Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sermon for 1/12/2014, The Baptism of Our Lord: My Fear.

Sermon for 1/12/2014 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.

Gospel: Matthew 3:13–17
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  14John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"  15But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented.  16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  17And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

The past couple of days, I attended an event with a few other people from Christ the King, called the Forward Leadership Community. You’ll hear much more about all of this in the weeks and months to come, but one specific thing we did there created a great connection for me with our Gospel text for today, and our celebration of the Baptism of our Lord.

What we did, was pretty simple really. Working in pairs, or in my case a threesome, we answered the question “what is something that has given you fear?” and then went on to talk about how we dealt with it.

So, what has given me fear? With more elaboration than I spoke yesterday, I’m fearful, of being the John the Baptist of this community.

What I mean is, is that part of my call as a pastor, and specifically a pastor to this community is that I’m regularly the one to preside at the baptisms that take place here…The Baptisms aren’t what give me fear. In fact, I love this role, because I don’t know how I couldn’t. A baptism is an event filled with joy, hope and love beyond our imagination. And it’s something that is just given to all of us, so that we as humans can continue to share and grow and live in peace and love with each other and with God. So, it isn’t the actual act of presiding at a baptism that makes me fearful.

Rather, it’s the role, or title of being the Baptizer. In my case, this more broadly is Pastor, but regardless. The general perception, in society, in congregations, or with people I might meet on the golf course, is that Pastor, the person who does the Baptizing, is a little different than everyone else, or at least expected to be. And by different, I mean better. The Pastor, is perceived or expected to be a little more holy, a little more faithful, a little closer to God and a little further from the devil than those in the church who don’t put on strange clothes every Sunday morning. The general impression, across religious groups, is that the Pastor is the one doing the Baptizing, because they are the highest on the religious pecking order.

What gives me fear in being a Pastor, is this perceived weight of being a super Christian that seems to be what the title of Pastor implies. It gives me fear, because I have no idea how to be that person, no idea how to become that person, and to be honest, not a real clear clue of how to relate to people that think I’m that person.

This is a fear, or anxiety, that not only has to do with the title of being “Pastor”, but also is shared with the title we have as Christians. The perception of being a Christian, or person of faith, is that it somehow makes us really, really good people, or something like that. Being part of a faith community, “going to church”, to many people’s perceptions; equals being good.

My own fear, as Pastor, is a fear, that, when it comes down to it, I share with John the Baptist. Now, I don’t have any idea what John’s comfort levels were throughout the bulk of his ministry of preaching, baptizing people, and calling them things like “a brood of vipers”. But when Jesus shows up at the Jordan river to be baptized by John, John’s not on board. John doesn’t feel he’s high enough on the religious pecking order to baptize Jesus. In fact, John tries to give up his own position as the local Grand Poobah of Baptizing to Jesus. When Jesus shows up, all of a sudden, John’s not feeling worthy to be “the Baptist.”

But this man Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, doesn’t let John off the hook. Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Or in simpler terms, Jesus tells John, “get on with it and baptize me, because it has nothing to do with your own worthiness.” 

Yesterday, as we shared something that gave us fear, we also shared how we dealt with this fear, or acknowledged it. For me, in dealing with my own uncertainty about what it means to be a Pastor, what the future holds, and all those things, Jesus’ response to John, is what gives me strength, and confidence, and joy. This response doesn’t tell John how great, or skilled he is, it’s a response that says this is what’s going to happen, this is God’s work going on, and you have been called to do it.

And then, when John does baptize Jesus, we hear a voice from heaven, but it doesn’t say, “Great job John, excellent baptism, you’re really something.” Instead, the voice comes, and says, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

So, something that gives me fear is being a Pastor, and in a broader sense, being a Christian, or person of faith. But only when being a Pastor or Christian, is about being super righteous, or in the top 1% of all good people, or holier than anyone at all. But the Good News is, is that this isn’t what being a Pastor is all about at all.

Instead, being a Pastor is a great privilege, and a great joy, because I get to baptize people, and in these moments I get to hear God say, “this is my child, the beloved, with whom I’m well pleased.”. Furthermore, this is Good News because I don’t have to make judgments about who’s got the right stuff to be baptized, I don’t have to pick and choose who’s worthy enough to be called to do the work of God in the world. God does that, and God has chosen that this gift of love is for everyone, and that everyone can join in sharing it.

This morning, as we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, may we simply give thanks. May we give thanks that God has called each of us, weather we are the one pouring the water or witnesses to it, to be servants, to be workers, indeed to be disciples of Jesus in the waters of Baptism.. May we give thanks that we have all been called to proclaim for all people, the very love we have been given, God’s love, through our very lives, our baptized lives. For these lives are not our own, but are the lives of the One who is worthy, these lives are the eternal life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sermon for 1/5/2014 The Epiphany of Our Lord: Uncle Phil's Epiphany!

Sermon for 1/5/2014 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.
Epiphany-Greek for “manifestation” or “appearance. 
The season of Epiphany begins on January 6th, the actual day of Epiphany.  On this day, we celebrate the wise men visiting Jesus.  This is significant, because the wise men were from the Eastt, and not Jewish.  Thus, Epiphany is the time when the knowledge of who God is became known to all the world, and not just the Jewish nation, through the manifestation, or appearance, of Jesus Christ. 
The story of the Epiphany is found in Matthew 2:1-12.  Notice that the verses never say how many wise men there were. 

Gospel: Matthew 2:1–12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  2asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."  3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;  4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  5They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
             6'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
            are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
            for from you shall come a ruler
            who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
  7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."  9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.  10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
This last week, James Avery died. For those of you not familiar with James Avery, he played Uncle Phil, on the sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
 For those of you still not sure what on earth I’m talking about, “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” was a comedy also starring the popular actor Will Smith, and it centered around…

Well, it centered around a teenager born and raised in West Philadelphia. One day, while shooting some bball outside of the school, this teen got into one little fight, his mom got scared, so he moved in with his auntie and uncle in a town called Bel Air.

In other words, the show centers around a young man from the urban “hood” suddenly thrust into the lifestyles of his rich family.

And, the heart of the show, was the relationship between Uncle Phil, the recently deceased James Avery, and his nephew Will.

Now, the death of James Avery this past week, caused me to think about this show I used to regularly watch, and I thought that it can be a lot like the church, and the Epiphany situation we have.

What I mean, is that at first thought, this whole situation that the Fresh Prince of Bel Air was based on, a young man who goes from being poor to living with his rich family overnight, seems so romantic. It seems so easy. It seems like if all the people involved can be joyful and loving, everyone should just get along great.

This is pretty much how we can view the church, and our faith as well. If everyone just loves each other enough, we can be a great big family without any problems. Today, as we celebrate the Epiphany, as we celebrate the Wisemen coming from long distances, as we rejoice over the fact that God’s love and favor is for all people, it can be easy for us to breeze past the difficulties crop up when more people are brought into the mix that is our faith.

But sticking with the Fresh Prince for a moment, though Uncle Phil’s family had the means and space to support Will without a lot of hardship, the attention that Will garnered from the family changed the dynamic of how they all interacted with each other. Uncle Phil’s family had their own way of doing things, and their own values.

In addition to Uncle Phil’s family, Will, had his own history that he brought into the mix. He had his own values and things that were important to him, including a pride about where he came from, that his new family had trouble relating to. Thankfully, there were plenty of laughs to help smooth the way, and each problem was dealt with in 30 minutes.

Sitcoms from the 90’s aside, as we think about the situation of the Epiphany, it’s really not about people coming together to be happy, join hands, and sing Kumbaya. As God is revealed to those wisemen from the East, in this baby named Jesus, the whole dynamic of our own human identity, throughout time and place is thrown off. When the wisemen followed the star, the Gentiles, were suddenly brought into the family that God had created starting with the Jewish people. The promises, the love, the will of God that had first been revealed to the people descended from Abraham, have now, suddenly, been shared with the all people. In this Epiphany of Jesus Christ, the appearance of God to all human beings, the whole human dynamic has been thrown off, dramatically, and that is a good thing.

As we’ve discussed, and I do feel a little funny going on about a sitcom, in the “Fresh Prince”, Will’s mother sends him to live with his wealthy relatives, because the future in store for him in West Philadelphia is not hopeful. 

And, though it shook-up the lives of all humans, God sent Jesus into this world, because our lives living in sin were even bleaker than West Philly. It is hard to learn to live together, especially with people who come from different cultures, or backgrounds than our own. It’s hard to be empathetic and sensitive to those who we might think have a weird way of understanding something. It’s hard when someone else takes that which gives you pride, for granted, and things get really hard when we have to share or sacrifice for the sake of others. If we were stuck to our own devices, if we were mired in our own sin and selfishness, there would be no hope.

Now, over time, Uncle Phil and his nephew, Will, became closer and closer, and their relationship became like that of a father and son.

Through much more time, the Church, the family of God, the body of Christ, has struggled to live together and love each other, yet today we share in relationships that stretch farther beyond cultures and distance than they ever have. And even though we are still not united, we are learning to be a family with the Jewish people from whom our Epiphany, Jesus Christ came.

Most of all, we are learning to be a family with each other, and to make room for more and more people to find love and hope in this family at CtK. As we rejoice in this life together, we remember that it isn’t a romantic notion of harmony, or the power of positive thinking that keeps us together. Rather, it is this Epiphany named Jesus, that has called us and kept us in the unending love of God. It is Jesus who makes room for us by opening his arms on the cross to all people, and it is Jesus who maintains us with that love by pouring it out again and again for us in our meal of Holy Communion.

Today, we aren’t perfect, we aren’t always happy, and we can’t handle each issue in a half hour; but we are loved, and we will continue to be loved, and we will continue to be called to share that love, to share that life which is our Epiphany, the eternal life of Jesus Christ, with all people.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,