Thursday, January 25, 2007

Epiphany Four: January 28, 2007

Epiphany Four
January 28, 2007

Texts: Jeremiah 1:4-10,
Psalm 71:1-6,
I Cor. 13:1-13,
Luke 4:21-30

Ravi Zacharias is a Christian writer and preacher who was born in India and grew up there and in Canada. After receiving a Master of Divinity degree in the States, he went to do post-graduate work at Cambridge University in England.

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress had always been an important book to him, and he was excited to learn that Bunyan’s hometown, Bedford, was only a short bus ride from Cambridge. One Saturday he made the pilgrimage. He was not disappointed. There in the middle of town was a life-size statue of the tinker/preacher/writer, and his restored house, and a museum, and the church he pastored in the 1600's, still going strong.

Zacharias had a great day wandering around town, praying in the church, examining the house, looking over artifacts in the museum. Finally it was time to go home, but he lingered in the gift shop of the museum, looking over the various editions of the Pilgrim’s Progress for sale. He struck up a conversation with the young clerk. He asked her where she was from.

Right there in Bedford, born and bred. He asked her about Bunyan and she told him all the vital statistics ( when and where born, books written, times in jail, death, etc), things he already knew but he was secretly enjoying her broad Midlands accent. He chatted with her about the different copies of the book available, and she told him all about covers and paper quality and print size. Finally, he asked her what her favorite part of the story was, what bit stuck with her?

Oh, I wouldn’t know, she said, I’ve never read it. It’s quite old and boring isn’t it?

This is an interesting twist on the prophet without honor in his hometown motif. On the one hand, they have greatly honored Bunyan in his hometown of Bedford: statues, museum’s etc. But the woman working in that museum, born and raised in that town, has never paid the least bit of attention to what Bunyan said.

And the question arises: is that how we treat Jesus in the church? Honoring his memory without really remembering what he said. Are we keeping the name alive but forgetting the message?

Is the church a museum to the memory of Jesus, or is it a House of God, where the Risen Christ is proclaimed in Scripture, sermon and song and a Living LORD is encountered in prayer, praise and sacrament? Let’s examine the Scriptures to find some answers.

In today’s Gospel Lesson, we pick up where we left off last week. Remember, Jesus has responded to the call of John by getting baptized, the Holy Spirit comes upon him, he is declared the Beloved Son of God.

Then the Spirit leads him into the Wilderness, where he resists the Devil’s temptations to fame and power, then, still full of the Spirit, he returns to Galilee and begins preaching and healing.

Then he comes to Nazareth, his hometown, and goes to the Synagogue and reads the text from Isaiah about being the Lord’s anointed, and then, our scripture begins. Jesus says - Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. Many commentators believe that this is not all that he said, but rather it is a synopsis of what he said, a summation.

Like when President Coolidge went to church one day. When he came home, his wife asked him what the sermon was about. He answered “Sin.” “Well, what did he say about sin?” Coolidge replied, “He’s against it.” So, this is a summary of the short homily, or talk, or teaching Jesus gave in the synagogue that day.

At first people were pretty impressed. Verse 22 says, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Here, unlike in Mark, this not an insult, they are simply impressed.

Like the old men in Mount Airy will tell you about going to school with Andy Griffith, “Shoot, I knew him when he was a snot-nosed kid. We went to school together over there on Rockford Street. He warn’t nothing special. A little prissy to tell you the truth, always singing and acting and playing that trombone and such.”

It is in verses 23-27 that he makes them mad. Again, this is a shortened version of the discussion. Apparently they were pleased with his preaching, but they had heard that he had done miracles and healings elsewhere and they wanted him to do some for them. And Jesus refused, Why? Because all they wanted was a show, an exhibition. They weren’t interested in people being healed, they wanted to be entertained, and Jesus was having none of it. And so, we can read between the lines and hear them saying things like,

Who do you think you are? What’s the matter, you too good for us now? You gone off to the city and now you’re too big to do miracles for us? This is where the nasty line from Mark’s version of the story comes in to play, instead of Son of Joseph, Mark has them call him “Mary’s boy.” That’s another way of saying, You ain’t nothing, boy.

Jesus responds with two Hebrew Bible stories of healing. Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath and Elisha and Namaan. What’s important here is that both the widow of Zarephath and Namaan, were gentiles, foreigners, aliens.

Then, Jesus points out that there were many widows and lepers in Israel, but God chose to use Elijah and Elisha to heal the outsiders, and God has chosen Jesus to bring God’s love to everybody, not just the Children of Israel. And this made them really mad. So mad that they ran him out of town and tried to kill him, but he mysteriously got away

Now, here’s the question for us today. Are we like the people in Bedford, honoring the memory of Jesus without actually knowing what he said or meant? Or are we like the people of Nazareth, pleased with Jesus as long as what he says sounds good to us, but turning our backs on him when he says things we don’t like?

Now, most of us would never come right out and say we disagree with Jesus, so we basically use wriggle room to avoid it. Whenever we hear something we don’t like coming out of Jesus’ mouth, we blame it on somebody other than Jesus: the professors, the liberals, the over-educated preachers, the bleeding hearts, the conservatives, the fundamentalists. Anything but admitting that Jesus said it, and I’m supposed to believe it and obey it.

For example, I’ll admit it, I’m a little hard-hearted about poor people and homeless people. My heart sneers, get a job, go work, get busy. If you’re poor, it’s your own fault. Despite a UNC and Duke Education and years of prayer and Bible study and living with a Social Worker for 32 years, somewhere in a place I don’t visit very often, deep in my soul, I still feel that way. Deborah would say it’s the Chilton in me.

And yet Jesus said The Holy Spirit had anointed him to preach Good News to the poor. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor. There is the great judgement parable in which Jesus said, “If you did unto one of the least of these, the cold, the hungry, the naked, the poor, you did it unto me.” And many more things about the poor and my, our obligation to them. We have to deal with that. Do we sort of ignore it, like the nice lady at the Bunyan Museum ignored Pilgrim’s Progress? Do we get mad about it, and turn our backs on Jesus, like the people of Nazareth? Or do we swallow our pride and obey our master.

Have we stopped listening to Jesus? He says many things about loving the stranger and the foreigner, about turning the other cheek, about living a life of prayer, about selling what we have and giving it to the poor, about the Kingdom of God being inside us, etc. etc. And here’s the question, do we take Jesus seriously, or are we giving him the yada, yada treatment, nodding and smiling, but not really listening, putting him off and putting him on?

I hope not. I really hope not. But listening to Jesus is hard. Many things he says challenge us; they challenge our ideas and our prejudices and our actions. But Jesus also invites us, invites us to think about things in a new way, to think about others in a new way, to act toward others in a new way. Jesus invites us to join him in living in the world by the rules of the Kingdom of God, not the rules of earthly success and happiness.

Jesus invites us to join him in blessing the world with God’s grace and acts of healing and love.

Jesus invites us to join him in going out to all lands and all peoples with the great Good News that the Kingdom of God has come and we are all invited to be a part of it.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Epiphany 3, January 21, 2007

JANUARY 21, 2007
Text: Luke 4:14-21

Many of you are, no doubt, familiar with the name Thad Eure. He was a fascinating man. He was NC’s Secretary of State from 1936 to 1989. He was also Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Elon University from 1955 to 1989. He used to refer to himself as “the oldest rat in the Democratic barn.” He was also quite a storyteller, in the rural NC tradition in which all of the stories are true, even if they aren’t exactly factual.

He used to tell a story about a man running for governor who was politicking and speechifying at a huge outdoor rally down east somewhere. They were serving a big dinner of pork barbecue and fried chicken with all the necessary accoutrements.

As the candidate went through the line, he received one piece a chicken, a little piece, a wing or a back or something. He smiled his politician’s smile and asked the serving woman for another piece. Without looking up she said “one per person.”

He smiled again and said, “Yes, but his is an awfully small piece and I’m an awfully big man. Could I please have another?” Again she said, “One per person.”

At this point the candidate got a little huffy and said,“Look, do you know who I am?”
She said, “Nope, but I know who I am. I’m the chicken lady and I said one per person.”

Today’s Gospel lesson is about knowing who you are. Specifically, it is about Jesus knowing who he is and what he is called to do. It is also about our knowing who we are and what we are called to do, for the two are intimately related. Our identity as Christian people flows directly out of Jesus’ identity as the Christ of God, and what we are called to do follows directly on what Jesus was called to.

As we look at this story, it is important to place it in its proper context. The flow of Luke’s story goes like this:

John the Baptist is Preaching and Baptizing
Lots of people are coming to get baptized
One of those people is Jesus
After Jesus gets baptized
the Spirit descends on him and he is declared
the beloved Son of God
the Spirit leads him in to the Wilderness
where he is tempted by the Devil
then our text begins, in which:
“filled with the power of the Spirit”
he teaches around Galilee.

he goes to the synagogue, (HIS HABIT) and reads and preaches/teaches about What? About the Spirit anointing him
for ministry.

Now, what happens right after this, in the part we didn’t read, is how his friends and neighbors were not too impressed by all this, indeed they got mad enough to run him out of town, in fact, they intended to kill him, but he got away.

What are we to make of all this? How can we begin to understand what it means for us? Well, there are two things I want to focus on here, and we’ll take them in turn.

One is the business of Spirit and Identity. As I retold the last half of chapter 3 and the first half of chapter 4 in Luke, I purposely emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit. What Jesus was about was rooted in the leading of the Spirit, the power of the Spirit and the comfort of the Spirit.

All too often we in the church act as though what happens in the life of the church were up to us. We take a bow in God’s direction and say a prayer or two for guidance, but then we go about the church’s business relying on our own ideas and interests and abilities.
We forget that even Jesus was dependent upon the Spirit, who are we to think or act as though we can go it alone.

In the Bible, 40 is a number that symbolizes a long time, usually a long time of testing and waiting and getting clear spiritually. Think about the children of Israel being in the wilderness for 40 years, of the Noah flood lasting 40 days and 40 nights, etc. When the Bible says Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days, it means he spent a great deal of time in prayer and study and spiritual discipline, seeking to know exactly what it was God was calling him to Be and to Do.

Biblical Scholar and Bishop Tom Wright points out that what we often call an “inspired” performance” is usually the result of long years of practice and preparation. A great musician, a fine actor, a superb athlete; none of them appears on the world’s stage without the blood, sweat and tears of dedicated work to get ready.

Jesus had spent the time in prayer and study to be prepared for the moment God called upon him to come forth as the Lord’s Anointed. The Spirit, the ‘inspiration” came on him because he was ready to receive it.

We are called to do no less. We are called to be prepared, to be ready, to be open to the Spirit; and the only way to do that is to take seriously our call to study scripture and to pray and to seek God’s will in the community of the faithful. It was not by accident that it was Jesus’ custom to go to synagogue. He didn’t go there because they were friendly (this bunch certainly was not) he didn’t go there because his Mama and his brothers and cousins were there (though they were); Jesus went to pray, to hear God’s word read and explained, to prepare for the moment when God would call upon him to do something extraordinary, and when that moment came, he was ready.

So, the first thing we see here is Jesus preparation for and dependence upon the Spirit.

The second thing we note the nature of what Jesus is called to do.

Talked to a pastor friend not to long ago who saw a church sign which said, WE CARE FOR YOU! in big letters.
Underneath, in small print, it said, Sundays, 10 am only.

The things Jesus is called to say and do as the Lord’s anointed shout out in large letters the message: GOD CARES FOR YOU!

Good News to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed. Love, care, act.

As the followers of Christ, we too are called to care, not just in our hearts, but also in our actions. And we are called to caring actions all the time, not just on Sundays at 10 AM. We are called to find ways as individuals and as a church, a community of faith, of doing those very things Jesus talks about it this Scripture lesson. To do any less would be to back away from our call to take up our cross and follow.

When I was a kid, Yogi Berra was one of my favorite baseball players. He didn’t look like a ballplayer, yet he played like one of the best. When I got older, I got even more fond of him as I began to read some of the Yogisms that were often quoted on the sports pages, things like:

That restaurant’s so crowded, nobody goes there anymore.

If you come to a fork in the road, take it.

Anybody who is popular is bound to be disliked.

My all time favorite is this:

If you don’t know where you’re going, You might wind up someplace else.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus shows clearly that he knows who he is and where he is going. It is an awareness that has come to him through serious study of the scriptures, deep and impassioned prayer and a commitment to living within the community of God’s faithful people.

We are called today to follow Jesus in this ministry. We are called to study the scriptures, pray hard and long for guidance, to live out a commitment to the gathered people of God by coming together in worship and prayer and service. And we are called to follow the Spirit’s leading in serving the world in Jesus’ name.

Reaching out in love and action to those who are poor and oppressed, blind and lame, sharing with them the joyous Good news of a Christ, a Messiah, who can lift them up, ease their pain, restore their sight and set them free.

Amen and amen.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Second Sunday After Epiphany, January 14, 2007

Epiphany 2, January 14, 2007
Texts: I Corinthians 12:1-11

Will Willimon is now the Methodist Bishop of Alabama. For a long time he was the Minister to the University at Duke. He says he knows only one person who has experienced an empirically proven and medically attested healing.

The woman who was healed was an atheist before her healing. And, Willimon says, she remained an atheist after her healing She went to the hospital with very serious burns on her hand and arm. The next morning there was no trace of the burns. Doctors had absolutely no explanation for her healing. They labeled it a miracle.

The woman who was healed was totally discombobulated by it and spend a great deal of the next few years researching possible explanations, coming up with some version of what she called a “spontaneous reaction of the cellular structure.” She was willing to believe anything BUT the idea that God or the Supernatural was involved.

Dr. Willimon points out that we should learn from this incident something Jesus clearly knew. When it comes to matters of faith, miracles are not very helpful! Miracles DO NOT produce faith, at most, they confirm it.

In the story of Jesus turning the water into wine, the disciples were already committed to following Jesus, and they are ones the text says believed. The miracle had no apparent effect on the servants who knew what had happened. In other words, the miracle confirmed the faith of the disciples without converting anyone.

Over and over again in the Gospels, Jesus performs miracles, especially healings, and then tells people not to say anything about it. Why? Why would he do that? When I do something extraordinary I tell everybody about it MYSELF! Why would Jesus be so secretive? Well, because he knew that miracles do not produce faith. Or rather, he knew that a faith based in miracles, in what God can do for you, is a fleeting, skin-deep faith, needing to be propped up with more and more miraculous happenings.

No, Jesus was about creating deep and abiding faith in his followers.And his miracles, signs John calls them, were intended to deepen faith, not create it. They were meant to draw his disciples deeper into the mystery of God’s will for the world.

John is a writer whose work is always full of symbolism, he intends to show spiritual truth through the use of human stories. Reading John is like watching the TV show Lost or the old X-files show: things are seldom what they seem and the obvious is always wrong.

A prevailing theme throughout John is that Jesus is the start of something entirely NEW, not only for Israel but for the world. The coming of Jesus as the Messiah has transformed what used to be into something entirely new and different.

God, in Jesus the Christ, is doing a whole new thing, and nothing will ever be the same as it was before. For John, Jesus’ miracles are signs, hints, of that new thing, that new kingdom. The changing of water into wine at the wedding is the first sign of the new day.

There are, in John’s Gospel, seven signs,
1 - Water to Wine - 2:1-11
2 - Gentile Official’s Son healed - 4:46-54
3 - Lame man made to walk - 5:2-8
4 - Feeding of the 5000 - 6:1-14
5 - Walking on Water - 6:16-21
6 - Man blind from birth receives sight - chapter 9
7 - The Raising of Lazarus - Chapter 11

Notice how they grow in difficulty and significance, from the almost trivial sign of providing wine for a party to the ultimate sign of new life out of death. And none of them converts anybody, indeed John says in Chapter 12, verse 37:
“Though he had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in him.”

If the point is not conversion, what is the point of the signs? What do the signs point to? In particular, what is the point of John’s telling us that Jesus turned the water into wine at a wedding?

It is important that the water was the water set aside for the Jewish purification rites. It was there for people who came to the wedding to wash up, not only to get the dirt of the road off themselves and their clothes, but also to be ritually pure for the meal.

In this sign, Jesus takes the OLD, the water of purification, the old way of getting right with God; and turns it into the NEW, the new wine of the Spirit, the new way of BEING right with God. The Messiah has come and is doing a new and different thing.

Back when I was in Seminary in Columbia SC, I was scheduled to preach for a Lutheran Church in the little town of Prosperity SC. I got hopelessly lost, and it was about 10:30 when I came to a stop at an intersection. There were two signs, pointing in opposite directions; each one said Prosperity, 11 miles.

There was a man in a field right next tot he road, he was working on his tractor. I rolled down the window, got his attention and asked him, Does it matter which way I go to Prosperity?

He looked at me, he looked at the signs, he looked back at me, he spit on the ground, pulled up his pants, and said, Not to me it don’t!

A good question for us today is what does this text say to us. Not what difference did it make to the people at that wedding 2000 years ago, but; what difference does it make to me, now, today?

If Jesus can turn water into wine, what is our water that needs to be transformed, changed, by the power of God’s love? If Jesus, through the poser of God’s love, changed the purification rites into an outpouring of God’s Spirit, what is the promise of what God will do for us?

In 1964, there was a war on between Malaysia and Indonesia. A group of Gurkha tribesmen from Nepal were asked if they would be willing to jump from transport planes into combat against the Indonesians.

The Gurkhas usually agreed to anything, but this time they originally rejected the plan. The next day one of their officers went to see the British officer who made the request and said they had thought about it and discussed it and would make the jump under certain conditions.

1) the land has to be soft or marshy with no rocks,
2) the plane had to fly as slowly as possible and only 100 feet above the ground.

The British Officer said the soft landing would be no problem, and they always flew as slowly as possible when troops were jumping, but that 100 feet was too low. The Parachute wouldn’t have time to open.

The Gurkhas said, “Oh, that’s alright then. We’ll jump with parachutes anywhere. You never said anything about parachutes.” It seems to me that many of us are trying to live our Christian lives without parachutes.
We’re trying to live up to God’s will and way without using the gifts God has given us. We’re trying to go it alone, we’re trying to lower the standards so that we can meet them, we’re trying to be good enough for God on our own.

And the message of the Gospel is we don’t have to. All seven signs in John are revelations, showings, demonstrations of God’s ability and willingness to change, to transform our lives. Yet, we seldom avail ourselves of this life-changing offer. We’d rather live like spiritual pygmies, just struggling by, than to stand tall like children of Almighty God.

Not only does John show that Jesus has come to change our lives, Paul in I Corinthians goes on and on about the gifts of the Spirit, gifts which are bestowed on all of us. This list is not complete, total, exhaustive. It is partial, temporary, illustrative. There are as many gifts of the Spirit as there are human beings. We are all gifts of God to each other, we are all unique expressions of God’s creative activity in the world, we all receive abilities and talents and insights, not for ourselves, but for others.

One of the most important verses in the Bible is almost buried, obscured in our reading from I Corinthians: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Many of us fail to recognize that we are blessed, talented, gifted; many of us have trouble recognizing that we are made by God with individual care and unique possibilities.

Others of us are all too aware of our gifts, we are just not aware that they were given to us for a purpose. We think of our gift as ours, to be savored and enjoyed, but for us and us alone.

The message of the Gospel is that God gave us our gifts, and God gave us our gifts fort a purpose and that purpose is serving the “common good”.
We are put on this earth to give something back, to be a blessing to others, to help somebody somewhere on their way. We are not here for ourselves, we are here for God and the world.

Our calling today is to offer ourselves completely to Christ, to turn ourselves over to him, to trust him with our lives. We are called to be like the water in those stone jars, ready to be changed and transformed by the power of Christ into a new wine of the Spirit, filling the world with Words of hope, acts of love and song of Joy.

Amen and Amen.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Baptism of Our Lord, January 7, 2007

January 7, 2007

Text: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

There’s an old preacher story about the theatrical pastor who had a great idea for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday. He went to the pet store and bought a little white bird. Then he recruited the church janitor to sit, with the bird, in the unused balcony during the service.

When the preacher said, “And the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove,” the janitor was supposed to release the bird and let it fly out over the congregation. You have to admit, it would have been kind of cool. Tacky, yes, but still, kinda cool.

When the pastor got to the right place, he paused briefly and then said, quite dramatically, “And the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove,” while, throwing out his arm and pointing to the heavens expectantly. And nothing happened.

He waited a little bit then said, again, more loudly, “And the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove.”

Still, nothing happened. So, he proclaimed a third time, “And the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove!”
At this point the janitor leaned over the balcony and said, “The cat done ate the bird. You want I should throw down the cat?”

When I was a kid, if you were shy or failed to answer an adult’s question, they would usually say, “What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?”

As we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord today, there are several questions that come to mind. One of them could be phrased, “Cat got your Baptism?”

Put in Religious terms: “How has being a Baptized person affected your life?” “What difference does having a few drops of water sprinkled on your head make?”

Let’s examine this:
One of the interesting things about any discussion of baptism is that the thing most people “know” is the least important thing about it. People “know” that you have to be baptized to get rid of Original Sin. Some people worry about babies who die going to Hell if they haven’t been baptized and others worry about everybody who hasn’t been baptized going to Hell. This is a serious misunderstanding of the sacrament that turns it into a piece of “Magic,” of divine Hocus-Pocus, of humans casting some sort of spell which requires God to act in a certain way, in this case, allowing the Baptized into heaven.
It is because of this understanding of baptism that people sometimes ask, “Why was Jesus baptized, since he was a sinless, perfect being, he had no sins which needed forgiving.” This kind of thinking is rooted in a basically backwards picture of who God relates to us. We struggle mightily with the nature of the gift of God’s love to us.
We try to earn it, or we feel unworthy of it. We try to figure out what we must do to deserve it; we try to pay for it.

It reminds me of the story of Harvey Pinnick. Harvey, back in the 1920’s, bought a little red spiral notebook and began jotting down his observations about golf and life. He never showed the book to anyone but his son. In 1991, Harvey gave the book to a writer he knew and asked him if he thought it was worth publishing. The writer showed the book to an editor at Simon and Schuster Publishers. They called and spoke to Harvey’s wife, saying they had decided to publish with an advance of $90,000.

Several days passed and Harvey Pinnick had not responded to the message. Finally, Harvey spoke to his writer friend and said that with all his medical bills he just didn’t see how he could come up with the 90,000 to get the book published. The writer had to explain to Harvey that he didn’t pay Simon and Schuster; Simon and Schuster paid him!

All too often, we’re like Harvey Pinnick. We misunderstand the message of the Gospel. We think we have to do things to make God love us when the message of our baptism is just the opposite; God loves us just the way we are.

Baptism is a message to us that our sins are forgiven; sins: past, present and future. Baptism doesn’t forgive our sins; God forgives our sins. Baptism tells us that our sins are forgiven. We are reminded of our baptism and our forgiveness, every time we make confession. The sign of the cross is made by the pastor, and can be made by you, as a reminder that the sign of the cross was made on your forehead in Baptism and that it is through the cross that we are forgiven.

Yes, God loves us just the way we are. God also loves us too much to let us stay that way. Forgiveness of sins is not all that is going on in Baptism. Look at our second lesson, the reading from Acts: At first glance, it looks like a bit of theological silliness; baptized in name of Jesus only, so what?

But I think the issue had to do with what some of us do, limiting the meaning of Baptism to its least important function. Without the understanding that in baptism we receive the Holy Spirit, we are left with a wooden, legalistic, tit-for-tat, formalistic, action; like a courthouse marriage of convenience.
But, with the giving of the Holy Spirit, we are in a dynamic, organic, growing, pulsating relationship with God almighty. We go from being over here, with God over there, to being enmeshed with God. God’s in us, we’re in God, we are the Body of Christ, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we are NOT far off and distant from God, simply seeking to keep God from sending us to Hell through magical religious rites and our accumulated list of Good Works. NO! We are part of the Divine Presence in the world. God has made God’s dwelling to be within us.

Writing in Christianity Today, Pastor Paul Bocca talks about how some people find a genuinely Christian life boring. Going to church, doing the liturgy, reading the lessons, hearing the sermons, doing the rituals, serving on committees, etc. etc. It’s BORING! This, he says, is why so many find their way to TV ministries and huge mega-churches that are entertaining and exciting.

Pastor Bocca then turns this BORING accusation upside down – by admitting it, and then reminding us of another meaning for the word boring.

He says Christianity is boring. It is like the slow movement of a drill; slowly, laboriously digging beneath the surface of our lives. The continuing cycle of Sunday after Sunday, season after season, year after year, the Christian message and life in community bores ever deeper and deeper into our souls, until, we begin to realize the truth of the words spoken over us in baptism.
That we are a beloved child of God, we are marked with the cross of Christ forever, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are called to follow Christ, we are to love one another unconditionally, we are forgiven and called to forgive others, we are ambassadors for Christ.

This boring life of faith is begun at baptism, and is not completed until the day we die. We live each day in remembrance of our baptism, in remembrance of the fact that God loves us with a love so deep, so wide, so complete that nothing can separate us from that love.

When Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a young pastor in rural South Africa, he taught religion, catechism, to a class of 13-year-old boys in the parochial school at this church. He gave them a test on the New Testament.
One of the questions was, “What did the voice from heaven say at Jesus’ baptism?”

One boy wrote: “You are the Son of God, now act like it!”

That same voice spoke over us at our baptism, and said something very similar, “You are a beloved child of God,
I am giving you the greatest gift I can give, myself. Let my spirit grow in you, live a life of love, show Christ to the world.”
Amen and amen.