Scripture: Luke 4:14-21
Often times in our journeys of life we can get distracted. Things come up like work, a meeting, school, or kids. I say distracted but I do not mean that they are bad things necessarily. I was distracted while driving home from the elders board meeting in a positive way, I love driving down I-35 and seeing the vast rolling prairies. When I drive that stretch of highway my heart begins to sing, which is funny because it is not often that my heart goes to singing. But the song it sings is “these thousand hills, roll ever on footprints of a mighty God.” Unfortunately distractions can be negative as well, often work demands are calling us to action and we begin to make sacrifices. Maybe we head out to attend college and we are on our own for the first time, our friends and social lives distract us and we make sacrifices. We work hard, we study hard, we have chores and laundry to do, and we just want to rest. We are caught in a culture of dis-ease.
Life happens. Life has been happening for a few years. Since the dawn of humanity there have been distractions both positive and negative that have been demanding attention from individuals. There has always been this constant quest to find some sort of equilibrium in life, to ease the dis-ease. History is filled with these things. People were hungry so the found food, and create tools to make the obtaining easier. The climate changed and suddenly they had to adjust, moving to different locals or making new clothing and accommodations. They found that living together in groups made it easier to hunt and gather food, but then the groups would often get too large so they would begin to fight amongst themselves and new groups formed. Then someone found out that if you let some of the fruits and grains spoil a bit and if you run water through this a drink could be formed that would relieve some stress. So the groups then began to focus their attention on those plants, and eventually they would gain enough knowledge to begin to farm. These farms needed care so the wondering tribes began to settle into areas where they could grow the plants, and they began to domesticate animals, and villages began to form. As the villages grew people began to specialize in skills, and these non-agrarian skills grew and out of that economies began to develop where people would trade produce for tools or services. From these economies civilization emerged, governments formed, and eventually we have found ourselves where we are today. Still searching for ways to make our lives easier, still distracted and trying to find that place where we can exist in comfort.
Life has changed in many ways, and in most ways for the better. I would rather live today than in prehistoric times. There is still an ever-present quest for a life of ease that continues to speak volumes about the human condition. We live in cultures of dis-ease. Our ancestors invented flint spears because they needed them. They sailed the oceans because they sought a better life. We invented computers and cell phones to fill a need in our culture, we were seeking to ease the dis-ease. It is like the history of civilizations and Garden of Eden seem to meet in the same story line; we fail to ease the dis-ease and are forced to toil and struggle in our quest for paradise.
I know it is an odd way to start this message, but there is something about looking at a large picture that seems to open scripture up. This scripture begins with Jesus going to his hometown on the Sabbath and attending the synagogue, which was his custom. There are very few things that scripture tells us that Jesus did regularly. In fact of the disciplines that we know for certain that Jesus actually did frequently. One is he withdrew often to pray, and another is he attended worship. Of all the disciplines and traditions of religion the writers of the gospels tell us that Jesus in His own life withdrew frequently to pray and attended worship, as was His custom.
I mention this because these are the things that basically form the expression of faith in the Friends Church. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we are a distilled form of Christianity, our ancient leaders were on a quest to boil faith down to its purest and most essential form. They sought to get to the simplest expression of faith, and what they came up with was worship and prayer. These are the two things that Jesus is recorded as doing most frequently in His own personal life. These are also the two things most frequently sacrificed in our personal quests to ease our culture of dis-ease, only to further complicate our lives.
Withdrawing to pray and attend worship, if I were to ask you to rank the importance of these things in your life where would they be? If you are human I am guessing that there are probably many items on the list before these, if you are actually sitting in the pew then I am glad that at least worship has made the list. If we were to actually divide up our time and keep track of each activity would the programming on TV rank higher, would Facebook or Twitter hold greater importance? Have we made it our custom to place our career before worship and prayer, or let’s get even closer to home do our families rank higher than our relationship to God?
All these things are important in varying degrees. Our family is important because God has blessed them to us and we should do all we can to care and encourage them. Our careers and our hobbies are vital to our existence and our ability to cope with our lives, but they can cause dis-ease if we are not careful. Jesus, found it very important to withdraw often to pray and to make it a custom to worship.
The passage goes on telling us that Jesus read scripture in the synagogue; he not only attended worship but participated in it. He read, “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.” Jesus was proclaiming that He was the anointed one sent by God, the Messiah, but there is more. In reading this verse He is proclaiming the Gospel. He is in essence saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here!”
Which leads us to a third thing that Jesus did frequently in his journey through life, ministry. He speaks of the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. These are the people society marginalizes. These are the signs of a culture of dis-ease. To be a captive means that you are bound, you lack freedom and do not have ease in life. A captive is a prisoner. The blind are lost in the darkness, unable to find their way constantly struggling just to find their next step. The oppressed are people discriminated against for some reason and are seen by the culture as being less than human. And the poor cannot provide the things necessary for themselves or their families. All of these people are living lives of constant distraction. They cannot have a life of ease for some reason. Maybe it is because of bad choices, or maybe it is because they were just born in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Jesus says that he is anointed to minister to these people. The year of the Lord’s favor is to be proclaimed to them. His mission and purpose in life is to ease the dis-ease of humanity.
Worship, Prayer, and Ministry; these are the three things that Jesus participated in while he walked on the soils of Israel. These three things all tie together. If we were to devote 100% of our time and resources to social justice or ministry, we would quickly find ourselves overwhelmed. There are always poor, there are always people living in some form of captivity, and being oppressed. We could work our entire lives to ease the dis-ease of our society and feel like we were a complete failure. We can work hard every day and never see the end of need. This is why Jesus withdrew often to pray. To show us that we need to get away to restore ourselves to rest in the arms of God, to cry out to Him, to express our frustrations and anger that there is still need all around us. We cannot spend 100% of the time in prayer either. If we were to only pray, we would never see the answers to our prayers. If we were only to pray we would never be of service to others, never see the good news being proclaimed to the poor, never seeing a captive set free. We would be stuck in a continuation of the dis-ease that continues to plague humanity. We pray so that we can release the negative energy and absorb new life from the Spirit so we can reengage ministry. We pray so we can release our burdens into the hands of God and be listening to His voice to redirect our efforts. We pray so that we can become and to be open to the answers to our prayers. If we were to only pray and only minister we would still have dis-ease. We will still only see need all around us, but this is where a custom of worship is important.
Worship is where each of us can encourage each other to continue in the ministry that God has called us to. It is where we as a larger fellowship of people walking along in our own journeys can join together in ministry and bring our gifts together to intensify our ministry capabilities. Worship is where we praise God for the blessings He gives, where we come together to express needs beyond our own capability, and share the signs that God has worked in the lives that we have ministered to. Worship is where those captives testify to how God has set them free, it is where the oppressed can proclaim their freedom. We participate in worship because we need it, not because God needs us to sing His praises. He created the birds to sing, and the wind to whistle through the trees, and the grass to dance over the rolling hills. God has all the earth to praise him, with or without us, but we have the privilege to worship and we benefit from it. When we worship we are encouraged to do more and to see more. Worship is more than singing and listening to a message, it is coming together to encourage and support each other as we each are sent back out into the world to continue the ministry of Christ. Which did not start with Christ but has existed since the beginning.
Worship, Prayer, and ministry, these three things are the simplest expression of faith. These are the things that allow us to continue on the journey of life with God and are our primary tools. This can be expressed in another way: Love God, Embrace the Holy Spirit, and Live the Love of Christ with others. The three customs of Jesus, the three disciplines of Christ, the three distilled tenants of Christianity in the most pure form. Without loving God or worship, we have no encouragement to serve and we give up and are in dis-ease. Without embracing the Holy Spirit or prayer, we have no direction, no hope, and no relief from the dis-ease. Without living the love of Christ with others we are without ministry and we are distracted and are in a world in dis-ease. With these three, we can see and participate in the year of the Lord’s favor. We can be anointed with Christ, saturated with Him to be instruments of ease in a dis-eased culture. With these three disciplines of faith we can see the kingdom of God emerging all around and in each one of us. It is the year of the Lord’s favor and he is calling us join in.
Scripture: John 2:1-11
The Wedding in Cana is probably one of my favorite stories in scripture. I like it because it is one of those stories where Jesus’ human and divine natures seem to meet in one place. There is something very human about a wedding and a wedding reception. Yet there is something very spiritual as well.
There are times in life that seem to connect the human and spiritual. The dedication of a child is a ritual that celebrates the birth of a child as well as the commitment in the parents to raise and teach the child the ways of God. On the other end we gather together to mourn and celebrate the wake of a life lived. Usually in the middle of that journey from the dedication to the wake is a joining of two lives a joining that promotes the continuation of the creative joy. It is in this marriage this joining that seems to unite the two events.
Over time the importance of these events has begun to erode away until it is nearly unrecognizable. The dedication ceremony, or the infant baptism in some church traditions, once represented the welcoming of the child into the community of the church. Today this beautiful ceremony connecting a child to a community of faith, yet the commitment to the union of a child to the community is often neglected. Funeral services were once community events where business were closed and people attended where today our culture has shifted to a degree where funerals are scheduled around the other schedules, and have become an inconvenience for all but the closest people. It is odd but how many of us have really realized how much these aspects of our spiritual and human lives have eroded; we fail to recognize the importance of celebration.
We have lost something as a culture when we fail to celebrate theses major milestones in humanity. Celebration is important in the human experience, yet what is celebration usually regulated to? Most of the celebration in our culture is usually directed to the worldly aspects of life. How often do we use celebration in worship?
The wedding at Cana and the interpretations of the events speak more to our current cultural understands of morality than it does anything else. A wedding in the 1st century culture was a very important thing. In ancient cultures a wedding was not just a big event it was a huge event. It was not just the joining of two lives but two families. It even went deeper than this; it was a symbol of a people joining with God. The Hebrew ceremony is one that is filled with a rich symbolism that traces its roots back to Mount Sinai. The Hebrew marriage ceremony is to symbolize the marriage of the people of Israel to God. We look at the Old Testament as a book of laws, but it is a covenant a commandment of sorts. In many ways it is a marriage license. Every aspect of the ceremony has a historic and legal meaning to it, the canopy the party stands under represents the clouds that surrounded the mountain when Moses received the law, the wine represents the sacrifices, and the broken glass represents that they cannot reverse the process. It is a beautiful ceremony.
The ceremony is deeply religious, the union is not complete until after the feast. The feast is just as much of an act of worship as the actual ritual, so much so that there are traditions in the feast as well. I find it interesting that John the gospel writer does not mention the actual ceremony but the feast. It was not in the religious ceremony but in the celebration of that ceremony that we find our Savior. It is a curious thing. So many of us place an importance on the ceremony but it is the feast that Jesus went to.
The feast has great cultural significance. The feast is where the couple is presented and accepted into the community. They are joined as members of the community. These feasts would last several days as the community celebrated the union. As we know a feast requires lots of food and drink. It would be a bad sign for the future of the couple if the refreshments ran out too soon. People would see the groom and his family as being impoverished. People would begin to talk and before the new family could even get started they would be seen as unfit.
We meet Jesus’ mother here, a side of Mary that we do not often see. The feast is proceeding as planned but she notices something, the wine is running short. She is concerned because she has face the tongues of the community. Mary is full of mercy. Jesus and his disciples are there, they came to enjoy the feast not oversee the ceremony. Mary comes to him and says, “They have no wine.” She is concerned and she knows that Jesus is the one that can help.
Mary is concerned and she takes that concern to Jesus. There is a lot we can learn from this. How often do we see a situation around us that we cannot fathom a solution for? We do not have to necessarily have to have the answers to the problems of the world; we only need to know where to go.
Mary then goes to the servants and tells them the last words we hear her say in scripture. “Do whatever He tells you”. She does not hesitate or question, she boldly moves forward with confidence that things will work out. She places her faith not in herself or what she can do but she saw the situation, took it to Jesus, and then left it in his hands. The servants were a bit confused though. Jesus then tells them to go fill the jars with water.
Go fill the jars. Not go get wine from the store, which would make more sense, but go get water. Mary says, do whatever he says. He says go get water and fill up the washing jars. Which is the equivalent of filling up the sinks. They are out of wine and Jesus wants them to fill the sink. Then he says go draw some out and take it to the steward. Can you imagine what the servants would have been thinking? Fill a sink, fill a cup, and serve it up. In their mind they are about to serve the most distinguished guest of the feast, bath water.
Then the amazing thing happens. Out of something they thought was totally inadequate God made something amazing happen. What was water is now wine. Instead of having 120-180 gallons of water, they had wine. Not just wine, but the best wine the steward had drank. Yes it was wine, actual wine. We know this because the steward said that they would bring in poor wine later in the feast when people were drunk, but the wine from the jars was best. Jesus made, out of the purification waters, wine.
Jesus was not concerned about the moral cleanliness of the people; he was concerned with the life of the couple, and their good name in the community. He was concerned with the community and the joy that a marriage feast brings. Often we can get wrapped up in the morality of the celebration that we become dry and stiff. We can suck the joy out of life. But that is not what a life with God is, that is religion. Religion is all about rules and appearances. What concerned Jesus was life, and life is about relationships. Life is about opening up to the community to share a feast. Life is about celebrating and engaging in the life of the children, and celebrating the life lived by those that precede us to the other side of the veil. It is in this sharing of life where we can see what is going on in our community and carry the concerns to Jesus. It is then in that place where we are asked to do what ever He says, and where sometimes he is asking us to accomplish something amazing out of something unimaginable.
Let us take time to celebrate, encourage, remember, and support as we enter into this time of holy expectancy. Let us take our concerns and hopes to Jesus and let us open ourselves up to him so that we can be like those servants, amazed at what can happen before our eyes. Let us take joy in being a community of faith that is sharing this life’s journey together.
Scripture: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Efficiency is a key point in today’s culture. It is actually very impressive that cars in the past were traveling down the road getting 15 miles per gallon, and today a full size car can get up to 40 miles per gallon. It is really impressive. We can go into many different debates over why we have gained the increase in mileage but the fact of the matter is that the various engineers in the auto industry were able to do it. It is amazing!
We live in a world that can build towers so tall that literally have different weather patterns on the top floor than the bottom. Towers that can sway in the wind several feet yet remain stable. We can build bridges that span great distances using steel cables. Have you ever really thought about how amazing these feats of engineering really are as you are caught in a traffic jam on an overpass?
The ever-increasing efficiency of our world can boggle the mind. We can microwave a meal in minutes that a generation ago would have taken an hour to prepare. We can send a contract for a mortgage and file our taxes electronically in seconds, which a few years ago would have taken a week to mail and require a ream of paper to process. This ever-increasing technology has made our lives simpler in many ways; it has allowed us to accomplish more tasks in a shorter amount of time. Yet we read books and watch movies that remind us of a simpler time. Simpler times. In our quest for simplifying our lives we often increase the complexity.
John the Baptist above other things was a man that tried to simplify religious life. That is what religious movements do. John the Baptist was a member and leader of a religious movement. Many people believe that John was an early leader among the Essenes. This group of people lived in a communal community where they devoted most of their life to their religious observances. One of the greatest of these observances was the ritual bathing. The baths were to wash away any possible uncleanness or sin that may keep one away from God. The baths cleansed the body of the dirt of life, and as they confessed their sins they too were washed away in the waters.
This ritual cleansing was a simplification of the older religious traditions. In the more ancient forms of the Jewish faith there was a necessity for a ritualistic bath before entering into the place of worship and along with that was the offering of multiple sacrifices. These were a requirement of the law, but to the Essenes they could bypass the sacrifices because they had composed a lifestyle where it was impossible to commit a religious infraction that would require the shedding of blood. They would then only have dirt of daily life that would tarnish their lives. Little things that muddy the feet as you walk through life, a conversation where words could have been chosen more carefully or actions that could have been thought through to a greater extent. They were not necessarily sinful but not altogether righteous either.
It was in these baths that they would consider their lives, repent, and then re-approach life in a different manner. This is the message that John preached when he was out there in the wilderness. Repent for the kingdom of God is near. Repent and be baptized, turn around and let the living waters wash way the dirt and grim of your life, as you turn to a lifestyle more in line with God.
It is a great message and a wonderful ceremony. The ritualistic bathing of the worshiper is a beautiful thing. They would only use living water, moving water, because it would carry away all things unclean. The water would pass over the body, actively cleansing the person. It has wonderful symbolism. The individual goes in covered in sin and emerges clean. It was a simplification of the faith. What once required the letting of blood now required a willingness to change and the movement of water to carry away the grime.
I say that it was a simplification of the faith, what could be easier than taking a bath. Efficient and to the point, but along with this simplified faith there was an entire lifestyle that had to be kept up. They had to change everything about their lives turn from how they once lived and begin to live a life totally different. In many cases they would need to move from their current community and join the commune where you could keep every aspect of your life in check so that the sin or daily grime of life could be kept to a minimum. The simplified life became complex, it was a refined faith but the requirements intensified, just as our technological advances both simplify and intensify our contemporary lives.
John knew that there would be a greater and continuing refining to faith. He, possibly one of the first leaders of one of the movements that shaped the future of the Jewish faith knew that the faith was going to be further refined. He said, “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.” Think about this for a moment. Imagine you are about to enter into a pool to swim or bathe the first thing that you would do is remove your shoes. John is a minister a servant of God, yet he is not even worthy to remove the shoe of the one to come. He is not worthy of serving the one to come. He in all his righteousness cannot assist the king. He is not worthy. He is not clean enough or good enough to enter into the presence of this future refined faith.
John says, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” He speaks of the next refinement of faith. The greatest change of the Jewish faith came when it went into exile it was then after the falling of the first temple that the sacrificial system was first removed. In that period between the temples, the faith did not die but it reformed. It was then that the baptism took greater importance. It was in the exile where sacrifice was not an option that people realized that there was something more. Life became important. You had to live differently to express your faith because you could not just go burn blood, grain, wine and incense. Repentance and baptism became the ceremonies. It was in this exile period between the temples that birthed what we now know as the Jewish faith and the Christian faith.
John was a leader in a faith that did not need the temple; it was the beginning of something new, but only the beginning. It was a simplification but it was not the final product. There was something greater. In the early church they continued this practice of baptism. They developed a spirituality surrounding it, but in that ceremony they realize like John that there is more to the faith than just washing. The baptism of the Essenes needed to be performed continuously; in the church it was only once. Yet even then there is some confusion. When does the bathing need to occur? There is refining and in some cases distilling. For some it is a process that happens at the beginning of life and from there a lifestyle is taught, for others it begins with a lifestyle and then a commitment. The baptism has been refined to the point that it is the beginning of either a lifestyle or the continued commitment to a lifestyle. The question is what is the baptism?
In the book of Acts we are confronted with a debate over this very thing. One side is Apollos who preaches the baptism of John the baptism of repentance on the other side is Paul and his disciples who preach the baptism of Christ. What is that baptism? John spoke of a baptism of the Spirit and fire that was greater than the baptism that he performed. A baptism that came from someone so powerful that he was not even fit to remove the sandals from the feet of the one that brought it. This is where we meet a peculiar people called the Friends. A group of people that sought to find a primitive Christianity but I do not think they found the primitive Christianity. Primitive by definition means early or old. The old forms of Christianity were filled with the ceremonies of the Jewish community. That primitive Christianity is found in the pages of history and practiced by the ancient churches across the globe. What they found was a distilled Christianity. Distilled meaning boiled down to the simplest essence.
In science to perform an experiment it was important to use distilled water. Distilled water is pure water, without any minerals that could compromise the reactions of chemicals. Distilled Christianity is the same. Faith boiled down to the simplest degree, Spirit. It is a lifestyle where the law is written on the hearts of those that seek it. It is simple because it requires nothing other than an open heart. But in that simplicity comes the most complex of all expressions of faith. Pure Christianity is boiled down to you, God, and the community. It requires you to respond and live according to the leading of God in your life. For you to respond to God’s leading you must be in a position of listening. To be listening to God you must have a lifestyle devoted to Him.
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 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.’” Heaven was opened and the Spirit descended and a voice called out when Jesus prayed. The distilling and refining of faith began, when Jesus was praying. It was in the devoted lifestyle of prayer and obedience that Jesus’ power was found, the power to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the dead. Yes He is the Son, the Beloved, but through Him we are adopted and grafted into the family of God. Through him and a lifestyle of prayer and obedience the Spirit fills us, baptizes us and we too are given the power to do the great things we are called to do. He is calling us to a life of pure faith. It is in that pure distilled faith that we can do great things. Prayer and obedience that is all. Simple yet complex, calling us to continue in His work of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, hydrating the thirsty, visiting the imprisioned, and helping the lost find their way. It in that pure life of prayer we hear his call and in the obedience that we experience the power.
As we enter into this time of Holy Expectancy and communion with God through corporate prayer. Let us be baptized with the Spirit and with the fire. Let the Spirit speak to our hearts and light the fires in our lives to live out His mission. Let us each live a simple life of faith in this complex world.