Posts Tagged ‘Good News’

Look Who’s Stooping

Sometimes we’re asked to do something that we don’t feel worthy or prepared to do. How does the life and ministry of Jesus affect our sense of worth?

This sermon based on Mark 1:1-8 explores this idea. This was originally preached and recorded on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 7, 2014 at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Greenvine, TX.

Click the following link to listen to the message or scroll down to read the manuscript:

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/look-whos-stooping

 

Look Who’s Stooping

A missed call showed up on my cell phone a few weeks ago. When I saw that it was from Pastor Blair Lundborg from the synod office, I said to my sister-in-law, Karen, “If this is about a job, the answer is ‘yes.’

“Don’t you want to find out what the job is first?” Karen challenged me.

“Well, of course I’ll hear him out before I say ‘yes.’ But I think this is an answer to prayer. I have hoped to find a way to be of service in our synod, and if my synod is calling me about a job, then this might just be what I’ve been waiting for. So, I’m pretty sure it’s a ‘yes.'”

When I got a free moment I returned Pastor Lundborg’s call. It was, in fact, about a job, but to be completely honest with you, when he told me what he had in mind, I was a bit nervous. He invited me to serve as the interim for Emmanuel in Greenvine. This job was a step beyond what I had imagined for myself.

For one thing, an interim assignment—even one at half-time—would mean a great deal more hours than I had worked at a paying job in a very long time. But also, it is a job that is ordinarily filled by an ordained pastor, which I am not.

I found myself rethinking my words to Karen about being able to say, ‘Yes’ on the spot. I did indicate interest, but wanted some time to think it over.

I had to ask, ‘Am I prepared for this ministry?’

After some thought and prayer and conversation with my husband, I realized that, with the help of God, I could do this. So I told Pastor Lundborg I wanted to move forward with the possibility. He got me in touch with y’all and we agreed on a contract for me to come be your interim minister.

The feeling I had about wondering if I was prepared for this assignment, is similar to what John the Baptist experienced. Despite being the one to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist wrestled with his own anxieties about the situation.

John the Baptist had crowds coming to him from the big city and from across the countryside. They were eager to hear his message and receive the baptism he offered.

But John knew that his work was not for his own sake. He was there to point to Jesus.

John himself recognized that Jesus’ ministry was more important than John’s and that Jesus would surpass him. In Mark 1:7-8, John says of Jesus, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of John the Baptist, I imagine him as a rather primitive character. He wore clothes made of camel hair and he ate locusts and wild honey. So, when John talks about feeling “not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of Jesus’ sandals,” I can begin to imagine why.

Yet, as I already noted, he did have crowds coming to him, so he obviously had a good thing going. Still, he had that sense of feeling unworthy compared to Jesus.

Goodness. I can certainly related to feeling unworthy as compared with Jesus. I was even nervous about becoming an interim minister, but John was the opening act for Jesus!

“Not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

It’s not clear from this text whether John the Baptist knew the identity of the one coming after him.

Did he know that it was his cousin, Jesus? If you’ll recall from the story from the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist was 6 months older than Jesus; their mothers were pregnant around the same time.

I have a lot of cousins, some older and some younger. The older ones will always be people I am in awe of. And the younger cousins will always be people who I knew as babies.

When you think about it, it almost seems strange for John not to feel worthy compared to his baby cousin.
But see, that’s just how disarming Jesus’ story is.

John didn’t feel worthy to stoop down and untie Jesus’ sandals, and yet God himself stooped to become one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.

And this is the wonder that we behold as we prepare for Jesus birthday at Christmas. Jesus stooped to be born as one of us, to be a baby—even a baby cousin! He stooped to live out life among us—and one of us.

It is worth noting that the name of this church, Emmanuel, means “God with us” in honor of the reality of God stooping to be one of us.

And Jesus stooped lowest of all, enduring the humiliation of a death sentence.

God in Christ Jesus came to be one of us to demonstrate once and for all that we don’t have to do anything to become worthy. Humanity is so loved by God, that God came to be one of us—to live and die and rise again for our sakes.

And through Jesus’ rising from the dead, Jesus proves once and for all that we have nothing left to fear—not even death and the grave. And that with God’s help, we can do more than we thought possible.

So, being an interim minister is new for me. And, this particular pastoral transition is new for you as a congregation. While you’ve had pastors come and go in the past, each pastor is different. There is no one quite like Pastor Rich. And having your lives touched by him has changed you—and from what I can tell, it has changed you for the better. Now that he is no longer pastor here, you too may have your anxieties about your future as a congregation.

Or maybe there are other challenges you’re facing in your daily lives? Perhaps you have a new job, a new school, new friends, or new stage of parenting. Whatever it is, we are often faced with experiences that push us to do more than we feel prepared to do.

Oh, sometimes we might need more training or study to be able to do what is asked of us. And it’s a good idea to take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow in our skills. But let’s not overlook the ways that God can and does work through us right now.

We can entrust our ministry together, our jobs, our classes, our friendships, and our families to our Lord. We don’t have to be anything other than who we are to be dearly loved by the God of the universe. We don’t have to feel unworthy of service in the church and in the world, because we look to and trust the God who stooped for us, empowering us to love and serve in his name.

Can an Untimely Death Bring a Shine? Good Friday Reflection

 

JesusDeathStainedGlass

Today is “Good Friday,” the day we as Christians commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus. For a dramatic narration of the story by Nashville’s Charles Esten (aka “Deacon”), click here.

But it is hard for me to get my mind around the idea of an untimely death being a good thing.

I don’t talk about this much, but in the past several years I have lost two twenty-something cousins. The young men, Michael and Phillip, were the only two children of my aunt and uncle. They died about two years apart, both in car accidents.

Growing up these were the cousins that I saw most often. Even after I was married we would spend holidays together whenever possible. I’d say we were pretty close.

I’ve been reflecting lately about how I’ve felt especially dysfunctional in terms of things like housework. I’ve always been a little lax, but there was a time if company was coming I could step up my game and get my house to a shine.

Now though, I just can’t care about that shine anymore.

As I thought about what changed–or rather–when that change occurred, I realized there was a distinct shift when Michael died (he was the first one to die). It hit me hard.

Just nothing was the same anymore without Michael’s shining smile in this world.

And then when Phillip died too, it was grief upon grief, tarnish upon tarnish.

Shiny, happy housekeeping held no meaning for me anymore.

I still don’t have nearly as much company or as many dinners and parties as a once did. But even when I do, I just figure you’re willing to enter my mess then we can really be friends.

And maybe it’s a protection.

To love like I loved (still love) those little cousins of mine…and to lose them both? I mean, that kind of loss makes it hard to want to love that hard again.

It always seemed to have hit me harder than it should have–I mean, I’m just the big cousin. I don’t even know how my aunt and uncle–the parents–get up every morning.

And then there are the questions upon questions…Why them? When then? Why death?

So you see why I have trouble thinking of an untimely death as a good thing?

I don’t accept that God wanted it that way. I can’t embrace a God who wills people dead for some larger purpose. Or at least I won’t if that’s the kind of God our God is.

So then, the untimely death of God’s own son? Am I supposed to accept that? To accept that God gave up what no parent should ever have to give up?

This is where our language about God and our understanding of God’s nature get confusing. See, all the God there is came to us as Jesus. God didn’t send an agent that was somehow apart from Godself. God is Jesus. Jesus is God.

Our very God gave up God’s own shine to be one of us.

The cruel fate of an untimely death was not something that God did to someone else. No, God submitted to human punishment & sentencing. God endured humiliation and death for our sakes.

The untimely death of God is the most baffling of all. But if anything could ever shine despite death, then it would be because God conquered the very death that threatens to overshadow our world.

We know that God did not stay dead. He rose victorious from the grave and conquered death itself.

Death does not get the final word.

And whether we feel shiny, happy, or we’re still grappling with some kind of grief, we know that love wins. God’s love shines through for us always, all the time, no matter what.