Matthew 5:1-12New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Beatitudes

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Ethos is an interesting word.  It simply means the characteristic of a culture, a person, or an organization.  What are the things that guide us?  


  • What is a guiding characteristic of our culture?
  • What is a personal guiding characteristic that you try to live by?
  • What about an organization that you belong to?
  • What about Fleming Road UCC?

These are all interesting characteristics.  I would also say that we can present an ethos or character statements in our lives or in our church that can help guide us and give us meaning and purpose.  

For example, my friends at Oasis have five ethos statements that define what they value and how they operate: 

  • a passion to include everyone
  • a desire to treat everyone equally, respecting differences
  • a commitment to healthy and open relationships
  • a deep sense of hope that things can change and be transformed
  • a sense of perseverance to keep going for the long haul 

In our church’s Elemental Vision, Values, and Goals work, you can say they are also a part of an ethos that is developing…we still have work to do as we all know on this…but, it is coming together more clearly as we sit with it and chew on it and develop it more.

  • Our vision:  engaging neighborhood, partners, churches.
  • Our values:  authenticity, partnerships, diversity, spiritual gifts, and leadership.
  • Our goals:
    • Create opportunities for authentic engagement and welcome through new and existing events.
    • By 2024, Fleming Road UCC is a recognized community presence.
    • Increase community outreach through the use of the building facilities.
    • Creating congregational affinity.

Again this is a work in progress and it can be summed up in an ethos of awareness I believe that will evolve and continue to lead us towards more clarity of who we are as persons and a congregation…and even encourage deeper faith and trust. 

Our gospel lesson this morning also gives us the ethos of what it means to live in Christ, practices that we should live into.  We call them the beatitudes.  The word beatitude means blessing.  One of the things about reading the beatitudes is to understand that these are not commandments.  They are an ethos or a characteristic of what it means to live in the Kingdom of God, the Presence or reality that this is God’s world and we are God’s and we are called to follow God.

So, if you are a peacemaker, you are blessed.  If you show mercy, you are blessed, if you are meek, you are blessed and will inherit the earth.  If you mourn, you are blessed and you will find comfort.  If you are persecuted, you are blessed because of righteousness…in other words, because you have lived in right relationships with others, worked on making those relationships good, then when persecution comes, when the bullies do their thing, you are blessed and your right relationships always works towards kingdom values and kingdom awareness…and, bullies or the unrighteous actions of others eventually simply waste away to nothing…like chafe in the wind.  They don’t have lasting meaning.

Now, what the beatitudes aren’t asking for is moral perfection.  When scripture says to be perfect as God is perfect, we tend to put our cultural ethos of doing things right or being right into this statement…we think as the Greeks did or in a dualistic way.  But, in Hebrew and Aramaic, it is odd to speak of God as morally perfect.  Dr. Glen Stassen and Dr. David Gushee in their book, Kingdom Ethics, state that the word perfect in biblical sense means to be complete or all-inclusive in your love…especially in your love for enemies.  

It’s easy to love your friends, but to go out of your way to bless and love your enemies.  That’s truly counter cultural.  Yet, that’s the message of Jesus throughout the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus isn’t teaching impossible moral ideals, Jesus is teaching an ethos of all inclusive and committed love that perseveres through all circumstances.  That’s a hard teaching for many, but when you can move towards that, things shift in your life in the lives of others.

Ghandi understood that, Martin Luther King understood that…the great changes in history happened as folks followed the way of Jesus.  Even Ghandi modeled his non-violent protests in many ways on the life of Jesus.  Living in the way of Jesus does come at a cost, you have to move from comfort to courage in life, but it gives you the peace you long for in your own life, and it can bring peace to others…it can even usher an awareness of the Kingdom of God.

David Gushee and Glen Stassen also go on to say that there is a threefold pattern in Jesus’ teachings on the Mount.  There is a teaching on what it means to be in right relationship, a vicious cycle meant to tell the listeners that one can’t settle for the way they’ve always lived, and a transforming initiative that says if you live in a characteristic or ethos of authentic love, you’ll be aware of God’s presence and that will change you and give you the growth you desire.

People in this world are craving for this kind of teaching, because it not only cultivates a relationship with God, but also action and an ethos that is worth living into.  We can see that in Jesus’ time, crowds came to hear this teaching.  The early disciples experienced amazing growth that changed the course of history through this teaching.  Folks today are leaving the church in droves because we’ve gone away from this ethos, but my bet is that if we taught this and lived this, people would want to embrace again the teachings of Jesus and want to see real change in all aspects of our personal lives and in the lives we live together in our church, community, our city, and our country.  In many ways, many of us here at Immanuel are already are already living into this Kingdom ethos as a church, it’s simply a matter of naming it and living into it.  As our church goes through some strategic visioning this year, defining our ‘ethos’ and how we live into that will be a central part of our discussions.  

God has been pleading with us to live this way throughout history, our old testament lesson today in Micah says that God has a “controversy with” God’s people…God simply requires us to live good by honoring God and others by doing justice, and loving kindness, and to walking humbly with your God.  And our passage in Psalms tells us that those who practice this will abide in God’s big and expansive tent!    

God has made God’s tent with us and walks with us, all of us.  May we recognize God’s walking with us, beside us, before us, behind us, and walk in humility with God and God’s loving ethos for us, all of us.   We cannot turn our backs on the refugee, on persons of different skin color, sexual orientation, economic status, or whether they are new or old to our country or our church.  What’s amazing is that Fleming Road UCC strives to do this, it’s been a part of the ethos of this congregation in many ways.  We can live into the ethos that God has given us with the opportunities right at our doorstep.  We can be a blessing and be blessed, or we can live drifting from one distraction to another, and miss out on the goodness that God has created within us and around us.  But, I believe that’s not us at our core, we want to move boldly and with courage to the future God has for us! 


Old Testament Reading

Psalm 27:1, 4-9

Triumphant Song of Confidence

Of David.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strongholdof my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
    he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
    be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, do I seek.
    Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,
    you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
    O God of my salvation.

New Testament Reading

Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 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.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus Ministers to Crowds of People

23 Jesuswent throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Our passage from Matthew this morning finds Jesus hearing that his cousin, John has been arrested so he retreats to Galilee.   Jesus, like all of us, needs time to retreat, regroup, process what he’s just learned.  So, he goes…along the way, it says that there is a prophecy fulfilled, the people in the lands that Jesus walked through, saw a great light.  Something has changed…there is light in the midst of darkness.  

The darkness at that time is probably much like it is today, folks are disconnected from one another, there are powers both inwardly and outwardly at work that keep people from living freely as they were created.  Powers inside of us that leave us that leave us enslaved to self-doubt, immobility, loneliness…powers that manifest themselves through consumption, selfishness, and a lack of self and others awareness.  We are isolated.  Those powers on the outside of us are similar as well, in our text, they are demonstrated in civic and religious power holders who want to maintain a sense of control and project power and relevance through fear and anxiety.

We are all in this darkness, enslaved.  And yet, darkness is sometimes necessary to walk through.  It’s only when we are in darkness like the people of Israel were in our gospel text, like they were in the old testament often, and how we are in our own lives now, can we grow and lean towards the light when we see it.  

There is a certain sense of passing in this passage, Jesus and John are relatives, there is continuity in their ministry as well as a discontinuity as John hands off his ministry to Jesus.  John knows it’s time to let go….that Jesus’ love and presence is being made known to folks and that there is a need for a new story, a new narrative to emerge.

Jesus steps through these areas mentioned carrying with a message of release, of freedom, and of being empowered through connection and inclusion with others and with a God who loves us and moves in, through, and around us bringing his an expansive view of the world filled with empathy, meaning, purpose, love.  

Jesus also continues John’s message of repentance…it is a reoccurring theme in Scripture.  When someone encounters this God that wants to free us, and encounter that is both deep within us and outside of us, drawing us closer to to our truest self as as well as a deep connection to others, it can create within us a change of heart and mind, we can experience a conversion, a transformation.  But, we have to come through darkness and want to move towards the light….and we can’t settle for divided lives but to live in awareness of embracing all that we are, which is being made in God’s image, and to be committed to one another and to God as God calls us to live in Christ and to follow the example of Jesus.

The next few verses give witness to folks responding to Jesus’ call to them and giving up everything, right at that moment to follow him.  Now, it’s unusual in those days for a rabbi as Jesus was to call his followers to follow him.  They usually sought him out, but Jesus seeks out Andrew and his brother Simon.  He sees them fishing and tells them to follow him and become fishers of men.  He doesn’t tell them to form a study, a committee, or go to seminary, he tells them to simply do something they understand.  Fish.  But, to go after others, to pursue friendships with others and include them into community.

Now, every Jewish boy wants to have a rabbi, Andrew and Simon may have felt like their time had passed them by, they were fishing with their father, we don’t know how old they were…but, it’s safe to say that they probably weren’t the first choices…but, they recognized something in Jesus, something good and beautiful, and said yes with their actions.  

Someone I’ve enjoyed getting to know over the years in the few conversations we’ve had is Jill Rowe, she talks about saying “yes”.  Several years ago, her London church said yes when the British government called them on a Wednesday to see if they’d take in 500 teenage refugees on a Friday, two days away.  Her pastor said yes…then they worked out to find homes for those kids…and they did!  A few months later, they have a thriving ministry to refugee children.  

It kind of reminds me of when our church said yes very quickly to the request from our Ukrainian friends last year to host a food festival.

Jill has a church that is incredibly diverse and filled with folks of all ages.  Jill talks about how so many folks are turned off by the church in general, we focus so much on minor things and people just get tired.  They want to simply “get on with it” Jill says, get on with loving others, working on awareness, and serving others…saying Yes to God’s call.

My friend Dr. Walter Brueggemann shared with me a new phrase a few years ago…people today want to move towards a post-critical scriptural adrenaline.  We can poke all sorts of holes in scripture, that’s fine, but we are still left with the stories that have power in them…they are stories of God’s YES to us and a call for us to say YES to God and each other.  

Many times, when Jesus approaches us, we can try to close him off…or we can say Yes to what he’s asking of us…and change the world, starting with ourselves and the neighborhood in which we live!  Yes, to refugees in London, or here at home, yes to Ukrainians, Nepalis, to Arts Connect, and to so many others, even for starting the church as Andrew and Simon did…and certainly saying yes to yourself.  You are not a sinner in the hands of an angry or displeased God, you are beautiful and loved by a God who constantly says YES to your being human and divine…a God who resides within you and all around you…

Saying Yes, to Jesus can be crazy, adventurous, and overwhelming…sometimes the following may take us into dark places…but, we are not alone.  Our identity as Christians is simply to live in Christ….to be Christ’s matter, Christ’s body in a world so fragmented.  Friends, this world is crying out for those of us who claim to live in Christ, to be be Jesus followers to get on with it, and live into transformational relationships.  


Old Testament Readings 

Psalm 40:1-11 

Thanksgiving for Deliverance and Prayer for Help 

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm. 

1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.

2 He drew me up from the desolate pit,
 out of the miry bog,
 and set my feet upon a rock,
 making my steps secure.

3 He put a new song in my mouth,
 a song of praise to our God.
 Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD. 

4 Happy are those who make
 the LORD their trust,
 who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.

5 You have multiplied, O LORD my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you.
 Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
 they would be more than can be counted. 

6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
 but you have given me an open ear.
 Burnt offering and sin offering
 you have not required.

 7 Then I said, “Here I am;
 in the scroll of the book it is written of me.

 8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”

9 I have told the glad news of deliverance
 in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
 as you know, O LORD.

10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
 I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
 from the great congregation. 

11 Do not, O LORD, withhold
 your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
 keep me safe forever. 

New Testament Reading 

John 1:29-42 

The Lamb of God 

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

 The First Disciples of Jesus 

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simonto Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). 

Such a great psalm reading, one of my favorites. It’s also a psalm that the rock band U-2 plays at the end of most of their concerts. It’s a longing of the heart, how long must we sing this song? We long for life to somehow come together in some way, or even deeper, for life to be lived where we know others and are known by others…as well as knowing 

God and God knowing us. 

It’s amazing to be in an area or a stadium when Bono sings this song “40”, which is basically Psalm 40. 100,000 people fill these stadiums and sing this song at the top of their lungs. When I look around I see folks with tears in their eyes. Now, U2 is not a christian band, they are simply a popular rock band who happen to have a deep sense of God’s presence in their lives. 

I often think, wow, why can’t the church be like those stadium experiences? Not the production, but the feeling of deep connection. Now, church happens all of the time, it’s happening in those concerts, it happens down the street, and it happens in here. I see folks all of the time that want church, they want to connect to the deeper longings of their lives. They want to see God and to know that God sees them. 

However, those of us in the church often get caught up in so much other things, that we forget that church, the body of Christ, is supposed to be a community of authentic friends going after this longing for God. There are important things like buildings, programs, meetings, etc. Often, we also are not able to let go of certain destructive things in relationships, it’s hard being in community together, isn’t it? We have so many different thoughts, emotions, opinions…we sometimes seemingly can’t get on the same page or even the same chapter. The church as we know it can become a place where we can’t see God because of our focus on our stuff…it leads us towards a blindness. Yet, we still long for something more…we still long for relationships within ourselves, others, and God to be made well. 

What amazes me about Fleming Road UCC, is that this church has the same issues as most churches, yet there is a core of us that stay with this, we are committed to one another and to working through things and you include others. Most folks in society give up, move on, become church refugees. That’s not a judgment on them or us, it’s understandable. Yet, here, I know we have issues, but we are willing to have the patience to stick with it, to stick with each other I believe. 

So, the psalmist goes on to say that as we wait, we should wait patiently, and God hears our cry, God sets us up on a rock. 

Our gospel passage this morning finds John, the cousin of Jesus, proclaiming to the world that Jesus is the messiah, the promised one. This passage has a lot of verbs like, “look”, “see”, “behold”, all coming from the same greek root word. Have eyes opened to the reality of God in the flesh before us. 

John goes on to say that this Jesus is the lamb of God. The lamb who sacrifices every- thing for us out of love. There is a motif in scripture that humanity is always looking for a scapegoat….someone or something that we can blame our issues on rather than dealing with them ourselves and doing the hard work of self awareness and risking vulnerability. 

In Jewish custom, lambs or goats were offered as sacrifices, that’s where we get the term scapegoating. They believed that they could place their sins, their shortcomings on a sacrificial animal and release it in the wild to wander away with their sins or selfishness and give them a fresh start…or kill that animal. 

Jesus comes on to the scene. Jesus loves well and looks into the lives of others with grace and inclusion. Jesus is scapegoated because the religious leaders of that time and others were exposed in their shortcomings and put on to Jesus their issues…which led him to the cross where he became the scapegoat for us all. Jesus took it on and overcome being a scapegoat…Jesus love even overcame death and led to resurrection. 

This is key for us in our understanding of the way of Jesus. Jesus took on our stuff, didn’t let it define him, absorbed it, and then nailed it with him to a tree…he let it die and then resurrected to new life that he shares with us. 

Our passage also shares that others saw Jesus’ belief in them, Jesus’ willingness to love and brought folks to them. Andrew, a disciple of Jesus, always seems to be introducing others to Jesus…which makes sense, when we are excited about our relationship with someone, we want to connect them to others. It’s good to pause here and ask ourselves, do we sense Jesus’ love for us so much that we want to introduce Jesus to others like Andrew? 

When Andrew is introduced, Jesus asks, what is that you want? That’s also a good question for us. We are the church, the body of Christ, what do we want in meeting Jesus? And, are we ok with playing church or do we really want to experience relationship with Jesus? 

If we do want relationship, that changes everything. First century Judaism understood that names meant something, they had meaning. We get that on some level today. But, devout Jews knew that if you knew someone’s name, if you had their name, that brought a sense of knowing and of submitting to someone else. It was vulnerable to someone else to know one’s name. 

Jesus was introduced to others, he was given their names, and then he did something remarkable, when he met Simon, he gave him a new name, Peter, which means rock. Later he would say that Peter, would be the rock that the church would stand. 

Friends, may we also know that Jesus has given us that same name, we are the rock. We wait patiently for the Lord, he hears our plea, then he sets us upon a rock…a rock that isn’t a building or a system, but a relationship that is a sure foundation in a world that can often be shifting underneath us. And, we have friends that we love…and as we fall in love with Jesus, we want to love them as Jesus loved them and help them, as well as ourselves, find the new name that God is giving to us.


Psalm 42

Longing for God and God’s Help in Distress

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
    so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
    the face of God?

My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me continually,
    “Where is your God?”

These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng[
    and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
    a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise God,
my help

    and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep
    at the thunder of your torrents;
all your waves and your billows
    have gone over me.

Matthew 3:13-17

The Baptism of Jesus

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

I love the outdoors.  I love to rock climb, hike, camp…and of course, I love to run.  These are all activities that I enjoy that are on solid ground.  I don’t particularly like water sports though.  I do enjoy kayaking and canoeing and I love going to the beach…but, I don’t particularly enjoy swimming.   I have confidence and skill in the other activities, but not swimming.  As a kid, I learned to fake swimming pretty well, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know how to swim.  It wasn’t until I was an adult, in my mid-twenties, when a good friend Jay Borck, who knew I wasn’t confident in my swimming, taught me.

My lack of confidence in swimming was evident on a vacation years ago.  Some very good friends of ours offered to us their family’s condo near a beach in Florida for vacation.  It was a great vacation filled with great memories with our family. One of the days we were there, we went to a state park that was known for snorkeling.  We spent a lot of time in several locations looking at some great fish and other sea life, but the water was fairly shallow and I could stand.  At one point, I found myself pretty far from the rest of my family.  They were one side of this lagoon and I was one some rocks on the other side.  I had gone around the side as the middle was fairly deep.  To save time, I decided to swim across the middle that was only about 40-50 yards.  I started to panic a bit when I realized that it was so deep that I could no longer see the bottom.  I was overwhelmed but kept on kicking.  I really wanted to get to the other side, I wanted to be with my family, but the path that I took was pretty scary for me.  

Being in deep water can overwhelm a lot of us.  But, we could be feeling overwhelmed with lots of things in like issues in our families, or our own inner thoughts that we are scared to deal with or simply cannot process.  Maybe we are overwhelmed with some sort of addiction or obsession that we cannot seem to get out of or get release from.  Maybe we are overwhelmed with financial pressures or issues with co-workers or bosses.  Even in church, where we are supposed to have safe haven, and even when we feel like we know how to swim metaphorically in the body of water called church, we can feel overwhelmed.  

Maybe we can relate to this quote from the book, Breathing Underwater, by Richard Rohr:  

“I built my house by the sea. Not on the sands, mind you; not on the shifting sand. And I built it of rock. A strong house by a strong sea. And we got well acquainted, the sea and I. Good neighbors. Not that we spoke much. We met in silences. Respectful, keeping our distance, but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand. Always, the fence of sand our barrier, always, the sand between.   And then one day, —and I still don’t know how it happened— the sea came. Without warning.   Without welcome, not even sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand like wine, less like the flow of water than the flow of blood. Slow, but coming. Slow, but flowing like an open wound. And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning and I thought of death. And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it reached my door. And I knew then, there was neither flight, nor death, nor drowning. That when the sea comes calling you stop being well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance, neighbors…you give your house for a coral castle, And you learn to breathe underwater.” 

Richard Rohr, Breathing Underwater

During times of feeling overwhelmed, if we are facing them alone or keeping the issues facing us to ourselves and not leaning into them, adapting…we can experience a deep sense of despair and brokenness.  I was grateful to have my family there with me at the lagoon that day (knowing that they are all excellent swimmers!) and for my friend Jay Borck whom I could share my embarrassment of not knowing how to swim and to have him be my friend and offer to help.

I learned, and continue to learn, to trust what is given in the moment in life.  

We can also be overwhelmed in a good way.  We can learn to live in new ways when things happen to us.  We can learn to “breathe underwater” and go to some of the deeper places in life and even find rebirth in the midst of whatever is washing over us.  We can learn to appreciate friends like Jay and so many others and my family, not out of what they can do for us, but out of our deep love that we find within ourselves.  Knowing that they are not simply there to rescue us, but to love us as we love them.  We can then be overwhelmed with the depth in those relationships and the community that God has given us, or communion if you will.  We may realize that we may not have much in material wealth, but we are wealthy beyond imagination in relationship with ourselves and one another as we live in the depth of the flow of God’s Presence!

God longs to be in community with us, to be in relationship with us.  And we also have a longing for God.  We are hard wired for relationship and something inside us compels us to seek out the source for relationships.  We have a desire to be connected.  We can relate to the words of Psalm 42 that were read this morning.  

The Psalmist does not long to be in relationship with an idea, concept or emotion, but an encounter with a living God.  The imagery of a deer panting for water gives testimony that God is the source of life.  We all need water to survive!  As a runner, I know that if I don’t drink enough water, I will get dehydrated.  I thirst for water.  Coke doesn’t work, other drinks don’t work as well either, I long for water.  The Psalmist is desperate for God, not a substitute.   In verse 5 of Psalm 42, the writer describes his soul as being downcast and that they are desperate for God’s Presence.

Psalm 42:7 gives witness to the depth experienced in this relationship:  7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Psalm 42:7, TNIV)

Deep calls to deep.  God calls us out of the depth of God’s love and desire for relationship and we experience a depth of desire for that love.  God is the author of relationship and of love.  God is deep within all of us, crying out for God’s very self to God…and to the depth of God in each one of us, all of us.  All of the world and creation really.  It is overwhelming, like a waterfall or waves breaking over us on the beach.  

A few years ago I went on vacation with my family to Philadelphia to visit my brother-in-law, Paul.  My other brother-in-law, Johnny, and his family went with us.  We had a great time together.  One of our day trips was to Rehoboth Beach, DE.  We spent the day playing in the waves and building sandcastles.  I also spent some time walking around the boardwalk there by myself.  It was a great time of remembering a summer that I spent in Rehoboth beach 36 years ago after my freshman year in college.  It was a time of deep loneliness for me and questioning of my faith.  I remembered sitting on the boardwalk one night at 19 listening to the waves and asking where God was and if God understood me and if he even existed.  Over that summer, as I had more times of sitting on that beach, listening to the waves, the Bible became alive to me as I read it new ways with new eyes, the eyes of suffering and being overwhelmed…eyes that were seeing God within me suffering along with me and with all people!  Through so many others, and a new power or depth within me, I began to see a God who not only was real, but was within me and even experienced what I experience in our shared humanity.  God was even with me in my doubting and questioning.

The Gospel lesson from Matthew this morning demonstrates God’s deep longing to be with us and to share in life with us through Jesus.  It’s the story of Jesus’ baptism where God’s love is poured out over Jesus.

John the Baptist, the one who had been calling people to repentance and announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand, tried to talk Jesus out of being baptized, saying that Jesus should be baptizing him.  But, something else was at work.  Jesus was demonstrating a deep relational reality and promise.  Jesus is proclaiming that through his life, God and humanity were joined together.  That he was God in the flesh and that this God was entering into all of the messiness and brokenness of humanity.  He was identifying with us and our need for forgiveness and repentance.

TF Torrance says this:  “When he saw the people going down to the river…being baptized, confessing their sins, submitting to their verdict of guilty…Jesus said to John, ‘Baptize me!  I will submit…”

Jesus submitted to baptism.  He demonstrated to us that he is present with us and asks us to respond by following his example.  By doing so, we are participating in Jesus’ baptism for us.  It’s a crazy, beautiful deal.  It is deep calling into deep.  By submitting to baptism, Jesus is signifying that humanity is forgiven through his actions on our behalf.  Jesus is also fulfilling a promise that God is with us, completely…not just part of God, but all of God.  

After Jesus is baptized, there is an amazing statement from a voice from heaven saying:  “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  Since Jesus represents all of humanity, that voice in effect is saying to all of us, “”YOU are all my children, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  God has come to us, God has entered into our brokenness, and God’s Spirit which demonstrates perfect love is with us today and wants to open our ears and eyes to a God who is telling us that he is well pleased with us, that we have his approval and we have his Presence.

Baptism symbolizes to us much about God’s faithfulness to us through Jesus’ actions for us.  We are now going recognized our new slate of officers, reminding them, and all of us, our communion, our coming together…and we are also about to participate in another action that Jesus practiced, gave us:  the Lord’s Supper.  In this sacrament or “sacred moment” we celebrate God’s community with us.  As we break the bread, we are reminded that we are Christ’s body and Christ is present with us in our brokenness.  As we pour the wine (or grape juice in our case) we are reminded that Jesus has poured his life out for us and into us and we are called to receive it and to revel in this reality to world that is broken and in need of God’s communion.  The very word “communion” has a meaning of community and union.  We are not alone.  Friends, may we experience God’s waves of love crashing over us as deep calls into deep and as we are reminded of God’s faithfulness to us and to our community.


Matthew 2:13-23

The Escape to Egypt

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

The Massacre of the Infants

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Egypt

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazarene.

It is interesting to see how our world defines kings or power.  We are all about the sense of regality, of power and a sense of certitude that a king can bring.  The idea that a new king has been born is a part of the Christmas message.  What gets missed in the Christmas message though is that the story doesn’t end with Jesus’ birth in a manger and the wise men and shepherds coming.  No, this story has more twists in Jesus’ early life.

You see, as we’ve been saying throughout Advent, God entrusted God’s self to us in Jesus.  The Trinity, the 3 in 1 God flows into humanity through Jesus.  It is a beautiful story, but rather than coming as a conquering king or in splendor and glory, Jesus shows up as a little baby born to first time teenaged parents in the middle of political and social upheaval.  God comes to us, not in regal authority, but in true humility, which has more power than any conquering army.  

After the birth in the manger in a dirty stall, our passage on this 1st Sunday after Christmas Day details Jesus’ first few days after the Shepherds and wise men visit.  

King Herod, who was the ruler under Roman authority, was a ruthless politician.  He had wide latitude and the roman army to back him up.  He committed many atrocities to keep his hold on power.  He was rather thin skinned and narcissistic I’d imagine…and furious that the wise men had visited Jesus and did not tell him where to find Jesus as they were told.  So, he ordered all of the boys under 2 years old in Bethlehem to be slaughtered.

Joseph is warned in a dream by an angel to flee Bethlehem before this happens…but to make haste and do it that very night.  Dreams are interesting, sometimes they can be windows into our hearts, our souls.  The Divine was deep within Josesph, warning him, telling him to move his young family to safety.  So, he got up, got Mary and Jesus and fled to the relative safety of Egypt to escape Herod’s persecution and to save the life of his son, and probably his and Mary’s.

Friends, this story is so important to us as we close 2022.  This has been a year of many ups and downs for all of us I’d imagine, but it is also a year where we have seen one of the largest refugee crisis in the history of the world throughout the world, and especially in Ukraine.  Through wars, famine, and political upheaval, there are now an estimated 60 million + refugees.  

As followers of Jesus, we should recognize that Jesus was a refugee and if we are called to identity the image of God in each person, and to identify with all of humanity, and especially those on the margins through Jesus, then when we see a refugee, we are looking at Jesus through our shared humanity.  

According the UN, the definition of a refugee is as follows:  

refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

I would say that definition certainly fits with Jesus in our story this morning.  Jesus knows what it’s like to have to flee a country as a child, to know that his life is in danger.  And his earthly father knew that he had to do whatever it took to get him to safety.

I’m also reminded of a refugee that I met in Brussels, Belgium a few years ago.  He shared what it was like to have his boat overturn in the Mediterranean and to swim to the relative safety of a rock with his family and to watch 23 other humans drown who weren’t so lucky.

This amazing story of Jesus as a refugee was one wrought in peril, in danger.  It could have gone bad as many refugee stories do.  Even when Jesus and his family return to Israel, they don’t go back to Bethlehem.  It’s too close to Jerusalem, and even  though Herod had died, his sons and others still may not take kindly to Jesus.  So, Joseph is instructed to go to Nazareth, which had recently become somewhat of a more independent region.  This also fulfills a prophetic word about the Messiah coming out of Nazareth…as well as add to the narrative that God comes out of nowhere, and out of those in poverty.  Nazareth was not of any importance in that day.  

Friends, we may have gone through a lot this past year.  And, as we face 2023, we will have some struggles to face personally, as a congregation, community, city, country, and world.  Yet, even as we use the symbol of a baby as the new year 2023, we approach it with eager expectation.  We don’t know what will happen, or where hope will appear, but we can have faith and commitment to a God who promises to be with us  

When I became a dad, I looked at my kids with all sorts of amazement and wonder, I did not know what life with them would bring, how they’d turn out, but I knew I was committed to them.  And, I know that in this new year, as I continue to grow, even in my mid-fifties, that my kids are a part of birthing something new in me.  

Let us not forget that, just as we reminded in this morning’s gospel story, that God weeps with us and looks out for us.  That the Christmas story is about what is being incarnated, fleshed out, birthed within us.  May we have the listening ear, wisdom, and obedience of Joseph to follow God’s voice, even if it takes us places we may not want to go…but, as we go, be reminded that we are not alone and that God will make a way for us in 2023 and beyond.