Luke promises, in the first chapter of his gospel, to give an “orderly account” of everything, after he has investigated and considered all the stories from the very beginning. But Luke isn’t only interested in recording the physical miracles, the unexplainable healings, the miraculous multiplying of fish and of loaves. What Luke makes sure to put before us is the miraculous healing of the heart.
See what Hannah sings: “God brings death and God brings life, brings down to the grave and raises up. God brings poverty and God brings wealth; he lowers, he also lifts up. He puts poor people on their feet again; he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope, restoring dignity and respect to their lives—a place in the sun!”
And hear Mary’s song: “God knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.”
Is this a miracle? We could say it depends on who you ask. But I don’t think a single person who has known what it is like to be hungry — or downtrodden, or hurting, or broken, or in need of mercy piled high — none of us would say that it is anything less.
- “For some unexplainable reason, my heart rejoices in the Lord”, my sermon on 1 Samuel 2:1-10
Last week we heard about Abraham and the covenant with God, that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Now those stars are finding out they’re not the only lights in God’s galaxy. God’s got an eye not just on the nation of Israel but on the whole world.
It no longer matters if you’re a descendant of Abraham. It doesn’t matter if you live in Israel or Babylon or anywhere in between.
It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, or young or old, or even holy or wicked.
When God says “All who are thirsty” that means the only thing required to come to God is thirst. Is hunger. Is your soul longing for something more.
This is God’s plan, not just for Jeremiah but for everyone. Plans for growth, not for pain. Plans for hope, for a future. Plans to be known and heard and found and brought back home. It’s not an itinerary, or a manual, or even a map. It’s a promise. It’s a promise from the very mouth of God that no matter who we are or what has happened, God wants you. God wants you home. God wants you to feel that fire in our bones, that excitement, that passion. God wants to give you something so deeply satisfying that it feeds all of your life. God wants to call you, to give you purpose, to give you hope, to give you a future. And not just you, not just Jeremiah, but every single one of God’s beloved children. God has a plan, but it’s not a step-by-step guideline or a PowerPoint presentation. It’s a hope that someday everyone will have God’s word written on their hearts, like a tattoo on every vein, so that each heartbeat is a cry for mercy and justice and love.
But here’s the danger in the stories of Isaiah, and of John the Baptist, and of us. We can forget that God’s love is a gift. We can start to think that God loves us because we’re beautiful, or smart, or rich, or capable, or clean, or holy. We can start to think that we’re in control of God’s love. We can claim it for ourselves. And — we can decide who else gets some, too. Israelites might say that they alone were the chosen people. John’s followers might say that their baptism made them the most holy. When God gives us love, out of nothing but sheer grace, there’s a danger that we think we earned it. We can narrow down the promises of God. It’s for us, not for them. It’s for me, not for you.
And then Jesus shows up on the shore of the Jordan. And he blows up everything that John has been teaching about baptism.
…When the heavens open and a voice shakes the earth, it’s clear that Jesus is chosen, special, set apart in some way. All the promises get narrowed down to him. He is the Son, the Beloved. Of all the chosen people, he is the most chosen. Of all the baptized, he is the most important. But Jesus’ life shows that this narrowing isn’t just meant to be held onto. It’s a gift with shoes attached. His mission is to go into the world, to wander from town to town, to release people from their brokenness and sin and suffering into a new life. This is the kingdom of God: that God has one Son, the Beloved, whose mission is to draw everyone into God’s love.
the Packers, the True Vine, and Baptism: a sermon on John 15:1-12
Sermon for August 11 and 12, 2012
My last sermon preached at LCCR. Texts for the day found here.
Texts for August 11 and 12, 2012
Sermon on Salome, Herod, and the Beheading of John the Baptist
What’s tragic is if Herod went to his grave with all of his violence and stupidity and sin on his conscience never once knowing that he and his illegal wife and her child Salome and John the Baptist are all beloved children of God. What’s tragic about Herod is how different he is from the prostitutes and demoniacs and tax collectors and Pharisees and centurians we meet in the Gospels. They encounter Jesus Christ and are freed from the bondage of their past. In the presence of Christ they are given a glimpse of God’s bigger story of love and mercy and are shown who they really truly are in the eyes of a loving God and they are made new. The story of who they are is given a new ending and a new meaning. But Herod was trapped in his own story and it feels to me like it’s a story that tortured him and one that he felt there was no escape from.
When our own little stories begin to feel self-contained and inescapable, that’s when things are tragic. Maybe on some level you feel that way. Trapped. Unable to change the story of who you are. Unable to change your behavior or attitude or outlook. So caught up in the events around you, so caught up in the identity you’ve had so long that it clings to you like a skin suit.
And if that’s true and you were hoping to hear some good news today I need to be the first to tell you -
There is no good news in this story. I looked for it. But maybe that might actually be the point. Maybe we are supposed to notice that this is the only story in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus isn’t mentioned. There is no Jesus. So if this story stood alone, there would be only sedition and sin and violence and bondage and political maneuvering and incest. The only thing that makes this story good is that it’s not the end of the story. One of the most Gospel-y things I’ve heard in a long time was that great line from the movie the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in which a character says that they have a saying in India that in the end all will be well. If all is not well, it is not yet the end.
So while there is no good news in this story, while there is no Jesus in this story, what’s amazing is that the story of Herod’s birthday is immediately followed by the feeding of the 5,000. The Godless Black Mass of Herod’s party is immediately followed by another party, a Eucharistic one in which there is no exploitation of children, or killing of prophets. There is only Jesus, and thousands of people sitting on the green grass and a few loaves and a couple fish and all are fed by what seemed like not enough and there was still baskets or loaves and fishes left over to share. They were living a new story. A story written by a God who desires that all are fed and all are loved and none are exploited and desires it so much that God offers us a reminder of this every week right here at this table. This table is the antidote to whatever version of Herod’s birthday party is playing out in our own lives and in the world around us. You aren’t trapped. God’s still writing the story and it’s so much better than one we’d come up with and thanks be to God for that.
- Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Sermon on Salome, Herod, and the Beheading of John the Baptist”
Sermon for Christmas 1 (New Year’s Eve / Day)