A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Changing Our Minds Sermon on Matthew 4: 12-25 Epiphany 3 Year A January 26, 2020

This sermon was preached on January 26, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Isaiah 9: 1-4
1 Corinthians 1: 10-18
Matthew 4: 12-25

Children’s sermon: Version of Red Light/Green Light-have the children in the back of the sanctuary, and then you are upfront. Have printed off pictures that you show the children before you start the game: Jesus (one that is culturally and ethnically correct), and several pictures of people-be diverse in abilities, race, gender, etc. Tell the children that they will start with their back to you. When you call “turn” they will turn around and take a step to you when they see Jesus. If they don’t see Jesus, they turn around again. Play this a couple of times mixing up the pictures of Jesus and the other people. After a couple of rounds, stop and ask why they aren’t taking a step when they see the other pictures? Jesus says in our bible story today to “repent the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and then calls some disciples to help him catch people in God’s love. The disciples would also learn to turn around, and change their minds about who God was in the world. What do you think the kingdom of God looks like? Jesus says that the kingdom of God is all people! Look at all of these people around you-they are all the kingdom of God! Jesus says “change your mind, turn around and see that the kingdom of God is all around you and everyone needs to be included. Not some, but all. Everyday we can turn around and see people as part of God’s kingdom. It’s hard! We forget! But Jesus calls us and we can change our mind! We change our mind about people we’ve never liked before, or didn’t know before, or who don’t like us. But in God’s kingdom, we get to turn around all the time and see differently! Let’s play another round: Let’s pray:

There was the teenage boy who really liked this new girl who was in many of his classes. He would find a way to talk to her during class. Walked with her to their next class, asked her to the homecoming dance with clever lines such as “do you want to go to the dance with someone with two left feet?” and believe it or not, over and over, she said no. Mostly she was polite but didn’t encourage him either. She ignored him when she could. He was a little nerdier than she really cared for and this guy was NERDY. Played the French horn in the band, loved math, wore his letter jacket (with his academic letter) every day, part of the chess club, the physics club, you get the picture. He was nice enough, but in high school hierarchy, going out with him would be a popularity death knell. Being new is hard enough, but to have the nerdiest guy decide to pursue you? Sigh. But his guy was persistent, if not a little stalker like in today’s language. For two years he kept asking her out. The summer after their junior year, they both went to Lutheran Summer Music camp in Souix Falls, SD. The parents decided to carpool, the girl’s parents would drive them up and the boy’s would drive them back to Omaha. The girl paid her little sister to sit between her and the boy on the way to SD, which the younger sister happily accepted payment for.

The boy doubled down on talking to the girl while in SD. He carried her violin to orchestra class, sat with her in chapel. The girl tried to communicate that they were friends but that’s it. They went back to Omaha, and once again the boy asked her out. The girl’s mom said, just go out with him once and then when it’s terrible you can just say it’s not going to work out and he’ll leave your alone. So she did. The date was with his church youth group where his dad was the pastor. It was to go see the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s” and the frozen yogurt. At the frozen yogurt shop, she ended up sitting with the boy’s mom…no really. But she enjoyed talking with him and hanging out with him. She was changing her mind, she was turning around to see him differently. They went on a couple more dates, she always drove as he didn’t have his license yet, and she realized that there was more to him and they had more in common than she had realized. Now it was still true that perhaps this wasn’t going to be a popular boyfriend choice with her friends. But she really liked him and decided to not worry about what the other kids might think or say about it.  But her mind was changed and so was her life. The boy is now my husband of 25 years Mike. As an aside, we were cutest couple runner up for the senior class, and the cutest couple broke up a week after graduation….who’s cutest couple now? Changing our minds isn’t hard, living and acting out of that change is.

In our gospel this morning, changing, turning around is woven throughout the passage. Upon hearing of John’s arrest, Jesus begins his ministry. Scholars speculate that perhaps John’s arrest spurred Jesus into action. We don’t know, but Jesus turned around from his hometown, his family, his people and went to a small fishing town in the middle of nowhere. Walking away from your family is no small feat in the ancient world. The writer of Matthew links this move to the Isaiah passage we read this morning, mostly to highlight that this was a region that was very diverse. Assyria had invaded 700 years before and ever since it was a mixture of Assyrians, Israelites and now people from the Roman Empire. In other words, there was not only one religion or ethnicity and most people there would be of multiple ethnicities at this point. Jesus shows up and says, “repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The word repent is translated from the Greek word “metanoia” which more accurately means, “to change one’s mind” or “to turn around.” Change your mind! Jesus says. For a different kingdom is at hand. Not the Roman kingdom or the Israelite kingdom-God’s kingdom. And that is very different than anything you have seen or have lived.

This kingdom makes you see everything differently. You see more than you did before and it can’t help but to change you. Jesus saw two young men in fishing boats and invited them to change their minds about their vocation and purpose. And then two more young men were invited to join. And Matthew states, they immediately did! We usually refer to this story as the calling of the disciples but theologian Barbara Brown Taylor shows us that this is really a miracle story. Why? Because changing our minds, turning from what we have always known is hard! It’s risky and it comes with consequences. When we change our minds, turn away from what we’ve always known for something new, for something beyond ourselves, it will make people around us uncomfortable, will make us the subject of gossip, and will have people questioning our sensibilities and logic.

Changing our minds and turning around away from what doesn’t bring us or our neighbor abundant life may not make us popular. Jesus would not have been considered a nice person to the families of these young men. Zebedee would have been upset that his own livelihood was now disrupted because of his sons following this itinerant, out of towner, Jesus. His boys were walking away from the only life they had ever known, from their futures and from their families.

We don’t know what made any of the disciples change their minds and turn from their lives to follow Jesus. And maybe we don’t need to. Maybe the point is that Jesus called them, ordinary people who probably didn’t think that they had any special gifts, training or credentials to follow and promised that the gifts they had, fishing, were enough to be used in God’s kingdom. When Jesus called, they turned around to see Jesus standing there, seeing them and offering them to be part of something new. They were called to see what Jesus saw: those whom the rest of society held at arms length at best, or ignored, shunned and demonized at worst, which would have included themselves as lowly fishermen. In verse 23-25, even Matthew only writes of people through their labels, not as full human beings. But Jesus goes to them, cures them and turns their lives around. Curing them wasn’t only about the effects of the ailments of these people, curing was restoring them to being seen, to changing the minds of the community who had marginalized and shunned them to see them differently and fully. The miracle is that the newbie disciples turned around and saw Jesus.
Jesus calls to us to turn around and see our lives differently. Jesus comes to us wherever we are-in whatever boat we find ourselves in-and offers us a new life. We are called to change our minds about how we are living, to turn and see who and what are being shunned and harmed and to reveal that the kingdoms of this world are not the way of God’s kingdom. We are called each day, to change our minds, to turn away from the lives that keep us comfortable, numb, and insulated. When we change our minds and turn around from ourselves and our own desires, it is indeed a miracle, as the world tells us to keep looking at ourselves. But when we hear Jesus call to us, we see people who need our love, care and partnership. This might make us unpopular, as it did Jesus and his followers. We follow Jesus not because he’s a nice man, but because he is God’s Son, and is disrupting the kingdoms of this world to reveal God’s kingdom at work.  Jesus turns around our way of seeing the world in order to see the world as God does-people to love, creation to nurture and abundant life for all. Amen.

 

 

Pay Attention! Sermon on John 1: 29-42 Year A January 19, 2020

This sermon was preached on Jan. 19, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1: 1-9
John 1: 29-42

 

Children’s sermon: Have a tray (or a cookie sheet) of objects (have them be varied and as many as you can fit on the tray). Have the tray of objects covered by a sheet. Gather the children forward and say: “I have some fun objects covered up on this tray. I’m going to remove the cover for 30 seconds and I want you to see how many you can remember when I put the cover back on. Ok Go!” remove the sheet count to 30 in your head and then recover the tray. “Ok what was on the tray!” You can write them on a large sheet of paper if that helps or simply have a list of what is on the tray beside you that only you can see and check off as they name the objects. More than likely, they will not name all the objects and more than likely if they do, it will be a team effort. “Ok, I’m going to remove the cover again for 15 seconds and see how many more you can see.” Repeat the exercise. Now they might have all the objects. (Even if they got them all the first time, ask if they are sure and repeat the exercise.) You got them all! Great job seeing all of the things on this tray! You really paid attention and what you didn’t see the first time, you might have seen the second time, particularly if a friend had seen it and pointed it out to you. We don’t always notice everything around us all the time-it’s hard to pay attention to details or sometimes we don’t pay attention to the things we should-and family and friends and our church help us to do that! Our bible story today is all about paying attention. John tells his disciples to pay attention to Jesus, and points to Jesus a couple of times in our story-in case his own disciples missed Jesus the first time. And Jesus pays attention to the disciples and tell them to come and see what he is doing. They may not get it the first time, the second, third or fourth, but Jesus knows that they need to keep looking and that in a group of friends, each person will help the other see Jesus and not miss something-like we helped each other to see all the objects on the tray. Seeing Jesus can be hard for us as it’s not like in the bible story with Jesus right in front of them. So where do we see Jesus today? I want you to go and ask someone in the congregation-right now-where they see Jesus in the world and then you tell them where you see Jesus. We need each other to see Jesus and to pay attention to what God is up to! Jesus calls us to be together to point to God’s work in the world. Let’s pray:

It’s amazing what we can miss when we’re not paying attention. Paying attention is being aware of our environment, what’s around us, or who’s around us. How many of you have ever been driving somewhere familiar, from home to work, or work to home, grocery store, etc. and arrive at your destination with no real recollection of how you got there? Maybe you were lost in your own thoughts, or a good song on the radio. For me this week it was U2’s “I still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” I think it should have been our hymn of the day! Or perhaps you notice something new on your daily route and wonder to a friend “has that always been there?” and the answer is yes! I noticed that after I had lived in Denver for awhile and had my routines, how little I paid attention to anything outside my routine. Someone newer to town would ask me “do you know where such and such is?” and I would have to stop and think or look it up as I had never paid attention before.

We get comfortable in our routines, what we see, hear, think, and do and we don’t notice what’s really going on around us, until someone points it out or something happens that awakens us to perhaps to what has always been there but we’ve never seen. Often, seeing something new in our environment can be good and helpful-such as discovering that someone on your street has similar interests, or there is a convenience nearby that you need, such as when Mike and I just discovered a movie theater four minutes from our house. Sometimes, seeing something new or for the first time can be difficult as it might reveal something that needs work and our full attention-such as the first time I experienced the inversion here in Salt Lake in December. My reaction was that this needs to get fixed immediately! This needs our full attention!

To pay attention is to notice the complexity and intersections of life together. What and who we pay attention to matters. We can seemingly sleepwalk through our days and not notice what God is doing in our midst. Our default is to pay attention to ourselves, what matters for us today or this minute and not notice that there is more to see. John the baptizer wanted his disciples and others to pay attention to the light that had come into the world, not to himself or his own ministry. Repeatedly in our text he points to Jesus and says “look! See! Behold!” to anyone who will listen. John pointed Jesus out every chance he got. John isn’t worried about being in competition with Jesus for followers, John is concerned that people pay attention to Jesus and see him for who he is. John knows that this is the one for whom the whole world has waited. This is the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the one who will take away the sin of the world! Jesus is the one who will shake us awake from complacency and self-interest and show us what really matters. But it might be challenging and uncomfortable when we see it.

Jesus asks two of John’s disciples a pointed question “What are you looking for?” and the disciples deflect it with a question in return “where are you staying?” Jesus simply responds “come and see” and they follow Jesus. The disciples of John knew that they were looking for something, someone who would change everything. They knew that they wanted to see a revolution, they wanted to see the nation of Israel given it’s due, they wanted to see freedom. They thought that they would know it certainly when they saw it. Jesus’ invites them to come and experience first-hand, to see what God is doing in the world and that God, in Jesus, sees them as well. God has come looking for us.

God sends Jesus to look for us, see us and invite us to see the world with the eyes of God. To pay attention to what is happening in the world that brings harm, injustice and death to our neighbor. To be witnesses and pay attention to God’s vision of wholeness and freedom for all people and nations. We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day tomorrow and King was a man who saw the world through the eyes of Jesus and paid attention to what was broken and where God’s healing was taking place. In his “I have a dream” sermon, King invited us to come and see Jesus through a nation and a people who can stand hand in hand, break bread together, who know that our futures are bound up in one another and so we must see each other as created in God’s very own image. King invited us to pay attention to Jesus who liberates us from the tyranny of fear, hate, scarcity, selfishness and ego. King pointed us to Jesus and called us as a nation to pay attention that when any of us are harmed, we are all harmed. But seeing the truth is hard and requires us to be willing to keep paying attention, even when it breaks our hearts. Paying attention means staying in the difficult conversation and the hard work when others shut their eyes and walk away. We have a perception that seeing Jesus will make us feel good, warm, and comfortable but when we see Jesus, and realize that Jesus sees us, with all our brokenness, imperfections and doubt we are made uncomfortable. Being seen by Jesus reveals our need for grace, mercy and presence of God in our lives and reveals the work that we are to be a part of for the sake of bringing this same transformation throughout the world.

When we see Jesus and know that Jesus sees us, we then see those whom the rest of the world doesn’t. We see the destructiveness of ignoring white supremacy for our siblings who are black, we see the pain of erasure in our siblings who are LBGTQIA, we see the unraveling of truth in our institutions as a means to personal gains, we see those who are in systemic poverty and lack stable housing, and we don’t just see it to see it, we see it to name it, and then at the invitation of Jesus, to join in the work for all people to be truly seen as beloved, valuable and wanted.

Jesus looks for us, wants to see us fully for who we are and calls us to be renewed and transformed by his gaze. Simon was not only given a new name, Cephas, Peter, but Jesus also gave Peter a new life. Peter will try and shut his eyes and walk away, but Jesus will continue to gaze on him from the cross and then from the empty tomb and call him to see God’s people and care for them. We, too, might try and shut our eyes and walk away when what we see is too much, too painful and too hard, but Jesus looks at us, with love, compassion and mercy. Jesus looks for us to give us new life and new hope and calls us to “come and see,” pay attention, for God’s love sees you today and always. Amen.

 

So Many Questions, Baptism of Our Lord Sunday Year A

This sermon was preached on January 12, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Isaiah 42: 1-9
Acts 10: 34-43
Matthew 3: 3-17

Children’s sermon: Play 20 questions with the answer being Jesus.(FYI a little girl asked the very first question: “Is it Jesus?” Ha!) Asking questions helped you to realize that I was thinking about Jesus. Asking questions helps us to learn things and understand things differently. Do you think you know everything there is to know about God? What do you wonder about God still? I have a lot of questions about God too! Well, really I have a lot of questions for God if I’m honest. Our bible story today is about Jesus being baptized. Now that seems like a straightforward thing but when Jesus came to John for baptism, John had a question for Jesus! Why do you come to me for baptism, you’re Jesus! John asking Jesus a question reminds us that even people who we think know a lot about God, still have things to learn and so do we! John didn’t quite understand that Jesus’ baptism shows that we don’t have to go to God, God always comes to us-every day.  We are baptized like Jesus to know that God is with us always and that every day is a new beginning to learn more about God in our lives and in the world. God doesn’t expect us to know everything, and our baptism isn’t about having answers but loving God and sharing God’s love with other people. Baptism gives us a job to do, and that job is to love. To splash other people with God’s love-that is our most important job-no matter what you grow up to be a teacher, a doctor, an accountant, a musician, our big job is to make sure that everyone knows God’s love: what are some ways that we can do that as children and adults? Those are all great ways to share God’s love! Let’s pray:

I’m noticing an interesting trend in our culture in the past few years: everyone wants to claim that they have all the answers, even if it’s not possible. From celebrities, to athletes, to nation leaders, to religious leaders, to random people on the internet. Someone always has the answer-for weight loss, younger skin, better relationships, to more complex issues such as wage equity, taxes, foreign policy, civil rights, and the list goes on. When these answers are shouted loudly enough, with certainty, and projecting that other people’s certainties are wrong, it has a devastating side effect: it shuts down relationships. When we are dug in about what we know and won’t ask questions of one another, we aren’t willing to learn something new or be in hard conversations we are cutting ourselves off from each other.

For me, and maybe most of us, asking questions is a posture of vulnerability, of admitting that we don’t know something. Not knowing something can leave me feeling useless, or that I have nothing to contribute. And as a pastor, people expect me to have all the answers about God. And the truth is that I don’t! I have as many questions as you, maybe more! You will also hear me say, “I don’t have answers, but I have some responses” as responses invite others to respond as well.  I tend to get into a lot of conversations with people who are very certain what the Bible says or what God is thinking and that to be a “Christian” I have to understand the Bible or God in a specific way-their way. And when I question their certainty-their response is to claim that I don’t have faith. Faith for many is to have all the answers, certainty and to never question. I love the Anne Lamott quote “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do.”

John in our gospel story and Peter in our story from Acts, remind us of the importance of questions, curiosity, wonder and that certainty has never been part of the faith equation. The story of Jesus’ baptism from our Matthew gospel this morning was an embarrassment in the early church because of all the questions it raised. Why would Jesus, who is supposed to be without sin, need a baptism for repentance? What would Jesus need to repent from? And how could an ordinary person such as John, be worthy of baptizing the son of God? Jesus needed John?

The other gospel stories of Jesus’ baptism offer a picture that doesn’t raise as many questions. But Matthew wants us to be uncomfortable, to wrestle and to float in the questions and uncertainty of what we think we know about Jesus and baptism. John’s question to Jesus of “how can I baptize you?”, sparks more questions of what John did or didn’t understand about Jesus, his own cousin, whom he, himself, had been paving the way for all these years. Shouldn’t John have been certain in his role by now? Shouldn’t he have faith in who Jesus is? Yet, when the reality of God coming close, when the reality of being pulled into the work of God’s kingdom was palpable, John realized perhaps in a split second everything he didn’t know and that he might be in over his head. And Jesus didn’t offer John an answer or certainty but simply relationship and connection into God’s mission.

And then in Acts we drop in on Peter, oh dear Peter, right after his certainty rug had been pulled out from underneath him. This mini sermon in Acts 10, is the culmination of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and God opening Peter up to question what he knew about who was included in God’s grace and love through Jesus Christ. Peter had been praying and during that prayer time God confronted him with a vision of animals to eat that were forbidden by Jewish purity laws. Peter was greatly puzzled by this vision as it brought into question his whole understanding of living as God’s people and his faith. Cornelius, at God’s bidding, sent people to bring Peter to him. Peter went and in the interaction with Cornelius and his household, Peter was opened up to God’s work in all people, Gentiles and Jews alike. What we read for scripture this morning is Peter working out that there were things he didn’t understand and maybe still doesn’t, but he is learning a new way through Jesus. Peter had to set aside his certainty and ego to see what new thing God was doing, that God had a role for him in this kingdom expanding work, and that faith in Jesus, ultimately is a gift from God and not in his to control. When Peter let go of his certainty, he was able to fully witness to God’s radical inclusion, care and grace for all people, even those whom Peter had previously considered outsiders. God and God’s law was no longer in Peter’s image but had taken on the image of the Gentiles in his midst. God used Peter’s confusion and uncertainty to proclaim the good news of Jesus and to bring Peter into deep relationship with people different from himself.

It’s hard for us to admit when we’re in over our head or that what we thought we knew with certainty perhaps has another response. But God coming to us in Jesus pulls us into relationship with God where questions, wonder and curiosity are the heart of our faith and the heart of baptism. Baptism isn’t about our certainty and our answers-baptism is a response from God of who we are and whose we are. This is why we baptize infants in the Lutheran tradition, baptism is all about God and not about us or what we know. The scandal of the Matthew text is that Jesus was baptized by an ordinary and questioning human to reveal God’s extraordinary love and need for relationship with us. Jesus came to John to be baptized because that is the promise of baptism-God comes to us wherever we are, nothing separates us from God, and we simply float in the waters of faith and love. Baptism frees us from needing to have pat answers, from worrying if we have enough or the correct faith or wondering about our worth. Baptism frees us for relationship with God and one another. Baptism frees us to live into our true identity: beloved. Baptism washes our eyes and our hearts so that we see all people how God sees them, in God’s very image. Through our baptisms, God takes us by the hand and brings us into the beloved community and into the work of proclaiming God’s grace, peace, mercy, hope and love to a world who is in bondage to the need to be certain and right instead of in relationship with each other. Baptism is the promise that God comes to us through Jesus Christ to be with us, to connect us and to draw us all into new life today and always.

Jesus fully immerses himself in our humanity to dwell with us in the questions of life and to open to us the reality of God’s loving response to us and creation. God’s response to Jesus’ baptism says it all “this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We have worth because we are God’s. We are important in God’s kingdom not because of what we know or what we do but because of what God does through us. Amen.

 

 

Word in Action Sermon for Christmas 2 On John 1:1-18 January 9, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Jan. 5, 2020. The texts were:

Psalm 147: 12-20
Ephesian 1: 3-14
John 1: 1-18

Children’s sermon: Have a list of words that are actions: walk, sit, stand, hop, high five, etc. These are words that are also actions. Words that when we hear them or say them they can make us or someone else move. Sometimes for fun, or safety. Words are important because they are how we communicate all kinds of things. Well, God uses words too. In the creation story, God spoke words and things happened like light, the sun, moon, stars, plants and animals were created. And people! Words matter to God because God’s words are actions that bring life into the world. In our bible story this morning we heard how Jesus is God’s Word. The words that we hear for Jesus are light, truth, grace, life. These aren’t words that are easy to act out are they? But that’s the point! God came to earth as Jesus to show us how God would act out these words with us. How did Jesus act out the word grace? When he included people whom everyone else wouldn’t talk to. How did Jesus act out the word light? When he showed us God’s love! How did Jesus show us truth? When he told us that God wants to be with us always! How did Jesus act out the word life? Do you know the story of bringing Lazarus to life after he had been dead for four days? And of course, Jesus’ own resurrection with the empty tomb! God’s Word in action is always one of showing us love and life. Let’s pray:

We’ve all heard the phrase “actions are louder than words.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement as we’ve all experienced in some way. Maybe it’s someone who rarely says much at all, but you know a lot about them by their actions. Or people who say one thing but then their actions are the opposite of their words. And sometimes those people are us. Words are thrown around quite a bit in our modern society, especially with the rise of social media and all electronic communication where you can share your words but there’s no evident connection between your words and your actions on those platforms. Even the visually driven social media site Instagram isn’t always a reliable insight into how someone-any of us-really act. The pictures we see of people’s lives on social media are rarely the real story or the full story. This can be both a positive and a negative. How many of us have ever acted in a way that really isn’t us, but we felt some sort of pressure from within ourselves or from others to act in a way that isn’t consistent with who we are? Sometimes that can lead us to try something new and daring, which could be a positive, or sometimes it can betray our own integrity and ethics. People will forget our words of integrity, ethics and love if our actions are the opposite. The people whom we tend to admire the most are those whose words and actions are, for the most part, consistent and congruent.

Another phrase that many of us probably heard growing up was “do as I say and not as I do.” This phrase is often employed by adults to children. And often it’s adults not wanting children to imitate what they perceive as their own bad habits or an action not suitable for their child. As a child, I instinctively understood that what my mom meant by that phrase was to not follow her “bad habit” (mostly involved diet coke, a Reese’s peanut butter cup and other such minor infractions) and that she hoped that I could do better than she did. It was out of love that those words were spoken. But the challenge with that concept is that the words would seem hollow next to the action. What we take in as a lived experience has far more impact than mere words disconnected from what we see. Words and actions cannot be separated no matter how convenient that might be.

In our John text this morning, what scholars call the Prologue-the first 18 verses of the gospel, words and actions take center stage. The unofficial title of Prologue itself means, “before the word.” The opening verse of John bring us back to the creation story in Genesis 1, where God’s word was all that there was. God’s word rang out in the chaos and began to bring order and life where before, there was none. God’s word echoed and things happened, actions took place. It’s not by chance that the first thing that God’s word created was light. Light that reflected off the chaos to reveal it and to then bring life from it. God’s word was all that was needed for seas, fish, plants, animals and even yes, humans to be brought into existence. God’s word is powerful and with God’s powerful word, God’s powerful actions occur. And God’s words and actions are congruent. God said light and light happened, God said life and life happened. God’s word and action cannot be separated and are always about bringing light and life into the world and into our lives.

Jesus is God’s most powerful Word and action. Jesus, as God’s living Word, has been part of creation from the beginning, because God is one and also cannot be separated. Jesus as God’s Word, came to earth, to dwell with us, or the exact translation from the Greek is “to tent or tabernacle” with us. This recalls when God tabernacled with the Israelites in the desert for 40 years and God spoke God’s Word of the commandments, how we are to live together and bring life to one another. My favorite translation of verse 14 is from Eugene Peterson’s The Message where he writes “God moved into the neighborhood.” God’s Word and Action in Jesus is in the neighborhood! And not just in our neighborhood but every neighborhood!

Jesus as God’s Word and Action brings light, life, truth and grace to all people in the world. After John’s opening 18 verses, the word grace is never mentioned again in his gospel. Why? Because to see God’s word of grace, all you have to do is watch Jesus’ actions. Jesus who cleanses the temple of human preferences, greed and rules. Jesus who meets Nicodemus at night and tells him that God sent him out of love for the world and that Nicodemus is born of the Holy Spirit. Jesus who gives a no named woman at the well living water that will quench her thirsty soul. Jesus who heals a man born blind and returns him to community and relationship. Jesus who brings Lazarus four days dead back to life. Jesus who tells the disciples that people will know that they belong to Jesus by how they love. Jesus who stands face to face with Pilate and doesn’t back down to bullying and abusive power. Jesus who goes to the cross, not as a scapegoat or a substitution for us, but as God’s Word of reconciliation, redemption and truth in action. Jesus, as God’s Word, knows that suffering is real, death will come and God’s Word will speak into that chaos and bring us to life. This is what it means to live in the truth-truth is our unending and unconditional relationship with God-nothing separates us from God’s Word and Action in our lives.

We live in God’s Word and Actions through Jesus. As people who belong to and follow Jesus, we, like John the Baptist, witness to the light that God’s Word and Action bring to the world. We strive to have our words and actions congruent with God’s Word and Actions. Our words and actions must always bring light, life, love, truth and grace to people. Our prayers are hollow if our actions are disconnected. This is a challenge, dear siblings in Christ-for our prayers for creation, for peace, for unity are hollow if we continue to abuse God’s creation, wage war and divide ourselves. The actions of our planet, such as the massive fires in Australia, are telling us that our words are indeed disconnected. The actions in our world of killing, hate, wars, abuse, exclusion are disconnected from God’s Word as God’s Word only brings actions of life, abundant life to all people.

Jesus coming to our neighborhood means that God’s Word is for all, in all times and in all places. Jesus didn’t move into the neighborhood he liked, or that was safe, or where everything was comfortable and just the way he liked it, no, he moved in with the very people whom everyone else was trying to keep out, he moved into the neighborhood with those who didn’t understand him, like, or accept him. Jesus moved into a world that wanted to change him, make him more palatable, tame, safe, and socially acceptable. But God’s Word and actions are anything but those things in our world. God’s Word and Action loose in our world turns everything on its head. God’s Word and Actions illuminate the darkness so that injustices are brought to the light and can be transformed. God’s Word and Actions are not simplistic, they are not status quo, and they are not meant to be easy. Jesus never did what was easy, but what brought life-even to those who didn’t know him or like him.

In Jesus, God says, “do as a I say and as I do.” Love without boundaries, conditions or fear, live for the sake of others, be generous so that justice prevails, speak truth so that people are drawn into relationship with God, and exude grace so that in all things God’s glory is revealed for all to see.  God’s Word and Actions are louder than hate, fear, lies, discomfort, and death. God’s Word and Actions promise to bring life out of chaos and light into darkness. God’s Word and Action through Jesus connect us to unending life, light, love, truth and grace forever. Amen.