart) and goes to the tomb of her teacher, her rabbi who has been crucified. When she gets to the tomb, she sees the stone has been rolled away, and she runs to get some of Jesus’ disciples.
Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, believed to be the author of this Gospel, run to the tomb. They see it is empty. Jesus’ body is not there. They see that the linens used to wrap Jesus’ body remain, but he is nowhere to be found.
And they went home.
The body of their master, their teacher, their rabbi who was just crucified is missing from the tomb in which he was laid.
And they went home.
Mary Magdalene stays. She stays in the garden where her rabbi was laid. He was more than her rabbi. Jesus was already her savior. Mary Magdalene was possessed by several demons, and was healed by Jesus. In response, she, along with other women, financially supported Jesus, his disciples and his ministry. They travelled with Jesus and the Twelve, and picked up the bills. While the male disciples fled after Jesus was arrested, it was Mary Magdalene, along with the Beloved Disciple, who took Jesus’ mother, Mary, to the very foot of the cross, to be with him as he suffered and died.
Mary Magdalene followed Christ to the cross. Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene stayed in the garden.
After the two disciples went home, Mary Magdalene looks into the empty tomb for herself. Through her tears, she sees two angels, who ask her why she cries. She tells them she does not know where someone has taken the body of her lord, her rabbi.
Then she sees someone else. Through her tears, she assumes it is the gardener, and so she goes to him. She is asked again why is she crying, and who is she looking for?
John writes that Mary Magdalene “says” her next statement, but I believe she shouted, she screamed, she poured her broken heart into demanding, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
As the sheep know the voice of the Good Shepherd, with simply saying her name, Mary Magdalene SEES her Risen Rabbi, her Living Lord.
The Gospels record Risen Jesus appearing seven times. In three of them, here in the garden, on the Road to Emmaus, and on the Galilean lakeshore, Jesus is not immediately recognized. Was it that his appearance had changed, or just that you are not expecting to see one who was dead now among the living?
Maybe that is why it is hard for us to see the Risen and Living Christ at work in the world. Mary Magdalene did not expect to see Jesus in that garden, and mistook him for the gardener. We don’t expect to see Jesus at work in our daily lives.
We need to look for him, and listen for him to call our name.
We need to look for the widow who gets up every morning, who reads from the Bible and prays before breakfast.
We need to look for the parent who works two jobs, and still finds time to help at their kid’s school.
We need to look for the person who gives of their talents and goes into the areas that others are fleeing from.
We need to look for the person who is struggling to make ends meet, but can always be counted on to help out.
We need to look for the people who stand up and speak out because they feel they must change the things they can no longer accept in this world.
We need to look not only at the people who are feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick, fighting for peace and working for justice, but for those who are performing everyday acts of simple human kindness.
We need to look for love, for to love someone is to see the face of God.
By his death and resurrection, Jesus has removed our sin and defeated death. As his apostles, he sends us out – that is the meaning of apostles, ones who are sent out – to share his story and love.
Mary Magdalene is sent out by Christ to those who will be sent out to tell them Jesus is Risen. Mary Magdalene is the Apostle to the Apostles.
Because she has seen the Risen Christ, she brings the Good News to those who will share the Good News with the world.
May we go out into the world, in thanks of the gifts of grace given by God through the Risen Christ, to see and be seen, and to share the love of God with the world. AMEN!
 Victor Hugo, Les Miserables. But I know it from the Finale of Les Miz.
This is my sermon for Maundy Thursday, based on the lesson, John 19:23-30.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus was his mother.
Watching someone die is a horribly painful and difficult thing to do.
When I served as a hospital chaplain, I was with several families when their loved ones passed away.
I was there when both of my parents died.
It is an emotionally draining and devastating experience.
Being there when your parents die is painful, but it is part of the normal course of life. But to watch your child die must be an unimaginable trauma. Then for that person to be executed must just keep adding to the pain.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus was his mother.
Jesus’ mother is never named in John’s Gospel. She appears only twice, here, and at the beginning of his ministry, at the wedding in Cana.
She was invited to the wedding, as were Jesus and his disciples. She told Jesus that the hosts had run out of wine. She didn’t mind when he told her that his time had not yet come.
She told the servants to do what ever Jesus told them.
She was the mover and motivator behind his first sign. Why? What did she know? Did she know what Jesus could do? Did she know who he was?
John’s Gospel doesn’t have a birth story. John begins with the cosmic origins of Jesus. We first encounter him with John the Baptist and his followers. We know nothing about him
But she does. She knows he has abilities, or she wouldn’t bring the problem to his attention.
While he says, My time has not yet come, he still turns an excessive amount of water into high-quality wine.
Something during his time growing up, before he encounters the Baptist, has told her that her son is special.
She knew that people should do whatever Jesus said.
So when she sees him on the cross, is she thinking that he can get himself out of this? He has saved others, why doesn’t he save himself.
Jesus sees her. He sees the beloved disciple. Then, from the cross, Jesus entrusts her care to his most trusted follower. The one who was faithful to Jesus would be faithful to his mother.
“Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
She knew that people should do whatever Jesus said.
From that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
By handing her care over to another, she knew that Jesus was handing himself over to this fate.
His time had finally come, his time to die.
She knew that people should do whatever Jesus said.
This is what Jesus has said:
This is the text of my message for Palm Sunday, March 25 using the Narrative Lectionary lessons of John 12:12-27, the Triumphal Entry, and John 19:16b-22, the writing of the charge against Jesus.
Our lessons for today intentionally provide a clash of contexts. We continue with our Lenten readings of the Passion and Suffering of Christ from chapters 18 and 19 of John‘s Gospel. But we also celebrate Palm Sunday, and remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. They are connected because in each, Jesus is called the King of Israel.
Hosanna! Crucify! Hosanna! Crucify! Hosanna! Crucify!
How did so much go so wrong so fast?
It is the Sunday before Passover; Jesus enters Jerusalem, a top a young donkey, a sign of the anointed leader of Israel.
It is just days after Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and Jerusalem still buzzing about that. Now, with the Passover festival approaching, Jesus comes into the capital city. The people greet him as a potential king.
Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of The Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel. Hosanna! Crucify!
It is the day before Passover, and it was the practice of the Roman Empire to make a crucifixion a public example. Should you dare to defy the Empire, this will be your fate. So to inflict terror to the community, the crime these pour souls were charged with was placed above their heads.
Pilate had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.
Crucify! We have no king but Caesar!
Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel!
It is Sunday, and the people of Jerusalem are thrilled by the possible promised Messiah. Could this be the one the Scriptures have prophesied? Hosanna! They have seen his signs.
This is the third time Jesus has come to Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem know Jesus. They know of his signs. He fed 5,000 with what one would eat for lunch. He has healed the blind, the crippled. He has raised the dead.
They wave palm branches as a sign of a conquering hero, just as we would wave flags on the 4th of July, or school colors at a game. Hosanna!
All that is needed is for the Temple leaders to signal their support. But they have already rejected Jesus. They have already decided that he must die.
He cannot be the Messiah. He doesn't do things the way they expect. He doesn't act how they want the Messiah to act. So they lead the call against him. Take him away! Crucify! Crucify him!
It is Friday, and the people have rejected this possible Messiah, calling instead for the rebel bandit Barabbas.
The man who was hailed as king on Sunday has been rejected. The crowd’s claim of being the King of Israel is now the charge of which Pontius Pilate has placed above Jesus’ head. Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.
The Temple leaders complain, that's what he said. It's not what we said. It is not what we have said about him. That is what we want to avoid. Pilate tells them he has made his decision; What I have written I have written.
Hosanna! It is Sunday and travellers from Greece fight through the crowds to seek out Jesus. His disciples allow them to meet the celebrated hero. He says that it is the time for his glory.
But he says that the glory will come as that of a single grain of wheat. When it dies and is buried, it flourishes and provides countless grains. Much fruit comes from one who dies. He, and his followers, must be willing to set aside their lives, to be willing to live for others, and die to themselves. His followers must be willing to go where he goes, and do what he does.
As we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, we move from celebration to condemnation. As we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, we move from praise to rejection. As we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, we move from Hosanna! to Crucify!
As we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, how far are we willing to follow Christ? What are we willing to give up? What are we willing to risk? How far are we willing to go?
Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
If we are the disciples we claim to be, we will follow our teacher, our rabbi, our master. But how far will we follow?
As the King of Israel, the Son of God went without resistance to the cross. He knew that his crucifixion and resurrection would bring glory to God. He knew the price. He paid the cost.
He calls us to follow him. He calls us to leave the comfortable and take up the challenge. He calls us to live out the values and priorities we speak out.
While we may not lead the call to crucify, we simply stay silent or fade away. While we remember that Judas betrayed him, and Peter denied him, we often forget that the other disciples simply stayed away.
Unlike the Temple leaders, we do not reject Jesus, but we resist him. They rejected Jesus because he wasn't the Messiah they expected. We resist because the Messiah expects too much of us. He calls us out of our comfort zone.
But his words to the visiting Greeks ring in my ears.
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
What are we willing to do to bear much fruit?
What are we willing to risk?
How far are we willing to follow Christ?
This is my sermon from Sunday, March 18. The lesson from the Narrative Lectionary is John 19:1-16a.
The ways of framing this theological concepts is taken from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s video, Cross, from Augsburg Fortress’ video series, animate: Faith.
Why did Jesus have to die?
I’ll be honest; this question doesn’t directly flow from this text. This lesson may better phrase the question of “Why do these people want Jesus to die?” I’ll answer that question after explaining why Jesus had to die. And it won’t be for the reasons that you have probably heard most of your life.
Here are some of the reasons that have been used to explain why Jesus had to die.
Jesus had to die because God the Father was mad at us because we are sinful and sin filled, bad and evil. God chose to punish Jesus in place of punishing all of humanity. This makes God to be a cosmic child abuser, and Jesus is an enabler in this depiction of divine wrath and retribution. This is also referred to as sacrificial atonement, because, as was the case in the Jewish Temple system, a lamb, here The Lamb of God, is sacrificed for the accumulated sins.
Jesus had to die to pay for our sins. It views our sins as a transaction; the more we sin, the more indebted we are to God for our disobedience. We cannot pay off this indebtedness or work it off with our piety and good works. This portrays God as a debt collector, or that God is somehow indebted to the forces of evil. Someone has to pay for all of this sin, and God let it be Jesus, the one person who never added to the final total. This is called the ransom or satisfaction atonement.
Jesus had to die in order to defeat death and sin. By living without sin, and by being raised from the dead, Jesus has defeated the forces of evil, specifically sin and death. Since they have no power over Jesus, they have been defeated for once and for good, for you and for me. Christ’s death and resurrection liberate us from our bondage to sin and death, and set us free. This describes God as having to battle to defeat evil, and is known as the Christus Victor, or Victorious Christ theory of atonement.
But none of these reflect a loving, all-powerful God. They show God as vengeful, petty and with limited powers. They show God with human frailties and faults. These theories take parts of our behavior, our characteristics and say that since we act this way, God must act the same way.
They depict God standing above the cross, judging us. Instead, God hangs from the cross, refusing to judge or condemn, refusing to stop what could easily be halted.
Let me offer an alternative. Jesus CHOSE to die, and to die on a cross as a rejection of the violence and self-absorption of our way of life and as a presentation of an alternate love-filled, other-focused, service-centered way of life. A life full of actions and teachings consistent with our understanding of the God who wanted God’s people to be blessed in order to be a blessing to the whole world.
Jesus CHOSE to die to show us that not even killing the Son of God, the Word of God made Flesh, the Light that has come into the World, can stop God from loving us. He was raised from the dead to show us that not even dying can separate us from the love of God. Sin and death have no power over God. They are a part of this world, but they, as are all things, are subject to the will of God.
John’s Gospel shows this idea most clearly.
Jesus surrenders himself to the forces of the Temple leaders. He isn’t seized by them, he hands himself over to them. To the leaders of the Temple, who see him as a threat to their understanding of how to love and serve God, he doesn’t confront them. Instead, he asks them to judge him by what he has said and done. They find that his message of taking care of those in need threatens their way of life, and for that he must die.
Jesus submits to the rule of Rome and the power of Pontius Pilate. He doesn’t challenge Pilate or his authority, but he challenges Pilate’s understandings of who Jesus is and what he has done. He challenges Pilate’s understanding of true power, and from where power is derived.
Jesus accepts the brutal beating, mockery and bullying of the Roman soldiers. He does not resist, or rebel, but allows those who want to abuse the limited power they have to have their way with him. His stoic attitude as he is abused and mistreated stands as a rejection of the human cruelty that we display toward one another too often.
Jesus takes the rejection of those whom he came to save. The people whom God chose to be God’s own, the ones whom God blessed so they could be a blessing to the world, reject and repudiate him. Those who were His own did not know him and instead called for a bandit and murderer to be released in his stead. They use language from a hymn of worship, “We have no king but God,” and use that to pledge allegiance to Rome, “We have no king but Caesar.”
Jesus chooses to die. Jesus chooses to go to the cross. He does this because by doing so, from the cross, Jesus Christ loves the violent, loves the abuser, loves the betrayer, loves the denier, loves the God-killer in all of us. Only a God who becomes truly human and suffers our abuse, insults and rejection showing only love and mercy can save us from ourselves.
Having suffered the rejection, abuse, denial, injustice, torture and judgment of this society, and of the world, Jesus Christ chose to go to the cross. From the cross, he judges our violent ways and our spiteful values.
And the judgment is forgiveness.
That is why Jesus had to die. For us to, hopefully, finally see, that no matter what we do, or do not do, we are forgiven.
This is the text of my sermon for March 11, 2018, the Fourth Sunday of Lent and the 1st Sunday of Daylight Saving Time. The text is John 18:28-40.
Much of my thoughts on this text were influenced by David Lose's Lenten Devotions from his website ... In the Meantime, especially the devotions here and here.
The lesson we hear today is at the heart of the telling of the Passion, or Suffering, of Jesus Christ. It is a key scene in any depiction of the last day of Jesus. I think of the various movies about the life of Jesus, and all of them feature this scene.
In one of my favorite depictions, the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, the song Trial Before Pilate is one of the turning points in the play. It takes the lessons we hear today and next week, showing how Jesus is abandoned by the very people he came to. It calls back to the opening prologue in John’s Gospel, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”
Pilate who is used to fighting against the leaders of the Temple, now finds they bring him one of their own, wanting Pilate to crucify Jesus. They give no accusations, only claiming that Jesus is a criminal who needs to be put to death.
Pilate wants Jesus to explain himself, and asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews. This isn’t the charge given by the Temple authorities. It is of Pilate’s own invention. Or perhaps that is what his intelligence gathering has picked up on; that the people of Israel hope that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who will restore the Nation of Israel.
Jesus challenges Pilate right back, asking what difference it makes. Pilate says that your own people have turned you over to me, and asks Jesus, “What have you done?”
Jesus answers Pilate. “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Here is where I want to focus. I’ve said previously that I prefer to think of God’s reign, not of God’s kingdom, because we tend to think of a kingdom as a place. God’s reign is when and where God’s authority and God’s rules are lived out. A reign is an attitude. A reign is a way of life.
Jesus’ kingdom is not a place. Jesus’ kingdom is wherever his followers live out the commands and demands of being his follower.
It is where love prevails, and where hatred fails.
It is where the hungry are fed, and where we trust we will wake when we are dead.
It is where the poor have provisions, and where unity ends our divisions.
It is where the sick are cared for, and where peace triumphs over war.
Jesus’ says that “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” We have heard that and understood that to be that if his arrest happened IN his kingdom, that his followers would be fighting to liberate him.
But what if he is telling Pilate that he, and his followers, reject the violent ways of this world?
It isn’t that followers from his kingdom would fight for him, but that because his kingdom is not of this world, because his reign is one of love, justice and peace, his followers will not fight.
What if he is telling Pilate, his followers and the world that he has come to reject our system of violence and retribution?
What if Christ’s surrendering himself to the Temple authorities and to the Roman Governor is his judgment on their system of violent justice?
What if the Word of God made Flesh came to show us how we treat a man with a message of love?
What if we were shown that not even putting the Son of God to death on a cross can separate us from God’s love?
What SHOULD we learn from that?
In declaring that his kingdom is not of this world, Jesus is declaring that his kingdom, his reign, will not use the tools and mechanisms of earthly kingdoms. He rejects control by terror, divide and conquer, victim blaming, the politics of shaming, we verses them, the power of fear, might makes right and the politics of division that have been used from the time of Pilate up to this very day.
Instead, he calls for the truth. It is his reason for being. It is “for this I was born, and for this I came into the world,” that he would speak, and live out, God’s love for the world. A love shown in that for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
The truth is that you cannot drive out hate by out hating your enemy or opposition. In his book, Strength to Love, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. And hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
The kingdom, the reign the Christ comes from, will return to, and will bring to earth, the kingdom and reign, we as his disciples are called to work toward is one that renounces violence, hatred, division and retribution. We are called to work toward peace, love, unity and forgiveness.
In the ongoing trial between forces of light and forces of darkness, we need to choose our side.
At the end, Pilate wants to release Jesus. In the song I referenced earlier, Pilate screams, “I need a crime!”
In the end, the crime was that Jesus is King of a Kingdom that is yet to come. A kingdom where God’s will shall be done. A kingdom that shall reign as Heaven on Earth. A kingdom where God’s power is shown in love, God’s glory is done in mercy and forgiveness, forever and ever. AMEN.
Below is the sermon text for Sunday, February 25. The lesson is John 13:1-17, where Jesus washes his disciples feet.
When is the last time someone washed you? Or when was the last time that you washed someone?
Washing someone is an intimate act. If you think of someone washing you, it probably makes you feel uncomfortable. It is a familiarity that is beyond what we are used to. To wash, or to be washed, requires a certain trust. It is done out of a sense of love, or out of duty.
A mother washes her baby or infant, and they bond. A child washes their parent, or grandparent when the ability to do it oneself proves too challenging. We get our hair washed before it is cut and styled to pamper ourselves. A nurse gives us a sponge bath as part of our care in a hospital.
Washing someone isn’t something that happens normally. And it didn’t in Jesus time either. As a sign of hospitality, a host would provide a basin of water and a towel for visitors to use to wash their feet. It was a welcome to someone who had traveled across dusty and dirty roads, clad only in sandals to come to your home. If the hosts were affluent enough, and the guests were worthy, they may have a female servant or slave wash the guest’s feet.
It would only be in extremely rare circumstances that someone other than a female servant would lower themselves to wash someone else’s feet.
One time occurred during the week before Jesus was crucified. A few days after raising Lazarus from the dead, his sisters Martha and Mary had a dinner for Jesus and his disciples. During the meal, Mary took a pound of expensive, pungent nard, and used it do anoint Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. She did this out of love and devotion to Jesus.
And that is the reason that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. As a sign of love and devotion to them.
It is Thursday of Holy Week, and Jesus and his disciples are gathered for what will be their final meal. In the middle of the meal, Jesus gets up and prepares to wash his disciples feet.
Simon Peter doesn’t understand, first refusing to let Jesus wash his feet, then inviting him to wash his whole body. Simon Peter doesn’t understand what the gesture means.
His teacher, his rabbi, his lord, is showing the degree of servitude, love and devotion that he has. John records this event in this Last Supper, and not the sharing of bread and wine that Mark, Matthew and Luke do. But both events are designed to show, and to remind us, of the sacrifice that Jesus will do in the hours to come.
It is one thing to say, “I will give up my life for you.” It is another to see it acted out in doing an act servants rarely lower themselves to do. It is another to see it shown by being told that bread and wine represent the giving up of one’s life.
For both the sharing of the bread and wine, and for the foot washing, all twelve disciples are there, and all partake. Jesus washes Peter’s feet, and Christ gives him his body and blood. Jesus washes Judas’ feet, and Christ gives him his body and blood.
Later in John’s telling of this Last Supper, Jesus gives his disciples his final, and newest commandment. He tells them, and us, to “Love one another, just as I have loved you.”
The challenge of following that command has troubled Jesus’ followers since he gave it. How do we show love to such a degree that means we would give up our lives for the sake of others? It means putting the importance of others, rather than on ourselves.
Unfortunately, an example came into our world just eleven days ago. During the tragedy of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a coach, the athletic director and several student put themselves between the shooter and students. To protect others, they stepped, or stayed, in the bath of the bullets.
As someone who spent seventeen years in public education, that doesn’t surprise me. After the shooting, I read a message from a teacher who wrote, “My worst fear isn’t that I’ll die in a school shooting. It’s that I won’t be able to jump in front of my students fast enough.”
I read that, I could picture so many people saying that. It is a horrible thought, and an extreme example, but that is the love that Christ calls us to show.
Jesus Christ, the Word that was with God, the Word that IS God, through whom all things came into being, came into the world. The true light which enlightens everyone came into the world to give all who believe in him the power to become the children of God.
And as children of God, he commands us to take the role of servant, to love others the way that he loves us.
How can you show that love to someone who needs to hear it today? Or tomorrow? Or this week? Or for the rest of your life?
“Servants are not greater than their master, nor are those who are sent out greater than the one who sent them. If you understand this, you will be blessed if you do them.” AMEN.
This is my sermon manuscript for December 31. The lesson is John 1:19-34.
A recording may be posted after this auto-posts.
Over this extended weekend, many people will begin an annual ritual. You take down the Christmas decorations, and bring out your workout gear, or make the exercise bike, or treadmill accessible. We end one season, and begin the season of resolutions.
However, like Christmas, the season of resolutions lasts about 12 days. By mid-January, the exercise bike has resumed its role as secondary coat rack.
But the end of a year, and the beginning of a new one provides us with the opportunity to reflect on what we have been doing, and look at, and maybe even pursue, a new way of doing things.
That is what is going on in our Gospel lesson. God is doing a new thing, and the leaders of Israel’s Jewish community don’t like it.
John the Baptizer has created a great deal of controversy. He is baptizing people in the Jordan River. He is quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah, that he is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, to make straight the way of the Lord.” He is warning the people of Israel that God’s promised Messiah is coming, and they need to get their act together.
Which upsets the leaders of Israel, and so the Temple leaders send priests and Levites to John to find out what he is up to. “Who are you?” “Who sent you?” “Who gave you the authority to do this?”
They are trying to frame what he is doing in Old Testament language. First, they ask if he is the Messiah, the Promised Anointed One? Then, is he Elijah, the great prophet who was taken up into heaven? If not Elijah, is he one of the other great prophets? If John is one of these, they know how to act and what to do. But if not, they don’t know how to proceed.
John tells them that he isn't the one they should be concerned about. He is simply preparing the way for another. One who is greater than he is, one of whom John is unworthy to tie his sandal.
The next day, John describes this person, and uses Old Testament language to describe him. “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
This is a different form of leadership, one of self-sacrifice. If John, or the One for whom he was preparing the way was a prophet, the priests and Levites would be asking them “What is the will of God?” Then the challenge would be if they would do it? Israel didn’t have a great track record of listening and following what prophets told them to do.
But the Lamb of God is different. With the Lamb of God, there is nothing for you to do but understand and accept.
In the sacrificial system, in the language of Passover, sins are cast onto the lamb, and it is in their death that the sins are taken away. Things are about to get different.
Here, we get into proper names, titles with capital letters. God has sent the capital L Lamb of God who will take away the capital S Sin (singular) of the world. This is a gift from God. Capital S singular Sin is not the things you have done wrong. Those are sins. Capital S singular Sin is the broken relationship you have, or don’t have, with God. The Capital L Lamb of God is here to take away the damaged, estranged relationship and to restore that connection to God.
The Capital W Word of God that has become a person has come to Earth to remove any barriers between people and God. By taking on our nature, by becoming a person, Jesus Christ has come to demonstrate and live out a life in perfect relationship to God, a life of loving others, a life of giving to and for others, a life of self-sacrifice. The life of the Capital L Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
This is something BRAND NEW for the priests and Levites, for the people of Israel and for the world. This is God redefining our relationship. This is God saying, “All of that stuff that keeps you from me; your sins, your guilt, your shame, your unworthiness – all of that I am taking away. Be with me.”
That is an unbreakable resolution. On God’s end.
How do we react? Do we realize that the Son of God has become a person to show us that God wants us to feel free to turn to God whenever and wherever we need to? That while we are sinners, and while we are unworthy, God doesn’t care.
And if, somehow, we can accept that God accepts our unacceptability, can we accept others knowing that they are accepted in their unacceptability as well?
God, through Jesus Christ, the Capital L Lamb who comes to take away the capital S Sin (singular) of the world, has resolved to have a new relationship with the world. Can we be resolved to accept this gift of grace, and share the love God gives us with others? Or will this fade like other resolutions of the New Year?
This is my sermon text for my Christmas Morn message. The text is Luke 2:4-20.
EDIT: An audio recording has been added. Merry Christmas.
In God’s time, there was Good News of Great Joy to all people.
In God’s time, a gift was given to us.
In God’s time, the things that separate us from God, sin and death, would be defeated.
In God’s time, humanity would be reconciled to God.
And all of this occurred because a baby boy was born in a barn, laid in a feeding trough and wrapped in rags. The time was right.
But what should our response be?
Because we know the whole story of Jesus, that this baby whose birth we remember and celebrate will grow to be an incredible teacher and preacher; that he will heal the sick, and raise the dead; that he will perform many miracles; but most importantly, that he will give up his life on the Cross; and then he will be raised from that death; through him our sins are wiped clean and death is defeated. Because we know the whole story, we know the Good News of Great Joy that is for all people is that to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
But what should our response be?
Look at how the angels responded. First, one angel appeared to the shepherds, and told them to go and see for themselves. Then, a whole army of angels showed up proclaimed the birth by praising and glorifying God.
The shepherds responded by going into Bethlehem, finding where Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus were, and they made known what had been told them about this child; then they returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.
What if our response to this gift from God, or for any gift given to us from God was to give praise and glory to God? And if we did, what would that look like? What if we reacted with joy and celebrated what God has blessed us with?
I give you as an example, my best friend and roommate, Ananias Bulldogge Campbell.
When I get home at the end of the day, Ananias will come to greet me at the door. He wants to jump up and give me what I call a doggie hug. But I’ve trained him not to do that because he’s almost 90 pounds and he would make someone lose their balance and possibly fall. So he wants to jump up, but knows he shouldn’t. So he bounces. As soon as my hands are free, I’ll scratch that special spot behind his ears and his little nub of a tail is wiggling at a million miles an hour. Then he will run around the house to show me that he took care of everything while I was gone.
Where is our celebration of joy like that?
We have been blessed by God with the gift of God’s Son, our Savior. But we have been blessed in so many other ways. We woke up today. We woke up today in warm houses. We had food for breakfast. We will have more food later in the day. We are able to exchange gifts with loved ones. We were able to travel to be here this morning. We are, and have been, blessed in so many ways.
But what should our response be? What if we made known about how we have been blessed; glorifying and praising God for everything?
What if the gift we give to others this Christmas is telling them Good News of Great Joy that God loves them, and that we love them, too? What if we showed that love by actually caring for and about others? What if we honestly asked people what we could do to help them? What if we meant it when we ask people how they are doing, then we acted to help them?
What if we were excited to share the Good News of Great Joy in word and deed as our dogs are to see us when we come home? What if we lived lives of Great Joy because of the Good News?
That could be the greatest Christmas gifts ever.
The time IS right. It is God’s time. AMEN.
Below is my sermon text for our Christmas Eve services. The Gospel lessons are:Luke 2:6-14 and John 1:1-5, 9-14, 16-18. Apologies for the poor quality of the recording; this was the best of the three.
The Gospels contain two very different stories about Jesus’ birth.
Luke, and to some degree Matthew, tell the story we know best. Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem because of the census. There is no place for them to stay, so she gives birth to her baby amongst the animals, and lays him in a feeding trough for his first crib.
But John begins differently. John begins back at THE Beginning.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
John tells us that everything that ever existed came into being by the Word, the Word that was with God and the Word that was God. The Word created life. The Word is the Light for all people. And that Light was coming into the world.
The creative force that was behind literally everything was coming into the world. The bang in the Big Bang was coming into the world. The knitter that knit the first strands of DNA together was coming into the world. The hand that placed the stars in the sky, and the hand that planted the seeds, was coming into the world.
That is certainly Good News, and should cause Great Joy, don’t you think?
The celestial army certainly thought so. They sent an advance emissary to make the proclamation. Not the to Caesar, nor to the kings, nor to the rich and powerful in their palaces of gold. But to simple people, to those who needed to know that God cares about them and for them.
Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
The One whom had been promised, a Savior, a Messiah, the Lord had been born. The True Light, the Word of God has taken on flesh.
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
The Word that spoke existence into being was born not into wealth, or power, or at a huge estate, but he was wrapped in rags and slept in a feeding trough. God took on human form and flesh, took on our existence, starting not at the top, but at the bottom. Because Christ came for us all.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
The Good News of Great Joy that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds is that God sent a light to shine into the darkness. It doesn’t matter if that darkness is caused by illness, depression, isolation, addiction or rejections; darkness brought by abuse, bullying, mistreatment, exploitation, discrimination, or harassment; darkness that comes from financial or economic problems, relationship difficulties, family struggles or the various things life throws in our way.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
That baby, born in a stable, wrapped in rags, beginning life at the bottom is the hope of the world. Through Him, death is defeated and our sins are swept away. Through Him, God expresses the ultimate sign of love, totally giving of one’s self, even to death, a death on a cross.
But beyond that, Christ is a light shining into OUR darkness, a light to remind us that we are beloved by God, no matter what.
No matter how much the darkness grabs at us, how much is surrounds and swallows us, there is a light that shines into the darkness, and the darkness cannot over come it.
God’s love burst into the world in that baby born in Bethlehem. God’s love shattered the suffocation that sin inflicts on us. God’s love destroys the dominion of death. Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Remember, all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. Everyone and everything is a beloved creation of God. If you feel unloved, have been told you are unloved, or struggle to love yourself, God loves you. God shines as a light in the darkness, to remind you that you are loved. And God invites you to love others, because God loves you.
And that is Good News of Great Joy for All the people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Merry Christmas and AMEN.
Below is a draft of my sermon for December 3, the First Sunday of Advent, on the lesson from Daniel 3 in the Narrative Lectionary. The lesson is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
As I mention in my message, the inspiration and most of the message that I gave came from a sermon that the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. gave at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on November 5, 1967. A transcript of that powerful message was done by Austin Smith and is here. A recording of Rev. Dr. King's sermon is on YouTube and is embedded below.
Two of my attempts, which pale next to the message of Rev. Dr. King, are at the bottom of this post.
This lesson is a Sunday School classic. It has repetitions, strange and fun to say names, and comes to a conclusion with a moral.
But there is so much more to this, especially right in the middle of this story.
The leaders and prominent people from Jerusalem had been taken into exile in Babylon, and put to work in the Babylonian Empire. Among those are the three stars of this story: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar built a statue that everyone in Babylon was to worship when they heard the music play. Rivals reported to the king that these Israelites were refusing the bow and kneel to the king’s golden statue. When Nebuchadnezzar confronted them, they admitted to their crime, and were willing to pay the penalty.
When I started looking at this lesson and materials about it, I found a sermon delivered by the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King in 1967. That sermon helped to shape my understanding of this lesson, and of what I have taken from it. I am going to read from part of that sermon now, and at other points in my message.
Rev. Dr. King said, “I want you to notice first, here, that these young men practiced civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is the refusal to abide by an order of the government or of the state or even of the court that your conscience tells you is unjust. Civil disobedience is based on a commitment to conscience. In other words, one who practices civil disobedience is obedient to what he considers a higher law. And there comes a time when a moral man can not obey a law which his conscience tells him is unjust. And I tell you this morning, my friends, that history has moved on, and great moments have often come forth because there were those individuals, in every age and in every generation, who were willing to say ‘I will be obedient to a higher law.’”
We lift up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as examples of people who literally stand up for the First Commandment. They will NOT worship another god. They refused to fall down. They refused to lie down. They refused to kneel.
Civil disobedience is a reaction to when you find the rules or laws or norms of society to be unacceptable. It is protesting and saying that I won’t do what you want me to. But realizing that rebellion comes with a cost. It may be taking an unpopular position and losing friends. It may separate or isolate you from your family. It may cost you job or livelihood. It may inflict physical violence against you. It may have you face criminal charges and jail time. It may cost you your very life.
It is a decision that people don’t enter into lightly. But it is one that when it is made, you don’t back down from. It is a statement of “Here I stand.”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were willing to die, being burned to death in a fiery furnace rather than worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. Yes, they were saved. But they were willing to die.
Rev. Dr. King said, “These men never doubted God and his power. As they did what they did, they made it very clear that they knew that God had the power to spare them; they said that to the king: ‘Now we know that the God that we worship is able to deliver us.’ And that grew out of their experience. They had known God, … And then they had seen God, I'm sure, in their personal lives. They never doubted God's power to deliver them.”
We say we trust God, but are we willing to bet our lives on God protecting us? Would you be willing to suffer a painful, agonizing death rather than falling to the ground at the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had faith. But they had something else.
Rev. Dr. King said, ”But let me move now to the basic point of the message. Know this morning, if we forget everything I've said, I hope you won't forget this. It came to the point after saying ‘If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’
‘But if not’ -- do you get that? That these men were saying that ‘Our faith is so deep and that we've found something so dear and so precious that nothing can turn us away from it. Our God is able to deliver us, but if not...’ This simply means, my friends, that the ultimate test of one's faith is his ability to say ‘But if not.’ You see there is what you may call an 'if' faith, and there is a 'though' faith. And the permanent faith, the lasting, the powerful faith is the 'though' faith. Now the 'if' faith says, "If all goes well; if life is … prosperous …; if I don't have to go to jail; if I don't have to face the agonies and burdens of life; if I'm not ever called bad names because of taking a stand that I feel that I must take; if none of these things happen, then I'll have faith in God, then I'll be alright." That's the 'if' faith. …
There is a 'though' faith, though. And the 'though' faith says ‘Though things go wrong; though evil is temporarily triumphant; though sickness comes and the cross looms, neverthless! I'm gonna believe anyway and I'm gonna have faith anyway.’ …
Think of friendship, think of love, and think of marriage. These things are not based on 'if,' they're based on 'though.' These great experiences are not based on a bargaining relationship, not an 'if' faith, but a 'though' faith.
Somewhere along the way you should discover something that's so dear, so precious to you, that is so eternally worthwhile, that you will never give it up. You ought to discover some principle, you ought to have some great faith that grips you so much that you will never give it up. Somehow you go on and say ‘I know that the God that I worship is able to deliver me, but if not, I'm going on anyhow, I'm going to stand up for it anyway.’
What does this mean? … If you're doing right merely to keep from going to … hell then you aren't doing right. If you do right merely to go to … heaven, you aren't doing right. … Ultimately you must do right because it's right to do right. And you got to say "But if not."
You must love ultimately because it's lovely to love. You must be just because it's right to be just. You must be honest because it's right to be honest. This is what this text is saying more than anything else.
And finally, you must do it because it has gripped you so much that you are willing to die for it if necessary. And I say to you this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and so precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren't fit to live.
You may be 38 years old as I happen to be, and one day some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause--and you refuse to do it because you are afraid; you refuse to do it because you want to live longer; you're afraid that you will lose your job, or you're afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity or you're afraid that somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house, and so you refuse to take the stand. Well you may go on and live until you are 90, but you're just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90! … You died when you refused to stand up for right, you died when you refused to stand up for truth, you died when you refused to stand up for justice. …
Because they had faith enough to say "But if not," God was with them as an eternal companion. …
Somebody looked in there and said ‘We put three in here, but now we see four.’ Don't ever think you're by yourself. Go on to jail if necessary but you'll never go alone. Take a stand for that which is right, and the world may misunderstand you and criticize you, but you never go alone. …
The world will look at you and they won't understand you, for your fiery furnace will be around you, but you'll go on anyhow. But if not, I will not bow, and God grant that we will never bow before the gods of evil.”
The worlds of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King exactly five months before he was murdered for his stands are as true now as they were then. What cause, what wrong, what issue, what stand are you willing to fight on behalf of? Where will your faith take you where you are willing to say, "But if not"?
What greater good calls you to trust a greater God, willingly saying, "But if not"? For what will you take up your cross as did Our Lord, Jesus Christ? For what are you willing to lay down your life as did Our Lord, Jesus Christ?
May God give you the strength of your faith. AMEN.
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
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