Year A: The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (February 2, 2014)

Click here for today’s readings
Click here for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast
Click here for previous Year A Commentary and Sermon

Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
(Apologies for this week — John had one of “those” weeks and must simply re-run his previous Year A comments here. We hope to do better next week!)

Micah 6:1-8

“What can I say?”

We’ve all either been caught dead-to-rights in some sort of transgression, or we have been the catcher; there is very little doubt as to our guilt and probably no shortage of evidence against us. (“No, hon, I don’t know how the chips and dip got left in front of the big screen after the game on Saturday.”)

There’s that moment of truth when our only admission is, “What can I say? Guilty as charged.”

That’s pretty much what is going on in the climactic chapter of Micah; God has placed the people of God on trial, as it were, and has laid out all of the evidence. The stirring conclusion even dares them to place God on trial if they would like! “What have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!” (v.3)

As the people of God, we really don’t have much of answer for ourselves. We may have tried all sorts of solutions to please God, or offered any number of excuses for our inaction and unconcern. But, all we really have is: “What can I say?”

That’s when v.8 makes such magnificent sense. “Look, it’s not that hard or complicated: do some justice, love some kindness, and take a walk on the God-side of the street.” No excuses needed.

Psalm 15

One of the young men in my church came up to me this week, excited to tell me about his first outdoor “real” camp-out as a Cub Scout. Brought back fond memories of my own experiences, both as a Scout and as a parent. Nothing like getting outdoors in that tent, cooking over the campfire, swatting bugs all night! (Well, okay…I could do without the bugs.) What makes it all work is the camaraderie, the friendship, the relationships with one another and with the great outdoors.

Not unlike the opening line of the psalm text: “Who may abide in the Lord’s tent? Who gets to live on the holy hill?” The words of Micah are echoed in the response; walking justly, doing what is right, speaking the truth…those kind of things. It iskind of like the Cub Scouts, when you think about it!

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

The Apostle reminds us of the relative foolishness of our wisdom when compared

to God’s. We can think that we’ve learned all we need to learn and experienced all we need to experience– and then, almost certainly, life intervenes and reminds us that we — ANY of us — can become foolish in an instant and mess up the careful planning and work of a lifetime.

Best to trust the wisdom of God, which seems in itself a foolish choice to some. A man who died on a cross? This is who you want running your life? What was it Jonathan Edwards sang in the 70′s…”He can’t even run his own life, I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine!” (catch the full lyric here)

The call to follow Christ is a call to radical reorientation and re-commitment of our lives. Nowhere is the statement clearer than in vv.30-31: “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” Yeah, well take that, Sunshine!

Matthew 5:1-12

There’s no way I have anything significant or new to add to the vast commentary on “The Beatitudes.” They are classic; read ‘em and enjoy and learn.

What I do often do with a very familiar passage like this one (at least for my own preparation, if not for the hearing of the congregation) is to check out a new translation. I find The Message by Eugene Peterson to be helpful in situations like this. Gives me a “fresh set” of ears, a different cadence by which I might find a glimmer of new understanding.

Here’s just an excerpt of his translation; you can find the whole passage here.

  3“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.  4“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.  5“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Less than ten years ago a couple of researchers at Princeton Seminary studied what they called The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teen-agers.  Christian Smith and Melinda Denton concluded from their research that 21st century American teenagers of almost all religions (and probably their parents) share a common theological outlook called “Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism,” or MTD for short.

MTD has five basic tenets of belief:

1- A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.

2 – God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by           most world religions.

3 – The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

4 – God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to        resolve a problem.

5 – Good people go to heaven when they die

Back in the 1980s, Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral wrote a book on “the Beatitudes,” as Matthew 5:1-12 is commonly known.   He called it “The Be-Happy Attitudes,” and in his usual cheery manner proclaimed that if we would all work to develop the attitudes and actions Jesus calls blessed, we would all be happy – or at least happier.

In his commentary “Matthew for Everyone,” Tom Wright begs to differ.  He says that the beatitudes “are good news, not good advice.”  As much I wish to be happy, I have to agree with Bishop Wright.  Jesus did not come to make us happy; Jesus came to set us free.

Because most of us, in one way or another, are infected with MTD, “Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism,” it is difficult for us to hear “good news, not good advice” in our Gospel lesson for today. But it is gospel, it is good news, it is a public proclamation that the Messiah has come.

Our problem is that we are always looking for an answer to some form of the question: “What must I do to be saved?”  So, Jesus proclaims a promise – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” – and we hear a command – “Be a Peacemaker!”

Now that’s not so bad; being a peacemaker, or hungering and thirsting after righteousness, are good things and making efforts toward peace and righteousness never hurt anybody.  Except, if we think we have to be successful in order to be blessed.  That is another thing entirely.

And many of the other beatitudes are, as Schuller hinted, issues of attitude.  But here’s the thing, emotions are a hard thing to dial up on command.  “Hey you, quit being satisfied with your life! Don’t you know you’re supposed to be poor in spirit?” “Or you, what are you smiling about, that’s no way for a mourner to look!”

As Wright said, the beatitudes are good news, not good advice.  The Messiah has come and immediately begins to proclaim that a new kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, is near. And in this “new kingdom,” things are different; actually so different you might say things are upside down from the way they used to be, totally reversed and backward.

“The meek inherit the earth,” “those who mourn are comforted,” etc. etc.  This is not a command to be meek or mournful; it is a promise that in the coming kingdom those who are already meek and mournful, those who work for peace or hunger and thirst for righteousness; those who pure in heart and merciful – these will come into their own and find their faith and constancy rewarded and honored in a world that has come more and more in line with God’s will and God’s way.

The law, when seen as command, or obligation, or requirement – cannot create a new world of justice and peace; it can only keep us sinful human beings in line and out of each other’s way. But the new “law” of Christ, seen as teaching and encouragement and opportunity and most of all promise, becomes a window into the future kingdom.

In Micah, the worshiper asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord,” and then lists an ever escalating level of level of offering and sacrifice. (vs. 6-7) The response that we should “do justice, love kindness and walk humble before the Lord,” (vs.8) is not a new list of requirements, but rather a reminder of what one is like when one is in close and trusting relationship with God.

In the Psalm, we read a list of ten things that qualify one to enter the temple.  Is this law or promise, requirement or reminder?  It is a reminder to the worshiper of the natural result of being a person of God.  One does not strive to achieve all those ethical principles and then one has won the right to admittance to the temple.  Rather, these are the behaviors that are a natural result of being in covenant, in love with God.

Thurgood Marshall, in his days as an NAACP lawyer in the 30s and 40s, often told a story in his speeches around the country.  He told of two unmarried sisters who lived together all their lives.

Sometime in their fifties they had a falling out and stopped speaking to each other.  This went on for years.  They divided the house with tape and paint into “yours” and “mine;” even sleeping in the same room with a line painted down the middle.

One night one of them got up to go to the bathroom and fell and broke a hip.  She cried out in pain and immediately her sister was at her side, holding her.  As they waited for the ambulance, the words, “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you,” and “I love you,” were spoken.

Marshall always ended his speech by saying, “The law can break down walls that divide people; it cannot build bridges that connect them.  That is a matter of the spirit.”

Yes, building bridges is a matter of the spirit, a matter of the kingdom, a matter of the Gospel.  Jesus came to build a bridge between and heaven and earth, between God and God’s people.

That bridge was built by what Paul calls “the foolishness of the cross.” (1 Cor. 1:18)

We are called to be about the business of building cruciform bridges of love and sacrifice in the world, built with planks of justice and peace and mercy.  Amen.

A New Addition to the Family!

BookCoverPreview -- Simple PreachThe Bubbas have gone and done it…we’ve written our second book.

We are tickled pink — or, perhaps a shade of blue, in this case — to offer A Simple Way to Preach. Designed as a concise introduction to preparing effective sermons, the book comes out of our own 50+ years of pulpit experience. In that time, we’ve offered some really good sermons — and more than our fair share of stinkers! Along the way, we’ve learned a thing or two and this book simply shares some of those insights.

We believe that preaching ought to begin with the text, and that one of the most important aspects to be considered by the preacher is how our listeners will hear the words we offer. The Bubbas thus offer a five-part process for working with texts and a way to consider three important questions that every listener wants answered.

Short. Simple. Easy to read and use. That’s our aim here, and we hope you find it useful.

Available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle formats. Let us know what you think!

Year A: The Third Sunday after the Epiphany (January 26, 2014)

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast
Click here for previous Year A Commentary and Sermon

Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Isaiah 9:1-4
Zebulun and Naphtali are among the lesser-known tribes of Israel; there is not much mention of them in Hebrew scripture. (For the background, check this link from our previous commentary.) A significant event, however, was their participation in a battle against the Midianites, detailed in Judges 6-8. A greatly outnumbered Israelite force emerged victorious in the battle — leading to Isaiah’s comment about “people who sat in darkness” now seeing a great light. When the darkness and weight of a difficult problem are weighing on us, it is awfully comforting to finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Matthew will use this verse in his interpretation of Jesus — who went to live for a time in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali (also known as Galilee) — and the shining of God’s light through his life. Matthew looks back and sees God’s purpose at work in the events of Israel’s history — God is always preparing the way for God’s future in the lives of God’s people.

Have you ever looked back and seen the “hand of God” in your own life? Was there a time that you felt God lifted a burden, or shed light on a dark place in your life — and, ultimately, may have used that experience to make you stronger?

Psalm 27:1, 4-9
A repeated theme during the season of Epiphany centers on light. There is perhaps no better or stronger statement of what it means to have the Lord as your light and your strength than verse 1 of this psalm.

The phrase “afraid of the dark” captures what it feels like when we cannot see our way through a situation. Can you recall feeling this kind of fear of the unknown? How would you describe the sense of relief that comes with a bright light shining in the midst of the darkness?

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
It seems to be a part of human nature to tend to “choose sides.” Of course, we all have favorite sports teams — for better or worse, when a game is involved one team usually wins while the other loses. Paul tries to help the Corinthian church understand that there aren’t “winners” and “losers” in the church. We are all on the same team. It is not a “Christian” thing to do to feel superior because of one’s connections to individual leaders, pastors, or teachers. It is Christ who is pre-eminent — everybody else is simply working for Christ.

Is it possible to be proud of your leaders — whether past or present — without having to assert the superiority of one over another? Why is it so important to maintain Christian unity, especially when it comes to choosing whose “side” we are on?

Matthew 4:12-23
Jesus comes through a rather “dark” moment in his own life when he hears that John the Baptist has been arrested. All the more fitting to have Matthew note his connection to Zebulun and Naphtali, the place where God has brought light in a dark time.

A key idea in the calling of the disciples in Matthew’s story is there “immediate” response to Jesus. What makes them so responsive to the call of Christ? If you were called to leave your way of life and give your full attention and time to ministry, just how difficult would that be? What kinds of arrangements would you need to make?

Notice the kinds of things that Jesus did in his daily exercise of God’s will for his life: he taught, he preached, he brought healing to those who were sick. As Christ’s followers, can we still be involved in doing these same kinds of things? If so, how? What does such a ministry look like in our world?

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Almost forty years ago, I had my first meeting with a denominational committee to talk about my “call,” my belief that God was calling me to be a parish pastor.  I only remember two things about that day in a Sunday School room in the education wing of a large downtown church; 1) being so nervous that I felt like I was going to pass out, and 2) someone asked me “What have you given up to enter the ministry?”  I managed to say something, but the most truthful answer would have been, “As a recent college graduate with a degree in Sociology and no job prospects; not much!”  Years later, I found myself in conversation about a call to ministry with a young person who has worked for a major American corporation for several years and makes a nice six-figure salary with good benefits and bonuses. I said, “For me, “what I was giving up” was all theoretical; for you the change in standard of living will be very real and possibly quite shocking and painful.”

In today’s Gospel lesson we see people whose sacrifices were very real. It is probable that they were also shocking and painful; if not to themselves then certainly to their family members and business partners who depended on them for help in earning a living. As I read this lesson over and over, I wondered – “How can anybody just drop everything and go, on a moment’s notice, just like that?,”  especially when to do so is giving up so much in terms of financial security and personal relationships.

But yet, the Bible tells us that first the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, and then the brothers James and John, immediately got up and walked away from their boats and their nets and their families when Jesus called them.  (Actually, it refers to James and John as “other brothers,” which makes me laugh because it reminds me of the Newhart Show and the line, “my other brother Darrel,”)   Unless these two sets of brothers are as clueless as the backwoods brothers both named Darrel, how could they make such an apparently thoughtless and reckless choice?  How could they walk away from a lucrative business catching and selling fish in order to follow a carpenter who offered them nothing but a vague promise to teach them to “fish for people?”

Well, this being the Epiphany season we must make allowance for the idea that Simon and Andrew and James and John had, well, an epiphany – a sudden realization of the truth, in this case a sudden realization of the truth about who Jesus was and as a result, an equally sudden realization of the truth about who they themselves were.

Most of us in the modern world aren’t real comfortable with Epiphanies and Revelations and sudden realizations of the truth.  We are much more at home carefully calibrating the odds and possibilities, gathering together our data and building a logical case for the truth. We are all a lot more Sgt. Joe Friday; “Just the facts Ma’am, just the facts,” than we are Hank Williams; “I saw the light; I saw the light; no more darkness, no more night.”

But there they were, those hard-working fishermen, confronted by the commanding presence of an itinerant preacher and precious few other facts to go on.  Had they heard of him?  Had they heard of his baptism in the River Jordan and the dove from heaven and the voice proclaiming him the beloved son and messiah?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  We don’t know.

All we know is that Jesus came out of the wilderness a changed man.   He had wrestled with the devil and his own vocation for forty days and he came out of there sure of who he was and what he was to do.  He came out of the wilderness and into the world ready to teach in the synagogues and proclaim the good news of the kingdom; he came out prepared and eager to cure diseases and sicknesses among the people.  He came out ready to get to work, and he came out ready to pick some people to work with him.

And so he strode down the beach and he looked these people in the eye and said, “You, you, you, and you.  Yes you.  Come with me.  We have work to do.”  And they came.  For us today it matters not why those men chose to follow Jesus that day.  It matters to us that they did, for it was through them, and others like them, that the gospel has come to us.

What is important for us today is that Jesus has issued to us the same invitation, the same call, the same imperial demand to follow, that he issued to them.  And you know what?  We deserve it as little as they did and understand it even less.

The message is that God in Christ has chosen us, every last one of us, to be his disciples, his followers, his fishers of folk.  And God has not chosen us because we are the smartest, or the prettiest, or the richest, or the most popular, or the most likely to succeed.  No, God has chosen us because God is God and God is love and God has graciously loved us in spite of ourselves, and when that overwhelming reality suddenly becomes clear to us – all of us then have a moment of epiphany and revelation and realization and find ourselves in the midst of a great light that has pushed back all our darkness and all our night.

And the only rational thing any of us can do at that moment is to lay aside whatever it was we were doing  that we thought was so important and give it and ourselves to over to God and the Kingdom.

And the strange thing is, when we do that, God turns us around and sends us right back out to do the same thing in the world that we were doing before.  But now, we do it differently.  We do it knowing we do it not for ourselves, for our own pleasure, or improvement, or material gain; we do it for God.  We do it knowing that we are in the world as ambassadors for Christ, as citizens of the Kingdom of God.  We do our work and live our lives knowing that the most important things we do are those things that help others know that they too are chosen by God, loved by God, wanted by God.

And in the end we will never, ever think about what we have given up to follow God.  Instead, we will wonder how we ever got by without God and God’s work in our lives.

Amen and amen.

Year A: The Second Sunday after the Epiphany (January 19, 2014)

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast
Click here for previous Year A Commentary and Sermon

Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Isaiah 49:1-7
The theme that predominates in today’s texts centers on the continuing emphasis of the season of Epiphany: revealing. During the weeks between the ending of Christmas and the beginning of Lent, our focus is on the ways in which God reveals God’s self, nature, purposes, and work in our world and in our lives.

The message through Isaiah is that God is interested in much more than the deliverance of the nation of Israel; in fact, God’s purpose is — and always has been — the salvation of the world (see v.6). All that God has done through Israel has been so that God’s work in that people might serve as a “light to the nations.” (Which is, by the way, always a great “hint” word to look for in Epiphany: light.)

Just how many people do you imagine are included in God’s intention for “salvation to reach to the end of the earth?” Is there anyone, or any group of people, that are excluded from God’s saving intention? Are you surprised in any way to read a passage like this?

Psalm 40:1-11
If Epiphany is about “revealing,” then this psalm text fits well. Notice the writer ends his personal testimony of God’s presence in his own life by saying, “I have not hidden your saving help…I have not concealed your steadfast love…” (v.10). What part is each of us — from our own personal experience with God — to play in God’s ongoing revelation of God’s love for our neighbors (and even for those very far away?) How can we speak and show God’s love and faithfulness?

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
As Paul writes to the Christians gathered in Corinth, he notes that they have been “enriched in [Christ,] in speech and knowledge of every kind.” This is evidently a part of their calling to wait for the “revealing” of the Lord Jesus. It seems to me that this is about more than waiting on a coming day at some time in the future, when Jesus will come again and make everything right with the world. It has something to do with the ongoing nature of our walk with Christ and with one another. Each and every day, Jesus is revealed — in us!

According to v.7, none of us is lacking any spiritual gift for living the life Christ expects of His followers. What sorts of gifts have been given to you — to those with whom you gather to study the Bible and worship — as well as to serve Christ in your community? How can Jesus work through your gifts, talents, and abilities to continue revealing himself to the people where you live?

John 1:29-42
One of my favorite stories from scripture! I love this text on so many levels…

  • John the Baptist (the “he” of v.29) exemplifies his usual straight-forward, no-nonsense style of witness. His words about Jesus are clear and to-the-point. This is probably a good thing for us to remember in our own witnessing efforts. Just say what you know and exactly what you mean!
  • The two disciples who were following John end up following Jesus, instead — basically at John’s insistence. How many of us would recommend to good members that they might actually like the church down the road a little better than ours?
  • There is repeated use of the words, look and see; how many times can you “see” those words used in some form in this passage? Again, the emphasis in Epiphany is on being able to “see” something you might never have noticed before. This passage allows us to “see” Jesus through the eyes of John, as well as of the men who would become Jesus’ closest followers.
  • Simon, whose name is changed to Peter, becomes the most outspoken and prominent of Jesus’ disciples. He is important and famous in the early history of the church (you don’t name a basilica in Rome after just any Bible character, you know!) But, consider where Peter might have ended up were it not for the efforts of his quieter, less-famous brother, Andrew. Andrew’s action in telling what he knew about Jesus is one of the Bible’s most under-reported milestones in the spreading of the Christian faith. How might we all be a little more like Andrew when it comes to sharing what we know about Jesus?

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Our now grown boys were elementary school age when we lived in the suburbs outside Atlanta.

My mother-in-law, known to the boys as “Meme,” lived in eastern North Carolina.  Every summer they spent several weeks with her on the farm.  We often met for the “kid exchange” around Columbia, South Carolina.  I remember one year in particular that we had trouble finding each other.  I had told Meme to meet me at a particular gas station off a certain exit.  I had been stalled by an accident and was running very late.  When I got there, Meme and the boys were nowhere to be found. This was well before the days of cell phones so we had no way to check in with each other.  I decided she might have gone to the wrong exit and doubled back a bit.  Unfortunately, she had decided the same thing about me.  Just as I got back on the interstate I spotted her car going up the ramp on the other side.  After a serio-comic hour of trying to catch one another, we finally ended up in the same place at the same time. After that, we decided that at all future meets, Meme would stay put and I would look for her.

I thought of that adventure as I read our Gospel lesson, particularly verses 41-42 – “The first person he found was his own brother Simon. ‘We’ve found the Messiah!’ he said.’”  In his book John for Everyone, Tom Wright says: “What Andrew and Simon Peter thought they were doing was looking for the Messiah.  What they didn’t realize was that the Messiah was looking for them.” (p.14)

About twenty years ago a large American evangelistic denomination launched a campaign called, “I found it!”  – the “it” being variously God, Christ, Christianity or salvation (or perhaps the perfect mega-church).  I was one of those who stood outside that effort and sniffed things like, “Gee, I didn’t know God had been lost.” Or, “We don’t find God, God finds us.”  Now, after further reflection, I think Bishop Wright is correct in pointing out this business of the divine human encounter is a really a two-way street – we look for God and God looks for us.  The difference is, unlike Meme and me and our interstate misadventure, or Simon Peter and Andrew and their search for the Messiah, God in Christ knows where we are all the time.

In this “sacred safari,” this “divine dance of desire,” no one is more important than the mediator, the witness, the one who points us in the direction of Christ so that we will be ready when Christ finds us.  This whole text is a series of pointings:  Twice in two days John the Baptist points to Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” the one sent from God to save humanity from itself.  The second time, two of John’s disciples left off following after him and began to following after Jesus.  They have a somewhat cryptic conversation with Jesus about hunting and locating things; “What are your looking for?”  “Where are you staying?”  “Come and see.”

After they spent an afternoon in Jesus presence, they go out and locate Andrew’s brother Simon and more conversation about hide and seek ensues:  “He first found his brother. . . ‘“We have found the Messiah.”  “He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him . . .”  The whole divine/human encounter ends with a playful assertion that encountering the holy in Jesus has changed Simon, signified by the changing of his name to the Aramaic Cephas or the Greek Petros (or the English “Rocky”).  It was in meeting Jesus that Simon finally found his true self.

And that which is true for Simon is also true for us.  We are world full of seekers.  We Americans have “the pursuit of happiness” written into our history and our cultural DNA.

People all over the world look and seek and scramble for that which will bring meaning to their lives. It has been said that there is a hole in the heart of humanity that only God can fill.  As Saint Augustine put it in a prayer, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in thee.”

And so many of us go restlessly through life, looking here and there and everywhere, looking for the thing that will fill that hole in our heart and not knowing that that the thing that we seek is also actively seeking us.

To find and be found, we all need a John the Baptist, an Andrew, a preacher, a teacher, a friend, a brother or sister; maybe all of the above and more – to point us in the right direction and to keep us on the trail.

And when we find and are found, we will be changed, transformed, renamed in recognition of the fact that our true nature has been revealed – not only to us but to the world. Our name is unlikely to be Rocky; it is more probable that it will be something like Beloved, Forgiven, Full of Grace, Full of Joy, Child of God, etc.

And we will arise from our encounter with the holy; we will get up from having had our name changed and we will go forth into the world to be pointers and proclaimers ourselves.  This is not difficult, it is not something to worry about or shy away from – all that is required is a willingness to help others find what you have found.  To help them find the place where they can sit and be still and wait for the Christ to come.

Amen and amen.

Well, We’re Not Exactly St. Peter, but…

St. Peter Preaching, Masolino da Panicale (c. 1426)

St. Peter Preaching, Masolino da Panicale (c. 1426)

We will be having a great time together with a crowd of preachers up on the mountain at the Hinton Retreat Center in Hayesville, NC.

It’s a Lenten Preaching Workshop with yours truly, Two Bubbas and a Bible, set for February 3-5, 2014. The view from the porch is nothing short of spectacular, and the dialogue and discussion around the tables will be helpful, practical, and useful.

All the details can be found by clicking HERE and checking it out on the Hinton Center website.

If there are any of you who can work it out, we’d love to have you join us up on the mountain as we work through the texts for preaching the Sundays in Lent, plus Maundy Thursday and Easter Day.

The worship and fellowship are worth the price of admission — and the food’s pretty good, too!

Year A: The Baptism of the Lord (January 12, 2014)

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast
Click here for previous Year A Commentary and Sermon

Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Isaiah 42:1-9
A common theme in today’s readings might be summed up in the word call. We often use that word in the church in terms of hearing a “call from God” toward a specific choice or action. There are general things that we say that God calls all Christians to do and believe; there are sometimes things that we may be called by God to attend to individually or congregationally.

The heart of Isaiah’s passage for today is v. 6: “I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness….” God is speaking to one who is identified in the surrounding chapters as the servant of the Lord — one who will suffer, at that. While those who listen to the call of God and accept the ministry of serving in God’s name will undoubtedly suffer (it rarely occurs otherwise in scripture) — they will also receive another benefit from God, as the second half of v. 6 notes: “… I have taken you by the hand and kept you.”

The call of God comes with the care of God for those who serve. We (like the servant in Isaiah, and the Christ in today’s gospel reading) are held by the hand of God, kept and preserved in the midst of any suffering we may endure. Can you recall a time that you sensed a “call of God” in your own life or in the midst of your congregation? What was that like? What did you do? Were there any ways that you “suffered” for following God’s call — and how did God care for you?

Psalm 29
In order to hear a call, there has to be a voice; and Psalm 29 is one of the most majestic passages in all of the Bible when it comes to describing the “voice of the LORD.” The passage is constructed in a literarily beautiful and forceful manner. Notice how many times the phrase, “the voice of the LORD,” is repeated (there are 7 of them.)  There are 18 occurrences of God’s name (in Hebrew, the actual covenant name of God — YWWH — is used) in these 11 verses. These repetitions serve as something of a drum beat driving home the presence and power of God.

This voice is no mere vocalization, either; note that things happen when the voice of the Lord is heard! This psalm reminds us that God is always active in the world, and that when we hear the call of God, most likely things will happen to us, as well.

What are some of the characteristics attached to the sound of God’s voice in this passage? In the final verse, what is the ultimate effect of hearing God’s voice?

Acts 10:34-43
In this excerpt from a sermon by Peter, we once again hear a “call” from God — one that Peter was working out in his own life — to take the gospel message not only to the Jewish people of God, nor to limit it to Judea, but to proclaim (preach) with the prophets that “everyone who believes in him [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Is the good news about Jesus really for everybody in the world? Consider the trajectory that Peter offers as an illustration of the spread of the message of God: John to Jesus to a few eyewitnesses to others to everybody. Who told or taught you about the the story of Jesus? In what way have you helped to tell others? How can we be sure that we keep that “chain of good news” going around the world?

Matthew 3:13-17
The classic story of Jesus’ baptism is — on at least one level — about Jesus’ own response to the call of God for his life. Jesus tells John, “…it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” What do you think he meant? How important was doing God’s will — doing the next right thing — to Jesus in his everyday life? Is there a call here for us as followers of Christ to do as Jesus did — to think daily about doing the next right thing (fulfilling “all righteousness?”)

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In a book called Craddock Stories, noted preacher and Professor of Preaching and New Testament Fred Craddock remembers preaching at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church, sometime in the 1980s.  He says,

“Joe Roberts, the pastor, had invited me . . . and the service had moved to the point where I was to stand and speak.  I’d moved to the pulpit and I had my New Testament (turned to Mark 8) . . . and was ready to read, when Joe Roberts, who was seated up there along with several other persons, began to sing.  Just as I was going to say my first word, he started singing. “I feel much better now that I’ve laid my burden down,” and then he sang some more.  Then the associates started singing, and the musicians went to their instruments, the piano and the organ and the drums and the electric guitar, and the people started singing.  I’m standing up there with Mark 8, waiting.

“Then, I suddenly realized, I’m the one up front, I’m the leader of this, so I started clapping my hands and singing.  Then everybody stood up and started clapping their hands and swinging and singing, and it was just marvelous.  Then at a certain point the pastor, Joe Roberts, put his hand out, it got quiet, they sat down and I started preaching.  I could’ve preached all day.  Afterwards I said to Joe, “Well, that kind of shocked me a little bit.  You didn’t tell me you were going to do that.”  He said, “Well, I didn’t plan it.”  “Then why did you do it?”  And he said, “Well, when you stood up there, one of my associates leaned over to me and said, ‘That boy’s going to need some help.’”  (p. 128)

“That boy’s going to need some help.”  I can just see The Father and The Spirit peering down from heaven onto the John the Baptist Revival Center and Riverfront Tabernacle down by the Jordan.  Here comes Jesus, determined to get started on his mission and full of vim, vigor and bright ideas.  And The Spirit turns to The Father and says, “That boy’s going to need some help.”

And The Father thinks about it a few minutes, looks out over the horizon and into the future and sees there trials and tribulations, sadness and sorrow, great adulation mixed with abject failure and frequent rejection.   And The Father nods sadly and says to The Spirit, “I believe you’re right.  That boy is going to some help.”  And then a slow smile spread across the Father’s face and he said, “And guess what Spirit; you’re it.”

And so it was that just as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens split open and the Spirit of God came down in the form of a dove and alit on Jesus’ shoulder, and a mighty voice boomed from above, “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”  And after that, the heavens closed and the bird flew off and only a few heard a faint voice whisper, “There; that oughta do it.”

“That boy’s going to need some help.”  Truer words were never spoken; maybe they weren’t really true about the great preacher Fred Craddock but they were certainly true about Jesus on the day of his baptism.  Even though Jesus was the Son of God, it was not possible to do what he had come to do alone.  He needed others, he needed  help.

First of all, he needed the help of his parents – Mary’s willingness to bear the Messiah and Joseph’s willingness to raise him as his own child; and their mutual willingness to put aside their own plans and prerogatives for the sake of the child and his mission.

Next, he needed his cousin John, John the Baptist.  He needed him to “prepare the royal highway;” to get people ready to hear about things like repentance and forgiveness and the coming Kingdom of God.  Most of all, Jesus needed John to point to Jesus himself as the coming one, the Messiah, the new thing God was doing to renew an old faith.

Now, on this day of his baptism, he needed help that only God could give.  He needed the Divine Spirit, the Holy Anointing, the Sacred Touch.  He needed to hear, and he needed the world to hear, the Creative and Powerful Voice from Heaven naming him and claiming him.   “That boy needed some help.” And God sent it.

Each of us has stood and continues to stand where Jesus stood that day – on the cusp of giving ourselves over completely to the work of the Kingdom of God.  And like Jesus at his Baptism, we stand in need of some help. And God has given and continues to give that help to each of us.

We have been claimed by God as chosen ones.  We have had the Holy Spirit bestowed upon us in our baptism.  We have been provided with a community of supporters called the church who will, like Mary and Joseph, bear with us and treat us like family even though we’re not. “We all, every last boy and girl among us, need help and God has sent it.”

And, we are surrounded by a world full of folk who need help.  Like Cornelius the Roman centurion in our lesson from Acts, many of them may not be socially acceptable, they may not be people whose lives and lifestyles make the rest of us think of them as worthy of help.  But they need help, and God has sent us into the world to be that help.  We, the church, are the touch of the Holy Spirit on the shoulder, we are the voice of God proclaiming love and acceptance and forgiveness of sins.

So, sing your song, clap your hands, tap your foot, stand and shout, sit and sway; do whatever you need to do in order to give a hand, give some help to the children of God all around you – because everybody needs some help – and God has put you in the world to provide it.

Amen and amen.