Blessed?

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Luke 6:17-26 jesus-refugee-1

God stands with the outcasts, the hungry, the poor, the sorrowful. God is sobbing because her child is stolen from her, taken away, lost. God is crying because his only son was murdered by the authorities for peacefully seeking a better life.

At our southern border today these stories are in the thousands. People that came to our country in desperation have arrived to only be cursed, imprisoned, have their children taken in many cases to never be returned. When I see this news, the same news we all get, I think of how far away it is, how little I can do…

But the truth is it’s happening in our own state.

God is with Rachel who is here, in central Ohio, because her husband attempted to kill her with acid and burned off most of her face.

God is with Daniel who is here, in central Ohio, because he witnessed a crime gang murder his older brother. And now they want all the witnesses dead.

God is with Joshua who is here, in central Ohio, because he wants his little children to grow up where they don’t have to dodge landmines.

These are different names, but these are real people living only minutes away from us, not just some distant story on the news.

These are the people we are putting into concentration camps. And we have work camps.
What’s going on at our borders is controversial; some people focus on protecting our wealth, our jobs, our safety from strangers.

Others focus on what is being done to protect those borders. Children taken from their parents with reports of them being beaten, raped, and even killed through sheer neglect. Children whose only crime was to have parents think Americans were honest in our desire to help the helpless.

Many people that feel ‘We’d like to help, but we have problems of our own’.

I think most of us see these stories, and meet these people, and KNOW bad things are happening this very moment…

But what are we to do?

No one in this room is personally harming a refugee or immigrant.

Yet the politicians we’ve chosen have decided our taxes will pay the salaries of the people doing this, pay for those prisons, and now will likely pay for an eight billion dollar wall.

As a country we stopped reading our Bible and instead have chosen bits and pieces of it that tell us prosperity is the right of Christians.

We stopped living our faith. Our faith that says in all ways we are to be salt for the earth – a flavoring, a blessing. Not a curse hateful of others.

When God sent Jesus, God sent our savior born of a refugee. An immigrant. A woman and man who traveled seeking a better life for the child.

God sent Jesus born into a family like yours or mine. A normal family. With brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. A messy family.

God sent Jesus born to share our common lot. To know what it is to be human. To know blessings – honor – and woe – shameful times.

God sent Jesus to stand not in Rome among the honorable, nor the honorable of occupied ancient Israel — but to stand level with the poor, the deported, the huddling masses considered shameful, embarrassing, undesirable, and sinful.

Luke wrote his gospel to people like us. It is addressed to Theophilus who is a citizen of the ruling people. Much like we are citizens of the ruling people. And Theophilus was part of the popular religion. Much like we are. And Theophilus generally always knew where he would get his next meal, where to rest his head, and whether or not his relatives were alive, and safe. Much the same with us.

Luke writes to Theophilus to tell him why this impoverished foreigner Jesus came to Theophilus, too; and why Theophilus needs Jesus.

Why we NEED Jesus.

We NEED Jesus because of the torture of innocents. We NEED Jesus because of our faith being corrupted, turned into a weapon, and used against our own Christian body. We NEED Jesus to open our eyes, forgive our sins, and let us begin again our life with all people in the name of Christ.

“Our salvation depends on the poor.” ((Dorothy Day))

Jesus came down and stood on a level place.

No mountain top. No pulpit. No temple on the hill. Jesus came DOWN from heaven and stood right in the middle of earth – in the muck, with the common people, with the throng, with those in the cheap seats.

And around him came a great multitude a people. A huddling, starving mass. Jesus came and was with those no one else wanted.

Our Statue of Liberty speaks of us as the promised land, as a heaven on earth, where all are welcomed. All are equals. All are honorable. At the foot of the Statue of Liberty is a plaque with words we’ve aspired to live:

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Are we hypocrites? We place Lady Liberty on a pedestal and forget her. We forget we are the children and descendants of wretched refuse, refugees and immigrants, who yearned to breathe free.

We place God on our money and forget God sees the love of money as the root of all evil.

Forget God does not care for lip service but cares for justice.

God does not care how we treat the honorable but God deeply cares how we treat the least of these, the least among the world.

We say we’re Christian as we live in a manner only Satan would love – a manner that loves ourselves before all others.

As a country, we are forgetting who and who’s we are.

Jesus said… “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” You have traded heaven for money.

“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” You are physically comfortable now, but starving your soul.

“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” For when Jesus returns, and we feel the full weight of our sins and separations, we will tear our clothes in anguish and cry out inconsolable.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” When you’re called such a good Christian, such a good citizen, such an upstanding member of society… woe to you because you’ve sold yourself to the false prophets of the world and not to the True Prophets who stand with the shameful of society.

Luke is pleading with Theophilus and with us through his stories of Jesus that we give up the path of woes, and turn to the path of blessings! Of honor!

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” God lives among those who are poor! Poor of spirit. Poor of health. Poor of money. Poor in all ways. For those who know want know their need of God. Know their need of mercy and assurance. Know they NEED God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” Those who are not satisfied are seeking. Seeking better worlds. Better ways of living. Deeper religion. Is your soul hungry? Do you hunger for justice, for a reversal that brings the low high and the high low? Do you hunger for God? You WILL be filled!

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Laughter! The reign of God is here more every day. And it brings joy to those who weep now. Those who weep to see what we are doing at the border and weep. Those who weep to see our leaders corrupted, self-centered, warmongering and ignoring the plight of everyday people. We who weep now will find joy in God and God’s great reversal.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.” If you’re in hot trouble with your family because of your beliefs – good job! You’re doing Christianity right. If society tells you to be less radical, to be more practical, and to stop caring… GOOD. You’re doing your faith right. On account of the son of man, we should always be pressing the envelope and challenging people to live more into the reign of God.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”

We’re not living for rewards on Earth.

What do we do? How do we – who are not politicians, whose letters go ignored when we write, who are not at the border, who are not affluent – what do we DO to live this narrow, outsider way our Savior leads us?

We don’t turn a blind eye. We look. We watch. We pray. We donate money to charities helping refugees and immigrants such as CRIS – the Community Refugee and Immigrant Services.

We speak. We speak on social media, to family, to friends. We refuse to continue to let the hate spread. We act as antibodies, a cure, where we are, healing the body of Christ here. Preventing the cancer from spreading.

We are here for a reason and a purpose. We are born for a time just as this. We are in the drought with too much heat but we have deep roots. Dig into your faith. Delve deep for the ever-living waters. Bring forth that new life, those green leafs, that hope. BE the church. BE the body of Christ. BE the people who have seen the goodness of God and live like it.

Blessed, honorable, are you when you are unpopular on account of your lived out faith.

Blessed are we when we let go of possessions
for the kingdom of God unfolds in open places.

Blessed are we who know the ache of hunger,
for the empty places in body and soul are the fertile soil for new growth.

Blessed are we who know sorrow,
for the ache of love lost is witness to the seed planted.

Blessed are we who know scorn,
for the rejection of humans keeps us mindful of that beyond.

Blessed are we who live in the harmony of life in the Spirit, for we will recognize abundance.

((Katherine Hawker (2004) and posted on Liturgy Outside. http://liturgyoutside.net/beatitudes.pdf))

Blessed are we who answer God’s call to love ALL.

Amen.

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Love Offertory Prayer

If we give away all we own, Lord, even our own bodies, but do not have love – what we do is in vain. So we offer today our love, expressed in word, song, prayer and tokens. Let the shocking love began by you here be spread to all. Amen.

Shocking Scandal

Jeremiah 1 4:-20
Luke 4:21-30

Epiphany 4C

ajAerM1_700b_v2

Jesus is… so confrontational today. I’m tempted to paint his village as unkind, but they ARE kind. They welcome Jesus in and speak well of him. They speak with amazement. They’ve heard he’s been doing miracles, and welcome him home.

Oh sure, some point out this is just Joseph’s boy. Maybe they elbow each other about silly antics Jesus did as a baby. They don’t think of him as a prophet. They especially don’t think of him as the son of God; or as God incarnate.

But they’re not intentionally cruel. Just a little… belittling.

While they’re still in amazement at how Jesus has grown, Jesus puts words in their mouths. “You’re going to say ‘Doctor, cure thyself!’ and you’re going to ask me to do the miracles here I did in the past. But I’m not going to, because you won’t accept me.”

I bet the town is confused at first. Accept you? Of course we accept you little sugarplum! But yet, if you want us to think you’re more than the kid we babysat, you’ll have to show us a miracle.

Jesus continues to their shocked and scandalized faces, “Do you remember the prophet Elijah? There was a severe famine. It didn’t rain for 3 years and 6 months. There were widows everywhere and everywhere were people suffering. But God sent Elijah to none of these widows but one – a foreign widow in a foreign town.

When Elijah arrives, God tells him the widow is going to provide food and shelter for him. But the widow tells Elijah she is gathering sticks to make the very last of her flour and oil for herself and her son… and then they are going to die from the famine. Elijah tells her, “Give me this last bit of bread, and my god will be sure your jar of flour and jar of oil don’t run out until it rains again.”

The woman face a choice. She could believe this stranger and give her last meal to him… or she could give the last bit of food to herself and her son. She could have faith in this strange god, or she could keep to her local gods.

She chooses to give Elijah the bread.

And God makes sure they have oil and flour for herself, the boy, and Elijah during the whole famine.

Elijah was sent to the marginalized, the powerless, those starving, and those in need of hearing about God. Elijah was sent to those who would accept him.

Picture it, anger is appearing on the faces of Jesus’ neighbors and cousins and brothers and uncles. His aunts and sisters and nieces getting the second hand account outside of the synagogue. Our Jesus, OUR Jesus, isn’t going to do any miracles here?! We raised him! And he won’t even do a single awesome thing here?

He should show preferential treatment to his own family and town! THAT is US!

He thinks WE won’t accept him? We raise this kid! He OWES us!

Jesus implies his hometown doesn’t need miracles: they already have them and live with God. And, that although they are suffering, there are worse off people that Jesus is being sent to by God.

Do you feel the anger growing? Why don’t we who faithfully serve get rewarded miracles? We, who are born into the faith, we should be the special ones.

Jesus continues by bringing up the next beloved prophet of our shared history: Elisha. In Elisha’s time, many, many people had leprosy. But Elisha miraculously cured only one: Naaman.

Naaman isn’t Jewish. He is haughty. He doesn’t trust God or the prophet Elisha. But finally he bathes in the river as directed, and miraculously is cured of his leprosy. From there, he changes faith and honors God and the prophet, and shares his faith at home.

But the Jewish lepers continue to have leprosy.

This is NOT fair.

Jesus’ relatives and neighbors get up to their feet furious. You’re saying God is showing preferential treatment to those who don’t honor God?

You’re saying WE won’t accept YOU? Physician, heal yourself!

And they run Jesus out of his hometown and try to kill him.

… And they were right. Jesus is not about what’s fair. He tells parables of a master giving his servants all the same amount of money whether they worked an hour or eight hours. That’s not fair.

He talks about sons who run away, spend all their father’s wealth, and come home broke being honored while sons who stay and obey their father get their normal lot. Really not fair to that older son.

Jesus is not about fair.

Jesus is about just.

Justice says those in Jesus’ hometown knew God loved them and knew how to live according to God’s word. Jesus’ ministry is to show the world of God’s love… not just those who already know.

Justice says everyone should have enough money to eat, even if they can only find work for an hour.

Justice says God welcomes home the sinners and the sinless, because all are God’s children.

But it’s not fair.

Not fair in the least.

But it is justice.

Picture three boys trying to watch a baseball game, but there’s a wooden fence in the way. Each boy is a different height: tall, average, and short. The tall boy can see over the fence. The other two cannot. We have three box they can stand on to help them see. How shall we distribute the boxes?

First, lets be fair. We give each boy one box to stand on. Now the tall boy is even taller and can still see. The average boy can now see. But the short boy is still too short.

We can’t give preferential treatment to the last, right? That wouldn’t be fair. But all three boys cannot see the game.

So let’s be just. Justice says the tall boy doesn’t need help to see. Justice says the second average sized boy needs just one box to see. And the third boy needs two boxes to see. Now, all three can see the game. But we had to distribute the boxes according to need instead of all getting some.

If you’ve seen or heard this illustration, then you know what comes next: the best world is where we don’t need boxes at all because we take away the barrier of the wooden fence. All three boys can watch the game through a chain-link fence without help.

That is shalom. That is wholeness. That is curing the world of systemic sin and barriers and woes. That is the heaven on earth we are called to create.

But in the meantime… there is sin… and there are boxes to help people cope with it… How are we going to use our resources to help people?

Jesus tells us to lower the high and lift up the low, so all are equitable. That means for his hometown, and for us, there’s not preferential treatment JUST because we’re faithful.

The reward for being Christian is being among the people of God, and living aware of God’s love of us.

Miracles, an easy life, favoritism from God? Those are not a given. Very faithful people are denied miracles and very faithless people get them. And the reverse happens, too.

The reward for being Christian is the life lived. The life reborn. The foretaste of the life God is bringing.

And it ain’t fair. And its scandalous.

But it is good news to those who need it the most.

Amen.

Many Gifts; One Spirit

John 2:1-11 l-951-jesus-was-here
1 Cor. 12:1-11

In the shadow of the Apollo Temple sits the Corinthian church. They receive a letter one day from the Apostle Paul. He writes them that they are uninformed. They, who are stellar examples of Roman wisdom. They – who are in the shadow of THE religious place to be and have all the world at their finger tips – They do not know what they’re doing.

Paul explains that the people in the congregation once went to statues and idols who cannot speak, such as the ones in the Apollo Temple… but now they are led to another who CAN speak. Statues and idols cannot testify about a god, but the Holy Spirit of God that is in each believer CAN testify. So whenever someone says, “Jesus is Lord!” you know that person has God within them.

The people likely nodded, yes. This is true. But why bring it up?

So Paul explains his logic… since the Spirit of God is not in a temple or in statues, but it people…

… if John Dough looks different, and talks different, and worships differently… but testifies Jesus is Lord… he has the Holy Spirit in him.

If Jane Dough looks the same as you, speaks the same, and worships in the same place… but spits on Jesus’ name… she doesn’t have the Holy Spirit within her.

The testimony of Christians is not statues. Not crosses. Not churches. But people. We are the Temple of God. We are the body of Jesus. We are the bearers of the Holy Spirit.

People. Among people are where you find God.

The awful thing about that is that people are much harder to get along with than say, tolerating a beautiful temple in the middle of the city… or driving by that quaint church. Seeing a cross is pretty easy. Living the cross is hard. We even say someone is a “Good Christian” to mean they’re a Good Person… but a person living in the footsteps of Jesus is not good… they’re usually causing trouble, rocking the boat, demanding things change, and that the weak should ban together to take the power from the mighty. They’re sitting in protests and signing conscientious objections to war and all the other counter-cultural things that the Spirit leads them to live in to.

Often, they’re at odds with other Christians who have just as solidly held beliefs in other protests, and in going to war.

In Corinth, things were no different. People are people. And people are hard to get along with.

The church in Corinth was much like Saint Michael’s. And like us, they had particular gifts… some things the Spirit leads people to do… that they valued much more than others. We always have music every Sunday. And a sermon. And candle lighters. And a bell. Why don’t we have cookies every Sunday? Or dance? Or puppet shows? We pray every Sunday with words… but when do we pray with our hands? When we do speak in tongues? When do we do art and take long walks in nature?

Now, the church in Corinth began to think that just their way of knowing God was the right way. All the other ways of worshiping, of moving with the Spirit, and knowing the Divine was inferior. “They’re just not wise. We, we’re smart. We’re educated. We’re enlightened. We do it this way.”

Things got even more intense when it came to beliefs and activities. Corinth was fighting over whether or not it was okay to eat meat sacrificed to other gods… because if not… you pretty much had to go vegetarian in the city. They were also fighting about circumcision. And kosher. And just how Jewish or how Pagan a person could be and still be Christian.

Churches with one another and inside themselves are fighting today, too. We’re fighting over whether or not homosexuality is a sin. We’re arguing over how patriotic, or not, a person can be and still be a Christian. We’re debating the role of women in the church. We’re debating the role and place of children in the church. We’re debating what is and in whom and where CHURCH can be found. And we’ve been splitting over baptism for centuries.

Paul steps into the middle of this and says: you’re all different. You’re all different! If he were poetic, he might say: you are each a different wildflower in a field.

But there is only one Spirit in each of you. There is only one sun who shines on you. Because you are all different, you are beautiful. Because you are all different, you are united into community. The differences are gifts!

Our diversity is given to us for the common good.

We’re farmers. We know what monocropping is. It’s very efficient farming. We plant the same exact type of corn for several hundred acres and kill all the other plants. We know just when to harvest all that, we know what kinds of chemicals to use, we know just the machine for harvest. We know the kind of corn or soy or wheat we’re getting and don’t have to sift it out into different varieties and uses.

The problem with monocropping is that if a new virus springs up and eats THAT crop… the entire crop is gone with no back up.

Think… Irish potato famine. Most people in Ireland ate a potato called the Irish Lumper. A blight got into the crop and it spread like wildfire. Combine this with poverty, poor management, racism, and a host of other issues… and you have 2 million starving refugees and 1 million dead in the matter of 4 years. Monocrops are efficient… but risky. They don’t have a lot of flexibility and resiliency.

Diverse crops – like planting two varieties at once, or the old fashioned 3 sisters of corn, beans, and squash in one hole– are resilient and handle more blights, weather changes, and viruses. However, they’re the hardest to manage. Your garden is a diverse crop. It’s okay if its a bad tomato year – the corn did awesome. However, you had to put way more work into that diverse crop than in a monocrop.

Monocrop churches are efficient. Nothing is unplanned. But they’re fragile. Get a blight in there… a poor preacher. A poor organists. A poor parishioner… and things go badly.

Diverse crop churches are chaotic, but strong. It’s okay if something goes bad, the rest is still good. The next sermon or pastor will be better. The next organists or song will rock. I don’t like this parishioner, but I like all the rest.

Paul tells us to welcome the chaos and diversity. It’s what makes us strong. In the diversity of ideas and opinions and ways of knowing God we support one another for the common good. So if one person has an off day, the whole community isn’t ruined. We support the weak until they’re strong again. And if one person feels moved to protest gay rights because of scripture, and another feels moved to protest homophobia because of scripture, then because of scripture they can sit and talk and understand why the other feels so strongly.

For the common good we’re given DIVERSE gifts. Gifts of wisdom and insight. Gifts of intelligence and education. Gifts of healing faith and gifts of powerful prayers. Gifts of prophecy, and discernment, and yes – speaking in tongues and dancing in aisles and interpreting ancient languages and interpreting current affairs. Gifts of being the naysayer who finds holes in plans. Gifts of being dreamers who see what others cannot. Gifts of being a source of humor. A warm hug giver. The gift of holy tears. Gifts of understanding finances, or understanding poverty, or understanding loneliness. And gifts of Holy joy. Holy love.

The holy gift of presence.

All gifts of the Spirit are given for the common good, allotted in different amounts and given in great diversity, make us the strong vegetable garden that with stands whatever crazy weather we get.

Because we are united in the one Spirit, from our one Lord, of our one God. We’ve got one Gardener care taking for us who knows just what the plan of the garden is.

Our lectionary ties today’s reading from Paul’s letters with Jesus’ very first miracle. And it isn’t raising a person from the dead. It isn’t walking on water. It isn’t bread. It’s wine. Turning water into wine.

What a strange gift of the Spirit!

Can you imagine finding out your gift is making wine? What other weird gifts do we have hiding in our pews?

Jesus has a strange gift, but he knows just what gifts are supposed to be used for: the common good.

And so, that’s how he uses it.

There’s a wedding in the little village of Cana. The groom and bride are supposed to provide wine for as long as people stay and party with them. It’s tradition. Its good luck. Most importantly, its hospitality. Usually guest bring along a little wine or food for the party too. Think of it like a potluck. But, for whatever reason, the wine has run out. The party is going to be over early. The couple are going to start their wedding on a bad foot.

In the course of the world, its very small. An auspicious start to a wedding. So what? No one will die. No lives are ruined.

In the course of the world, most of us are very small. And our gifts are small. What good is a talent for cooking chili? Or a talent for understanding how to program a TV remote?

Jesus is reluctant to share. But Mary encourages him. There’s no silly gifts! ALL gifts are given for the common good of us all!

So Jesus goes and asks for the jars of water. And wedding servants… not the bride and groom, not their parents, not the guests… witness Jesus’ very first public miracle. Along with his disciples. Plain water, in jars meant for washing hands and dishes and ritual cleanliness, turns into the sweetest wine.

When the gift is shared, the sweetest delight is spread among the whole community. From God comes abundance! From God comes diversity! From God comes all good things!

The wedding’s party in the community is saved, and people continue to stay together happily.

The disciples begin to believe in Jesus after this. They begin to believe he IS heralding the in-breaking of God into the world in a brand new way. They begin to understand the generosity of God, the hospitality of God, and perhaps even the joy of God.

God rejoices over us!

When we’re sticking by each other, helping one another, using our gifts for one another – the heart of God is joyful!

For among people is where God delights to be.

And God delights to make each of us unique.

Amen!

 

Reflection:

The take home message for the day is every one of us have unique gifts. Turning water into wine is pretty silly. But Jesus knew how to use it for the common good. What silly gifts do you have? How could you use them to bring joy, happiness, and love to others?

New Name Call to Worship

(based on Isaiah 62:1-5)
One: Salvation shines out like the dawn; like a burning torch at night!
Many: Everyone notices – the light on the hill! The light of the world!
One: You shall be called by a new name that God gives you.
Many: God calls us Beautiful. Royal. No longer Forsaken. No longer Desolate. But My Delight. My Love.
One: So shall your God rejoice over you!
All: Let us rejoice in the name of our renaming God!

I Have Called You By Name

Isaiah 43:1-7 cb1453_grande
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

I once had a job I was so unhappy with. I really disliked going in. I took as much sick time and vacation time as I could, and loathed Mondays.

I remember my friends asking me, why not get a new job? Why continue here? Was it the benefits? No. Lack of other jobs? No. The people? Oh no, absolutely not. So why? Why did I keep going in to THAT work?

I couldn’t come up with a good reason. I just kept going. When I thought about seeking a new job, I got anxious and worried. What if the new one is even worse? I mean, it was hard to get a worse job than the one I had, but they’re out there.

What if … what if…

Eventually, I realized that some people suffer from thinking the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…

… and other people suffer from thinking the brown grass they got is still grass and try to convince themselves the green grass they see on the other side of the fence isn’t worth climbing over.

In other words: we prefer the hell we know to the hell we don’t know.

We fear the unknown. It’s better to be in an awful position than take a risk into… that great unknown. We don’t know what we’ll face if we change. We do know what we’ll face if we stay the same.

I knew what every day would involve. It would be trying to sell ‘insurance’ which really wasn’t insurance and feeling like a scammer… because I was…

But if I applied to work elsewhere, would it be any better? I didn’t know. And I feared that unknown. So back to door-to-door sales I went.

The ancient Israelites were in the hell they knew. They were in exile in Babylon. They, or their parents, had gotten settled in the new land. For awhile, everyone was miserable. But now they’re comfortably miserable. Some are even starting to like this exile.

But now the prophets are calling them back to their ancestral land in Israel, and the king of Babylon was saying they could go back too. So who will go? Who will leave the known for the unknown?

The people were comfortable in their known exilic shame, and scared of the unknown of traveling back to Israel. Fearful.

“O Israel, do not fear,” says God through the Prophet Isaiah. “For I have redeemed you.” I have bought you. I have taken you from debt, from shame, and released you. “I have called you by name, you are mine.” God is calling your name. Your own personal name.

You, listening, are called to risk the unknown.

I, back then in that awful job, was called to risk the unknown.

Today, we’re all called to still walk with God into the wilderness and unknowns where the Spirit moves us, like it does to Jesus after his baptism.

God promises to stick by us through that wilderness journey into the unknown. Stick through us through whatever we can image.

God said, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
I will be with you through the rivers and they shall not overwhelm you.
“When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned,
And the flame shall not consume you.”

What other horrible things can you picture happening?
I pictured leaving my job and not finding another. Then I’d be back on food stamps. Then maybe I’d lose my apartment and have to move home to my mother’s couch. Then I’d be a failure and ashamed.

The Israelites may have thought about robbery and being stolen and taken into slavery.
God told them, “I give Egypt as your ransom, and Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

Talk about a kick to the butt for me. God would give an entire nation – or the richest nations – for me. I’m worth that much. How could God want me to stay in a sleazy job? How could being fired from a sleazy job for telling the truth “No, this insurance ISN’T going to help you” make me a failure? I am precious in the sight of God. My honor is from God, not my boss. I am loved… by God.

God promises to give whole “nations in exchange” not just for my life, but “for your life” too. You are worth whole nations to God. You are precious. You are honored. You are LOVED by the very creator who moved the waters of creation and spoke through the flaming bush. You – you who are terrified of what might be on the other side of the fence – you who are scared of the unknown – are loved by the unknowable itself who reassures you – I AM WITH YOU DO NOT FEAR!

God says that from the east and west we’re called. From the north and south. Everyone is called, called by their own name, and lovingly created as the sons and daughters of God.

God is calling the Israelites to their ancestral home, and to not fear the land and troubles in between.

But God is still calling today. Calling all of us to God’s self, and to not fear the reputation and troubles we’ll get for being faithful to God.

I listened back then to the call. And when this little old lady answered the door to me one afternoon with a big, brilliant smile on her lips and the fogginess in her eyes saying she couldn’t see… I couldn’t lie to her. She directly asked me, “Will what you’re selling actually help me?”

“No.” No, it would not.

At that moment, I stepped into the unknown. Time to buckle up! Now we’re off the script my boss had my memorize!

God never promises there will be no fire and there won’t be water. Instead, God said God will be with us in these things.

And yeah, I got fired real quick. But it felt… good. It felt good to be without a job. That time without a job, and that time of choosing to not lie to the elderly lady helped lead me towards seminary. I know it. Joblessness pushed me back into school… and although it took some time, eventually I began to say yes to God more and more often until I ended up in seminary, and chaplaincy, and that to here.

The grass was greener on the other side. But man, getting over that fence was rough. I’m so glad God the Good Shepherd was there to help me get from one pasture to the next.

If God were as John describes God, I’m not certain any of us would dare to call God a shepherd… let alone, ‘Good.’ John the Baptist preaches about the forthcoming “ax-wielding arsonist.” ((Barbara Brown Taylor)) That guy terrifies me. And he is some people’s God. Some people do picture God as wrathful and angry and hacking the world to bits and burning it.

But that’s not who Jesus reveals God to be. Jesus reveals God’s personality as the “gentle carpenter whom the Holy Spirit chose for a roost” ((Barbara Brown Taylor)). Since we know who God is through Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection… I’m inclined to think the gentle carpenter is more accurate of who God is – THE God of love – than the ax-wielding arsonist.

That’s not to say John was wrong and not the messenger preparing the way for God. I’m just pointing out it is Jesus who is more powerful than John, and Jesus who John feels unworthy beside. So it’s Jesus’ depictions and examples of God I feel more confident relying upon.

Still, Jesus does come with fire and water.

Jesus came to John to be baptized. And he stepped into the waters, the heavens opened – but instead of raining down fire, from heaven came the Holy Spirit, which was like a dove, to alight upon Jesus and infuse in his soul an unquenchable fiery spirit.

“When you pass through the water I will be with you”
In the waters of baptism – there is God!
In the waters of birth – there is God!
In the water of rain, and flood, and snows, and ice – there is God!
In the water of tears of sorrow and the tears of joy – there is God.
When we pass through the waters of life, God is with us.
And the waters will not overwhelm us because we have God, and we have one another.

Troubles will be there, but we shall overcome.

And,

“When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned.”
The fire of the Holy Spirit alighting upon us will not burn, but refine.
The fires that consume houses, and lands, and bodies cannot consume souls.
The fire that rages in anger and in war will and do surround us – but God sticks with us offering always the hope of peace of soul and mind and world.

Through this all, God declares: “You are my child, and loved, with you I am well pleased.”

You are my daughter.
You are my son.
You are my love.

We are NAMED by God. NAMED beloved child. NAMED and CLAIMED. Given a family. Given a protector. Given a companion. A brother. A redeemer. A savior.

If that’s not enough to encourage us to step out in faith and take a risk to do good; what would be?
If you’re in a bad situation and scared to change… Do not fear.
When you’re comfortable in the earthly hell you’re in… trust God will be with you through the transition towards living into the reign of God now.

Changing jobs. Starting relationships. Ending relationships. Telling the truth. Moving. Downsizing. These are scary waters! God promises to stick by us and not let us drown in them.

Confronting our sins. Confronting complacency. Confronting family racism. Addressing gay or lesbian intolerance. Welcoming strangers… These are fires God promises will not consume our souls.

In the waters of baptism we were given unquenchable holy fire for we are created for the glory of God and personally, PERSONALLY called by our names to relationship with God.

You can do this.

You’re not alone!

Amen.