Year B — The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Commentary for February 5, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Isaiah 40:21-31

Verses 28-31 of today’s reading are classic descriptions of God’s being and power. This is the Creator of the “ends” of the earth (God has already been to the boundary of the universe that we are striving to glimpse with space telescopes like the Hubble and the Webb.) This God never grows weary — and never runs out of computing power, either!

For an interesting overview of gigabytes, terabytes, exabytes and beyond, click here. I suppose God’s understanding, being “unsearchable” or limitless, must surely exceed the current largest measure of computer capacity, the yottabyte (1.209 × 1024)

All of that said, notice that God’s inexhaustible power is made available, not only to those who wish to soar with the eagles or run with boundless energy — but also to those who need help just getting up and walking for a few more steps along the way. That’s God with us!

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
Some of God’s favorite things:

  • stars (knows how many there are!)
  • young animals (provides grass for them)
  • clouds and rain
  • the brokenhearted
  • the poor
  • the wounded
  • people who both fear (reverence, respect) and hope in God

1 Corinthians 9:16-2
Paul’s “all things to all people” approach sounds wishy-washy to some. It’s really kind of hard for me to imagine Paul as either wishy or washy, but be that as it may — I believe this passage speaks of some opportunity for understanding those who are “not like me.”

I am definitely not Jewish — I’m not black — I’m not female — I’m not Muslim. In fact, there are just a whole boatload of things that I am not, so there is a whole boatload of perspective that I may need to try to gain if I am to be a true “preacher” of the gospel of Christ.

An old gospel song came up in conversation in a small group that I participate in this week; I still love the tagline after all these years: “Don’t tell me what a friend I have in Jesus, till you show me what a friend I have in you.”

Mark 1:29-39  
Jesus had a fairly singular focus: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

But he stopped long enough to help out Peter’s mother-in-law and a passel of other sick folks. Never too busy to do a good turn. Good example for pastors and busy disciples of the Lord, don’t you think?

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
 

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (verse 35)

I have a church cartoon file. In it there is an old cartoon from Leadership Magazine. It shows a pastor down on his knees in his office, Bible or prayer book open on the chair in front of him.

Secretary sticks her head in the door, looks at him and says,” Good, you’re not busy.”

And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” (verses 36-37)

Which is just another way to say, “Good, you’re not busy.”

That’s pretty much what happened to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. The story takes place early in Jesus’ ministry. He has been baptized and then tempted in the wilderness.

He has returned to the area and begun gathering disciples and doing some teaching in the synagogue, where he healed a man with “unclean spirits.”

And today, they leave worship and go to Simon’s house for dinner. While there Jesus learns that Simon’s mother-in-law is not well and he very matter-of-factly heals her.

Word of both healings spreads and instead of a restful Sabbath afternoon, Jesus spends the day healing sickness and casting out demons. A very full work load for anybody, even the Son of God.

So, early the next morning Jesus sets out to find some “me time.” Or, perhaps more correctly, some “me and God time.” After a day like the one he’d had, he needed to think, to pray, to just be in the presence of the holy for a little while.

But it was not to be. Here come “Simon and his companions,” like a herd of zealous church secretaries. When they find him sitting quietly alone they say, “Good, you’re not busy. Everybody is searching.”

They probably expected Jesus to jump up and say, “My goodness, where did the time go? Boy, I’ve got to get back to town and get on those healings and exorcisms right away. Thanks for coming to get me.”

But that’s not what he said. And that’s not what he did.

Instead, Jesus got up, stretched and said, “Let’s go to the next town, so I can preach the message there too. After all, that’s what I’m here for.”

Or as Mark puts it, “. . . so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

What is this message that Jesus has come out to proclaim?

It is a promise and an invitation; a promise that God has not forgotten or abandoned the world, and it is an invitation to become a participant in God’s work in the world.

One of the most important keys to reading Mark’s gospel is to realize that all the healings and exorcisms show us not only who Jesus is, but they also show us who God is and who we are and who we are called to be.

The healings and casting our of demons show Jesus to be a healer and proclaimer sent from God, carrying on God’s work in the world.

They also reveal clearly that our God is a God who is present and not far off, a God of love and compassion, a God who is active in the world and in our lives.

These healings also revel to us who we are.

We are the people whom God loves; loves enough to touch and heal and care for.

And, we are people invited by God to join in the divine mission and ministry of healing and reconciliation in the world.

And it is in the context of this life of service to God and the world that going off alone to pray makes sense, for Jesus and for us.

Every few months, there is another article in the religious press about why a lot of people have left the church. More recently I have seen articles in USA Today, the New York Times, even the Wall Street Journal.

In the midst of most of these articles you will find the phrase, “spiritual but not religious.” Often you will also find, “They like Jesus, just not the church.”

They, depending on the authors intent, are either “young people,” or “modern people,” or “urban people,” or “working-class people;” some socio-economic demographic or the other.

Anyway, this “spiritual without being religious,” has led to a notion that spirituality and prayer being mainly personal and private, for one’s own good and benefit.

The “value” of God and Jesus and the Church in our increasingly materialistic and consumerist culture is calculated purely on their effectiveness in “making my life better.”

This is why you have folk moving from church to church or abandoning the concept of church all together while saying, “Well, I just wasn’t getting fed; I wasn’t getting anything out of it.”
Listen up people, it’s not about you.

It’s not about me, or any other clergy person. It’s not about the church board or the youth program or the Sunday School or whatever.

It’s about God and it’s about the world and it’s about the people in the world.

It’s about joining Jesus in his mission to proclaim the Good News of God’s love and grace to all the people in the world.

And that is hard work and you can’t do it 24/7 and you need friends and you need God to be able to pull it off.

Jesus went to synagogue, Jesus had a small group, Jesus spent time alone, Jesus proclaimed the kingdom, Jesus did healing.

It is only as a part of this sort of rhythmic cycle that the personal time with God fits, it cannot stand on its own.

For us to answer God’s call to follow Jesus, we need public time gathered around Word and Table, we need the support of and conversation with like-minded folk, we need private prayer and meditation and we need to be out there, sharing God’s love in word and deed with God’s suffering children.

We are called to a life of prayer and service, living within God’s community so that we will be strengthened and empowered to love and serve and heal and save the world.

We are continually called into God’s presence so that we may be sent back out into God’s world, proclaiming God’s love, healing God’s people, being genuinely busy doing what we too have come out to do.

AMEN and AMEN.

Year B — The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Commentary for January 29, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
The old saw, from George Carlin originally, is that “atheism is a non-prophet institution.”
 

Certainly, the role of the prophet in Israel’s religion is a central one. We are urged to listen and pay attention to the words of a true prophet. (What that constitutes is sometimes a bit up for grabs.)

But the prophet is bound pretty seriously by his or her claim to speak a word from God, as well. Verse 20 says that claiming to speak for God — when actually you are not — is worthy of death. Might want to think about that, preachers, the next time you enter your pulpit!

Psalm 111
Half-hearted. Lukewarm. Tepid. Unenthusiastic.

These are not words that describe any organization or effort that most of us would want to be a part of, do they? In fact, if we find ourselves in the throes of lethargy and boredom while attending a meeting or event, we generally will go to great lengths to find a reason to excuse ourselves and move on to something more productive — or at least more interesting.

The psalmist reminds us that worship is to be “whole-hearted.” This is the greatest enterprise in heaven or on earth. Come on people of God, let’s give it all we’ve got! Or, our audience (God) might just look for an excuse to head on out somewhere else!

1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Knowledge and authority — and their proper use — are part of the theme running through today’s readings. For each of us as Christ’s followers, there are some things that we “know,” Paul writes. 

I “know” that a particular behavior or action is “okay” for me; it does not cause me any harm in my faithful walk with Christ. Someone else, however, may have a concern about that action. I need to have some level of consideration for what they “don’t know” as compared to what I do.


We could probably construct a long list of such questionable actions, depending on our culture, the time period, our particular theological leanings, etc. For the Corinthians, it as all about idol meat. Growing up in a small, rural West Tennessee town in the 1960’s-70’s, for me it was “dancing and drinking.” (Some thought good Christians could do those things in moderation; others thought it must surely be a sin!)


So, what do you know? And even more importantly, how does what you know help either to advance or to limit the purposes of God and God’s reign in the lives of those around you?

Mark 1:21-28
Jesus never had to pull an Eric Cartman (“You will respect my authori-tah!”)

All he had to do was what he was sent to do — teach and preach the good news of God’s grace — and people sensed the authority in his words.

We are often taught or coached that we must convince people to have faith in Christ, or to hold a particular interpretation when it comes to particular doctrines or theological interpretations. Some of our traditions may even require obedience to authority represented in a bishop, superintendent or other ecclesiastical office.

Regardless, there is an authenticity that comes from representing God openly, honestly and truthfully (see commentary on Deut. 18, above.) Whether or not one’s message on behalf of God is ever accepted, the power of it will be plain to see when it is offered in the spirit of Christ.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Back in the early 1990’s former President Jimmy Carter was on the David Letterman show. He told a story about going on a speaking tour of Japan.
He said he told a little joke and, after the interpreter had finished translating, the room erupted in laughter. Carter was both surprised and pleased.
After the speech an old friend of Carter’s who spoke Japanese told him why everyone had laughed so loudly.
The interpreter had said, “President Carter has told a very funny story. Everyone should laugh now.”
Mark’s Gospel says that Jesus “taught as one having authority, not as the scribes.”
In this case, the scribes were like President Carter’s interpreter, telling people how they should feel and respond rather than making clear what God had said..
Most people have gotten accustomed to getting our truth from interpreters who tell us how we should feel, how we should respond.
From parents to pastors to politicians; from teachers to TV talking heads; our ears are bombarded by the voices of interpreters telling us how we should feel, how we should respond, to everything from eating our veggies to the latest uptick in the stock market.
And most of us, most of the time, have learned to listen to our interpreters with a grain of salt, sort of half-listening to what is said as they drone on in monotonous, “should”ing mode.
Which is what makes an authentic and true voice so startling. A voice like the voice of Jesus, who “taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (the interpreters)” (vs. 22)
When Jesus preached at Capernaum, the text says the people were astounded and amazed. They didn’t know what to do, nobody was telling them how to feel or what to do, whether to laugh or not.
Genuine freedom is a very frightening thing. And emotional freedom is the most frightening freedom of all, as the casting out of the unclean spirit shows.
Without debating spirits and demons and mental illness and emotional compulsion and all that; can we say that the unclean spirit is that which is in all of us that resists genuine freedom and responsibility in our lives?
Upon hearing the voice of authority, a voice declaring our freedom; our unclean spirits immediately resist because our unclean spirits recognize in that voice of freedom the call to change.
Indeed, the unclean spirit is correct when it accuses Jesus of having come on a mission of destruction, “Have you come to destroy us?”
Jesus does indeed come into the world and into our lives with an agenda of anarchy.
Jesus came to tear down any and all walls of separation that keep God’s people apart from one another.
Jesus came to erase the structures of slavery to sin which keep us in bondage to our own badness.
Jesus came to wipe out the diseases of the soul that keep us from knowing God’s love and hold us back from loving one another.
Yes, Jesus came to destroy.
But, he came to destroy in order to rebuild, to reconstruct, to recreate.
Jesus came to remake us in the image of God.
To make of us new creatures in Christ.
It is no wonder that unclean spirits, past and present, are afraid.
They know that the coming of Christ spells the end of their reign of fear in the human heart.
In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the children are somewhat afraid when they learn that the savior of the Narnians is Aslan, a lion.
Is he safe?’ they ask, “Safe!” the beaver responds, “Of course not. He’s a lion. But he’s good.”
Just so, Jesus is not safe; he did indeed come to destroy.
But he is good, because he also came to remake us into the wonderful and loving human beings God made us to be in the first place.
And it is no wonder that the people were both astounded and amazed.
In the clear, un-interpreted, un-translated, rural accented voice of Jesus they heard a call to freedom, a call to shuck off all the shoulds they had heard all their lives.
In that voice, they heard a call to respond to the love of the one who loved them.
In that voice, they heard a call to leave fear behind and to step out in freedom to do God’s work in God’s way in the world.
In that voice, they heard a call to love the unlovely, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to house the homeless, to cry out against unclean spirits of war and oppression, injustice and indignity wherever they have a stranglehold on human lives.
In that voice they heard the voice of God say, “I love you, come follow me.”
Amen and amen.

Calling All Preachers!

Well, at least any of you who still might have a chance to come join us for our Lenten Preaching Workshop at the fabulous Camp McDowell Episcopal Retreat Center in Alabama on February 6-8.

The atmosphere will be not only peaceful, but conducive to spiritual listening, as well. The company will be outstanding (other preachers who face the same struggles and joys that you do,) and the chance to dig deep into the texts that form us and inform us will be unparalleled! 

Okay…enough of an advertisement. See the link on the right hand side of the page for registration info, etc. Come on down, ya’ll!

Year B — Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Commentary for January 22, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
“Does God ever change His mind?”

I realize that question is not formed with strict adherence to inclusive language, but I’m trying to get at the passage from Jonah here (which frames God as changing “his” mind — and relieves us of all sorts of pressure to kowtow to the urge to crack any jokes about who changes their mind more often, males or females.)


Anyhow, I have participated in one or two theological brouhahas over the implication behind the question: does God ever change his mind? Can God change his mind? Well, it would certainly seem that that would be the prerogative of the Divine; what good is it to be God if you can’t do what you want to do?


Does God change God’s mind? Hmmm, there are those that would argue that since God is perfect, once God makes up God’s mind and decides on “God’s will” for a given situation, then there is no need for God to change God’s mind so — no, God doesn’t change his mind.


All of that is to say that we can open ourselves up to some real feats of doctrinal derring-do and sleight of hand if we’re not careful. I don’t want to step in too quickly and attempt to speak for God, especially where God’s grace is concerned. 


Bet’cha the Ninevites are glad that God can change his mind!

Psalm 62:5-12
Good thing God is a rock.


Well, not literally…but you know what I mean. If I am trying to understand God’s steadfastness and stability, it might help for me to consider the strength of a substantial boulder. I traveled across the western United States this past summer, and saw lots of “rocks” scattered about in various plains, canyons and arroyos. My impression of most of them was, “Dang, I bet that rock has been there for a long, long time.” 


They had withstood the tests of wind, water and time. Some of them had survived earthquakes, volcanoes and the like. At this point, they are not about to be shaken from their stance; they make a strong foundation.


God is like that, the psalmist says. God is a refuge, a shelter; you can put your trust in God. God has been tested and has proved faithful, again and again.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
The world is just not what it used to be. So says the Apostle. Actually, I suppose Paul’s message to the Corinthians is that the world never has been what we sometimes think it is!


Who, or what, do we trust with our lives? What truly is most precious? Time is short, no matter what your eschatological disposition. “The end of the world” is closer today than it was yesterday. 

(Remember, if the Mayans are right, you’ve only got till December 21, 2012, anyhow!)

Mark 1:14-20
Jesus was awfully time conscious, himself. Echoing John the Baptizer’s message of repentance, Jesus added the even greater sense of urgency: “The time is fulfilled,. the kingdom of God has come near….”

What can a sense of urgency do for our faith, in a positive manner of speaking? Or are we to assume that 2012 will just be “business as usual?”

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

When I was about twelve years old, I found an old Royal manual typewriter in the closet under the steps.

It belonged to my mother, who had bought it when she was in High School.

Since at that time William Faulkner and Walker Percy were my heroes and I intended to grow up to be a great Southern novelist, I knew I need to learn three things: how to smoke, how to drink and how to type. My mother could know about and help me with only one of those ambitions.

So, she taught me to type using the phrase they taught her at Stuart Virginia High during WWII.

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.

I sat at the kitchen table and over and over again typed it out, “Now is the time. . .”

Now, 45 years later, I still type that out when testing a computer keyboard.
Now is the time. . . “

I thought of that line as I read our scripture lessons for today.

Each of them is about urgency, immediacy, the press of time.

Jonah preached to the Ninevites and his message was “Now is the time to repent.”

Paul in Corinthians says “Now is the time to get serious about God.”

Jesus says to Simon and Andrew, James and John, “Now is the time to follow me.”

Now, now, now.

Jonah – “In forty days it’ll be too late!”
Paul – “The appointed time has grown short.”
Mark – “And immediately they left their nets and followed.”
Now, I confess that this is a difficult message for me to preach.

Not because I don’t understand it or believe it, but rather because I am one of the world’s greatest procrastinators.

My wife, “Will you take the recycling to the curb?” Me, “Sure, no problem.”

Hours later. “I thought you said you were going to take the recycling to the curb.”
Me – “I am.” Her – “Well?” Me – “Oh, you meant now?”

That line, “Oh, you meant now,” is the procrastinators’ mantra, our motto, our personal and communal creed.

It allows us a somewhat graceful escape by implying that we simply didn’t understand the urgency of the request.

The meaning of today’s scripture lessons is this: God means now!

We in the church are very good at ecclesiastical procrastination.

God says, “Come and follow me.”

We say, “Sure, no problem.”

Presently God comes back and says, “I thought you were going to follow me.”

And what do we say? “Oh, you meant now?”

God says, “I want you to spread the Good news of my love.”

And we say, “Sure, no problem.”

Later, God returns, tapping an impatient divine foot and saying, “well?’”

And we say, “Oh, you meant now?”

In the all the areas of our spiritual and churchly lives, God has called us to act;
To pray, to witness, to share our resources.

We are called to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, house the homeless, to heal the sick, to stand with the oppressed and suffering.

And we answer all those callings with a resounding yes.

But God continually has to come back to us, reminding us, “Yes, I meant now!”

Now is the time for all people to come to the aid of God’s reign.

Now is the time for us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.

Now is the time to fully commit ourselves to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

For, if not now – when?

Amen.

Year B — The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Commentary for January 15, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
As is the case in so much of the Hebrew scripture, we have some skillful storytelling in this account of God’s appearance to Samuel. There are a number of “visual” clues as to what is happening: 

  • God’s words are rare, there are very few who have “visions”
  • Eli, the priest of God, suffers from failing eyesight
  • the lamp of God in the temple is dimming, as well, though it has not yet gone out

All of which might well lead us to excuse poor, young Samuel from understanding on the first try — or the second — that God wanted his attention. Third time was a charm, with the help of the old man.


Does God ever have to try again and again to get our attention? Who is present to help us listen?

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
It’s a fairly common occurrence when I speak with someone in the parish about accepting a place of responsibility or service: “Oh, Pastor, I don’t think I’m qualified for that! Surely there’s someone else who could do a better job than me!”

Whether motivated by false humility or genuine concern, we need to be pretty careful when it comes to being “called” by God for faith and service. Psalm 139 makes a strong theological assertion — God KNOWS us! God has searched us (a term of intense scrutiny) and has peered into every possible nook and cranny of our existence. And God still finds us to be “fearfully and wonderfully made.”


God’s work is good work. We must always remember that our lives are the handiwork of the Creator, and that God’s calling and gifting are sufficient for any task God would have us undertake.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20
“Whatever, I do what I want!” might well be the contemporary equivalent of the argument Paul is seeking to broach with the Corinthians. (if you are unfamiliar with the idiom, you can check it out in the Dictionary of Urban Slang.)


As those who belong to Christ, can we do whatever we want? In a sense, Paul says, “Yes, we can” — and that’s not a campaign slogan! But that is not to say that we should do whatever we want.


The issue here is not keeping a checklist of naughty and nice ways for Christians to occupy our time; rather, what is it (or, more properly, who is it) that rules or controls our lives? To make Jesus Lord — to say yes to God’s will and way — means to say no, sometimes. (The contrary is true, I am sure.)


Our bodies, minds, and spirits belong to God; Christ is Lord in every inch of our existence.

John 1:43-51
Everybody needs a good, healthy skeptic in their lives. Jesus called Nathanael, whose name means “gift of God.” Interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus welcomed Nathanael’s searching honesty into his intimate coterie of disciples?

We often focus on more well-known followers of the Lord, like Peter or Paul and the particular gifts (and foibles) they had to offer. But, Nathanael is an excellent case in point: Jesus really does want and need ALL of us in his church!

One of my favorite rejoinders when I meet someone who says, “I’m just not so sure I believe in all that God stuff” is “Great! You’re just the person I’m looking for — we really need you here!”

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I have been deeply confused over the concept of hearing the voice of God ever since an incident that happened when I was a little boy.


I grew up next door to my Grandparents and ate breakfast with them 3 or 4 times a week,

which was good, because Aunt Mildred lived with them and was a great cook and made especially wonderful biscuits;

but it was bad because you could not talk during breakfast because the folks, Grandpa and Grandma and Aunt Mildred, had to listen to their favorite program while they ate:
THE MOODYS OBITUARY COLUMN OF THE AIR.

It started with somber, funereal organ music, then a deep, basso profundo voice would intone,


John Doe of 334 Mockingbird Lane passed away last evening at Northern Surry Hospital. His is survived by . . .He was employed by . . . .He was a member of . . . . Funeral to be held at . . . conducted by the Rev. . . .Memorials may be sent to . . . . etc.

for about 5 to 10 names, all read with great dignity by that deep, deep voice.

I was about 5 or 6 at the time and concluded that the voice on the radio was the voice of God.

Who else would know all those things about a person, all those details?

And the Church we attended then put a lot of stress on the Second Coming and the Rapture and the “He Will come Like A Thief In the Night” and stuff like that.

They really talked a lot about whether or not you’d be ready to go when the Man Upstairs decided it was your turn to face the Final Judgment.

So, I decided the voice on the radio was God sending out a message: “These are the ones I took last night. Are you ready to meet your maker?”

One day, my Daddy dropped me off at Elmer’s Barber Shop to get a haircut while he ran over to town to get a truckload of fertilizer.


I had just learned to read a bit and was very happily looking through the Boys Life magazines when I got scared out of my skin.

The man in the chair opened his mouth and out came that oh so familiar voice:

Elmer, could you take a little more off around the ears?”

Oh my God, Yes MY GOD was there, right there with me in that Barber Shop.

Oh no! My time had come! He had come to take me home. It was time for me to face the Final Judgment.

And of one thing I was never more certain; I was not ready to go. So I hid in the bathroom until he left, cowering in the dark under the sink.

So, this whole audible voice of God in the night thing is a little unsettling for me.


I have never heard another audible voice that I thought to be the voice of God, and yet I believe God has called me into the Christian life and that God has called me into ordained ministry and that God has called me to various churches, and that God has called me into my present position and that God has many more calls left for me before my call to stand before the Judgment Seat.

And the words of I Samuel 3:8 have been very helpful to me in all these calls: “Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.”


God lives in community, perhaps God only lives in community, I don’t know.

But I do know that I need community to live in God. I need the encouragement and correction and opportunity to love others and to let them love me.

And I especially need them to help me hear the voice of God, to perceive with me that God is calling me.

In the Gospel lesson Jesus calls Phillip and Phillip “passes on” the call to Nathanael, inviting him to come and see this Jesus of Nazereth, and the community which he has called together.


We sometimes talk about Jesus going about preaching and teaching as if he were mostly doing this all alone with a group of silly disciples/fishermen/tax collector groupies around for comic/foil purposes.

We often fail to see that Jesus came out of his wilderness experience realizing his deep need for community in the life he had been called to live out in the world. His first act was to gather such a community of love, support and companionship. Just as Jesus needed community, so do we.

We have a tendency to want to go it alone; to fly solo. Too often our religion has a “me and Jesus,” feel to it. If we have no one to talk to, to pray with, to listen to about the activity of God in the world and it our lives we might not hear or understand God’s call to us, and we could get confused about who’s calling and end up hiding from the wrong voice.

God’s call to us today comes to us in community and calls us to community, to the community of Christ, the people of God.

Most of us will never hear an auditory voice calling our name in the middle of the night, but God has called each and every one of us.

The call comes to us like it came to Nathanael. Someone has been our Philip, seeking us out and inviting us to come and see, to come and be a part of those who seek to follow Jesus.

And all of us are called to be a Philip for someone else. We are called to seek out and find those persons who are trying to go it alone and invite them to join with us in the company of Jesus.

It’s really not all that hard; just ask someone to come and see the thing that which made all the difference in your life. God will do the rest.

Amen and amen.

Year B — The Baptism of the Lord (First Sunday after the Epiphany)

Commentary for January 8, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Genesis 1:1-5
There are, of course, a number of opportunities to address “beginnings” on this Sunday. We are still newly arrived at the beginning of the year. Genesis, the book of beginnings, opens with the beginning of our world. There is water here, though the dark and formless void seems more inhospitable and un-tameable than it does inviting and life-giving.

Baptism — the presence of water — will mark the beginning of both the ministries of John and of Jesus. Note also the presence of the Spirit at each of these beginnings; what “beginning” might the Spirit seek to make in the lives of the church this year?

 Psalm 29
The “voice of the Lord” — a demonstrable, if somewhat unexplainable sense of presence — manifests in a number of unusual ways, according to the psalmist. Of course, there is water (think of the vast expanse of the ocean, as well as the roar experienced when standing near a waterfall.)

But there is also the cedar-ripping, oak-baring power of a storm in the forest, and the skipping/jumping/prancing euphoria of calves and young oxen loosed in the field. There is fire — a brilliant but dangerous display. There is the earthquake. As Elijah would learn, there is silence, as well (see 1 Kings 19:11-13, though not explicitly mentioned here.)


Where do you hear the voice of the Lord?

 Acts 19:1-7
I’ve never known exactly what to make of this encounter of Paul with the Ephesians — except to note that, again, we have the presence of the Spirit of God noted in association with baptism and the message of Jesus. (Oh, and there’s some business with laying on of hands, speaking in tongues and prophesying, as well — but, who wants any of that in our worship services?)

 Mark 1:4-11
Baptism — repentance — fresh start — new things — Spirit of God — the Beloved — well pleased. 

‘Nuff said.


Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

When I was a kid, if you were shy or failed to answer an adult’s question, they would usually say, “What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?”

As we think about the Baptism of Our Lord today, perhaps we could ask ourselves, “Has the cat got our baptism?”

What I mean to say is: “How impact has baptism had on my life?” “What difference did a few drops of water and some words make?”

In any discussion of baptism, the thing most people think they “know” is really the least important.
People “know” that you have to be baptized to get rid of original sin. Some people spend a lot of energy arguing there is no such thing as Original sin, and others worry about babies who die going to Hell if they haven’t been baptized, and all of it is mostly beside the point.
This serious misunderstanding of the sacrament turns it into bot of divine Hocus-Pocus; of human beings casting spells that require God to act in a certain way, in this case, allowing the Baptized into heaven.

It is because of this understanding of baptism that people sometimes ask,Why was Jesus baptized, since he was a sinless, perfect being, he had no sins which needed forgiving?”
This is an upside down and turned around picture of God’s love. We try to earn it, or we feel unworthy of it. We try to figure out what we must do to deserve it; we try to pay for it.

This reminds me of a story I have told before, the story of Harvey Pinnick. Harvey, back in the 1920’s, bought a little red spiral notebook and began jotting down his observations about golf and life. He never showed the book to anyone but his son.

In 1991, Harvey gave the book to a writer he knew and asked him if he thought it was worth publishing. The writer showed the book to an editor at Simon and Schuster Publishers. They called and spoke to Harvey’s wife, saying they had decided to publish with an advance of $90,000.

Several days passed and Harvey Pinnick had not responded to the message. 
 

Finally, Harvey spoke to his writer friend and said that with all his medical bills he just didn’t see how he could come up with the $90,000 to get the book published. The writer had to explain to Harvey that he didn’t pay Simon and Schuster; Simon and Schuster paid him!

All too often, we’re like Harvey Pinnick. We misunderstand the message of the Gospel. We think we have to do things to make God love us when the message of our baptism is just the opposite; God loves us just the way we are.

Baptism is a message to us that our sins are forgiven; sins: past, present and future. Baptism does not forgive our sins; God forgives our sins. Baptism tells us that our sins are forgiven.

Yes, God loves us just the way we are. God also loves us too much to let us stay that way. Forgiveness of sins is not all that is going on in Baptism.
Look at our second lesson, the reading from Acts. At first glance, it looks like a bit of theological silliness; baptized in name of Jesus only, so what?

Well, if baptism is in the name of Jesus only, then it touches on forgiveness of sin and a commitment to follow Jesus, but it leaves out the most important part, the gift of the Holy Spirit. But, with the giving of the Holy Spirit, we are in a dynamic, organic, growing, pulsating relationship with God almighty.

We become enmeshed with God. God is in us, we are in God, we are the Body of Christ, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we are NOT far off and distant from God, simply seeking to keep God from sending us to Hell through magical religious rites and our accumulated list of Good Works. 

NO! We are part of the Divine Presence in the world. God has made God’s dwelling to be within us.

Writing in Christianity Today, Pastor Paul Bocca talks about how some people find a genuinely Christian life boring. Going to church, doing the liturgy, reading the lessons, hearing the sermons, doing the rituals, serving on committees, etc. etc.

It’s boring! This is why so many find their way to TV ministries and huge mega-churches that are entertaining and exciting.

Pastor Bocca then turns this boring accusation upside down – by admitting it, and then reminding us of another meaning for the word boring.

He says Christianity is boring. It is like the slow movement of a drill; slowly, laboriously digging beneath the surface of our lives. The continuing cycle of Sunday after Sunday, season after season, year after year, the Christian message and life in community bores ever deeper and deeper into our souls, until, we begin to realize the truth of the words spoken over us in baptism. 

That we are a beloved child of God, we are marked with the cross of Christ forever, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are called to follow Christ, we are to love one another unconditionally, we are forgiven and called to forgive others, we are ambassadors for Christ.

This boring life of faith is begun at baptism, and is not completed until the day we die. We live each day in remembrance of our baptism, in remembrance of the fact that God loves us with a love so deep, so wide, so complete that nothing can separate us from that love.

And when we remember that, we will take our baptism back from the cat, we will loose our tongues to sing God’s praises and free our hands to do God’s works in the world.
Amen and amen.

Year B — The Epiphany of the Lord

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
The old farm house where I grew up had an old dirt basement underneath the kitchen, more like what people in other parts of the country refer to as a root cellar. You had to go outside to get to it, going through an entrance that always reminded me of the storm shelter in THE WIZARD OF OZ.
For much of the year we used it to store potatoes and yams and apples. They were in old wooden crates on a low table against the back wall, covered with burlap sacks.
Two or three times a week, Mama would send me to the basement to get something for her. I knew that old basement so well that I never turned on the light; I just walked straight into the darkness to the appropriate box and scooped up whatever it was that Mama wanted.
One year I got a flashlight for Christmas. For a few days I did nothing but fiddle with that flashlight. I did Morse Code with Cousin Bob next door, I tried to scare my little sister with the flashlight in the mouth trick, I tired reflecting light off household mirrors into people’s eyes to annoy them; the usual 9 year old boy stuff.
Well, when my mother sent me to the basement for potatoes I of course took my flashlight. I stepped into the basement and turned it on . . . . and immediately wished I hadn’t. In the sudden glare of my flashlight, I saw several rats and bugs and a snake or two scurry back into their hiding places.
I shuddered to think of all the times I had been down there in the dark and all those icky things were all around me and because it was dark I didn’t see them.
In this case the shining of the light was not very comforting to me, instead is scared me greatly.
During Epiphany we celebrate the coming of the light of Christ into the world.
We celebrate it as a good thing, which it is. We celebrate it as a joyous thing, which it is. We celebrate it as a life giving thing, which it is.
But all too often, we celebrate it as an easy thing, a gentle thing, a non-threatening thing; which it most decidedly is not.
The coming of the light of Christ into the world is a hard, good thing.
The coming of the light of Christ into the world is a severe mercy.
The coming of the light of Christ into the world brings life, but it also brings death.
Today’s Gospel lesson tells the familiar story of the Magi, the Wisemen, following the star to the manger, where they find the true light, which is Christ our Lord.
Most of the text tells the story of their encounter with King Herod. In the midst of this seemingly pleasant tale, there is only one hint of darkness, when the travelers are “warned in a dream” (vs.12) not to return and report to King Herod.
This hint of darkness reminds us of the rest of the story; the fact that Herod was a bad king and a bad man. He was such a bad man that he killed all the baby boys in Bethlehem in hopes of killing the prophesied real king of the Jews.
This is usually referred to as the Slaughter of the Innocents and we don’t talk much about it much, do we? It’s a real downer, an ugly, dark story. Too dark and too ugly to bring up during the joyous and happy season of Christmas.
Most of us are like I was as a little boy going down into the basement in the dark.
We are perfectly happy as along as we are blissfully unaware of the dangers lurking there.
When the light of Christ shines unblinkingly into the dark places of our lives, most of us are not very happy about what we see. None of us likes to have sins and shortcomings pointed out; not by God or anyone else.
But that is exactly what the light of Christ does; it shines upon our lives and shows us who we really are. It examines us in the unblinking light of God’s holiness and we all blink our eyes and shudder to see the vermin of our inner selves revealed.
I have a friend who has 5 of the 7 early warning signs of melanoma. In order to keep things in check, he sees a doctor every six months for a thorough check-up.
He stands completely naked under an extremely bright light while the doctor looks over every inch of his body. It is a harsh light, a light that chows his every blemish and imperfection.
It is also a life giving light, for it reveals what needs to tended to and healed.
That is what the light of Christ is like. It is both hard and soft. It deals in both life and death. It shows both the presence of evil and the hope and way of salvation.
It was because of the darkness that Christ came into the world. There was darkness then; there is darkness now. War, injustice, cruelty, illness, uncertainty and the loss of hope are still rampant in the world.
And the light of Christ shines on, in us and through us. We are now the light of Christ in the world.
We are called to shine the light of God’s love into the world’s dark places.
We are called to point out the ugliness of evil, and we are called to point to the eternal loveliness of Christ.
We are called to fill the world with the penetrating and healing light of Christ.
ARISE SHINE, FOR YOUR LIGHT HAS COME! (Isaiah 60:1)
AMEN AND AMEN.