Sunday, January 21, 2007

Oh Prophet You Rebel

Luke 4:14-21

I remember the day well. It was one of the first times when the Scriptures truly came alive to me. You know, where something just goes off in your head like a light bulb and you say…Ah Ha! I was in Galilee on a visit to the Holy Lands with a group from college. We visited ruin after ruin and I had terribly confused Bethhoglah and Betharabag, Mizpeh and Mozah. And in Galilee, I couldn’t really tell one side of the Sea of Galilea from the other, and besides, the Sea of Galilee is more like a lake. But, it was there in that spot, that something stood out. The walls of this rectangular ruin had crumbled down to stand about knee high. On a clear day like so many we have here in Santa Fe, we were walking on stones and gravel out in the open air, the breeze coming off the Lake. The wall closest to the shore of the Lake was taller than the rest. And attached to it, almost as if it were hanging in mid-air was a flat slab of a stone, at an appropriate height for sitting. This stone was called the Moses seat. The place next to which the reader of the scrolls would stand to read the scripture, and then he would sit on the Moses seat to preach. I was standing in an ancient synagogue where a small community of God fearing Galilean Jews would gather Sabbath after Sabbath to pray, hear the words of the law of God read and listen to comments on God’s law, years ago. Can you see it? A group—maybe about this size—ready to encounter God through the ancient written Scriptures. And on one particular day, their lives would be changed forever.

There was one who grew up among them named Jesus, the Son of Mary and Joseph the carpenter; he had been selected to read from the scroll of course. He’d been away for a while, some months really, traveling about the region. He’d become quite a preacher. And now he was back, let’s let him read today’s lesson and interpret it’s meaning; let’s hear what he has to say. So among relatives and friends, in the synagogue Jesus is at home. It was time. As he moved toward the Moses seat, Jesus was handed the scroll by the synagogue helper, it was the scroll of the famed prophet during Israelite exile named Isaiah. With the scroll in hand, he stood next to the Moses seat, and Jesus found the place where it was written:

The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me

To preach good news to the poor;

To proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind;

To set at liberty those who are oppressed;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll, Jesus gave it back to the synagogue helper and sat on the Moses seat. All eyes were on him, fixed like those of hawks waiting to hear what he had to say. So he began to speak: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” These words are the first public words Jesus speaks as an adult, and that is Jesus’ entire sermon. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled.” “Hoy se ha cumplido la Escritura.” If only all sermons could be that short! And the first word he speaks, “Today.” “Hoy.”

Hoy Que? What has happened today? The message he reads from the scroll is of God’s powerful desire for liberation in the form of debt forgiveness, release of wrongful imprisonments, adequate health care, freedom from oppression, and land reform.1 And says “Today.” Is this the mission for the one anointed by the spirit of the Lord?

This message is dangerous. Surely it is not to be taken literally. Surely we can find a way to explain away it’s meaning or somehow lift it up into the clouds, giving it some kind of spiritual meaning. Promises of healing, restoration, renewal, and justice, can these things really be real. Can liberation and freedom be part of our reality?

I know a world too full of injustice: a world full of impoverished people who are starving to death and know no good news; of people who are in prison because of their skin color and even killed from false accusations; a world in which those blinded by materialism, self preservation, or whatever else my blind never gain their sight; the reality of the oppressed is chains; and those in power take away from those who are weak, and would never consider giving it back.

But what if the messiah says, “Today” “Hoy” “The kingdom of God starts now.” Yes, Jesus, We see the injustices and generally we are for reform, renewal, and restoration. But, then what Jesus? Just how much of a challenge to the status quo do you intend to make? Just how much of a challenge to the status quo does you intend for us to make? Will this mean debt forgiveness (forgive us our debts…), land reform, and a challenge to unjust imprisonments (fines, and arrests)? Will this mean preaching good news to those who so much need to hear something good? What will those in power do to someone who actually proclaims this radical message? What will become of our own vested interests if we we participate in the kingdom of God Jesus proclaims?

Week after week dozens of men stand idle at the park, these days freezing, but they are ready to work if only someone would come by to hire. They’ll give good labor, and they hope to have some food to put on their table and maybe some to send to their families. “Oh, but they do not have proper documentation,” say the powers. But they have to fill out W-2s and prove they are eligible to work in this country. Besides, they shouldn’t be here anyway. Jesus creates another reality because he says “HOY,” Today, I preach the gospel to the poor, and liberty to the oppressed.

Such a liberating message was heard by my friend, Tere Izquierdo, who I met while I lived in Mexico. Her life was transformed when the Annointed one, pronounced, “Hoy.” This single mother of two boys, this cancer survivor, this divorcee had been told what her place was in society. She overcomes any obstacles in her personal path toward Christian freedom because she has heard the good news. She is a professor of biology at a top university in Mexico city, she is working on a cure for AIDS, and instead of going to church on Sundays, as most of her Christian friends would tell her she ought to do, she visits women in prison, and proclaims the good news to those poor, and preaches release to those captives.

God’s dominion, which Jesus brings, is a mission, a program, a campaign which is directed first to those with the greatest need, the sinners and outcasts, the sick and the poor.”2

And you and I, we have heard the reading of the law from the scroll. Do not mourn or weep, for this is God’s mission for the world. This day is holy unto the Lord your God, because we have heard and are invited to participate. We are filled with joy as there is hope for the world.

That is if we hear and accept. For me, it was when that light bulb went of years ago by the Sea of Galilee, standing among those ruins when I began to understand the radical nature of the message of Christ. This Christ whom I professed to know and to follow spoke to my heart that day. And invited me to understand that the justice of his kingdom is filled with consequences for this world and for my role in it. Jesus’ mission and the content of his call to discipleship are filled with God’s passion for the outcast the poor, the oppressed, and the lost.”3

Could I accept that mission? Years have gone by and now I am here before the congregation that has called be to be its Minister, the one who is to teach and preach messages about the one who simply said, “Hoy.” It dawned on me, and others, that after the congregational meeting back on January 7, when the church voted yes to call me to this office, that when I came back in the room, I never said the words, “I accept.” Obviously, by Trasie and me being here today, we have both very willingly decided to move here and, yes, I accept the call wholeheartedly. But the challenge put before me by Jesus, I find more difficult to accept. While at the same time I am overwhelmed by a desire to say YES.

But it is not only me, but each of us who are invited to participate in this type of divine justice for the world. Today, we who are Christ’s hands and Christ’s feet, for we make up the body of Christ, Somos el cuerpo de Cristo, today we can participate in God’s mission.

Today, part of this body of Christ has been nominated to take on significant leadership roles of great responsibility. Those nominated have accepted this responsibility as they seek to participate in God’s mission through this church.

And Today, Hoy, we are invited to this table, where Christ is the host. Christ calls all of us who have never counted ourselves worthy of God’s grace, benefits, or justice and are simply amazed and delighted. At this table we can come as we are, but can be transformed as we are nourished and discover that Christ sends us into the world to proclaim a message that it really gives dignity to the poor, liberates the oppressed and opens up the eyes of those who do not understand.”4 And this happens, Hoy. Today.

1 Tiede, David L. “Proclaiming the Righteous Reign of Jesus: Luke 4 and the Justice of God” Word & World I Vol. VII, Number 1. p 89
2 Tiede 85.
3 Tiede 86
4 Matthey, Jacques “Luke 4:16-30—The Spirit’s Mission Manifesto—Jesus’ Hermeneutics—and Luke’s editorial” International Review of Mission Volume LXXXIX, N. 352, Jan 2000. p 4

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Expect Something Great!

This sermon was the first I preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe, NM-my first ordained call. After the service the congregation voted to receive me as their minister: I believe there was one vote of descent...What up with dat?

Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29:1-11; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

It is hard to believe that we are in the year 2007! 2007! 2007!

Why is it is so hard to believe that we have entered into a new year? For any number of reasons, really. One, we get older with every year. And as every year passes, time seems to fly faster and faster. This year I am turning 32! I’m going to be 30 something, with a wife, a seminary degree, and I’m supposed to know where I’m going in life. Parents on both sides are pressuring hard for grandkids.

What happened to the days, long ago, when I was in my 20s, care free, loving life. What happened to those days when I was a teen playing sports, and hanging out with friends. Or when I was a pre-teen, in the 1980s, riding around on dirt bikes, and coming home with scraped up knees.

It’s 2007! Wasn’t it just a few years ago when there was the big Y2K threat! Wasn’t the fall of the Berlin Wall just the other day? Wasn’t Carter president a few years back? Another

Wow, we’re in 2007! But isn’t it great that a new year gives us an opportunity to put special memories of the past up in the attic, like Christmas decorations, to come out only on special occasions, or to bury painful moments of past years like a dog bone, only to be brought up when you are willing to get dirty. Now, on this the first Sunday of a new year, we face the wide open future…the infinite realm of possibilities. We set out to accomplish wonderful goals: I will go on long jogs with our Dog, Brinca; I will take time to stay in touch with family and friends; I will get organized this year. It’s 2007. What will a new year bring?

Was it a new year when John the Baptizer begins to preach in the wilderness? The people who followed John out there ask themselves:

What are we to do? What do you want from us?”

Repent and be baptized! Start the new year off on the right foot! Repent! Give your extra coat to someone who is freezing in this cold weather! Give your extra food to the hungry! Do not give yourselves a pay raise while so many barely scrap by on the scraps of minimum wage. Do not accuse one who is not wearing a seat belt for reckless driving, and slap him with a $600 fine, because he is undocumented and you can! Instead, prepare the way for the Lord! Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”

They were filled with expectations, and wondered in their hearts, Are you the one we have been waiting for? Are you the Messiah, the one who is to save us?

I could not help but laugh when I saw that this was the lectionary text for the first morning I was to preach before what I hope becomes the congregation I will serve with for many years to come. Many churches have great hopes when they call a new pastor. Hearts filled with expectations! I did a little homework before coming out here and read the transcripts from some of Bobb’s previous sermons. About a month ago, he preached:

I suppose there are some who believe the future of this church, the hope for what is to come, resides in the potential of the new minister to be called. He, or she, will make all things right, will bring in new members, make us visible in the community, revitalize our faith, give us a new direction and save this church. Send us a Savior! And teach him or her how to perform magic so that we may be dazzled by his, or her, abilities.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful! Let’s see what magic I can perform to transform this community into something that the entire community of Santa Fe marvels about. Am I the Savior? [Like I said, I could not help but laugh.] In seminary, we dream about opportunities to massage what we call our savior complexes: We want to go where we are most needed, where we can exercise gifts given to us by God to bring new vision, hope, and a future to any congregation that may call us to serve.

Am I the one you have been waiting for? What about Trasie, my wife? I’m sure there will be times that she will be the reason you even keep me around.

I will not deny that perhaps you do have great expectations of me. But, lest I leave you with the impression that I am the only one here who is the object of people’s expectations. I, too, have a heart filled with expectation about a new beginning in this congregation. For most of my final year at Seminary I poured through literature and information on the history of Presbyterian Mission to the Southwest. I was fascinated, as well as often times horrified at the mission efforts forbearers of Presbyterianism brought to this part of what is now our country. Many early missionaries came on their horses with one objective: to work among the Anglo “settlers,” and through their efforts First Presbyterian Churches of X –town were organized. Then, almost as an afterthought, efforts were made to convert the “heathen uncivilized” natives. From this emerged extravagant stories of early converts who, by simply reading the Bible were convicted of their sin, recognized “true gospel,” and joined the protestant movement. As a result another Presbyterian congregation was organized, traditionally called “La Segunda Iglesia Presbiteriana” of X-town.

And here I am, in the reality of what I only read about in books, Westminster Presbyterian, antes conocida como: “La Segunda Iglesia Presbyteriana de Santa Fe”. A church that has survived the errors committed in the past, as well as benefited from the work of the faithful saints, and is now, by God’s grace, this community, you who have sat in these pews and worshipped in this place for many years. A church that was once supported by Presbyterian Home Missions as a mission church, that is now self-sustaining and seeks to be missional by bringing the light of Christ to this community and to the world.

I have spent many months since graduation envisioning the community I would serve, creating a realm of possibility about ways in which we would work together for the Kingdom of God. And within me beats a heart that is filled with expectation about joining this place, becoming part of this 114-year history just as you are part of it. A place where I may bring new ideas and teach and preach fruit bearing lessons that brings true repentance, just as you are going to teach and guide me on what will become our collective spiritual journey.

Yes, I hope to meet many expectations and visions about the future in this New Year that you may have. And believe me, I do feel a bit of pressure regarding this. But, know that I too have many expectations for you as a congregation. I do not know the future, but I do have hope.

Isaiah 43:1-7

1But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Not only in the hope that comes from beginning a new life, far from that of the Southeast where my boyhood days were spent. But, even more, I recognize, as did John the Baptizer, that I am no Savior. And you, this congregation, while you may be wonderful Christian people, are not Saviors either. You and I may baptize with water. But the one who came, not as a celebrity, a powerful political leader, or a military commander, but instead as the baby of a poor pregnant out of wed-lock teenager, born not in a fancy hospital with the best doctors, but in a manger where there were shepherds and animals to welcome this baby into the world. We are not worthy to untie the thongs of the sandals of the one whom we call savior. He will come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Yet, he is one who in humility joined the long line of those who were being baptized by John, and as John dipped him into the cool water he felt the rush of the river flow over his head.

This is the Savior. He is the one we have been expecting. He is the Messiah. And as he was lifted up, the Holy Spirit descends like a Dove and a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

This New Year has so much wonderful possibility; as we consider a future together with hearts filled with expectations. What then should we do?

May we remember our baptism, when the cool water touched our foreheads signifying new life. We rise from the waters and embark on a new beginning, a new journey, in which Christ beckons us every day to follow.