Combined Service for January 13 and 20

SCRIPTURE READING
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

3:16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

3:21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,

3:22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

SERMON
I’ve been thinking lately about the power of expectations. Expectations about things we expect, and things we didn’t. Happily unexpected things, and painful disappointments.

–There is often the interruption of the unexpected. The time when you think you’re just driving home from work, and another car suddenly makes it an eventful and memorable day. Or you’re baking in your kitchen, and next thing you’re waking up in the hospital– didn’t even get to enjoy the ambulance ride!

–Then there is the joy of exceeded expectations. Like when a new recipe brings a previously unattainable flavor right into your own kitchen. Or you make a new friend— or a group of friends. Many of us have been celebrating the magic of Tina and Mike’s anniversary trip. If you talked to Croghan beforehand, the New Zealand trip sounded at first like a bitter pill, or a test of his resolve, or something undertaken to prove a point– but turned out to be extremely fulfilling, and in fact expanding of his entire mindset. Literally came back from NZ a new man.

Expectations are powerful things. Especially when we think we have a good handle on them!

Too weeks ago, we remembered Matthew 2, where these Wise Magi from the east came to Jerusalem to find a King. But they were looking in the wrong place. They found in Jerusalem— not a leader, but a fearful sycophant— intent solely on arrogating his own power. The king they were seeking was in Bethlehem.

Wrong expectations.

Liz Fretz posted a great line on FB: “The Magi make the fatal mistake of first looking for God among the powerful”

Incorrect expectations.

— these wise travelers from the east make their first mistake when they seek God via the powers that be.

And CT alum Pete Bulanow made the observation that this might be the central theme of the whole Bible! That God is not found among the rich or powerful or brash, but with the quiet, the poor, the weak.

Expectations.

It seems to me that there is a similar kind of power struggle in this week’s Lectionary reading… and a disarming display of misleading expectations.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

these people gathered have high expectations– their expectations have been RAISED by John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus.

and these same people are starting to wonder if they shouldn’t RAISE their expectations even further: They wonder in their hearts if John might be the Messiah– the promised savior of oppressed Israel.

They have high expectations, on the rise. And John– who they are starting to think might be the ultimate answer to all of their problems– tells them in no uncertain terms that their high and rising expectations aren’t quite high enough:

3:16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John describes a powerful Jesus, with bulging muscles and steely gaze and fearless demeanor.

What’s more, John invokes some epic imagery for judgment, found all throughout the Hebrew Bible: the separation of wheat from the chaff. Where the heads of grain are ground underfoot to separate the kernel of wheat from the surrounding film.

The highly valuable grain is also heavier, so the farmer will take a pitchfork and throw it up into the air… where the breeze will blow away the lighter chaff and the more dense kernel of grain will fall straight down.

What’s precious is kept, and what is not is “burned with unquenchable fire”.

A really powerful image of divine judgment. No question about it.

…but what happens next?

A whole bunch of people are welcomed into the faith through baptism, and Jesus is too. So we might be inclined to wait for John’s powerful words to be enacted: for Jesus to tear off his tunic and flex his muscles and beat his chest and scream at the hills and grab his real or metaphorical winnowing fork and start TEARING PEOPLE UP! Bring on the JUDGEMENT, Jesus!

But there are no ALL CAPS in what follows, and I wonder if that left John a little bit disappointed in his expectations:
3:21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,

3:22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Wait, what? This cannot be correct…
…AND THE HOLY SPIRIT DESCENDED UPON HIM WITH A WINNOWING FORK, AND HE SEPARATED THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF AND BURNED ALL OF THAT CHAFF IN UNQUENCHABLE FIRE!!!!!! AND A VOICE FROM HEAVEN THUNDERED, “DO NO MESS WITH MY SON!!! HE WILL NOT TAKE ANY OF YOUR SASS OR DISRESPECT!! HE WILL NOT LET ANY OF YOU ESCAPE MY WRATH!!!”

no, not quite. the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form

like

a

dove

and a voice came from heaven… not screaming at the crowd, no, but speaking tenderly and directly to Jesus: “you are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’

It’s less a point to prove or a piece of performance art, and much more a personal affirmation. A picture of divine love. A dove, and a gentle word of affirmation… “with you I am well pleased”

=================

Lots of time I’m like John. I want a God-shaped flamethrower for to burn me some chaff, and I want to see JUSTICE done. I want all the wrongs righted, clearly and forthrightly. I want evildoers clearly labeled, and I want them stopped. Those who are amoral are a bit more tricky (and time-consuming): let’s open their eyes to see their cruelty before we send them to the places of their creation to live with the consequences of their actions.

Let’s get a God-shaped zillion-watt light and show everything for what it is.

The artist Son Lux, channeling the Psalmist:
May you die wide awake
With a look of great surprise
May your eyes be taken just before you can weep
As you see what you stole stolen from you
Stolen from you!

[Verse 2]
May you die with your mouth still agape
With a word stuck in your throat
May your mouth be taken just before you can speak
When you knew what you stole has been stolen from you

…or did you see that video of the high school PUNKS, mocking those native elders? SO DISRESPECTFUL.

——————————-

I want a world of black and white, of right for wrong… but in reality, there is no quid pro quo. Wrongs are done, and repeated, seemingly to silence.

The world we know is full of injustice, and a mite short on tables being turned.

and, truth be told, when I consider my own shortcomings and failures, I’m far more afraid of John than I am of Jesus. What I’d like for myself is a dove and a gentle voice that says, “you’re okay, I’m pleased with you”

Discussion Question: Was Jesus a disappointment? Or just what we are looking for?

[ What we have here, too, is an upending of the theme of elevation; of distance. John takes up this timeless theme, describing a deity who is elevated, distant. What happens instead is that this high and lofty figure– often assumed to be ‘in the clouds’ or ‘in heaven’, in fact *descends*… who comes close. The Holy Spirit, it turns out, is not elevated or distant, but is right with us, all around us. Not shouting at us, but whispering in our ear.

It is, at this point in the story, the introduction of the theme of a *close father*. Not a distant deity, but ‘Abba’ Father… ‘Daddy’.

What’s more, it’s the beginning of the thread of what I call the Irritating Father… or the Aggravating Father. The Dad who is just too nice. The Father God who sends prosperity on the righteous and the unrighteousness. Who is generous to all. Who welcomes latecomers. ]

SCRIPTURE READING

John 2:1-11
2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.

2:2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

2:3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

2:4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

2:5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

2:6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.

2:7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.

2:8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

2:9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom

2:10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

2:11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

GUIDED MEDITATION:

(Get comfortable, close your eyes, relax. Imagine yourself in the middle of this story…)

Well, this is awkward. It’s a wedding, in fact it’s the party after the wedding, and there isn’t anything left to drink.

As a member of the family, you’re feeling an extra measure of pressure. You cycle through the familiar progression of emotions.

You feel embarrassed. Ashamed. You want to excuse yourself, walk toward the bathroom, and just keep on going.

You feel frustrated. Surely someone lost count. Surely there is another case of wine somewhere. There must be an explanation.

You feel angry. Your dad doesn’t deserve this! Folks already thing he can’t afford this. People will talk about it for years to come, and it’s not his fault.

You want to blame someone. It’s so satisfying to have a scapegoat– someone to pay for this humiliation.

…wow, you think to yourself, I could really use a drink right now. But of course ironically there isn’t anything to drink!

Then you notice someone. It’s Mary’s boy, Jesus. Now all grown up. He has a whole gaggle of men and women with him, which seems kind of strange. You see Mary bustle over to him, not-so-casually whispering in his ear. And he kind of smiles, which is also strange. Then he moves toward the back room, which is not helpful. All you need is another person digging up details about this mess… I’m sure Jesus will tell all his friends, too. Besides his friends who are already here, watching all of this like they’re at a play.

With all the buzz about the wine, you kind of lose track of Jesus… in an effort to save face for you and your family, you stay in the main room and try to keep conversations going. Change the subject, talk about the weather, anything…

Jesus is gone for a few minutes, then you hear a group conversation leaking out from the back room. Then, all at once, the servers bring out more wine! They fill your cup, at which point you realize how dry your mouth has become with all the stress. You take a sip… it’s delicious. Maybe the best wine you’ve ever tasted.

This is too good to be true.

Things had gone from bad to worse, and you were expecting them to get even more awful. But quite unexpectedly, the pressure left the room and you can breath again. Even better, you’re smiling and relaxed and… enjoying this deliciousness.

Your expectations, which were quite high an hour ago, had suddenly and painfully dropped through the floor. But then even more unexpectedly you got a nice break! It is exciting to have that weight taken off your back, to feel that relief, to see the light come back into the room.

A minute later, you notice Jesus quietly exiting the back room, smiling slightly as he scans the room of celebrating people.

Two Questions—
When is a time when you remember an unexpected grace that resolved a bad situation?
and
Where is a place in your life where you could use a break?

 

FLASH BENEDICTION: (composed in the moment)

Jesus is kind, meek, mild

Jesus is beloved, and loving

but make no mistake:

the call he makes is a radical one

returning love for hate

kindness for injustice

mercy for pain

it’ll feel like your soul is torn in two

but it’s the only way to save your soul

mikestavlund

Mike is a solid, stand-up guy that enjoys writing poetry and prose, hanging out with family and friends, and long walks around a Weber kettle grill.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *