Archives for January 2019
Paul and Jesus declare to be reality what we do not yet see: they invite you to be what you are, and you will see astonishing things.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Third Sunday after Epiphany, Lectionary 3 C
Texts: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
There’s something troubling about what we hear from Paul and Jesus today.
Paul boldly tells his Corinthian church that they are the body of Christ, they are one in the Holy Spirit. Everyone matters, no matter how small or great. Everyone’s gifts are needed. This is reality, Paul says.
Jesus declares that the wonderful things he’s anointed by the Holy Spirit to do are already done: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” he says.
But it’s hard to see a lot of evidence of the unified body of Christ or the healing of all things no matter what Paul and Jesus say.
This is a good, healthy community here. But none of us would say it’s perfect.
People are here, part of Mount Olive, because this place has blessed them, this community of faith has been a gift. Each of us have different reasons that draw us here; some become members, some don’t, but we all journey together, each with different experiences of this community. Most days, on our good days, we find this is a wonderful, supportive body of Christ. On those days it’s easy to tell others how much we love these people with whom we worship and serve.
But not all our days are good days. Some days we’re disappointed by others in this community. Some days we feel alone, even unsupported. Some days we don’t like decisions that are made. Some days someone says something that offends us. And each of us likely has things we don’t share with others here, things we could use support with, because we don’t fully trust that someone, or this community, will have our back.
Paul’s vision is beautiful. But we know that it doesn’t always happen, not even here. People can fall through gaps. And beyond just this community, the Church in the world’s got even more problems.
So: is Paul declaring what our aspiration should be? He seems to be doing something else. He seems to be saying “This body, where each member is valued and loved, where all are supported and cared for, this is what you are.” Not what you should be, or could be.
It’s even clearer with Jesus today.
We believe he was anointed and filled by the Holy Spirit to do these things: proclaim release to captives, good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, sight to those who cannot see. We claim that from Pentecost to today, the Holy Spirit anoints us, fills us, to do the very same things.
But even though Jesus says “today this has been fulfilled in your hearing,” there are still lots of people captive literally and figuratively, in prison, trapped in systems, caught up in their own sinful, destructive patterns. There are still millions who are poor who hear no good news. Oppression still crushes millions in our own country and around the world.
So: How can Jesus say this has been fulfilled? It can feel dishonest to proclaim in this space all these wonderful things Scripture says God is doing and has done in the world in Christ and through us, and not admit that many days it’s almost impossible to see evidence of this.
Here’s what you need to remember: Jesus and Paul aren’t fools. They see what we see.
If the Corinthian church was actually living as the body of Christ, where each felt welcomed and part of the mission, where all were loved and supported, Paul wouldn’t have to write these words. In fact, the church at Corinth had all sorts of divisions and fractures. The letters to Corinth, more than any Paul wrote, reveal the often ugly realities a Christian community can experience. This was a community divided between wealthy and not wealthy, between people of different ideologies, between people who saw their relationship to other religions and practices of their neighbors very differently, between people who had radically different expectations of Christian behavior.
Today we see that exclusion from the body went two directions. Some – like Paul’s image of the foot and the ear –self-excluded, feeling they themselves and their gifts weren’t worthy of being in this body of Christ. And some – like Paul’s image of the eye and the head – excluded others, saying some folks just weren’t good or valuable enough to count. As beautiful as Paul’s image of the body of Christ is, created in baptism by the Holy Spirit, clearly the Corinthian church didn’t look like that.
And Jesus obviously understood that ending oppression and poverty and captivity and bringing healing to the world didn’t just happen by his sermon that day. His ministry that followed embodied what the Spirit filled and anointed him to do. It also showed how much needed to be done.
But Jesus and Paul see something deeper than what seems the obvious reality.
Paul knew the Corinthians were divided and full of infighting. But he says, “That’s not who you are. You are one body, baptized into Christ, made one in the Holy Spirit. This is your truth: everyone belongs, whether they appear to be weak or strong, gifted or not. Everyone is supported and loved, whether they suffer or rejoice. And everyone has different gifts to serve God, and each are important.” Jesus says the same, in the face of a world that’s still in pain: “today this is fulfilled.”
They believe this reality they describe is, in fact, already upon us. Maybe we don’t see it in the Church here and across the world all the time, or in the brokenness and pain of the world. But the body of Christ exists, is real, is made by the Holy Spirit, no matter what we see or do. God’s healing of all things has come in Christ and continues in you and me, because the Holy Spirit is making this happen.
Instead of commanding us to do something, Jesus and Paul speak in the indicative mood: “This is what you are. This is what God is doing.” So, they say, “Be who you are. Be a part of what God is doing.”
Because that’s how these realities become visible.
If you live in this community expecting the Spirit to make us one body, where all are valued, welcomed, loved, and supported, where many gifts of differing kinds are evident, you will see that is, in fact, our truth. Flaws and cracks will still be there, but they are part of the growing and knitting the Spirit is doing. They are mended through grace and forgiveness as you live in this body of Christ expecting to see what Paul says already exists. And astonishingly, this is also true of the whole Church in the world, not just here.
And if you live believing that God in Christ has already fulfilled the promise to come and end oppression, captivity, poverty, and all the suffering of this world, you will see over and over that this, in fact, is happening. Your eyes – blessed by the Spirit – will see the healing strands of grace and hope. The tiny growths of green life and joy that cannot be stopped. As you participate in these acts of healing as Christ yourself, you will see the Spirit making an impact through your hands and your voice and your heart.
Because the Spirit of God is upon you. And the Holy Spirit has filled you, anointed you, to be these amazing things we heard today.
To be the body of Christ – and not just in this congregation but across the Church – one in the Spirit, not divided. And to be the healing grace of the Triune God working in you as Christ in the world.
Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. It’s your truth. It’s what you are.
So, be that. Trust the Spirit is moving in you and in the Church, and your eyes will be opened to the deep reality behind what you normally see. You will see God’s reality, and live in it. Until the whole creation sees for itself and rejoices.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
The Holy Spirit of the Triune God is moving and breathing in you and in the world: name it, watch for it, confidently expect it.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Baptism of Our Lord, First Sunday after Epiphany, Lectionary 1 C
Texts: Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; Isaiah 43:1-7
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The Holy Spirit is like the wind, Jesus taught us in John 3.
The Spirit blows wherever she wills, and as with the wind, we have no control. All we can do is see where the Spirit has been.
It’s strange that Christians often want to control who thinks the right thoughts about God and control what those right thoughts about God are, when the primary way the Triune God lives and moves in the world is through the Holy Spirit, who can’t be controlled, or predicted, or stopped.
The Spirit of God moved over the waters at creation, and since then has been moving, inspiring, changing lives and changing the world. Today we see the Holy Spirit come upon the Son of God, and the voice of the Father speak words of praise and love. But this isn’t just a place we see the Triune God together. We also know what this means: Jesus will be Spirit-filled as he does his ministry and work.
Little wonder the early Church, as we see today in Acts 8, always laid hands on those who had just been baptized and prayed that the Holy Spirit would come upon them, too. Claimed in baptism as beloved children, just like Jesus, now the apostles prayed that, just like Jesus, the Holy Spirit would fill these newly baptized.
But the Spirit goes where the Spirit wills.
So, on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of the Triune God poured out on over around 120 believers, we have no idea if any of them were baptized. But when those who heard them speak in many languages asked what they could do, Peter invited them to repent and be baptized, so their sins may be forgiven and so they, too, may receive the Holy Spirit.
Clearly, even if those first 120 weren’t baptized yet, they were so moved by Pentecost that they believed the Spirit would continue to come. They expected it. In Acts, after Pentecost, the early Church watched for the coming of the Spirit, they named where they saw the Spirit, and they lived with confident expectation that the Spirit would continue to bless the Church, and individual believers.
So this became the pattern: baptize, then lay on hands and pray for the Holy Spirit.
Over the centuries, however, gradually the second part, the prayer for the Spirit, grew further and further separated from the baptism.
By the Middle Ages we see the rite of confirmation as the time of laying on of hands and praying for the Spirit. You’d wait years for what used to happen immediately.
I didn’t have hands laid on me at my baptism, and a prayer said for the Spirit. None of you who were baptized before 1978 in the Lutheran church in this country did, either. But since 1978, when Lutherans here restored this ancient practice from Acts, immediately after each baptism hands are laid upon the newly baptized. I will baptize Gus and Howie today, and after each baptism I will lay hands on their head, like Peter and John, and pray that the Holy Spirit come upon them.
But we do not claim any control over the Holy Spirit with this prayer.
The Spirit of the Living God lives and breathes throughout the world, through all God’s children. There is no question that these two boys have had God’s Spirit breathe on them and in them already. The Holy Spirit blows wherever she wills, and we can only watch in wonder. In fact, in Acts 10, the Spirit pours out on a group of Gentiles during Peter’s sermon, and before they ever were baptized. Peter and the others had to catch up.
And even if many of you, like me, didn’t have that prayer prayed over you, the Spirit has been in our lives. We, too, have watched for the signs, and named the Spirit when we saw what she had done, and confidently expected the Spirit would continue to come.
But today we name out loud what we all watch for and expect so Gus and Howie can cling to that promise. Today in this prayer we claim the Spirit who moves like the wind has come upon these two.
And what we pray for, what we name, is astonishing.
In the thrill after Pentecost, the early Church looked at Isaiah 11, speaking of the Spirit falling upon the Christ, the Messiah, and said, “That’s what happened at the Jordan with Jesus. But that’s also what happened to us at Pentecost.”
So they prayed that as a prayer, Isaiah’s promise for Messiah, and so will we: “Sustain this one with the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever.”
We pray that in baptism we become God’s Christ, God’s anointed for the world, to be part of God’s healing, just like Jesus. This is what we ask for Gus and Howie. This is what we desire for ourselves. We dare to name such a gift because we’ve been promised it in Scripture. We’ve also seen the Spirit do these very things among us and in the world. We’ve seen deep wisdom and understanding come to those who are Christ in the world. We’ve known counsel from the Spirit, and felt God’s power in us. We’ve received insights and a sense of awe before God. And we have been filled with joy knowing God is within us.
The Holy Spirit blows where she wills, but today we say, “here, too, in this place.”
Maybe we should have a liturgy where all who wished could come forward and kneel at the altar, and have hands laid on their heads, and this prayer prayed over them again, or for the first time.
What might it mean for you to hear these words over your head? To be told: the Holy Spirit is in you. And then to live your life, like the early Church, watching for signs of the Spirit’s moving in your life. Confidently expecting wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of God, and joy in God’s presence.
Well, hear them now: Washed in God’s waters and given forgiveness and life, God has called you by name, and you are God’s beloved child; God is well pleased with you. And now God’s Spirit lives, and moves, and breathes, and loves in you. Name that. Watch for it, and confidently expect that you will see great wonders.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
Arise, shine – look up from your fear and see God’s light shining in the world and in your life, and then shine that light so others might find hope and joy.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Epiphany of Our Lord
Texts: Matthew 2:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
They knew all they needed to know. But they didn’t do anything.
When Magi from the East came to Jerusalem looking for a newborn Jewish king whose birth notice they saw in the stars, the chief priests and scribes knew where to look. In answer to the Magi’s search parameters – child, Jewish king, important enough for astrological announcement – they knew chapter and verse, Micah 5:2, and quoted it to Herod: “From Bethlehem, one of the least of Judah, will come a ruler to shepherd God’s people.”
Maybe they had to do some research first, Matthew doesn’t say. But they had the right answer. They believed Scripture spoke of this birth, and they knew where it would be. They just didn’t know when. But now they knew that, too: these foreign astrologers arrived saying it had happened.
So why didn’t the scribes and chief priests join the Magi and head to Bethlehem? All the puzzle pieces were in place. Why didn’t the scholars of the nation Jesus was born into, the teachers of God’s chosen people, join these non-Jewish stargazers to see what God was doing?
Isaiah speaks of this coming as light shining in darkness. Like the star the Magi followed.
The Jerusalem scribes knew these verses we heard today, too. Isaiah says this coming of God will attract nations and kings, who would bring gifts of gold and frankincense. So foreigners arriving with these gifts to worship this child was itself a sign that this light of God, this child, had arrived.
And surely the scribes would’ve believed there was a need for light, would’ve understood the world to still be in some darkness. Under Rome’s thumb, the Jewish people weren’t free, weren’t thriving. The promise of hope to God’s exiled people that Isaiah 60 declares would have been deeply needed at this time, too.
They would have known this. And still, they did nothing.
Maybe the darkness of life, the darkness of the world, made it hard for them to want to look for God’s light.
Why get your hopes up? We can understand that.
We talk often these days about the state of the world, the chaos, the wickedness, the oppression of huge numbers of God’s children, the destruction of our climate. Even though most generations have also seen such things, that doesn’t mean that words of hope and light don’t resonate with us, too, or that we don’t long for such grace from God. But maybe we also don’t think it will come in any significant way.
And it’s not just the darkness of the world or the society. Each of us faces challenges, struggles, where we feel we’re walking in the dark. Diseases, job problems, broken relationships, setbacks we face, all can overwhelm. We wonder about our purpose, whether there’s a point to all this. We fear death, ours or others’. Knowing God has light to shine into our darkness would be wonderful. If we’d let ourselves hope.
Well, today Isaiah says you can hope. “Arise,” he calls out to a people in fear and pain.
Darkness covers the earth, he says, covers the peoples. But God is rising up, and God’s light is shining on you.
At the heart of our Christmas celebration is this hope: God has joined us in our darkness, in our fear, in our exile, and is bringing light in Jesus. The light of hope that we are in God’s love always and cannot be removed. The light of promise that all we’ve done to contribute to the darkness of our lives and the darkness of the world is forgiven. The light of wisdom that there is a path of light to walk in the darkness that will be abundant and full for us and the creation.
Now, as we know, this is a long dawning. The light spreads one person to another, and it can seem like the sun will never rise. We need the Spirit’s gift of patience.
But today more than that we need Isaiah’s trumpet call: Get up and go look! Join others who are looking, and find the light together. You don’t have to sit in Jerusalem, knowing God’s light has come, and shut your doors and pull down your shades. You don’t have to be so tied up in your guilt, your fear, your anxiety, that you don’t even look for where there is light from God. You don’t have to be so overwhelmed by the complexity of the problems of the world that you don’t even expect any enlightenment from God. Arise! See what God is doing.
And Isaiah also calls out: “Shine.”
You are now part of the light you’ve arisen to find. Once you go see where God is shining, you become a reflector of God’s light, shining on others.
This was one of God’s greatest hopes for Israel, that they would take their chosenness, the love of the one, true God they knew, and invite all nations into it.
The Magi shone. They arose – they got up and followed – and they shone. They witnessed that God had raised up a new ruler who will be faithful to God. They shone their hope and faith to all in Jerusalem as they followed the light.
So shine, too, as you look for the light, as you band together with these others who’ve been looking. Let your light so shine before others, Jesus said, so that they may see the good you do and glorify God for it. You become the star.
Today Paul tells the Ephesians that’s his main calling.
It’s why he’s in jail, why he goes out and preaches when he’s not in jail. He has seen God’s light in Christ Jesus and has to shine that light for others.
“I have become a minister of this Good News,” he says, through God’s grace that works in me, “to make everyone see what is in the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.”
What if you saw this as your calling? That as someone who’s seen the light of God’s Good News in this place – in the grace you’ve eaten and drunk at Christ’s table, in the forgiveness and love you’ve met and believed here, in the hope of God’s healing of all things that you’ve seen here – and as someone who’s seen the same light of God’s Good News in the world – in the eyes and love and compassion of countless people shining in the world’s darkness, and in the embrace and touch of countless others who have been with you in your dark places – what if you, having arisen and seen such things, also heard your call to shine, to let others see this plan that has been hidden in God’s mystery but now is revealed to the world?
I like to think that a couple scribes snuck out the side door of Herod’s palace and caught up with the Magi, wanting to see God’s light for themselves.
I hope some did.
But you needn’t sneak or hide. You’ve seen God’s light shining – even if it’s still deep mystery how it will shine on all, how all things will be healed in God’s coming – you have seen God’s light because you have come here, you have arisen to join with others following the star, seeking the light.
Now, as Paul promises, God’s gift of grace will give you the ability to shine in this world, in your life, amongst others. To be a star for others to follow, a light to give hope.
To be a minister of this Good News, until everyone comes to Bethlehem to see and to be filled with joy in God’s healing light.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
Happy New Year!
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