Following Jesus

Following Jesus

Jesus was about to get started.

He was about to get started on a world-shattering mission and ministry that would call people to see the working of God’s grace in the midst of life. A life that was personified in Christ who, as the Son of God, came to show people the way to the Father’s eternal love and how to live that love out in their lives.

We pick up with Jesus as he has moved into a new neighborhood. He has returned from being near Jericho and the Jordan River to start out on this mission. Jesus does not return to Nazareth, which has been his home since he was a young child after his family moved to Egypt to get away from Herod’s and his attempts on their life. He is setting up his ministry base in a city called Capernaum.

At the time, Capernaum was one of several villages that lined the shores of the Sea of Galilee – which is, actually, more like a large lake – and were prominent with the fishing industry. It was also a community that was financially poor and was a contrast, in many ways, to the Galilean financial base in Tiberias. Even today, Tiberias is full of hotels, shopping malls, and a unique McDonald’s, whereas Capernaum is a quiet area reserved for pilgrims to visit and reflect upon the life of Christ.

For Jesus, though, this was home and it was the launching point. Matthew 4:18-22 picks up on Jesus’ initial ministry and calling of his initial disciples. Matthew’s narrative doesn’t include some of the tidbits we pick up from Luke or John. Luke describes this moment coming after a miraculous catch of fish. John says the early disciples came to Jesus, as we looked at last week, after John the Baptist pointed them to Jesus and said, “that’s the one.” Matthew’s account is intriguing for what it doesn’t include and for what it does show. It doesn’t include any previous relationship or conversation, but comes right after Jesus has called people to see the kingdom of God at work in their midst.

Jesus, in Matthew’s account, starts out after preaching the initial message to call people into this new life. This was the ethic and practice of rabbis, like Jesus, in those days. Rabbis would invite people to be guided by their teaching, so they could grow, serve, and learn what it means to follow God in all aspects of life. Continue reading “Following Jesus”

Sermon: Come and See

Sermon: Come and See

Let me ask you a question: How did you get here this morning?

Maybe you arrived like I did and walked from your home to the sanctuary. Maybe you drove by yourself or with a family member. Maybe you got a ride from someone as they were coming to worship. Maybe, just maybe, you rode the bus to get here.

When we hear that question posed to us, our minds immediately turn towards responding with a mode of transportation and some curiosity as to why I might ask.

So, let me ask that question to you again: How did you get here this morning?

I’m not thinking about modes of transportation of feet, cars, or buses. I’m thinking about what motivated us to get out of bed, get dressed on a Sunday morning, and be part of a worshiping community. How did you get here to this place, in this moment, and with this desire to hear what God is saying into our lives?

Maybe, then, we should ask a different question. Why are you here? Presumably at some point in your life someone introduced you to the idea of a loving God who desired to be in deep relationship and connection with us. Maybe it was a family member – a parent, a sibling, a grandparent – who sewed the seed of that connection in our lives. Maybe it was a pastor or Sunday School teacher. Maybe it was someone you barely knew, but who reached out to you to share God’s love with you. Continue reading “Sermon: Come and See”

Sermon: You are Beloved

Sermon: You are Beloved

A lot has happened since we last gathered for worship. There has been nonstop breaking news from Iran to Buckingham Palace. My beloved 49ers hosted, and won, their first playoff game in their new stadium. And, we’ve went through 30 years of Biblical history.

That last part is an interesting detail about how each of the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ life are put together. Two of the gospels – Matthew and Luke – give some details about Jesus’ birth and early life, while the other two – Mark and John – do not discuss his birth and go right into the descriptions of Jesus’ life. Since we celebrated Epiphany Sunday, and gave a little attention to the Magi of Matthew 2, we’ve traversed the majority of Jesus’ life. In fact, only Luke gives us any details about what took place after Jesus was, roughly, the age of 2.

Why is that? The gospels are written in a historical biographical form that was prevalent in the 1st Century AD. That form of writing focused on only including substantial details from the main subject’s life that would give an understanding of who this person was. This often included a focus on the person’s death and final moments. We see that in each of the gospels, which place most of its emphasis on Jesus’ final week before his death and resurrection. Counter this to our focus, today, which would be to include every aspect of an individual’s life from birth through death based upon a common theme.

One aspect of Jesus’ life that all four gospels mention or allude to is his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. It is one of the most significant moments of his early ministry and launches Jesus’ into the public portion of his earthly ministry. You cannot understand Jesus’ ministry without taking a deep look at why he was baptized. Continue reading “Sermon: You are Beloved”

Light in the Darkness

Light in the Darkness

This evening, we gather in the midst of darkness.

It wasn’t that long ago that the sun set over the horizon of the community. That moment called an end to a festive day of preparations and celebrations, while extinguishing the light that had allowed us to see where we were going and move about freely. As the sun went down, a familiar darkness consumed the sky and reminded us of the evening’s chill.

We gather in the midst of a darkness that is not just about the realities of the night’s sky. We gather in the midst of a darkness that is as much about the metaphorical realities we face than about the physical realities. In the midst of that darkness, we have gathered, looking for hope. Continue reading “Light in the Darkness”

The Nativity: Mary

The Nativity: Mary

Today, we will conclude our sermon series looking at the characters that make up the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Throughout Advent, we’ve focused on how each of these characters help us to prepare our hearts for Christmas. We’ve saved the most beloved and important of the characters, outside of Jesus, for last. Her name is Mary.

Mary’s role is central to the entire Christmas story. We do not give her, in the Protestant tradition, enough attention and respect. She deserves more of our time and reflection, because she is theotokos. This is what the early church called her. Theotokos is a Greek word that means “God bearer.” There is no better word to describe Mary. That is her contribution to the Christmas story. She was the one who gave birth to the incarnate Son of God. She was the one chosen by God to give life to the One who offers true life and hope into the world.

But, who is she? Why did God choose her? What are we to make of her life and her connection to Christ? These are all questions that, perhaps, we’ve wrestled with before and are ones important for us to consider as we think about Mary, her life, and how she enables us to encounter the peace, hope, joy, and love found in the Christ child. Continue reading “The Nativity: Mary”

Importance of Communion at Christmas

Importance of Communion at Christmas

One of my favorite communion moments came last year.

I was blessing the elements in a barn as the sky was slowly turning towards its dusky hues. There was a large gathering of people, larger than some had expected, and we were sitting on bales of hay and folding chairs, bundled in our warmest jackets. We had sung songs, lit candles, and celebrated how Jesus came to bring hope into the world.

It was Christmas Eve, and it was beautiful and holy.

Throughout my ministry, nothing has given me more joy as a pastor than to lead the congregation in the celebration of communion on Christmas Eve. It is a holy and sacred meal that connects us to the full ministry and life of Christ, and how we are to be transformed by his life at work in us. Is it appropriate, however, for Christmas Eve worship?

That is a conversation that is a relevant question for many in the church pews A lot of this deals with both the practical side of communion, as well as the lack of theological understanding of why communion is important in discipleship. While we read passages where regular celebration of communion is important to faith (1 Corinthians 11:23-25), we are still comfortable with an infrequent and, at times, haphazard celebration of this sacrament due to historical practices.

In the past, I’ve written on the importance of communion and how we should take it more frequently than we do. While I won’t repeat a lot of those arguments here, what this essay will focus on is the importance of communion on Christmas Eve. Continue reading “Importance of Communion at Christmas”