Sunday, January 24th, 2016 – Sermon on Luke 4 (14-30)

You can listen to this sermon here.

Luke 4:14-30
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 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?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, “Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Well-know preacher and pastor, Will Willimon, received a panicky phone call one Sunday evening from a parishioner.  The man said that his daughter Anne had just decided to drop out of pharmacy school. She had just come home for the weekend and, in fact, she had been to church just that morning. Everyone was shocked by her decision and so they were wondering if he, the pastor, would give her a call and “talk some sense into her.”

So he did. He called up Anne and reminded her about how hard she had worked to get to where she was and that she couldn’t just throw it all away.

“What inspired this decision anyways?” he asked. “Well, it was your sermon,” she said.

She talked about how she realized she was only in school to meet her own selfish needs and his sermon on God calling all of us to do something important in this life shook something loose in her. She remembered how much joy she had in teaching migrant workers how to read one summer through a church program. She felt close to God then, and now she is leaving school because she wants to spend her life helping migrant workers..

“Now look, Anne,” Willimon said, “It was just a sermon…”[1]

It was just a sermon…

Will Willimon’s story raises a good question, I think – what do you expect from the sermons in this place?

Do you expect them to entertain you for a little while, make you laugh a time or two, perhaps give you an interesting fact about Scripture every now and then?

Do you expect them to actually do something in your life? To change the whole trajectory of your life? To challenge you in such away that it calls everything else into question?

Or maybe the better question is do your preachers actually expect the sermon to do something in your life?

Jesus was preaching in his home congregation in today’s gospel reading. The home-town boy has returned. And he has made a name for himself elsewhere, so you can imagine that there were a lot of people interested in coming to see him that morning. I’m sure the synagogue was packed full with everyone wanting a seat.

When it came time, Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah – a reading that they had no doubt heard before! “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And after Jesus sat back down, all eyes were upon him. If you’ve ever been the center of attention, whether you wanted to be or not, you know the feeling. Everyone watching your every move. And it seems that they were more interested in him than in the part of Scripture that he read.

Is this really Joseph’s boy? My, how he has grown! And what a public speaker, he didn’t seem nervous up there at all. And did you see his sandals with straps that go over the top and around the back. He’s so cool.

 They had turned all of their focus onto the messenger instead of the message.

Perhaps no one focused too much on what Jesus was saying because… it was just a sermon. Not meant to actually do anything in their present life. It simply was a nice reminder to them of God’s far off promises that someday there will be economic equality for the poor. Someday there will be freedom to those held captive by where society has placed them. Someday there will be proper healthcare for the blind.

Jesus could feel that all eyes were upon him and not on the message, so he tries to deflect their gaze back to the Scripture – Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. As if to say, “Not someday – today! Today this Scripture is fulfilled. The time is now. Quit looking at me and look at the work of God that is in front of us. And if the time is now, if the kingdom of God is here, then it will demand something of us – not others. So let’s get to work.”

But they still couldn’t hear the message over the messenger.

Nice sermon, Jesus. Such gracious words. Thank you. By the way, I know your parents and just think the world of them. Would you like to come over for wine and hummus sometime?

They weren’t interested in what he had to say. It was just a sermon. They were more interested in possessing this famous preacher as one of their own and riding his cloak tails.

So then Jesus, unconcerned with his popularity or whether people liked him or not, ramps it up a bit. Just because he is from Nazareth does not mean that Nazareth gets first dibs on him and his ministry. They don’t get to possess him.

And so once again, he uses their very own Scriptures to teach them. He calls upon the stories of Elijah and Elisha, prophets who were sent by God to outsiders. To people who weren’t part of “the chosen ones.” He used their own sacred stories against them to proclaim that the gifts of God do not simply belong to them. But rather that the gifts of God go where God chooses – even to those seemingly worthless outsiders who are not like us.

If you have ever helped raise children, then you know how it is just the worst when they use your own words against you.

Mom, you said that it is not polite to use swear words and you just use a swear word, so could you please say your sorry.

 Dad, you said that it is not okay to interrupt but you just interrupted, so could you please wait your turn.

 To have your own words, your own stories used against you, can just be the worst. But also so very necessary. Divine, even.

I once heard the story about a congregation that was putting together what were called guiding principles. These were the principles that they as a congregation felt God was calling them to live by. One of the principles that they came up with is Everyone is welcome and invited. Everyone is welcome and invited. The congregation voted unanimously 70 – 0 to make this their guiding principle. They printed this guiding principle up in large letters and they hung it on the wall for all people to see.

A couple of months later, the church received a phone call. The local homeless shelter was going to be doing some remodeling, which meant for the time being there was no place people who were homeless to go for shelter. They were wondering if Bethel would become the temporary homeless shelter in town.

The council was divided. Some people thought it was a good idea. Others thought it would bring smells and wear and tear on the church that no one would want. Others thought it would be dangerous to house people who were homeless. Debate dragged on and on, until one of the council members looked up saw the guiding principle that was printed in large letters and framed on the wall. He said, “You know, it says right here that ‘Everyone is welcome and invited.’ It doesn’t say ‘except poor people.’” Their own words used against them. The room got quiet. A sense of embarrassment, I guess, that it was even up for debate.

Moments later, the council voted to house the homeless shelter.[2]

It can hurt or even embarrass to have your own words used against you, but that is what Jesus does.

To remind them that the Spirit of the Lord is pointed towards the margins. The people on the outside looking in. To quote a friend, Mark Stenberg, Jesus reminds them that “Israel’s chosenness is good news for all people…There is not a fixed quantity, a limited stockpile of the steadfast love of (God). The choosing of one does not imply a rejection of the other. In fact, it is just the opposite…Israel’s chosen-ness is not for itself, but for others.”[3] And not for tomorrow, but for today.

This hurt too much to hear, apparently, for Jesus’ hometown congregation. Immediately after the sermon, they dragged Jesus to the outside of town so that they might throw him off a cliff. But being sneaky like he is, somehow, someway, Jesus slipped through the hands of this lynch mob, and got away.

I’m convinced that Jesus cares less about whether you believe in him and more about if you believe in what he believes in. Jesus never says worship me, but he does say follow me. His congregation wanted to worship him – not actually follow him.

All of this leads me to wonder – if at the end of this sermon, you don’t want to drag me down to Bridge Square and hurl me over the Cannon River waterfall, then have I really preached what Jesus would’ve wanted us to hear?

You’ve heard of road rage, let’s consider pew rage for a moment. What would Jesus want spoken in this place that would cause all of us to rage against him?

I’m not even certain that I know what would do it. And that fact alone tells me that perhaps I’m not hearing Jesus clearly enough. Or I’m not seeing the places or ministries to which God is calling us.

I guess in the end, what I am left with is that God’s love and God’s grace is wider than we think. And if we aren’t uncomfortable with it, than it isn’t wide enough in our minds. May we constantly be reminded that the Word of God is comforting but it is not comfortable. And therefore this place, St. John’s is to be comforting, but not comfortable.

Church is not meant to be a place where we are comfortable. But rather this should be a place that will ask us to be uncomfortable at times. We will be asked to discuss hard topics. We will encounter the very real suffering of others, face-to-face. We will be asked to reconcile our grudges for the sake of our oneness in Christ. We will be asked to help someone or some community that you’ve never met in your life. Or as the Apostle Paul has said, we will be asked to live as one body of Christ. Trusting that every single person in this place has a gift to offer us. A perspective, an insight, a wisdom that we need in order to live as Christ ask us to live – as one people. If we really seek to follow Jesus, we will be asked to do hard things. Things that will threaten our current way of life.

But we can do hard things.

So, may God make us uncomfortable this year for the sake of good news for the poor, for release and freedom to those who are held captive by this life, and so that those of us who are blind might finally really sees things as they are.

And may these words not be just a sermon. But by the grace of God, may they be something that transforms our lives together. Amen.

[1] William H. Willimon, What’s Right With the Church, pg. 112-3

[2] Slight adaptation from a story in Dave Daubert’s book, Renewing Your Congregation, 2007

[3] Mark Stenberg, 51% Christian, pg. 104-105.

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016 – St. Olaf Chapel sermon on “Promise” and Genesis 15

You can watch this sermon here.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

7 Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. 

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”

There are many ways to do it.

You can look someone in the eye and shake their hand.

You can link pinkies with another hand that is not your own.

You can cross your heart and hope to die, stink a needle in your eye.

All these and many more, I’m sure, as ways to say – I promise.

As a parent, I find myself making promises all the time. Some short-term – I will play that game with you as soon as I get home, son. I promise. And some long-term – Oh, my boy, I am so sorry you were scared. I will never leave you alone like that again. I promise.

There is something about making a promise. In doing so, you put yourself on the line. And so often, you can’t just speak it. You have to do something to show it. To seal it. You have to put something on the line to show that you really mean what you say. It might be your reputation, or your finances, or the health of your eye. But more often than not, the thing that is really on the line, the burden that you the promise-maker bear, is your relationship with the one to whom you make promises.

And the question remains: will that be that enough to trust you, the one who makes the promise?

In our reading for today, Abraham has a hard time trusting God and the promises God has made to him. And why wouldn’t he?

Some of you will remember the story. Years earlier, God had come to Abraham and Sarah at the ripe and fertile ages of 75 and 65 to inform them that their long-awaited dreams were coming true – they would soon be parents and they would have their very own land on which to live. And through their offspring, the whole world would be blessed through them. That was the promise that God made to Abraham and Sarah.

The problem is that it wasn’t happening for them. Month after month, year after year, and they were still childless. Imagine the pain; imagine the heartbreak. Imagine how furious they would be with God for getting their hopes up like that. No wonder Abraham does not hesitate to confront God when God shows up again in our text for today. “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless.” These are bold words to take up with the Lord, but God doesn’t seem phased by them. God doesn’t even get angry at Abraham for being so angry at God. Instead, God simply takes the opportunity to re-promise to Abraham that he will have descendants and land and blessing.

To do so, the Lord takes Abraham by the hand and leads him outside into the night and simply says, “Look up. Count the stars. If you can. As many stars in the sky, so shall your descendants be.” If you have ever walked back to your dorm or driven out into the country late at night, then there is a good chance you saw what Abraham did. The sky broad and clear like a huge midnight blue canvas. And scattered across it as far and as deep as the eye can see is nothing but stars. It wasn’t until I was a student here that I really started to see that part of creation – a blanket of stars dancing up above you. There is something simply stunning about a diamond-studded sky. And that’s what Abraham saw. Each star as one of the descendants that God promised to him.

And then, the story says, Abraham believed. Just like that. One field trip to the backyard and old-man Abraham believed God’s promises again.

But it didn’t last long. Did you catch that?

After promising him offspring, God promises Abraham land. And immediately Abraham said, “O Lord God, how am I to believe that one too?”

 And *poof* his belief was gone again.

It seems that’s how faith is. Solid one minute; then like quick sand the next. One moment you feel strong and confident in your faith. The next, doubt and fear creep up like kudzu taking over a forest, blocking out any stars in the sky.

God knew that Abraham was serious and God needed to do something more. God could not keeping speaking the promise – God needed to show it.

“Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon,” God said. And so Abraham did. And God didn’t’ have to tell Abraham want to do with them next – Abraham already knew.

This was the rite of promise making – this was how you crossed your heart and hoped to die back in Abram’s day. You cut everything but the birds in two and laid them side-by-side. And then after you made your promises, then you, the promise-maker, walk in-between the dead animals, as if to say, “Let me be like these creatures, if I fail to keep my word.”

I suspect that Abraham imagined that he was the one for whom this bloody path of promise-making had been set out. That God had made God’s promises and now it was time for Abram to make some of his own. To promise to be faithful to God, I suppose.

But imagine Abraham’s surprise when before he could walk anywhere, Abraham saw a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass between the animals with no one there holding either one – it was just the smoking pot and torch floating between these pieces of meat. Smoke and fire – God’s favorite calling cards[1].

God was the one making the walk! This rite of promise-making was not for Abraham, but for God. God sealed God’s spoken promise to Abraham by showing Abraham the promise.

In other words, God looked Abraham in the eye, shook his hand and said, “Abraham, I promise.” God has taken God’s mighty pinky and curled it around Abraham’s arthritic one, locking in God’s word. God has crossed God’s heart and hoped to die if this promise is not true. Or in the words of one Old Testament scholar, God has staked God’s very one life on this promise.[2]

Notice that God did not prove anything to Abraham. God did not give him any hard evidence of proof. God simply re-promised to him. As one preacher has said, God is not present in the world as evidence. God is present in the world as the one who makes promises.[3]

And that was enough for Abraham. At least for that moment, anyways. Abraham believed God, even though Abraham’s belief was not part of the equation. You see that is the beauty of a promise. You do not have to believe in it for it to be true. The truth and the fulfillment of the promise all rests on the one who makes promises.

Throughout Scripture God continues to make promises. Promises meant for you and for me.

A promise that God will be your God, and you will be God’s people. Always. A promise that nothing can separate you from the love of God. Nothing. A promise of grace and forgiveness when you have failed to be the good creation that you are. A promise that there is life beyond this life and there is nothing to fear in the face of death.

Is that enough for you to trust in the one who makes those promises? Maybe. Or maybe not. It might just take some time for you. It did for Abraham.

In fact, it was many years later before Abraham finally had any children with Sarah. 24 years to be exact. Until then, I imagine Abraham continued to spend the long nights by the window, looking up at that star-lit sky and wondering, “How long, O Lord?”

But, if Abraham were standing up here with me today, I would bet that he would not be looking up. Instead, he would be looking out. Out at all of you. All of you, stars from that nighttime sky thousands of years ago, that have finally fallen right down to earth and into these very pews. He would see nothing but you, the descendants of Abraham, the very promises of God in flesh and blood.

You are the children of the promise. The children of faith. You are the children of Abraham and Sarah.

And so if God’s promises made to Abraham so long ago are true, then I am willing to go out on a limb and say that God’s promises for you are true as well. I promise.

Amen

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMrGK1JG4GA

[2] Terence Fretheim, The New Interpreters Bible, Vol. 1, under section for Genesis 15.

[3] Tom Long, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/audio-sermons/troubled-a-sermon-from-john-14-by-thomas-g-long/

Sunday, January 10th, 2016 – Sermon on Luke 3(15-22) and Isaiah 43 (1-7)

You can listen to this sermon here.

Luke 3:15-22
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 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. 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.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 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.”

Isaiah 43:1-7
1 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

During the month of January, St. Olaf worship team has invited clergy from around Northfield to be preachers at their daily chapel. Each preacher has chosen a word and is asked to preach on it. Words like grace, promise, healing, fear.

This past Thursday, Pastor Pam was the first of the clergy to preach. Her word was suffering.

During her sermon, she said something remarkable. She said that you cannot make sense of suffering from the outside, but rather you have to go in to the suffering to understand. To speak to it, to comfort it.

There is a great example of this in the movie Little Miss Sunshine. It is a movie about a dysfunctional family that is determined to get their awkward, 8-year-old daughter, Olive, into the finals of a beauty contest. One of the members of this family is Dwayne.

Dwayne is an unhappy teenager who has taken a vow of silence until he can achieve his dream of becoming a test pilot in the Air Force. At one point, the whole family is crammed into their yellow VW van driving down the road, when Dwayne and Olive decide to play these activities that test your vision. At one point, Olive decides to see if Dwayne is colorblind. So, she holds up a card with a big red circle on it and a green letter in the center. “What letter do you see?” she asks Dwayne. But Dwayne just looks at her, confused and shrugs his shoulders.

Olive looks at the card again and see says, “No, which letter do you see?” And Dwayne just shrugs his shoulders in confusion.

At this point, Dwayne’s uncle, who is sitting nearby, realizes what is happening. “Dwayne, I think you are colorblind,” he said. “You can fly jets in the airforce if you are colorblind.”

In that moment, you can see Dwayne’s hopes and dreams for his life come crashing down, and he starts to lose control. He starts hitting the side of the car. His body shakes in anger, he’s doing everything he cannot to break his vow of silence. Eventually, the chaos is so great that the van pulls over, he jumps out into an open field, drops to his knees and just screams. The first sounds out of his mouth in months.

The family didn’t’ know what to do. His mom went and did what most of us do, she tried to talk to him and fix it. Let him know it wasn’t that bad. That it would be all okay. This didn’t help the situation. And Dwayne tells her to just go away. But then, in one of the best scenes in cinema I think, while the whole family is standing around trying to figure out what to do, Dwayne’s sweet and awkward 8-year old sister, Olive, starts walking over to him. She’s tripping over the red cowboy boots, that are too big for her, the whole way to him. When she reaches him, for a moment, she stands over him looking, until she finally just squats down and lays her head on his shoulder – offering him her own momentary vow of silence. Eventually, he turns and looks at her and then says just one word, “Okay……okay.” And the two of them walk back to the van together.

You cannot make sense of suffering from the outside. You can’t stand on the outside and let them know it isn’t that bad, that it will all be okay. You have to go into the suffering. And lay your head on its shoulder.

Now, we could call that good psychology – that the human mind responds best this way. We could call it good advice – you don’t want to make a fool out of yourself like the mother.

But I call it divine work. It comes from God. It is the way of God. To enter into someone’s suffering is the work of God and the way God works. If you have ever experience someone like Olive come along side you in your pain or your darkness, then you know how sacred that moment can be.

Listen again to the words of Isaiah:

1 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.

The way of God is to go into the suffering – with you.

This part of Isaiah is written to people who are suffering. The Israelite people were living in exile in Babylon. Jerusalem and the great temple (which was a sign of God’s presence) were destroyed and they were forced to leave their land, and to live as despised people, as slaves in Babylon. These are a people who have been brutalized and conquered. They have endured loss after loss after loss. Their hopes and dreams for their life had come crashing down.

But then, come these comforting and transformative words of God – O Israel, my people, do not fear. I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. God enters into the suffering of the world. God goes into the water with us. In order to understand, to speak to, to comfort the suffering, you have to go into the suffering. It is the way of God.

With that in mind, we turn to the reading from Luke.

Luke is writing to a community of people who are also living through great suffering. They too live under the crushing rule of Empire and are slaves under rulers; they too have watched as their Temple of the Lord has been torn down.

It is to that community that he is writing. And he tells them the story of Jesus’ baptism in a particular way.

Now let’s just imagine for a moment that this sanctuary is Luke’s stage. And let’s all watch the doors to see who enter the stage and who leaves the stage.

At first, stage right, on to the stage Luke brings John the Baptist. And then from the back, Luke brings in all kinds of people. A brood of vipers, John calls you. Despised people, controlled and enslaved people.

And John speaks a harsh word to you. About how a messiah more powerful is coming after him – a messiah who will from the outside wielding a winnowing fork and fire, threshing out the wheat from the chaff. The good from the bad.

But then something unusual happens – it doesn’t happen in any of the other gospels –stage left, King Herod shows up. And he is mad. On fire and angry that John has confronted Herod on all the evil things he has done. So along comes King Herod who grabs John and hauls him off stage and into prison. And all that remain are the people.

And then, in the quiet of the text, in the very next line, we hear that little line that is so brief and simple that you almost miss it: Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized.

Where did Jesus come from? Did anyone see Jesus come on stage? He wasn’t there a minute ago. In fact, John said he would come with fire and winnowing fork. Not a towel. Not wading in water with the likes of you and me.

All that remain on stage are all the people. And in and amongst the crowd. You can just barely make out the face of Jesus. Standing there among them. Dripping with the very same river water.

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized.

Do you hear it?

When you walk through the waters…I will be with you. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized.

When you pass through the waters (And all the people were baptized), I will be with you ( and Jesus was baptized too).

Luke’s story of Jesus’ baptism is the embodiment, the enacting of Isaiah’s promise. That when we walk through the waters of suffering, God will be with us.

It is that word of hope to a people suffering from fear and loss. That God will meet us in our dark places of life and God will join us there. It is who this God is – this God with us. It is the way of God. That to comfort the suffering you have to walk through the waters of suffering with them. You have to enter in.

And notice that it is after Jesus has joined them in the waters, that God just can’t help but say, “That’s my boy!”

You cannot make sense of suffering from the outside, but rather you have to go in to the suffering to understand.

It is the way of God. To enter into the suffering of another person is to embody the very presence and promise of God.

Friends, that is the God who is revealed to us this day. That is the great epiphany. Not only that God is with us, but that God is with us and has entered into our suffering and in our darkness to be with us there.

If you are suffering, may God come to you embodied in the form of another. To be with you. To show you that you are not alone. And if you know someone who is suffering, may you, like Olive, have the courage to enter in. To be the enfleshed presence of God that is for all people. Amen.