Sermons by Rev. John Kidd Responding to God’s Call Matthew 4 January 15, 2017
Intro: Rodger Nishioka, a professor of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at Columbia Theological Seminary tells the story of growing up watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on Sunday night. I enjoyed that show too. Nishioka recalls one episode about Harp Seals in Argentina. He says after the seals give birth the mother leaves the pups on the beach and goes to feed on fish. She comes back to the land and calls out to the pup. The pup, who has just been born, follows the sound of its mother’s call to be reunited with its mother.
Marlin Perkins, the host of the show, says that the pup and the mother have each other’s smell and sound imprinted in their memory allowing them to seek and find each other. Nishioka’s father, a Presbyterian minister, said to his son, “we have a memory of God imprinted in us and God has memory of us imprinted. This is why we will seek each other out to be reunited, even it takes a lifetime.
Trans: That image struck me. Scripture tells us that we are made in the image of God. Scripture also tells us that in Jesus Christ, God became one of us. Scripture tells us that God keeps calling us, and looking for us. The challenge comes in that God’s voice is not the only voice that calls us.
There are many compelling competing voices that call out to us, to which we respond to only to find out whomever the voice was, it was not God. How do we determine which voice calling us is the voice of God? I want to explore some of the voices that call to us that are not God although they sound very compelling. The first one is the voice of self.
The voice of self is a loud compelling voice to us. It is a voice that calls us to look out after number one. It is the voice that tells us if it is good for me it is good for everyone else. It is the voice that says what I think is important therefore everyone should think that what I think is important. It is the voice that comes out and says if something doesn’t work for me it will not work for anyone.
This voice tells us you deserve the best. It says you have put in your time serving; it says my children and grandchildren are through school and I do not want to have to pay for the public schools any more. It says I have insurance and I am sorry that you don’t but I don’t want to help you pay for it. The voice of self says I have enough and that is all that matters. The voice of self will declares I can do what I want. I do not have to be concerned with how my actions effect my neighbors. I will play my music as loud as I want, I will put up an outdoor light even if it shines in their bedroom window. The only thing that matters is me, my wants, and desires.
That voice can be loud. It may tempt us to respond to its call because we think I deserve it. it is not the voice of God speaking to us. God’s voice says love your neighbor, put others first, think about how what you do affects others. There is another voice that is speaking particularly loud right now. That is the voice of fear.
The voice of fear says I have to protect myself at all costs. There are people who are out to take away all I have. There are people who will destroy our way of life if we don’t use any means necessary to protect ourselves. That voice is so strong that we are willing to give up constitutional rights that protect our civil liberties for a false sense of security. It is what led to the ill-advised Patriot act after the 9-11 attacks. The voice of fear is pernicious. The voice of fear beckons us to be suspicious of everyone who is different and anything that challenges our ways of thinking and doing.
It is the voice of fear that has led to the rise in shooting of unarmed people by the police. It is the voice of fear that says to white people that the increase of immigrants is eroding our privilege and power so we need to build walls. We feel we need to intimidate people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and foreigners who come seeking a better life. We do that to remind them that white folks are in power. The voice of fear says that any change that expands civil rights and protections to people means that rights are to be taken away from me. The voice of fear speaks loudly in our land today.
On Friday, we did something that happens in relatively few places in the world. We had the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another. It was peaceful in spite of the fact that the new President from different party than the previous president. The party that is now in power sees as their mandate to undo everything the last administration had done. In the midst of that peaceful transfer of power the voice of fear speaks loud to us. The voice of fear is speaking in the question will I have health insurance? Will we end up at war with China or some other country? Will we see long fought for rights challenged and then stripped away? Will we see our social safety net ripped out from under us? Will people of color and immigrants fear for their lives from white nationalists? This voice of fear effectively tamps down any form of conversation. It effectively prevents any form of working together and seeking the public good. The voice of fear is a caustic destructive voice that is not the voice of God.
Another seductive voice is the voice of money and power. This voice cries out to us that we must try to make all that we can no matter what the cost. This voice seduces us into make heroes out of those who want to increase productivity using less labor. The labor force is paid a smaller wage with fewer benefits and is told if you do not like it leave and go somewhere else. While at the same time lowering the wages of labor, the salaries of the highest people in the company keep going higher and higher. It is the voice that calls to pharmaceutical companies to constantly raise the price on beneficial medicines that cost a small amount to produce because they can do it. Money and possessions is the voice that calls us to fight against a living minimum wage because it might cost a few dollars of profit. This voice of money and possessions is not the voice of God, in spite of what the so-called prosperity gospel preachers proclaim to us every Sunday.
The voices of self, fear, and money call out to us all of the time. Sometimes we are seduced by them. They sound so pretty in our ears. They sound so sweet. They are not the voice of God. So we must ask what does God’s call to us sound like? What does the voice of God call forth from us? What does the voice of God call us to do?
The first voice that God calls to us with is the voice that calls us to repent. Repenting means to turn away from sin and all that is harmful, selfish or divisive and to turn toward forgiveness, concern beyond ourselves, and trust that God is with us no matter what. When Jesus came back from the wilderness after his baptism, Jesus came proclaiming that we who live in darkness have seen a great light. This is what Isaiah proclaimed in chapter 9. God’s light has come. Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near. No more do we have to listen to the voices of self, fear, and money. No more do we have to be seduced by the voice of darkness calling us to move away from God and move deeper into ourselves. Jesus calls us to give all of that up turning away from it in repentance. Giving it up and not giving in to the seductive voices that call us is what Jesus invites us to do. Jesus does that so that we can have a new relationship with him that joins with him in his work. That is what is going on with James, John, Andrew and Simon.
Simon, Andrew, James and John are fisherman who work the Sea of Galilee. Simon and Andrew were out in their boat fishing. Jesus calls out to them “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” They immediately left their nets and went with Jesus. They just dropped everything. It is kind of mysterious the way they respond. I wonder what more there is to their story. Matthew does not tell us. I imagine that Simon, Andrew, James and John are men who are faithful. God was working on them as they thought about their lives. They, like every other human being, heard those seductive voices of self-interest, fear, and the call of riches. They may have pondered if there was anything for them other than the back -breaking work of fishing. They may have even thought about what God had in mind for them. They might have heard Jesus the wondering preacher and teacher and thought about what he was saying. Then he shows up and offers them an invitation to come and fish for people and they go. They listened to the voice of God calling them to follow and to be prepared to share the good news of God’s reconciliation. They listened to the voice of God that called them to follow. They could do that because they had a trust in God.
There is a voice that tells us to trust no one but ourselves. Ours is the only voice worth listening to so we think. Our own voice will betray us most of the time. It is our own voice that is telling us that we should care only for ourselves, fear everything, and seek to maximize our money and possessions. God’s voice calls us to trust.
God’s call to trust is a hard call to answer. We are asked to look beyond what we can see. We are asked to trust that what God says is true rather trusting only what we are able to observe with our senses. The story of God and us is a story of trust that waxes and wanes. Trust gets broken and restored. Trust fades and then it strengthens. God’s call to us is to trust. The voice of God calling us to trust is crucial right now. We are entering a period in our nation’s history when we must trust that God’s call to love, to extend mercy, compassion, justice, and hope is stronger that the call to fear, injustice, telling people they are on their own, devaluing people of other faith’s, colors, or nationalities. We must trust that God will give us the courage to fight to keep the gains we have made in the area of civil rights, voting rights, marriage rights, healthcare, and education. We must trust God to give us the strength and courage to fight to keep our nation from establishing a state religion and keeping the freedom to worship or not worship as one pleases. We need to heed God’s voice to love and not to fear.
The Psalmist powerfully declares in our Psalm for today; “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid.” This is God’s voice calling out to us not to fear but to love; not to fear but to hope; not to fear but to follow Jesus; not to fear but to keep working for justice, freedom and peace for all people.
God’s voice is calling us to keep feeding people, keep welcoming people, keep declaring to all people you are loved and valued by God when the prevailing culture and powers that be say you are not loved or valued unless you are upper middle-class, white, straight and native born. We must declare to all people you matter to God. God came in the person of Jesus to tell you that you are loved. Jesus went to the cross to die for you. His death declared that our sins are forgiven and we are made new. His death declared that the way of the world and the voices of self, fear, and money are broken and defeated. His resurrection declares that the voices of repentance, following, trusting, and loving are the powerful voices that will overcome.
Jesus calls us to come, follow, fish for people. Jesus calls us to declare that the light has come and calls to us to be the light in a dark world. Jesus calls us to trust him for all that we need to answer the call.
God calls us to love. Love without fear, without worry, without judgement, and with open arms. Each one of us must ask which voice will I listen to? Which voice will we respond to as a congregation? Whom will we follow?
Strong, Gentle, Welcoming Isaiah 42, Acts 10, and Matthew 3 January 8, 2017
The last couple of years have been a real challenge as I have tried to make sense of who God is, what God is like, and what is God’s purpose for us. It is a challenge because there is such a divide between Christians as to how to answer those questions. The divide comes in how we understand and interpret scripture. It is also about what is the purpose of Christian life. Is the purpose of Christianity just to get us to heaven? Is the purpose of Christianity to reflect the nature and character of God, demonstrated in the life and ministry of Jesus, working for the well-being of all? Part of my challenge includes statements that have been made by fellow Christians.
Statements that I have heard fellow Christians make about gay people, women, immigrants, Muslims, Jews and persons of other faiths, grieve me deeply. The statements made by some of my fellow Christians about the poor, the disabled, and those who are of a different ethnic or racial background, break my heart. Some of the things bring a lump to my throat when I hear them.
I wonder what Jesus they know. I wonder what God they know since it seems like they seem to know a different God than the one I know. They have a very different understanding of who God is and what God is like. There is a different understanding of what God’s purpose is for his followers. So both sides engage in a war of words.
When we become engaged in a strident war of words about who God is, what God is like, and what is God’s purpose, we must declare a cease fire with the words. We need to look into the written word. We also must look and listen to living word of God; Jesus the Christ. Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. In John 14:9 Jesus says to Thomas and to us “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
In our scriptures we have the beautiful image of God being one who will not break the bruised reed or extinguish the dimly burning wick. We have the declaration about the Savior who breaks boundaries and has the power to change long held convictions about who is in and who is outside of God’s love and salvation. The third text gives us the image of Jesus joining with the sinners to receive baptism.
As we look at these images we will ask how we, the children of our beloved heavenly Father, sisters and brothers of Jesus the Christ, display these characteristics to the world? The first characteristic that I want to look at are strength and gentleness.
Isaiah the prophet uses a series of images that have come to be called servant songs. Isaiah 42 is the first one. The servant is never named. The servant could be an individual or the servant could be the people of Judah. In Christian tradition Jesus is thought to fulfill the role of the Suffering servant.
The servant was given the task to bring justice. When we hear that we may think of a strong tough lawman of the old westerns whom the city leaders hired to tame the town. The law man would stand up to and drive out all the forces of evil and injustice with their larger than life persona and a larger than life set of weapons. They would stride in with their spurs jingling, a rifle over their shoulder and pistol on their hip. Wiping out all of the bad guys is such a popular image, we have allowed ourselves to see Jesus in that way. Jesus is going to destroy all evil and clean up the place. His followers will join in the battle. They will make war on the bad guys, chasing them out. We don’t care how you do it we tell the law man, just do it. The servant image of Isaiah challenges that notion.
The servant will not be dealing with the evil with weapons and violence. The servant is much stronger than that. The servant does not need shock and awe to do his work. The servant has gentleness and compassion. The servant brings justice in a way that refuses to break the bruised reed of those afflicted by poverty, hatred, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny.
The servant will love them. The servant will look for the dimly burning wick of God’s light in them and surround it with his loving hands to keep it from being extinguished. Then the servant will work to trim the wicks and to gently breath life on them so that the flame of God’s love will burn brightly in them. It takes a strong person to do that. That is very difficult work. It is slow, laborious and at times very discouraging. It would be so much easier to destroy and start over. That is not who the servant is.
The servant is not interested in efficiency. The servant is not interested in quick results. The servant is in it for the long haul. The servant will do whatever it takes to finish the job. The servant has the strength to do this because the servant is the creator. The Creator is the one who loves and cares for the least of all of us. The creator is the one who refuses to leave anyone behind. The Creator refuses to let anyone go. The Creator sent the servant who is the one whose purpose is to care for the vulnerable, rescue, the long forgotten, and to bring about the blessings of well-being and peace for all.
God the creator is strong and gentle, never giving up on the task of reconciliation and restoration. God never gives up on us, wanting our broken relationship to be restored.
The passage in Acts tells us that God the strong and gentle redeemer has come into the world to break down all boundaries between human beings and between human beings and God. God does this in the person of the servant Jesus.
This text from Acts is part of a longer story of the meeting between Peter and the Roman Centurion Cornelius. Cornelius and his family were God fearers. That meant that they worshiped in the synagogue and offered gifts but they did not convert to become Jews. An angel appeared to Cornelius and urged him to ask Peter to come and talk with him. He sends for Peter. Peter was reluctant to go. Before he said no, Peter went up to the roof to pray about what he should do. It was on the roof that Peter had an epiphany. God spoke to him through a dream about eating. Peter was hungry and he had a vision of abundant food that was unacceptable for a devout Jew to eat. God told him to eat it and Peter strongly refused. He said he had not violated the dietary laws in his life and he was not going to start now. God came back with don’t call anything unclean that the Lord has created. That was an eye opener for Peter. Peter came down from the roof and made his way to Cornelius.
Peter went to the gentile’s house, told him about Jesus and welcomed him and his family into the fold. Peter said that God had opened his eyes that the barriers and boundaries between people and God as well as between Jews and Gentiles had been broken down forever. No more was there a division between clean and unclean, Jew or gentile.
Jesus the servant who died by hanging on the tree, who was raised on the third day, broke down those barriers. Peter in his preaching declared that wall of separation because of sin was broken down once and for all. Peter declared that anyone who believed on Jesus name would be saved. That good news would be preached all throughout the world. This is how the servant, who would not break the bruised reed nor extinguish the dimly burning wick, would bring life, salvation, justice and hope to the world. No one would be left out, all would be included. Not only would the servant break down all walls and boundaries, the servant would also stand with and in the midst of the sinners. In the text from Matthew we have the story of Jesus’ baptism by John. It is a passage that has troubled the church at times for it raises the question why does the sinless Jesus need to be baptized with the sinners by John. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and remission of sins. Jesus and John have an awkward conversation.
John does not want to baptize Jesus. HE knows who Jesus is. John declares that Jesus should be baptizing him not he baptizing Jesus. Jesus said to John; It’s alright. Let it be so for now. It will fulfill all righteousness.
Jesus the Word of God present at the creation; Jesus the servant who would not break the bruised reed or extinguish the dimly burning wick, submits to baptism among the sinners he came to save. He stood with the broken reeds who needed hope and love. He breathed on the dimly burning wicks to help them burn brighter. It is a beautiful demonstration of strength and gentleness that sets the tone for Jesus’ mission. Jesus’ mission was to live among, die among and rise from the dead among and for sinners. That is the length to which God is willing to go to strengthen the bruised reed and protect and brighten up the light of the dimly burning wick.
Through these three texts we see the character, nature, and purpose of God. The question comes for us is how do we as sons and daughters of God and sisters and brothers of Jesus reflect these family traits? The way we reflect them is in how we live out our faith, loving and serving our neighbors.
There are not many days that go by here at the church that we do not have someone seeking out our help with something. It may be someone is hungry and needs food. We provide that with a welcoming greeting and a concern for their well-being. Many days we receive calls for help with transportation, accommodations, or housing. I will confess sometimes these calls are challenging and a bother. I do my best to try to respond as I would respond to Jesus, helping where we can or directing them to a place better equipped to meet their needs. We do our best to be honest and say when we cannot help. Like Jesus we do not want to break the bruised reed or extinguish the burning wick.
As I reflect on my challenge of trying to understand who God is, what God is like and what is God’s purpose for us, I keep going back to these and other scriptures to be reminded of this truth spoken so well by The Rev. Jill Duffield the Editor of the Presbyterian Outlook Magazine. She writes in the closing of an article on our texts; “The bruised reeds and dimly burning wicks have the Beloved Son on their side. Sinners have a shot at salvation. The Son who submits to baptism will also submit to death coming up from the water and the grave for the sake of the underdogs, Gentiles, prisoners, Pharisees, soldiers, Pilate, Peter, all of God’s fallen yet beloved world. This is who God is, how radically our God loves, and how far our God will go to establish justice and show mercy.”
How do our lives and the life of our congregation reflect that? Will we reflect the strength, gentleness and welcoming capacities of our God?
Responses to the New Born King Isaiah 60 and Mathew 2:1-23 January 1, 2017
Intro: In Christian tradition January 6 is known as Epiphany. Epiphany means revelation. It marks the end of the season of Christmas. Christmas celebrates the coming of God into the world in Jesus, born of Mary. It marks the time when his circumcision and the other appropriate birth rites that incorporate Jesus into the covenant community are done. During Christmas, we tend to think about babies and sweetness. We tend to think more in terms of the words to Away a Manger rather than Crown him with Many Crowns. We forget that Jesus is no ordinary baby.
On January 6, we celebrate Epiphany or the revelation of God in Jesus to the gentiles. God would reveal Jesus to the Jews first through the testimony of the shepherds. God then reveals himself in Jesus through the coming of the Magi. The Magi are people who saw a sign in then heavens who were moved to seek out and pay homage to this new king.
There is another part of the story that we overlook. It challenges our sentimental musings about a poor family who have a baby that is welcomed into the world by shepherds and worshiped by people outside the Jewish faith. This is a story of fear, anger and violence. It is a story that declares God came into the world, the world was changed. The revelation of God in the world demands a response. Will the response be worship and testimony or fear and rejection?
The first response was a response of awe and wonder by people called Magi. They were gentiles who were most likely religious leaders or philosophers. They looked to the heavens in search signs indicating any kind of world changing events. They believed that if you paid attention to signs and wonders they would tell you things. They were studying the heavens for any signs and they saw something.
Matthew calls it a star. It was a star like no one had seen. The Magi saw it and they knew something monumental occurred. They believed the star was a sign of a new king. It was the sign of a King like no one had ever seen who would change the world.
There was only one thing to do. It was to gather up gifts for this king, seek this king out and present the gifts and pay homage. They gather their provisions for the journey and the gifts that they will present. They don’t know where they are going. Exercising faith they would follow the star, trusting that the star would lead them to the right place. While they were doing that, Jesus, Mary and Joseph settled in Bethlehem.
Jesus is a year or two old now. Joseph has got a business going to support his family. There are relatives around to support the family as they get established. Life is going on normally as a new family works to establish a routine and a presence in their community.
The Magi followed the star to the Roman province of Judea. They pay a call on King Herod. It is a diplomatic call if you will. Herod was the puppet King under the Romans. They were leaders from another country. They told their story about who they were and why they were on the journey. They said they were seeking the new King of the Jews and were led here by his star that rose in the east. Could Herod help them find his location?
Herod does not know the answer to their question. He calls in the chief priest and Jewish religious scholars to help. Herod wants to appear helpful but he is afraid. There is a challenger out there. The scholars say that according to the prophet Micah, the messiah will be born in Bethlehem. Herod’s stomach jumps into his throat. There is a new king born in Bethlehem right under his nose. That can only mean trouble for me. Herod is cunning. Herod says to his foreign visitors; seek out the child and then report back to me with his location so that I too may worship him.
With that the Magi head to Bethlehem, following the star until its light focused on the house that Jesus lived in. They enter the house. They speak to Mary and Jesus. They bow down in worship. They present Jesus their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After worshiping Jesus, they leave and settle in for the night. Before they begin their journey home, God warned them in a dream not to go back to Jerusalem and King Herod. They were told to take a different route. They obeyed God.
Back in Jerusalem, several days have gone by. Herod realizes that the Magi are not coming back. His anger grows. Nobody defies him. Nobody was going to take the throne away from his family. There was a usurper out there. It did not matter if he was a baby. This situation had to be dealt with. No one was going to be the King but him. No one was going to be on the throne except one of his descendants. He decides to do something. He hatches a plan to do away with this impostor. It is horrible.
Herod decides that since he does not know who he is looking for, he will have to go after all the male children from birth to age two. He would kill them all. That way he would be sure to get the impostor. As he is preparing his plan, God intervenes with Joseph.
God talks to Joseph in a dream and tells him to get up now and take his family to Egypt. Stay there. Herod is searching for the child to kill him. Get on the road and do not waste any time. Joseph did as God instructed. They went to Egypt.
Herod followed through with his planned massacre. He was sure he got the young pretender to the throne. He went to his grave confident that the King of the Jews, that the magi had searched for and found, was dead. He would never come to power. Little did he know that God was ahead of him the whole time.
This story has always fascinated me because of the two vastly different responses to Jesus. In these responses, we see a snap shot of how human beings respond to Jesus. Let’s look at how the Magi respond.
The Magi know that the birth of Jesus is a world changing event. It was so world changing, they disrupted their lives for a long period of time to seek him out. They had to acknowledge who and what he was, even though they did not share the same religion or ethnicity. They went because they recognized and acknowledged who he was. The story does not say that they were changed by their encounter with him. Perhaps they were. That does not matter. What does matter is they recognized God’s presence in Jesus even when he was a toddler. They knew that through him the world was going to change. They knew with him in the world it would not be business as usual. There would be monumental changes. They may have hoped for what his mother sang about before he was born. They had to go and see. They did. Then they had a role to play that they did not expect. They played the role of a protector of Jesus.
After they visited and worshiped Jesus, the Magi were warned about Herod. God told them do not go back to him. They took a great risk to obey God, going home another way, not returning visit to Herod. Fortunately for them the potential challenger was more important to Herod then their disobedience of his direct order. It is in the responses of the Magi and the responses of Herod that we see how people respond to Jesus in our own day.
There are many, many people who have responded to Jesus as did the Magi. They have heard about Jesus. They have sought him out. They have come and worshiped him. They have bowed before him and were changed by him. They discovered that in Jesus, God is with us. Everything changes. Relationships change. Priorities change. We change how we see our fellow human beings. We come to a deep understanding no matter what our outward differences appear to be, we are one human family. We are people to whom God has come in a fellow human being.
Jesus was born as we were. He breathes, eats, and sleeps like we do. He laughs and cries. He reminds us how much that God desires to be reconciled to us and to each other. Meeting Jesus and responding to him, changes our lives and relationships for the better. Some respond to Jesus like Herod did.
For many people, Jesus is a real threat. Jesus is a threat to their power. Fear of losing his power is what drove Herod to his murderous rampage. For others. the loss of power comes in acknowledging that all human beings are made in the image of God. That means that any perception of ethnic superiority must die.
For the wealthy, there is the challenge that their wealth entitles them special privilege. For the self-righteous it means that they no longer can sit in judgment of their fellow human beings whom they perceive are not living in or behaving in proper fashion. For those who subscribe to the philosophy I did it my way, that Frank Sinatra sang so beautifully about it means that the notion that they can save themselves in their chosen manner will not work.
The big question for each of us and for us as a congregation is how will we respond to Jesus. Will we respond as the Magi did with worship and risky obedience? Will we respond with fear like Herod and actively work against the life affirming, life giving message of God with us in this world reconciling the world to God and working to reconcile us to each other? These are the stakes of God coming into the world in Jesus. Do we understand? Do we know?
Con: The shepherds knew, the magi knew, and Herod knew that the stakes of God coming into the world in Jesus were high. Everything had changed. It was no longer business as usual. God with us demands a response. The question is what will the response be? Will it be to embrace and follow or will it be to fight against God and try to stop Jesus. That is a question each of us must ask ourselves. Will I follow, ignore, or rebel against the work of God in the world.