First Lesson: Jeremiah 1: 4-10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 71: 1-6
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13
Gospel Lesson: Luke 4: 21-30
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The great truth of human existence is that we all want love in our lives. We want a spouse that we love, children that we love, a church that we love, and neighbors whom we love living next door. If everyone wants love why is it so hard to find?
The truth is love would be easy if everyone were patient, kind, and self-controlled. Love would be easy if people always practiced responsible lifestyle decisions. Love would be easy if people were to be considerate of other people’s feelings even when they are angry. Love would be easy if we never encountered any people in our lives without any problems. I could ask for a show of hands this morning if the people that you are called to love are always easy to love. I guess very few hands within this room would go up.
Where we as Christian people often misunderstand love is thinking of it as an emotion, rather than a way of life. Sure it’s easy to say that you “love” your bride looking radiant walking down the aisle on a wedding day. Love is much tougher though when you’ve had your fourth major argument of the week and gone storming off into your room in the seventeenth year of one’s marriage.
Today’s epistle reading is one of the most famous scripture passages in all of Christianity known as the “love” chapter from 1st Corinthians 13. I’ve told the story of the Corinthians before. The Corinthian’s were a church in conflict. The Corinthians had divisions between the “old guard” and “new guard”. The Corinthians had divisions between those who were loyal to their former preacher and congregation founder Paul and those who were loyal to their young, charismatic preacher who had grown the church by leaps and bounds in Apollos. People said that Paul was boring, whereas Apollos was considered to be more of an entertainer than a preacher. The Church in Corinth was probably not unlike a lot of other congregations in their divisions: people said nasty things about each other, people’s pride forced them to dig in their heels, and no one was going to relent until things ended up being their way in the end.
So Paul writes a letter known as 1st Corinthians as a way to helpfully bring guidance to the dispute in the midst of some many different personalities coming together. So the most famous passage from 1st Corinthians known as the “love chapter” had nothing to do with weddings, but rather everything instead to do with nasty, bloody church fights.
So how does Paul understand Love? The love chapter is worthy of further reflection this morning by looking at some of its key phrases.
Love is patient: I’ll always hear people say to my parents “Aren’t you proud to have a son who is a minister?” The truth is that is much more going on underneath the surface than what you see today. As I’ve talked about before, I do not get here without my parents’ patience. When I’m in 8th grade, there were days at Chisago Lakes Middle School that I barely made it through any classes without being kicked out on account of being disruptive. My study habits and focus were poor even for a fourteen-year-old boy. They figured that I would implode in public education, and I had close friends whose lives have ended up in some dark places. I end up at Chisago Lakes Baptist School; they were going to rightfully throw me out until I made a last-ditch plea to the Principal Bob Eiseman. I remember my Mom one morning telling me that my Dad laid in bed crying last night not knowing what might happen to you.
Even at the end of high school, the journey with trying my parent’s patience was far from over. Seminary was not easy. There were nights that I figured going into the ministry was nothing other than a terrible life decision. If it weren't for my parents’ patience encouraging me to stick with a career in the ministry, someone else would be standing before you this morning. I’m sure there were plenty of nights when they wished that I got my act together sooner.
Patience is a hard attribute to possess because it requires us to acknowledge that not everyone is going to go through life according to your expectations. The reason that patience is so important as Christian people is that God’s plans for someone’s life don’t often take place over the course of days, but rather they often take place after years of struggle and grace. Patience is important because we never know when resurrections around us might take place.
Love is kind: I want to tell you the story of Scott and Melissa. Scott and Melissa met through online dating. Scott worked in nursing home administration; Melissa was a school-teacher. Melissa was also a single mom with two young children at home. Scott and Melissa start chatting online, they develop a bit of rapport, and they agree to go on a date. Scott had a busy week, but he arranged for the chance to have dinner with Melissa a few hours away on a Friday night. The date didn’t go well! Melissa’s nerves were evident. The first twenty minutes consisted of Scott receiving nothing more than one-word answers. When Melissa finally began to open up the conversation was forced. Scott and Melissa for whatever reason just didn’t click. Scott realized something about Melissa within their conversations. Melissa had been burned by other men in the past: men that were substance abusers and men that made Melissa feel worse about herself every single day. Melissa had trust issues and justifiably so. So Scott and Melissa’s date ends with an awkward tap on the forearm. Most people would never communicate with each other, again. Scott though had different ideas. Scott decides to write Melissa the following Monday highlighting all the attractive qualities that she had as a person. Melissa was taken back as she had looked from kindness her whole life from likely sources but found it in an unlikely source of a bad date.
We often misunderstand “kindness”. One of my favorite books is Evolutionary Psychologist Robert Glover’s No More Mr. Nice Guy. Glover’s hypothesis is that the reason that people often act “nice” isn’t for good reasons but often reasons of pride. People will often merely act all “nice” to merit the approval of others when their response deep down inside is anything but nice. Nice guys are obsessed with what other people think about them, rather than living out the goodness of one’s convictions. Nice guys tend to be unhappy because people can sense their selfish motives.
One time I went to see Grandma at the nursing home. Grandma tells one of the nurses that her outfit looks good. The nurse walks away when Grandma turns to me and says “I think that outfit is ugly.” The main point of today’s sermon is what Grandma did was not kind. Grandma said something to try to get the nurse to feel a certain way about her. Kindness would have been acknowledging that the nurse had a different sense of style than you do. Kindness would have been determining the other person’s self-worth in some other way than by their wardrobe.
Here is what we don’t get about kindness. Kindness comes from a position not of weakness; kindness rather comes from a position of strength. Kindness is the ability to extend grace and mercy when the other person is down on themselves. True kindness requires a totally flipping of the script of basic human relationships. Way too many human relationships go wrong when people believe that they have to win their relationships. They have to win a friendship or win a marriage. If one adopts this need to win relationship mindset, then the only guarantee in life is that all their relationships will be dysfunctional. What we often fail to remember as people of faith is that our self-worth is not defined by our accomplishments or comparison to others, rather our self-worth is determined by how we are all byproducts of God’s grace and mercy.
Love does not dishonor: Let me reflect briefly this morning on the Bible story from which Sychar gets it name, the story of the woman at the well. Let's assume this woman at the well had grown up in a poor home. Mom had left; Dad never gave much in the way of affection. This woman as she grows up can only derive popularity from her looks. The problem is she never had good models for relationship skills. She hadn’t learned the way of love. She keeps getting married, again and again, only to see every marriage fall apart. This woman’s self-esteem keeps falling lower and lower. Finally after five husbands and a new boyfriend, she encounters Jesus. Jesus could have judged her like everyone else in the world judges her. She probably believed that she was dishonorable at this point in her life. She believes that her past would ultimately shape her present. Jesus confronted this woman with different ideas. Jesus told her that she was worthy of honor, whether she believed it or not. Jesus preached that everyone deserved grace at even the darkest points of their existence.
The thing about being a preacher in a small town is that you tend to hear a lot of things. You hear when people are estranged from children, you hear stories about people’s temper. You hear stories about people’s drinking. You hear stories about people sleeping around. In my years as a preacher, I’ve heard all these things and had to plan funeral sermon in response. What do you say at times like these?
Pastor Andy Stanley makes the following point: ‘Think of the most valuable thing you own- for confirmation kids, it could be their smart-phone, for others it could be their home or their truck. For some, it might be a piece of jewelry. Think of the item that you would protect in a fire more than anything other’.
The question needs to be asked, “Do we treat other’s emotional well-being the same way?” Do we seek to remember that even in the midst of the most heated arguments that who we are staring at is a beloved child of God? Who we might be arguing with is the biggest influence in the life of their child. The words that we speak to those around us can change lives long after we’re gone. To honor, someone is to treat them in the most charitable way possible.
Luther in his explanation to the 8th Commandment declares “We should fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him or give him a bad name, but defend him, speak well of him, and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way.” To put the best possible on someone else’s actions is one of the toughest callings of love. The following understanding of love might take someone years to grasp.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”
What these words mean is that love finds its basis, not in childhood fantasies; the calling to love is rather based on real-world realities. One of the marks of real maturity in life is coming to accept that people out there will think different than you, they will act differently than you, and people will get on your nerves for every possible reason under the sun. These people are still worthy of love. Love cannot be a feeling that comes and go as the wind blows; love must rather be a calling or vocation that does not promise to be easy.
Love is unnatural, because those around you will disappoint you, and you inevitably will disappoint others. There is no such thing as the right person to love whether a child, spouse, neighbor or friend. Love cannot be separated from the extension of grace. Love above all us is sustained by forgiveness, understanding, and truth. The following type of love is God’s greatest gift to us as a people.
 1st Corinthians 13:4a
 Stanley, Andy. Love, Sex, and Dating. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 2014. Book. P.79
 1st Corinthians 13:4a
 Scott and Melissa aren’t a true story, but based on a true story of people I know and choose to conceal.
 Stanley, Andy. Love, Sex, and Dating.P.80
 1st Corinthians 13:5
 John 4
 Stanley, Andy. Love, Sex, and Dating.P.85-86.
 Luther, Martin. Large Catechism.
 1st Corinthians 13:11
 Stanley, Andy. Love, Sex, and Dating. P.74
 The following idea is based on Andy Stanley’s chapter “The Right Person Myth”. Stanley, Andy. Love, Sex, and Dating. P.21-33
First Lesson: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 19
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a
Gospel Lesson: Luke 4: 14-21
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
About a month ago, I was engaging in strategic planning for North Shore Area Partners. The presenter was a guy named Reid Zimmerman. Reid’s a former Lutheran pastor who now teaches nonprofit management at Hamline. Reid asked everyone in the room the following question “What would have to happen for North Shore Area Partners to accomplish its mission and shut its doors?” People were initially unsure how to respond to such a question. It seems obvious that there will always be senior citizens who long to stay independent and need help. For many this would be a tough question to engage.
As I thought about the following, a vision of sorts popped into my head. What if every neighborhood in Silver Bay assumed a mindset of the need to help uplift the community most senior members? We have people in town doing this already, what if everyone in town embraced this mentality. What if people didn’t think of providing assistance as an obligation rather than an opportunity? Now many will hear my words and feel them to be incredibly far-fetched, this is the right reaction! Because we want always to be dreaming big when it comes to the world around us.
So bringing Reid’s question closer to home, let me ask everyone here the following “How will our work as Sychar Lutheran Church be accomplished?” Could we ever get to a point where we feel that our mission as people is complete?
The following reflection leads to one of the most common questions that I receive in the ministry, and that relates to sharing our faith. These struggles affect people as they wonder how exactly do I talk about my faith to my children, to my grandchildren, to my friends, and my neighbors. The natural instinct is that such efforts will fail because they have failed before. How do we speak about our faith to those closest to us? This leads us into our Gospel for today from Luke 4.
Luke 4 tells the tale of Jesus giving his first sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus on this day is preaching a sermon to those at the place where he had gathered every Sabbath day for his whole life. As the people see Jesus get up to attempt to speak, they didn’t know what to make of the scene. Here was Jesus on this day preaching to people who remember him running around as a ten-year-old-boy, preaching to his friends, and preaching to his neighbors. This was the spot where Jesus dared to give his first sermon.
There was nothing unusual about the congregation in Nazareth. The synagogue in Nazareth probably looked like any other small-town congregation in Galilee. The congregation is filled with a mix of rich and poor, Roman citizen and devout Jew, healthy and sick, happy and distraught. I’m sure the Nazareth synagogue had its share of colorful characters. There was nothing unique about Nazareth to make it a special vessel for Jesus’ message.
So as Jesus begins, let’s be honest the congregation probably wasn’t expecting much. Jesus lacked any formal religious education, and he had been working as a common carpenter. This was how the people of Nazareth previously knew him. Jesus probably didn’t look like he would be much of a preacher. Then something amazing happened as Jesus began to preach. Jesus was able to read Hebrew well. Jesus was able to speak with poise and polish. Jesus then began to preach that all the scriptures they had previously heard would be fulfilled in his presence, and the congregation was amazed. Jesus had hit upon the greatest sermon that the people in Nazareth were ever going to hear.
What was the secret of Jesus’ preaching making it so effective? Jesus was not merely quoting scripture, Jesus was proclaiming scripture which is vastly different. Jesus is connecting the scriptures to the life of his congregation.
I can hear people this morning assuming they can’t preach like Jesus. This might be true. Preaching is not the key to evangelism. The key to evangelism is instead the ability to reach out to someone when they need it. The key to evangelism is connecting the reality of grace to people’s lives.
Let me tell the following story from Huck Finn. Huck’s dad was a drunk. One night Pap went all over town drinking, cussing, and carrying out till after midnight. Pap gets thrown in jail which was a relatively common occurrence. Things were going to be different though with this jail sentence.
The new judge vowed to Pap that things were going to be different this time. So the new judge took Pap and invited him into his home where he dressed him well and fed him some nice meals. The new judge saw Pap as something entirely different than the town drunk. Pap at seeing the judge’s behavior towards him finally breaks down. Pap admits to being ashamed to what he has become. Pap hoped the judge to point him towards a new way forward from his previous messed up existence. The judge had declared in Pap’s presence a declaration that Pap never thought he would hear. Pap is worthy to receive the good news!
We all misunderstand evangelism. We misunderstand evangelism when we make it about our knowledge. Evangelism is rather about the ability to forge meaningful connections with people just like Pap, who need them.
The calling of evangelism is to not to make people into perfect members of Sychar Lutheran Church, the calling of evangelism is to give people Jesus and allow them the opportunity to be a part of our supportive community of faith.
There are people out there that have been struggling with trying to find every coping mechanism with the battlefield that we often call life. These people might not find love within their marriage; they might be estranged from their children, they might be uncertain about the future of their job. We all know these people. What these people long for is a community whose love is unconditional whether they believe it is possible or not.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored all rejoice together with it.” -1st Corinthians 12:26
As Jesus is preaching on this day, his preaching goes way beyond those merely sitting in the synagogue in Nazareth; rather Jesus’ preaching extends to every single person within the community of Nazareth longing for hope.
Too often, we see the church like we see the world. We see a world divided between Democrats and Republicans, a world divided between black and white, a world divided between Silver Bay and Two Harbors. These are the distinctions that Jesus is compelling us on this day to let go. Christ is not interested in our divisions, Christ is not interested in our excuses, rather Christ is interested in setting free those living with a paralyzing bondage as they go through their days.
What people don’t need to hear today is a Jesus, who promises to make their lives easier, this is a quick fix to much a bigger issue. What people rather long to hear is that no matter what you hear in any sermon today, there is a much bigger picture of faith. The big picture of faith all centers on what is yet to come.
We are not optimistic this morning by past results, we are rather optimistic by God’s big promises.
I want to close this morning with a story. The following is a story of a mother and a daughter. Mom is currently in the hospital hooked to nothing but machines and totally unresponsive. Daughter is freaking out. The daughter would give anything at that moment for Mom to wake up and respond to her. You see the daughter needed mom in her life. The daughter needed an event such as this to admit it. The daughter as she saw her mom lying in a hospital bed came to admit how much she had failed and disappointed her mother over the years. The daughter recalled her years of teenage rebellion trying to fit into the world that didn’t know any better: drinking, smoking, piercings, and attempting to find approval in the wrong people. The daughter recalls taking every opportunity to tell her mom how awful she was. The daughter even cursed her mom for bringing her into this world. The daughter could see her mom breaking with nearly every word out of her mouth.
Her mom’s response is significant. You see we as a people often greatly misunderstand love. Many people think of love as an emotion, we want to love others and have others love us. We assume that love should be easy and natural because of this. The thing about love is that it goes way beyond fairy-tales of human relationships. Love requires patience and self-control when people disappoint you and love require selflessness to bestow grace upon those who have fallen short. So how did mom respond to her deadbeat daughter?
Mom kept preaching “love” again and again. Over and over and over. Daughter knew all the ways that she had disappointed mom, yet mom would not waver in her response. The daughter was now terrified as her one light in the midst of darkness began to flicker. The daughter needed her mom’s presence because of this more than she was ever going to admit. The story of the daughter mirrors many of our stories when it comes to things of faith. People often go through life not quite sure of what exactly it is they need without others to guide them.
We have people from our congregation and community that come from a bad place this morning. These people are struggling with hurt, rejection, and disappointment. Plenty of people’s messes will come to our door. What shall our words be at times such as these, our words shall be that we do not judge you on this day because deep down inside we are a people of the resurrection. We believe connection is possible because our scriptures promise that “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come The old has gone, the new is here!
As long as people need to hear this message, we shall have a purpose as a people. We shall not gather here because we believe that we have the power to change ourselves into problem-free people, we rather gather here because we believe that Christ can change us by one-day making alive, what was once dead! Amen
 Luke 4:14-21
 Harrisville, Roy. “Luke 4:14-21 :Commentary”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 24.Jan.2010. Web. Jan.20.2016.
 Reese, Ruth Anne. “Luke 4:14-21 :Commentary”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 24.Jan.2016. Web. Jan.20.2016
 Bender, Micheal. “Bridging the Empathy Gap: Pap’s New Judge and a Man from Nazareth”. Mockingbird Ministries (MBird). 19.Dec.2013. Web. Jan.20.2016
 Bender, Micheal. “Bridging the Empathy Gap: Pap’s New Judge and a Man from Nazareth
 Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher: A Life-Changing Epiphany”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 24.Jan.2016. Web. Jan.20.2016.
 Larkin, Lauren. R.E. “I Love You, Child, As I Have Been Loved”. Mockingbird Ministries (MBird)19.Jan.2016. Web. Jan.20.2016
 The full story comes from Fliss, Jennifer. “Blink If You Can Hear Me”. Brain, Child Magazine. 24. Nov.2015. Web. Jan.20.2016
 Merritt, Jonathan. “Andy Stanley gets surprisingly real about love, sex, and dating”. Religion News Services. 15.Jan.2015. Web. Jan.20.2016.
 Larkin, Lauren. R.E. “I Love You, Child, As I Have Been Loved”. Mockingbird Ministries (MBird)
 2 Corinthians 5:17
First Lesson: Isaiah 62: 1-5
Responsive Reading: Psalm 36: 5-10
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11
Gospel Lesson: John 2: 1-11
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Last Sunday afternoon, I was sitting in Minneapolis in six below weather for upwards of three hours. Twenty- some seconds left in the game, and it looked like everything would soon come to fruition as Vikings kicker Blair Walsh lined up to probably win the game. Disaster soon strikes as Walsh misses a kick that kickers make 99% percent of the time. The Lord’s name was invoked last Sunday in my presence, only the words spoken were not words of praise. Leaving the stadium and walking back to the car, I heard a barrage of cuss words that will not be topped in the next year no matter where I go or who I see. Hope and celebration had quickly turned to nastiest of pessimism. This week, at confirmation, I had kids who have grown up in Minnesota tell me how they knew that he was going to miss that kick because they were the Vikings.
Was the outcome disappointing? Yes. Did I sit at my seat with my hands held on my head in silence for several minutes? Sure.
But in the midst of a mere Football game came a sign of hope. The hope came from a room of 1st graders at Northpoint Elementary in Blaine. The teacher saw a mortal man who cried after the game on Sunday struggling before the world. So she assigned her student’s letters as a way to teach about empathy and forgiveness.
One student wrote “Dear Blair Walsh, I know that it can be hard to get through things that are sad. But you have to try and try again. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. One time I made a mistake when I was doing a cartwheel. I felt embarrassed. You can still help the Vikings win the Super Bowl next year. Your Fan, Sophia Doffin.” PS. You are the best kicker that I know.
The rest of the story is Blair Walsh this week visited that classroom of first graders, because they were will sticking by him in not only the ups, but also the downs of life. Whenever we proclaim grace whether we are in first grade or nearing one-hundred, we ultimately bring people hope. The tale of Blair Walsh and the first-graders brings us to Today’s Gospel.
Today’s Gospel lesson is another story about bringing grace and hope in a time of despair. Our lesson comes to us from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry as he performs his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. I want everyone this morning to reflect upon a few different things regarding this story.
Point One: Where Jesus performed his first miracle. Cana was a small village. Archaeologists even today debate Cana’s location because of its puny size. Galilee the part of Israel where the miracle was performed would have been known as a backwoods/hick outpost. There was nothing extraordinary about this wedding. The wedding probably took place at a non-extraordinary venue like the Reunion Hall. We don’t even know the names of the people getting married because they weren’t in all probability either rich or powerful. The crowd at this wedding was made up of normal people. The people gathered on this day had seen God act only a certain way in the previous generations. They assume God was doing big things somewhere other then a wedding in their rinky-dink little town of Cana. They assumed God was only going to act in a far, away glamorous place like Jerusalem. They assumed that God might only act in the lives of the rich, the young, and the powerful. God had different ideas though as he went to the wedding on this day.
The thing about weddings in Jesus’ day is that food and wine were served by a pecking order. The best guests got the best wine. And on this day, the wine ran out. The people assumed that it was time to go home. Jesus had different plans though as he asked for ordinary jars of water so that he may turn them into the finest wine that these guests were ever going to receive.
Point two: Jesus didn’t want to initially act. Jesus proclaims “My time has not yet come”. My belief is that Jesus had every intention of acting. He waited for someone to set the process in motion. Mary refuses to sit ideally by on the sidelines. The role Mary plays in this story is quite important. Mary was bold in this story. Mary stepped out. Mary risked rejection. Mary risked getting nowhere. Mary risked failure. Mary risked frustration. Mary risked banging her head against the wall. Mary realized something important about outreach though that it has the potential to change not only your life, but the lives of those around you.
I have a friend from seminary named that I’ll call Ted. People didn’t always know what to make of Ted. Ted would get a bit rowdy from time to time. Ted was no stranger to getting embarrassed. People would often talk about Ted because of it. Ted goes through life not caring what other people think about him. Ted believes that what he has was worth selling. Eventually a girl comes to Luther Seminary that I’ll call Rebecca. Every guy at Luther Seminary wanted to date Rebecca. Rebecca was the total package: pretty, smart, and personable. Ted initially asks Rebecca out and gets nowhere. People would tell Rebecca all sorts of reasons to stay away from Ted. Ted remained calm because he believed himself to be a great catch. Rebecca eventually says “yes” to Ted. They get married and are both pastors in SW Minnesota.
Think of how much Ted would have missed out on, if he embraced the defeatist attitude that everyone thought that he should embrace. Think how much we might miss out on in life if only assume things will go like they’ve gone before. Mary had never seen Jesus turn water into wine before this wedding, but this wasn’t going to stop her from asking.
How might God be acting? What can we possibly do? These are the questions that come before us on this day? I’ve been in the news a bit as of late.
Let me tell you what happened. Peggi Potter upon hearing about the idle at Northshore Mining wanted to act. The reality of mining is that it affects everyone who lives here even beyond those who work down there, it affects those who contract with the mine, it affects those who work with the city or the school, and it affects those who try to earn a living all over town. We all benefit from Taconite Tax.
Peggi wanted to put on meals for the whole community during these uncertain times. My initial reaction was to try to say “no” because the challenge seemed way too large. I then realized that we cannot embrace the mindset of God necessarily acting like he’s always acted before.
In the past few weeks, I’ve heard plenty of objections: how it’s never been done that way before, how people don’t need our help, how we much run out of food. The thing is every one of these critics might be right. The thing is the cost of inaction is often greater than the cost of action. You can go through life free of risk never saying anything to which people may object or even leaving the house. Big changes in life, only begin with big risks. Big changes only begin when we realize that God might not always act in our lives like he has before.
What the Wedding at Cana shows us is that wine doesn’t necessarily run out. How God’s grace is never going to be ordinary or occur by any sort of book.
If a congregation is not creating new ways to reach the community around it, it will soon cease to influence the community in which it serves.
Today we begin a new year of ministry as a congregation. The mindset that I want us to adopt as a congregation that we need to think of what we can possibly be, rather than what we can’t be. Each of us is getting older, many of us have longed for change that we have been unable to witness. Yet what our story reminds us is that our God will respond to the needs of his people.
As we look out to the community before us, there are all sorts of people on this day longing for connection. They are longing to hear a person say that I want to be a part of “your life”. They are longing for friendship, they are longing for grace, they are longing for forgiveness. There is not one person waking up in Silver Bay this morning that doesn’t want to see their life change for the better because they encounter the Christian Gospel. There is not one person on this day that does not yearn for resurrection. There is not one person on this day who does not desire to see God turn water into wine before their very eyes.
What our community needs to hear on this day is that you do not go through life alone. Our God shall work in ways that might not always be evident based on what you see on the nightly news. In our lesson for today, Jesus hour had not yet come. I do believe that our hour has not yet come.
There are two ways that we can look towards the future of the congregation on this day. We can look at it through our ages, we can look at it by how many of our friends have dyed off, we can look it at through decades of decline. I know my friend Ted from Seminary wouldn’t look at it this way though.
Instead we could possibly see something different. We could see a God who attends weddings. A God who creates hope in the midst of despair. It is this God who stands alongside us on this day as we receive his heavenly supper. It is this God who creates miracles every day as sinners are embraced by the power of forgiveness. It is this God who brings us hope perhaps when we least expect it like those attending that Wedding in Cana on this day. Our God is bringing about all sorts of mini-resurrections as we wait the day of final resurrection.
The great hope guiding us into the year ahead is that chances to impact lives will stand before us. Think of the one person you know who longs for people to support them as they go through life. I believe that miracles will take place among us as a people in the years ahead. We cannot even begin to imagine what these miracles might look like on this day. As long as we’re breathing, we will have the chance just like Blair Walsh to “kick it again”. Our God will keep pouring out upon us “grace” upon “grace”. Water will be turned into Wine. Amen
 Sawkar, Vinetta. “First-graders offer Vikings Kicker Blair Walsh words of encouragement”. Minneapolis Star Tribune. 13.Jan.2016. Web. Jan.14.2016
 Sawkar, Vinetta. “First-graders offer Vikings Kicker Blair Walsh words of encouragement.”
 John 2:1-11
 Perez, Alvarez, Eliseo. “Commentary on John 2:1-11”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 17.Jan.2016. Web. Jan.13.2016.
 Lewis, Karoline. “Embodied Ephanies”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 17.Jan.2016. Web. Jan.13.2016.
 This comes from the date of the 2016 Sychar Annual Meeting.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20
Second Lesson: Ephesians 1: 3-14
Gospel Lesson: John 1: 1-18
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
How did this world come into existence? Who was in the room when the button was pushed creating light from the darkness? The who pushed or helped push the button is the question that defines all religious discussion. Were there many Gods in the room as many ancient religions believe? Or was there just one God, the Father almighty who created light out of the darkness. Who was involved in the creation of the world is the question that defines all religion. Many people don’t get the Christian answer to this question. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, our God was not a “lonely” god.
This week in The Scroll, I wrote about the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Why is this question an issue?
Last week at Christmas Eve supper, I was asked my opinion about a Christian College Professor down at Wheaton in Illinois who was suspended for saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. This professor Larycia Hawkins defended her position by stating that Pope Francis said the same thing. The following discussion sparked a huge debate about religious tolerance, which I would like to reflect upon today.
I believe as we reflect, we can begin by acknowledging some similarities between our faiths: Christians, Muslims, and Jews all believe God to be all-powerful, all-present, and all-knowing. We believe that God, in theory, can hear the prayers of believers from within any faith tradition. These three religions draw their family trees back to Abraham. All three religions believe that God is ultimately a God of mercy, who on the last day will judge all mankind.
The Christian God is different though because he does not stand alone at the dawn of creation. The Christian God does not only live in heaven separated from his creation. The Christian God lived as an ordinary man. For Islam, the idea of God living as a person would be impossible. For Islam, the idea of God dying on a cross would be the epitome of weakness and foolishness, they would consider such a belief to be blasphemy. Islam does not believe in the Trinity of God in three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), which is the fundamental defining belief of the entire Christian faith.
I believe the discussion of the differences between religions should not stop here. All religions and cultures contain a degree of beauty. There are positive practices that we can acknowledge from all faiths. I would never say that all religions do not contain good and kind people who make excellent neighbors. When we say Christianity is unique, we don’t’ say it because we don’t take the calling to love our neighbor seriously no matter who they are or what they ultimately believe.
One tendency that we often have in the world is to resort to a tribal mentality. We only wish to associate with those who think like us and believe like us.
As I’ve talked about before I used to be quite heavy, probably weighing nearly 100 pounds more than I did today. I knew a woman in Seminary who one time joked that “If Stew only ate with people who agreed with me, then he would be skinny.” The truth is though I’d probably also be less wise.
My fear is not that America becomes overwhelmed with followers of other religions, my fear is that we lose the conviction that our Gospel to matters to all who believe or who don’t believe.
The Gospel ultimately saves. In the words of Chad Bird, when we say all religions, worship the same thing? Such a statement that expresses the idea that we don’t care what other religions believe. When we seek to minimize or downplay our beliefs, this can be troublesome.
A few years ago, I was on vacation in Las Vegas. I had some time to kill on a Friday, so I decided to drive up to Utah a state where I had never been. I go to Saint George, Utah. I figure being in Utah I should go to some Mormon sites just because that’s what you’re supposed to in Utah. So I visit the summer home of Brigham Young, who brought the Mormon people out to Utah. So I show up at this house and begin talking to the guide who asks me what faith that I am. To which I told her “Lutheran”, and she described us as “Brothers and Sisters in the faith.” So we start the tour, I was the only non-Mormon on the tour of about ten people. The sales job then begins to start. Pretty soon everyone else on the tour gets involved in the sales job. You might figure I would be annoyed by this; only I wasn’t. If the friendly Mormons believe that they have a spiritual truth that I need to hear as a way of fixing the problems in my life, I admire them for trying to share it with me.
As we consider how we as Christians should respond to other religions all around us. We want to declare the uniqueness of our beliefs as an example of how far we are willing to go to preach the grace of a radical God.
Perhaps the central question in distinguishing between religions has to do with the direction of God. In all other world religions, people seek to bring forth their best efforts as a way of ascending into God’s presence. Muslims have very strict rules about eating pork or drinking alcohol. Following these observances would be mandatory for all believers. Whether one should eat pork or drink alcohol as a matter of health is not the issue, the issue is rather what we believe about the nature of God.
The way the Christian interacts with the world is going to look different than the way that Islam interacts with the world. The reasons and motivations for a Christian interacting with the world around them are very different. As Christian people, we are called to action. The reason for this calling is very particular. In Christianity, we begin with the premise of freedom. Within Christianity you’re calling to be a banker, bus-driver, or beautician belongs to you and you alone. We are not required to do anything because it’s the way that we’ve done it before. Your path to God’s presence might not necessarily be Charlie’s path. There is no such thing as the uniquely Christian life. In Christianity, we act because we believe that Jesus’ words on the cross “It is finished” to be real and effecting every moment of our existence. We are an imperfect faith made for imperfect people.
Our Good Friend and my frequent supply preacher Dan Tabor works as a claim adjuster for State Farm Insurance. Dan says whenever he’s talking to people there’s always a certain phrase that makes him a bit nervous that phrase is “I’m a Christian”. The only scarier phrase according to Dan is “But I’m a pastor.” Dan’s point is people will often play the religion card as a way to run from all responsibilities for their actions. Mainly since Joe never goes to Church, but Bill does go to church then Bill must always be right. Being a Christian does not prevent Bill being wrong. Bill being wrong doesn’t make him a hypocrite though it makes him an imperfect Christian who is probably stubborn. I’m sure there are people here that know stubborn Christians. I’m sure there are even stubborn Christians within this church. The type of Christians who need to keep hearing about God’s grace and mercy again and again and again.
The central Christian belief is the idea that Jesus Christ has come down from heaven to save the whole world from those in bondage to sin. “I have not come to condemn the world but rather save the world.”-John 3:17
Too often we get distracted by debates of which no certain resolution can come. Our energies should rather be focused out God’s grace and mercy upon a world that longs for it.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”- John 1:1
Everything that we believe as Christian people brings us back to the beginning itself. Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from the start of the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel doesn’t begin with a claim of a virgin birth. John’s Gospel rather begins with a more dramatic claim! Jesus was there at the beginning. Jesus was present at the creation of the world itself. Our whole salvation story centers on what we believe about creation. Creation is essential to the world. Creation is essential to God’s plan to make the world whole once again.
This Sunday morning, we are “In the beginning” of 2016. A few of you have probably set goals or resolutions for the year ahead. Chances are the best of intentions to lose 20 pounds will quickly fall by the wayside. Our motivation to exercise will probably wane as it gets windier and colder outside. As I begin my 37th year on Earth, I’m getting ready to abandon the resolution of growing taller.
The problem with all New Year’s resolutions is the people will often lack the will to carry them out because of what we cannot escape. The one prediction that I can make for the upcoming year ahead is that we will stumble an fall as people.
The truth is that we will never be able to escape the events of the past year. For some of these events, might be relationships that didn’t develop quite as hoped for or even came to end. For others, you face a time of uncertainty because of the mines. Many of us live in fear at the threat of terrorism. As we enter the Presidential year of 2016, there are probably very few politicians that people actually trust.
The birth of 2016 does not change the reality of the previous year just as the Birth of Jesus was not going to change the realities of sin and death. Adam’s curse still reigns supreme.
What every person in this room longs for on some level is a new beginning. Every person here probably has their hopes that they have for 2016. Our hope lies with Jesus being at the beginning with God. Jesus’ presence within our world will create new life within the year ahead.
The good news of the Virgin Birth is that just as Christ Jesus came from heaven to earth, we too shall ascend from the grave to heaven. Our proof of this is the Resurrection. To realize how amazing the Resurrection that is to come will be, we need to go back to the beginning.
We leave this place this morning with a promise. God is remaking our world. God’s work is not determined by the journey from January 1st to December 31st though. Our hope instead centers about being born again in the waters of baptism and reborn as inheritors of eternal life. Our rebirth is taking what is dead in sin and making it alive, once again. The story we are in the process of living out on this day, all comes back to who is in control of the button. Our God has not stepped away from it. Our Lord remains present in this place as we receive his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins on this day. Our Lord was there at the beginning, our Lord was there on the cross, and our Lord shall be present on the day of our resurrection that is to come. Amen
 John 1:1
 Genesis 1:4
 Aglialoro, Todd. “Christians, Muslims, and the ‘One God’. Catholic Answers. 25. Mar.2013. Web. Dec.30.2015.
 Aglialoro, Todd. “Christians, Muslims, and the ‘One God’.
 Bird, Chad. “Most Religions Do Lead to the Same God”. Chad Bird. 28.Dec.2015. Web. Dec.29.2015.
 Rivera, Juan. “Christianity and the other religions.” The Christian Nation.org 8. Dec.2015. Web. Dec.29.2015.
 John 19:30
 Lewis, Karoline. “A New Genesis”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN, 27.Dec.2015. Web. Dec.30.2015
 Lewis, Karoline. “A New Genesis”.
 Lewis, Karoline. “A New Genesis”.