Breaking and Entering

Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Mark 1:4-11

This morning’s breaking headline news is from the gospel writer, Mark who like a news reporter today has an urgency in his message. Mark begins his gospel report with an indictment. The charge is breaking and entering. Yes, a powerful force has broken into the world. The lives of the everyday people of the ancient Middle East will never be the same. And Mark, and we, as witnesses to this headline news will never be the same either.

The day started out like many other days. John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan river, the same river that many of their ancestors crossed after having wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. It was near hear on the Jabbok River, a tributary of the Jordan, that Jacob wrestled with God all night. It was here that the prophets Elijah and Elisha carried out much of their ministry. And now here in the same Jordan river, Jesus was baptized by John. And this was an extraordinary newsworthy event.

Unlike the others who were baptized that day, Mark says as Jesus was “coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart, and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” Did you hear that? He saw the heavens torn apart! The heavens – the celestial sky – was torn apart! That’s an earth shattering event like the sky is falling! That’s a vision that would instill fear in most people. And the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus. It didn’t just gently rest on him. The Spirit descended on Jesus. Dive bombed right out of the heavens that were torn apart and landed on Jesus. What a scene! It’s earth shattering news! The heavens being torn apart, the veil separating heaven and earth split wide open, the Holy Spirit descending from out of the midst of it and.…..a loud voice from heaven announcing who Jesus was! Incoming! If others saw it they would have yelled “incoming” and ran out of the way.

I wonder what Jesus felt at that exact moment. Was he taken by surprise? Was he elated, filled with joy? Was he speechless at the moment when he was able to see heaven and earth all at the same time and this Holy Spirit coming right at him and in him. The great and powerful God of the universe was speaking and acting and breaking into the world. At that pivotal moment God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were one. The Trinity was together at that one precise moment in time, and the very voice of God spoke – as it did to Moses on Mt Sinai – and God said to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Wow! Take it in. The powerful voice and breath of God breaking into the world through Jesus in this single act of baptism!

The gift of the Christ Child at Christmas was now ready to be “unwrapped as it were” and not just unwrapped delicately and carefully. The gift of God entering the world was to be ripped open, and torn apart. Like a present that can no longer wait to be unwrapped, the excitement was too much and it was time to tear it apart – tear the wrappings off – and reveal the gift. The voice of God announced as this gift was unwrapped for the world to see, “You are my Son, the Beloved!” Yes, Jesus is the gift sent straight from heaven. The heavens were torn apart the day Jesus entered the world in the flesh and the heavens were torn apart at the announcement of his identity at his baptism.

This act was the catalyst that changed the course of Jesus’ life. Jesus was baptized not because He needed to be forgiven for any sins, but He was baptized to signify the beginning of His public ministry. Jesus was baptized in solidarity with the sinners He came to save. It was at the moment of Jesus’ baptism that God said “Go! This is it! This is the time for you to start your public ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing, in order to bring about the kingdom of God.” The action plan for salvation was heading into high gear, right there at Jesus’ baptism. There was no turning back now. This was it! The time for action was immediate!

Baptism then, is not just a ritual of water and words. Baptism is the place- the moment – where the power of the voice of God and the breath of the Holy Spirit break into the world. It is the moment where things are torn apart. And when most of us hear or see things being torn apart we are scared. We run in the opposite direction, because when something is torn apart we immediately think of pain, and it’s not surprising that we would make that connection.

When we hear stories on the news of things being torn apart we know before even watching the video, that there will be pain involved. In the last few days we’ve heard and seen the stories on the news of the horrific attacks in France. Violence has once again torn people’s lives apart. It was not the violence of one particular religion – Islam – it was the violence of extremist groups within that religion just as there are extremist groups in all religions, even Christianity. People twist the Holy Scriptures of different faith traditions by listening to their own voices of anger and revenge instead of God’s voice of love and peace. I’ve read the Quran; I have friends who are Muslim, and I know that their faith is one of peace and not violence. I have friends of many different faiths all deserving of respect. We are called by Christ to treat all people with love and compassion. The danger arises when we listen to our own desires and prejudices instead of the voice of God. And as the voices of greed, anger, hatred, and racism increase we can no longer hear the voice of God that speaks of peace and love. We must pray to live in solidarity with one another.

But God’s voice of love and peace tears things apart too, but in a positive way. It tears apart the those things that eat away at our souls. It tears apart the damaged parts of our hearts in order to make room for wholeness. It tears apart the veil of ignorance and replaces it with holy wisdom. Like a Band-Aid, sometimes tearing it off can hurt, but only then is the problem revealed so we can apply healing ointment. Sometimes the voice of God speaks to us words we don’t want to hear like “change directions. Go a different way. Trust me even if it looks like it is hopeless.” But the voice of God is always the voice of truth. It is a healing voice, and we can put our faith in the voice of God. For the same voice that called all things into being in creation is still calling new things into being. God is still creating new life.

The same wind of the Holy Spirit that hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation is still breathing new life into the dark and void waters of our lives. Creation is still taking place and new life is still emerging out of the darkness.

Through the waters of baptism, God’s voice is still speaking, “you are my son, my daughter, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Those words were not meant just for Jesus. For through our baptism, we are united with Jesus in his baptism and those words are for us today. We are beloved by God!  Each time a baptism takes place, the heavens are torn apart and the Holy Spirit descends on us too. And we don’t have to fear this wild and passionate Holy Spirit for it comes to breathe into us new life. We are “sealed by the Holy Spirit” and the oil of baptism is not only a healing oil, but an oil that anoints us to proclaim the Good News. Like Jesus we are entered into a unity with God and equipped to begin our ministry. Just as Jesus’ ministry was to reveal God, our ministry is to reveal Christ, who is the manifestation of God in the flesh. Through our actions of love to all people Christ is revealed.

At Jesus’ death, Mark tells us again that the “heavens were torn apart.” The veil of the temple was torn apart. The veil which covered the temple sanctuary – an elaborate colorful tapestry of over 80 feet, with an image of the heavens – was torn apart when Jesus died. It was torn apart because once again, the division between heaven and earth was gone. Jesus broke through the pain of sin and death. Jesus broke through the final thing – death – that would keep us separated from God. Jesus entered the world and broke through the darkness to bring us all into the light forever. God broke through the pain of our lives and entered into this world through Jesus the Christ because nothing was going to hold God back from saving us. It takes a lot to break apart the heavens and the earth, but God is that powerful.

Beloved? I’ll say we are! No one will ever love us that much! And this gift of grace comes with no strings attached. The strings have been torn apart. We are connected through the love and the faithfulness of Jesus. There may be times our hearts are breaking. There may be times we feel all is being torn apart at the seams, but remember that the heavens have been torn apart and God has entered this world through Jesus. And because of Jesus, nothing, nothing will tear us apart from God again. That is breaking news to report that will change the world! Amen!

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Detours

Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 1:1-18

The map has been planned out, the route is clearly marked, and the journey is underway. Then you see the sign…….You know, the one with the giant arrow telling you to go another way. Detour. It’s not the sign you want to see when you are waiting to get to your destination. In fact, it can even cause feelings of anger. We want to get to our destination as quickly as possible. And detours….well, detours just get in the way. They mess up our plans. They change our well-planned out route. They take us off our schedule. Detours. Not the signs you want to encounter on the road. They slow us down.

For many people the road to Christmas is done. They have reached their destination. The presents have been opened. Decorations are carefully wrapped and put away and trees have been taken down. Even the stores are quickly moving on toward the next holiday. It’s like traveling on a fast highway and everyone is eager to get to the next stop. No time to slow down. Keep going, keep moving, keep your eyes on the next destination.

Until you hit another detour. The feast of Epiphany slows us down. It’s like a detour on this past paced race to keep moving ahead. It slows us down like the star that stopped over the place where the Christ Child was. It reminds us that the journey to Bethlehem is not over. Christians traditionally have celebrated the 12 days of Christmas, but in recent years this has been forgotten. This is the gift that Epiphany brings and the gift of truth that the magi give to us today.

Epiphany, the feast day that is celebrated on Jan. 6th, is also known as Three Kings Day although in reality we don’t know that there were three of them – probably several – and they were not kings, but astrologers. In ancient times these astrologers made it their vocation to study the stars and astronomical events. It was a very precise science and because of the exact position of the stars and planets they could tell that something important was about to happen. So they set out on a journey – one that would prove quite dangerous for them.

It was dangerous because they were seeking a new king and that was a threat to Herod, the ruling king at the time. When Herod heard from these wise men who came from the East that there was a new king born it was like a detour in the road. Herod had a plan for success and this new king would mess things up! Herod was known for his murderous and evil ways and he would stop at nothing to end any competition. He told the wise men that he wanted them to report back to him when they found the infant Jesus so he could worship him too, but in reality he wanted to use their expertise to find the baby and kill him. Herod wanted to stick to his current route and nothing was going to take him off course. He was filled with fear and jealousy.

Jealousy and fear are common evils in all of us. These emotions may not lead us to murder, but they lead us to act in ways that are not life giving. At times we may find ourselves wishing we were more like someone else who has characteristics or gifts that we think are far more valuable than ours. Maybe someone else is smarter, or richer, or more talented and we wonder why we aren’t blessed with those things. It can lead one down a dangerous path into fear and darkness. The only answer is to focus on the light of truth and that true light is Jesus.

That is the light that the magi traveled to see. And so they followed the star. Now the text says the star was ahead of them. They saw its rising and then they travelled for quite a while, studying their maps and going in the direction they first saw the star. That meant that there were most likely many days that they travelled without seeing the star. They traveled by day and by night going in the direction, but with no person to guide their way. I’m sure there were detours on the way. I’m sure they got tired. How did they know they were going in the right direction? They kept adjusting their route based on the sign of the star.

How often do we ask ourselves the same question? How do we know if we are going in the right direction? We study the Scriptures, like the magi studied and interpreted their maps. We read God’s word carefully, discussing it with others and trying to interpret exactly what it is that God is saying to us. It’s not easy to understand God’s plan for us and often we have no idea. But like the magi, we follow the light. We follow the light of Christ and trust that He knows the answers. And like the magi, when we find the Light, we are filled with joy.

Following the Light is a long journey for all of us. It is filled with twists and turns and dangers along the way. There are people who, like Herod, will want to lead us astray, who will try and deceive us, but we must stay true to the course no matter how difficult it gets. The magi stayed to their course with their maps and stars. We have the Scripture and prayer. And like the magi, we have each other. We have each other to keep us on the right path.

God spoke to the magi in a dream not to return the same way they came. Another detour. They were forced to take another road, an alternative route. It wasn’t something they had planned, but they were willing to listen to the message from God something that the scribes and people who studied the Scriptures in Herod’s circle were not willing to do. The magi were open to the signs. They were open to seeing and hearing the news from God.

This is one of the great surprises of the magi because they were not even believers. They practiced astrology and put their faith in their sciences until……until they saw the Christ Child. “When they saw the child with Mary his mother, they knelt down and paid him homage.” Experiencing Christ changed the magi. That is why they presented him with extravagant gifts. They were overcome with joy. They had reached their destination. Their destination and ours is not in an event, but in Christ – the manifestation, the epiphany of God. Christ embodies who God is and that is the gift that God has given to us.

Experiencing Christ changes all who encounter Him. God still speaks to us today. We need to be receptive to that. That is what Epiphany is all about. It is the manifestation of Christ. He is revealed to us every day and we – like the magi – need to be open to see Him. Christ is revealed to us when we pray. He is revealed to us when we minister to one another. And He is most especially revealed to us in the bread and wine today that we receive today.

We, like the magi, are on a journey to seek the King only we do not need to travel far. Jesus comes to us whenever and wherever we are. That is the greatest gift of all. That is reason to celebrate and give thanks! Amen.