January 25, 2008

Gone Fishing

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 12:53 pm

“And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’”  Matthew 4:19

In our day, fishing is an individual endeavor.  You can go fishing with others, sharing the same boat or shoreline.  But you still bait your own hooks and reel in your own fish.

In Jesus’ day, fishing was an occupation for groups of people, who had to work together to drop the nets, to pull them in, and to mend those nets.  Jesus’ call to join him in a fishing expedition, it seems to me, is a call to share in the work of a particular community.

It has been said that the Church too often forgets it has been called to fish; instead, it settles for being keepers of an aquarium.  The task of maintaining the institutional Church takes up a lot of time and resources, and it can appear to be the major accomplishment of any congregation.  Yet if the institution is always only mending its nets (serving itself), it is not engaged in “fishing” (its mission to the world).

So we must always be moving beyond our structures and traditions, to prevent a stagnant preserving of the status quo.  If you pay attention, you’ll notice Jesus is always pushing structures and traditions in new directions.  That’s why he didn’t call the disciples to sit and ponder, but to “follow.”

January 16, 2008

Be a Light!

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 5:09 pm

“[The LORD] says, ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’” [Isaiah 49:6]

What did you want to be when you grew up?  A fire fighter?  A chef?  A teacher?  An astronaut?  A doctor?  A parent?  In second grade, I wrote that I wanted to be a letter carrier because it seemed like an easy job to drive around town and put letters in mailboxes.  (How little did I know!)  By fifth grade, I wanted to be a professional baseball player, because I thought it would be fun to make money by playing a game.  As I started college, I thought I’d make a pretty decent chemist.  When I graduated, I thought I was all set to be a math teacher.

Obviously, I didn’t end up in any of those places.  God had different plans for me.

Isaiah records that he was eager and willing to be a servant for his faith community.  But God had different plans in store for him.  God had bigger dreams for him.  God created him to serve as a “light” for people from other faith traditions and nationalities.

God calls us to look beyond what we tend to want for ourselves.  God calls us to engage in tasks that appear to be impossible.  God calls us to bring peace where there is conflict, to share abundantly in the midst of scarcity, to bring strength to the weak.

We tend to believe we don’t have enough faith to accomplish such grand tasks, but the fact is, our faith doesn’t matter so much.  What matters is that God has faith in us.  God trusts that we can shine!

January 9, 2008

Fulfilling All Righteousness

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 12:10 pm

“John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so for now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” [Matthew 3:14-15]

Theologians have long wondered why Jesus would have needed to be baptized.  Baptism suggests a ritual of entry into the family of faith, but why would a ritual be needed for God’s Son?  Baptism suggests forgiveness from sin, but why would a sinless one need such a cleansing?  Baptism suggests a receiving of the Holy Spirit, but why would the second member of the Holy Trinity be so separated from the third member of the Trinity?

According to Matthew’s gospel, theologians aren’t the only ones who have wondered why Jesus needed to be baptized.  Even John the Baptizer wondered about it as he performed the act.  Jesus answers that it is to be done “to fulfill all righteousness.”

Righteousness is an important word for Matthew’s gospel.  Joseph was “a righteous man,” who wanted to divorce Mary quietly when he found out she was to have a baby.  The Sermon on the Mount is a call for followers of Jesus to have ”righteousness [which] exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.”  Jesus taught that John the Baptizer came “in the way of righteousness,” and the prostitutes and tax collectors believed, but not the religious authorities.  Religious people thought righteousness was a matter of obedience to God’s rules, but Jesus taught that righteousness was deeper than that.  It was a matter of building relationships that are based on mutual trust and respect and justice.

Christ had entered the world through his birth.  Now Christ is to enter into the lives of his followers.  The relationships being established are to be shaped in righteousness.  Thus Jesus is choosing not to lord his authority over the rest of the earth, but to submit himself to the creation.  He is not going to rule over humankind from above, but is going to immerse himself in the human project.  His ministry will not develop in ways that serve to secure his position, but in ways that serve the position of all those who are on society’s fringes.  He comes to be alongside all humankind in its struggles for wholeness and peace.

When we join in Christ’s baptism, we submit ourselves to the same sorts of relationships with our sisters and brothers.

January 2, 2008

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 12:39 pm

As the church season of Epiphany begins, the lectionary readings have us moving in reverse.  Last week, we watched the holy family flee from Bethlehem to Egypt, to avoid Herod’s wrath.  But this week we are back in Bethlehem, awaiting the arrival of the magi.  It becomes a sort of “flashback” moment, I suppose.  But that is appropriate, since epiphanies (”Aha!” moments of revelation) are often experienced after the fact.

There are many jokes about the appropriateness of the gifts that the magi brought with them for the Christ child.  There are some who focus on the symbolism of the gifts - royal gold, priestly incense, prophetic myrrh.  There are others who note them simply as tools of the trade of these astrologers.

The magi were traveling for the purpose of worshiping - “paying homage” in the NRSV - the Christ child.  I would simply reflect upon the idea that worship usually entails the offering of gifts.  Often I would like to think that sitting and enjoying a brilliant sunset is an act of worship - and I suppose it is.  But I wonder if worship that stops with only an appreciation of God’s Light to the world is simply not complete.  Until one responds to that awesome presence with some sort of sharing of self, with some sort of pledge to commit a costly act, I’m not sure that the act of worship has been fulfilled.  Compare, for example, with Isaiah 58:5-9a, or Amos 5:21-24.  In these instances, worship that includes fasting or burnt offerings is rejected because those costs do not really move the worshipers in ways that promote God’s justice for the disenfranchised.

The response to God’s light need not be financial surely; but I suspect it needs to be some sort of physical act, or at least a pledge to act in a physical manner.  Having completed numerous celebrations of the birth of Christ, the challenge is to move towards allowing the world to be transformed by this Light.