Messy Presence.

Luke 4:21-30

21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers[a] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Our gospel lesson this am takes up where we left off last week.  Jesus has just finished reading the prophetic words of Isaiah, of taking care of the oppressed, release for the captives, and that God’s kingdom is for everyone.  

He then goes on to say that “today, the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing!”  Essentially that the biblical concept of the canceling of debts, of honoring relationships, of going after the marginalized and including them in community, those folks who have not had the same experiences in life that maybe many of us have had…that we are all called to be together as one people.  Big words, even bigger statement from Jesus at the end.

Now, we then notice that folks are amazed at his words.  The words of Jesus make them feel good that their hometown boy has done well.  They synagogue seats are filled, people are looking around, kind of proud.  

Jesus has given a great performance with elegant words and gave the people there some hope.  Probably a good day for most preachers.

But, then Jesus doesn’t stop…he keeps on speaking and quotes a proverb, “doctor, heal yourself”.  Jesus had probably also heard that folks in his hometown had some criticisms…had some things to say about Jesus.  They also had heard about the miracles that Jesus did in Capernaum and wanted to be “wowed” as well with some miracles.  Yet, Jesus is saying, you who criticize, start with yourself first…ask yourself the questions about your motives, your agenda…don’t look to blame others, but ask yourself how can I be cured, healed.  Miracles can only happen if people are willing to own their own predicament and want to change themselves first.  

I’ve often heard, and have said this myself, in couple’s counseling, especially when folks are thinking about getting married, that you can’t enter into a relationship and try to change that person.  You can’t be concerned about winning an argument or being right, you have to focus on working together and mutual understanding and humility in order to move forward.  

That’s true in every relationship, especially in a church, family, friendship, and neighborhood.  

I believe that Jesus is communicating something good for his hearers that day, develop personal and corporate agency.  When I say “agency”, I mean the ability to have responsibility and awareness of your abilities and confidence to be the person you’ve always wanted to be deep down, the person God created you to be.  I also found this quote on agency:

In social science, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. 

Jesus doesn’t end there either, he keeps on stirring the point.  He quotes a time in Israel’s history when there was a great famine that lasted for three years.  Israel suffered greatly.  Jesus references this to the hardness of the hearts of the people of Israel.  They were stuck in their ways of doing things, in their pride and habits.  When God raised up prophets from them, they didn’t listen and Jesus even says that a prophet in his own hometown isn’t heeded or listened to. 

So, what does God do?  God simply goes outside of Israel and continues God’s work.  God blesses and works through a Syrian and a widow…a foreigner and someone who didn’t have a spouse.  God wants to find persons willing to step into growth, into their own agency.  

Hearing this reminds me of a book I’ve read:  Leadership and the New Science by Dr. Margaret Wheatley.  It’s a classic organizational book using Quantum physics as a science that informs organizational behavior.  In the opening it talks about the movement of atoms, neutrons, etc.  They are all chaotic, yet there is a sense of order and movement…relationship if you will.  You can’t stop them from being in relationship and creating something.  The author describes it as being like a river.  It starts with a drop, then a stream, then a river and even an ocean.  When the water flows, over time it shapes and reshapes things, but it continues to flow and create something.  You can put up a roadblock, try to cut it off, but you can’t.  Something is formed and reformed.

It’s the same with Israel in Jesus’ time, and it’s the same with the church today.  God’s work is flowing.  That flow is happening all around us, in our churches and especially in our neighborhoods where our churches have been placed.  God is going to bless our neighborhoods and build up our agency if you will.  We, the church, can either figure out where the flow is taking us and get behind God’s work and even encourage it, or we can try to go against the flow, or even simply stand on the banks and let if flow.  Those are our three options, only one leads to life.  

Not only is that true in the church, but in all of our relationships.  There is a flow, it doesn’t stop, we can’t cut things off…but, we can learn to live and adapt and grow in the flow.  

So, Jesus is saying to those gathered that day, that life passed by Israel and the good news of release and freedom was still being proclaimed though.  They could get on board or miss out on on God’s blessing, God’s flow…in their lives and in the life of Israel…  

What happened next was a huge shift in the mood of the congregation.  They had gathered hoping to feel good about themselves, but when they heard Jesus’ words about the time of Elisha and Elijah, their anxiety and fear came out in the form of rage.  They wanted to throw Jesus off the cliff!

Now, I’ve had some good sermons and some bad sermons in my 30+ years of ministry, but I’ve never had anyone push me towards a cliff after one of them!  

Jesus, somehow though, doesn’t give into the rage, doesn’t feel despair, but trusts in his words, his own agency, his true self, and moves through the crowd and leaves unharmed through the crowd somehow to continue his ministry of love and reconciliation for all people.  

A friend of mine asked me these questions about this passage a while ago, they might be good for us to ponder as well:

Why is it that the insiders (Israelites, the tiny community of Nazareth) would stand in the way of the Kingdom things God was doing?  Why are the outsiders more willing to receive the message of a new thing?  And where do we at Fleming Road UCC fit into this story?

Those are questions that we should let soak in to our thoughts this week.  

Friends, for now, this passage can also be an encouragement to us to move towards God’s kingdom of radically inclusive love for ourselves and others and to grow in our agency.  As we move towards being a church marked by God’s love for ourselves, others, and God.  As we own our own wounds and history and move towards healing and a new future, that we can become the Church God calls us to be.  There will be some who won’t understand, won’t listen, and simply do not want God’s Presence in their lives, God’s fullness.  They may rather stay where they are because it seems comfortable.  Yet, God’s love will continue to flow, forming new things in us and in our church. 

That flow is present in this “sacred act” of our sacraments, our relationships.  Sometimes that flow is messy, it overruns the dams and the banks of our lives that we have built.  And, that’s OK, actually, it’s good as it reminds us that God’s love flows as it will…in and through, all around us.  

 A friend of mine, Brian McLaren, reminded a group of us a while ago that the word sacrament simply means a “sacred moment”.  Our whole lives are sacred moments, not just communion and baptism, may we live into the flow, the mess, and be present with ourselves, others, and God.  


Luke 4:14-21 

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 

I have a question:  what makes “news” “good”?  

I remember receiving some good news.  I used to work at a store called REI that sold things like hiking and climbing gear.  I started to work there while I worked as a youth director at a Presbyterian Church in Atlanta to make extra money.  Youth Directors didn’t make much money…back then, and certainly not now!  

One day, while working at REI, Debbie contacted me to tell me some news that I didn’t quite know how to respond as it was early in our marriage…about a year in…she was about a month or so pregnant with our daughter Debbie.  

At first I was stunned, then happy, then I had to sit down and let it sink in…I couldn’t go back to work, I couldn’t focus, it was overwhelming…it had to sink in that I was going to be a father!  It wasn’t what I expected.  Yet, when the reality of this news sank in, it was truly good news…and I still am amazed to watch my daughter grow into adulthood and my son, Brennan, as well.

Our gospel lesson from the lectionary this morning is another story about unexpected Good News and release in the Bible.  

Jesus had just returned from being tempted by the devil for several days in the desert.  He resisted the temptation to become powerful or relevant by the world’s measure and stayed true to who he was.  Which, says a lot to us today as we strive for worldly wealth and relevance, God says that he has something better for us if we remember our identity lies in Jesus and live in self, others, and God awareness.  

As was Jesus’ custom, he preached in the synagogue.  Yet, this was different, Jesus was teaching in his hometown.  The folks gathered that day had heard great things about Jesus.  They had heard about the miracles he had performed and the words he had spoken, as well as the large crowds that were following him.  

Jesus was handed a scroll with the words of Isaiah.  Jesus knew what he wanted to read and began to read the prophecy about the Messiah.  There is an emphasis in this passage of “me”, three times in verses 18 and 19 alone.  In other words, Jesus is quoting this passage, saying that this prophecy is about him.  

Jesus even makes this dramatic, yet subtle and very powerful statement at the end of this particular passage that we are looking at today.  He rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant, and sits down.  At first glance, that may seem odd, but in Jewish custom during that time, you would stand to read Scripture, then sit down to teach.  Jesus was doing just that.  But, when he starts to teach, he begins with the statement:  “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Jesus is saying, I am the fulfillment of God’s promise that he would be our God and we would be his people.  Jesus is God present with us.  

The Greek word in this passage for proclaiming good news is one word.  It is also where we get the world “evangelize”.  Now, in our polarizing times, that word “evangelize” triggers a lot within folks…we think of sharing a belief or a dogma, or we go to the word “evangelical”, which, in our context today, means more to folks as a political stance than a religious one…

Yet, Jesus was saying that had come to proclaim good news to the poor and release to all of those held captive.  Who are the poor?  It means to bring something, and in this context, it means that the ones that will hear and receive this message are the poor.  So, who are the poor?  Well, it certainly means those who are economically poor, but poor has a deeper meaning in this context as it does throughout Scripture.  The “Poor” are those who are miserable, oppressed, lonely…those who are marginalized.  The “poor” are those who had been ostracized by society in that day, persons such as tax collectors (who were quite wealthy actually), prostitutes, lepers, widows, immigrants, foreigners…you name it, those who weren’t “in”, but felt left out.  To be poor means more than simply not having material wealth, it means not being in community with others.  Poor has much more to do with status in society, it means much more than what your income is.  

Jesus was saying, if you feel marginalized because of others, then I have come to restore you in relationship with others and with God.  I have come to show you how to live into your “true self”, the person you’ve always wanted to be…and that the power to live that way has always been inside of you.  If you are poor or have ever felt marginalized or left out, if you have ever felt like you were on the outside looking in, then you know what it’s like to be in a desperate place, a place that is miserable…a place where you are hungering for good news of being included.

On a mission trip to Los Angeles with students and adult leaders from a previous church, Northminster, experienced this first hand.  Many of us thought that homelessness was a choice, especially in the wealthiest country that the world has ever known.  For some, it is, but for many, it wasn’t.  Our pre-conceived ideas, even our prejudices were confronted.  We found out that the homeless in this country have a higher percentage of high school degrees, and even college degrees, than the general public that have homes.  We began to understand that if you are homeless you are often spit upon, looked down upon, and forgotten as we worked in homeless shelters on Skid Row.  We also saw firsthand that if you go for several nights without much sleep, worrying about what may happen to you on the street, without the comfort of a true friend or community, that you may go a bit crazy as well and begin to talk nonsense to yourself.  Of course, many of us do that with a good night’s rest!  We also realized that there are only a couple of degrees of separation from us to the homeless and that they too are a part of our community that cannot be forgotten.

Jesus goes on to say in this morning’s text that he has come to proclaim freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, and to set the prisoners, the captives free, released!  He was proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.  He was saying in effect, God is on your side!  When you look at the life of Jesus, he backed this up.  What does he do with the prostitute, but forgives her and restores her to community.  What about the tax collector, the leper, the blind?  He forgives them and heals them, and always restores them to community with others and with God.  Not only does Jesus do that for them, but he does it for us.  All of us at one time have felt left out because of the actions of others or our own actions.  We have been marginalized, we have been captive to the desire for worldly status and wealth, we have been held prisoner to the desire to put ourselves first, above others, yet, Jesus has come to release us.  We are the oppressed that God has set free, and, through Jesus, has forgiven us, has cancelled our sins and the sins of the world and wants us to know that we have been released to live lives filled with meaning. 

Friends, the church is called to be the body of Christ and to participate in Christ’s mission.  We are called to live out and do what Jesus is proclaiming in this passage.  As the body of Christ, many of us are praying and asking questions about how we can be advocates against human trafficking and other injustices, much of my early work with the group Oasis was centered on the issue of human trafficking.  We are also asking how we can build up the communities around us that are fragmented, and how we can share Jesus through relationships, bringing good news to those who feel left out.  We are praying for how we can listen and even minister to those who live within our neighborhoods by simply being friends with them, while modeling the alternative community that we are called to be as a church.  

Identifying with Christ can be messy and uncomfortable.  When you look at the rest of this chapter in Luke 4, you see that the meaning of Jesus’ words didn’t bring a whole lot of good feelings in the crowd that was gathered.  The crowd wanted Jesus to tell them that they were favored, they wanted him to affirm their “way of life”, they wanted to see some of the miracles that he had performed in other places.  They were looking for a performance and not the community that Jesus was envisioning and Scripture and prophesied.  They wanted their version of “good news” to be good for them only.  They got frustrated and wanted to scapegoat Jesus and looked for ways to cause him harm.  Yet, Jesus’ message and life still went out and continues to this day working in and on us.  Jesus says that in order for news to be good, it has to be good for everyone.  Friends, may we be the body of Christ, bearing news that is truly good to a lost and lonely world.  We have been given the power to proclaim release to all of those held captive to a narrative of darkness as we model the light, the love of Christ.   In so doing, not only will the world see hope and experience release, but we will as well.  

May it be so.  


John 2:1-11

Jesus Changes Water Into Wine

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

This past weekend, I officiated the wedding of a former youth group kid, Pat Hasler, and his now wife, Danielle.  Pat is an amazing human being, great runner also…and it was a fun night celebrating with new and old friends!  Even his rehearsal dinner was great…it was at Great American Ballpark…it was simply an extravagant weekend!  

I love the gospel story because it is about family, community, and something new.  Jesus is at a wedding, enjoying himself with his friends and family, the disciples and his mom comes up with this problem.  The wedding has run out of wine…which is a huge “faux pas” in those days and an immense embarrassment.  Jesus’ mom wants Jesus to do something about it.  Jesus responds by saying “woman”, which may sound odd to us today, but the actual word translated is more of a term of respect and intimacy.  Jesus, who by this time is 30 years old, then says something like “oh Mom are you serious?” (in a very loving way I’m sure!).  Mary, Jesus’ mother sees something in her son that is special, she knows he is able to do something about this.  Jesus, then does something amazing.  Jesus takes ordinary water, water used to clean dirty feet (you see, in that part of the world it was pretty dusty and when you went into someone’s house, you cleaned your feet and hands pretty good), and turned into wine…what’s more, he turned it into the best wine that anyone at that party had ever tasted!  

At that point, people had been drinking a lot.  Usually, the best wine came out first, then after folks had a lot to drink, they’d bring out the cheap stuff.  But, the master of ceremonies tasted the best wine and remarked about the generosity of the bridegroom.  

Why did Jesus change the water to wine?  To show that there is something new going on in the world.  In a world that is crazy and where we often feel like ordinary water, or maybe even dirty toe jam water, as we walk through life and get dirty and grimey, there is hope.  When we meet Jesus, he  can take the ordinary or dirty water of our lives and turn it into the best wine ever tasted!  Jesus is saying in this story that he is something special, and, as we’ve talked about the past couple of weeks, Jesus is God in the flesh, he is the “visible image of the invisible God” at it says in Colossians.  Jesus is also saying that everyone is special in this story.  You see, I think that the family in this wedding party probably ran out of wine because they didn’t have a whole lot of money…so, when Jesus turned the water into wine, he turned SIX whole jars, HUGE jars into wine…more wine than they could have drunk.  Jesus not only transformed the water into wine and wants to transform our lives, Jesus blessed the whole wedding party beyond measure and wants to show you some amazing blessings and adventures in life.  One thing about Jesus, he is extravagant in his pursuit and love for us and for the community.  These were friends, family, members of Jesus’ family and neighbors.  The author of John is making a statement by having Jesus’ first public miracle happen at a wedding.  God is interested in overwhelming us with God’s love in practical and unforeseen ways…and this God is interested in blessing all of us together.  God’s good news, God’s presence isn’t for just a few, it’s for everyone.

This passage has also been said to give witness to the passing of the old law based on rules, regulations, and works to the new demonstration of God’s presence with humanity.  One of grace, personal love, and on God’s works on our behalf not our own.  

Just like Jesus wants us to experience the blessing of friendship with God and others in order to live lives into something beautiful, new wine, God wants us to have a change of heart of on our religion, how we live our faith, our very lives.

In our faith, in our way of not just showing up at church, but being church, we so often settle for the way things have always been.  We want to know what to expect and to control things.  We want a predictable faith, a predictable religion, a predictable God.   In so doing, we often make decisions and act upon those decisions that are comfortable and do not depict a faith in God, or even ourselves…leaving us feeling like grimey, dirty, used up foot washing toe jam water.   It’s a religion that does us no good.  And that’s a religion that we simply don’t need….and many people have come to the same conclusion and walk away from their faith.

Yet, we then come to something unpredictable, like a wedding, or a funeral, or an action that someone does for us, and we see God’s goodness breaking in.  

In that goodness, God takes our religion, our very selves, and turns it into something beautiful.  We are overwhelmed with God’s presence and extravagant love.  

The last thing about this turning of water into wine.  Jesus fills 6 barrels.  That’s a lot of wine.  Jesus didn’t want folks to feel like they didn’t have enough.  He also didn’t want them to simply seal up those barrels and not share…he poured them out for the entire wedding party!  In those days, weddings were for the whole community and they lasted for days!

Friends, Jesus wants to remind us that we are loved and are called to love ourselves, others, and God with extravagance…to pour out the good wine of God’s faith in us, God’s love for us, God’s religion or binding to us, to all in our neighborhood…and, in so doing, we’ll find ourselves experiencing the life of the greatest party we could ever imagine!


Luke 3:15-17,Luke 3:21-22

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.”

The Baptism of Jesus

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.”

I’ve shared this story before.  But it seems pretty important in this season, as I’ve been thinking a lot about Robbie Waddles.  When I was 8 years old, my best friend, Rob was baptized.  When I saw him get baptized, I thought that was pretty cool.  I love Robbie, still do.  We did literally everything together growing up.  He died at age 46, unexpectedly…which is sad, because he was an amazing human…English professor, musician, athlete…and he believed in me, and I in him.  Growing up, if Robbie did it, I was going to do it. 

So, I asked my parents if I could be baptized.  We set-up a meeting with our Baptist pastor, we talked about it, I got real excited…and the next Sunday, I was immersed in this huge tank that was in our Sanctuary behind our choir. 

I did not want to wait, I wanted to get in and get it done.  

I don’t remember much about my conversation with our Baptist preacher.  I just remember that it was something that my best friend did and he was glad…and it sure did make my parents happy.  

In our reformed UCC understanding of Baptism, we believe it to be a sign of God’s faithfulness to us.  It has much more to do with God’s actions on our behalf through Jesus than our actions.  It is also a seal that God puts on us…God’s “signature” if you will.  Baptism marks us as a people living in community with God.  God seals us to God’s self.  We may not always live that way, but in affect, God is saying that he won’t give up on us and that he believes in us.

As Jesus comes up from the water, there is a voice from heaven, God’s voice that has these amazing lines from our gospel lesson this am.  “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I’m well pleased”.

Jesus is God in the flesh, the flesh part means that Jesus represents all of us to God and God is represents to all of us through Jesus.  Jesus says elsewhere in Scripture that if you want to see what God looks like, look at him.  In our Christian understanding, God is three persons that are of the same substance.  They mutually indwell in each other’s being in such a tight community, even sharing the same essence, so much so that they are one God and speak as one.  Jesus is unique in that he is divine, yet also human. 

James Torrance, one of the great Scottish Torrance brothers who were writers, theologians, philosophers, and pastors says this about Jesus’ baptism: 

“When he [Jesus] saw the people going down to the river to be baptized by John, confessing their sins, submitting to the verdict of guilty (which is repentance), Jesus said to John, ‘baptize me!  I will submit to the verdict of guilty for them!’  He identified himself with sinners, the he might take their place…”

Jesus’ baptism is for all of humanity.  

This action by Jesus demonstrates the whole of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and even resurrection.  Jesus came to give us life.  We share the same essence as Jesus.  It’s wild, but what it means for us today is that when God looks at us, he sees Jesus and the words of this passage are also addressed to us.  God is well pleased with us!  We are God’s beloved. We often forget that we are God’s beloved…we live as if we are God.  Actually, we are God’s heart.  And, when we look deep into our selves, our true selves, we find God waiting for us there.  

Jesus came to restore us to our true identity.  Baptism signifies a death of our old selves, the old self that lives in its pathologies and old ways of thinking, when we are put under the water.  When we come up, we are reminded that God has cleansed us and that there is new life.

Paul addresses this in Romans 5:5-6; 13-14: 

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 

13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

We have been freed to live as our true selves, the persons that God created us to be.  My understanding of sin is that it’s always relational.  We hurt ourselves, others, we betray and are betrayed in all of our relationships when we are not living authentically as best as we can as our true selves…and God wants us to be in authentic relationships…where we can be honest, brave, vulnerable, and real.  Righteousness is a relational term.  As is it says in verse 13, we are called to be instruments of righteousness, to live lives that are filled with grace for ourselves and others as we receive it from God.  

Having said all of this…it seems to me like many of us, including myself, are still waiting for something to happen in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  And we come to seasons like the one we are in now, when things maybe are not going as we had planned, yet we find God in the midst of life situations that we never thought we’d be in…God moving in the midst of chaos, darkness, broken relationships.  

Jesus has done the work and this Jesus is calling us to stop waiting and move into his actions for us that can bring us a new way of thinking, a new way of living, a rebirth.  

This rebirth is in constant motion.  Since Jesus is God, Jesus doesn’t end, therefore Jesus’ actions are sealed forever with us, just as we are sealed with Jesus.  At 54 years of age, I am again realizing deeply what it means to present myself to God and others as someone who has been brought from death to life and to be truly “present” to God and others.  This season of so much loss in my life, I am realizing that losing everything, means to gain everything.   My reality, my true self, is found in Jesus as the great Catholic writer, Thomas Merton says:  

“Our reality, our true self, is hidden in what appears to us to be nothingness….We can rise above this unreality and recover our hidden reality….God Himself begins to live in me not only as my Creator but as my other and true self.”

God, the Creator, wants you to know that life, real life, is happening through God’s constant actions in and around you.  There is new life, this rebirth, as signified in baptism!  God is doing a new thing as the writer in Isaiah says:

18 o not remember the former things,

    or consider the things of old.

19 I am about to do a new thing;

    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

We may be living in a dry place in our lives.  We may be having a hard time forgiving someone or being forgiven.  Maybe you are waiting for something to happen in your life, but you aren’t sure what that is.  You may want desperately to experience something new.  Friends, We don’t have time to live in regrets, the waiting is over, it’s time to grow up and live, really live as we learn to love ourselves, God, and others.  As Yale divinity professor and author Miroslav Volf says that in our journey, we remember truthfully, we condemn wrong deeds, we heal, we repent, have a change, and we end by letting go of the memory of wrongdoing as we are reconciled through Christ.  

Jesus has brought a new thing and wants us to live reconciled and reset lives as we enter into new reality that is fully present with each other.  You, and our community, have been baptized in Christ.  The old life has gone, and a new reality is upon us.  May we stop waiting and live in the reality of God’s Presence within us, around us, and follow God’s movement towards all of humanity in the streets and neighborhood around us.


John 1:1-18 (NRSV)

The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,[e] who is close to the Father’s heart,who has made him known.

In our lives this past year, we may have experienced things that have been bleak, dark, and we may have felt like we are in an “in-between place” as well.  We may have been sensing that a change is necessary, we have longed for the warmth of hope, just as we may have longed for the hope of warm sunshine in the spring after a long winter.  Our days get shorter, we experience darkness as we move through the changing seasons.

The changing of seasons is a good metaphor for our worshipping community called Fleming Road UCC.  At times this past year, it has felt like it has been a place of searching and change.  As a collective group of persons, it seems like we have been in an “in-between” place.  We may fill like we are on our way towards something, but we are still incomplete, not fully there.  We have wanted to change and grow in new directions, we’ve had four full with a new pastor, we’ve been working on what it means to be a “community engaged” church, we are experiencing new relationships coming into the building even as we go out into the neighborhood.  All of this is good, we are moving towards something, people inside the church and outside have remarked that there’s something different at Fleming Road UCC, and even different in our own lives, but we are still in between and not yet fully where we are called to be.  

The very definition of the “darkness” means to be in a state of dark, it is an abstract noun.  Yet, it does not mean that one is “dark”, just living in a state of darkness.  That “state” or existence can be changed.  

Try an experiment this week.  Go into a dark room.  Pause for a moment, take in the darkness, look into it.  Then turn on a light and notice the difference.  Notice the change.

Our identity as Jesus followers gives us hope for in the midst of darkness and change, Jesus says this in Matthew 4:16 quoting from Isaiah.  

the people who sat in darkness

    have seen a great light,

and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death

    light has dawned.”

Sitting in darkness can really be disorienting.  We feel lost, yet the darkness does point us toward a need for light.  

In darkness, we cannot see others around us as we should.   We stumble around often in relationships and because we are not able to see, we experience a break in relationship from folks because of something we’ve done or said, or something that was done or said to us.  Or we simply grow apart over time.  We often sit in darkness and darkness often leads to brokenness which can feel like living in the shadow of death.  

I love the band Over the Rhine, one of their song lyrics is “All my favorite people are broken”.  I love that line, we are all in the same boat.  None of us are competent or good enough to get through this life deal without experiencing darkness, lostness, or brokenness.  The difference is how much light we want shining on our lives to expose us in our darkness.  

Actually, more than that…we need darkness in our lives in order to grow into our truest selves…its only after everything is taken away, not seen, before we can be truly seen for who we are and to see that ourselves…why is that?  Because we construct so much artificial light that we think will keep the darkness away, we build lives of comfort and deceive ourselves in believing that we can control when the darkness comes.  We can’t…all we can do is lean into it, embrace it, and walk through it…knowing that as we stumble about, that we are also able to see deeper because we have to…

A former spiritual director of mine, Todd Long, gave me a great book a while ago by Parker Palmer called  Let Your Life Speak, In it Parker talks about depression and darkness.  He states that we need to embrace our wholeness as persons in those dark moments, look into them, and use them as times of understanding who we are, our true selves as Thomas Merton, the great catholic philosopher and mystic might say.  

Parker says this in his book:  

Over the years, the befriending intent of this figure never disappeared but became obscured by the frustration caused by my refusal to turn around. Since shouts and taps, stones and sticks had failed to do the trick, there was only one thing left: drop the nuclear bomb called depression on me, not with the intent to kill but as a last-ditch effort to get me to turn and ask the simple question, “What do you want?” When I was finally able to make the turn– and start to absorb and act on the self-knowledge that then became available to me– I began to get well. 

The figure calling to me all those years was, I believe, what Thomas Merton calls “true self.” This is not the ego self that wants to inflate us (or deflate us, another from of self-distortion), not the intellectual self that wants to hover above the mess of life in clear but ungrounded ideas, not the ethical self that wants to live by some abstract moral code. It is the self-planted in us by the God who made us in God’s own image– the self that wants nothing more, or less, than for us to be who we were created to be. 


True self is true friend. One ignores or rejects such friendship only at one’s peril.” 

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Our passage from John gives us a glimpse of where real life comes from, or who it comes through.  Jesus is described as the light that shines into our lives, exposing everything through love, and enabling us to move through the darkness in our lives to find out true selves.  Jesus not only sheds light, but gives us an example to follow, an example of service and generosity and deep awareness of his true self, others, and the divine presence all around him and us.  Listen to these words from Eugene Peterson’s translation of our gospel text:  

6-8 There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

9-13 The Life-Light was the real thing:
    Every person entering Life
    he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
    the world was there through him,
    and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
    but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
    who believed he was who he claimed
    and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
    their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
    not blood-begotten,
    not flesh-begotten,
    not sex-begotten.

14 The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

Friends, like a thief in the night, we can let darkness overwhelm us, but that is not our identity, that is not our true selves, we may live in darkness, but there is a light in the depth of that darkness…and this great light has entered the world and our lives…actually, this great light has been in us all along…made in God’s image means that God put God’s self in us from the beginning…”in the beginning was the word, and the word…”. 

 As we stumble around in the darkness, may we go deep as we seek out light.  

Jesus, the light of the world, entered into our neighborhood, became flesh and bone just like us.  God made God’s dwelling, with us!!!  In us!!!  All around us!  Jesus is a visible expression of that divine expression that we encompasses us and invites us to the work of awareness to live into…

Jesus came to reveal to us what it means to live in the fullness of who we are called to be in our truest selves.  We have received grace upon grace, we are given new opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to experience rebirth even in the midst of the in-between times.  The light of Jesus is here, we may not always like what we see, it may cause us to ask deep questions, but the light does transform us and can bring us into places of beauty in our lives, in our neighborhood, work, and even in our church!  

This light was the word made flesh, Jesus, who invites us into sacred moments where we can catch glimpses of God’s glory, and our glory, and experience fullness with others and with God.