Oddities of the Holy Spirit

Preacher: Jennifer Hosler

Scripture: Acts 16:9-15; John 14:23-29

At times, I am reminded that following Jesus is a bit strange. I’m trained in scientific methods as a community psychologist and I’m working to develop specific hypotheses for my dissertation. My research will be descriptive – describing what exists in the world – but it will also seek to answer a question with new data, empirical evidence.

I’ve followed Jesus for many years now – I was baptized in the spring of 2000—and so I’m used to talking about supernatural events of the Spirit, like miracles, or the Spirit’s leading. Yet, sometimes, it hits me with how odd it is, from an empirical and from a nonspiritual point of view. For instance, the general the notion of God, but especially the Holy Spirit acting, moving, nudging, and revealing, as we see in today’s texts. It is odd, if you are not religious, to hear someone say, “This might seem out of nowhere, but I felt this strong thought or voice remind me of a person, or give me a strong idea, or compel me to pray or talk or reach out to someone.” Yet, despite the lack of empirical support for how the Spirit moves, I’m convinced that these “oddities of the Holy Spirit” are still at work today. Our faith is not just a moral philosophy but is empowered and led by a Spirit beyond ourselves. We see this in scripture and we experience in life together as the body of Jesus.

Oddities of the Holy Spirit

Our passage in Acts 16 highlights some of these Holy Spirit oddities. We see that Paul and crew were traveling around preaching about Jesus but hit some Holy Spirit roadblocks in their journeys. Acts 16, verses 6-8 say, they “traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.” There is no indication what this “not allowing” was. Did logistics just not come together? Was someone sick? Did they encounter hostile communities or authorities on the way? Or was it in times of prayer that they kept hearing a big “no”? Whatever the case, there were Holy Spirit roadblocks.

Then, in verse 9, Paul has a dream. The author of Acts, Luke, describes it this way: “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Luke explains, “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (NIV). Paul must have woken up from his dream and said, “Good morning! Um, I don’t know how your night last night was, but I had a dream about a Macedonian guy saying that he needed our help. So… I guess we should go to Macedonia?” So, they went to Macedonia, a place which was not just the next town over. Paul and crew get in a boat, leave Troas, and embark on the Mediterranean. They sailed straight to Samothrace (which was fun to see in the text, because of the statue of the goddess Nike, or the Winged Victory of Samothrace, that is at the Louvre). After Samothrace, Paul and colleagues continue on to Neapolis, then to Philippi, which was a Roman colony and the major city in that part of Macedonia.

Typically, Paul and his team would head to the local synagogue, but since there was not one, they went down to the river where they knew Jews or God-fearing gentiles might pray. They began talking with some women who had gathered, one of whom was a woman named Lydia, who is described as a dealer in purple cloth. Commentators say that her name may indicate she had a slave background, but that if she had been, she was now a freed person of means (with a household and a house). Lydia is said to be “a worshipper of God,” which is another way of saying a gentile drawn to Judaism. Primed and open to the teachings of Yahweh already, Lydia hears the message and receives it.

The gospel spreads beyond her to her household and everyone is baptized. She invites Paul and the team to her home. It requires some persuasion (she’s a single woman, maybe a widow, definitely a Gentile), but she ends up convincing Paul and crew to accept her hospitality. They stay with her and use her home as a base for their preaching in Philippi (until they leave after being thrown in jail, but that’s another story).

According to the text, Lydia is the first recorded convert in Macedonia, in the city of Philippi. The church in Philippi later becomes very important to Paul’s ministry of sharing the gospel; one of the main purposes of the Letter to the Philippians is to thank the congregation for its faithful support of Paul’s ministry (through funds, resources, and people).

Acts 16 is a story of closed doors, a weird dream, walking in faith (or rather, sailing in faith), of opportunities ripe for the harvest, crossing social boundaries to receive hospitality, the gospel spreading, ministry being supported—and all this in ways that Paul and his partners probably could not have imagined when they were in Troas at the beginning of the passage. Things weren’t working. Through the oddities of the Holy Spirit, a new opportunity opened. They followed the opportunity and it bore fruit beyond what they could have imagined.

Paul listened for the oddities of the Holy Spirit and acted decisively, walking in faith, though it could have seemed pretty ludicrous or absurd to other people. “You crossed the sea because you had a dream…?” The oddities of the Holy Spirit still happen today. Sometimes the Spirit speaks in a still small voice, sometimes in an emerging thought, sometimes in a dream (I guess!), or sometimes in an opportunity so obvious that we need to walk through the door, or have a conversation, or invite someone to our home, or any other number of things. I’m not stating an exhaustive list. We see in Scripture that the Holy Spirit nudges or reveals opportunities for ministry in ways that could be seen as odd or absurd.

Are we listening for the Holy Spirit? Are our holy senses working? Are we making the space to invite the Spirit’s nudges, pssts, or loud gongs to get our attention? Are we open to the oddities of the Holy Spirit? Are we open to the far-fetched call for a person to join our ministry? Are we open to the weird outreach plan that crossed our minds? Are we open to following the oddities of the Spirit, and then walking (or sailing) in faith to see how God might lead?

Peace I Leave with You, My Peace I Give You

Our 2nd passage flashes backward to Jesus’ ministry, the night before his crucifixion. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples, trying to prepare them for his death, resurrection, and ascension, giving them what they need to know (even if they won’t remember until later) and praying for them. Jesus says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

If we love God and follow the way of Jesus, God will make a home with us. There’s kind of a strange, saccharine phrasing here, “we will come to them and make our home with them.” Though it sounds trite or cutesy translated into English, I think there is profound meaning when we unpack it.

Homes are where we find solace and rest, homes are where we are nourished, where we feed ourselves, and where we are the most relaxed and most authentic. Jesus promises that God will make a home with us: give us rest and solace, nourish us, feed us, and enable us to be our most authentic and true selves. When I am closely walking with Jesus, this is exactly what I feel: at home with God. When I become distant from God, when I drift from the way of Jesus, the rest, the solace, the nourishment, and the authenticity start to drift away too.

Jesus continues, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will be sent by the Father in my name, will come to you. The Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all these things. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Jesus teaches that the promised Holy Spirit—remember, Pentecost has not yet happened—will teach, remind, and cover the disciples with peace. Since Jesus and the disciples were Jewish, the peace he is referring to is the concept of shalom, which is wholeness, completeness, right relationships. With the Holy Spirit, the wholeness and completeness that God intends can be made manifest amongst these ragtag followers of Jesus. The disciples were about to be very afraid and deal with great loss. Jesus says, “do not be afraid. I am sending you what you need. My peace I give you, I leave with you.”

These are words that I needed to hear in my life both personally—as I’m dealing with numerous relational transitions or loss—and in terms of my role in this community. I’ve served as a leader here in times of great scarcity, then moved to what seemed like times of relative abundance and growth, and now back to what seems like a fallow period with scarcity—and, if I’m being honest, also some loss. I feel loss in the departure of core members who moved away. I feel loss in the disappearances of other seemingly somewhat committed persons. I feel loss, and I’m sad, and I’m probably afraid.

But Jesus says, I am giving you what you need. Really, while celebrating Pentecost is in 2 weeks, we are already in the era of the Holy Spirit—WE’VE BEEN GIVEN WHAT WE NEED. (I wrote that in all caps, because I need to hear it for myself.) Yes, I’m afraid. Yes, sometimes things really kind of suck. Yes, there is pain and loss. But you know what, Jesus did not leave us alone. Jesus did not leave us alone. The Advocate

(someone who pleads on our behalf!) is with us. God makes a home with us. The peace and wholeness and presence of God is with us, through the pain, through the loss, through the times that really suck.

Jesus said, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will be sent by the Father in my name, will come to you. The Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all these things. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Act on the Nudges and Do Not Be Afraid

I find it very intriguing that these passages came up this week, after some Holy Spirit nudges had occurred. While I certainly preach for the whole body, I often find that the biblical interpretation and the preaching I do is exactly for me, is somehow what I need right now. I’ve been trying to pay attention to these holy nudges, holy opportunities, both in terms of my personal life and my ministry with Washington City Church of the Brethren. Instead of just grieving some personal relationships ending or changing (but believe me, I’m still grieving), I’ve been saying yes to new opportunities for friendship. It’s hard to make new friends, but I’m trying to follow up with a text or a playdate or a walk, or whatever. I don’t think Jesus just wants me to sit around feeling sorry for myself, but to take opportunities placed around me, like new acquaintances or new neighbors.

In terms of the church, I think I had a holy nudge this week and I’ll tell you the story: I typically read books while nursing Ayuba to sleep but, for some reason, I started browsing facebook. Which is also strange, because I’ve been avoiding facebook for a while, only periodically getting the app back on a device and catching up with folks or posting on the church page or reading my birthday greetings. While there, I saw some news about a Church of the Brethren acquaintance, who had recently graduated with a degree.

All of a sudden, this small thought came across: maybe she can come to Washington City. It sounds crazy, but her degree and training could really fit with some of our interests in outreach and arts here at Washington City. After Ayuba fell asleep, I sat in silence—and got the sense that, to be faithful, I should act on this crazy thought and send her a message. So I did. I’m not sure what will come of it, if anything—but I want to be open to the oddities of the Holy Spirit. That’s how Nate and I got here. That’s how Jacob got here. A random conversation, an invitation, and walking in faith after the way of Jesus.

Are we open to hearing the oddities of the Holy Spirit? Personally and as a congregation, are we listening to holy nudges or paying attention to opportunities for new connections, new relationships, new ministry? While things are painful and we’re feeling loss, we are not alone. WE ARE NOT ALONE! We have the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whose oddities still occur today. We have the peace of Jesus, and God has made a home with us. AMEN.

Benediction, from Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:16-21: I pray that out of God’s glorious riches God may strengthen us with power through the Spirit in our inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And I pray that we, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to God’s power that is at work within us, 21 to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Recognizing God

Preacher: Jeff Davidson

Scriptures: John 21:1-19, Acts 9:1-20

One of the classic adventure books that I remember reading as a kid “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” by Howard Pyle. It might have been in the Reader’s Digest abridged books. My mom and dad subscribed to those for many years, and it let me read books as a boy that I wouldn’t have been able to understand or follow if they’d been in their full original versions.

To get us all on the same page, Robin Hood is a British noble who has been cheated of his lands and become an outlaw. Great Britain’s King Richard is fighting overseas, and the throne has been entrusted to the care of the greedy and unscrupulous Prince John. Richard has been captured and is being held for ransom, and the people have been taxed for the ransom, but John does not intend to pay the ransom. Instead he is going to allow Richard to be killed and claim the throne for himself. Robin Hood and his merry men oppose John and support Richard.

Through a long and convoluted series of happenings, King Richard returns to England and is disguised as a priest. He and his entourage are

taken prisoner in Sherwood Forest by Robin and his men, as they do not see through his disguise and realize that he is the King.

The best movie version of this is from 1938 with Errol Flynn and Claude Rains. It’s on Turner Classic Movies all the time. One of the emotional high points of both the book and the movie are when King Richard chooses to reveal himself to Robin Hood and his band, and stands up and throws back his hood to show his face. Everyone immediately recognizes the King, and they all kneel before him, and they all bow their heads. It gave me goose bumps when I was a kid, and it still does whenever I watch the movie.

That mistaken identity thing, or just not recognizing someone, is a very common theme in books and movies and TV shows. Mark Twain used it in “The Prince and the Pauper.” A similar theme shows up in the 1983 Eddie Murphy movie “Trading Places.” I don’t know how far back in history this plot device goes, but it’s still in use today and probably will be as long as books and plays are written.

Both of our scripture readings this morning hinge on someone not recognizing God. I guess in our Gospel reading it’s more specifically about not recognizing Jesus.

The disciples are out fishing, and although many of them are professionals they don’t catch any fish. This random guy on the beach tells

them to throw their nets over on the other side of the boat. They do, and all of a sudden they have more fish than they can haul in. Then, and only then, does one of them recognize Jesus.

You sometimes wonder if the reality of the resurrection hadn’t quite sunk in for the disciples. Maybe they were a long way from the shore. Maybe they really couldn’t see Jesus well enough to realize that was him. They’d been traveling the countryside with him and observed him from far away and from close up for three years, and they’d already seen him risen a couple of times after the crucifixion and the resurrection, but let’s say that they couldn’t see him well enough to recognize him.

They sure could hear him, though. They could hear him shouting instructions, because they followed the instructions. They took up their nets from one side of the boat and cast them out on the other side. Even if they couldn’t see Jesus well enough to recognize him, you would think that if they heard him well enough to follow instructions that they would have heard him well enough to know who he was.

But they didn’t. At least not until they got their miracle and all those fish showed up in the nets. Not just a bunch of fish, not just a large quantity of fish, not just a mess of fish, but one hundred and fifty three fish precisely. Large ones. Once they had their miracle, once they had their one hundred and fifty three fish, they recognized Jesus.

That reminds me of the old joke about the guy who falls off a cliff. As he’s falling down and down and down he grabs hold of a little branch hanging out of the side of the cliff. He’s holding on for dear life, but the cliff is too sheer for him to climb up, it’s too far for him to let go and drop down, his grip is starting to slip on the leaves of the branch, and the branch itself is starting to pull out of the side of his cliff.

The guy shouts out a prayer. “God,” he says, “God, I’ve never believed in you. But I need you now more than I ever have. Can you hear me God? Are you up there God? Is anyone up there? If you’re up there God, please save me. Please rescue me.”

And a voice comes from the heavens – “I have heard your prayers, my child. Trust me, and release your hold on the branch, and I will catch you and keep you safe.”

The guy pauses a minute, and then he shouts, “Is there anyone else up there?”

Sometimes we’re like John and Peter and the rest of the disciples. We don’t recognize God in the ordinary and the routine and the boring stuff of life. We don’t recognize God unless and until God does some big, miraculous, fancy thing. It’s a challenge to see God in the regular old life that we lead from day to day.

When I come home from work Julia usually asks me if anything interesting happened, and I usually say no. Most of the time there isn’t a fatal accident, or a childbirth, or a shooting, or whatever. Most of the time nothing terribly exciting happens, at least nothing terribly exciting to me because I’ve gotten used to it.

But I don’t need for some exciting thing to happen to recognize God. I don’t need to wait for a successful childbirth delivery, or someone whose life is saved by timely CPR instructions, to see God. I don’t need to wait for us to save a suicidal person threatening to jump off a bridge or shoot themselves to see God. If I’m paying attention, it’s just as big a miracle that nothing happened. It’s just as big a miracle that everyone was safe. There are a million and a half people in Fairfax County. God is just as present on the days that nothing happens as he is on the days that we have the big spectacular stuff. I just don’t notice. I just don’t recognize God.

In our reading from Acts, God gets missed twice, at least. First, it’s Saul – the guy that we know better as the apostle Paul. There is a bright light, Saul falls to the ground, he can’t see anything, and he hears a voice asking “Why do you persecute me?” I want to give Saul credit in that he seems to recognize that this might be God when he says, “Who are you, Lord?” It’s not clear if he means Lord in the sense of a superior, like lords

and ladies, or my lord and master, or the lord of the manor, it’s not clear if he means Lord in that sense or in the sense of God.

But whether he recognized all of this as being from God or not, he didn’t recognize it as Jesus, at least not immediately. The disciples didn’t recognize Jesus because until the big haul of fish it was just routine old life as usual. I think Saul didn’t recognize Jesus until Jesus identifies himself because he perceived what had happened – his fall, his blindness, as bad things.

That happens to us too. We often think that God cannot be found in the hard or difficult things that happen in our lives. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat with people going through painful times and they’ve said, “Why me? I can’t believe that God is doing this to me. Why me?”

People write books about those questions and don’t ever resolve them. I’m going to try to say what I think very briefly. “Why me” is a fair question. The other side of that is “Why not me?” Why shouldn’t I suffer as other people suffer sometimes? That doesn’t mean I like it or I want it, but I’m not a better person than anyone else. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all are worthy of death.

Yet another side of that is “Why her? Why him?” Again, “why me” is a fair question, but it’s a question that lots and lots and lots of people who go through hard things can ask. We had a meal last night with friends and the

husband was talking about his daughter that was born with Spina Bifida. Why her? She was a baby. She hadn’t hurt anyone. Why me? Well, why her? On almost any rational scale, it should probably be me instead of her.

There are folks who believe that God causes bad things to happen in order to test our faith and bring us some sort of spiritual growth. I don’t necessarily believe that, but I recognize that there is scriptural support for that idea and there is a large body of theology that teaches that. I’m not saying that I know those people are wrong because I don’t know everything about God’s will and God’s intent.

One of the ways that I think about it, though, is that everyone makes choices and choices have consequences. We have the gift of free will. I have undoubtedly made bad choices along the way, and I have suffered some consequences for them. I also have made choices that other people have probably suffered consequences for, and I am probably suffering consequences of some sort for choices other people have made. I don’t think that God necessarily caused those choices or those consequences. I do think that God can help something good come out of them. I do think that God can help us find meaning in them. I do think that God can use the bad choices I’ve made and the bad choices other people have made and the negative consequences that come from all of those things and use them to help me, to help others, and to help the world.

Saul doesn’t recognize God at first because he perceives that something bad has happened to him. Later he does recognize God, and good things come. Saul’s life of rebellion against Jesus, of persecution of Christians even unto death, lead in the end to good and positive things in his life and in the lives of others he ministers to and with.

And it’s Saul’s past life that at first trips up the third person who fails to recognize God – Ananias. Ananias seems to recognize that it’s God talking to him. I mean, the first words out of his mouth after God says his name are, “Here I am, Lord.” That’s a good start!

But then when he gets his instructions Ananias isn’t so sure. “Lord, I’ve heard of this guy Saul. And what I’ve heard… uh, well, uh… it isn’t good. Lord, he kills Christians. And he has authority from the chief priests to imprison us.” To give him full credit, God says again what he wants, Ananias obeys him, and Ananias lays his hands on Saul, and Saul’s sight is restored.

We judge people based on their backgrounds, or their histories, or their reputations. That can keep us from seeing God in them and with them. That was one of the things that was so troubling about political leaders referring to gang members, mostly MS-13, as animals.

No one actually defends MS-13 or what they do. It’s a terrible organization, just as all similar gangs are. Bloods, Crips, 18th Street, and

many, many more that don’t get nearly as much publicity do terrible heinous, and yes, animalistic things. I have to watch footage of gang activity from time to time. I have to listen to tapes and calls and it’s not pleasant at all.

But although they do terrible things, although they do animalistic, evil things, in the end they are not animals (except in the scientific, biological sense like all of us are.) They are human beings, created in the image of God. They are people for whom Christ died. They are not unlike Saul, who persecuted and tortured and killed Christians in terrible ways, but who God used to share the gospel with a significant portion of the known world of that day.

It doesn’t have to be something as awful as criminal gangs. For some, it’s politics or religion. I read an excellent, excellent article on Buzzfeed last week about Katie McHugh and her journey into and out of white nationalism. David French wrote a good piece in National Review about the shootings at the synagogue in Poway, California called “Dealing With the Shock of an Evangelical Terrorist.” There are folks that will look at McHugh and at the Poway shooter and because of their histories will not grant them humanity, will not recognize that they are children of God.

It happens when people look at President Trump, and Secretary Clinton, at Senator Sanders, at Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, at Sen. Cruz, at any

number of people regardless of their politics. People make judgements about evangelical Christians and progressive Christians and Muslims and atheists. We look at someone and make a judgment about their humanity and their worth based on their religion or their politics or any number of other things.

And that’s wrong. That is not recognizing that they are people for whom Christ died. That is not recognizing the ways in which God can use them, despite actions and views that we think may be wrong. That is not recognizing the voice of the Spirit in whatever form it may come.

Throughout the Bible God speaks through sinners and terrible people. God even speaks through animals, like Balaam’s donkey. Figure out who your least favorite political or religious leader is, and remind yourself that if God can speak through someone who killed Christians, if God can speak through a donkey, God can speak through that person too. That doesn’t mean that God IS speaking through that person, but we have to be open to the reality that God COULD speak through that person.

As we leave here I pray that we can be open to see the world around us as God’s creation. I pray that we can see the people around us, whether it’s around us in our own lives or around us in newspapers and on television and the internet, as real people. I pray that we can see and recognize God moving

comprehension in and through people who are also beyond our understanding and comprehension. I pray that however he comes, we recognize God. Amen.

We need resurrection

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scripture: Luke 24:1-12, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

We need a resurrection.

We need a resurrection.

I first thought this phrase while in church last Sunday, feeling beleaguered and discouraged in this very sanctuary.

We need a resurrection.

The next day on Monday, the 5th Anniversary of the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok and burning of the 900-year-old glorious Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and the death of the mother of a colleague my age—these had me groaning or whispering, “we need a resurrection.” And not in a triumphant way or in a “I know I’m going to use this in a sermon” sort of way that might make me somehow more pious or spiritual or less prone to despair.

We need a resurrection.

But then on Tuesday there was that bright red cardinal in the tree. In the low dawn light of the street it’s red popped just a bit more than usual. First on the tree and then on to the long dead sunflower skeleton still standing in our yard lashed to the neighbor’s fence. The same bird as the day before (I presume) gathering seeds from the small seed heads that have long lost their radiant yellow petals.

At the end Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem last Sunday, amid cries of hosanna and the waving of palm branches, Jesus responded to his critics. He said if these people had not cried out, the stones would have shouted. The bright petals and blossoms of spring feel like a resurrection but these old bodies left from last year, having passed through winter, lacked a resurrection.

The stones will cry out! The creation surges forth eager to cry out in praise for the creator. The Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was present at creation and participated as the agent of this creation. The creation which was declared good and remains good even against the continued abuse by humanity. This very creation which surges as a river or lies in the still water of the marshy river edges. The rivers which, if cared for (or at times even just left alone), can be healed and contribute to healing. It is the creation in the stones which are worn smooth or remain jagged these stones and this river will cry out—will shout out, raising their voice in praise of the one who brought them into being and brings healing through the reconciling word.

If the people had not cried out, “hosanna,” Jesus says, if these people of Jerusalem had not cried out waving their branches in praise and celebration then the seemingly inert stones would have raised their stony voices. For even these stones know the one who redeems.

Creation cries out. It is both a groan of waiting for the coming savior, the need for resurrection, and a glorious shout of praise. It is not valuable simply because commercial value can be extracted from it. It is not of value simply because it can be molded or cut or diverted into something more “practical” or something for humans to consume. All of creation cries out on its own.

“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Isaiah 55

We, along with creation—as part of creation—we cry out. Last Sunday we cried out “Hosanna!” with the coming of Jesus—a triumphant donkey riding One of Peace. This week we cried out—“we need a resurrection.” The desperate cry of despair at the crucifixion makes even the groan, we need a resurrection, seem too hopeful.

This morning after days of sorrow and the knowledge that on the third day the death is real—this morning the women who followed Jesus, and who will become the first apostles, went to the tomb to care for the corpse of their hope. The pierced hands through which powerful healing flowed—stilled, and the mouth from which words of peace and repentance proclaimed—silenced. The back which bent to lift and wash feet laid flat without power. This is what they knew. Death had dealt a crushing blow. The women, whose hope seems to have died, knew this.

They needed a resurrection.

We need a resurrection.

Who will bring new life? Who will resuscitate hope lost?

Do you have that power? Do I have the wherewithal to bring hope, much-less life? This task is far beyond us.

In the book of Job, God challenges Job, highlighting his limitations in relation to God. The Lord asks,

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.

“Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home?”

We have such little power—we need a resurrection.

As it turns out—we have a resurrection.

Which you already knew.

We have a resurrection!

And which I knew earlier this week when all I could mutter was the need for a resurrection. I knew it but didn’t quite feel it—somehow it felt distant or elusive.

The women at the grave—those for whom embodied hope had literally died—the women at the grave were confronted with a startling announcement. Jesus is alive! Christ is risen! [congregation]—“He is risen indeed!

The power that had created all and had blown the breath of life into humanity, this same power acted in the Crucified One and brought life and in the process conquered the grave.

Christ is risen! [congregation]—“He is risen indeed!

At least this is eventually how this mysterious disappearance and announcement of Easter morning come to be understood. At first it is just startling, perhaps confusing, too good to be true. But then the pieces start coming together. It is noted that with a little prodding the women remember that Jesus had in fact talked about being raised but that they had not understood him at the time. Not only do the disciples begin to understand this shocking event in light of Jesus’ own teaching but they begin to see how this relates to their scriptures—the first part of our Bible. They also begin to think through the implications and read it theologically.

While our own thinking is certainly not as definitive as the writers of the New Testament we join in this task. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian theologian writes, “The prophetic imperative directs that the Church should dare to analyze and interpret events theologically” (Ateek, Justice and only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, 152)

The resurrection of Christ, according to Apostle Paul, is not simply a flourish or add-on snappy ending. He writes,

“17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died[e] in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Death is conquered. Futility is conquered. We are called to live in light of this. We are filled with the same Spirit and as such is not simply us trying slog on through. The memory and reality of this animate us. It is not simply an inspirational poster on the classroom wall but the very shape of the universe. All creation calls for proclaiming, in calling out in great joy—the power of death has been overcome!

Jesus and the Deeds of Power

Preacher: Jennifer Hosler

Scripture: Luke 19:28-40

I like Palm Sunday, because I like waving palms. Tactile worship is a lot of fun and we should probably figure out more ways to include props in worship. But Palm Sunday is about more than just fun worship props. Palm Sunday is important, not just because it marks the last Sunday of Lent and the entry into Holy Week. Palm Sunday is crucial because the Triumphal Entry teaches us a lot about who Jesus is and what his ministry was all about.

The Triumphal Entry points us back to Jesus’ “deeds of power” that defined his ministry. I was struck by the phrasing in v. 37: “the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen.” These deeds of power show us what Jesus was concerned with—and what we as his followers should be concerned with too. The Triumphal Entry shows us is that the gospel has spiritual, political, and social implications.

In the first book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we meet young Harry when he has no clue that he is a wizard. He lives a miserable life with his aunt, uncle, and ghastly cousin Dudley, sleeping in a cupboard under the stairs. On his 11th birthday, Harry learns that he—and his dead parents—were wizards and he has been given admission to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The magical world knows very well who Harry is and what he has done, but Harry and the extended family around him have no clue that he is famous.

The infant Harry is believed to have done a deed of power, temporarily vanquishing the evil wizard you-know-who, I mean, Voldemort. Though he’s been ridiculed as a no-good loser by his family, Harry quickly learns of this deed of power and begins to have an important role in the battle between the forces of good and evil.

There are parallels and contrasts between Harry’s story and Jesus’. Both stories have murderous tyrants trying to kill a baby. Both stories have times when the baby’s potential power causes a world-wide stir—and then things quiet down for years. Famous, then living in obscurity, then famous again.

Jesus’ family learn early on how special he is—Jesus Immanuel, God with Us—but they learn this before he actually does anything special. As Jesus grows up, those outside of his immediate family seem generally clueless about who Jesus really is. Did everyone forget those Magi and how the whole city of Jerusalem was frightened by word of an infant king?

When the Harry Potter saga begins, and Harry starts at Hogwarts, he causes commotion because of his famous name and family. When Jesus starts his ministry, most people around Jesus think that he is so ordinary that they scoff. “Is this really Joseph’s son, from Galilee?” Or, “Nazareth, can anything good really come from there?”

It doesn’t take long, however, before the power of Jesus’ ministry becomes apparent: “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor”(Mt. 11:4-5). Jesus enacts deeds of power that draw crowds and disciples to his side, and eventually convince his disciples so much that they proclaim him King while marching down to Jerusalem.

On the journey to Jerusalem, in the sections immediately before the Triumphal Entry, we see several of these deeds of power that define what Jesus’ message and ministry are about. Going back a chapter in Luke, we see Jesus and his disciples walking toward a city called Jericho, amidst the crowds of pilgrims. A blind man is sitting by the side of the road panhandling. He hears a commotion, and lots of people going by, and asks, “What’s going on?” A person replies, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Clearly, word about Jesus has finally spread around.

The blind man starts yelling, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!” People grumble and try to shush him but the blind man keeps yelling, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!” Jesus hears, asks the man what he wants, and heals the blind man’s sight. The man joins the crowd of disciples, praising God. Luke says that everyone around them sees what happens, and they praise God! And continue on the journey to Jerusalem.

Jesus and his disciples arrive at Jericho, and as they are passing through the city, word gets out that Jesus is coming through with all the other pilgrims. A man named Zacchaeus, not tall in stature, really wants to see this person that everyone has been talking about, but the crowds are too deep around Jesus. Zacchaeus improvises, runs ahead, and climbs up a sycamore tree. As Jesus walks by, he looks up and calls out to Zacchaeus, saying, “I want to eat at your house today.” Zacchaeus is delighted to host Jesus and comes down

from the tree, but people complain and grumble because Zacchaeus is rich, and his wealth is corrupt, ill-gotten gain.

During the meal with Jesus, Zacchaeus repents. He says, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much” (Luke 19:9). This was more than beyond the restitution required by the Mosaic Law. Jesus responds, “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man has come to find and restore the lost” (vv. 9-10, the Message).

Two people, one poor and one rich, encounter Jesus on his way into Jerusalem, and both have their lives changed. These deeds of power would have been on the minds of Jesus’ disciples and the crowds of pilgrims walking with them. Jesus’ deeds of power gave sight (and therefore power) to a marginalized man and released a man enslaved by greed and corruption. Both men are described as “saved.” Deliverance and salvation through Jesus is spiritual and social, economic, and physical.

Jesus and the disciples pass through the last few towns before Jerusalem, Bethphage and Bethany, and they arrive at the Mount of Olives, the final stop before they would descend into the city itself. Jesus gives instructions for his disciples: “Go into the village ahead and bring back a donkey, a colt that had not been ridden before. If anyone asks what you are doing, just tell them, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

The disciples go about their way, find a colt, give the appropriate response to the questioning owner, and make their way back to Jesus. Cloaks are placed on the donkey and then the disciples set Jesus on the donkey. The journey into Jerusalem then proceeds, down from the Mount of Olives. People place their cloaks along the road for the donkey bearing Jesus to walk upon. In other gospel passages, they’re also throwing palms on the road and waving palms in the air.

Luke describes that “The whole multitude of disciples” start praising God joyfully and loudly, “for all the deeds of power that they had seen” Jesus do (v. 37). They don’t say, “What a wonderful teacher!” and they don’t say, “What a great and kind prophet!” Instead, the multitude cries out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (v. 38). Jesus is no longer just a rabbi or a teacher, not just a prophet—but a king.

This makes the Pharisees nervous and they cry, “Teacher, get your disciples under control!” Jesus answers back, “If they were quiet, the rocks themselves would shout out what they are saying.”

I’ve spoken on the historical, cultural significance of the Triumphal Entry before—and there is a ton to unpack about Roman and Jewish military history. There is much to say about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but we have little time today with our Love Feast. Even though he has great power and the signs and symbols point to Kingship, Jesus demonstrates

Jesus is not a military ruler returning after a military victory; the animal he rides is not a war horse but a donkey, a symbol of a ruler coming in peace. Even with all of his deeds of power, Jesus is not coming to lord things over subdued inhabitants, but to demonstrate the wholeness and the saving that God’s reign brings: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the rich and greedy are set free, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

There are several streams of how people approach the Bible and how Jesus changes our lives and our world: for some, the gospel is solely spiritual, while for others, the Good News is about social transformation. However, the gospel of Jesus in scripture does not make it an either/or: the saving that Jesus did affected peoples’ hearts, brought them freedom from sin, and it brought them physical, social, and economic transformation.

The saving that we celebrate in Holy Week is saving that permeates our economic choices, our relationships with our friends, family, and neighbors, and all the ways that we interact with this world. What we preach and teach here at Washington City Church of the Brethren is that Jesus came to deliver our souls and our bodies and our society and our earth.

Where do you need Jesus’ deeds of power in your life? Is it in your relationships? Is it in your pride and arrogance? Is it in your integrity? Is it in how you treat the earth, or the people on the margins of society? Do you need Jesus’ deeds of power to bring you mercy and grace, unburdening from guilt? Do you need Jesus’ power to bring hope and comfort amidst deep pain and loss?

The message of Palm Sunday and Holy Week is that we follow Jesus, whose deeds of power can raise the dead, heal the blind, comfort the hurting, free the greedy and corrupt. Jesus entered Jerusalem and stands ready to enter and re-enter our lives to enact the deeds of power that transform our souls, our wallets, our bodies, and our relationships.

Sisters and brothers, let us proclaim King Jesus and his deeds of power as we move into Holy Week and beyond. AMEN.

A New Thing

Preacher: Jeff Davidson

Scripture: Isaiah 43:16-21

Sports fans are familiar with the concept of “tanking.” In baseball the Baltimore Orioles are actually a good example of this right now. The Orioles have been a good team for several years. Last year they were not a good team, even though they had a lot of the same players they’d had when they were good. But some of those players had gotten a little older and weren’t as good as they used to be, and weren’t likely to get better again. If the Orioles were going to get back to being a contending team they needed to get rid of these older, higher-priced players. This would give them room on their roster to try out a whole lot of younger players, players who both might develop to be better than the older players and who would be a lot less expensive to pay than the older players. This would free up money to invest in finding and signing even more good young players.

The downside of all this is that it means that for the next two or three years, the Orioles are likely to lose a lot of games. They aren’t necessarily trying to lose these games – the players are playing as hard as they can and trying to win. But they aren’t good enough to win, at least not yet, and

that means that they will lose more games in the short term, which gives them better draft choices of amateur players, which means that in the long term they are likely to get better and contend again. Does that make sense?

That’s what is meant by tanking. Putting together a team that is young and cheap and not likely to win now, in hopes that they will develop and that you can find and sign some better young players and be a good team again in a few years. It is very difficult and very frustrating for fans to watch a team that is tanking, but the fans usually understand what’s going on and are willing to put up with losing now in the hopes of winning in the future. It has become a part of the regular cycle for sports teams.

In Psalm 126, our Call to Worship today, we see this interplay of hard times and of good times, of struggle followed by joy. In verses 1 and 2 it says, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy;” The laughter and the joy comes after Zion’s fortunes are restored, which means the laughter and the joy come after something bad and difficult and hard. The laughter and the joy come after a time of turmoil and a time of desolation. You see it again in the prayer captured in verses 4 through 6, particularly in verse 6. “Those who go out weeping, bearing the

seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” With faith in God after pain comes rejoicing, after risk and work comes reward.

I preached a sermon here several years ago about being adopted. I don’t remember if it was after Nate and Jenn started worshipping with us or if it was before then when I was doing pulpit supply around 2005 or so. To sum that part of it up, I’ve known ever since I was a little child that I was adopted. When I was around 40 or so my doctor recommended that I see if I could find out anything about the medical history of either of my birth parents, as things related to that can start to develop more as we get older.

I asked my parents if they knew anything, and they had a possible name, and they said they would see if there was anything more that they could find out. I took the name that they gave me and played around on Google a little bit and found a couple of other names, maybe, but not really enough to do anything with or about.

A while later when I was visiting my parents they gave me an envelope with all kinds of information about my birth mother. They learned that I had been named Derrell Gebhart at birth, and they had learned who my birth mother was. They had visited a couple of her sisters, one of whom was related to a family that we knew. They had found some pictures of my

birth mother, including a high school graduation picture and others that her sisters had, and they had recorded some stories and information from her sisters. They told me that I had four brothers and sisters. They’d learned that my birth mother had died of ALS several years ago.

I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to do with all of this information. I’d just wanted to know a little bit about my medical history – I wasn’t trying to do any genealogical research or anything. I couldn’t process all of it and so I mostly didn’t do anything with it. I let it sit.

A year or so ago my sister-in-law Gaye bought a package of Ancestry.com DNA kits for family members. She had one left over, and wondered if I would be interested in using it. I was – I’m a little bit interested in history and I’d heard stories about my Davidson ancestry being German/Irish, and I wondered if that was true. It didn’t occur to me at all that this test would not trace my Davidson ancestry; it would trace my Gebhart ancestry, my birth ancestry.

When the results come back on these things, there are different pages to click on that give you different information. The first one that I looked at was about geography, and I learned that based on this DNA sample they estimate that a large percentage of my ancestry is from England, generally speaking – Great Britain, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.

A smaller percentage is from the Scandinavian countries and Western Europe.

Then there was a tab for possible DNA matches with other people. I clicked on this tab, and then I knew. The first name it showed was a possible first cousin, and I realized that it was a match from my birth family. I recognized this person’s maiden name as the same as my mother’s last name after marriage. I knew it was possible we were first cousins, but I don’t know if I had considered that we were a closer relation than that.

I wasn’t ready to do anything with the information. I’m not sure if I even told Julia about it – I thought I did, but she says I didn’t. Anyway, I just let it sit.

A few months later this person I matched with wrote to me asking if I knew how we could be connected. She couldn’t figure out how we could be cousins and couldn’t find the connection. I still wasn’t ready, and still didn’t do anything.

A week or two ago it occurred to me that I should probably write back to her. I thought that it wasn’t fair for my own uncertainties to leave her with questions about herself or her family that she couldn’t answer. I wrote back that I thought we might be connected through my mother and shared what information I could remember. The material my parents prepared is still

boxed up somewhere after our last move, I think, so while I could remember her maiden name was Gebhart I couldn’t remember her first name for sure.

She wrote back with her mother’s name and wondered if we might share the same mother. I replied that since I wasn’t sure about my birth mother’s first name I couldn’t say based on that, but that there was one piece of information I remembered that might settle it. My birth mother died of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

She replied that so had hers. I was pretty sure We were brother and sister.

I’ve spent the last few years withdrawing from people emotionally I think. My work takes a toll on me, and my coping mechanisms for the stress of work are to eat mindlessly and watch TV or play games on the Internet mindlessly. My sister Lori, who I grew up with and was also adopted, died a couple of years ago. I got closer to my parents during the year or two that they lived with us, but then they moved back to Ohio so there is a lot more geographic distance and the various issues they are dealing with can create some emotional distance sometimes.

All of that is to say that while this wasn’t totally unexpected once I’d seen the DNA results, I still wasn’t sure how to feel about it. My sister

shared that she was struggling with mixed feelings too. Her first message after we confirmed our relationship said near the beginning, “It’s almost more than I can grasp and at this point I feel kind of numb” and said near the end, “…despite the pain I am thankful our paths have crossed.” While I worked with and through the pain of never having known my birth mother, she had a pain that was almost the opposite: the pain of thinking you knew someone and finding that they had a secret or hidden past and maybe you didn’t know them after all.

Over the last week or two we’ve both made strides processing our feelings and reaching some conclusions. Her last message to me ended saying, “P.S. As time goes on and the shock of all this wears off I have to tell you I am so excited to have another brother.” I feel the same way about her and the three other siblings I haven’t met yet.

The theme of great joy coming after great pressure or pain or worry or stress is a common one in the Bible and in life itself. We talked about how it shows in our Call to Worship, Psalm 126. Our scripture reading from Isaiah opens with a reminder of the bravery it took to have faith and trust that God would part the waters so that Israel could escape from Egypt. We see in nature examples of butterflies that come from cocoons, or flowers that grow from bulbs.

One of the most famous sermons of the 20th century is called “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming.” It was made famous by the sociologist Dr. Tony Campolo, who adapted it from a sermon by the great African-American preacher the Rev. Dr. S. M. Lockridge. (Shadrach Meshach Lockridge.) Lockridge was a pastor for decades in San Diego, and wrote a sermon around the darkness of Friday, when Jesus was on the cross, dying. The disciples were discouraged. Peter had denied Jesus three times. The man they believed was the Messiah, the Son of God, had died on a cross like a common criminal.

But Lockridge’s message was to not be discouraged. It was Friday, yes, but Sunday is coming. The resurrection is coming. We should cling to our faith in God, because the blood of redemption, pouring out of the broken places of Christ’s body, truly redeems on the Sunday that is to come. Easter Sunday when Jesus is risen from the grave and his followers see his victory over the grave.

We are going through something of a Friday as a congregation. We’ve had families who were important and active members of our body move away. We’ve seen our attendance at worship go up and then back down again, and we have difficulty sometimes in finding people to fill the spots that need to be filled in our administrative structure.

It’s easy to be discouraged, but Sunday is coming. God is doing a new thing. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know it will be wonderful whatever it is.

We’re going through something of a Friday as a denomination. Along with a lot of other denominations attendance and giving are down, evangelism in multi-cultural settings is a challenge, and we are facing differences that seem like they may be impossible to reconcile around certain issues. The denomination may end up splitting.

It’s easy to be discouraged, but Sunday is coming. God is doing a new thing. Whether that means a Spirit-led renewal within our own denomination or two new denominations no longer arguing over various issues but each moving forward with God’s Spirit and God’s leading as they discern it I don’t know, but I know that whichever of those happens it will be wonderful.

We all have pressures and doubts and pain in our own lives. It may feel like Friday, but Sunday is coming. God is doing a new thing. I don’t know what it is for you, but I know that God will lead you through it and that you will end up in a much better place as a result.

In my situation, I know what at least part of the new thing is. I have a new relationship with a sister and at least a couple of nieces. I spoke on

Facebook yesterday with a new brother. I have some new family to be connected with, new stories to learn and to share, new memories to make. I know what the new thing is, although I still don’t know what all it will look like, but I know that God is in it and it will be wonderful.

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing.” Thank God for the new thing. Amen.

(Embodying Hope) A baby, a girl, a body

Preacher: Jennifer Hosler

Scripture: Isaiah 7:10-17, Luke 1:36-38, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, 1 Timothy 4:12

You probably recognize our texts in Isaiah and Luke as scriptures we read in Advent, but they are also from a church feast day held on March 25th, called the Feast of the Annunciation. Hands up if you typically celebrate the Annunciation, or if you’ve ever celebrated it. I didn’t think there would be many—or even any. In the Church of the Brethren, we don’t typically mark the Annunciation, though I’d like to change this, at least for our congregation. The Annunciation is the announcement from Gabriel to Mary that Jesus would be born.

I stumbled upon the Annunciation passages in the Lectionary and thought they would complement our Lenten theme, the start of April (which is Earth Month), and Tori’s report about Christian Peacemaking Teams. Within today’s passages, there is a broader theme about embodying hope, about God bringing hope through those whom society says cannot contribute, through people whom we would not expect, in ways that rulers and leaders would not imagine.

Our passage in Isaiah shows someone with the opportunity to ask God for a sign. If I was in trouble and the Creator of the Universe says, “Ask me for a sign that everything is going to be okay,” I hope I would actually ask for something. Whether it would be good or smart or witty or pious is another story. I think I would at least ask for something.

In our Isaiah text, the people of Judah are facing calamity. The Lord gives King Ahaz the opportunity to ask for something cosmic to signal God’s deliverance. It’s implied here that God will rescue them, if Ahaz is just willing to ask. The Lord says, “Ask me for a sign—let it be as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.” In other words, God is saying, “Ask for something as metaphysically unfathomable as the place where souls go, or as cosmic as the sky or the place where God dwells. I can help you through this coming calamity, but all you need to do is ask. For something.” Yet Ahaz says, “No, no, no. I’m okay. I don’t want to test God.” Ahaz is trying to look pious, but really doesn’t want God’s involvement – probably because it would mean he’d need to change how he lived or worshiped. Rather than trusting God, he’s putting his hope in some wheeling and dealing with another ruler (the King of Assyria). Lots of money, big armies—that’s a bit more comforting than a God you can’t see.

Ahaz’s refusal to ask for a sign is not what God wanted. Isaiah sends this message, “You’re trying to act religious here? Do you realize you’re playing holier than Thou with the Capital T Thou. You don’t want to ask for a cosmic, transcendental sign? Well, God is going to give you one anyways, something cosmic and miraculous: a baby, born to a young woman. The baby will be the sign that God is with Us and he will be named that—Immanuel.”

The baby is a sign that God is trying to work against all their wayward, idolatrous intentions, and is trying to bring about hope. God ends up delivering Ahaz and Judah from the nations who threaten the country, but also ends up promising judgment on Ahaz and the people for their ongoing idolatry and injustice. The baby is a sign of hope—but the presence of hope does not mean the people can just sit idly by. God still requires that people reckon with their failures and their consequences, God still requires that people transform their lives to work for the healing of relationships and the healing of our whole created world.

Babies bring hope. When there is ecological devastation, when species are threatened or endangered, the birth and growth of offspring are signs that the situation is turning around. I follow a few different Smithsonian Instagram accounts and I’ve seen recent postings of baby cheetahs or baby pandas born and growing—making a future of these vulnerable species a little less bleak, thanks to countless hours and dollars of research and ecosystem conservation. The furry little ones born give hope—and their cuteness often prompts people to donate and, I hope, to act in ways that guarantee their future.

My son is 10 months old. As my husband and I were preparing to have a child, we discussed what it means to bring life into the world when injustice and violence seem to be growing, when governments are chaotic and not caring for the common good. Theologically, we believe in a solidified outcome—that God will redeem and restore all things. Thus, we can bring new life into this world knowing that the Divine hope and reconciliation will overcome the chaos. Our baby is sign that we believe God is making all things new (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). The presence of life brings hope—and gives us the vision we need to do what God calls us to do. When we want children to live in a world of God’s wholeness, it can help us focus on our tasks and calling: To love our neighbor. To love our enemies. To heal this earth and this soil and the oceans and these rivers that we destroy with our consumption.

Our passage in Luke is the Annunciation passage itself. And in it we hear that God is acting in a way we’ve never seen. Not in a whirlwind, not in a burning bush, not in a pillar of fire or a cloud. God is acting through a young woman and a baby. Again, of all the cosmic ways to give a sign, of all the possibilities to manifest and deliver salvation, the LORD does not choose the depths of Sheol or the heights of heaven. Of all the cosmic possibilities for a noncorporeal cosmic ruler to be manifested, God chooses to enter a womb. The womb of a young, unmarried woman—a girl, many would call her—who bravely says yes to God. God chooses to enter our journey of cells multiplying and organs growing, with arms and legs wiggling and kicking, squishing a bladder, kicking a rib. God chooses to enter our world with a tiny, helpless body. Hope is found in a baby, a brave girl, in a body. Hope is found in bodies.

The story of the gospel is that hope is found in babies, in girls, in bodies. God’s hope is not ephemeral but tangible. The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood (John 1:14, The Message). God works through babies, through girls, through bodies, through people.

God works through people the world does not expect and that the world thinks little of. We read 1 Timothy 4:12 this morning, “Let no one look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” God works through youth who sue the government to try to address climate change. God works through students who organize a strike around the globe, who use their bodies not in class to make a statement: the health of our planet is serious, and we need to act.

God acts through bodies. God acts through bread shared together, cups of tea drank, through relationships and accompaniment. God embodied hope through Jesus. Jesus has tasked us to embody hope in this world. To love our neighbor. To love our enemies. To heal this earth and this soil and the oceans and these rivers that we destroy with our consumption. Hope is in the baby born, the brave girl, the youth striking, the tea shared. We see hope in Jesus Immanuel: God is with us. AMEN.

Come to the Waters (embracing bounty)

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scripture: Isaiah 55:1-9, Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9

In the book of Exodus, the once inarticulate Moses faces the Pharaoh backed by the power of God first appearing to him in a burning bush in the desert. As the Hebrew people head into the wilderness, they are followed by the Egyptian army which is driven by the recognition that their emancipated slaves are not coming back—that the subjugated people who had done their work were perhaps too easily set free. Up against the Red Sea and certain destruction, Moses led them through the sea. The cloud of the presence of God veiled them while a great wind was sent to divide the waters.

The Apostle Paul picks this up and reads it Christologically—that is, through Christ. In this passing through the waters of the sea, the Israelites fleeing the Egyptians are saved. The Apostle reads the water as a baptism. A passing through Christ’s death into life. For in Romans we read, Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)). They were saved by passing through these waters.

Come to the water.

Paul writes “all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.”

Not only was the water of the sea a baptism but the rock in the desert out of which a sustaining water flowed was Christ. The Christ which appeared centuries later but whom the Gospel of John asserts was present and participating in the creation of the world, the Spirit hovered over the waters—this is the one whom Paul proclaims as the fount of water in the desert—in the time of need this one is the living water. Come to the waters.

The prophet Isaiah exhorts,

“everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

This sounds like a great deal. It isn’t even buy one get one 50% off. This is like a free fancy think tank reception where you not only get hear an interesting talk about policy but get nice food while on a BVS budget. However, my dad, who is a very practical fellow, used to say some variation that “nothing is free.” Which is, of course, true. Someone picks up the cost because they care about something or have an interest in you caring about it.

In Luke we read, At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

There is a persistent notion that bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people—at least when we observe others. So, when something bad happens we assume that they did something bad and if something bad happens to us or our friends we ask—why me? Certainly, the Galileans who were defiled by Pilate must have sinned. Certainly, those on whom the tower fell must have really ticked off God.

Jesus, however, disconnects a negative occurrence from that of punishment. Those who suffered in this way are no worse than you! However, he also seems to reattach it. Those who died in these tragedies were not being punished for their particularly heinous crimes. Rather, all deserve a harsh retribution and it is only by a particular grace and mercy that we make it through. He seems to imply all of us should die in a tower collapse but don’t by God’s mercy—this is a type of comforting. It also feels like it could be ominous and threatening. The intent is rather to get us to focus. Because of the gravity of our action or inaction and intentions we should take this seriously. Though God is radically graceful we must not be presumptuous.

A commentator writes, “Luke does not destroy severity by infusing grace, nor does he destroy grace by infusing severity. As a theologian he knows that any mixing of severity and grace or any attempt to average them will result in neither severity or grace” (Craddock, Luke¸167). It is not that grace and mercy balances out justice or punishment in some sort of neutral middle—like white and black paint make grey or green and red make a muddy brown. Rather, they both exist.

The passage continues with a parable of a fruit tree—a fig fruit tree.

6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Here the issue of fruit is ventured. A fig tree, not unlike our own likely dead fig tree, does not produce. The only reason it exists is to produce fruit for its owner. The owner is persuaded to have patience when it doesn’t produce as anticipated. This picture of divine patience follows the teaching which presents both grace and punishment, mercy and justice. The Apostle exhorts, “We must not put Christ to the test.”

He continues “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful… [you will not] be tested beyond your strength.

Come to the water! This water is free (for you). For God it is a costly gift. A gift that requires patience and as we will discover in Holy Week a great sacrifice. The water of life is not free so that we can muddy it and abuse it—note here the parallels between both the gifts of physical waterways that we humans often damage or destroy and the spiritual water of life that we muddy through distractedness and injustice. The season of Lent invites us to focus. The movement towards Easter and the pain of Holy Week beckons us towards abiding with God, the source of life. The imminent death of Jesus will provide the greatest challenge to the false theology that the Galileans who were defiled by Pilate or those 18 who died in the collapsing tower were worse than us.

The water of life is given to us in abundance. While it isn’t earned, it requires much of us. This is part of Kameron Carter’s critique of white theology in Race: a Theological Account. It says we can do theology separately from the realities of the world in which towers collapse and kill people because those supposed to be responsible cared more for their money or power than the people. This is artist Ai Wei Wei’s documentation of the collapsed school buildings in China which thousands of school children died.

Our enjoying the abundant water of life is not somehow separate from the racism that allows communities of color in this country to be poisoned by their water which is polluted by others. The question that the crucified Holy One of God will bring is not “what did the suffering ones do to deserve this?” but what did those with any power do or neglect to do that caused their suffering?

“everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!”

Come to the waters! Come to drink from the abundant water of life. It is free but it will turn your life upside down!

Come to drink from the abundant water of life. It is free but it will turn your life upside down! You may no longer live for yourself. The water of life that rushes from the Christ in the desert

revives you to be a conduit of life and justice and mercy. The God of mercy is the source, but you have the privilege participate in this good work. Come to the waters!

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Come to the waters! Come drink from the abundant water of life.