Love In Action

Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing…” (Luke 4:21)

This weekend we will once again be exploring sections of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Meanwhile, the lectionary gospel passage includes this relatively famous scene depicting Jesus’ first formal sermon.

Like many of us, he gave this speech during a visit to his own childhood congregation. They have watched him grow into a man and they are astonished when he tells them that he is the fulfillment of a prophecy. They are so upset, in fact, that in the verses after this passage they attempt to drive him off a cliff (and now you know why pastors avoid ministering in their home churches).

The passage he reads is from Isaiah and it speaks to the very heart of his calling: the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Notice that there is a key word he does not use in this passage: love. Why? Because he is talking about love made tangibly manifest. He is speaking of justice and reconciliation – things that are love in action. Because God’s vision for the world is so much bigger than any one of us. We are looking at a systemic shift in how the world works when God’s kingdom fully comes. And Jesus is the one who inaugurates that kingdom’s work re-entering the world and beginning again.

Why is this passage so important? It teaches us our calling, too. Yes, we are called to love everyone – Jesus did say that, repeatedly. But the ways we do that include far grander pursuits than mere words or even simple hugs (important as they are). We are called to seek after God’s justice for the world, just like Jesus. We are called to walk in his footsteps.

Even if we end up making some people upset, it should always be because we are being too loving, too welcoming, too justice-seeking, too reconciling. May it be so among us, in Christ’s church and in the whole world.

Blessings,     Janie

Rolling Waters

… the mother of Jesus said to him, “they have no wine.” (John 2:3)

This weekend in worship we will begin a two-week series on important sections of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. That means that we will unfortunately not have a chance to dive deeper into the gospel lesson assigned in the lectionary. If there were ever a story that seemed apropos for the beginning of Mardi Gras season – this is it.

The gospel lection this weekend is the story of the wedding at Cana. You may remember the tale – Jesus, his mother, and disciples are at a wedding in Galilee when the wine runs out. Though the hosts panic, Mary convinces Jesus to help. And after following his instructions to fill six stone jars will water, the best wine anyone had ever tasted came back out.

It was Jesus’ first miracle. The story ends by stating that this revealed his glory. So yes, we follow the man who began his ministry by ensuring that the party didn’t stop. (Take that how you will.)

There is something to this concept, however, of water becoming something more than it seems. In the kingdom of God, all of creation will become more – re-created into what it was meant to be. In a sense, things will become “more real” and we will see them for what they truly are. That is what it means to live in the kingdom now: to gain even a small glimpse of the true vision that is God’s reign fulfilled.

Not only does this story have some entertaining applications with our current social season in Southern Louisiana, but the idea of God’s glory being revealed is also perfect for another holiday we will celebrate this week – remembering the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like many other great saints who have gone before us, Dr. King showed us a glimmer of the dream, the hope of a world set right. In this vision, it is justice, not wine, that will roll down like waters. Because justice is love made tangibly present in society.

And ensuring that everyone has their needs and dreams fulfilled – that was not just Dr. King’s dream. That was the ambition of the one who could walk on water, as well as turn the element into a tasty beverage. Jesus lived his life seeking justice for all who needed it and standing against every power that perpetuated domination, alienation, and subjugation. He fought to see the world become what it was meant to be. So did Dr. King. So do all of those who would truly follow him.

As we enjoy the party of Mardi Gras and give thanks for the life of one great leader, let us also remember that God calls each and every one of us to work miracles in our midst, too. Maybe it’s not turning water into wine, but there is still much work to be done. Let’s get to it.

Blessings,     Janie

A New Beginning…

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah… (Luke 3:15)

This weekend we will celebrate the Baptism of the Lord – the day when we remember Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan. Some years we end up combining this remembrance with Epiphany. But while Epiphany is the end of the Nativity story, the Baptism of Jesus is where his story really takes off.

In our passage, we come into contact with John, Jesus’ older cousin, who is the forerunner to the Messiah. He is the voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way. He is the one calling for repentance, with remarkably strong language. If he is the Messiah, we are all in a heap of trouble, because not many will make the cut.

But there is something about this prophet that the people can sense. They know that he is somehow related to Messiah. They can tell the dawn of God’s salvation is hovering just below the horizon. And they are filled with great expectation of what that new day will bring.

Every new year we enter into a similar kind of expectation. As one familiar story draws to a close, another story begins. With it comes our hopes and dreams, our anxieties and our fears – for we do not know what our future holds. We wonder if we will see God’s promises come to life in our midst.

The truth for us is the same as it was for the people standing at the Jordan two thousand years ago: God’s promises are already coming alive all around us. Even when things seem beyond the pale, God is still there working wonders. God has never left. We just have to pay attention and we will see the marvels of God.

As my grandmother once told me, “it always seems the darkest just before the dawn. Lift up your eyes.” Though it may not look the way we think it should, God is here, working all things for good – because God loves us more than we can imagine. Though we cannot know precisely what the future will hold, we can trust that there are wonder-filled days ahead.

Blessings,     Janie

The Work of Christmas

As we enter into the twelve days of Christmas, let us remember the season’s true meaning:

When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers, to make music in the heart. (Howard Thurman)

Blessings to your family this joyful Christmastide.

– Janie

Part of the Story

“See, God, I have come to do your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:7)

So we have come nearly to the end – Advent is about to give way to Christmastide in just under a week. (Quick reminder here that the twelve days of Christmas do not actually begin until Christmas Day, so please keep the partridges and pear trees under wraps).

The final Sunday in Advent could easily be nicknamed “Magnificat” Sunday because every year we have the opportunity to reflect upon Mary’s beautiful song celebrating her coming child. Her song offers us the chance to do two things: to appreciate her role in God’s unfolding salvation story and to ponder our own.

It is true that Christ came to live as God with us – to do God’s will and show us how we should, too. Mary is perhaps the best first follower of Jesus, for she willingly gives of her body to bring this miracle into the world. Her agency is key and yet she knows, from the very beginning, that she is but one thread in a much bigger garment of destiny. She sees the bigger picture and knows that while God will always seek our willing participation, the broader tale of redemption encompasses so much more than any one of us.

So let us take a lesson from our unlikely heroine: keep your eyes open to how God may be calling you to participate in the the coming kingdom, and keep your heart open to the much bigger tapestry of which you are a part.

Blessings,    Janie

 

 

Telling the Story

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

This weekend we will undertake the grand work of retelling God’s salvation story through a service of Lessons and Carols. We will begin with Genesis and finish with the early narratives of the gospels. It is a labor of love – an opportunity to share with God our thanksgiving for the work of Christ in our world.

The tradition of sharing the story this way dates back to the early twentieth century in England where they were trying to bring creativity to bear upon an age-old tale. Though the carols may change and even some of the passages shift from year to year, the narrative is much the same as it has always been.

But there is a key part of the story that we do not tell on Lessons and Carols day. The crimson thread that runs through scripture – the true story of salvation – is not just about the Christ-child. It is about how God has always been the champion of the last and the least among the children of God. Jesus is God’s Word made flesh, the truth of who God is, however God has always been present among God’s people. The story is so much bigger than one night (or even thirty-three years) two-thousand years ago.

What is more, the story of God’s salvation continues now – in you and in me. God’s love is still set loose within the world, stirring things up, working as a ferment, and ensuring that the reign of God will win in the end.

The beauty of the Christmas story is it’s ability to help us to see how God still breaks into our world. It is a miracle that teaches us what to look for and how to live.

So come and listen again this weekend. Sing with the angels in praise. And leave to tell the story by finding the crimson thread in our midst and serving God’s purposes in our lives.

Blessings,     Janie

Prepare the way!

The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight – indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? (Malachi 3:1-2)

As we heard on Sunday, God’s coming into the world is not always a happy and fun occasion. Indeed, for a world convinced it’s got everything under control, being flipped upside down will definitely throw you for a loop.

In this case, the prophet Malachi is speaking not of the arrival of the Christ-child, but of his messenger. The one who will prepare the way in the wilderness.

This year we get the nice gentle version of Luke. Remember that Luke actually gives an account of the birth narrative of John, as Jesus’ own cousin, who recognizes the Christ even in-utero. And the lectionary chooses to leave out that lovely little section just after the Baptizer appears – the one where we get to hear what he has to say. I suggest reading it at some point (Luke 3) because then we can understand the prophet Malachi’s warnings.

On this, the second Sunday in Advent, we have the opportunity to consider how God prepares the way in the wilderness. Like the reality of this season where we often project perfection, the truth of how God gets our attention and does the road work is quite messy. So we have the chance to sit in the rubble and ponder what we will do next.

Our second Advent candle is named “peace.” Seemingly odd given the sermon passages. And yet, like God’s grace pulling us into thoughtful steps towards the kingdom last weekend, the peace we will celebrate this weekend is the hard-won, true peace that can only come with the presence of justice. It is the peace that will last. It is a peace only God can bring. And it is that peace which we seek.

So prepare the way of the Lord! Make the valleys high and the mountains low. Shift the ground around you until you find God in the midst of the mess – that is usually where God is leading us. And then remember: God loves to come into our well-ordered season and stir things up.

Blessings,     Janie