Jesus Hooks Up with Some Fishermen Luke 5:1-11

Jesus was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, teaching the people as they crowded around him to hear God’s message. Near the shore he saw two boats left there by some fishermen who had gone to wash their nets. Jesus got into the boat that belonged to Simon and asked him to row it out a little way from the shore. Then Jesus sat down in the boat to teach the crowd.

When Jesus had finished speaking, he told Simon, “Row the boat out into the deep water and let your nets down to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon answered, “we have worked hard all night long and have not caught a thing. But if you tell me to, I will let the nets down.” They did it and caught so many fish that their nets began ripping apart. Then they signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. The men came, and together they filled the two boats so full that they both began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this happen, he knelt down in front of Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t come near me! I am a sinner.” Peter and everyone with him were completely surprised at all the fish they had caught. 10 His partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were surprised too.

Jesus told Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you will bring in people instead of fish.” 11 The men pulled their boats up on the shore. Then they left everything and went with Jesus.

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Then they left everything and went with Jesus.  

Just like that, they left everything.

They left after one of their most successful days ever—-two boats so full of fish they almost sank. They left behind a dependable business. They left behind their families, their homes, and followed Jesus.

They did not volunteer. They responded to Jesus invitation.

Why? What did Jesus say or do?

We know what Jesus said.  It’s recorded in Scripture. We know what Jesus did.  It’s recorded in Scripture.

Jesus was not just any preacher.  His words were fresh, inspiring, encouraging. Heal the sick.  Feed the hungry. Comfort the grieving. They were directed to everyday living, to everyday suffering. They addressed what laws and economic systems could not address.

In a world full of bad news, Jesus preached Good News. The Good News that Jesus preached was the coming of the Kingdom of God. Imagine how that fell on the ears of the listeners.  Some pictured a physical kingdom that would replace the Roman Empire. Some pictured a separate Jewish nation with a new monarch—possibly Jesus.  

How do we picture the Kingdom?  After all, we hear the exact good news that those crowds heard two thousand years ago.  What is the Kingdom? 

Some Christians believe that the Kingdom of God will begin on a specific date in the future. They believe Jesus will return in person and overthrow all earthly rulers.  They see the Kingdom of God as a time when the whole world will be freed from evil, sinners will be banished and only good people will remain. (Good luck separating the sinners from the non-sinners.)

In our traditions we believe that the Kingdom arrived in the person of Jesus, the baby in the manger, the boy in the temple, the preacher on the hillside.

The Kingdom became real when Jesus came to earth to bring salvation for all people.

Martin Luther struggled with this idea of the Kingdom.  

In the vernacular, the word denotes rulers, borders, bureaucracy. But Jesus’s Kingdom has no rulers but God, no borders, no bureaucracy. 

Luther came up with a way to talk about both kingdoms. In his theology, he says there are two kingdoms.  One is the spiritual kingdom which is in inhabited by people who are filled with the Hoy Spirit; it is ruled by love, and its inhabitants act out of love. The other kingdom is the secular kingdom in which all people live; it is ruled by laws that seek to keep the peace; people have to do something before they are accepted.

We live in both Kingdoms. We are ruled by the earthly kingdom, in our case, but the rules of our government.  And, we live in the Kingdom of God, where we are ruled by love. 

This brings me to another concept that is misunderstood by Christians.

We don’t make God love us. We don’t lead righteous lives so that God will love us.

We’ve talked about repentance the last couple Sundays. Do not think that God is waiting for you to repent before God will love you.  God is the first great lover of all creation. God loved before any molecule was ever created. We were created out of love because God wanted someone to love.  Love is not a response to repentance. Repentance is a response to love.

Richard Rohr explains this clearly: 

“Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change.”

We can use this story of Jesus and the fisherman as an allegory.   Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey explains it this way: 

This story lays out in a very clear way how grace works in our lives (at least how we Protestants believe it to be).  Jesus reveals his abundance through a huge catch of fish, even with Simon’s doubts that it was possible. In the face of that catch. Simon feels he is unworthy and repents, and as Jesus responds, the new disciples leave everything and follow him. This is the pattern for which we understand grace: God’s abundance comes first, and discipleship is the joyful act of service that flows from God’s love.

Jesus reveals his abundance, his loving engagement with the fisherman and they respond. He does not help them because they are paying attention to him.  In fact, they are busy working when he approaches them. 

 Why did Jesus choose Peter and Andrew and Jams and John? Think about it: Jesus had dozens, if not hundreds, of people following him around town. I imagine many of them were day laborers, that is people who hung out in marketplace waiting for someone to hire them for the day.  If work was not available, listening to Jesus was a great way to pass the time. Why didn’t he choose people who had some spare time? 

Why did Jesus preach in the ordinary hangouts of the people? Why not in the temple, in the synagogue?

Well, what if I preached in our sanctuary every Tuesday morning?  Who would join me?  You know that I like to keep office hours—but not in the church building. You know that Heinee Jo’s and the American Legion are my “offices”—when there is no pandemic.  Ministry is impossible without people. There are no people in my office on any day of the week. There are always people in Heinee Jo’s and the Legion. A bar stool is a great place to sit, elbow to elbow, next to people, not separated by a desk. My greatest impatience with this pandemic is the loss of my office hours.  Jesus is my example. There is a huge difference in the way we do ministry. I do not preach.  I do not tell stories. I do not offer advice.  I do not spout wisdom.  

I listen.  

We moan and groan about the empty pews, but in fact, we don’t need pews to follow Jesus, to be, as Martin Luther put it, “little Christs.” Luther had a great respect for vocation, that is the work we do in the secular world. He believed we could live as Christians wherever we were, at a job we hated or loved, in prison, on the town council, even sitting in a rocking chair in quarantine. 

 Peter and Andrew and James and John left their vocation of fishermen and traveled full-time with Jesus. Eventually, they all became preachers themselves, to the ends of their lives. 

Perhaps we Christians have made too big of a deal of our buildings.  Walls divide. They keep people in; they keep people out.  We spend a good deal on maintaining a building that is empty of people most of the time. We have not met in our sanctuaries for several months now.  The electricity bill for Hope Lutheran for the month of December was $500. No one was warmed. No one was fed. No one was taught.  Is that good stewardship?  Our buildings do much good; most importantly, they give us a place to gather in worship.  We need to worship, not because God needs our worship, but because we need to remember who loves us. Worship is one response to that great love. 

A question pastors are asking each other these days is: What will worship look like after the pandemic? We have learned that we can worship outside our sanctuary, that we can gather in new ways.  We have also learned that people need to be together physically.  How will we address that need? Will it be enough to unlock the door on Sunday morning.  

In the meantime, we are not prevented in any way, shape or form, from following Jesus.  God has not changed. Jesus loves us, comes to us where we are, whether it be fishing or working or dozing in the LazyBoy. We respond with loving thoughts, with loving words, with loving deeds.   Amen.

Interesting article about fishing in the Sea of Galilee: 

 Richard Rohr, OFM, is an American author, spiritual writer, and Franciscan friar based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church in 1970. PBS has called him “one of the most popular spirituality authors and speakers in the world.”

 https://revgalblogpals.org/2021/01/18/narrative-lectionary-luke-5-1-11/Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey is a write, artist, and pastor who works in the SW suburbs of the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

https://www.loyolapress.com/catholic-resources/prayer/arts-and-faith/culinary-arts/biblical-fishing-101-reeling-in-the-first-fishers-of-faith/?fbclid=IwAR3YaEl7OICseEVsBerVBOlFnFzpzAaDblQUaqZLB31dTm0KmgdHbuNf6cw

Central Casting or How to Get Kicked Out of Church or How to Get Killed

14 Jesus returned to Galilee with the power of the Spirit. News about him spread everywhere. 15 He taught in the Jewish meeting places, and everyone praised him.

16 Jesus went back to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and as usual he went to the meeting place on the Sabbath. When he stood up to read from the Scriptures, 17 he was given the book of Isaiah the prophet. He opened it and read,

18 “The Lord’s Spirit has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor.
The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners, to give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers, 19  and to say, ‘This is the year the Lord has chosen.’”

20 Jesus closed the book, then handed it back to the man in charge and sat down. Everyone in the meeting place looked straight at Jesus.

21 Then Jesus said to them, “What you have just heard me read has come true today.”

22 All the people started talking about Jesus and were amazed at the wonderful things he said. They kept on asking, “Isn’t he Joseph’s son?”

23 Jesus answered:

You will certainly want to tell me this saying, “Doctor, first make yourself well.” You will tell me to do the same things here in my own hometown that you heard I did in Capernaum. 24 But you can be sure that no prophets are liked by the people of their own hometown.

25 Once during the time of Elijah there was no rain for three and a half years, and people everywhere were starving. There were many widows in Israel, 26 but Elijah was sent only to a widow in the town of Zarephath near the city of Sidon. 27 During the time of the prophet Elisha, many men in Israel had leprosy. But no one was healed, except Naaman who lived in Syria.

28 When the people in the meeting place heard Jesus say this, they became so angry 29 that they got up and threw him out of town. They dragged him to the edge of the cliff on which the town was built, because they wanted to throw him down from there. 30 But Jesus slipped through the crowd and got away.

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Have you ever heard the term “central casting?”  I’ve heard it used in movies or television shows.  I knew it meant that an actor was needed and that “central casting” provided actors ready to act.  But I didn’t know that it is an actual company that was established in 1925, during the Roaring Twenties.  It’s  purpose was to provide organized, safe employment for the thousands of people who wanted to be in the movies. These actors were categorized as “extras;” they played the minor parts in movies, like part of a crowd or a waitress or  anyone who didn’t have much of a speaking role.  They were anonymous in many ways.  

The reason I bring this up is that when I read today’s story about Jesus and his unfortunate experience in his own hometown synagogue, I wondered where I would be cast, if I had really been there.

What made me wonder in the first place was an article I read that claimed that we white Christians usually see ourselves in the role of Jesus, while brown-skinned people see themselves as the slaves in Egypt, the man rescued by the good Samaritan, by any of the people who are marginalized or abused in the stories of Scripture. Here is a quote from the article by Pastor Erna Kim Hackett 

[…], white Christianity suffers from a bad case of Disney Princess theology. As each individual reads Scripture, they see themselves as the princess in every story. They are Esther, never Xerxes or Haman. They are Peter, but never Judas. They are the woman anointing Jesus, never the Pharisees. They are the Jews escaping slavery, never Egypt. For the citizens of the most powerful country in the world, who enslaved both Native and Black people, to see itself as Israel and not Egypt when it is studying Scripture, is a perfect example of Disney princess theology. And it means that as people in power, they have no lens for locating themselves rightly in Scripture or society- and it has made them blind and utterly ill equipped to engage issues of power and injustice. It is some very weak Bible work.

The Disney princess reference is to Disney movies like Cinderella or The Little Mermaid. We’re supposed to identify with  Cinderella, not the evil stepsisters. We’re supposed to think of our selves as Ariel, not Ursala, the mean witch. Likewise, we think of ourselves as “the good guys” in the Bible, not Judas or a Pharisee.  

I find that fascinating and troubling.

Tell me a story about Jesus and I put myself in the role of someone who heals, someone who brings good news.  I don’t see myself as the bleeding woman or the father of the dying little girl.  I see myself as the savior, the hero on the white horse.  So, this odd line of questioning brought me to read today’s lesson from a different perspective.

If Central Casting said, “Dianne, we have a part for you,”  as whom would I be cast? Would I be one of the old men who knew scripture inside and out?  Would I be a member of Jesus’s family? (In Mark’s version, his family is present.)  Would I be a woman sitting in the separate part of the synagogue wishing Jesus would just stop talking so I could get home and finish preparing the meal?  Would I be one of the women whispering to my friend,“Isn’t he Joseph’s son? Who does he think he is?”  

Or.  Would I be one of those who helped to drag him to the cliff?

We do not like to hear words that change anything about our hard-earned contentment.  We all have embedded ideologies, foundational beliefs that are has as hard to change as the law of gravity. 

We live in a time of civil unrest.  We didn’t sign up for that.  The invasion of the Capitol didn’t just happen. People made choices based on the circumstances dealt to them. One of the circumstances dealt to them was to grow up in a country which first flourished under an economic system that needed slavery to succeed.  You know enough about slavery to know you wouldn’t like to be owned by someone and treated like a mule.   In 1929, almost 100 years ago, a descendant of one of those slaves was born. He made choices, not to become a prophet, but to help people.  Simple. He wanted to help people.  He did not live to be 100.  No picture on a Smucker’s jam jar for him.  He did not live long enough to retire, he did not live long enough to see his children graduate from college, he did not live long enough to hold his grandchildren in his lap. But he lived long enough to tell us what was wrong and what to do. That’s what prophets do, from Jonah to Jeremiah to Malachi to John the Baptist. Tell people what they are doing wrong and tell them how do what is right.  

Martin Luther King, Jr., like Jesus, stood up and spoke the truth. Jesus avoided getting thrown off a cliff, but eventually he disturbed enough people that he was murdered.  We like to say crucified because it sounds “special.” In Jesus’ time it was not special. People were crucified by the hundreds.  King disturbed enough people that he was murdered with a well-aimed bullet. It was not a special bullet.

What do we do with prophets, once we’ve disposed of them?  We apologize.  We apologize by making jewelry in the image of crosses. We paint their portraits. We celebrate their birthdays and write books about them and study them like insects under a sociological microscope.

In the meantime, more prophets rise up and repeat the same old litany;

18  “The Lord’s Spirit has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor.  

Over and over.

The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners, to give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers, 19  and to say, ‘This is the year the Lord has chosen.’”

Over and over.

Have you ever read anything written by Dr. King? People of a certain age discovered the writings of King in their literature books.  When I taught literature, we read the “I Have a Dream” speech. King was a talented writer as well as a Biblical scholar.  That speech is a work of art.  But for this sermon, I read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  The greeting of the letter is shocking: he is writing to clergy: “My Dear Fellow Clergymen.” My Dear Fellow Pastors…Ministers…Priests…Deacons…Rabbis. Not to the city council. Not to the business community.

Prophets don’t get to chose their audiences. God does that part. 

The pastors in Birmingham wanted King to be patient, to schedule protests at a time convenient for them.  King called the protests “direct action campaigns” because that was what they were.  King replied: 

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

The world was not ready for Jesus, either.  He was a threat not only to the authorities, but to his own friends and family. Isn’t it odd that we Christians now claim loyalty to this renegade, to this radical who tried to upset the status quo?  Isn’t it odd that his Name was brandished in the halls of the United States Capitol along with guns and Nazi flags? Isn’t it odd that we pray to the same Jesus all week long as the Christians who call us snowflakes? Isn’t it odd that Christians are often against each other instead of united under the Christian constitution? The Christian constitution is pretty short, pretty easy to understand, and because of those qualities, pretty easy to ignore. This is my interpretation, not one I found in my textbooks. The Christian constitution is one you’ve heard many times. You can recite it by heart:  Love God. Love your neighbor. 

On what do we disagree?  Let me suggest that to love God is to be loyal to God. Because of evil in the world, we are tempted by other loyalties: loyalty to systems, to people, to our own greed.  To love our neighbor is to “put the best possible construction on all that he does (Martin Luther, Small Catechism, Eighth Commandment). Because of evil in the world, we are afraid of our neighbor, we criticize our neighbor, we vilify our neighbor.  Let me be clear here. I am afraid of my neighbor. I criticize my neighbor. I vilify my neighbor. When I say “we,” I invite us to hide in the crowd, as if being a part of the crowd will water down my sin.  It does not.

Last Sunday we encouraged each other to repent by studying the words of John the Baptist. Repentance is not apology.  Repentance is not confess and forget. To repent is to change.

Wouldn’t it be nice if God were a big Central Casting company and put us in the places that best suited us?  Sometimes we end up in comfortable places, but more often we are forced to adjust to circumstances that “just happen.” How did I end up in this house with this person?  How did I end up in this job with this boss?  How did I end up in this hospital with this disease?

Here’s how: God created us with free will and the ability to make our own decisions.

Lent is coming up fast. Traditionally it is a time of repentance. The token action is to give up something for Lent.  My husband always gives up watermelon. How many of us repent by giving up watermelon? How many of us repent and do a U-turn?  To repent means to change.  Our country is changing. Is the purpose to turn around and create that fantasy of justice for all? Or is the purpose to maintain privilege and wealth and safety and happiness for a minority? Is the purpose to defend the evil as well as the good? “There were good people on both sides.”

None of us has been elected to office to deal with these changes. None of us is going to introduce a bill to the legislature to repent. So why all the fuss?

Because God broke the law of death, not because God hated evil, but because God loves us.  

Because we are each created in the image of God,

because we are saved by Jesus death and resurrection, and 

because we are each gifted through the Spirit with the unshakable, invincible power of love.  

Amen.

https://www.liberatedtogether.com/blog/2017/08/23/why-i-stopped-talking-about-racial-reconciliation-and-started-talking-about-white-supremacy

https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

What then should we do? Luke 3:1-22

Luke 3:1-22 New Revised Standard Version

3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 

3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6  and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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Today’s text offer’s much to explore.  We could start by asking why Luke lists all the rulers of the time.  Or we could examine the connection between John and the passage from Isaiah that Luke uses to introduce him.  

We could wonder about the makeup of John’s disciples, we could wonder about the relationship between John and Jesus, we could look at marriage laws in first century Judaism, we could examine personalities of leaders, we could even try to imagine who saw or heard what when Jesus was baptized.

And after this week in American history, I could draw all sorts of parallels between the first century Roman Empire and the twenty-first century American Empire.  

One sentence, one question stood out to me.  After a very unwelcoming tirade from John, instead of telling each other that John was nuts, instead the people stuck with John and asked him, “What then should we do?”  

They listened to him long enough and carefully enough and bravely enough that they wanted to know more.  

Listen to John’s accusations against them.  “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Don’t think that just because your pedigree extends all the way back to Abraham that you’re anything special. 

Why did they listen to this man, who according to Matthew “wore clothes made of camel’s hair. He had a leather strap around his waist and ate grasshoppers and wild honey.” 

Perhaps they heard the familiar scripture from Isaiah: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6  and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” 

These were familiar words of hope—-the promise of a Messiah. If anything united the Jewish community, it was the hope of a Messiah, a Liberator, a leader to lead them out of submission and toward independence from the Roman Empire.  

Perhaps they listened because they felt helpless and leaderless and wanted someone to tell them what to do. 

We saw crowds of people on television on Wednesday who had felt helpless and leaderless for a long time and wanted someone to tell them what to do.  They found a leader, who was happy to tell them what to do. 

Human beings are complicated. We want to have our own way, we want to do what we think makes us happy, what helps us feel secure, but when we run up against our own limitations, we want someone else to be in charge, to take responsibility, to make the hard decisions.  Sometimes that leader can protect us.  Sometimes that leader can inspire us.

John inspired people. But interestingly, he didn’t inspire them to turn on their captors.  He didn’t inspire them to stampede the Roman senate or the Temple.  He inspired them to look inside themselves. He ignored all earthly structures and institutions and systems and gave them one task: repent.  Not rebel.  Not riot.  No reform.  One task: repent.

Repent is an act that is more than an apology. If you put a dime in the collection plate for every time you said, “I’m sorry,” we would never have to worry about the condition of our church building.  We’d be giving money away to the local food pantry, establishing scholarships for our grandchildren…

But to repent, to turn around, to permanently quit doing all the things we have to later apologize for, to completely change our behavior, to break ingrained habits…that is hard work.  

A classmate—we were classmates from fourth grade through high school- -called me out this week “You wrote a nice article for the Register about the need for civility and yet all of your posts are farrrrr left writers that  have no respect for other opinions.”  

He has called me to repent. What must I do to repent? What must I change about the way I think, about the way I talk and write?  Do I stop posting my opinions?  Do I post opinions with which I disagree?  How do I repent when I think I’m right?

Isn’t that the challenge for all of us? I’m not doing anything wrong. Therefore, why should I repent?

But my political transgressions are not my only transgressions.  Have you ever heard the saying, “I don’t repeat gossip, so listen close the first time?” 

As your pastor, be assured that I don’t repeat what you tell me, what I hear among us, what I see.  (Although I do brag about you from time to time.)

But the local, “harmless” gossip, who’s buying what property, who is coaching what sport, who is moving to the nursing home, who is dating whom…here’s the thing.  Local gossip is like the game of telephone we played as kids…it starts out as a fact and ends up a falsehood.  One time I suggested to some friends that an Italian restaurant should open a branch in DeWitt.  A month later I was at a city meeting of about fifty people and it was stated as fact that Lunardi’s was opening up a restaurant in DeWitt.  I stood up and took credit for my gossip because I thought it was funny.  But what if the gossip is about people and destroys a relationship?   

John’s advice is not so petty; it is not funny.  It is radical.  It is not only “stop doing this!”  It is “start doing this!” “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

In our bloated materialistic lifestyle, what would this look like? Would it look like a $600 check or a $2000 check or a $10,000 check?  Would it look like people sitting in their cars waiting for one box of food to get their family through a week of meals or a community meal offered five days a week?  Would it look like rusted cars with loud mufflers in hospital parking lots or would it look like public transportation for rural areas ?  Would it look like families sleeping in cars or teenagers bouncing from friend to friend for a safe place to sleep? Or would it look like well-built homes that fit the family income? Would it look like each parent carrying two jobs or would it look like the good ol’ days with one parent working at one job to support the whole family?

Maybe it would simply look like not judging how someone spends their money, how someone dresses, how someone looks, what someone drives, where someone works, what someone does in their spare time.

Here’s the thing: it’s hard for me to watch someone parade around with a Confederate flag.  It’s hard for me to watch someone desecrate a building that many consider sacred.  It’s hard for me to listen to someone call names as a way of controlling someone. It’s hard for someone else to hear about debt forgiveness or Medicare for all.  It’s hard for someone else to believe that after being taught for their whole lives that some people are less intelligent, less ethical, less talented, to suddenly be asked to believe these same people are not dumb, evil, lazy, without every seeing any evidence, without ever sharing community with them. It is hard to discern where patriotism becomes idolatry.  It is hard to discern who can be trusted and who is lying. 

Why should I repent when I see so many who surely need to repent, who need to change their ways? 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s perceptive remark about human nature suggests a truer and more difficult answer: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

Let me be blunt. The division in our country is not about Republican or Democrat, red or blue.  The division is not about rich versus poor.  The division is about fear versus trust. I know that we as a congregation are united in our love for Jesus, but are there other ways in which we are divided?

James Shenko, a pastor in rural Tennessee, sees the injustices of this lack of trust everyday.  He says,  “In the United States, our government was designed with checks and balances because of the sure knowledge of human corruptibility. It is this understanding of human sinfulness which the Church must reclaim at this time.”

In other words, our government can do no more. This past week, we saw what looked like the collapse of law and order. I can tell you with authority, that this same lack of respect for law and order came close to happening in our own back yard. Wiser heads or maybe just more fearful heads prevailed. 

If you watched television news on Epiphany, January 6, 2021, you may have been thrilled or appalled or terrified. But we weren’t there.  We couldn’t do anything. Many people felt helpless that day. So, the question remains, “What then should we do?”

We are Christians, baptized in the name of God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit. That baptism is permanent, by the way. You can’t wash it off.   Your sins are washed away through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  You are in a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Like any relationship, there are expectations and obligations.

As citizens of the United States, we are expected to obey laws, to defend the Constitution, to respect our leaders. 

But we have a higher calling, a greater obligation. Our “constitution” is simple, but challenging.  Two sentences: Love God. Love your neighbor.  If you need details, read the Ten Commandments in Luther’s Small Catechism. Let me give you one example: 

The Eighth Commandment You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God, so that we do not lie about, betray or slander our neighbor, but excuse him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

Excuse the person who screws up. Speak well of the person who disagrees with you.  Assume the best of your neighbor, even when you think she could have done better.  

In the meantime, when we forget, when we get carried up in the rhetoric of louder voices, when we are afraid to look like a goody-goody,  we need repent, we need to try again.

John warns that “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Repentance, if it worked perfectly, would be a one-time thing.  But we are not perfect. We repent, we try to change, we try to remember Whose we are. But we forget. Regardless, we can “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”  We can think good of, speak well of our neighbor. We can open our eyes and see where we can share what we have—not just the expired cans of beets in the back of the cupboard, but half the cupboard.  And what we can’t do, well, let us find leaders who can do what we would do if we were powerful, if there were no evil in the world.  

Repentance is hard, so we will continue to pray, “forgive us, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Forgive us our sins that we don’t even recognize as we forgive those whose sins really shock us.  Forgive us our sins that we brush off as we forgive those whose sins are the result of their own right to act.  Forgive us our sins that we commit out of fear as we forgive those whose sins are committed out of a similar fear.  

“Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” We will not be thrown into the fire. But the ax is still very real. And I fear it. Let me first repent being fearful and change to trusting in the very real presence of my God who created me in God’s image; let me trust in the very real presence of my Savior, who lived like me, died like I will and rose again, like I will; and in the Holy Spirit, who is, always and forever, my strength and my comfort.  Amen. 

Jesus Knows Who He Is. Do You? Luke 2:41-52

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for Passover. 

42 And when Jesus was twelve years old, they all went there as usual for the celebration. 

43 After Passover his parents left, but they did not know that Jesus had stayed on in the city.  44 They thought he was traveling with some other people, and they went a whole day before they started looking for him.  45 When they could not find him with their relatives and friends, they went back to Jerusalem and started looking for him there.

46 Three days later they found Jesus sitting in the temple, listening to the teachers and asking them questions. 

47 Everyone who heard him was surprised at how much he knew and at the answers he gave.

48 When his parents found him, they were amazed. His mother said, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been very worried, and we have been searching for you!”

49 Jesus answered, “Why did you have to look for me? Didn’t you know that I would be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he meant.

51 Jesus went back to Nazareth with his parents and obeyed them. His mother kept on thinking about all that had happened.

52 Jesus became wise, and he grew strong. God was pleased with him and so were the people.

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Jesus knows who he is.  Does Mary?  Do we? 

Biblical scholars sometimes ask, “When did Jesus know that he was God?” When did Jesus realize he was different from the other children, different from his brothers and sisters?

Obviously, by the time he was twelve, he had found his niche within the Jewish religious community. Today’s text shows Jesus in the place most revered by Jewish men: in the temple, talking about God, discussing Scripture.

In the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye fantasizes about being a rich man.

I’d build a big tall house with rooms by the dozen…

I’d fill my yard with chicks and turkeys and geese and ducks…

I’d see my wife, my Golde, looking like a rich man’s wife With a proper double-chin. Supervising meals to her heart’s delight.

Then, he realizes that if he didn’t have to work, he could spend his days in the synagogue praying.

If I were rich, I’d have the time that I lack

To sit in the synagogue and pray.

And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.

And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day.

That would be the sweetest thing of all.

That would be the sweetest thing of all.

How many of us have said, if I were rich, I would…..

Jesus was not rich, Mary and Joseph were not rich, but Jesus had found the sweetest thing of all: discussing the holy books with the learned men. He was, as he told his parents, in the most natural spot for a prepubescent Jewish boy.

How many times have we heard during this year that Mary “pondered these things in her heart,” as the Revised Standard version of the Bible puts it. 

Other translations put it this way:

But Mary treasured all these things, giving careful thought to them and pondering them in her heart. Amplified Bible

Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. Contemporary English Bible

But Mary kept thinking about all this and wondering what it meant. Contemporary English Version

Jesus gave Mary much to think about.  How many people have said of your mother that she thought about you all the time? We take it for granted.  The gospel writers did not take that behavior for granted.  The writers of the gospels mention Mary, not washing clothes or cooking food, but thinking. Pondering. Contemplating. Meditating. Why?  

From today’s text: 

51 Jesus went back to Nazareth with his parents and obeyed them. His mother kept on thinking about all that had happened.

Mary knew before anybody, of course, that Jesus was extraordinary, one-of-a-kind.  In fact, Mary knew exactly who Jesus was the moment he was conceived.  Gabriel told her Luke 1:32He will be great and will be called the Son of God Most High. The Lord God will make him king, as his ancestor David was. 33He will rule the people of Israel forever, and his kingdom will never end.”

Because Jesus is God, Jesus would have also known from the beginning.  John tells us : 

1 In the beginning was the one who is called the Word. The Word was with God and was truly God. 2  From the very beginning the Word was with God.

Who is this Word?  It is Jesus, who was first revealed to God’s people through words.  It was the words of Promise that sustained the Jewish nation, that kept them united even when they had no land, no king.  

Words, thoughts, thinking.  So valued by our ancestors in the faith.  I wonder if we value thinking.  Thinking gives the impression of doing nothing, because the body does not move. In our culture, actions is valued.  What twelve year boy or girl would choose sitting and thinking over throwing a ball? How often is a child who sits and stares out the window mocked for being a daydreamer?  

Much of our culture demands that we act, that we produce, that we keep busy.  What does a busy mind look like?  

Jesus’s thoughts were not of how to make a buck.  Jesus’s thoughts were not about how to be the best athlete, the best carpenter, the best fisherman.  Jesus’s thoughts were not about being the best anything.  

And Mary’s thoughts: what were they, day after day, as she watched her son grow.  Gabriel hold told her He would be a king, a ruler.  Was she looking for a crowd of soldiers to ride in some day and ask Him to lead them into battle against the Romans?  Was she wondering where they would get the money to clothe him like a king?  And what were her thoughts after her Son’s death? Was she crushed?  Did she feel betrayed when Gabriel’s words did not come true?  

How often do you get to think?  How often are you sitting in your chair or walking through the yard with nothing in  your hands, with no television or iPhone?  With no tools. When do you let your mind wander without prompts from your children or your spouse or your job?  How often have you caught yourself “doing nothing” and chastised yourself for not getting work done?

When is your mind free to contemplate Creation? When is your mind free to think about your faith?  We have been taught to pray…that is one way to mediate.  And prayer is vital to our relationship with God.  

However, I wonder if we spent more time just thinking—not planning, not deciding, not worrying—if we would somehow find peace or joy.  I often close my emails with the words, “May you be surprised by blessings today.”  Sometimes we don’t see our blessings. They’re always there, but we don’t notice them.  

Ponder these things in your heart.  What things?  The things you know about Jesus, just as Mary did.  His birth. His being recognized by Anna and Simeon.  His love of Scripture. His obedience to his parents.  His teachings.  His death and resurrection.  Ponder your questions about Jesus, about faith, about religion.  Don’t demand answers.  Don’t set goals or have expectations.  Just think about Jesus.  About God. About the Holy Spirit. About you and Jesus, you and God, you and the Spirit.  

May these thoughts draw you closer to God, closer to your true self.

Jesus knew who He was. Mary knew who He was.  You do, too. Think about it.  Amen.