Greater Things

Greater Things

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 14, 2018

2nd Sunday after Epiphany

I Samuel 3:1-10 and John 1:43-51

 

After his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, it is time for Jesus to choose his disciples.  He heads off to Galilee, finds Philip, and extends an invitation: “Follow me.”  Philip can’t wait to share the news with Nathanael. “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”  But Nathanael has doubts, and asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” At this point, Philip doesn’t try to defend Jesus, he merely extends the invitation: “Come and see.”  Then when Jesus says to Nathanael, upon his approach, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit,” and explains that he saw him under the fig tree even before Philip called him, Nathanael is taken aback. And just like that, he becomes a believer.

 

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” It appears that Nathanael’s easily impressed. Jesus must think the same for he responds with what must have been laughter in his voice. “You believe because I told you I saw you under a fig tree? You’ll see even greater things…”

 

One of the best-kept secrets about the life of Jesus may be this: Jesus had a sense of humor! Think about it for a moment. Could Jesus have been truly human without having a sense of humor? I don’t think so. Honestly, I cannot read today’s passage without smiling. It’s funny! First, Nathanael can’t believe anything good can come out of Nazareth. Then, when Jesus reveals that he has a little supernatural information, Nathanael is blown away. That’s all it takes! Well, Nathanael, hold on to your horses!

 

While life is filled with challenges, it is also filled with joy. Take, for example, last fall when our Mission & Evangelism Committee met to discuss, among other things, items to include in our new visitor’s bags. Since our marketing guru, Jane Shelton, had already emailed me a few ideas, I got the conversation started by sharing them. We might include some candies beautifully wrapped with a note that reads, “How sweet of you to drop by!” Another idea: a packet of hot chocolate during the cooler winter months, with a note that says, “Your visit warmed our hearts!” Or maybe a packet of nuts, labeled, “We’re nuts that you chose to worship with us today. We hope you come again soon.”

 

The thought of including nuts in the gift bag raised concerns for Kerri Routsong (who happened to be wearing her “Good Mother” hat that evening). She suggested sunflower seeds instead, to which—without batting an eye—Libby George exclaimed, “And we can add a label saying, ‘We SEED you here and we hope to see you again!” We SEED you here and we hope to see you again. By this time, we were all in stitches. It still makes me chuckle—every time I think of it! In fact, Libby and I have gotten into the habit of greeting one another with, “I SEED you!”

 

The Christian life is worth living, and along the way, how much better it is to journey with our brothers and sisters and enjoy a laugh or two. Make no mistake; Jesus is not a sour person. He does not go through life glumly and without joy. Remember—he and his disciples are called wine-bibbers and gluttons. That’s not a reputation you get by being solemn and serious all the time. Furthermore, I ask you, when you get together with friends to eat a meal and enjoy one another’s company, isn’t laughter one of the best parts?

 

In James Martin’s book, Between Heaven and Mirth, he speaks of Jesus’ full humanity and his fully developed sense of humor. Says Martin, “[Jesus] told clever stories, made funny asides, and welcomed apostles who had a sense of humor. Indeed, his sense of humor may be one largely unexamined reason for his ability to draw so many disciples around him with ease.”[i]

 

When Nathanael hears that the Messiah is from Nazareth, he cannot believe it—and he says exactly what he thinks. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It’s a slur regarding the insignificance of this little backwater town is. But does Jesus scold Nathanael for making fun of his hometown? No, instead he says to Nathaniel, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” In other words, “I can trust you. You will tell me exactly what’s on your mind.”[ii] Then, when Nathaniel seems so impressed that Jesus even knows where he was sitting when Philip finds him, in essence, Jesus says, “Wait until you see how this story turns out—I’m just getting started.”

 

To Nathanael, in whom there is no deceit, Jesus declares, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened up and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Now we move from the humorous to the holy, because what Jesus is alluding to is another story in another place. It is the story of Jacob—you remember—the one in whom there was plenty of deceit! He lied and tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright, and had to run for his life. One night, while using a stone for a pillow, Jacob goes to sleep. He dreams of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it.  Then, Yahweh renews the covenant that had been made with Abraham saying, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac…all people shall be blessed in you …I am with you.”

 

Many years have passed under the old covenant, but now, in Jesus, a new covenant begins.  “You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man,” he says to Nathanael.  The ladder has been replaced by Jesus himself who connects heaven and the earth. Jesus is the center point between this world and the world to come—Jesus, who is both human and divine, Rabbi, Son of God, King of Israel.

 

The humorous and the holy mark the life and ministry of Jesus. Hopefully, they mark our lives, too. As we journey forth together, may we find moments to stop and give thanks for the ways in which Christ enriches our lives through one another. Without a doubt, we live in individualistic times—maybe now more than ever. People claim to be spiritual and not religious. People find endless things to do on Sunday morning besides gathering with other believers to sing and pray and worship God. But wise ones who have gone before us—wise ones like Martin Luther King Jr. have left us words to ponder: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” The broader concerns of all humanity—we need each other just like Jesus needs his disciples—for the work, yes, but also for the fellowship and the laughter and the abundant life available for us all.

 

You may have noticed that both our Old and New Testament readings for today are call stories—Samuel as a little boy, laying in the Temple, and Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree. It does not matter where they are, God knows, and God calls. Thankfully, they listen. Today we have three elders who have responded to a similar call.  A few months ago, the Nominating Committee began to meet and pray about whom God might be calling to lead our church. By the Spirit’s leading, each candidate was approached: “In you, we see spiritual gifts for leadership that our church needs. Will you join with us?” Thankfully, these three answered yes to the call. (Actually, two of them are serving a second term.)

 

We need good leaders. Along with the other seven who are currently serving on session, our new ruling elders will help us seek both the holy and the humorous to bring us closer to God. They will help us explore the way ahead. They will pray and work and listen for the voice of God. They will help cast a vision for the coming days of our church life. All of us are invited to join in the work—to create something even more beautiful!  “Greater things than these!” Jesus said. All to honor Jesus—the Good One who came out of Nazareth—the Good One who connects heaven and earth with the new ladder of salvation. Greater things, indeed!

 

[i] Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, James Martin, SJ 58.

[ii] Ibid. 54.

*Cover Art “Come and See” © Jan Richardson; Subscription.

 

A New Day

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 7, 2018

Baptism of the Lord

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

 

4John the baptizer is on a mission. Even before his conception, the mission is foretold to his soon-to-be father, Zechariah. The angel Gabriel brings the message: “…your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John…many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord…he will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him…to make ready a people for the Lord.”

 

Our reading today brings us to the edge of the River Jordan. Here the grown man (John the Baptizer, he’s called) appears in the wilderness. In your mind’s eye, can you see him? Wearing clothes made of camel’s hair, and a leather belt, and living on the most meager of rations—John is on a mission and he has a strong message to deliver. Without a doubt, John will never be accused of preaching the cotton candy gospel. There is nothing sweet and syrupy about what he has to say as he calls for repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In Luke’s Gospel, John goes so far as to call the crowd gathered around him a brood of vipers!

 

Now be honest, if you came to church this morning and I called you a snake and yelled at you about your dirty, filthy ways—would you come back? Would you even stay for the rest of the service to see how it all turns out? Probably not! Yet people do come, and they do stay. They are drawn to this wild and crazy guy. Why? Could it be that they are starving for a word of truth from God? In the life of the people of Israel, God has been silent for so long. Then this wild man comes from out of the blue. The people see his strange ways and they are reminded of the prophets of old. They hear his words and the passion with which he delivers them, and their hearts burn within them. Could it be that only the grace-filled waters of baptism will cure what ails them and point them in the right direction?

 

Although we tend to think that baptism is a Christian invention, it is an ancient Jewish practice. The ritual of immersion was required for all kinds of things—like after giving birth to a child or after touching the dead. The ritual bath, or mikvah, is still practiced by many Jews today—particularly Jewish brides in preparation for their wedding day. In our reading from Mark, John the Baptist uses the mikvah, as a way of symbolizing repentance, using physical water to demonstrate spiritual purity.[i]

 

The people come to the Jordan River and hear the message proclaimed. They repent and participate in a ritual cleansing. And all the while, John reminds them that this is only a foretaste of wonders to come—the Wonder to come!  “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

With these words still floating overhead, Jesus comes to be baptized. Jesus, the One without sin, comes to the cleansing waters. Why? Marcus Borg says that in baptism Jesus identified “with the faults and failures, pains and problems, of all the broken and hurting people who had flocked to the Jordan river. By wading into the waters with them he took his place beside us and among us.”

 

The renewing waters of baptism hearken us back to another beginning…in the beginning of creation when the earth was formless and a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light…God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” In the beginning, order is created out of chaos and the first day is inaugurated. With his baptism, Jesus’ earthly ministry officially begins—it’s his inauguration. Creation takes part, as the heavens are rent asunder. The Spirit descends like a dove, and for us and all creation, a new day dawns.

 

After Jesus’ baptism, a voice comes from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you, I am well pleased.” Before any test is passed, before any deed is done, God declares his pleasure with his Son. And while God expects great things of Jesus, so does John. It is why John remains faithful to his mission. John expects something to happen and it does. Do we? Do we expect our baptism to mean something; to equip us for something?

 

The truth is Baptism is our inauguration—our beginning—our new day. It is a pivotal event in the life of any Christian—whether administered to those presented for Baptism as children or those who profess their faith later in life. In the Book of Order we read, “In Baptism, we participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Baptism, we die to what separates us from God and are raised to newness of life in Christ. Baptism points us back to the grace of God expressed in Jesus Christ, who died for us and was raised for us. Baptism points us forward to that same Christ who will fulfill God’s purpose in God’s promised future.[ii]

 

As a community of believers, we gather here this morning around the renewing waters of baptism. By the waters of our Baptism, we are marked for service, we are filled with the Spirit and we are commissioned to go forth to spread the love of Christ in our little corner of the world. Using the litany provided in the bulletin, together, let us reaffirm our baptismal covenant.

 

REAFFIRMATION OF BAPTISM

Brothers and sisters in Christ, united by faith in Jesus Christ, we remember the waters of lifestreaming forth to make all things new. Now, through the remembrance of our baptism, let us recommit ourselves to lives overflowing with love, justice, and righteousness:

 

In the beginning, O God, you separated the waters from the earth and saw that it was good. By the care of your hands, creation flourished. You provided grain; you watered earth’s furrows and softened it with showers and blessings.

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

Creator God, you gave us the breath of life and the freedom to choose your way. Instead, we followed our own heart’s desires, but you did not turn away from us. You sought after us and through prophets, like Ezekiel, you spoke words of hope: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you…a new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you…”

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

When we failed to listen to your prophets and priests and kings, you sent your blessed Son to beckon us back to you. You led Jesus to the river’s edge to be baptized and as he came up from the water, the heavens opened, and your Spirit descended like a dove.

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

Later, Jesus proclaimed to those gathered around him, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

Faithful God, we praise you for Jesus, for his baptism; for his life, death, and resurrection that sets us free and gives us new life. We rejoice that through the waters of baptism, you make us holy and whole. And, by the power of your Spirit, you equip us to live into our baptism.

(Silence is kept.)

For your life-giving waters,

O God, we give you thanks and praise.

INVITATION TO THE FONT

At this time, you are invited to come forward to take a stone from the Baptismal Font. May the stone remind you that through the life-giving waters of God, you are a new creation. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, remember your baptism and be thankful. Amen.

 

 

[i]  http://web.me.com/lindyblack/Sermon_Fodder/Lectionary/Entries/2012/1/8_First_Sunday_after_Epiphany.html

[ii] Book of Order, W-2.3002.